Join us Oct. 7 for a live episode at designFAO
Use DifEdFAO for 10% off:

Ahmad ”Akee” Kazi

Becoming a Designer
SEASON
1
EPISODE
6
January 18, 2022
Akee: But that curiosity that you have. That beginner's mindset of not knowing is such a super power. Because you might not have the experience of years, but you also don't have that implicit sort of standard best practice in mind. You can come in with a fresh perspective. You're not bogged down by your years of experience, and you can present new ideas, and you can advocate for different solutions, which I think is super important.

[Intro Music]

Bruno: Hello, everyone. And welcome back to the Design is for Everyone podcast, a project that intends to explore what it means to be a designer, and how the role of design has evolved in the global context.

This time, we're speaking with Akee, a data analyst turned designer about entering the design industry. He brings us a unique perspective on what it meant for him to be welcome to design, and takes us through his path from the moment he figured out design was a future to pursue.

And with that, We are live or better yet we're recording. And I always start the podcast in a really weird way, but that's it. Sorry.

Hey, Akee. And welcome to the Design is for Everyone podcast.

Akee: Thank you for having me. I'm excited.

Bruno: And I'm excited to have you, because I think that the topic that we're going to be talking today is going to be of interest to a lot of people, especially from a lot of junior designers and people trying to enter the industry.

Which is still, in my opinion, very much... I don't know, a weird theme many times. I see that the design industry as a whole has a lot of barriers to new designers, to new juniors or even... every now and then, there's always someone asking: "where are the junior designer roles?" And stuff like that. So I think today's episode is going to be very interesting on that end.

So to start, I was actually gonna ask you, how did you ended up doing design? How did you enter the industry?

Akee: Yeah, absolutely. So I... I know for a lot of people, some people have established careers or practices in terms of like graphic design. That's kind of their background or what they studied in school or human computer interaction. And there isn't really a standard way of getting into tech and design in general. And I found that to be the case.

So I, actually, prior to getting into design and getting the role that I currently have, I was a data analyst working for a consulting firm. So a lot of work that I was doing in consulting, working for, you know...

For anybody that's worked in consulting, working through like PWC, or Deloitte, or anything like that. You know, you're working in Excel, you're working with clients, working with a number of different stakeholders. And you're making informed decisions based off of data and research. And for me, at least with that background, that sort of tran... like that really translated well to design and into tech.

And I mean, for a lot of people, especially people that are trying to either transition into the industry, or people that have a traditional design background there, isn't a standard way of doing. Which I think is hard for a lot of people, including myself. I mean, it took me a year to really say, you know, I'm a designer, I have a full-time role.

I'm doing this as my full-time job. I have a portfolio... to be established. It was a year and some change in terms of getting myself established. But again, I just didn't have the background and there isn't really a traditional background for this.

Bruno: And it's more and more common to get more people with the non-traditional background entering, specifically in the tech world, where I see that the doors are open for these type of roles that many times aren't as classically design as it was before.

And it's been the, it's also been the field where the reinvention of what design means is a thing. Right? You'll talk about how people transition from graphic design and that's, for example, my background. And the fact is I know that nowadays my job is clearly not just graphic design. It's clearly not just visual design. It went into a multitude of levels, and I eventually went not only into UX and UI, but even some service design and some more specific areas. And having that diverse background and something that is not just a classic training, makes a lot more sense nowadays.

But yeah... so how was it, that shift? How do you feel like that kind of led you... like, how did it... was it difficult? Do you feel like kind of just made sense at the end of the day, but did you find many barriers? What, what happened there?

Akee: Yeah, so, I mean, for me, at least it was not easy whatsoever. So for me, at least I started my transition into tech and design right around the pandemic.

Like so many other people, I had too much time on my hands. I recently left my job as a data analyst and a consultant. And so in March of 2020, I started trying to figure out: "okay, what do I do now?" And I think a lot of people can share in that sense of it.

Bruno: Definetly.

Akee: But I started thinking about, okay, what is transferable? What am I passionate about? What are the skills that I currently have, and how can I apply them to any industry? That was really what my thinking was. And so with my education, I focused on social entrepreneurship and business.

And so with my background in that, it was about, again, creative problem solving, but making business decisions and being able to speak to a number of different stakeholders. And there were some aspects of that that translated and made sense for, for consulting. And then I realized, okay, well this can comply to also other industries.

And so during the pandemic, I spent maybe three to four months just doing information and views with anybody and anyone that would, that would speak to me. And I mean, that was, that was for an industry. So, I mean, I started talking to people in the music industry. I started talking to people in consulting. I started talking to people in... uh, non-profit and government work.

And I mean... again, the pandemic made a lot of people reevaluate what they wanted to do and how they wanted to go about it. Especially with remote work, becoming the common theme. And after talking to somebody who was a product manager, and sort of telling her about my skillset and my perspective. She mentioned to me, have you ever thought about being a UX designer?

And for me, at least I said: "okay, well, I don't know how to code. I don't know how to... I know I'm not super technical. I don't have that sort of background." And the more and more research I did, I realized: "oh, okay, this is, anybody can really fit into this. You just have to learn some common principles."

And so that first barrier to entry was understanding exactly what design and UX, UI, Product Design was. So that was... that was the first barrier to entry for sure.

Bruno: No. And at the end of the day, nowadays at least, that is the type of information that you can get really fast. It doesn't mean that everyone can... everyone can follow that path, everyone can just figure out if design is for them. Then the... I won't say the limitation, but I would say like then enters the, if this is really for you, as a passion, what you would like to do. Right?

And from what you just said, going after people, gathering all that data, trying to figure out what those people were. That feels natively like a UX designer, UX researcher. It just fits you directly right there. Uh...

Akee: It was some wax on wax off type thinking, I guess.

Bruno: Which is very interesting too. And thank you for the reference, who doesn't love Mr. Miyagi is, uh, extremely workaholic type of training? Uh... but yeah... so you went through this entire giant change during the pandemic. Do you feel like not just, taking all of this, that you started doing all of those information that you started to gathering, and then someone just saying that to you, like: "have you ever taught to being a UX designer?" Do you feel like it just clicked, really clicked? Or did you really need that, that much affirmation, as you said, like going after and trying to figure out: "can I really do it?" Was the information there for you, or did you have to like scrape down a little bit, figuring out?

Akee: Yeah, no, it wasn't: "you should be UX designer." "Okay. I'm going to go start applying to jobs." That straightforward of a path, unfortunately. But fortunately, honestly, as soon as I sort of came to that understanding of: "okay, well, this is what I want to do. Where do I start?" And I started spending time. I didn't even download Figma at that point. It was, let me understand in general, what is this space. Who should, I know? What should I read? And that's when the real work started.

So... and for me, at least this is the process that I don't think a lot of resources cover in terms of education around getting into product design and UX design. You can read an article on Medium or watch a YouTube video saying "what is UX design". "A day in the life of a UX designer." And you watch somebody make avocado toast, and then stare at a computer. And then they're like: "that's it. That's my day. I'm going to go for a run."

Don't get me wrong. That content is great, again, for the very beginner and the uninitiated, but I spent like two months watching those and I said: "oh, you're not telling me anything. There isn't any actionable insight for me to start. What do I do?"

And so I came across this course while I was also reading books and watching YouTube. And again, that's really general. What I would say is the book that I found most helpful, someone trying to hone my skills, was About Face. It's an amazing book, that really covers all aspects of design. And then the course that I took that really gave me the fundamentals, and when I really started working in Figma, was Udacity. And it was the Udacity nanodegree course.

And for me, at least, when I was starting to explore options to learn, of course there were bootcamps. So there was, you know, Flatiron, General Assembly and a few others. And their whole thing was you can become a designer in three months. You can absolutely become a designer. You'll have a portfolio, you'll have three case studies, in three months.

Bruno: Where have I heard that before?

Akee: It sounds really good, right?

Bruno: Yeah. I won't say, but some people that are inclined into becoming professional designers, getting that course could be a game changer. It's always just such a giant promise, and it under sells... not undersells. It sells you a vision of design is just this and there's not like some levels of detail around it, and some levels of complication around it.

Which for me doesn't mean that you can take it, you can't become a designer like that because some people for sure can do it. But it's always such a very straight, narrow path, and design has so many different parts heading into that same direction, that it's always a promise that I like to discuss a little bit with. Because those bootcamps are incredible, but at the same time, they become such an industry standard that sometimes it's even not that well seen, I would say. Because of that promise of that: "oh, you become a designer in three months. So you are now an expert."

Akee: Yeah. And I think that there's a number... I have, I have a... first off before I say anything about bootcamps. I think that they're great. A hundred percent, I think that what they do, in comparison to the path that I took, because I chose not to do a bootcamp. I chose to do a self-paced online course that offered a lot of similar different modules to bootcamp. So you learn sketching, you learn research, you learn how to do a wireframe, and then a design, and then high fidelity and a clickable prototype. And you make your portfolio very similar to what a bootcamp offers in three months.

Having said that, I don't think that it's... the one thing that I see across anybody that goes through a bootcamp program, and through no fault of their own, is the fact that their case studies don't have real-world constraints. And that's the biggest thing about being a designer is, that's great that you were able to go through the case study and hit every single step.

But the real part of being a designer is: okay, what do you do? Or how do you think when a roadblock comes up. Or if there's a constraint in terms of the code, or in terms of scope. And that's... that's the real thing that I think, thankfully, because I didn't do a bootcamp, I was able to really get a grasp on is the fact that you can learn all the fundamental skills of design, but if you can't speak to how you process information, or how you collaborate in a real-world setting, that's where the real challenge comes.

And that's... I think that bootcamps do a good job of exposing you to that. And it's a great starting point, but...

Bruno: It's not the only thing that you need. You need something on top of that, right? Yeah.

Akee: Yeah. A hundred percent. A hundred percent.

Bruno: And when you were talking about their, their use cases and the case studies that they build. I said this, without joking, in some of the mentorship sessions that do, there was like, you came from bootcamp, A, B or C, because I can see in the way that they did their exercises, that they did bootcamps. That they did trainings in a specific way that it's a format of that school, and you can see it. And it's not like it's a bad thing. It's a great thing, again. If you're really inclined into changing your job into that area, if you're focused on becoming a designer. What you get from these courses is amazing. It's a lot of information into one point. But they're being sold as a magic solution to turn anyone into a designer.

And that's where I feel like it needs to be a balance on people understanding what those factors externally to the course are. And what you just said, the human factor, the error, the limitation, the... the technology factor, those things are never... and I speak, even for my education. I took more of a classical education. But I studied multimedia design, so I didn't just study graphics. I studied code, I studied animation, audio, video, you name it. In all of that, I don't remember anyone saying, well, what if this happens? Where here's a use case for you to build. There are limitations.

No, it's always, we live in a perfect world when we're being taught. Which is great but at the same time, when you get into the job market that's when I see, professional designers specifically, struggle more, and that's where I feel like it creates a definition of who is a designer, a pro designer. And who is someone who uses design. Which I talk about every now and then.

Akee: Yeah, exactly. And I think for me, at least, when it comes to. I mean, just to speak towards shifting into a new career. I mean, like I did. What I did in, in lieu of going to a bootcamp was I did the online course, and then I started to seek out people who I could help, either bring their product to life or design their website for them.

My advice would never be to work for free, but that is what I did, for a lot of cases. Because I needed to build up my portfolio. And so, some of the work that I did was, I would work with entrepreneurs that had an idea, had a business plan, had so many different aspects to their vision, that it was easy for me to slot in and provide an MVP.

So I did a lot of MVP design, or website design to help them capture emails from potential clients. And a lot of that was really scrappy, and it was, it required a lot of creative thinking for sure.

Bruno: And speaking about working for free. I don't think, if someone is requiring your work, and wants you to do it for free, completely wrong. If you feel like there's a project where you could learn with, you would invest in to start your career and you want to do it for free, then that's your option. And that's great. And that's also a lot of what I did as a student. I, during the three years that I did in college to take my, my bachelor, I did a lot of that type of work because it made sense, like working with students associations with, I dunno, friends' bands or small businesses.

It teaches you a lot of that working with people, working with humans. Finding their limitations, finding what works for them. And it tells you a lot about being a designer. Because at the end of the day, being a designer is to serve someone through the solution of problems, in my opinion. You're going to be figuring out what they need, and turn it into a reality, or at least into the blueprints of what a reality is for them. Right?

Akee: Right.

Bruno: So that human factor there, makes perfect sense. And again, doing the work for free, not an issue, if you're doing it with that intention. And I, and the path that you chose, it feels like a really interesting because a lot of people either enter the industry without knowing their own value. And they kind of just start working with people, but either not being well paid or not being aligned. Either, usually jump to that ultimate step where: "oh! Now I'm a pro designer. I'm worth this and that." And they don't know how to handle the fact that they are trying to enter a market that it's many times already filled with people that work in their own ways.

Doing what you did, it feels very much like a proper ramp up where you went in, you talked with people, you started learning the job, while doing it, which is great. I would love that more people have that type of experience, honestly. And then just found your place in this mess, that his design world.

Akee: Yeah. And I'd say, I mean the biggest resource for me in jumping that gap was Twitter.

I mean, a hundred percent Twitter is the best resource when it comes to being exposed to the crazy world that is design. I think design Twitter is such a fascinating place. I mean, that's how you and I got connected. That's how I met my mentor. That's how I actually got my first full-time job.

The one that I'm currently working for Macro. Design Twitter is such a small community, and it is such an important resource. Because you can start being exposed to likeWeb 3. You can start being exposed to engineering. You can start being exposed to so many different aspects of the design once you get into design Twitter.

Um, and that's, that's honestly what I think really helped me jump the gap, was also being able to see: "oh, wow, this is someone's portfolio. This is really cool. Like, this is dope. I want to do that for my portfolio." And that's where I really started getting inspiration for some of my designs. Some of my actual portfolio and being exposed to people that were doing really awesome work, and different aspects.

I mean, you were talking about being a multidisciplinary designer. I think that Design Twitter is a great place for you to figure out what your niche is. So like, for me, I know that accessibility is a huge thing that I want to focus on throughout my career. Because I believe that when you design something to be accessible, you designed for everyone. And yeah, if it's accessible and anyone can use it, then everyone can use it.

And part of that also is realizing design systems. Okay. Well, with design systems, you have the ability to design components and different modular pieces of an overall design. And if you do that with accessibility in mind, you have a greater chance of creating an accessible product. Yeah. That's that, that was my intention.

And being in design Twitter really helped me figure out my niche, which I think is really important is, if you're going to be trying to break into a new industry where there is established practices, I think identifying your skills and how they fit into specific niches is important.

Bruno: And the role of communities, like Design Twitter on that, is key for sure. I feel like I skipped a couple of communities during the years of my working as a designer. I did a lot of work as a designer, as a classically trained artist designer, which is what I usually call to people like me, who went to college and kind of went on a path where they told you: "you are special. You are a designer. You're going to be able to work and do your things and sell it to people."

And they forget to tell you that you're going to be working on a team ,on a community, or on a space. And spaces like Design Twitter, where people chat on open forums and just share ideas and share thoughts, share products, are great baselines for this beginning and and to this start. And I would actually love to ask you, outside of Design Twitter, and some of the things that you already talked about, but if you could be more specific about what type of communities, tools, or even people helped you get there. Where did you found that help to really start your work?

Akee: Yeah. The Udacity nanodegree was a really great place to start off, but I think another great resource to hone your design skills was Shift Nudge, the course by MDS.

Bruno: Yeah. Yeah.

Akee: It's so exhaustive. I still haven't finished every single module of it, but it's awesome. I mean, it is a dope resource for any designer. And I think that that's one of the main courses that I really like. And I mean, for me, at least with my focus in accessibility, I started following people on Twitter, who focuses on accessibility. Anna Cook, who is a huge source of inspiration, and Joey Banks over at Twitter. He's a huge person that I follow, but for me, at least I found a mentor and his name is Brandon Thornton and he's a senior designer over at Twitter.

And without, without his help, on a regular basis, day to day. Communicating with him. Asking his advice, asking his perspective. And, you know, him nudging me in the right direction. That was the biggest help for me, was finding a mentor and Brandon has been phenomenal in terms of having a resource to support, um, support me in my career and my growth. And I just want to take a moment to thank him, and honor the support that he has given me. Because mentorship is huge. When you can learn from someone else's past experiences, and the human element that we're talking about, that's, that's the real, like the real meat of it. That's the real part of it.

Bruno: Yeah. Nowadays I've been doing mentoring sessions because I want to do that, for other people that have people that haven't been as much in my career, because I feel like that is such a game-changer. Mentoring as something that people can access without that many very barriers as probably you could see before. Like, I don't know, mentoring, I feel is going through a phase where it became something that people can do without being an overly complicated thing, as it was before.

Like finding a mentor for me, at least, and I started my career 10 years ago, felt very difficult. Because, in college you were taught about, "oh! These great designers." And every now and then you would know, "oh! There's this great company here and there." But most of times people were treated like untouchable and you couldn't really go to get some knowledge from them. The best you could do is like, go to a conference, or hear, I don't know, Sagmeister talking or something like that, which is great too. Like, I love the type of stories that Sagmeister tells. But I never got to speak with someone in that way until I entered the job market. And I got mentors. But were actually like managers or people that were leaders, that helped me in some way or another.

And nowadays mentorship has become so much easier due to these communities, due to these open conversations, like the one that we're having right now, where we can say like, these are people that can help you. These are people that you can talk to you shouldn't be afraid of. And I think that was really, really a big game changer to... at least people that want to grow in their industry.

And I also feel like it was a well hidden secret of people that were already having that in the industry. Right? You just started right now. You got a mentor, which is great. But every story that I hear from people that had mentors 5, 6, 10 years ago, were most likely senior designers and leads, that already knew other people in the industry that they admire. And since they had already been working for such a long time, they weren't afraid of speaking with those people because they were part of the space and the community.

Nowadays, you can start being part of the community even when you're not a designer. And then you can already start having those conversations before you even start which is great.

Akee: Yeah. And I mean, it's through resources like following somebody on Dribbble or... I keep going back to Twitter, but liking somebody... liking somebody's, you know, tweet and then, you know, sending them a DM, like: "Hey, I really like what you said." And I don't take it for granted, the fact that it is hard to... to reach out to somebody in a cold message. That takes guts. That's really hard.

And I mean, if you're naturally extroverted, that's great. Or if you're an introvert, then it's going to be really hard. And I mean, what I would say is leading with authenticity, regardless of how you connect with people, or how much you want to connect with people. If you're authentic in your approach and saying: "Hey, I am a new design. I really liked what you did. I would love to be able to just take 30 minutes of your time and just, you know, hear your perspective or just get to know you and start to build that rapport." I keep saying from a place of authenticity, because you know, if you are passionate about typography or if you're passionate about animation. Everybody in the design community has been so nice in the best way possible compared to like consulting, which is so cut throat.

Bruno: Where have I heard that before?

Akee: Oh my God. Okay. I, yeah... just the design community is so open and friendly. It's the best. And I would say don't be afraid to message somebody. If they're doing something that you think is dope and that you want to do one day, and they're in design or tech in general. Absolutely. They're... I would say 80% of the time, gonna to be open to having a conversation with you.

And you're... I would say you're going to find people to connect with whether that's someone you're going to collaborate with. Whether that's somebody that you're just going to, you know, retweet or a mentor. But... I just say, lead with authenticity and find people doing dope stuff that you want to do.

Bruno: Yeah. A hundred percent agree with that sentence. And also, to... not only... if you're in an introvert, if you're someone that doesn't feel as comfortable and you want to find people that are open to have conversations with you, there are also platforms. And I'm going to talk about one that already has been in the podcast, which is ADPList, for example, or a couple of others where you can just go and find people that are willing to talk about specific topics.

And that's already going to take a lot of the edge of trying to find someone. Because it's going to give you someone that it's already: "okay. I'm open to talk about this. If you need someone to talk with. I'm here for you." It might not be the person that you were looking at on Twitter, or something, but sometimes these people are also great assets because they are there to help you. And they are there ready to support you.

But going on a Twitter and just dropping a message onto someone's specifically, on Design Twitter, definitely super open... but also even on some LinkedIn, people like social media overall. If you're a designer, most designers, even the biggest ones will have an answer for you.

For example, I talked about Sagmeister. Sagmeister told me no to this podcast, really easily. That was easy. I just sent him an email and he answered me. But he also does this really cool thing where he criticizes people's work on Instagram, really short critics. But it's really cool because his Instagram is basically a kind of window shopping type of thing where you see people's work and it's a portfolio of multiple designers, not just his. But the fact is, he literally... being known as one of the biggest designers or the one of the highest paid designers in the world, he just put his email out there and said, "send me things. And I'm going to give you feedback and talk with you."

And that's a little bit of the feeling that I have with the entire design community. Is most people do feel like that, most people are open to talk, and help you, and give you feedback, and do whatever they need to help you. If they have the time.

Akee: Yeah. And I'd say that... it's hard to break into that industry, but that's the one thing that you have going for you when you're trying to break into design. Is how friendly people are.

And a hundred percent ADPList is amazing because it has people like... people who are lead designers over at Netflix or Hulu or... And they're responsible for specific initiatives. So I mean, I think that's the one thing that, thankfully, design is really great about. Is finding people to openly communicate with you and then also critiques. Because it's never easy getting constructive criticism. Also with resources like you were talking about, it doesn't have to be directly at you, which can feel really personal, but if you can watch critiques of other people's designs. Or if you can watch or listen to people, critique or see a video of someone critiquing someone else's design, you don't have to deal with the direct attention on how your design is. You can learn from someone else's critique.

Bruno: Yeah. That's, that's really... there's a lot of resources out there, and there's so many different ways for you to just learn, and hear from those things. Still on this topic of entering the industry, but a little bit on a different note. Based on your experience, and already with everything that we talked about before, and you just said that it's hard to break into the industry. What do you feel like the world of design treats newcomers and juniors? Like, how did you felt like people treated you once you started working into design?

Akee: Um, yeah. It's, I mean, once you're in the space, once you're getting paid to do the work and you have the title designer, it's a great feeling. That's a huge win. Pat yourself on the back because you, you made... you took that large step into the space. You're here. You're one of us now. It's awesome. And obviously it's really challenging, because you start to question yourself like, "okay, someone's gonna find out that I really don't know what I'm doing, and they're going to find out I'm an imposter" and that's where imposter syndrome starts to come in, and especially for people that are new, they're like "okay. They let me in. Now let me just like keep to myself and just to make sure nobody finds out." And instead, I mean, that is a lot internally. And I know that I experienced it on a regular basis too, as an imposter syndrome.

But that curiosity that you have. That beginner's mindset of not knowing is such a super power. Because you might not have the experience of years, but you also don't have that implicit sort of standard best practice in mind. You can come in with a fresh perspective. You're not bogged down by your years of experience, and you can present new ideas, and you can advocate for different solutions, which I think is super important.

Bruno: Critical, yeah. Like it's one of those things that, at least in my perspective, and being where I am. I'm only, and I'm going to say this, not in a light tone, I'm only 10 years into the industry and I just keep learning and learning. And every time that I can open space to talk with someone that it's on a junior role, or it's starting now, I just want to. Because many times I get the best type of inputs, the best type of insights from these people, because they have been looking at the industry in a different perspective, a fresher perspective.

And you're... You're not as held down by those practices, that we've been doing for so long. It gets tiring because we don't know how to get out of there many times. And I love to hear that point of view. Definitely.

Akee: Yeah, it was interesting because, when I first got my role at Macro, the chief design officer, Hyam, who is definitely the most creative designer I've ever met. She immediately asked me: "what do you think about the products? Or what is your perspective on this, in the product?" And it was... it took me a back because she genuinely wanted to know from an outsider's perspective, what is the first thing you see? What is the first thing you notice? And that's one thing that you can really be bogged down on. Is if you're, if you're working on a product or if you're working in a team, you've been staring at this thing for months, if not years, and working and being in this small ecosystem, focusing on it so intensely that it's hard to get that new perspective.

And so with a new designer, an intern, whatever, lean into that. Because asking questions and advocating based off of informed decisions or informed perspectives is huge because you have... you're coming in with new eyes, fresh eyes. And I think that idea of constantly learning and having fresh eyes, is the superpower of young, junior designers.

Bruno: Look, and even when I say junior, and I, and I think this is a very bad naming for any type of role. When we talk about juniors, I love the term newcomers because it just means that someone just entered the world, or started working in a specific role. But it's not as like, junior always feels like you're "en-childing" someone. And like you're a junior is like, you're a very small. No, you're a, someone that is still learning. You're a newcomer. You have fresh eyes, you have fresh mind applied to this things.

And even when it comes to the point where you become a designer, then when they start talking about being a lead, a senior or whatever. It's always a very weird thing, because at the end of the day, we're all designers, we're just at different stages of our roles. And we have those different points of view and that's what really makes it so that the industry could grow, and scale in and what design as a whole can actually get to evolve as it is right now. As I feel like it's going through such dramatic change in the last like five years, into what it means to be a designer, what it means to work on design. Because of all of those new perspectives, and a lot of new people, not just because of businesses, not just because of the necessity of some, I don't know, corporate thing.

It's more about the fact that these new voices, these new people like yourself that are just changing industries, that are just finding design, that actually found design when they were really young and they're starting in design as like, kids. Those voices do have an enormous effect into the way that things evolve. And it's great that it's an industry that is more and more to listening to those people, to those newcomers. As I feel like before it wasn't. And there are still a lot of other industries that aren't. Where seniority is taken as such a strong, very... structural role of what it means to work in that industry. That it downplays a lot of what actually could be great ideas.

Akee: Yeah. And the best piece of advice I've gotten recently is just call yourself a designer. Drop the junior. Just call yourself a designer. You're here. You're one of us. And advocate for the things that you believe in, voice your opinion, because it matters. And walk with your, with your head held high and don't worry about being a junior and wanting to, you know, you want to get your marching orders from the senior or whatever. I mean, when it comes to design, it is a creative process, and there are certain constraints because we are developing a product that it serves a function and purpose. But if you don't call yourself a junior, most people will just treat you like a... like an equal.

And a lot of it has to do with an internal imposter syndrome, which I know for sure I've been dealing with for the past few months.

Bruno: And I don't know a single designer that doesn't have imposter syndrome. If they don't have it either, their ego is really great giant ego, which is, I don't know. Great for you or they are really good at their job, and they are really sure, because most designers that I know, even the really great ones, always say, like: "I don't know if I'm, I always have imposter syndrome." I heard this phrase so many times with every designer, because... I dunno, even the fact that, that the industry is always changing and the job description is always changing. People never feel like they perfectly fit something, I would say.

But it's interesting, but yeah. Call yourself a designer. Greatest advice in the industry, at all times that's for me.

Akee: A hundred percent. A hundred percent.

Bruno: And I would say now, moving into the fact that you are now a designer. You've entered the industry. You'll start moving a little bit into this, into this field and learning with different people, different process, different work. How does does that being a designer now, learning the type of things that the designer has to deal with every day, changes the view that you have of the world, around you? Of how you experience the world around you?

Akee: That's a... That's a good question. And, oh man. First and foremost, just hearing you're a designer, that's just like, it's a good feeling. I appreciate it.

Uh, but for me, at least the way I view my relationship as a designer with the world, I try to keep myself open to inspiration from any source. That's my, that's the one thing that I think has happened, or the shift as I've come into this space, is anything can be a source of inspiration for design. Whether that's old school graphic design, or print design, or if that's a physical product and how they designed it. Or another app that you're using, and you're looking at it from, not just a consumer, but also, "oh, wow. Like now that I have this lens of a designer, I can start to see the hierarchy and the typography and those things." But with that said, it taught me to look for inspiration from a number of different sources.

The one example that I like to think of, in terms of sourcing inspiration, is the designer who helped design the high speed rails in Japan. He was an avid birdwatcher.

Bruno: I know the story.

Akee: The Kingfisher. Yeah. And they were dealing with the problem where the trains were getting really loud as they get out of the tunnel because of the pocket of air. And the designer who was in charge of helping with this process realized that he was taking inspiration from this bird, the Kingfisher. And the way that its beak is shaped it allows for aerodynamics in such a way that it can apply to the train. And so that whole idea of biomimicry, and applying that to your design process, and sourcing inspiration from anything out in the world. Whether that's nature, whether that's, again, print, whether that's another app, whether that's somebody making a... you know? An observation on TikTok.

Getting inspiration from any, and all sources is valid. And applying them. That's the tricky part of it, is where, how do I apply this? Do I apply this to this design? Do I apply it to this aspect or this feature? That's the fun part. That's the creative part. So I would say, to me at least, is like being open to inspiration from any source, and then iterating on application of that inspiration.

Bruno: That's a great, great way to look at things. And definitely something that many times it's not spoken as much as it should. Like, when we talk about being a designer and even in those... and going back to the topics, like the way that you talk about those courses, those bootcamps and everything. Many times they are structured around what it means to be a designer using the structures, and the ideas that we're used to see as part of the structural part or, or the, the documented part of being of a designer.

But that inspiration that you can take out of the world, is something that many, many times it's talked about, and even romanced a little bit in talks, in the stories of some designers, stories like that one, which is great. It's forgotten in the way that people are brought into the industry.

It's, you know, it's always like something that you learned from another designer, right? Which is great. But at the same time, it's like, it's sad that people forget about putting that into the training. Into the learning. Into the way that you talk about design. It always becomes something that it's more a point in a story on someone that is a designer, and it happened naturally, than it is in the way that people are taught to be designers.

Akee: Yeah. And that's the... I mean, instead of having the rigid idea of like sources of inspiration, this is where we start to get into the creative side of design. Where you might need to take some time and like take a walk, or look at inspiration from Dribbble, or from some other, you know, coffee table books.

I know that that's a... that's a big source of inspiration for me is just looking at different sources, um, or just taking some space. And for me at least, I... one of my favorite quotes from... Bruce Lee. Is the whole idea of be like water. And so, not to be stuck on a specific, or rigid, idea or form, but the idea of being formless and be fluid in terms of your application and your process. And don't be, you know, stuck in a certain way. I'd say that that has definitely informed a lot of how I navigate the world. And also how I design, is to be formless. To be like water and to just sort of adapt based off of the situation. Based off of the problem that you're solving, and the inspiration and the application can... that's... again, like that's the creative part of it is just take your time and, you know, jam it and figure it out and bounce ideas off corner. But that's, I think the one thing for me is just to don't just limit yourself to one source of inspiration, or one way of seeking inspiration.

Bruno: Definitely. And, and there are so many different ways of doing that. There are so many different paths to getting inspiration, building inspiration, practice design in a way that it's not just about solving the problem, but also, I don't know, thinking about the problem differently. There's a lot of things that you can do to, to expand how you do your job as a designer.

And there are stories like the Kingfisher one. There was a great story that I saw during the first Figma conference, Config, February last year, where there was a designer from GitHub, I'm forgetting her name right now, that took a lot of inspiration from cities in the work that she was talking... seeing like design is a little, a little bit like city ordening and making sure that cities work properly, for the work that she was doing. Like. Interesting because it's a completely different type of thing, but they have similarities and she could see a lot of work there, and get a lot of inspiration out of those things.

And I love those stories. I love how people can rethink, and fit the mold, and be that fluid that can adapt to the situation. That means being a designer nowadays, that means being a designer is to serve someone and adapt to their problem, and learn how to help them achieve at the end of the day, either being a product, either being, I don't know, even something that it's more communication-wise as we do in more in graphic design and stuff like that. So. It's a great way to look at things. And I love how you tied it in with the Bruce Lee, because that's a great quote.

Akee: Yeah. I think, um... a great example of designing to meet people where they are is with Uber. This is a case study that I read about from Femke who's a pretty famous designer. And she was talking and she wrote about how she was designing for Uber in Mexico, in Mexico city. And how one specific problem that they were adapting for specifically the Mexico market, and that area was that a lot of people would prefer to pay with cash.

And so how do you design Uber... and that is I think the perfect example of a constraint, or an outside problem in the real world. And then creative problem solving and meeting people where they are is "okay. Well, I'm an outsider coming into this culture, and this is how the culture is choosing to interact. How do we design to not assume a solution on top of how things are done here? But how do we compliment it? How do we help them? How is our product going to fit in to the way that humans interact?" And that's good design instead of assuming a solution, just saying, "well, we're Uber. We're just going to be Uber and you're going to have to just use it the way everyone else uses it." That's the true sign of great design.

Bruno: Yeah, definitely. And to end, the one question that I ask everyone is, do you believe that design is for everyone? And if so, in what way?

Akee: I really liked this question because when you say design is for everyone, I think about it in two perspectives. So design is for everyone so that everyone can be a designer. And then design is for everyone because you're designing for.everyone.

Bruno: A hundred percent on that.

Akee: Yeah. And I think the second one is what excites me, or is the one that I think about most. Is because if I'm going to be designing for everyone, and with my focus on accessibility and inclusive design that's where you're designing for everyone. And that's where you have to ask the questions. That's where you have to check your privilege and your bias at the door, and start to ask questions from other people. But the only way you can design for people with a different background than you, or from a different perspective than you, is to have them involved. And part of that is having the first part of it, which is everyone should be a designer. Or we should have people with every single different type of background, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation... every diverse perspective should help inform this.

So we need more native American designers. We need more trans designers. We need more LGBTQ members. We need people of different socioeconomic backgrounds. We need people of every single type of walk of life, age, physical ability, whatever, to be involved in the design process. So whether that is you're a designer helping inform that, asking the questions and designing the product for everyone. Or you're including personas in your design, or use cases for people that have like a physical disability. Or use case for someone that you weren't considering. And how does someone fill out a form field when they're, you know, they're not going by their birth name because you don't want to dead name them. They have their name. They... they identify by.

And so it's like, that's the part where design is for everyone. Because we need everyone to design, and then we need to include everyone in the design process. The research phase. The testing phase. And then we need to make sure everyone likes the design, and iterate on it to make sure that it is inclusive.

Yes, tha design is for everyone, but we need everyone to design.

Bruno: I love that. Just, you summed it up in such a very clean and perfect way that it just, I love it. And it's a lot of what I believe in. It's a lot of what I preach a little bit here. But I love to hear other people's opinion on it. And it was just great to hear you talk about that and how you connected the dots? Just great. That's all I got to say.

Akee: Thank you.

Bruno: And then Akee, thank you for being here today with me and with everyone listening to the podcast. Thank you for telling us a little bit about your story, and all the amazing things that we talked about today. I hope you enjoyed it, and just wish you the greatest of lucks in the design world. That's all I can say. I guess.

Akee: Thank you so much. And honestly, I am a collection of a number of different people. Mentors. People that I've learned from or been impacted by, so I appreciate you giving me the space to speak to some of that. And I'm really grateful for the opportunity and... Yeah. Thank you.

Bruno: Again, thank you. And thank you, everyone listening to this podcast. See you all next week. For another episode of Design is for Everyone.


Help me build this project

I would love to keep up with this project for as long as I can, and for that I need to make sure it doesn't become cost preventive. So, to be as clear as one can be, here you can find all the costs for maintaining this project for a year. If you want, and only if you can, do support it and buy me a coffee or become a podcast subscriber.

Icon for Buy me a Coffee website

Follow us on social

Email, but only if important