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Design and Friendship: A Conversation with Erika and Kirsten

By February 16, 2016 No Comments

Daxko is celebrating women in tech all February long, and this week, we focus on interaction designers Erika B. and Kirsten W. I got to know both of them at the Daxko Reach conference back in 2014 and have admired their drive and design skills from day one. Last week, I sat down with them and asked a few questions to prompt what turned out to be a very captivating conversation that truly reflects their friendship and how passionate they are about their work.


Interviewer: Both of you started at Daxko in 2014 within a month of one another, and it seems like you immediately. I still see you together a lot around the office. Why do you think you became friends so quickly?

Erika: The tech side of the office used to be divided into product and software, and there were really only guys on our side! I related to Kirsten because we clicked fast, we’re the same age, and we were working on the same thing.

Kirsten: It helped that Erika was a girl. Becki was the only other girl on that side of the office at the time. Erika and I both went to art schools too, so we had a lot of similarities. We like a lot of the same types of art, like minimalistic line work.

Erika: Kirsten is really good with watercolors, too!

Interviewer: Kirsten, what’s something you have learned from Erika?

Kirsten: Whoa, that’s a long list. Erika is formally trained as an interaction designer, and I’m not. So I learned a lot from her about doing research. She knows so much.

Interviewer: And Erika, what’s something you’ve learned from Kirsten?

Erika: She always brings a perspective to the table that I’m trying to get to or that I haven’t thought about. She became a guru with Daxko Operations, so when I had Ops-related questions, she knew the answers.

Kirsten: Our products affect one another in different ways that we don’t really get to see on a daily basis.

Erika: We actually got to work together on a project not too long ago, and it was so cool to see Kirsten completely own it. It was some experimentation with Daxko Engage. Kirsten jumped right in and did so much awesome work, including some stellar interviews with our customers.

Interviewer: Tell me about some projects that you’re most proud of.

Erika: Daxko Engage analytics! We were trying to give more insight to our customers about what their users are doing in Daxko Engage. I started by creating a hypothesis, moved on to validation, and along the way, the project ended up flipping completely. Engage analytics is an innovative way for customers to see retention over time. It’s been a learning curve to see how customers are adopting this and how they’re creating strategic initiatives based on the data. A customer actually told us the other day that based on the analytics, they’re going to launch an initiative to see how their short-term retention is affected.

Kirsten: I’m most proud of what I’m working on right now around member experience. I paired with Jason W. at first, and we worked together on thought processes and planning the flow of how everything would work. Jason has since stepped away from that particular design role, and I took over. This is the first project I’ll be involved in from start to finish, and I love it because it’s new and innovative. I’ve gotten to talk to customers a lot, which I’ve really enjoyed.

Erika: Talking to customers is fun, because we get to push them to think about how they really use the software or how they would use a particular feature. It’s interesting to hear their thought processes.

Interviewer: What’s the toughest obstacle you’ve had to overcome as interaction designers?

Kirsten: Every day, we are battling. We’re battling for our customers, and we’re met with challenges and limitations from the products.

Erika: Thinking about our processes to solve problems is always an obstacle. I am constantly thinking about the list of risks I get from each experiment that I do. Dependency on other teams is a challenge.

Kirsten: And compromising can also be a challenge. The software engineers give us restraints, and that’s difficult because Erika and I are both really passionate about wanting the best experience for our customers.

Interviewer: Who or what inspires you?

Kirsten: Looking at other design work is very inspiring for me. I love to look at what other people are doing and seeing how innovative they can be in solving the same kinds of problems I face. I also look to Erika – she is very inspiring!

Erika: I’d say the same thing. When I was studying industrial design, I looked at a lot of books to help address problems I was trying to solve. I like to see things in motion, so I also look at Pinterest and graphic design work. Anything that can help me better my design skills.

Kirsten: Seeing things in a different light or being used in a unique way is really inspiring.

Erika: I usually try not to look at things I’m working on. Say I’m designing a table or a form. I try to avoid looking at those things in particular. Instead, I look for minimalistic design type stuff. Design can be hard because simple design is good design.

Kirsten: Everything we deal with is pretty complex. But we have to try and make something complex as simple as we can.

Interviewer: What advice would you give to young women entering your field, especially since you work with so many guys?

Kirsten: Just do it. It’s not as scary as what you think it’s going to be. And bring food!

Erika: Ha! Yeah, sometimes I forget, but bringing food is always good.

Kirsten: The way to a man’s heart is through food.

Erika: Also, if you’re a designer, you need to know technical language. Learn the same lingo as the developers you work with. Learn HTML and CSS, your basics for front-end development. And you’ll learn a lot of the back-end stuff too as you work with developers.

Kirsten: Ask them questions. Seriously, if you don’t know something, just ask. I’ve found that the developers I work with enjoy explaining things to me. I also like to sit with developers sometimes and just watch what they’re doing.

Interviewer: Who are your mentors?

Erika: I haven’t found a technical mentor, but I still keep in touch with my mentors from SCAD. I still use their advice every day: that every experience and every job helps you build your personal toolkit to work towards your end goal in life.

Kirsten: Josh S. is my team lead now, but he wasn’t when he became my mentor. He sat near me and helped me a lot when I first came onto the team. Like me, his degree is not focused in interaction design, so we shared a lot of the same struggles. He’s really encouraging and has a lot of design skills to bring to the table when I’m trying to think through a problem. He’ll tell me, “I see where you’re coming from, but let me put it to you in a different way. Let’s stop thinking about what you can’t do and refocus on what you can.”

Interviewer: How do you stay current in your field?

Kirsten: I look to Will S., who used to work here; I still follow him on social media and keep up with what he’s doing.

Erika: Yeah, me too. Also, when I’m not at Daxko, I help Code for Birmingham. This helps me explore what’s out there beyond what I’m working on for my job. I also read a lot. Any design book I can get my hands on, I read!

Kirsten: Me too. You should see all the books on my desk.

Erika: I like to look at trend reports. Those are always helpful.

Kirsten: I follow different boards on Pinterest and look at Dribbble to see what’s trending, and I look at Google and Facebook’s design libraries.

Erika: Oh, those are good!

Kirsten: They’re always on top of what’s new and innovative!

Interviewer: Last question, and it’s totally random. What’s your favorite emoji?

Kirsten: The grinning face. This one: 😀

Erika: The punching fist and the muscle. I also like the watching eyes.

Interviewer: I sense a girl-power theme.

Erika: Oh, and I like the new one with the glasses, because it reminds me of myself when I was younger. 🤓

Interviewer: Thank you both for this awesome conversation! I’m always inspired by you two.

Erika and Kirsten: You’re welcome!


Are you a woman in tech? Tweet us @Daxko using the hashtag #WomeninTech to let us know why you love your job, what you look for in a job, or what advice you’d give to young women entering tech careers.

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