A Day in the Life of a Product Strategist
Anna El Gueta is a Lead User Experience (UX) Designer and Design Sprint Facilitator at Checkmate Digital, a design agency dedicated to providing excellent product designs and experiences for customers across multiple industries. In our interview, Anna and I chat about what it means to take chances on yourself, how she started her career from a non-technical background to currently leading successful design sprint meetings with clients and customers. Anna and I met at Pratt Design Institute in 2016. We took a Saturday morning class in research and design strategy, learning how to become better researchers and ask good questions. We prototyped a book club app and are UX buddies who check in on each other to move ideas forward. Anna motivates everyone around her to make better design decisions by using empathy.
It sounds simpler than it actually is. Her daily role includes conducting interviews with customers and clients, and designing strategy reports in developing a product. She facilitates design meetings that last for four days taking the client from idea to a real business. Watch this video explaining how Checkmate runs design sprints.
Can you tell our readers about yourself?
Anna: “I came from a completely non-technical background. I didn't know what UX was. I am obviously technically fluent as a millennial, like all of us are. I didn't know the ins and outs of the UX trade or the psychology behind consumer behavior. A few of my friends and my husband suggested I check out the UX industry. After further research, I enrolled at the Pratt program, where you and I met, and started learning and applying design practices. At the same time, one of my friends was starting her coaching business with technical professionals. She gave me solid advice on how I need to network and do personal projects. She encouraged me to find a mentor and chat or read about good designers out there. From there, I was able to land my first role as a UX Designer by looking through angellist.com. The agency where I’m at now contacted me for a new user interface (UI) designer. At first, the team decided to go with another designer. I’m not a UI designer, but I knew there was a gap missing between design, research and analytics.When I got the rejection letter, I doubted my skills because they are not expressed on the visual front, I thought to myself nobody’s gonna to hire you. I didn’t listen to that voice. I thought I’d take a change on myself, so I randomly gave them a call and asked hey, do you have any open internship positions? Yes, they said. I interned with them for three months and a few months after they called me back to hire me full-time in a UX Research focused role. I was very onboard and ready to start this exciting journey!”
Are you the Solo UX person on your team?
Anna: “Yes and no, I’m the only one on our team with the official UX title, we have a small design team. We’re two designers for now. The Creative Director is my boss, and a UI Designer.”
Tell us how you start your day.
Anna: “I read first thing every morning, these readings are usually around current business practices and checking technology updates and related events. The second thing I do is look at my calendar and what my meetings look like for the day. I start mapping out my day, check my Slack notifications, LinkedIn for business inquiries, and social media for business leads. The next thirty minutes is for meditation, to clear out my mind for the following hour. I then jump into the current project, usually design sprints. I’m working on turning my work sessions into time chunks. Sometimes work goes over the time. We’re not robots, so I’m usually not hard on myself to roll tasks to the next day. I add the work-in-progress to my calendar and allot time to figure it out. If it takes longer then we think, it’s ok we’re human, we can’t always anticipate how short or long a project will last. The key is to measure quality over quantity when it comes to measuring the work hours and productivity levels.”
How would you describe user experience (UX) in a simplified manner, to someone who’s never heard of the term UX before?
Anna: “I get asked this question a lot. I would describe UX, as advocating for the user experience more than advocating for the profit. As an agency, this can be a double edge sword because our goal is to equally work with the user and the client to monetize their product. But the value comes from our subscribers and returning customers. To monetize and create value systems to exist in the business, also there is a strong tie between monetization and satisfied customers.”
With limited time and a huge list of tasks, how do you avoid burnout?
Anna: “In order to avoid burn out, I try to take my time as much as possible before a deadline. I give myself an hour daily break regardless if I’m working from home or from the office. I am currently working remote full time so I have to be very intentional about the amount I choose to work and hours to put in. Our team built an interesting plugin clocking-in system connected with google calendars to notify me if I exceeded over eight hours of work each day. Some approaches I take to achieve that is to be slow and mindful to submit all my projects near perfection. I like to ask questions as much as I can in the beginning of every project and make sure I ask my boss questions to avoid making big mistakes, Transparency always helps you reach your goal faster with better outcomes.”
*Words in bold are tagged to our main themes of the conversation.