As a child Vanessa Dsouza was immensely curious about why things were designed the way they were and why some objects serving the same purpose seemed more interesting to people than others. She became deeply
obsessed with objects from an early age. She was absolutely stunned when she realized that
everything around us was “designed” — one way or the other — by someone.
Vanessa saw that when people got comfortable with some objects, they became alive and took on a life of their own, affecting the people around them. Sometimes this relationship was a beautiful one and sometimes it was painful to the users. To her, this is almost like a marriage between the object and the user. Design stands in the middle of this marriage like Cupid, making the user fall in love with the object.
Her ‘Aha’ moment was in the late 1990’s – during her stint at DEShaw – where she was surrounded by the best minds and state-of-the-art technology and design.
She saw for the very first time the impact and scope technology was enabing, in its ability to reach out to millions across the world. Connecting the dots, she saw how good design could be the only creative tool that brought technology closer to humans and how it could shape experiences positively.
Design had a responsibility. That was her turning point – she took
the leap in honing this curiosity and fueling it all the way up – there’s been no turning
How are you planning to celebrate Women’s Day this year?
Do women need a day? Everyday is a Woman’s Day when one is progressive, purposeful and positive.
Having said that, this Women’s Day, I wish all women loads of luck in making their aspirations come true without any self imposed inhibitions. Be real. Be genuine. Be ambitious. And remember that success is not about reaching the top alone. It’s all about taking as many deserving people along with you, irrespective of their
Would you say there is an under-representation of women in UI/UX design?
Research has proved that female role models have emerged as the key in encouraging other women to excel in areas where they may be under-represented. You can’t be what you can’t see — and for women, that often translates to senior leadership positions traditionally held by men. Ironically, in my experience as both a designer and as a design manager, I’ve noticed that there is a fairly sizable number of women at the junior to mid levels. It’s as you go up the corporate ladder that the number of women in leadership
The reasons could be aplenty – marriage, children, other responsibilities which society deems that women invariably prioritise, etc.
Organisations need to take cognizance of this anomaly and measure needs to be put in place to support women along the way.
What are some personality traits of women that make them better (or worse) UX designers?
Instead of pinning it down to gender specific traits, let’s take common traits first because it is important to realise that there is business value in good design. It is not just about improving the core products or the delivery of services but the full user experience and the value the customer obtains that matters. When you look at it from that perspective, clarity of thought and the ability to ask the right questions are very valuable traits.
Most women are more empathetic and typically endowed with an aesthetic eye, but what women need is to get comfortable with is design metrics and data led design
decisions. They need to work collaboratively and communicate how their designs tie to meeting business goals.
As a woman, what’s the greatest challenge you’ve had to face as a designer?
Challenges yes, but I cannot say that I’ve encountered any obvious difficulties just because I am a woman. I am aware of the general challenges that women face of course. I’ve had the privilege of working with amazing co-workers, right from DE Shaw to Deloitte in my early days and then to Amazon and Voonik where I’ve led teams. If I were to call out a big challenge, it is about learning how to transition from designing to managing a design team and eventually to making the design team of strategic importance to the organisation. There was no rulebook or easy approach to this.
And its not just because I am a woman, but its certainly tougher for a woman to get management to recognise this.
What, in your opinion, could we UI/UX designers do, as a relatively young and collaborative fraternity, to solve the problem of gender inequality?
The impact of gender disparity goes far beyond the workplace. It shapes the world in which we live. If I were to focus on one, a severe lack of female leadership in design is the most striking area. Amongst the big and small companies I’ve worked in, almost none of them have had a woman in a senior leadership role when it came to design. Neither did they have a grooming mechanism for women leaders in design. To me this is an area that needs more light shined on.
When I was given the responsibility to lead design, it did not come with a rule book of how to look at design strategically and tie it to organisational growth. Among the ways we overcame this was by putting in place simple measures like assessing design performance with the same rigour of tracking revenues, but it took a long while and humongous effort.
If this fraternity could bring together other women leaders in design and mentor young designers or bring about a guidebook for young designers to transform themselves into leaders of tomorrow, it would play a big role in addressing this gap of women in senior design roles.
With all this talk of inequality, in today’s volatile markets, which includes design as an industry and profession, diversity in the workplace is a key step to a successful
business. I believe an important part of this is to celebrate the difference men and women can bring to solve tomorrow’s problems.
Your message to young women looking to make their careers in UI/UX?
While anyone can pursue a career in UX, not everyone would necessarily feel at home in this field.
When considering whether this is the right path for you, remember that the skillset of a good UX designer is dynamically broad. You need to think about your inherent characteristics, natural talents, and what motivates you to go that extra mile, on a daily basis.
A UX designer has incredibly wide ranging skill-sets that encompasses a variety of soft skills, industry skills, and crossover skills.
This article was last updated on November 26, 2023; Originally published on March 3, 2021