#WCW January with Araxie Miller

Olga V. Perfilieva
Jan 15, 2020 · 12 min read
Photo Credit: David Miller (location: Iceland)

We are thrilled to feature Araxie Miller as our first Women Crush Wednesday guest of 2020! Araxie works as a Senior UX Designer at CarGurus. She is also a Chapter Co-Lead of Hexagon UX Boston, a new UX mentorship program we’re all very excited about.

Welcome, Araxie! Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Thanks for having me, ladies! So glad to be here.

Hey there! I’m Araxie, I’m a seasoned unicorn designer that’s been in design for almost 10 years now. I’ve had great opportunities to design for many companies in diversified industries. I’ve always had a love for all things creative, especially when it comes to all visual mediums ranging from concept art to interactive design — I kinda always knew I was going to do something in design early on.

I spent a number of years designing in video games with some of the most talented folks I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. Thereafter, I realized the game industry just wasn’t stable enough for me and felt it was best to start applying these skills to other product-driven, user-focused roles.

Most recently, I’ve been at CarGurus just 4 months now, and so far it has been great. I’m very fortunate to have a stellar design team, along with some collaborative and welcoming teammates across the org. Our hope is to continue to grow the design team as a function within CarGurus and preach the good word of UX.

When I’m not designing or coding things, I mentor young women interested in both, I also like backpacking up in the mountains, traveling around the world, growing honey (I’m a trained apiarist — honestly!), reading tons of books, playing video games with my husband, and of course drawing — every second I can!

How did you get involved in the tech industry and specifically in UX Design?

I think in my case it was a natural progression from game design. What better foundation than to be designing products and interactions for players within a video game? I wanted to learn more about HCI as a topic; how it could be applied to my design knowledge and sought further education. The previous companies I worked at were always considered ‘tech’ so I think the question really just became what type of product I am designing and for whom. As I transitioned out of game design, the gamification fundamentals became an advantage for me when looking for new opportunities, especially in other tech companies.

In your LinkedIn profile you describe yourself as a “seasoned unicorn designer.” What does a seasoned unicorn designer do?

Great question! Throughout the years I’ve had an interest in wearing different hats in the realm of design. Often times my roles were more than what their title suggested — UX designer, game designer, visual designer, graphic designer, content designer, developer, coder — the essence of these roles were just, “help us make sense of this, but beautifully.” Having knowledge in more than one area helps you build yourself as a unicorn; strengthening your foundations as a designer, but having skill-sets that overlap into other topics which help support and build your vision. At the very least, you’re bridging the gaps within your company and creating a more collaborative and cohesive environment. I think it’s a wonderful evolution and I always encourage all designers to seek more knowledge, because it’s always power!

Photo: memegenerator.net

What does your typical day look like?

I typically start my mornings with cuddles from our cat, Jasper. Usually his paw in the face is my alarm clock; and it’s never, ever too late! I’m fond of reading articles in design and following numerous publications throughout Medium such as Muzli, UX Collective, UX Planet, and Prototypr. I like to read them first thing in the morning to help wake up my mind — it’s always a great source of inspiration and insight.

Depending on the morning commute, I sometimes will read the articles at work before the start of my day along with a cup of tea. Once I’m in the rhythm at work, I try to get most of my design iterations done within the first half of the day, when my brain is most alert. I like to put on my cartoonishly-large headphones and blast away some music to get me excited! *head bump* Sometimes, it varies from day-to-day as meetings could very well be the entirety of the day! At which point, prioritization and project tracking is vital to ensure I’m on top of my tasks. The meeting focuses are usually ranging from product features, updates or weekly syncs with product managers, engineers, and other stakeholders. Usually things become a bit more conversational toward the end of my day as I ensure I’ve met with all those necessary people to help support my design work; whether it’s feedback or expectations.

How does a Senior UX Designer work at the design team level within CarGurus?

Here at CarGurus we’re currently an all senior group, so it’s certainly engaging to explore each others’ projects during design reviews. Since we’re all on different teams, we take any opportunity to help support one another through our experiences and strengths. This ensures our design goals are met efficiently and successfully within our projects. Our Senior UX Writer is the exception to this and supports us across all teams with product messaging and content (Hi Jess!)

How do you work at your product team level?

CarGurus is historically a very engineer-driven company and product is still relatively new as a function. We have a lean, mean, and incredible product team that’s growing everyday. As designers, we’re quite fortunate to have fantastic product managers across the org that help prioritize our product objectives and goals appropriately within our different teams. For my team specifically, I’m the first (and only) designer that’s been introduced, so it’s been a positive but challenging adjustment to help keep folks design-oriented when planning for features and product improvements. I work very closely with the engineers to ensure user needs are met and all of our product features are tested/researched before new iterations can be made. As a company, everyone is receptive and collaborative — we all want to make great products that help keep the focus on a positive user experience.

What do you love the most about your job?

I love design. I love what I do. In the instance of being at CarGurus, it’s a new and invigorating environment and my mind is constantly engaged and stimulated! And not gonna lie, the people help. My design team rocks.

What are the challenges that you are facing at the current point of your career?

I’ve been doing design for a long time, and like most designers that are good at their job, we stay pigeonholed in doing IC work longer than desired because design leadership just isn’t that common. Doubly so if you’re a woman.

There isn’t much of a trajectory in most organizations for designers or their teams; primarily because design was an afterthought in the company or because there isn’t design leadership at the executive level to support the function and its value. There is also still a tremendous amount of sexism within the design industry; men still lead the ranks and can be dismissive of women trying to climb further ahead. Unfortunately, catching that break can become a game of how lucky you are or who you know.

Photo Credit: dilbert.com

How do you overcome those challenges?

I’m proud to say that recently I see more women finding themselves in leadership roles and they’re building strong foundations for their teams to flourish. Companies are also starting to realize how incredibly valuable design is and how marketable that talent can be. So maybe there is hope after all!

For myself personally, I still lead in my own way — I mentor, I team-lead, I coach, I do what is necessary to help support anyone that seeks guidance and validation in their career. You don’t need a leadership title to lead. I love to nurture and encourage people. When the time and place is right, I hope to have the official title to match!

A lot of our members are recent UX design graduates. What advice would you give to those that are trying to find their first job as a UX designer?

First, congratulations to all recent grads, I’m sure you worked so hard to get to this point! Take a moment to be proud of your accomplishments!

The best advice I can offer to any recent graduate is to seek an internship or apprenticeship at any available companies. Often times a lot of colleges or training programs have great connections and resources; take advantage of them! Experience gained is invaluable and you need to consider portfolio materials to present during job interviews. Companies can also bring you on full-time upon completing your internship if they feel the experience was mutually beneficial. If not, it’s ok, you’ve gained a wealth of knowledge to take with you to the next adventure.

I always ask people when they’re considering a career in UX, what specifically are they interested in? Do you want to be a designer? A researcher? A writer? Where are your strengths? Your weaknesses? For example, if you want to pursue a career in design, but have no fundamental design training, learn. Look for further training online, play around with the necessary software and apps, develop the skills that can help you visualize your solutions.

Knowledge-sharing today is quite easy; you’ll pretty much find anything on Google these days. Often times, previous candidates write their experiences extensively in articles and help provide a guideline of what to expect for interviewing at tech companies. Read them! The examples of what worked or didn’t for them is a wonderful place to start when you haven’t begun your portfolio. It’s imperative to showcase your process, ingenuity, and of course collaborative nature when arranging your work.

Tell us about your involvement with Hexagon UX mentorship program. How did it all begin?

The inception of the Boston chapter for Hexagon UX started ironically in California. I remember having a conversation with the Bay Area ladies during a conference and I happened to mention I would be returning back to Boston. A few voiced their interest in Boston’s UX scene and said I should start something. I knew we had great resources for networking if you were an existing UX designer. However, we’re quite limited when it comes to mentorship and guidance within our community for students or those transitioning into a new career.

I got in touch with the steering committee and found out there were a few other women applying to help support the cause. Fast forward a few months and we’re all here ready to get this started! Hexagon UX is a wonderful organization with some of the most incredible women and non-binary individuals I’ve interacted with. There is a tremendous obsession with helping everyone succeed. Our Boston chapter is no exception; all of us are committed to making sure support and a sense of community is available for all those starting out in design.

Hexagon UX Boston is about to launch its first cohort. What are your expectations for this first round?

I’m confident it will help create a new norm for the juniors starting out in UX. When there is a resource for mentorship within your design community, there is a hope to grow together. I’ve spoken to so many students that are excited and ready to learn from mentors. This type of enthusiasm early on continues to provide the positive feedback we want for our members.

I believe in what we’re all trying to do here and the success will be ubiquitous when our mentees feel accomplished and prepared after working with their mentors.

Where can our readers sign up for this mentorship program?

If anyone would like to learn more about the mentorship program, head to Hexagon UX’s page here! Our Boston chapter page also has some helpful information. Be sure to join us on Slack to connect with all the countless individuals around the world. We update all of our news on Twitter.

We are currently open for applications on both the mentee and mentor side, found below:

Apply to be a mentor.

Apply to be a mentee.

What has been your personal mentorship experience that helped you advance your career?

It’s always so hard to look back on one’s life and pick just one experience where mentoring helped. I’ve been very fortunate to have met so many talented and caring teachers, leaders and peers in my life. If I had to pick one person, I would have to say Brianna Schneider, my team lead, back when I worked at Carbine Studios. She was wonderfully attentive to my growth as a designer and a true friend. As a woman in design, especially an industry like that, it was sincerely welcoming to have her as a leader.

Brianna’s guidance helped me find confidence where it was lacking. She spoke highly of me to leadership teams, supported my design decisions with positive feedback, and helped me curate my mannerisms when presenting my work for review.

Over time, I managed to feel more comfortable within my role and felt empowered by her influence when it was needed. She was a great manager, a fantastic mentor, and a fun personality to work with. I grew so much as a person on her team, along with my fellow teammates.

Best advice you’ve ever gotten?

“Being small isn’t a disadvantage, it’s actually quite the opposite!”

A big shoutout to all my short ladies in the house!

Where do you draw inspiration?

Oh wow, everywhere! But I love to read, so I have to say that is certainly the largest source of inspiration. All books really, not necessary design or process-oriented, but even fiction; stories of all kinds — I think it’s moving in a way other mediums can’t be.

What are the five things you cannot live without as a UX designer?

  1. I’m kinda a pen snob and have quite the extensive collection of glorious writing utensils — I’m a traditionalist when it comes to mapping out ideas and concepts on pen and paper.
  2. Sketch App with Anima plugin — It’s kinda like breathing air for us these days.
  3. My headphones — I can’t do work without them. I have tried and sadly failed.
  4. Slack — It’s become such an integral part of everyone’s life; it’s so incredibly valuable for productivity, communication, even sanity on those really stressful days #random.
  5. My T-Rex lamp — it’s kinda complicated… She’s just my guiding light.
Photo Credit: Amazon.com

Any tips on keeping a healthy work-life balance?

I can’t stress how important it is to learn to leave work at work and try to never bring it home unless it’s absolutely necessary. And if you work remotely, you have to unplug yourself from it all every now and again. Turn off all your devices and disconnect!

Life happens, it gets stressful and we’re all human. It’s so very important to nourish your body and mind. Take long walks, talk to friendly people, eat good food, cry during a film, and take a hot yoga class. Your entire existence will thank you for it.

No job is ever worth it. You come first.

What brought you to Boston and what do you love about Boston?

My folks moved to Boston when I was a kid from Los Angeles. When my family had migrated to America from Armenia and Syria, they moved back and forth between Boston and Cali. My immediate family, for the most part, is now in Boston, though we still have quite a few in California. After college, I moved back to Cali to kickstart my career and stayed there for a bit. I fell in love, I moved back home to Boston, he followed me (for himself, not for me) and we’ve been here since! Boston is a really unique and incredible city. I always miss it when I leave for too long. The people, the culture, the general vibe this city offers is something I really haven’t found anywhere else.

Favorite brunch spot in the area?

The Friendly Toast in Kendall is kinda the best place on Earth to me. I mean, I’ve tried other places, even other locations, it’s NOT THE SAME. I’ve been getting the same thing for years, the King Cakes. It’s amazing, I highly recommend it. Make sure you’re super hungry when you order it, it is a beast. My mouth is actually watering writing this.

Thank you very much, Araxie! And best of luck with your new journey with Hexagon UX Boston!!

Thank you for having me, ladies! And thank you for all of your wonderful hard work in Ladies that UX Boston. Boston is very fortunate to have such an incredible place to network.

Check out Araxie’s LinkedIn profile and follow her on Twitter!

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ltuxbos

Ladies that UX Boston is a monthly catch up for talented…

ltuxbos

Ladies that UX Boston is a monthly catch up for talented and creative women in the UX and design community. The group aims to provide an inspiring, collaborative and supportive environment through informal networking, lively discussions and events.

Olga V. Perfilieva

Written by

Product Design at Botkeeper. Previously at ezCater and CarMax. Co-organizer of Ladies That UX Boston.

ltuxbos

Ladies that UX Boston is a monthly catch up for talented and creative women in the UX and design community. The group aims to provide an inspiring, collaborative and supportive environment through informal networking, lively discussions and events.

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