We are thrilled to have Alkistis Mavroeidi as our guest of the Women Crush Wednesday series! Alkistis works as a UX Design Lead at KAYAK and we met her exactly one year ago when KAYAK graciously hosted our May 2019 Meetup.
Welcome Alkistis! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hi there! I am a UX designer, originally from Greece & I’ve lived in Boston for the past 5 years now. My background is in Architecture and before that I was a math nerd and loved going to International Math Olympiads. That’s where I point to as the root of my passion for traveling & problem solving. I started my career working in VR and AR projects and I love implementations of immersive tech, especially in game design.
How did you get involved in the tech industry and specifically in UX Design?
Almost by accident :) After studying Architecture, I came to the US to do a Masters in Design & Technology, intending to focus on Computational Architecture. But thankfully, that program I did at Harvard was flexible and allowed me to explore, and that exploration helped me understand that what fascinated me mostly about my academic projects was the User Experience part. So I started pursuing internships in UX/UI and reading a lot about that industry.
What does a UX Design Lead do?
I have 3 areas of focus: building best UX practices, supporting User Research & working on my own projects. When it comes to individual projects, the UX team works very closely with our Product Design team but we focus more on the early stages of the design explorations — bringing insights, driving the scope of the MVP, helping with wireframes. Then, throughout the rest of the design process, we continue to coach & support Product Designers, especially when it comes to setting up and conducting user testing.
What does your typical day look like?
My day starts with a cup of coffee and a catch up with my readings from saved articles — I have a pile of bookmarks that unfortunately keeps growing. Then, morning hours work best for connecting with our colleagues in Europe so they are usually packed with meetings. Things tend to slow down in the afternoon and that’s when I get to focus on my design or research projects. The work part of the day can vary a lot depending on whether I am user testing, analyzing research, aligning, workshopping or doing design work. There’s also a lot of logistics as part of my work, whether it’s design documentations or research logistics.
What is the structure of your team and how do you as a designer collaborate with other disciplines, including Product Management and Engineering?
At KAYAK, the UX team is integrated in the Product Design team, and we are organized in 4 Tribes. Each Tribe has a PM & pool of designers that are responsible for big segments of the product. Our Engineering teams follow a different organization, in Squads, which are more specific to our Product’s verticals. For us, it is very important that our Engineering team as well as all our stakeholders are present through the design process, and which is why we use tools that allow us to expose our process and iterations. We also have a channel in which all designers post every week and at every stage of the process that is open to anyone to follow. Finally, we have a number of meetings to bring the Product & Engineering teams together as early as possible (Project Kickoff, Dev Kickoff & Design Reviews) and lately we’ve been trying to increase collaboration at the early stages of design. We want to have more conversations with Engineering before design is in the details and polished.
How do you personally measure success every time you are designing a new product or feature?
At KAYAK, we A/B test everything so that’s our final success metric. But as designers, we need to ensure that we are setting up our projects for success before that, and that we bring the right thing to be A/B tested. For me personally, setting up for success is a combination of things:
- Making sure the team is aligned and excited on the problem we are solving
- Involving the right stakeholders at the right time and getting their buy-in on our proposed direction and solution
- And of course, conducting well planned user testing, minimizing our biases, and getting positive results from our users.
What do you love most about your job?
My team! I love being surrounded by people that inspire me and challenge me. I also really value trusting that they will always give me honest feedback. I think this is really key to me feeling like I am growing as a designer.
What are the challenges that you are facing at the current point of your career?
Moving from reactive decision making to proactive decision making. I think my comfort zone is at being given a problem and deciding how to solve it. But I’m starting to face situations where I have to make the call on what’s the problem to solve. This is still uncharted territory for me, terrifying and exciting at the same time.
How do you overcome those challenges and what tips do you have for those in a similar situation?
We often treat an opportunity as a “make it or break it” moment which can cause decision paralysis from the fear of failure. In real life it’s rarely like that. Many of the leaders I admire have had big failures on their record that made them who they are today. Thinking about that helps me look at these opportunities as a growth moment, not as a source of anxiety.
What areas of growth are you focusing on right now?
I have always been focused on the first parts of the design iterations while Product Designers focus on high fidelity mocks. But lately I’ve been trying to hone my skills on high fidelity design, as I think the line between the two steps of the design process is getting more and more blurred. My belief is that the two disciplines will merge in the future. There will always be a need for specialization but the base skill set will span from the beginning to the end of the Design Process.
In your opinion, what are the skills every junior designer should work on to get to senior level?
Leadership is essential for designers, even if they are not interested in following a managerial career path. A lot of the work of designers is about managing stakeholders, defining directions and making confident decisions and none of these things can happen without developing yourself as a thought leader. That particularly means moving outside of your comfort zone often and making things happen yourself instead of waiting for someone else to do them.
If you could go back in time and change one thing in your career path, what would that be?
I feel like every step I’ve taken, including the wrong ones, have eventually led me here. So I wouldn’t change anything. But I often wish I could repeat school with the amount of knowledge I have now. I would just enjoy the experience so much more.
How do you stay up to date on the latest trends in digital design?
I read a lot of articles from major UX publications like UX Planet, UX Collective and Muzli. I also closely follow any design changes and directions implemented by the big tech giants as I think their influence on user behavior and trends is very strong. But more importantly, I am lucky to have around me a team of curious designers that always talk about the latest trends and debate over user behaviors. Lately we’ve been trying to decipher new social media trends, like the video trends that have evolved during the past months of the COVID-19 lockdowns.
Five things you cannot live without as a designer?
These are my 5 things that can put me in the zone of maximum creativity:
- Good coffee
- A good movie score to block out distractions
- My journal and pen for easy access to sketching
- An extra screen to project multiple sources of data
- A problem to solve that I’m excited about
Any tips on keeping a healthy work-life balance? Especially now, while a lot of us are working remotely.
Having a schedule is key. Whether it’s waking up early and taking your time to start the day, or having a hard stop in the evening, you need a structure that forces you to disengage from work. I also like breaks with activities that require some level of focus (so no, online videos won’t do). My favorite break activity is to make lattes with interesting ingredients, like basil and acai powder. It requires measuring, blending, warming and frothing which keeps you at focus and gives you a delicious outcome.
What advice would you give to those who are considering becoming UX designers?
One thing about UX is that it is a fast paced and fluid industry so you have to be adaptable. As with every industry, what you learn at school is rarely the exact way things are done in real life so you have to pick and choose your learnings and processes and adapt to what you have available, whether it’s time, budget, data or business restrictions.
How did you hear about Ladies that UX and how long have you been a member?
I found out about Ladies that UX Boston by looking up for active UX Meetup groups to join. I’ve been a member for 2.5 and I love the events and the community they’ve built. Hosting an LTUX event at KAYAK last year was one of my favorite moments ever.
What brought you to Boston and what do you love about Boston?
I came for grad school and as an international student I immediately fell in love with the multitude of international communities. I love how you can find people from all over the world, not to mention a wonderful big Greek community (and food) :)
Favorite brunch spot in the area?
Speaking of greek communities, 3 Little Figs is a wonderful little spot with delicious breakfast options infused with a greek influence.
Thanks so much for sharing your story, Alkistis!
It’s my pleasure, thank you for having me!