Take five with Lydia Ward, Research & Design Strategist at Accenture Song and 2020 Design Management Professional Diploma graduate, to learn more about her career journey, day-to-day role at Accenture, her experience on the programme and how it transformed her career.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My design career started in I.T Carlow where I studied Industrial Design. This is where I learned the fundamentals of human-centered design. When I left college in 2013, it was a challenge to find a job as a Junior Industrial Designer. For the first couple of years after college, I worked in a couple of different marketing departments designing mostly print marketing material. I was determined to find a job where I could design products and services. I decided to do the Master’s in Design Innovation in Maynooth University. This was an amazing experience where I was introduced to formal Design Ethnography. After I completed my Master’s degree, I got a job in Genesys as their first UX Researcher. As their design organisation matured, so did the research practice, which scaled up to over 15 researchers during my time on the team. As the practice was growing, I got to see another side to research – the really challenging part of setting up a recruitment pool, acquiring tools and creating intake processes for research requests. I worked with some excellent researchers there who taught me how to carry out rigorous, in-depth research. I’m really thankful for my time there and what I learned from a team of skilled researchers. I then left the tech world to join the agency world to experience a different way of working. Tech and agency work are very different and I’m enjoying the variety of work that I’m doing in Accenture. I’ve been in Accenture over a year now and in that time I have worked on some exciting projects and challenges with clients. I’m looking forward to growing the design research culture here!
From healthcare worker to Business Designer for the DCCI to UX Researcher for Genesys until your current role of Design strategist & Researcher for Accenture, while lecturing in Universal design, what led you to work in Design Research & UX?
My time working as a health care attendant while I was studying design in college has had a massive effect on the way I think about people and the way I see the world around me. I often think about the ‘what ifs’ if I didn’t get the chance to work in healthcare. Understanding and empathising with people is at the core of every project I have worked on. I love carrying out ethnographic research and seeing the impact that the findings can have on the team and the product that we are working on. I am working in the digital space now but I can see myself shifting into another space in the future. I’m particularly excited about the great work that is being done at the moment to embed human-centered design into government practices.
What’s your day-to-day flow at Accenture?
The answer to this question would be much easier if I had a routine but I don’t and I enjoy not having a rigid routine. Because of hybrid and flexible working, I don’t think any day is the same. I have recently mastered how to work effectively on the train which makes the journey much quicker and more productive! But generally speaking, the first thing I try to do each morning is making a list of things that I need to do for the day, check in with the team in the morning and identify any gaps in the project that we need to fill. Some projects can include lots of meetings but the one I am working on at the moment has fewer meetings meaning the team can have time to focus time to think and design. At the start of every week, I try and arrange to speak with someone who is not as close to the project I’m currently working on, to get their perspective on the problem that we are trying to solve and make sure we are not missing anything that is glaringly obvious!
What are the challenges of leading your team?
In my current project, I am leading a team of 4 other designers. I think the most challenging part for me is trying to balance giving direction and giving the team autonomy to suggest their own ideas. When you’re so used to doing the boots-on-the-ground design work, it’s difficult to shift gears and manage people and the processes that facilitate and support great work. Another challenge is ensuring that you are always focused on creating a design culture that your team enjoys being a part of while learning about different design approaches and methods. It can get really busy on projects and finding the time to create good design rituals can be a challenge.
What solutions were you looking to find in the Design Management Professional Diploma programme?
I wanted to see what the world of design management looked like and understand the practical steps that I could take at that stage in my career to become a design manager and leader. I also wanted to join a programme that would allow applying the assignments to my current role to make it more relevant. I wanted a programme where I could be myself and leave with the feeling of being challenged and satisfied – thankfully, I achieved all of those things!
What were your key takeaways from the Design Management Professional Diploma programme and how have you implemented them into your practice?
Before I joined the programme, my perception was that being a Design Manager is a scary, high-pressured job. I’m sure that can be the case but I found that you don’t have to be managing a big team to be a design leader! One module that really stood out for me was Design Quality. You are a design manager and leader when it is about educating others about the design process and advocating for certain steps to be taken so we can ensure design quality at every stage of the process. James spoke a lot about how being a manager is also about being a leader and I think about that all the time now. How important it is to balance educating stakeholders, and managing the work whilst also creating a design culture that everyone wants to engage with.
Has the programme impacted your career progression?
Yes, it has! I gained a huge amount of confidence from doing the programme. It made me believe that being a design leader is something attainable and something that I would enjoy. The course was almost like a practice arena for being a design manager. I completed all of the assignments and I felt like I got the stamp of approval afterward! I am much more vocal now about what the design process should be based on each project that we are working on.
Why would you recommend the Design Management Professional Diploma to others?
I would recommend the Design Management diploma to anyone who is curious about becoming a design leader or manager. When I started the diploma, I was a mid-level design researcher and I thought it was too early in my career to consider design management. I was nervous that the content wouldn’t resonate with me because I wasn’t at that level, but I was. James our coach got to know each of our backgrounds and positions in work and used that to create a very personal and unique experience. I loved the open discussions we would have about the challenges we faced as design leaders and the advice we gave one another. The one-to-one mentoring sessions with James were invaluable – I would have done the course for that aspect alone!
Design Futures: what should managers & Design leads be paying attention to?
Universal Design and Inclusive Design! I say that because I am teaching it at the moment and learning more about it every week. Designers impertinently want to make people’s lives better by designing better experiences. There are opportunities in every project to apply inclusive design, working on a project that applies inclusive design principles increases the team’s motivation, creates positive social impact and creates better outcomes for business. It’s a win-win!
Design heroes, dead or alive – who would you cite as key influences or mentors in your career?
Simon Doyle, TJ Blanchflower and Kathleen Surfus – they gave me invaluable support and guidance during my time at Genesys. I love Es Devlin (Set and Stage Designer) and Graham R Gibbs (Social Researcher) – his youtube videos about ethnography are excellent!
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