Hi, Could you introduce yourself?

Hi, I’m Nafeesa. I’m a self-taught UX designer who designs software applications for both end customers and businesses. I’m originally from Sri Lanka but moved to the US to do my BA at Duke University in Public Policy and Fine Art. After graduating, I worked in the Bay area for around 5 years at start-ups and tech companies, before I moved to London to do a Masters in Service Design.

What are you working on?

I’m currently Chief of Product at Quirk, a company I co-founded. Quirk's mission is to build the financial health of the next generation, a mission I feel very strongly about because I've always felt taken advantage of by financial services and felt I didn't have the proper education to manage my money well. I’m currently building a personal finance app for young people, to help them learn and build better financial behaviors earlier in life and we are launching the first version of the app this month in the UK - so we are very excited about that!

Another challenge is getting comfortable with rejection.

What are the challenges and successes you’ve faced at Quirk?

Challenges

Being such an early stage start-up, one of the biggest challenges is feeling comfortable with uncertainty. There are a lot of ups and downs, and you never know what tomorrow will bring, but that’s part of what makes the work so interesting and rewarding when you do have successes.

Another challenge is getting comfortable with rejection. When raising money for the business, for every 1 person that says yes, you have 100 people that say no. It can be disheartening, but you have to make sure you don’t lose sight of why you wanted to start your company in the first place, and the problem you are solving for people.

Successes

We got some initial funding and support from the innovation lab Alpha Health, part of Telefonica, which validated what we were doing. It also gave us the motivation to turn what had been a student project for us at the time, into a company.

Another is the positive feedback we’ve got from potential customers, which has motivated us to keep going. We’ve had 1000s of people take our money personality test online and really enjoy it, as well as people who have signed up for early access to the app.

Female self-taught UX designer Nafeesa

What are your goals?

One of my main goals is to use my creative skills to design something that will improve people’s lives. That’s been my main motivation behind Quirk, as well as building something that's customer-centric and experience-driven, rather than money-driven. I eventually want to teach and mentor people who are just starting out in their design career, something I really enjoy doing and find very rewarding.

Do you have a mentor?

I’ve had a few through my career that really shaped my thinking and I wouldn’t have got here without their help. The one closest to my heart is a family friend who let me stay at her place while I was looking for my first job. She is an architectural historian, with a pedigree at Harvard, MIT & Princeton, and currently teaching at the University of Utah. Although our disciplines were quite different she’s inspired me to question why things are designed the way they are and the influences western and eastern culture have on innovation. She also inspired me to have more confidence in myself and pave my unique career path.

Do you mentor anyone?

Not officially, but since I’m a self-taught designer, I give a lot of advice to people who are trying to transition from other disciplines into a design role.

Nafeesa headshot

What could the tech industry do to better foster female talent?

Acknowledging that there is a problem is the first step. I’ve worked at many different types of companies and ones that solely have a "meritocracy view" of building talent are failing. Companies need to go out of their way to fix diversity, and it isn’t something that will be fixed by hiring “the best talent”. Fostering female talent needs to be part of the company’s DNA and this can manifest by hosting female-friendly events, having growth and mentorship programs for women within the company, tapping into female communities, and actively looking for diverse talent.

What advice would you give to people getting into your field?

This is one of the best times to be a designer. Our discipline is finally perceived as not just “making things pretty” but helping companies innovate and provide better services and products for their customers. It's also okay if you didn't study design in college because there are many boot camps and online resources available that can help you make the career transition. Companies also need design thinking more and more, and if there's the opportunity, you take on some design projects or learn from other designers in your company and eventually take on a design role yourself, which is what I did.  From my experience, UX designers come from all kinds of disciplines and that’s our strength because we have such different perspectives and skills that can be applied to a variety of different problems.

UX design by Nafeesa

What’s the best and worst advice you have received?

Best advice - The world is not fair, and all you can do is the best you can. Acknowledging that has kept me from giving up and wallowing in too much self-pity when I experience unfair setbacks, and instead it drives me to do even better to achieve my goals and dreams.

Worst advice -  That putting up with difficult people in the workplace is character building. In my personal experience this advice was often given to me when I was dealing with difficult male co-workers. It made me feel that I had to learn how to handle difficult people instead of them facing repercussions for their bad behaviour.

Who do you follow? What blogs do you read?

  • Benedict Evans & Angel List to keep up with tech news.
  • Reply all, a great podcast for crazy technology stories
  • Finimize for the latest news on stocks
  • People who have inspired me  - Edward Tufte, Tim Brown, Scott Mccloud, Massimo Vignelli