A (Almost) Year in Reflection

13 June 2016
6 min read

Almost a year ago (11 months to be exact) I started at GE Digital as a User Experience Designer as part of the UXLP (User Experience Leadership Program). Just a little over two weeks ago, I started a new role as a Staff UX Designer as part of GE Aviation. I thought I would take some time to reflect on my (almost) year at GE and everything I've learned.

Through my year at GE, I've been documennting terminology and concepts that I've found interesting in the industrial space. I thought I'd start my reflection there:

Being design literate vs. design savvy.
One of the most useful skills I've learned at GE is that ability to lead and facilitate workshops, whether they are design thinking or not. At GE, there is a culture of "workouts", aka customer engagements over the course of a couple days designed with a purpose in mind. As designer, we are often asked to step in to facilitate these discussions and meetings through design thinking methods (I would have never used the term "design thinking" a year ago). While interaction design, visual design, and design research are core capabilities of being a designer, at GE, the ability to be a facilitator definitely adds more to your toolkit. Thus, the difference between being design literate and design savvy (being able to implement your skills as design thinking to a non-primed group of people).

Business vs. technology vs. design
Before I started, I definitely thought that these were very distinct things. However, in many ways they are not. THere is a lot of overlap and if you don't understand one of the three, you're still not going to set up the product to succeed. The new role I've taken is actually under the umbrella of product management (specifically new software initiatives with airlines) because it's understood that without design the product can't move forward.

Compassion vs. empathy
I came across a wonderful podcast about whether we really have empathy for other people. It has really made me think about how we negotiate in software design (whether it's about features, add-ons, strategy, etc)

Creation vs. presentation (and it's relationship to individual contribution vs. managing)
As a designer, it's important to go into your little black hole and make things (attributes of being an individual contributor) but also to communicate and work with people (attributes of being a manager). However, regardless of the career pathway you choose, it is important to constantly communicate what you're working on and where it's going. So while creation of a design important, it requires continuous presentation for communication.

Data discovery vs. management
A common misconception of my job is that I work on data visualization all day (which is probably 1/10 of what I do). With that said, I've learned a very important concept in data management in the old outdated industrial space - data can be managed (setting up an alert system) or is just available for exploration (data discovery). While much of the software today lays in the later perspective, it's important that we strike a balance between both.

Functionality vs. access
Everyone wants everything. And as a designer, in some ways you can possibly mock up everything. However, that's not entirely feasible whether it's for a prototype or just sits as a static design. Building out functionality is much more robust, requires efforts in interaction design, and is understood to be a requirement. However, showing access to something (as simple as showing a user "could" possibly do this) undercuts the amount of work put in, and is an over-arching simplistic view that gets the point across just as well (depending on what you're trying to accomplish). The concept of new users (or casual users) vs. power users (or super users) comes into play here when deciding whether to show functionality vs. access as well.

Selection vs. action
Similar to functionality vs. access, selection vs. action is a very specific interaction pattern related to data discovery vs. management. While action implies you can do something (and thus is related more towards management), selection implies that the next step probably requires a change in the current workflow.

Process vs. progress
As a designer fresh out of grad school (and someone who LOVES methods), I was all about the design process and making sure "I do it right". However, the real world is not quite so rosie. While for the most part, I have gotten the chance to do all the research or process work that I've wanted to, there has been a struggle in making progress as quickly as possible (at the risk of abandoning the process). I will definitely struggle with this in my new role as we're moving very quickly through the product validation process.

While no job is perfect, and GE has its fair share of politics, bureaucracy and corporate culture (people care about what they do), I have really enjoyed my time working in GE Digital. In my first rotation in Aviation, I got to own a project on my own and got to work on a cool lighting demo. In my second rotation, I lead recruiting efforts, and worked on two pilots (one for wind turbine forecasting and the other for performance of nuclear power plants).

Handful of negative thoughts: Accountability is an issue. Working at a large company, it's easy to spend weeks (no joke) not actually doing anything. You have to learn how to push yourself and figure out where you want to go and make it happen. Employee appreciation is an issue. There are some people that work their butt off, but GE doesn't necessarily see their contributions as valid. It makes it especially hard in the Bay Area where employees are lavishly treated to all kinds of things.

With that said, I came up with a list of things that make this the place I want to be right now:

  1. The amount of autonomy and independence is amazing. I've gotten a slap on the wrist before, but honestly the world is your oyster.
  2. The problem space. While knowing random knowledge about power plants and wind turbines might not be super useful for dinner party conversation, but it keeps my mind active.
  3. The intelligence of the people I work alongside. I am humbled... every. single. day.
  4. The ability to travel for where I am in my life right now is awesome.
  5. Building strategy: you get to learn how to build a service system, a product, a platform from the ground up.
  6. You learn how to deal with ambiguity. A lot. It's a good designer life skill to have and I think it makes you a more resilient person as well.
  7. You learn how to influence people. This is a leadership trait that I don't think is "learnable" except through experience.

I would like to think I've developed a lot over the last year as both a designer and professional, and I'm looking forward to continuing that growth in a new role in GE Aviation.


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I acknowledge and pay respect to the Traditional Custodians on whose land I live, play, and work. I pay my deepest respects to all Indigenous Elders past, present and emerging.

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