Lisandra Maioli has worked on three continents and in multiple organizations as a journalist, marketer and UX designer. We give you the second part of our interview with her where she talks about how and why she got into the digital domain and what her most valuable skills are as a UX professional.

On moving from offline journalism to digital design

Dave: What was it like moving from a completely different career path into the sphere of design? Did you find it hard to prove yourself?


In 2000 when I graduated it was considered a proud thing to say: “I work for a newspaper, I’m a graphic designer.”

At that time everyone was talking about print and newspapers but my friends were saying they wanted to be graphic designers. Digital design was very underground and we were not considered high level like those designers who were working for newspapers. All I heard at the time was: To be a high level professional designer you should work for offline companies and working for online digital projects was considered crazy for your career. Journalists and designers that were brave enough to work for online digital companies were considered really out there.

We had to fight a lot against prejudices and we needed to prove ourselves a lot. Nowadays, a graphic designer can just say they are a graphic designer and they don’t need to prove anything because the job is already carved out for them.

It does not depend on the platform, you are either a graphic designer or not, no matter where you work. With journalism you are a journalist no matter where you work, words are your medium and they are transferable across platforms whether it be newspaper, magazine or online blogs and websites. It’s the same with graphic designers, it doesn’t depend on the platform but on your skills level and your understanding about the world and the user.

On choosing the right path

Dave: When did you discover that digital journalism was something you’d like to do?

Lisandra: I first became interested in digital journalism after my father bought a computer for the family. I was fascinated that you could use CD roms to store content and then navigate it. I wanted to work like this. The CD was like a digital magazine and I wanted to be a journalist for a digital company.

Artists who are really passionate about their art usually start from an early age and get really good at it before they even start formal training in their profession. It’s more about having a talent and you pick up the skills along the way. You can develop a talent in coding but it’s different than having an innate talent for art or drawing.

I have a cousin that I work with on projects sometimes. When we were children he was amazing at drawing and painting. He wanted to be a web designer when he grew up. I remember when I was a kid I did a lot of interviewing and investigating just like a journalist would do. I think it is about talent and having an aptitude for something. Certain people are good at certain types of jobs. If you’re lucky you’ll end up doing something that you’re good at and love doing.

On working on three different continents

My friends told me Dublin is the silicon valley of Europe and that I should go work there, so that’s what I did!

Dave: You’ve worked on three different continents now: The most technologically developed US, Europe which occasionally comes up with a billion dollar company and Brazil which is still a developing economy. Do you find any differences in the UX industry’s development in the different places you’ve worked?

Map of the world made out of dots

Lisandra: I’ve lived in California, New York, Sao Paulo, Rio, Italy and now Dublin. I don’t feel like there’s a huge difference between these places. It’s probably because we’re so connected online and can exchange so much information. I didn’t feel a big difference between the markets, maybe the clients are a little bit different. I was surprised to discover while I was studying in Berkeley that some people hadn’t come across any knowledge of UX. In California and the US in general you still have to explain what UX is and what design is. I think if you are in UCLA, Berkeley you shouldn’t have to do this.

Last year I invited my UX teacher from General Assembly to go to Brazil and give some lectures there, she prepared some really basic lectures, not because she is a basic lecturer but because she thought: “I’m coming from California where we know everything there is to know about UX and I’m in Brazil and there is less knowledge here”.

After one really intense week giving lectures in 6 cities, she was really surprised by how much the people she met knew about UX and how fast the UX industry was developing.

It’s strange because when I was in California I thought it was the centre of the world. But when I compare the level in UCLA where I studied while in Los Angeles, California and the level in universities in Brazil I can see that there was no big difference. I think Americans need to bring in people from other places who can help them think outside the box. They’re not as technologically prepared as they would like to think they are.

Why work in UX

Sometimes I think it’s so hard to bring design thinking into a company because for years we have been trained to hide our opinions and keep good information to ourselves. Design thinking helps breaks this mould.

I love UX because it attracts people who are ‘people people’, people who are interested in connecting and want to share information. This is a big difference between marketing and journalism.

I took the immersive UX course at General Assembly in Santa Monica (California) with a mate who also studied Marketing with me at UCLA. At General Assembly, our first project was to create a mobile app. We started working on our projects with the mindset of marketers, which we were trained for during the whole UCLA marketing course: both trying to design our products separately, in a weird competition. Then, during our UX course, we realised that we were using the wrong mind-set, the best projects in UX are those created in collaboration, exchanging ideas, not alone.

We were so outside of this mind set as a marketing community at the time. We were thinking “this is my product I can’t show it to you”! I found this to be the same with journalists, as in “I have my source, you’re not going to find out what it is”!

This was a huge shift in my mindset, the more I could collaborate with others the better my product was. We traded our ideas and our currency was the quality of the ideas. In college everyone would put their ideas on the wall for everyone else to see. It was a wonderful experience to see everyone walking around, sharing ideas and getting inspired by other people, that’s why I began to love UX.

Integrating UX into organizations

Dave: Do people want to see UX succeed or are they defensive about letting it creep into their department?

Lisandra: There are traditional departments in a company; marketing, customer service, research and development. Then a UX person turns up on the scene and they could fit into many different areas. This is hard for people to understand and accept sometimes if they are set in their ways. We are seeing a transitional period in UX and people are starting to realise that it is important in all areas of an organization. People can see that in order for a project to succeed there needs to be an understanding across departments and UX is the glue that keeps everyone talking and working together.

On workflow and how you do your projects

Dave: When you start a project and have a blank page how do you go about trying to solve a problem, how do you bring a user focus and what process do you follow?

Lisandra: I always start with research. I ask myself: Where are the people already talking about similar products? I try to find people in their natural environment

I love to observe people.

I was once asked to help launch a product where users could create videos and vote for them. We needed to find out if young people in the US would use the product. I went to a convention for young video makers and watched them using their cameras to make videos for YouTube. I approached them and talked about videos and we just sat down and talked about products.

I was asked to redesign the online store of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. They already had a physical store so I went there and watched how the users were navigating in the store.

An online store should match the physical store, the branding should be the same it should be an extension of the the user experience of the store. The user should feel the same using the online store as they feel in the physical store.

To find out more about the user I like to complete a task they would do. So I visited the museum, then the store and I tried to put myself in the users shoes. I observe first, then try and follow their steps. Once I understand how they do it I follow the flow. That’s the difference between market research and UX.

You don’t bring any preconceptions into the mix. Avoiding bias is so important. As a journalist I should be able to do this, but I’m also an academic person. When you are an academic you have your own hypothesis and you’re trying to prove that hypothesis so you choose writers who agree with your views. You have to be really fresh and non partial with UX. It’s all about observation.

Lisandra Maioli has over 16 years experience in digital communications, working with clients in USA, Brazil, Italy and Ireland. You can connect with Lisandra now on LinkedIn or Twitter.

If you’d like to hear more about Lisandra’s adventures in UX subscribed below and stay tuned as she will be writing for our blog in the next couple of months.