Interview with Krista Kleban,
Associate Product Manager at Crate & Barrel

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Krista Kleban came to Designation with a background in jewelry design, product development, and management. Since graduating from the Obsidian Cohort she has landed a job as an Associate Product Manager for Installations at Crate & Barrel.

Where are you now working, and what is your job title?
I currently work at the headquarters for Crate & Barrel, as an Associate Product Manager for Installations.


Tell us a little bit about your new job!
I specifically focus on the product display installations that represent the theme of each season, collection or catalog. I handle the logistics of product selection, negotiate vendor pricing, partner with the Visual Merchandising team on how to best feature products and ensure the appropriate buyers, planners and marketing team members are part of the process. It’s a lot of moving parts, and I get to work with many different people and departments, which makes it that much more interesting.


How would you describe the Designation experience?
My experience at Designation was a very positive one. I feel like it helped that I walked into the program with a certain set of expectations and a dozen years of career experience under my belt. I suspected that there would be times that the program would completely exhaust me, both mentally and physically, and that working so closely with a small group of people from many different backgrounds for several consecutive months would prove to be a challenge.

All proved to be true, but also made for a great overall experience. I feel like I had a realistic view of what I could actually learn over the course of four and a half months, which is definitely not everything. I feel like I learned enough of the basics, that I would have been able to move into an entry level UX Designer role if I had not decided to accept my position at Crate and Barrel.

I think the bulk of my education would have actually happened on the job; getting to know the company culture and their specific processes, learning new tools by using them first hand on larger scale client projects, and attending meetups and seminars to continue my learning journey and explore new areas of interest.

But, since I went a slightly different route than expected, who knows how things could have turned out. I don’t regret my decision to take the job that I did. It’s an amazing opportunity and I’ve very happy, but sometimes I wonder where I could have gone with UX, and if I will venture into it again someday.


What was the most interesting or useful thing you learned during the cohort?
For me personally, it was a huge accomplishment to confirm that I can still learn new skills, despite being an older student with a long time career in a totally different field. It renewed my interest in learning for career growth, as well as for fun. I feel like the time and money invested in making myself more well rounded are really invaluable.


What are the people at Designation like (including staff, instructor and fellow students)?
The staff and instructors are very knowledgeable and want the students to be successful. They are open to ways to evolve the program to better fit the needs of a very diverse student body, based on what has worked in the past and what has not. The cohorts vary tremendously in age range, personalities, reasons for joining the program, and backgrounds. The entrance of each new cohort and the exit of another, have a huge influence on the culture at Designation. It’s a constantly evolving environment, which is great preparation for a career like UX.


What were you doing before you came to Designation?
Before Designation, I was in the business of jewelry design, product development, and management. I worked for corporate companies like Fossil Group and Michael Kors, which provided me with the type of professional experience that helped me truly grow. I learned how to adhere to tight timelines, work with cross functional teams, and create product that was on brand and fit within a number of parameters. Dealing with inefficient software programs in the corporate world actually sparked my interest in UX Design, so I decided to explore it further to see if it was something I could see myself doing.


How did you hear about Designation, and why did you decide to come?
My journey began with looking at coding boot camps. Ultimately, I decided that I was too social, would be potentially terrible at coding, and sought out UX Design boot camps instead. Honestly, when I started looking, the options were few and far between.

My Google searches led me to a few options around the country, but I knew I was ready to head back to Chicago, and Designation seemed like the only option that had everything I was looking for in a boot camp program. It also had several loan options and a tuition fee that was already less that some other boot camps I checked into. I felt like I could make it work with my needs.

I was lucky enough to chat with some Designation alumni, and visit 1871 in person to speak to students who were in the program at that time. It seemed like a good fit, and the glowing reviews sealed the deal. After going though Designation, I know it was the right decision for me. I would encourage anyone who is interested in a boot camp program of any sort to reach of to alums and learn everything they can before signing up. It will give you that much more confidence in your decision and prepare you for some of the challenges that you might not know about otherwise. No one can tell you more about an experience than someone who has gone through it first hand.

“While I’m focused on physical products, I do a decent amount of strategic thinking, develop alternative solutions, connect all sorts of dots, work with cross functional teams, and collaborate with all sorts of people.”

How did Designation help prepare you for your new role?

Initially when I was asked to do this interview, there was some reluctance. I felt like a bit of a hypocrite. What does it look like if I tell you I had a great UX Bootcamp experience, then decided to take a job in another field?

But when I really thought about my experience at Designation as a whole, I realized that I use a lot of skills from Designation at my current job. While I am focused on physical product instead of digital, I do a decent amount of strategic thinking, develop alternative solutions, connect all sorts of dots, work with cross functional teams, and collaborate with all sorts of people. I have an agile approach, in the sense that I have to work quickly, not over invest time or money, and test the waters before going all in on an idea that could do considerable damage if it fails.

Designation helped make me a more well rounded person. My current managers acknowledge that I took a risk, and explored something new, and that is a quality that is incredibly relevant to my current role.


What was your favorite part of the Designation experience?
I enjoyed learning all sorts of new things, and finding out that there are jobs out there in the UX realm that I had no idea existed. Content Strategist and Service Designer were a couple of the roles that I was fascinated by, and knew nothing about before Designation.


What advice would you give to someone who was trying to break into the industry?
Connect yourself with others in the industry. Don’t be fake about it. Take a genuine interest in other people and what they do. Get to know the ins and outs of their roles and the companies they work for. Ask them to connect you with others. Don’t be afraid to reach out on LinkedIn, but take the time to at least send a personal note to the connections you are trying to make. Prove yourself with your actual work, but also your work ethic, ability to get along well with others, and desire to keep learning and improving. Believe in yourself and your abilities, and know what you can and cannot do. Do not sell yourself short. And don’t call yourself an expert in the field until you really are one. If you want something and you work hard for enough for it, it can happen. Just remember though, there are other people out there who want the same thing you do, and are willing to put forth the extra effort for it. Above all else, just be yourself.

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