Interview with Mairi McKellop,
UX Designer at WalmartLabs

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Mairi McKellop is a graduate of the Umber Cohort. Prior to joining DESIGNATION she worked as an environmental organizer and natural disaster consultant in Colorado.

Where do you work, and what’s your job title?
I’m a UX Designer at @WalmartLabs in Bentonville, AR. My department designs and builds the applications used by Walmart employees. I work on a team of five designers who create the apps used in Walmart’s distribution centers. We design web-based apps for desktop and mobile using Material Design.

Designing enterprise software presents some pretty unique challenges, especially in an organization where UX is still budding. A huge part of our job is persuading people to value good user experience (using ethos, pathos, and logos; plus doughnuts seem to work well). Sometimes we have to get a little wily to make good design a reality.

What did you do professionally before you started at DESIGNATION?
I worked as a barista, an environmental protection organizer, and a natural disaster recovery consultant in Colorado.

How did you hear about DESIGNATION? And why did you decide to attend?
I felt certain I wanted to become a designer, but didn’t know where to start. I vividly remember sitting on my porch one day thinking, “I wish there was a bootcamp for design”, and learned it existed. Leaving a career I had worked really hard to attain felt like a huge risk, but doing an intensive program seemed like the best way to maintain forward momentum. I decided to attend DESIGNATION specifically because it seemed the most rigorous, and I wanted the experience of working with real clients.

How would you describe your DESIGNATION experience?
Not unexpectedly, putting in 80-hour weeks for several months was intense. Though it was unexpected how much fun I had while doing it. I attribute that to being surrounded by 18 other motivated people choosing to do the same thing. I felt an infectious, joyful work ethic at DESIGNATION that carried me through the more trying times (getting the flu, missing trains, late nights). Going it alone would have been a lot harder.

I worried a lot about finding a job after graduation, but looking back, all that agita was necessary. Choosing to shake up my life so I could do DESIGNATION was one of the smartest risks I’ve ever taken.

What made your DESIGNATION experience unique?
I’m a little biased here, but I’m pretty sure I had the greatest cohort of all time. Working with my fellow Umber Cohort members was such a pleasure. They inspired me to grow and get better. My cohort turned out to be equal parts support system and professional network. Lucky for me I get to work with another Umber every day at Walmart!

What was your favorite part of the DESIGNATION experience?
Working on live client projects was the first time I ever got to see my design work implemented in the real world. That was such a cool experience and provided an extra boost of confidence when embarking on the job search.

What did you find was the most useful skill, tool, or experience from your time in the program?
I was able to get a lot of experience conducting interviews, concept testing, usability testing and other user research in a short period of time. These skills are something that take practice and patience to master. So much of user research is contextual and there’s almost never a playbook. It takes experience to know what questions you should ask, and how to successfully uncover truths and eliminate bias.

What are the people at DESIGNATION like?
Highly motivated, deeply compassionate, refreshingly weird, and all as sharp as tacks.

How did DESIGNATION help prepare you for your job?
The sheer breadth of information I was exposed to in DESIGNATION prepared me well for my current job. Being exposed to so many different ideas, methodologies, and perspectives shaped the way I approach my job and my organization. It’s enabled me to envision what my job and UX at Walmart might look like in the future. In a world swirling with ambiguity, this exposure allowed me to chart my own course with intention. DESIGNATION grads are poised to elevate their future teams because they leave with such a rich awareness of what’s possible in UX and UI.

Being exposed to so many different ideas, methodologies, and perspectives shaped the way I approach my job and my organization.

How did you stand out from the competition in applying for, interviewing for, or getting this job?

“What’s your design process?” is a question I fielded in every interview, and speaking to mine with tangible artifacts definitely gave me a leg up.

My background in environmental organizing helped too. I had a lot of experience persuading people to care about something they may struggle to see value in, and my boss believed this was a crucial skill for designers on his team. Tradeoffs are a big part of environmentalism and UX. I’ve had to convince stakeholders to sacrifice personal interests on behalf of public interest in both realms. That experience has undoubtedly made me a more effective designer.

What advice can you give to someone trying to start in the design industry?
Figure out what part of design—UX, interaction design, interface design, animation, research, etc.—piques your curiosity and look for projects that will give you hands-on experience in it. Get comfortable failing, and learn from your mistakes. Create as many iterations of yourself as a designer as it takes to become the one you want to be. Also, they’re gonna ask to see your portfolio so make that thing shines.

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