Ioana Teleanu is an inspirational woman, mother, UX manager at UiPath, co-founder & mentor at Mento Design Academy, and a host of podcast Honest UX Talks. We had the honor to interview Ioana as a part of our Women in UX blog series, and find out more about her journey to UX, what she loves most about her job, if she encountered any roadblocks as a female professional, and what she thinks is the best part of being a woman in the UX industry. Read along!
Before you got into UX, what was your background?
My educational background is in Management (unclear what that means, I guess), as well as Comms & PR. Before transitioning to UX Design I worked for many years within the same company, ING Bank, in various positions, from Customer Care Support, to even being an Executive Assistant to the CEO. Eventually I “stabilized” into the Digital Team, but in a different role than that of a UX Designer, as at that point, it didn’t even exist in our company.
How did you realize that you want to be a designer?
At some point, the UX Design role was officially defined and created, and a small design team was established. That’s when I began to be exposed to what design work entails. I was lucky enough to be able to sit in the same office with the designers, so I got to lurk on their conversations, meetings, workshops, and so on. I immediately became drawn to the UX role.
What was your first UX design project and how did you get it? What were the challenges you faced as a beginner?
My first UX project was designing a donation flow for the mobile banking app. I was able to get it after a 6-month apprenticeship with an (impressively) experienced designer (he started doing design in 1995!). To get the apprenticeship, I had to restate my interest in UX design again and again and pursue educational opportunities outside my company. I was doing my best to get noticed. It took a while, but eventually, I was presented with an opportunity inside my company.
Designing a donation flow seemed simple but impactful, which is probably ideal in terms of a first design project. I felt immensely happy and grateful.
About UX Goodies
How did you start UX Goodies? What was your initial intent, what message did you want to bring out there?
I’ve been dabbling into the world of content creation for a couple of years before I decided to marry this hobby with my passion for UX Design. That’s how UX Goodies was born. I had just ended handling the social media presence of a rock band (sound cool, and it was!) and felt like I wanted to do something for myself– and given my love for UX Design and the fact that I had been already working as a UX designer for some time, it felt like the natural thing to do next: start sharing my design journey.
Initially, the only purpose of creating and sharing content on UX was to get myself to research and learn new things on a daily basis – a sort of learning routine, an invitation to discipline. I began with absolutely no expectations or plans for it. I remember thinking “my God, if I ever reach 4000 followers I will tell ALL MY FRIENDS about this page!” – one year later I was at 100,000 followers – it was totally insane.
But once I started to understand the amplitude that the page was reaching (with the responsibility that came along) I knew I needed to articulate a message, and for the longest part of UX Goodies’ life, that message was: we are all work in progress; we are all on a journey and putting our learning journey out there has the potential to help others, which is immense.
In one of your interviews you mentioned that there are a lot of problems in the world of UX education. What do you think they are and how would you deal with them?
Oh, don’t get me started on this topic! Yes, there are many problems with the UX education space. I’ve uncovered most of them through the conversations (dozens, if not hundreds) I’ve had on the UX Goodies profile. Kept seeing the same struggles again and again, and it quickly became apparent that the way designers are getting their early education is broken. When I decided to try to do something that might fix some broken parts, I embarked on a new journey of discovery, and more problems emerged. That’s how Mento Design Academy was born, in an effort to design a UX bootcamp that does things better, starting with being designed and taught by actual UX Designers.
Some of the problems I became most interested in fixing were:
- the way in which the UX transition is overly simplified (“become a UX designer in 8 weeks”)
- The overly optimistic expectations that the industry creates for new designers and how hard they’re hit by reality in some cases
- The volume of information out there is overwhelming and the noise is immense, making it incredibly hard to navigate the first steps to switching to UX design
And the list could go on and on, but for this context, I’d say it’s enough to get a feel as to why I became intensely passionate about this topic and doing something about it through Mento.
Inspiration, challenges, advice…
What advice would you give to those who are just starting their UX journey? What do you wish you’d known at the beginning?
Find a mentor as early as possible. I didn’t know how important that was until I found my own mentor a couple of years ago (hey, if you’re reading this, thank you, Stephen!). It’s really difficult to figure out where to start and what path to follow, and a good mentor has the incredible capacity of guiding you and helping you find your way into UX Design. And it doesn’t have to be just one mentor, there can be several – although I always find that, especially for the transition period, it’s really valuable that you have a continuous (mid-long term) relationship with one person – with recurrent meetings and ongoing conversations about your journey.
Is there somebody you look up to in the world of UX? Who inspires you?
Oh, this would be a very long list. I want to start by saying that you can learn from everyone. I think I learned something from almost any designer I’ve had a design conversation with. So the learning mindset has to be there all the time, you can extract value from almost anyone, it doesn’t have to be a design superstar or a huge design leader.
But some of my greatest sources of learning and people who inspire me would be: Andy Budd (who even took the chance of meeting me in person while I was a complete stranger to him when he was visiting New York – a conversation that had an immense impact on me), Tanner Christensen and Jasmine Friedl through their New Layer podcast (recently discontinued, sadly), Julie Zhuo (needs no intro), Felix Lee and his amazing journey with ADPlist, obviously my mentor and coach Stephen Gates, Jenny Theolin for her work in the educational space, Erika Hall for her incredible book Just Enough Research, Mike Monteiro for his incredible book Ruined by Design, Chris Do for all the amazing work he does educating designers on various topics and the business of design (and for how supportive he was of me) and so on and so on – this is just a very small part out of a huge space of inspiration that I look up to.
What would you say is the most exciting thing about your job?
Witnessing the way your solutions have improved people’s lives if you’re lucky enough. There’s nothing that can beat the rewarding feeling you get when you can see people using your product in a happier, more useful, valuable and pleasurable way. Worth all the effort and pain that goes into the process. 🙂
What are the biggest challenges you face as a UX designer?
For me the biggest challenge is being resilient. The UX process is seldom (probably never) the happy path that is portrayed in colourful depictions of the process and seemingly-simple frameworks. The process is messy, non-linear, there’s a lot of back-and-forth, you operate with a lot of unknown and uncertainty, you have to handle many things at once, you have to process significant volumes of data and extract insights then turn them into action, you have to grasp complex systems, you have to make complex connections, you need to manage relationships, communicate and so on – bottom line: it’s A LOT of work. And it can become tiring for many parts. But in order to deliver the optimal solution and the best experience to your end user, you have to be resilient and push through all the pressure and past the hard parts.
Women in UX
Along your journey, have you encountered any roadblocks for your growth as a female professional?
Not that I was aware of. Many of the things that block or slow down women are in a way unconscious, invisible to the immediate eye, embedded in our societies. I haven’t had a direct situation where I was discriminated for being a woman, but the fact that I now have a 10 months baby and am faced with the decision of dedicating my entire time to raising her in her critical first 2 years or going back to work to not miss out on growth opportunities by pausing my career feels tough. I do feel like I’m probably missing out on something and that I’ve “slowed down” in my growth. It’s a tough choice to make, and it stems from the way that modern societies are designed.
Do you notice a lack of women in UX? If so, what do you think is the reason behind that?
I think it varies a lot geographically and from one company to another. However, I’m happy to see a lot of women starting their transition to UX design. I think that in the past women might have felt discouraged to take this path as it was perceived as something very techy and male-dominated, like development. But now it feels more inviting and I’m actually doing my best to contribute to making this open invitation clearer.
What do you think is the best part of being a woman in the UX industry?
You get to meet and be supported by other incredible women. I’ve built inspiring relationships with other women throughout the years – the UX world is for most parts a beautiful community where I always felt very welcomed.
What is your message for all the women in the UX industry or in general?
Let’s build a supportive, warm, welcoming community – let’s be the mentors we needed when we were transitioning. Let’s give more (without necessarily expecting less).
Plans for the future
How would you describe the career stage you’re currently at?
I’d describe myself as a Senior UX Designer that is currently exploring the entrepreneurial space. I feel like all the work I’ve been doing at Mento for the past year has informed my process and practice as a UX Designer – it’s an unexpected and positive by-product.
What are your career plans for the future? Are there any upcoming projects you’re working on?
I’m currently working on growing Mento and helping more aspiring designers with transitioning successfully to UX design. I’m also hosting the Honest UX Talks podcast and plan to host more events and create valuable content for the community through UX Goodies.
And I really miss my day job at UiPath, as I’m currently on maternity leave prioritising spending time with my daughter over everything else. My career plan is to return to work next year and that’s all I can foresee at this moment. 🙂