Based in Boston, Massachusetts, Katarina Loughlin has been mentoring Designlab students since June 2020. We spoke with Katarina about her job at Audible (including the now-defunct all-you-can-listen romance offering she worked on, Audible Escape), the best advice she’s ever received from her dad, and why Peloton is her favorite product right now.
Hey Katarina, thanks for letting our students and readers get to know you better. To start, how did you get into the field of design?
Computers and technology shaped my childhood 🖥 The early 2000s, when I was still in middle school, was marked by an explosion of growth of the "information superhighway" where the general public was being introduced to and finding value in the internet. Tools like Geocities, the OG website builder, made it so easy to set up a website. As a 12-year-old, I created fan sites for bands and TV shows that other people were finding and using. I thought it was so cool that, as a kid, I could communicate with so many different people through a website, and imagined what I could do if this were a job.
When it came time for college, I found a program at Rochester Institute of Technology that specialized in web design. RIT was the only school that I applied to, and I graduated with a BFA in New Media Design, which is basically on-screen, interactive, digital design.
We love that you were creating fan sites as a kid! Where did your journey take you after graduating from RIT?
Half of my career has been spent working at Audible, an Amazon company. Prior to that, I worked at Microsoft on the unified communications clients Lync and Skype. I also briefly worked in healthcare while at AthenaHealth and spent several years off and on working at advertising agencies.
That’s quite the track record! How did your journey bring you to Designlab?
I got involved in mentoring in June 2020. I've been very fortunate throughout my career, in large part due to my mentors, and I wanted to pay it forward during the challenging circumstances brought about by COVID-19. That eventually led to me getting involved with mentoring through ADP List and later at Designlab.
We’re so glad you’re a mentor with us 🥰 What’s your current role at Audible like?
As a Senior UX Designer at Audible, I’m the boots-on-the-ground designer. I'm in the weeds, I know all the edge cases, and I'm documenting all of our deliverables and communicating project status upwards. Most of my time is spent working cross-functionally with product, other designers, developers, marketers, and creatives to solicit their feedback on design solutions and ensure everyone is aligned. Design isn't done in a silo and I strongly believe in bringing people in early and often for feedback.
That’s smart thinking and I’m sure helps your projects run more smoothly! What do you like to do when you’re not working?
While I'm truly quite excellent at bingeing Netflix and eating popcorn, I am somewhat of a lifelong learner. Even after completing my MBA in 2019, I’ve continued to take classes to build transferable skills like writing and communication. I try to balance my time between learning and lounging.
It’s definitely all about balance! What's a favorite design or designed product of yours?
Peloton. It's easy to focus on the digital, interactive part of a product, like, is the app easy to use? Does it look good? Do the interactions make sense, or do they create friction? Truly well-designed products are well designed to the core—not only do they look great and are easy to use, but they are built on a business model that delivers value to customers in a clear and meaningful way.
Peloton has a well-defined business model that works for people who own, and don't own, a bike. They've continued to expand their service offering in a meaningful way and have established themselves as a home fitness leader. They’ve also built a strong sense of community in a digital world by using a combination of strong branding, empowering messaging, and instructors who serve as evangelists, friends, and therapists all at once. What’s more, the easy-to-use app experience encourages customers to meet their fitness goals and track their progress. It’s a fantastic example of how great UX is the manifestation of the underlying business and technological innovations working together.
Pelotons are obviously really popular right now, and it’s clear why—they have a great UX 🚲 What is your favorite project on your portfolio?
Audible Escape, the now-defunct all-you-can-listen romance offering from Audible. Customers could listen to thousands of romance genre stories for a flat monthly fee. For our fans who listen to a lot of romance, this service was great. Working on the service itself—how our customers discover new content, and track their listens—was really interesting, but the most challenging problems were when it came time to sunset the service.
Everyone wants to work on a product that people love and create wonderful, engaging experiences, but the customer's experience at the end of a product's life is just as important, if not more so. How do you tell your customers you’re taking something they love away? Working on the closure of Audible Escape was a masterclass in closing a product, and it's not something that every designer gets to experience.
The closure required a meticulous level of coordination across the business, and the ability to empathize with our customers was paramount. Our messaging—how, when, and where we messaged—was critical. I had to work in a tight, cross-functional team with marketing, creative, and product on a detailed closure plan that took months to create, and I'm so proud of what we were able to do together as a team.
That sounds like a really valuable career experience, and certainly not something that people automatically think about doing when they get into the world of design! What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?
My dad is a natural leader and has given me a lot of advice over the years—one thing he’s always stressed is gratitude and recognition. People want to feel like they matter. Sending an unprompted thank you note to someone who has helped you or recognizing someone for their hard work on a project can make someone feel great. Showing that you value someone isn't hard, and it does take effort, but it can pay off in dividends.
Your dad sounds like a smart guy! What is the best piece of advice you have for someone entering the world of design?
Learn how to learn. The most valuable thing that you can demonstrate as a new designer is your ability to learn. Trends change, design tools change, the teams you work on will change, the design process will change, your company will change. The best way to be prepared for anything is to feel secure in your ability to dive right in and learn. If you can demonstrate a natural ability to learn, be curious, and apply your knowledge, you will be unstoppable.
That’s great advice, and we are definitely advocates for lifelong learning! What attracted you to becoming a mentor?
The mentors that I've had in my career—both official and unofficial—have been instrumental in my professional development and have had drastic effects on my career trajectory. As a new designer, having official mentors who were able to educate me on corporate culture, career advancement, and relationship building were invaluable. However, it has been my unofficial mentors, those who I seek out for advice for everything from solving a design problem to dealing with a tough work situation or career decision, that have had the most impact and in some cases, have opened doors for me professionally. Mentorship is a gift that I benefit from every day and I want to pay that forward 🎁
We’ve found mentorship is usually a win-win situation, and we’re glad to hear it’s been so beneficial for you. What has surprised you most about the students you've worked with?
The self-motivation and curiosity that students bring to their projects and mentor sessions are inspiring. I've found that students' curiosity and passion for learning have been a great opportunity to recharge my own passion for our craft.
It seems like your passion for the craft is really strong, and we are so glad you’re a mentor here at Designlab. Finally, what do you think makes a good mentor?
To be a good mentor is to be a good listener. As a mentor, it's our job to understand our students as individuals and guide them towards their own personal goals by reinforcing their strengths and identifying areas of growth. A mentor should show their students how much they are valued, and one of the best ways to do this is to just listen.
If you’re interested in learning UX/UI design with a mentor like Katarina, we invite you to explore our UX Academy program. If you’re interested in becoming a mentor with Designlab, we encourage you to learn more and apply here.