Sol Degl'innocenti has mentored 30+ Designlab students. She’s currently living in Adelaide, Australia and working at Chamonix as a Service Design Strategist. Sol is a citizen of the world, having also recently lived in Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Copenhagen, and London. In her free time, you can spot her hanging from aerial silks or bonding with one of her mentees.
Hey, Sol! What does an ordinary day look like for you?
I’d say that “ordinary” doesn’t exist any more, with all the dramatic changes the world has been recently facing. We live in an environment that is constantly in flux, so I believe that “change” is the only constant, no matter the industry you work in or the country you live in.
My days and months have been fluctuating quite drastically over the last couple of years. To put in context, I’m currently living in Australia, but last year I was in England and the previous one I had my life pretty settled in Argentina.
Prior to that, I also had the opportunity to live in Spain and Denmark. So even if I tried to, the routines and habits that I develop in a place are always consciously temporary.
In other words, I’d say that an ordinary day in my life is based on brainstorming and mapping future scenarios and new ideas to envision my next adventure.
It’s true: change is the only constant. What are your responsibilities at Chamonix?
As the main Service Design Strategist at Chamonix, I am in charge of promoting service-dominant logic along with the design principles of empathy, collaboration, and rapid prototyping within the Chamonix team—which I also promote with my students at Designlab.
My main responsibility is to build the service design capability in the company to transform our services through technology, business, and design strategies.
Having created this role from scratch has probably been one of the most exciting professional experiences I’ve had in a while, since I’m not only relatively new to the company, but also to the country.
Your role sounds very exciting! What does being a Service Design Strategist entail?
I’m working closely with clients to transform their services into more customer-centred proposals through design-driven innovation strategies—which is really exciting.
I help local communities and industries shape their problem statements and build strategic design strategies to improve their services as well as their customers’, suppliers’ and employees’ experiences.
The main difference with service design and UX design is that, perhaps, the solutions are not always necessarily digital. Service Design is more about the holistic and systemic understanding of the entire organizational structure, and the context where it’s immersed.
In service design, the focus is both on the experience of the end-users and of the systems that enable the service to take place.
What parts of service design do you find most fulfilling?
What I love the most about service design is its strategic and holistic approach.
I have the chance to intervene, improve, and create services (sometimes in a really inexpensive way) by promoting collaboration across areas, departments, and even companies.
What I love the most about the role in this company is that it’s giving me the opportunity to learn about the Australian culture by hearing people’s stories.
The answer to this may be obvious, but... why did you move to Australia?
I consider myself a citizen of the world. The last couple of years I had the chance to live in Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Copenhagen and London.
This decision was motivated by the fact that I wanted to expose my view of life and design to several cultures, ideas and people.
I’m currently living in Adelaide, Australia. I’m choosing to live here as it’s a new and a different environment, full of koalas and kangaroos.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Aerial silks are my passion. To be honest, I’m pretty bad at it but I enjoy it to the point that when I'm in the air, nothing else matters.
Hobbies aside, mentoring students at Designlab is what I do in my free time.
On the one hand, it gives me the opportunity to contribute to the development of a new generation of talented UX Designers. On the other hand, it allows me to empower skilled women, which is what I enjoy the most.
Conversations about design are just the medium to help students strengthen their confidence as professionals and make them feel empowered as individuals. I strongly believe that in order to reduce the gap in gender inequality, education and mentorship in the workforce are crucial.
What is your favorite project in your portfolio?
My favourite project is interestingly not a tangible one. When working as a UX manager, one of the main challenges my team and I used to face was one of implementing customer-centred proposals in a conversion-driven environment.
By interviewing employees, I realized there was a misuse in the implementation of design tools and workshops, which led to poor results and lack of credibility.
One of the solutions to tackle this issue was the creation of a UX Bootcamp. I was in charge of creating and coordinating this tailor-made UX training programme for over 80 UX-ers. This approach was not so much a course in itself, but more a measured strategy to improve UX practices and consistency across different areas, reduce siloed work, and embed a culture of innovation in people’s daily practices.
In the end, after training mentors, delivering the solution and setting future goals with leaders, the engagement levels increased by 15% during that period compared to the previous year, and participation in cross-products rose by 30% in the next semester.
Are you involved in any design or networking organizations?
I’m part of the Organising Committee of Design for Humans (D4H), a human-centred design community in Adelaide. Here, we aim to train, inspire and foster a new generation of leaders in Design-Driven Innovation in South Australia.
Are there women in design that you especially look up to?
Lucila Depasquale is a UX Manager at Google Singapore. I’ve been following her since I started working in human-centred design, back in 2014. Despite never meeting her in person, I reached her online and we’ve had several conversations.
She’s been a wonderful mentor without even realising. I’m truly inspired by her passion and eagerness towards becoming the best professional in the field, which has taken her to a high position in one of the big players of this era.
Regarding women in technology, and if we think of design as a way of “devising courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones,” then I can think of no one but the fearless Sheryl Sandberg.
For those who don’t know her, she’s the Chief Operating Officer (COO) at Facebook, and the first female board member. She’s also a board member of Women for Women International Center for Global Development. Her book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead and all her talks and conferences have been eye-openers to me.
Last but not least, another person I look up to is Magdalena Yeşil. She’s a pioneering Silicon Valley entrepreneur and the author of Power Up: How Smart Women Win in the New Economy.
Her book gave me the confidence to recognize the benefits of being part of a minority as a woman in the tech industry. If you believe in gender equality and you work in the tech industry, that’s a book you should definitely read.
Are there any tragically designed products or services for women that you think could use a revamp?
I think that one of the most tragically designed services—which exacerbates the gender gap and is embedded in most of today’s economies at a global scale—is the parental leave law.
The lack of awareness in regards to the pay gap between women and men also persists, and it’s a matter of concern even in 2020. I believe it is the responsibility of every government to redesign the public policies that evoke this behavior in the workforces.
What attracted you to becoming a mentor?
I used to be a design lecturer at two universities back in Argentina. However, when I started the adventure of working in design while exploring the world, I had to give up on that passion.
Ever since, I’ve invested a lot of time in finding ways to supplement my hobby as an educator—that is, until I found Designlab.
What is the biggest challenge for you as a mentor?
I guess the cultural side of things is always enriching and challenging. In every city, state, province, country and continent, the perceptions around design vary significantly.
Therefore, when students ask me questions around how to position themselves better or how would I deal with a specific situation, I always share with them personal experiences, but more importantly, I encourage them to reach local colleagues to seek different approaches.
What do you find most exciting or rewarding in mentoring?
Enabling people to find their own solutions and to be able to ask the right questions while facing a design challenge is something that really excites me.
The most rewarding thing for me, however, is more about what happens after Designlab.
As a mentor, I feel the responsibility of being there for my students, cheering them up when they struggle with trying to find a job, and giving them hope. During the mentoring, we create strong bonds, we learn about our lives and develop a really powerful connection.
For this reason, once the program is over, having people reach out and tell me about their stories is so fulfilling. I want them to succeed and to be able to accomplish their professional ambitions, so when I hear they’re doing great, that’s the best reward I can have.
What has surprised you most about the students you’ve worked with?
When I started working with Designlab, I had the assumption I was going to work mainly with graphic and industrial designers. Nevertheless, most of the people I’ve worked with so far have been career changers—professionals who want to shift their professional goals, or start a new career from scratch.
What keeps surprising me about most of my students is their eagerness to accomplish their goals. In general, I come across fearless professionals who want to make their careers more meaningful through design, with backgrounds ranging from marketing to business, fashion, anthropology, health, and even biology.
What has been the ultimate student win throughout your mentor experience?
There was this particular student who we worked really hard with to get her first UX job. We struggled a lot together. There were not many job opportunities where she was based, and if there happened to be one, the company would usually be looking for senior roles.
As months went by, I had the perception she started feeling like she was not good enough. It’s not easy to face rejection after rejection without even getting any empathetic feedback from interviewers. Nevertheless, she always stayed positive.
She finally understood this issue as a design challenge and worked day and night trying to get feedback from others, as well as seeking opportunities everywhere.
Her time in the Career Services program was about to conclude, and finally, she found the right opportunity. Her determination and resilience landed her the job. I was so proud of her.
What do you think makes a good mentor?
First and foremost, I’d say that you don’t need a label to be a mentor—and I think the same about being a leader. I believe mentors and leaders are both people who can inspire you, but also help you think differently, and even open doors for you.
No matter how good you are in your field, if you’re not able to listen to those you’re trying to help, it’s hard to believe you can be a good mentor.
Magdalena Yeşil uses the term “humblitious”—half humble and half ambitious. People with mentorship and leadership skills are humble enough to have an ever-learning mindset, but also ambitious enough to do whatever it takes to accomplish their goals.
What is your most important tip for students who are just starting out in design?
Embrace failure as part of the learning curve, trust the process and ask a lot of questions.
What do you think the future holds for the design industry?
With the Fourth Industrial Revolution just around the corner, we’re about to experience an era where millions of jobs and industries will be either replaced or drastically disrupted by technology. For this reason, I’m convinced that designers will have to be constantly reinventing their professions if they want to survive in an ever-changing world.
The World Economic Forum assures us that workers will have to be constantly reinventing themselves and that some of the core skills that will be key in the jobs of the future will be critical thinking and creative problem-solving.
This places the design industry in a great position. We have to understand our career as a creative and human-centered approach to problem solving—which can be applied to both the online and the offline world.
Connect with Sol on LinkedIn or Twitter.
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