A Museum visit with Tatiana

For this article, we went to the Technikmuseum with Tatiana Mamaeva, UX lead at wattx. Tatiana joined the team more than a year ago as the first UX designer. We took some time to discuss how wattx has evolved, what it felt like to build a UX team consisting of researchers and designers, as well as the common challenges that arise when UX is combined with new technologies.

What did you do before you joined wattx?

I always really enjoyed the fields of physics, maths and everything technical, which is why I decided to do my Bachelors in Electrical Engineering. But during my study I did an internship in a factory and didn’t really like it: It was very technical and dominated by men. I decided it wasn’t made for me. Once I graduated in 2007, I started to work as a kitchen designer and then as an exterior lighting designer, which is why I then applied for an Interaction Design program in Sweden. It changed everything for me: I couldn’t have imagined that Interaction Design existed as a focused program and was already developed to such an extent. I really enjoyed the human factors, which I lacked in pure engineering.

Then I worked in Vienna and attended another program in Moscow, before moving to California where I was a UX Designer for Bosch. For about two years I was involved in designing interactions for cars and how the future of driving would look like. Then I came back to Munich where I worked for a design agency called designaffairs, before a friend of Bastian (CEO of wattx) found me through his connections - which is how I ended up at wattx.

At wattx, there is a unique opportunity to build something from the start.

What inspired you to join wattx?

My first talk with Bastian! He inspired me. I also perceived wattx as a very free environment as compared to Bosch or designaffairs, mainly because you are able to come up with projects yourself. You are free to do research on your own and search for pain points users might have. In other work spaces, you’re very constrained by a specific problematic or the budget a client sets. You have to deliver something without ever knowing what would happen once you pitch your concept to the client. At wattx, there is a unique opportunity to build something from the start.

So, you saw it as an opportunity to take part in the development?

Yes, I saw the chance to work together with people from different backgrounds, not only other designers but also engineers and developers. That’s something I really appreciate.

How has it been working at wattx? How has your journey been?

When I joined, one of the things I was a bit concerned about was the fact that we didn’t have standardized processes. I remember the “UX Day” we organized one year ago when we took the time to discuss what this process within the UX team should look like all together. This establishment of a process was challenging but also very good for everyone on the team.

In January this year, I was promoted to Head of UX. This was a very challenging step in my career since I had never managed a team before. But I see it as a great opportunity as it also helped me discover some things about myself that I didn’t know before.

You are the design lead within wattx, can you explain what that role entails?

My responsibilities include: managing my team of four and the work they are doing; thinking about how we could potentially improve our internal processes at wattx; supporting other teams when they are stuck in their own process; conducting user research and designing digital experiences, and it also involves graphic work like designing websites, logos, and presentation decks. So the scope is quite vast but I would boil it down to making sure that the work gets done and is delivered, and that people are equipped with everything they need to get it done. At a high level, it’s a lot about communication with other teams to make sure their expectations of the UX team match what we can do.

How does working as a designer for Bosch or designaffairs compare to design work at wattx?

At Bosch, the work was somewhat comparable, but at designaffairs the job was very different. I had to do specific work for set periods of time and wasn’t free to choose projects. Here at wattx, you are free to make decisions about the project you are working on and involve people with different competencies if you want or need to.

Sometimes this freedom means we spend more resources than we need to; but at the same time this provides us with more opportunities to explore topics and skillsets.

So, what kind of design work do you do?

For me, the design process starts when you start having ideas. Then, you begin with basic structuring of information that you have from research observations. Once you have established this structure, you can create storyboards and wireframes, and after several iterations and tests with users, you can build a dashboard, for instance. At wattx, most of the time we build digital products, but the solution doesn’t always have to be a dashboard or a website.

What is the role of the UX Team at wattx?

The UX team at wattx brings new problematics to the table, as many as possible, and represents the users at every step of every project. Also, the team has to be able to step in and ask questions such as “Is this a real problem that our users have?”, “Does this idea really solve the problem we identified?”, or “Is this something that brings value to the user?”

I also think that we are facilitating the design thinking process within the company. We make sure that everyone has the same understanding of a project, at any point in time.

I think this is very hard: to come to work every morning and question what you do.

What is the most difficult part of your job?

Our job requires a lot of decision making - be it killing ideas or moving them forward - and I find it very important to be critical about what you do all the time. Sometimes you see an opportunity and you just want to build the product you are envisioning. And I think this is very hard: to come to work every morning and question what you do.

How do you find inspiration for your design work?

I think inspiration comes naturally from many different sources, like watching a movie or going to the museum, like we did today. But it also comes from looking at other software or watching people do day-to-day things.

Do you think that technology needs design?

In general, technology is wonderful because it can solve so many problems. But sometimes engineers don’t exactly know where or how to apply their technology. By combining UX with technology development, you can ensure problems are identified first. Then, you can make sure that the idea you come up with for the new technology actually solves a real problem or improves the existing technology. And of course, you also need business people to tell you if it is worth putting the resources behind solving the identified problems. In the end, design is there to make technology accessible.

What would you say to people who apply at wattx? Why should they join?

One of the best things about wattx is being able to be free to explore a lot, go wider and deeper when it comes to a breadth of topics, discover new technologies, and constantly learn something new. I think that everyone at wattx can say that he or she learned something new in the past month.

Design is there to make technology accessible.

What were your favorite topics or projects that you’ve worked on so far?

One of the best projects in terms of learnings was the development of a chatbot from an interaction design perspective. The technology itself was new to us as well as the design. Everyone on the team spent a lot of time exploring new programming languages and talking about users, without being able to assess we were actually solving a true user need - which was challenging for everyone. In the end, we killed the project, but learned a lot in the process: from working as a team straddling design and technology to hiring co-founders.

What was your favorite moment at wattx so far?

I have a couple actually: I remember the day we moved to our new office here at Hallesches Tor and the experience of building our own furniture together. It was a great team building activity. I also liked the atmosphere back in Betahaus where we had our first office.

Finally, turning to something more personal: is there a technology that you recall using when you were a child?

I remember the first computer that my sister bought - it used Windows95. It was sitting on a table in her room and it had this screensaver: a black background with little stars flying towards you. I touched something on the keyboard and it was gone. I was so scared that I ruined everything. I had no clue what a screensaver was back then.

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