Alana is a design manager at Capital One. She’s driven by an innate curiosity to help others solve the unsolvable and to create solutions for people that genuinely impact their daily lives. Alana holds a master’s degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from New York University. She’s a Level 1 Sommelier, a certified scrum master, and an executive cheerio dispenser to her little boy.
Tell me about your early years and where you come from.
I’m originally from Monterey, CA. I was lucky to have amazing parents who supported my whims; some I stuck with (singing, writing, and acting) and others I didn’t (that week I “played” the clarinet). I went to a tiny (215 kids!) high school where our interests were nourished and academic rigor and excellence were prized. I’ve been grateful to have so many wonderful mentors who’ve supported me along the way.
How did you first get interested in design?
Likely, working on my high school’s yearbook. This was my true first foray into grids, Adobe’s Creative Suite, and information design. After graduate school, I was hired to develop and facilitate training in the Organizational Effectiveness team at HBO. It was there that I noticed that the real currency of power within an organization is how well you can articulate yourself - be it via a formal presentation, or in an elevator pitch. I delved head first into building a “Presentation Skills” course that introduced me to Nancy Duarte, TED, Ignite, and beyond. Designing this course and having access to the right tools (and space to play, learn, break, and build) reignited my passion for design & gave me a name for what I was being intrinsically motivated to do: information design. From there, I’ve continued to evolve from information design, to data visualization & communication, to service design.
Tell me about the work you've done?
In the Data Visualization space, I’ve built infographics, scorecards, dashboards, microsites, and two products with real-time data input. Currently, my team at Capital One is working to scale service design to the organization. This is design that considers the customer experience (end to end), and the actors, services, and systems that enable this experience. Work in this space could be as finite as a visualization showing why it’s not a good thing that four people who are responsible for delivering a seamless customer experience don’t have access to the same computer systems; or squishy as identifying a new area in which the organization should place its efforts and resources.
What are your proudest accomplishments of your career?
I’m super proud of being able to continue to evolve. Of being able to maintain a seat at the technical table even though I’m coming from a human-centered design perspective (this was true in convincing super smart researchers to give a new data visualization a try, and in convincing engineers and PMs to evolve their understanding via design thinking). I am proud of having been vetted to work alongside the super talented people I’m working with at Capital One’s One Design team right now. And, although Adaptive Path has morphed and shifted and is now so inextricably linked with Capital One’s One Design team - I own my pride at having been vetted by some Adaptive Pather’s whose work I really revere.
What have been your biggest struggles of your career?
As I’ve grown into leadership opportunities - I’ve wrestled with the transition from practitioner to leader. As a design leader, you’re still doing the design work - but your consumers are your teams and the broader design culture, less so the company’s products.
What are you doing that's special that sets you apart from your peers?
Combining my formal education in organizational psychology with working as a designer in a research consultancy has given me a rich, and unique understanding of how companies work, and what levers can be pulled to ‘make sh*t go.’ I also don’t have one design type that I prefer to practice. I want to be wherever the future of work is going - and I want to continue to hone the skills that allow me to evolve to match where the work is headed.
What have your experience been as a person of color in the design industry?
I’ve felt the adages of you have to work 3x harder, and be 5x smarter, to be true. Every day I toe the line of bringing my full self to work - can I be sassy and have my true sense of humor without being labeled the ‘sassy black woman?’ ‘Will I be judged for rocking my natural hair?’ I’ve been working to reconcile a lot of the imposter syndrome I’d been hanging onto for awhile. This is helping me move into an era of less ‘give a f*ckitude.’ I know I am capable of doing the work AND I know that businesses receive value from the work that I’m doing. And, I’m hella funny. I want to bring all of that to the workplace. Walt Whitman says this best in “Song of Myself,” “I am large, I contain multitudes.”
What are your biggest motivators?
Equity. Fighting for building products, services, and organizational cultures that make this world a better place. I believe that I can change this world for the better from the inside of big business - especially an enterprise with such an altruistic core as the one that I’m in today.
How do your friends and family feel about the work you've done?
Proud. But I still get the, “and what is it that you design again?” And, “so you make things look pretty?”
What do you love most about working in design?
The wickedly talented and empathic people that this field attracts. And, the nerdery! I love that almost all designers have their ‘thing’ - an Instagram account dedicated to the mundane beauty of manhole covers, Eichler buffs, super fancy Dixon Tri-Conderoga pencils, and stuff like that.
What would you like to see changed about the design field?
More business acumen in describing and defending design decisions. I’ve seen so many designers easily fatigue at the prospect of tying their work to a strategy. Design + strategy means your work will actually get to live and breathe for consumers.
How can design be more accommodating to underrepresented populations of people?
Design leadership should seize every opportunity to facilitate aspiring designers through exercises that lead to tangible output to add to portfolios, and applications. Next, we should be creating more mentorship opportunities and facilitating connections between people in design & other aspects of a business (technical and product management).
What are you working on right now, either for work or for yourself?
I’m using more Afrocentric frameworks and principles to guide my work. “Emergent Strategy” is informing the way that I understand organizational change. It is influencing the way that I show up day to day - and in my suggestions for articulating future work. I’m also applying this Afrocentric lens to the way that I’m exploring data structures in machine learning and data transformation.
Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years? Do you think you'll stay in design?
Hopefully designing things and organizational cultures where individuals are nurtured and ever growing.
What advice would you give to folks from similar backgrounds who are in design or hoping to get into it?
Keep learning. Keep moving. Develop a healthy relationship to an understanding of change within organizations. If you want to add to your portfolio, ask a design leader (heck, come find me) to facilitate you through an activity or process. STAY CURIOUS.