Pascal Lola is a digital technologist, artist, and aspiring people leader who believes in the power of technology, art, and collaborative teamwork. As a technologist, Pascal is currently a lead User Experience Designer for Baker Hughes, GE (formerly GE Oil & Gas). At BHGE, Pascal is helping change and improve the future of oil and gas by designing digital technologies that increase efficiency, reliability, and safety in the production process; as a result, delivering millions of dollars in cost savings to some of the largest oil & gas companies in the world. Pascal employs user-centered design and serves as a liaison and facilitator between different internal business groups, the customer(s), and the target users to make sure the right solutions are built. Before GE, Pascal worked for Election Systems & Software, the largest election company in the United States responsible for the technology, equipment, and services used by millions of voters and hundreds of jurisdictions during national and local elections. Pascal has also worked for companies like Wolfram Research and Intel Corporation. At both companies, his work focused on the design of solutions and tools to help people find meaning and value in their personal data. As an artist, Pascal enjoys creating art through both music and photography. He mentions that photography has taught him a lot about himself, life, and people. Photography has taught him a lot about risk-taking, sales, perseverance, and practice. Pascal plays a few musical instruments as well, although he feels that he has neglected his musical skills in the last few years. Lastly and simply stated, Pascal is a strong believer in collaborative teamwork and is a strong advocate for honesty, transparency, and humility as enablers for good and productive collaboration and social well-being.
Tell me about your early years and where you come from.
I was born in a city called Wakanda. Ok just kidding. I was born in a city called Bukavu, located on the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. I spent the first 10 years of my life in Congo. I grew up speaking Swahili & French and still do, but definitely not with the same fluency and native accent. After 10 years in the Congo, my family moved to Kampala, Uganda where I had to learn English for the first time in order to attend school. One thing I remember about Uganda is that it was the first time I interacted with a computer (I was about 11 years old). There was a neighborhood shop nearby that had a desktop computer. Until today, I still have this memory of me sitting there for at least an hour playing an arcade game on that computer. It was pretty cool. And no, this wasn’t a magical moment that finally turned me into a techie. We spent 2 years in Uganda before we finally moved to the United States (state of Indiana) where I continued my middle school, high school, undergrad, and graduate school.
How did you first get interested in design?
In middle school and high school, I was exposed to the basics of multimedia creation and design (video, sound, 3D, computer graphics, websites, etc.). Looking back, it’s not that I was interested in or truly understood “design.” Instead, I was always interested in building and creating things like most kids are. It’s only until college that I really started to dive deep into different topics, although not all were design related. I spent one semester thinking I wanted to be a computer graphics designer. I learned a whole lot in that program, but was so bored by the whole idea of graphic design, and so I quit and went pretty much without a major for a semester or two. That’s when I discovered the IU School of Informatics where I basically spent the rest of my undergrad studies at the intersection of computer science and multimedia design and development, before finally being introduced to and falling in love with the UX design discipline that I practice today. So I can say that I finally understood and loved design when I started my Human-Computer Interaction Design graduate program at the IU School of Informatics & Computing in Bloomington. No, I didn’t plan for it, but the rest is history.
Tell me about the work you've done?
I have had a chance to work in multiple domains as a User Experience designer. I once did an internship for a behavioral healthcare company called Centerstone Research Institute where we were researching and designing for the patient and physician experience. At Intel Corporation I learned a lot about designing in corporations as I worked on two digital innovation initiatives centered around the value of personal data. At Election Systems & Software, I worked on some of the best and most challenging projects of my life. I mean, I was literally designing and potentially impacting the democratic experience of voting for millions of U.S. citizens and jurisdictions. At GE Oil & Gas (BHGE), it’s been awesome working in a domain that’s not really known for digital innovation (same like elections). I am working with companies like BP to make business, user, and environmental impact with the solutions we are building. Overall, when I look at all the work I have been able to do as a UX designer, I am both fortunate, proud, and hopeful for greater things to come.
What are your proudest accomplishments of your career?
Although I could list out more measurable professional accomplishments (e.g., awards, contribution to revenue growth, etc.); however, I am more proud of the growth and the opportunities I have experienced. Early in on in my academic career, I told myself always to pursue the things I fear the most and the things that make me most uncomfortable. My proudest accomplishment has to do with all the times I took small and big risks, sometimes failing and sometimes succeeding.
What have been your biggest struggles of your career?
One of my biggest career struggles has been finding a mentor. I basically have had to figure a whole lot on my own and the hard way many times. I wish there were always someone available, someone more experienced and mature that I could trust and learn from. I have had to change my expectations and perceptions of mentorship and instead have sought many alternative ways of learning without needing or relying on a human “mentor.”
What are you doing that's special that sets you apart from your peers?
I work hard at being genuine, open, honest, and collaborative. This doesn’t always bring the results right away, sometimes it sends me backwards, but in the long run, has worked out for my best. It’s nothing but common sense I believe. Being genuine, open, honest, and collaborative are deeply held beliefs and desired qualities of mine that I work hard to live by.
What have your experience been as a person of color in the design industry?
There are not many black UX designers that I have met, and obviously, none that with a similar life background as mine. So, I definitely am aware of the lack of diversity in computing and in the design industry. I am usually aware of my own minority presence in an industry with so few people that might come from a similar background as I do. With all the issues and pain points that come with being a minority, my experience has been mostly great because I have made the best of it each time, and definitely not because it has been great each time. Survival and adaptation is something most minorities or underrepresented people know so well, and it’s something I know very well.
What are your biggest motivators?
My biggest motivators are my history, my future, my children, my wife, and my parents’ sacrifice. My history is probably my #1 motivator. I know where I come from and I am amazed by my history--both the good and the bad.
How do your friends and family feel about the work you've done?
Explaining to your family what you do is usually one of those hard things to do in life. But they know I am a tech geek (as my mom would describe me). They definitely don’t know the details of my work, but both of my younger brothers are in the tech industry as well, so we are able to speak the same language when it comes to talking about technology, design, and career. One thing I know is that my family probably believes in me way more than I believe in myself. So that’s nice.
What do you love most about working in design?
Design is the key to life. Design explains everything. Design is life. Design allows me the ability to understand and create. This is why I am never leaving design no matter what I do. There is design in politics; there is design in service businesses; there is design in retail; there is design nature; there is design in fiction; there is design in science; there is design in speech and language; there is design in social structures, there is design everywhere. And so I am in it for life.
What would you like to see changed about the design field?
UX design is a relatively new practice of design. Given that fact, plus its multidisciplinary nature, its value propositions, and the technological growth and need for resources, there are so many people flooding to study and practice UX design. I think there is a strong saturation in the industry, but I think it is both necessary and good, but can be annoying at times. Everyone is a UX designer, but no one knows what exactly UX design truly is. Anyway, in UX design I feel like there are so many subjectivities that leave room for error and malpractice. And the change I look forward to is the evolution and growth of the UX design industry after it has stabilized, matured, and birthed the best of its practitioners and weeded out the rest.
How can design be more accommodating to underrepresented populations of people?
Outreach is key I think. Both from an individual level and institutional level. I personally plan to embed design principles and thinking patterns in all things I do in the future with the goal of inspiring and making curious any underrepresented individual who might be in my circle of influence.
What are you working on right now, either for work or for yourself?
Right now I am working on multiple side projects. I am working on a web app that better visualizes weather data for a particular use case. I am also working on a project called “This is Good Hair” where I am using photography to share stories and celebrate the natural hair journeys of black women around the world. Lastly, I am revamping all of my websites for both my professional career and photography hobby. I am also reading a lot about blockchain technologies.
Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years? Do you think you'll stay in design?
In 5-10 years I might still be in design, definitely as a people leader facilitating both the people and business touchpoints and shaping the dynamics needed to design and build great technological solutions and organizations. More importantly, in 5-10 years, I hope to be contributing to building my home continent of Africa through teaching, investments, and other forms of community building.
What advice would you give to folks from similar backgrounds who are in design or hoping to get into it?
I would say, know what you are passionate about and go for it. There is no single path of truth for getting to where you need to get to so be careful not to be put or to put yourself in a box. Experiment with learning and practicing your skill. Know when to stop doing what’s not working, and know when to persevere through pain and what might seem like meaningless routines. I have to conclude by referencing what has gotten me through my professional career: My advice to everyone, regardless of background, is to pursue the uncomfortable and to explore the paths unknown to you with confidence and perseverance. Be humble, be honest, be collaborative. And don’t forget to create art while you do all of that.