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Jalissa Lawson: Senior Product Designer at Zipco

9th November 2023 | 29 min 51 secs

On this episode of Digitally Diverse, we talk to Jalissa Lawson, a Senior Product Designer at Zip Co. Jalissa talks about her experience transitioning from marketing to product design and UI, what it’s like working in the fintech space and how she’s adapted to a start-up way of thinking. Jalissa also shares how she’s upskilled via university, boot camps and good old-fashioned YouTube, along with what makes a stand-out workplace culture, and more.

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Thank you for joining us for another episode of Digitally Diverse, a podcast where we do a deep dive into the movers and shakers in our design industry in Australia. So today I am so stoked to have Jalissa Lawson join us. Jalissa is a product designer at Zip Co.

Welcome. Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Of course. Thank you for coming. So I’d love to hear a little bit of an overview of your journey so far and what you’re up to at the moment.

Can you fill us in? Journey so far? I started, I guess, in product design about three years ago, 2020. Started just before COVID started with a company called Pelican, and from there I’ve moved into a couple of other companies and now at ZipCo. Amazing.

And really just stayed in the fintechy space. And what is it about the fintech world that really lights you up? I guess I didn’t know a whole lot about it when I started at Pelican in 2020, but it was definitely a space that really excited me. They had a travel money card.

They were targeting, like, a younger audience. And that was really my first introduction into the Payments Wallet space. And I think from that, I’ve just really been kind of captivated by it and really wanted to stick with it because I had learned so much from that experience at Pelican.

Yeah, cool. And I guess starting at Pelican, which is a travel card in 2020, how was that? I can imagine that would have been, like, a really weird time to be joining a company in the travel space. A wild time to be joining.

Before Pelican, I was a marketing coordinator at a company called Consolidated Travel, working in Melbourne. So originally I’d started with Pelican as a designer, like all around designer. It was more of an internship kind of thing.

I went from kind of a slow, older business into this new startup space with Pelican. And, yeah, it was really two weeks in. There was a lot of change.

COVID kind of was going down in Melbourne. Big time. Lockdowns and stuff were being spoken about.

And the product designer that had started at Pelican, he was moving on to A and Z. So it was so much change. The owner, the founder, kind of raised opportunity for me to step into or take over the UX UI design role.

And yeah, so I was able to do that. It was really crazy. But at the same time thinking back, having to move and go completely remote at Pelican and also step into product design UXUI which I had never really done before.

Working from home really gave me this opportunity to take a step back and have kind of YouTube open on one hand, learning as I go and also doing the work. Yeah, cool. So almost like, gave you the space to, like, you were chucked into the deep end, but you just taught yourself how to swim.

Yeah. I could be behind closed doors and learning and sharing, whereas I think it would have been a lot more difficult if I was or I would have felt a lot more uncomfortable saying that I didn’t know how to do X-Y-Z if I was in this office space and trying to just be on point every time. Yeah, super daunting.

Especially if you feel like you’re in a new discipline, someone’s looking over your shoulder. Exactly. Yeah.

You can just say, okay, I’ll just figure it out by myself. Just go with it. Yeah.

Love that. I’d love to hear a little bit more about what you’re up to at ZipCo because you’ve been there for like six to twelve months now. Six months as of last month.

Congratulations. Yeah, it’s been great. I started with them.

I’m looking after the New Zealand group for zip. So a little bit separate to what we have in Australia. Slightly different.

It’s more of your afterpay model where you’re paying in for payments. I’m the only designer for that New Zealand group. We have 80,000 transacting users every month.

We’ve got 1800 merchants. So it’s kind of still that more of a startup scene for me. Working fully remote with the New Zealand group and just a much smaller team.

There’s about 15 of us. Wow, it’s really fun. Yeah, that would be quite the undertaking.

So what would a day to day look like for you? What are you usually working on day to day? I think for us, there’s some things happening in there, in the industry, regulatory stuff, so keeping up to date with that and planning for maybe what’s to come. And we’ve got a few things we’ve recently launched given customers the ability to pay whatever they like on that first installment. So instead of having to pay that 25% customers are able to pay a little bit more.

Like the old layby system when you go into a store and kind of make that initial deposit. We’ve just launched that. But yeah, there’s a few things we’re aligning to Australia a little bit more and following along what they do here in Australia day to day wise, though, we have the standard daily stand ups.

Because it’s only 15. It feels like a more tight knit team. We have so much ownership as a team because it’s so small.

We kind of working through these challenges of prioritizing the most important thing, that kind of stuff. Do you find that because it is such a smaller team, does ZipCo as a company, do they trial certain things in New Zealand and try and roll them out there first as more of an experiment? I’ve heard of companies like using their New Zealand base like that, but that doesn’t seem to be the case for us. I think it’s maybe partially because we’ve got really two completely separate products.

They look the same, they got the same makeover, but they work differently from a customer standpoint. Yeah. Well, I mean, I’d be curious to hear about what kind of things you guys have in the pipeline over the next twelve months.

What are you working on coming up? I think it’s a little bit more challenging for us to plan, like twelve months ahead, but we’re really talking to customers. We’re learning that customers really appreciate control. We’ve given kind of customers the ability to pay whatever they like on that first installment, done some surveying, talking to customers regularly.

I really value that. Just having that bit of control over their finances and being able to reduce the amount of repayments they’ll make later on, there’s that factor. We’re really looking at how we any opportunities around acquiring new merchants and new customers.

And I think with just the paying for product, we’ve recognized that it’s a little bit we’re limited in that aspect. There’s not a whole lot more we can do. There’s definitely a lot we can do to improve, and we are but to really see a bit more growth, we’re exploring other opportunities.

And would that be more in the B to B space? Do you guys handle as a product team or a designer? Do you handle both the B to B and the B to C? Yeah. As the designer, you’ve got the merchant component, the merchant side of things, looking after them, onboarding them. And then also we do have the B to B part.

There is a component, there’s a part of Zip that they can lend out the higher loans. But I think we’re more focused. Our team, my team is more focused on what we can do for customers looking at larger spend limits, credit limits and stuff like that, making it easier for them to spend with Zip.

Because I think one of the things, at least in New Zealand, there’s some friction around our QR code, our QR kind of paying in store via the app. With a QR, it’s not just you tap and pay like what we have here in Australia. I can imagine there would be so many hoops to jump through in the like, obviously there’s new regulations coming out all the time and they would look different country to it’s.

Yeah. It must be a bit of a minefield knowing that the prototype that you’re making today in a couple of months could be completely changed. Yeah.

No, that’s great though. And what’s the culture like at Zip code? Obviously, you’re a design team of one, but what’s it like with that small team vibe? Well, when I say design, like, for New Zealand, at least, I’m the solo designer for that group. But I’m really lucky at zip.

We have about 16 product designers across the Australian group. So I’ll generally go down on a Thursday or Tuesdays just to catch up with all of them. We have some amazing rituals as designers, just sharing our work.

We’ve got the huddles throughout the week and the design jams later in the week. So that’s been an amazing experience, having come from Pelican and Amber, where I was the one designer at Pelican and then there was another designer at Amber. Being at Zip, that’s one of the things I really am grateful for, is just having you have so many more resources and so many more people to lean on and to get that support.

It’s been amazing. But, yeah, culture, I really can’t complain. It’s just been an amazing and amazing last six months, I’ve got a design director.

It’s the first time I’ve had a manager, like a design manager or someone who’s higher up on the design side of things. So learning in tons from her. This Melanie, I’m not sure of her last name, but Melanie, she’s the design director at Zip.

She’s been incredible mentor and support. So I’ve been working closely with her and learning a lot. My New Zealand team, I feel really grateful to work for them.

In Australia, the designers very much have specific areas that they focus on merchant or consumer app. Whereas for me, I feel super lucky that I get to work across the board of the New Zealand app. It does make it harder to prioritize, I feel, and that’s something I’m working through.

But it’s just fantastic that you get to have so much ownership and responsibility over the broader. Like you. You would get all of the perks of being both sides.

Right. You get all of the perks of that mentorship and that development, being able to work with the Australian team, but then you get to be a bit of a generalist for the New Zealand team. Exactly.

That’s great. Another thing I’d say about Zip culture as being a standout is how welcoming and supportive everyone across Zip is from the different groups. Having only just been there for like, six months now, I’ve had opportunities to connect with leaders across Zip and get mentorship.

And I’ve been speaking with someone to get help on public speaking and presenting. And it’s just amazing that people are so generous there. I’m very impressed.

Oh, that’s great. So I know that you started off originally in marketing, so what kind of compelled you to want to jump shipped, so to speak, and go into design? Yeah, so I think I fell into marketing here in Newcastle just after I finished my HSC, and I think I was really attracted to the creative component and the business component that marketing delivered on. I had never heard of product design.

It wasn’t until I started working at Pelican, all of a sudden I was introduced to Adobe XD. I was seeing the UI, the mobile interface, be designed, and that just really fascinated me. On the side of that, I was also doing a master’s in marketing.

I was starting to hear phrases around customer centric design and I was also doing the CXL course. And they had an amazing user centric design course in there as well. And yeah, I think I’ve just always been really fascinated by tech and I’ve read tons and tons of books.

I’m just always listening and reading about the tech space and what I really like about it. The most I would say is I think I’ve just found myself wanting to get closer and closer to this CenterPoint where I can influence product and I can have the opportunity to bring ideas, collaborate and have some sort of direction on how it’s going to look and how it’s going to work. I don’t know if it’s an ego thing or if it’s definitely one of the more exciting spaces to be in.

I’ve found, yeah, I think you’re right there, that it seems like UX and UI over the last probably decade or so, it’s almost like an accumulation of everyone wanting to be creative, but also wanting to back it up with data so that marketing background would really come into play with the data driven design decisions. It’s super interesting to hear. I love hearing people when they’ve come into design from another discipline.

Did you end up finishing your Masters? I did, I finished the Masters, yeah. And then from there, because I was shifting into product design, just upskilling through or learning about product design. UXUI through just courses.

Boot camps. Memorize these? Yeah, so many, so many different ones. There is a lot to choose from at the minute, isn’t there? And that’s really great that you’ve got a background with both boot camps and a very formal degree, a Master’s.

If a younger person was thinking about getting into product design, is that something that you would recommend or how would you recommend someone get into it now? It’s such a tricky one. I think I’ve definitely always found a lot more value in the boot camps, personally, at least memorizedly. I found it very hands on, very practical.

We had real live projects to work on, we had access to the stakeholders, the people that would come to us with these problems to solve, that their businesses wanted to solve. We could touch base with them and learn a little bit more. So I found that super valuable, super practical to take and to build the case studies.

I’ve been a little bit disappointed by more established education providers and I’ve really felt that they fall short on delivering when they cost so much. Yeah, I mean, it’s the elephant in the room a lot of the time, isn’t it? Especially with some really like, especially with a Masters. I know that not a lot of people could afford to do that just because they wanted to.

So yeah, the boot camps as well, I feel, because they’ve got people actually in the industry teaching them, a lot of the skills that they do teach are a little bit more modern and totally a bit more relevant. And the fact that you can actually get hands on experience with real life problems as well is so invaluable, especially on your portfolio because I did a design degree myself and a lot of the things that we learned in first year by the time I graduated weren’t a thing anymore. I just didn’t need them.

They’re good in that I think they give you a bit of discipline to do the research and get something out. I found the discipline component good. That’s pros and cons to both, isn’t there? And I mean, you’ve obviously excelled at both.

So pat on the back, I guess, going forward, how do you think the industry is going to change with education? Do you feel like the tertiary education is still relevant in design today? I guess I’ve never done a full design course, tertiary course? I don’t really know. I really hope so. I remember looking at a lot in Melbourne when I was living down there and really inspired by all the marketing of them and the websites.

But I think I don’t know, from my experience at Collards in particular, I was really disappointed that I just didn’t really feel like it delivered on what I was hoping and expecting. But I just think there’s so many great upcoming boot camps and just online education providers. There’s so many.

Yeah. Some even for free. Right? Exactly.

YouTube. Yeah. So many amazing people on YouTube just sharing their skills and their processes.

And I feel like it’s really good to be able to jump on YouTube and just explore, learn from a variety of designers, too, rather than just having a more limited education from one person. Like a formal. Yeah.

Yeah. Where if you can get a bunch of different content creators from YouTube and TikTok now even, and you can learn so much for free just in little bite sized pieces. Don’t have to do like a full on bootcamp to learn something new.

So yeah, super interesting. Yeah, totally. It’s been such a short period of time for me, having only been a product designer three years as of last month.

Yeah. I feel like there’s been so much change and so much happened in that short period of time. Yeah.

I mean, three years to have all of the things that has happened to you, like three different roles, probably so much that you’ve learned. Yeah. It’s exciting though.

Imagine what’s going to happen in the next three. Exactly. Slow down a little bit.

Yeah. Maybe to be at Zip already. I can only see good things ahead.

Yeah, definitely. I mean, Zip is they’ve just got such a robust design discipline and yeah, it’s going to be super interesting to see where you go. I don’t know.

Who knows? Take over New Zealand. Yeah. I’m curious.

Obviously, there’s so much change over the last couple of years for you. Is there anything that you like to do for just to press pause or like self care or something that motivates you? Yeah, I for me there’s been like this on and off practice around meditation. I’m definitely big on health.

I think just practicing having maintaining a good level of health, at least it makes me feel like I can operate at a higher level, go a bit further and just really balancing that I’m sustainable with my work and not burning out. So just really I’ve had to practice and work out what is a sustainable day to day design practice for me. And I think it’s a lot of getting proper sleep and the meditation practices in the mornings, exercising and just the general health and wellness stuff.

Yeah. Especially when you’re working remotely as well. Has that been difficult to be disciplined with those self care rituals? Yeah, for me, absolutely.

And especially having not worked as a product designer before and then pretty much stepping into product design as just completely work from home, I didn’t really know what was a realistic output day to day. So I think I was just putting out too much or overworking, I think yeah, just being at home, I think everyone faced a similar problem through COVID. It was hard to separate yourself from the work when it’s there at home, especially when you feel like, oh, there’s nothing else to do.

So yeah, it was super easy just to sit in front of your laptop for 10 hours a day being like, oh, it’s there where yeah, you just can’t switch off. So is there anything in particular that you usually do at the end of your day to signal to your brain like, okay, that’s it. It’s definitely something I’m still working through and there’s a couple of people at Zip that are supporting me a little bit more.

But I really love the work as a product designer. But yeah, just making it sustainable and just making sure I’m not getting to that point of where I’m feeling burnout throughout the week. At least now I see that I recognize it a little bit earlier, but yeah, I feel really lucky that there’s a couple of people at Zip that can support me through that.

Yeah. And I feel like everyone’s got different warning signs, right? For me, I just space out and I’ll catch myself staring at the screen for like 10 seconds being like, oh crap, yeah, okay, I need a break because my brain’s just making me take one. But I guess with that burnout, everyone seemed to struggle with that over COVID.

Have you had any other road bumps in your career or anything that has kind of had to make you take a deeper look at what you’ve been doing? There’s been some challenges really I feel COVID I think I made the best use of it being work from home. I was able to learn and do the work at the same time. It felt like it was kind of a catalyst for my career a bit, but other challenges there’s been, like a people component where I just met dealing with different types of people friction challenges.

That’s something I’ve had to learn. The Impostor Syndrome side of things has been a massive theme. Definitely the people component.

I’ve definitely started off in the career as being more on the sensitive side of things. I think I’ve had to kind of just thicken the skin a little bit so I can show up and take on board, like, stakeholder feedback and the challenges. And I feel like I don’t know if it’s the startup space or the tech space, but it is from my experience, there’s not a lot of other females around you.

So just showing up in this very masculine environment and managing that has been something I’ve had to work through. Super challenging, especially. Yeah, you’re right.

When you’re working by yourself, plus then you’re getting other people’s feedback on your work. I myself would take it really personally if anyone critiqued me. So it would be super difficult.

If you’re then with the Impostor syndrome as well, which is so real. We all have it. And yeah.

What were some of the conversations that you would have with your colleagues about? Were all of you kind of like, building each other up? Or how do you get past that? What did you think helps? For me, it’s been really important to have other mentors in the design space. The memorizely community. I was really engaged in that.

The boot camp, they have this beautiful slack community that Xander Whitehurst has really created. So just being a part of that and hearing the other stories and recognizing that you’re not only person going through it, leaning on mentors, getting the help and impostor syndrome, for me, at least earlier on, it was playing out in this way where I was delaying getting my work in front of people. Like, I felt very much like I had to have these perfect designs or have these perfect ideas before I could present it.

But I realized that that really slowed me down and it was just getting comfortable with this process of showcasing my work as early as possible, sharing my ideas and the flows and the rough sketches as early as possible and verbalizing that to people. Like, verbalizing that to your team. These are just rough ideas.

And being more of a collaborator, not completely owning the solution myself, just leaning on that team and that it’s a shared output. If we fail, we can learn. And it’s not just my failure.

Yeah, that’s a really great point, not owning the whole process just on your shoulders. Because then if someone gives you that feedback that probably could have happened in the low fidelity stage, then that’s just going to be so crushing. Yeah, I bet that once you kind of got into just the incremental presentations and collaboration, it probably helped so much with that.

Yeah, definitely. And it’s definitely been a theme throughout my career now is just learning and recognizing that I don’t have all the ideas. You’re always working with other brilliant people and just learning early on, I can share these rough prototypes and then it becomes this launch pad for other people to give input and take on new ideas.

And over that time you come out with something even better because you’ve been able to collaborate more with a team. Yeah, I’ve recognized it as this outsourcing creativity process, almost. And it’s not just reliant on me.

Such a wholesome resolution, isn’t it? Yeah. We chatted briefly about content on YouTube and how we learn in those little micro ways. Is there any other content that you like to consume that helps you out? There’s been a lot of content.

I think early on was very much involved in the memorizely community and anything that Xander Whitehurst was putting out to the community. Ms Co on Newstube he’s been a massive one and I’ve bought his courses in the past that have helped me. But always medium.

I’m really loving medium lately. Just to read a short article and just take a few pieces that might help improve my workflow. So anything that can just give me that little bit of an edge or enhance my process somehow, I’m always seeking that kind of stuff.

Domestica has also been a really cool one. Haven’t heard of that one. Domestica cool.

Yeah. Kind of like a Udemy, I think, or something like that. But a lot of Spanish designers on there, which is cool.

Cool. A little bit international flair. Yeah.

Do you listen to any podcasts or like any books or audiobooks? Lots and lots of books. I’m constantly reading a product book reading product led growth by Wes someone at the moment. I’m enjoying that.

Lots of business podcasts or a health podcast. I’m really loving them. There’s an Alex Hamanzi? I think it is.

He’s podcast. Ed Millette. Super inspired by him.

Yeah, great. But yeah, generally just books and podcasts at the moment. Whenever I can get them in.

Yeah. So yeah, seems like there’s always like a really great range for whoever we get in. Some people don’t really consume any content that’s design related and they just want to keep that kind of separate.

But it’s obvious that it’s one of your really great passions. You just want to soak up every little bit of knowledge that you can. Yeah, I’m definitely that way.

Yeah. Definitely inclined to just read and consume as much information I can. I think that’s early day impostor syndrome, how I dealt with it was just trying to learn and absorb as much as I could as fast as I could.

And now you’ve just kept on going. Yeah. Love that.

If you were to give yourself any career advice for your younger self, what would that look like? I think it’s back to being able to get work out and share and not feel like I have to own the ideas and the solution. Yeah. From very early on, I felt a lot of responsibility to control the solution and come out with something perfect.

So if I could definitely go back, I would remove a lot of stress from myself by just reminding myself that it’s a shared process, it’s a shared solution. It’s not all on me just to chill out. Yeah.

100%. Enjoy the ride. Yeah.

Good. Well, thank you so much for joining us. I’ve learned a lot, so thank you very much.

And anything else that you want to add? I don’t think so. Okay. Thank you so much for having me.

Thank you. Thank you.

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