In this episode, Luisa Lombardo shares her career journey from print designer to product design manager. After studying graphic design in college, she worked at agencies and companies as a visual and UI designer. Seeing the field change, Luisa took a UX course and found her passion in digital product design. She’s since progressed to lead and manager roles on product teams for B2B and B2C companies. Luisa gives an inside look at her current role at Mabel, a platform connecting people with disabilities to support workers. She discusses the product problems her team tackles, like streamlining services and adapting to reforms. Tune in to hear Luisa’s insightful story of transitioning from print to digital design and leading product teams making a difference.
Please note: this transcript has been auto-generated and may contain slight errors.
Welcome to another episode of Digitally Diverse, where we do a deep dive into the career journeys of some of the most influential leaders in the australian design and tech scene. Today we are joined by the lovely Luisa Lombardo. She is the product design manager at Mabel.
Thanks so much for joining us. Louisa, thank you for having me today. Thank you.
Well, first of all, I would love to hear where have you come from, what’s been your career journey so far to get to where you’re at now at Mabel? Sure. I feel like it’s been a pretty long journey, but it’s lots of user experience, which is great, I think. I started out as a print and branding graphic designer.
That’s what I studied at a private college of many years ago and that was really my passion. I loved design, I loved print media. And for me at that time was that was all I wanted to do.
And I started out working at the local printing shop, helping the guys at the back, doing invitations and business cards and learning all those kind of fun printing methods as well as doing some design for them. And then just slowly working my way through different agencies and in house roles as a graphic designer. And I think after a few years of doing that and focusing on print and advertising, I slowly saw the industry change.
Right? But print media wasn’t the thing that everyone wanted right now and I needed to become more of a well rounded designer to kind of progress in my career. So I saw that there was an interest in digital media and website design. So I thought, okay, let’s give that a go.
Let me round myself out a bit more. And so I did a bit of a UX design course for an intense couple of weeks course a few years ago and then really loved it. And I was like, prick, media, move out of the way.
I want to do this. And so I really spent the last couple of years focusing on that area, being in product and doing digital design and UX design. The first kind of purely digital product design role was more focused on UI and visual design and just worked my way through my roles and getting into more UX and product design spaces.
And so I’ve always worked within the product space and within a product team, mostly in a double sided market product. So having that experience of working with two different user type of users, like maybe business and client side, so always having that kind of experience and targeting those sort of products. And so yeah, I’ve kind of started out as a visual designer and moved on to product UX designer design lead.
And now I’m like a design manager in my team at the moment. Awesome. I think, yeah, there’s always, especially with lots of leaders at the moment.
They started their career very much in that traditional visual design space and slowly have made their way into UX. And we’re probably doing Ux before we all knew that it was an actual thing. It didn’t exist back then.
Right? That term never existed and wasn’t a career choice for me at the time. I’m sure my age now. But, yeah, that’s totally fair.
And I guess for the people who don’t know what Mabel do, could you maybe give us an overview of what you get up to with them and the problems you guys are facing? Sure. So Mabel has been around for about probably over ten years now, but even more so, basically, Mabel is an online platform that people will use who have disabilities, have NDIS packages, or have home care packages, or have loved ones who are aging, where they can use that funding to go onto the platform and choose and find their own support and their own support workers. So traditionally, that’s being done by an agency, and they normally get a knock on the door and there’s somebody there to help them that day.
And it’s always changing. It’s always a different person. It’s not really consistent.
And that made people feel really uncomfortable to have a complete stranger come in your home. And depending on what sort of needs they have, could be quite intimate needs that they need help with, really. That’s kind of how it created.
One of our founders, Peter, had aging parents, and they had people come over every day, and they didn’t like having strangers in their home. And he really came up with this idea of giving people the ability with funding or even wanting to pay privately to get. To choose what sort of support they wanted and to choose the people that came into their home and had that long term relationship with them as well, which is a really amazing thing for people who need that extra support every day.
Yeah, definitely. And having that choice, especially for a lot of people who are in that situation, a lot of choice and autonomy is taken away from them. So to have just that choice in that moment with who you’re interacting with every day and who’s offering you care, I can feel it would be very empowering for the people who are using the platform.
Yeah, 100%. And especially when you’re talking about the aging community, it gives them a real opportunity to stay home and live independently as long as possible. Traditionally, people might have to think about going to age home care centers, and people don’t want to live there, and they’ve lived in their house for 30 plus years with their kids, and they want to be as independent as they can, so it really gives them that opportunity to do that.
Yeah. Amazing. And I guess in the product side of things for Mabel, what kind of problems or work do you guys do day to day? Well, really, I guess we’re a big team now.
I think when I originally started, I was probably the second designer hired in the CX team, and now we’re pushing one of the ods three years ago, and now we’re pushing to 20 designers in the team. So we’ve really been able to tackle a lot of problems in that space. And we’ve got an app that we have and a desktop platform as well that people can use.
And so really, we’re trying to really streamline our services, to have more of a self service platform where they can really jump on, find what they need, who they need, and also manage that ongoing care on the platform as well. So working with what sort of payments need to be happening, need to happen with their funding types, and really kind of trying to streamline that as much as possible. And there’s always reforms and changes in government policy, so really keeping up to date and making sure we’re across all of those changes as well and including them in our platform.
I think there’s like an endless wish list that we all have and we’re trying to tackle specifically the team that I’m helping manage. We’re in kind of that activation onboarding space. So really looking at making sure that journey of signing up and joining the platform and getting what you need to get started is really as personalized and streamlined as possible.
So we’re really starting to look at creating clearer pathways depending on what type of clients you are, what sort of funding you have, what sort of care you’re looking for, and really kind of trying to hold their hand through that process, because it is sometimes a really challenging time for people. Really stressful. They’ve got funding that they have to try and organize.
They’ve got lots of stresses, especially if they’re caring for a loved one. So really trying to make that as easy as possible for them. Love that.
That’s great. So, Luisa, you’ve been at Mabel now for three years, and you’ve seen the team grow over that time. What’s been, like, the culture like at Mabel? Why do you think it’s, like, fostering such growth? So I think Mabel is a really special place.
I think everyone’s joined the organization and are really passionate about its purpose. We have lots of people who have lived experience in that space, are caring for loved ones who either are aging parents or have a disability. So everyone’s really passionate about what they do and want to do the best thing for our community.
And so that’s really amazing to work with those sort of people who are willing to answer any questions that you have, jump in and help you clarify, run through designs and workshops with you. So I love that everyone’s really passionate and really friendly. And even within our CX team, everyone really gets on with each other and we always call a really cool vibe going on.
And we love to spend time together and have online games or do activities together. I think last week we did a pottery class after work as, like, a team Georgia. Really fun, but, yeah, everyone’s just really passionate.
And it’s amazing to work in a space where everyone wants to make the product as best as possible, which isn’t always necessarily the case. I think because we’ve got that kind of purpose behind us, it really had made a big impact on our culture. Yeah, I think you can really tell with people who work in that space or kind of like health tech in general, they’re there because they want to be and they’re not necessarily sometimes there for the pay packet.
It’s usually a love, and they’re there because they want to make that positive impact. So that’s really great that you guys are fostering that and really able to focus that passion and willingness to make that impact with the rest of the team. So with all the growth that you’ve been seeing, what does the team structure look like? Where does everyone sit? Sure.
So we’re kind of been adopting that kind of Spotify tribe and squad model within the product team. So we have about three main tribes. And then within that tribe, we roughly have between two or three squads that sit within that.
Each squad will have the standard grouping that you’ll have. Like you have your product designer PM, you have a data engineer, and then you have front end and back end, that kind of normal structure. And then within that, we have a tribe leadership team, which we have a group PM, and we have leaders in terms of myself, who will be in there.
We have our data representatives. We’ll have marketing representatives, operations representatives, and really work as cross functionally as possible to make sure that we’re working together versus just working very siloed between the teams. So the space that I’m working, as I mentioned, is that kind of client and support worker activation space.
So really trying to focus on that kind of onboarding journey and streamlining that. And so that’s kind of how we structure. We also have a Mabel.com
team, which is kind of our front facing website, which is run on WordPress, and I help manage that as well. We have two product designers there too. Cool.
So, yeah, I mean, it sounds like even though everyone’s kind of working on their own little bit, you’re kind of overseeing the whole process. Really? Yeah. So I guess for myself and I guess people in the tribe leadership really looking more at the strategy and the long term vision and really trying to get everybody’s roadmaps into our teams and really understanding what ops are doing and how they’re operating, really understanding what marketing they’re doing and with lead nurture campaigns and how can we foster that and help them as well and try and align and really try and connect the dots together.
It’s a really interesting space, and I think I’ve been in that space actually since I started, so I quite enjoy it. But yeah, it’s been quite a lot of growth, which has been amazing. To see the change and the growth in the organization and specifically in our CX team and being able to be on that journey has been amazing.
Just to be really starting the foundations of what design means in Mabel, to see it being adopted and taken in by the organization and really part of our day to day seeing people mention, like, service design and understanding what that might entail and working with service designers, which is completely new with Ops, for example. So it’s really exciting to see that growth and having content designers come in as well and really making that impact. So it’s been great to see all the different disciplines of design coming on board.
Love that. So you mentioned before that you obviously started off in more traditional design space and then went the boot camp route and found yourself falling in love with the digital side of things. Can you give us a bit more detail about what your tertiary or higher education was and how you feel like that set you up for where you are at the moment? Sure.
So at the time, I finished high school and then I did a one year full time private kind of college in graphic design focusing on advertising. And that was really, I guess at the time, just out of school was really fun to be in that space and be really creative and really hands on. At the time, it wasn’t just like working on the computer designing.
We learned drawing skills, how to do sketching, storyboarding, all those fun stuff. I really look at that time as a really fun time to kind of really understand what that process is. But I think for me, really the most skills you learn is, like, on the job when you get that job and then you’re really understanding.
Okay. What it is really like when you’re studying, you always design things that you love and in your style, but really trying to take those skills and go and use that for an organization, their purpose and their problem that they’re trying to solve. So I always look at the best way to learn design is on the job.
Getting in there, getting your hands dirty and having a great mentor is always great as well to kind of help and guide you on that. But that’s kind of been my journey, and I’ve kind of been really fortunate that I’ve had some great people that I’ve worked with and really inspiring people that I’ve worked with that I’ve still to this day, keep in contact with and call them for advice and career advice and be able to have that relationship and really look to them for support. And that’s been amazing to have great mentors and great managers in the past.
But, yeah, I guess as my journey has been progressing, design has always been my passion, whatever that might fit and look like. And that has evolved over time. And as I grow as a designer and my focus, areas that I want to focus on and learn will change.
So when I first started, I really wanted to learn about research and interviewing our users and understanding that process of trying to solve that kind of problem. And that’s really the hard part of the job. And most interesting as well, is really trying to understand what is the core problem users are having and how to get to that solution and going through that research process, testing, ideating, workshopping with your peers, the fun stuff.
Yeah. And I guess that’s something that a lot of people probably don’t get, like those conversational skills and leaning into the curiosity, you can try and teach that in school or in a boot camp, but I think you’re right. You really do have to be in the moment on the job to be able to learn that skill.
And some people start off having that ready to roll, but for other people, it’s like a muscle that you have to. Yeah, I totally agree that for a lot of the time, higher education, the boot camps, uni, they’re all great for certain things, but learning on the job and just throwing yourself in the deep end is probably the best way to go about things. Definitely.
Education is great for giving you that foundations, like getting an understanding of what that baseline is. But I guess when you go into those boot camps, they give you a very rigid process that you follow with UX design, where you do this and then you do this, and then you do this and you get your idea, and then you prototype. But that isn’t necessarily the case.
I guess, when you’re on the job, depending on time, depending on deadlines, depending on what problem you’re trying to solve, I always find there’s no one formula process that gets you there. And sometimes it’s moving things around. Sometimes it’s testing and experimenting a lot earlier, which makes it really exciting because no project is ever the same and you’re using the same process.
You have the same fundamentals and the same principles you might follow, but there’s always a different journey getting there. Yeah, everything has a different flavor. Would you have any advice to give to students who are thinking about getting into digital design? Ux? Is there anything like any nuggets of wisdom you’d like to pass on? I guess getting in there and meeting the right people is always a good way to kind of get your foot in the door.
There’s so many meetups going on at the moment. Now that we’re back out of the back of COVID there’s all these really cool meetups that you get to go and listen to these amazing talks from amazing designers and leaders in the community. Going to those are amazing.
And getting just meeting people afterwards has always been great. Setting yourself up with a great mentor is always really good. There are a lot of kind of mentorship programs going on at the moment that you can join and get partnered up with somebody.
They’re really good platforms to kind of just talk to. And either I’m starting out on working in this space, what do I do? What advice do you give me? And having that relationship throughout your career, it’s not just when you start just having great people around you to learn from. And that little community is always great.
And I think, I’m based in Sydney, and I find that you kind of know as you move through different jobs, you kind of meet the right people. And I’ve got this job opening. I think you’d be really cool, and I really like working with you.
And those sort of conversations start to happen as you start to kind of know people in that design community and that space. So I always think, yeah, get in there, meet some people, get a great mentor, and just go in and jump in. I know it’s always really hard and scary at first, but everyone’s learning.
I’m still learning. And after a few years in that space, but just know that everyone’s learning and everyone’s evolving. Yeah, definitely.
I hear so often, especially from people just starting out or people who are thinking about getting into more of a digital or ux space, that they don’t want to reach out to people because they’re scared that they’re going to be rejected or it’s going to be awkward. And yeah, that’s something that I would really encourage people to do. Of course it’s going to feel weird reaching out to a stranger, but you really have to utilize those meetups and not only can you learn something new, but you could meet some really amazing people, hear about some projects that you didn’t even realize were going on.
So many doors can be opened by just showing up and asking questions, and half the time people want to be helpful. I think it’s case in point with me doing this podcast. I’ve been really surprised with how many amazing people such as yourself want to come on and chat through their experience.
And it’s really encouraging knowing that there is some really great leaders in the industry that do care about passing on the mantle and want to share their knowledge. So, yeah, I think what’s the worst that can happen, really? Yeah, you might not get a reply back, but that’s okay. You probably don’t need that reply back if they don’t want to reply back to you.
So I always make a conscious effort if I get an email or someone approach me, that I’ll always reply back or kind of give advice if I can. And I’ve been in that boat where I think just before COVID and just before I joined Mabel Covid hit, I found myself in a position where I needed to find work and being able to reach out to my connections and then recommend people, even just having an online chat to somebody and say, oh, this is where I’m at, can you give me some advice? And not necessarily lead to a job or a job offer, but just really making those connections and just kind of just getting advice right. People in the industry are really friendly and I’d always had really great experiences.
And specifically in that time, I was amazed about how many people reached out and helped me and gave me advice or connected me with people that could help me, and it really opened a lot of doors. So, yeah, it’s scary, but it is rewarding as well. Yeah, you’re so right, it’s so rewarding.
And then hopefully, if that happens to you, then in the future, you remember that and be like, okay, I’m going to pay it forward and take advantage of being able to help other people out. In that case, is there any particular mentors that you have at the moment or business leaders that you look up to? Sure. As I mentioned, I’ve had some great leaders in the past that I keep in contact with now.
So one of my past managers, Sophie, who I’ve worked with at Mabel, I consider her my friend now. And if I find if I need some advice on my career, she’s always that person I speak to and can always give me that sound advice and always give me that motivation, because we always have that. Can I do this? Do I have that impostor syndrome effect that I think all designers have? Part of the job description probably pretty much kind of to give you that push.
And I’m really fortunate to have not just her, but many other leaders that I’ve worked with that I know that I can reach out and get that advice from and maybe get me out of that headspace that I’m not feeling that confident about myself. Yeah, I think that having really great leaders and also having someone like a woman in leadership in STEM is not that common. So being able to actually rely on someone who’s in that space is really helpful.
And having those people who are really consistent and grounded and are able to help you with not just, like, work stuff, but just life in general is so valuable. Lucky that you have someone with you to do that. Yeah, no, I’m really lucky.
And it’s just making those amazing connections with people in my community. Yeah, amazing. In that regard, has there been, like.
Obviously, you mentioned that you started at Mabel just before the pandemic started. Has there been any challenges for you throughout your career? Any speed bumps that you feel like have really shaped where you’re at at the moment? Well, I guess it’s really interesting, like, starting a new job when Covid just hit right. I think it started in April of 2020, which was, like, a couple of weeks in.
It’s really scary. I was probably one of the first remote new starters in the organization as well. So when we look back, it’s a very crazy time, but it was really strange starting a job by just opening up my laptop and logging in and not having an office to go to and meet people.
And I didn’t meet anyone in person for a very long time. So that was really challenging, like, having to work with people, make connections, meet new people all in a room environment. And at that time, that was so new, and getting stuck into work and running workshops and all those sort of things that we always did in person that now you have to do online and try and figure out how do you get that connection, those ideas flowing, getting people involved in the workshop with just a screen.
And so I’ve had to really adapt to that and really try and try different things. And sometimes things didn’t work. Sometimes they did work, and really trying to find tools and methods that everyone can use.
Because at the time, I was running workshops with people who’ve never had a workshop before, who’ve never used figma, never used anything kind of like any whiteboarding tools like Miro or anything like that. So how do I adapt to get them to be able to easily use the tools to get their ideas, to get them involved and not make it scary for them? So that was a really challenging to start a new job, adapt to a new environment and a remote environment, meeting new people. So it’s really like, yeah, try new things and new methods and see what sticks or what doesn’t.
And if not, just move on and try something else, has always been my approach. And keep it simple. Yeah, I mean, that must have taken such agility and patience, because I can imagine starting a new job full stop is stressful enough, let alone doing it right at the start of the pandemic and being one of the first remote hires, I would be pulling my hair out just quietly.
It was. And then I was so, like, my daughter at the time was probably four years old and childcare was closing down, so she’s in the background dancing while keeping everyone entertained. So trying to multitask with all those things.
Oh, my goodness. Well, how have you found working as being a mom? You’ve probably got quite a few stories about how you’ve had to incorporate both of those, both sides of your life together, especially working remotely. How’s that gone for you? Look, it is challenging.
It can be really messy. You do what you can to get through. I’ve actually just come back to Maple from Matt leave.
So I’ve got a one year old at home, and my other daughter got sick the other day. I have to run a quick workshop with the team. So it was me with a one year old in one arm, running the workshop in the other.
He entertained everybody online, which was great, but also worked out how to exit meeting midway through conversation. But it was messy and didn’t run the way I had anticipated to, but we made do when we got there. And so being a mom and working full time and also if they’re home with you as well, my husband’s at home looking after them full time, so while I work, but it creates great opportunities because I know then I can go and give him a kiss and a cuddle and take him for a walk at lunchtime and spend some time.
More time than I would have normally if I had to go into the office. But it just also means that we just might have some entertainment in the background as we work through, or they might join because they want to have a cuddle. And that’s okay.
Yeah. Just really working around their schedules and my schedule. So I might not traditionally have nine to five.
I might need to log off a bit earlier to do school pickup, and I’ll come back on, and I might log on after they go to bed just to finish things off, but that’s okay. And what’s more important for me is that I’m there and present for them when I can be, but also make sure I get my work done and get my priorities in order. But, yeah, it’s messy, but fun.
Yeah. Well, I love that it’s a celebrated thing with your team. I personally really love seeing people’s kids come onto video chats or pets.
I love that. And I think it’s one of those things that has kind of taken the sheen off work a little bit and being able to merge it with our actual life, for better or for worse, there’s something that it connects us a little bit more, which is really nice. I love being able to see people’s kids grow up in the background.
It’s really wholesome. Yeah. You get to see a different side of people.
Right? So I guess the designers I work with, they get to see the mom side of me and their manager and designer as well. Sometimes it’s not fun. They might be, like, asking for snacks every once in a while, but point them to the comfort and can’t they help themselves? I don’t think I could go back to the office full time and miss out on those moments anymore and being able to have that opportunity to run out the door and pick up my daughter from school and then jump back on.
I love doing that, and she loves seeing me come and pick her up, so I wouldn’t want to change that at all. Yeah. I can’t see it ever going back to 100% office based.
Just from what I speak with designers, they’ve got the taste now of that flexibility and being present with their families and purely no commute. I know for me, that takes up an hour and a half of my day when I come into the office so just having that extra little sleep in, to be completely honest, is just really lovely. You probably don’t get that anymore, but for me, I know that at 05:00 I can close my computer and I can jump in and help with the madness of the five to seven with kids from 05:00 to 07:00 night is complete madness of getting witching hour.
Yeah. Getting them in their pajamas, having the argument of going to bed. At least I know that I can jump in and do that.
Where if I was having to commute from the city back home, like, I don’t live very far from the city, but it’s still like a 20 minutes, 30 minutes train ride and I’m home a bit later. Yeah, it definitely helps. Yeah, definitely.
And I guess is there anything that you do for your productivity or self care? Like we mentioned, having a family is pretty full on. Is there anything that you do to switch off? So I guess what’s hard is like, I have very limited time. So for me to switch off, I love to.
Like if I can go for a walk at lunchtime, I will just to get outside, get some fresh air, listen to music. Sometimes I take my son with me and put him in the pram. We’ll go for a walk and at lunchtime I try and do that as much as possible because otherwise I find myself sitting at the desk and not moving very much.
I always try to do that and try and exercise. I think the biggest thing that I found when I returned back to work after nightly was I wasn’t used to sitting down for so long. So when after my first day back, I found my body ached like I felt sore, like I had done exercise, but I literally just sat there on my computer all day getting back onto it.
So I really noticed that toll on my body. So I really try and try and go for a walk and move as much as possible. One way I like to start my day is I always try and read an article or a blog post on design related things.
Every morning I get an email from sidebar or Musli or bodify. Were doing some really cool articles for a time. And so I like to start my day like, I’ll read an article and if I find it really valuable, I share that with my team.
Go, this is really cool. That’s how I start my day and then I get into the work. I’m a big to do lister.
I like to kind of make my probably have a million to do lists. So I’m really into using notion to kind of set up all my agendas, I might take no mean. Yeah.
So that’s really been made a huge impact on my day. Just being able to put some meaning notes in, being able to organize it in a way that I can find it again, or if I find something that’s really useful or some information, I think, okay, that’s really cool, but I don’t need it right now. But I know for my next project this will be really cool to have, so I’ll try and collate all that kind of stuff.
And notion has been really good. Yeah, definitely. It feels like not many people know about it.
It’s so underrated, but I love it. I myself am big to do Lister as well. I’m a bit old school in that I love the pen and paper to do note and like the action of crossing something off when I’ve done it.
Yeah, love notion. So clean. You mentioned articles and stuff to get the juices flowing in the morning.
Do you read any books or listen to any podcasts or anything like that? I’m a big reader. Just, even just outside of work, I always try and read fiction books, but I think with design related things, it’s more kind of smaller bite size chunks that I can kind of input into my brain or even just save what I think is really interesting or to share with the team. So I’m a big reader in that aspect, and I wasn’t for a very long time, and I made it a very specific goal for myself to get back into reading because I just found myself wasting a lot of my time scrolling through social media and maybe making some ridiculous purchases that I didn’t need to do.
So I was like, put the phone down, pick up a book. I started out with like book a month, and then I hadn’t stopped. Yeah, I totally agree with that.
I’m the same. I feel like my creativity and my imagination just if I haven’t been reading, it takes a bit of a nosedive. I feel like you kind of need to use your brain and your imagination to keep it going almost.
I felt like I’m one of those annoying people who is totally addicted to TikTok over the pandemic, and I still am, but I just zone out. I can spend so much time on there and I’ve just realized, oh, the past 20 minutes I have not used one brain cell and I now feel really fuzzy and don’t know what time it is. It’s so easy.
I may as well be using that time to actually have a good story in my head or read something inspiring. So, yeah, I totally agree with that. Yeah.
Well, on that note, Lisa, I like to end the podcast with one question, which is, if you were to give yourself younger self some career advice, what would that be? Okay, interesting question. I think to really believe in myself, in what I can do, and I think this is definitely a trade for women and people and mothers coming back is like, oh, my gosh, have I lost all my brain cells? Can I still do this? Can I still talk to adults and function and be able to do the role that I used to do, even to my younger, younger self before kids? It’s just like, really believe in that. You can do it, fake it till you make it.
Everyone’s trying to do the same thing. There’s so many resources online to help you and guide you, but just get in there and get there and don’t make impostor syndrome get in the way of that. So that’s probably what I’d give myself.
I had a lot of self doubt in my ability, and could I actually do this? Can I become a product designer? Can I do research and sit with, talk to people for an hour that I’ve never met and in research, and that can be really scary. But once you start talking and you make that connection, the hour flies by and all those scary things that you’re worried about goes out the window. So, yeah, that’s probably what I’d tell myself.
I love that. Thank you so much for joining me for an episode, though, for a chat. I learned so much.
Thank you so much. Thank you for having me. It’s been great to chat.