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Sarah Mote: Lead Product Designer at Instant Scripts and Bendigo Bank

Join us as we follow Sarah’s journey from industrial design student to senior product designer at a bank. We’ll hear how she leveraged work experience to land her first packaging design role and then made a big move to the UK. After struggling to find work abroad, Sarah returned to Australia, pivoted to commercial flooring, and discovered user experience design. She then honed her skills at a cloud platform startup before deciding to learn about banking. Through roles at various companies, Sarah gained broad experience and became a senior product designer at Bendigo Bank. She also worked nights designing for a telehealth startup that sold for $135 million! Now, Sarah mentors students and continues to learn from creative people. Hear how trusting her instincts led Sarah through an exciting career journey so far.

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Transcript

Please note: this transcript has been auto-generated and may contain some errors.

Thank you so much for joining us for another episode of Digitally Diverse. I’m Ellen Bennett, I’m a senior recruiter with NTP and today we are joined by the lovely Sarah Mote, who is a senior product designer at Bendigo bank and also a lead product designer at instance Grips. Thank you so much for joining us, Sarah, thanks so much for having me.

Cool. I would love to hear a little bit more about you, your career, where you’ve come from. Can you give us a bit of an overview for people who don’t know who you are? Yes.

So obviously I studied industrial design and was very fortunate to get a job in packaging design at Mcore Aurora because I’d done any nine a work experience time, like a work experience stint with them, which was really cool. And then it just sort of led into a little job because they did like a day of engagement with the university. And so I worked in packaging for a while and then because I have dual citizenship with Germany, I was like, cool, I can go work in the UK, I can go do know, being young and free to go do whatever, I was like, awesome.

So moved over to the UK and tried to get a job there, but was actually struggle town because of the time of the year and don’t go towards the end of the year, it’s really tricky to get a job. September October time. Yep.

Just like financially, businesses were going like, nah, not hiring anyone. So then came back to Australia and because I’d met some really great people there, they tried to connect me and everything else, but I got to meet Ben Wilson, who works at Brown Brawn in Germany and there was a job that came up there for twelve months. Someone was going on maternity leave, they needed a designer.

He said, look, I can’t promise anything but apply. That’s where data rams is. It’s the mecca of design, where all the ten principles of design come from.

And so I got to work there, came back after that awesome year away and still stayed in industrial design, but then after a while was like, came back to Melbourne and I was like, oh, I don’t know what I want to do. Struggling to find like a full time industrial design job that was really fulfilling where you weren’t just making the package of the product, but you actually be able to make the product. It’s a really small market here and a tough.

So I, some friends of mine were also having the same thing. They’d come back from overseas as well and we’d been talking about user experience design and all these short courses that were starting to pop up one that was at Academy Xi and my friend did that. They really enjoyed it.

And they’re like, sarah, you should do it. You can be great at it. You’re going to love it.

It’s going to take your career ahead and you’re going to be able to just help people. You’re the sort of person that likes digital and physical. You can do both.

And I was like, oh, I don’t know, it’s so expensive. More study. My parents are going, of course, like, why would you do this? You’ve done already seven years of study.

You’re not a doctor, but surely someone would want to employ you. You’ve got awards, you’re so good at what you do. Yeah, I know, but the world doesn’t work like that.

Yeah, the joys of being a millennial. Yes, exactly. So I did the short course at Academy Xi and yeah, it was a really great experience in terms of, I learned some new tools and I had done at university a little bit of Ux UI in terms of the digital way.

Goodness me. What I had created back then was absolute disaster because I had no knowledge of how to construct things I didn’t know about sizing properly. And it wasn’t back then as accessible to find great resources to learn about these things.

It was still, we’re only talking, I don’t know, 2011, 2010 sort of time, not that long ago. But finding these resources online and to learn online was really hard. So, yeah, the Xi course was great for me.

I did service design there and the UX UI transform course and came out on the other end working. I got a job at stacks, which is a cloud based platform, cost and compliance. And look, it’s still over above my head, all this cloud technology.

But I learned some great things, worked with a great designer who mentored me and supported me, continues to support me as well. Got to work in an environment with other developers in a small squad and so building something really quickly, building out a design system, and then you sort of go, okay, I’m ready to start learning another industry, or I want to learn about a different topic and apply my skills in a different way. So then jumped around a few jobs.

But yeah, I really feel like I found my groove now in digital design. Well, yeah, tell me a little bit more about what you’re up to at the moment. And the reason why I find what you’re up to right now really interesting is because during the day you’re working at Bendigo bank and then during the night you’re working with instant scripts, you must be so busy.

I don’t know how you’re still awake. That’s wild. Yes.

I sometimes don’t know how I’m still awake as well. So, yeah, I’ve always had, like the nine to five job, always sort of tried to hustle, have that hustle culture, which is so, it’s not, it’s just more for me of enjoying what I do so much. And when people find out about what you do, they’re like, oh, could you help us with this? Or whatever else? And like, yeah, sure.

Like, and then suddenly things grow and grow and grow. And a dear friend of mine, Asher Frylich, who was the founder of instance scripts, he telling me about what he was doing, and I was like, oh, that sounds really cool. This was a few years ago when they first started, like four years ago, and I was like, okay, this sounds really cool.

I wasn’t willing, I guess, and ready to take that full time leap to go into a startup because I was still feeling like I was cutting my teeth and really learning from how businesses run. I have that fascination as well. So I said to him, look, I’ll help you in the evenings a little bit.

Like, let’s work that out. And because they’re developers as well, he’s always had like, a really flexible way of working. Developers work whatever time, and they’ve got families and things like that.

So jumping on at night, 09:00 at night, not the end of the world, because there was always someone around and so just sort of, yeah, that’s continued for me. Earlier this year, instant script. Sasha was able to sell to west farmers, which was incredible.

$135,000,000, which is amazing and huge. Yeah, look, if I’d been full time and been a cup part of that original team, it would have been great for me. But just, hey, hindsight 2020, right? And this is a learning journey, right? This is a learning.

But the great thing is that I’m so proud to say is like, okay, cool, I’m doing something really big during the day, banking and being able to help there. But being able to work on this wasn’t a thing. Accessible healthcare wasn’t a thing before.

So being able to apply my design thinking, improve user flows, to help people in remote communities have access to medication because it first started off as scripts to be able to access basic medication, and it’s grown into a telehealth business as well now and continuing to grow with west farmers. But it’s fantastic what they’re doing and to be able to part of that journey building. Working closely with marketing to bring the design language together and visual language.

What’s the brand message? How do we communicate that? We’re actually here for you as the patient? We want to make this easier. We know how complex it can be to get into a doctor. We’re waiting two weeks even to get into my own GP.

It’s like two week wait, if I’m lucky. So, yeah, it’s hard work to balance, I guess, both the daytime and the nighttime, but I really have sort of, like, worked out over the time doing it. For me, it works on a Tuesday and a Wednesday evening, just pumping out some work and answering sort of smaller things in the other evenings.

But really, that’s my focus time. And I think really finding how you’re going to manage your week is really important if you’re going to take on something else, because otherwise you end up in burnout. The other side of it is that I’ve been really fortunate is to bring along throughout the time different designers to help support me because I can’t do all the work myself because as soon as the business sort of found out, like, oh, you got some great skills.

We really like this. You can do all these things. Amazing.

It’s like, yes, but I can’t do them all. And so balancing then, actually, it’s almost like hiring people, I guess, but everyone’s sort of a freelancer and sends the invoices in. Finding the people that work with you has been a journey as well.

Having not been part of the normal hiring processes in terms of hiring a team, because it’s being a junior or a midweight, you’re not a senior or elite. So it’s almost this discovery as well, of how to build a team and what to look for and who works and who’s also willing to have that same mindset of you to put in those hours is also really hard. Yeah, that would be really tricky.

Yeah, it has been. But it’s been good to be able to find those right people and balance it with as well as it doesn’t have to be an ongoing thing. It’s like, hey, cool, let’s try and do a month or two and see how things go with you and your life and how you find the work and that sort of thing.

Yeah, you’re almost like continuing that flexible culture that Asha started into, the people that you then work with on these projects. Yeah. And it gives a break as well because the community is so small within the UX UI world, product design world, however you call it so small.

And so you make friends at different jobs and you connect with different people and you’re like, oh, gosh, I’d really like to work with you and spend the time just hanging out, doing the thing that we do really well, and people that complement your skill set and you complement theirs, obviously. And it’s a great opportunity just to jam together and solve problems without necessarily the over. We haven’t had the overhead of the complexity of the politics of a larger organization as well.

Yeah, that’s perfect. It’s like, cool. We need to solve this problem.

And that’s where instance scripts has really created that great culture of being able to do that. Yeah. And it’s great that you also want to get juniors and midweights involved as well.

Sometimes startups are obviously, they want to get lots of stuff done really quickly, and they need usually some senior people to get things done efficiently. So it’s great that you’re just bringing on whoever wants to learn on for the ride. How have you found that? And that mentorship piece, it’s taking on someone too.

Junior, I learned, was a lot of time. A lot of time. Having certainly another senior to compliment helped balance because I’ve ended up being more of this role of solving business problems and giving that back to design, to be able to either we work through it together or just trust them to, they know me well enough, know my ways of working expectations, go do the thing.

So having a seniors for that and then having midweights as well along the way is sort of probably more of where I’m at. And I can now understand how and why startups want the seniors. Yeah, it makes sense.

It makes so much sense. And even larger organizations like Bendigo bank, we’re building out a design practice. Surprisingly, they don’t have a home for designers, and we’re building out a design practice.

And initially we need to look for other senior designers because you got to be able to handle some of those conversations with stakeholders and explain to the business and walk them through it. And midweights, some of them are absolutely incredible juniors. They don’t have that yet.

But what’s great is that our design practice, we’re going to have that space to be able to bring in and develop and support and mentor juniors to come along the journey and yeah, I think that’s a really exciting part and future for Bendigo to be able to go to building that maturity, because there’s a lot of other really well established organizations that they end up building up this cadence, I guess, of a way of working and like, cool. This is the expectation, but sometimes you need to create that space, I think, to have those juniors come in because it also challenges your seniors who’ve been doing it for a while and they get comfy with things and it’s like, maybe it could be done a different way. Yeah.

One thing that I see happening quite a lot as well, when juniors come on board and the seniors are given the opportunity to mentor them, sometimes they fall back in love with their job. Because when you’re doing day to day stuff, it’s like, okay, yeah, you just do it and you don’t have to think about it. When you’ve been in the job for so long where when you really have to explain to new people, this is why we do this, this is how we do this.

And the impacts are a, B and C. That’s when you’re like, oh, I actually do do a lot here. I actually do kick some goals and that’s really helpful sometimes if people have just kind of gotten a little bit lazy.

Yeah, exactly. Absolutely. And it happens.

It happens to the best of. So, yeah, it does. And I think, look, some people like to mentor other people don’t really enjoy it as much.

I really love it. I do. Monash University mentoring Melbourne uni Academy Xi I’ve done and now jumped onto adp list to start mentoring as well.

So I’ve spoken to the last little bit since jumping onto adp list. It’s amazing the difference of culturally where people are from their experiences with just. It’s refreshing, I guess, and to be able to talk about things about your experience as well.

I love that. So, Sarah, obviously you’ve got a couple of different workplaces, so I’d love to hear a little bit more about the team and what you folks do and what about each really works for you and what do you enjoy? Yeah, so at the moment with Bendigo, it’s a very small team. So my team at Bendigo, it’s my manager and I, and we started with another designer, but there’s been organizational changes and project changes and things like that.

So because Bendigo acquired upbank a couple of years ago, which is really exciting, so one of the designers, he’s shuffled back over to the upside, which is cool, and working on some cool work there. But, yeah, my manager and I were building out the design practice in Bendigo and there are some other designers spotted around. Obviously the marketing team have a couple of designers, but there’s not this home hub, but some really great things that my manager has when it was the team of three, we had like a design TM day every month.

One month we would go out and do an activity, whether it be like, go to a gallery, go have a bite to eat at a restaurant or something like that. Yeah, we did an out of the office sort of thing, and then the other month we would sort of have a design. Take your laptop, go to my manager’s house out in the bush and have a coffee, sometimes have lunch together and just chill out and talk design and just have a different, I guess, heartbeat to the way that we did design as part of our culture.

Because it’s hard, like, when you’ve got projects that are going, how do you take time for your designers and to support them and to have space for them just to be together and connect. A stand up is one thing in the morning, but you’re always talking about work, and Friday drinks is also another one. But being purposeful about connecting that design and pushing beyond just looking at digital design, going and exploring a gallery is always really, I think, great.

Yeah, sometimes a change of scenery really changes the flavor of collaboration. Exactly. So he had that little ritual, which was really sweet, and so that sort of cooled off at the moment, just the two of us, and he went on long server sleeve and what do I do for design day for myself? Take yourself out for lunch, go for coffee, go for a wine, obviously, for instance, it probably looks a little bit different considering that you’re like moonlighting with them.

Yeah, it does. But the culture, otherwise, we work day to day with Bendigo, with the product owners, and we’re basically one unit, which is really great. We banter together, we celebrate, commiserate together on projects, that normal business rapport that you have.

But they’re a great team, and they also are so empowered as well by us as design to go do the mapping that they need to come back to us and we talk about it, because we can’t do it all, they can’t do it all. So we’ve worked through that, so that’s really a great way. And then also, even though Bendigo is probably like 2 hours away or so from Melbourne, where I am, they grab the train down, come into the office.

We’ve been out there a couple of times, probably not as often as we should, but we also have a couple of people interstate as well. So online connection is really important. Plenty of gifts are shared, like any great workplace, as a form of a laugh as well.

So, yeah, it’s good. Everyone’s really lovely. Everyone wants to do the right thing and build great experiences for our customers and make those features and offerings there.

So that’s really great. In comparison to instance groups, they’ve got a great culture as well. Like, I’m super lucky even though that I moonlight there.

They have invited me always to lunches and dinners when they’re going out to connect with the team. They’ve had some celebration events as well where we get to all get dressed up and it’s one thing when you’re chatting to someone on slack all the time, but it’s another when you finally get to be in person, just like, okay, we don’t have to look at this design and assess something or look at this bit of code or worry why this bug is like this. It’s just a chance to hang out and chat and have a good time together.

A couple of nights have ended. We’ve had karaoke and other very fun late nights after a few drinks and some good food in us, which is it brings people together. Karaoke brings everyone together.

It really does. Always surprising. The person that is the best at karaoke is usually the quietest.

Oh yes, that’s really surprising. And look, there are some people that have got real big feels as well when they do the karaoke. I’m like, oh, that’s a song you’re bellowing out.

That’s great. It’s like, I feel like I know you so much better now. Yes, exactly.

It’s great that you have not only one workplace that has a really great collaborative culture, but it sounds like both of them are so two from two is pretty good innings. It is. I feel very lucky that typically even I was at nyob and some of my dearest friends now, they’re the people that I hang out know, we catch up and go know, we’ve got breakfast club that we go to and go have a coffee in the morning.

I always catch up and go to a meet up together, go for a drink, have house parties, whatever it be. These are the people and I feel very fortunate, like coming from industrial design where look, let’s be real, it’s typically been a male dominated industry, very competitive. You’ve got to really keep honing your skills and developing them to be able to get your design presented and upfront and been selected.

The thing that I’ve really enjoyed most about digital design is this collaborative culture of openness and transparency, open communication, willingness to share learnings and ideas, cool designs that they’ve seen on the Internet or whatever, or experienced and really just yet being really open to support and grow it’s just been a very different experience for me from being as an industrial designer, where it’s about you trying to get ahead and just very competitive. And maybe I’ve been so far removed from the industrial design world now that things possibly have changed, and maybe that was my experience at that time, but I feel like I’m in a really good spot with digital design. And the community here, particularly in Melbourne, seems like much better vibes, obviously.

But then also such a big part of working in design is that connection piece and sharing of ideas and really being able to showcase your ideas and making the other people understand what you’re thinking. Like, that’s a massive part of the job where it feels like maybe industrial design would also kind of be very productive of their ideas and you probably wouldn’t want to showcase them that much and get anyone else involved. So, yeah, that’s a really interesting parallel that I’ve never thought of before.

Yeah, no, it’s a thing. I reckon it’s a thing. I also feel like the rituals, some of the rituals that digital design has.

Yes, you have stand ups in the morning and you have showcases, but design critiques, it’s also you have design jams where UK. Sometimes you present work and you need just clear, this works. This doesn’t make sense.

What’s going on with your words here? This screen doesn’t match that screen. What’s going on or whatever else. Maybe it’s all wonderful, but then you have the jams where you invite people in to collaborate and obviously tools like Figma.

The software flavor of the month has been great for us because of the collaboration. Previously it was sketch and you had to sort of jump in together and be sitting side by side. COVID happened, obviously.

Figma was fantastic to still connect and design together. So that’s also been wonderful to not feel for me, for design. I’ve always loved collaborating and struggled with, okay, go do this design and go off and go by yourself.

People who are probably listening and that know me very well will be like, yes, Sarah loves a good chat, but I think it’s great because you can have fun together, have a good laugh. So many in jokes know particular people, but a quick way of solving problems is you get the right heads together in the space and work through the problem together. Many hands, many brains make light work.

I don’t know, I’m probably going to butcher that sort of. No, that makes sense. And I think as well.

Was that kind of like the catalyst that made you want to get more into the digital side of things rather than traditional industrial design. The catalyst was being able to get a job and keep doing what I was doing to be real, because I was working commercial. That was like the real thing.

Let’s be real. That’s probably the catalyst for a lot of people. Right.

You’ve got to go where the jobs are. Yeah, but it sounds like that’s what has kind of kept you in the industry. Yeah, the people have kept me, the community has kept me.

It’s funny, I’ve been doing a lot of reflection of, like, what do I want to be doing, where do I want to be going, what do I want to learn about? Has been like, the biggest question of 2023 for me. This is my second banking job. I guess I was at NAB before and now at Bendigo.

Do I still want to keep learning about banking finance stuff, or do I want to take on something else? Reflecting on what do I want to learn about has been sort of the thing. I think there’s still so much still for me to learn and be able to use this brain in a positive way to help people experience great things or have access to services maybe that they didn’t have or processes that are difficult to access them to be able to get to those. I still think I have a very important role to play in that.

And so I still think, yeah, digital design is not over. I do. Don’t get me wrong, I greatly miss physical product design.

Maybe not so much the maths around it, because that was never my strong point. Someone asked, how big do you want it to be? And you’re like, about that big. I better get a ruler.

Maybe it should be smaller. I was never very good at that sort of stuff. Yeah.

But, yeah, I think there’s an interesting future that’s ahead with VR stuff and ar, all that sort of world that we’re heading into. And so I’m really excited about what that future holds. Definitely for someone like yourself, that misses the physical product design.

I mean, as physical as a metaverse product could be, I’m sure it might be a good crossover. Yeah. I’m curious, though, your journey from university to then doing an academy Xi course to now being in digital design, would you recommend those short courses for people who want to pivot into more of a digital design job, or what would be your advice around that? Someone said to me many years ago that if you studied industrial design and architecture, they were the hard designs.

I think there’s a lot that you learn from a university degree when you have to do art history and you’ve got to write a thesis on Brock or rococo or the Bauhaus and really understanding where we came from, what our history is. I believe it makes you think about things in different ways. There are probably other people who are like, nut you don’t need to do any of that sort of stuff.

I think there’s a lot there to learn from designers in past, I think doing a short course, just jumping straight into it, depending on what direction you’re wanting to go and develop your skills in. If you’re a copywriter but you’ve previously been doing journalism or other writing pieces or you have a passion for writing, sure. Try and do a short course.

See if that’s your thing, dip your toe in. But also now there’s so many great resources online, YouTube videos as well to sort of test the water before you make that investment into a course. I think the benefit of doing some of these courses is you really immerse yourself and, yeah, those courses really ask a lot from you.

And those that really want to go into the industry, they survive through and continue through. So I think in that regard, certainly character building, we’ll say that much for a tertiary degree. Yeah, I really think that they’re really good in that regard, to really affirm that, yes, this is the thing that I want to do rather than sort of just keep trying to get a job.

And you’re hitting walls and walls and walls because you need a portfolio. People need to know that you can do this thing for real. Did I need to do a course? I would say no, I didn’t.

But I did learn a lot about myself. I came out with portfolio pieces that I could talk about that, yes, industrial design encompasses the same things and architecture takes you through the same way, but you just need to prove yourself that you’ve got these fundamental groundings of spacing and how to look at the problems and be able to articulate that. That’s certainly one of the things I really learned from the course was ways of communicating your thinking.

When I was in industrial design, I was always being told, yes, but how did you get there? How did you discover I was. I just. It makes sense.

Like, it’s like math homework, which was also not a great subject for Sarah, but was always like, show your workings. Like, I don’t really want to tell you, I looked in the back of the book for the answer, but you can’t do that for art. And was, I just looked in my mind and I solved the problem that way.

Yeah. That critical thinking skills that you do get from tertiary degrees is some people. You’re right, some people can just do it automatically and it comes naturally for some people, then they can get away with doing a short course or looking up on YouTube.

But I think for the vast majority of people, yeah, tertiary degrees, they take a lot out of you, but they also give you a lot of foundational, contextual, historical knowledge and it allows you to think about things in a really different way than what an untrained or an unqualified. Not unqualified, but a person without a degree might not know. Yeah, my parents will be the first ones to say, Sarah, did you really need to do three years of fine, like first year? Wasn’t that know? Was that enough time? But I really gained a lot from doing three years of art school.

It gave me time for me, gave me time to be creative in a different way, solving, not for people, but exploring and understanding myself as a creative, which you don’t get, I don’t believe, at high school. So, yeah, Sarah, you’ve talked a lot about problem solving and the collaboration piece is really important for you when you’re doing your work. But I’m curious if there’s any other things about your job as a designer that really lights you up, that really motivates you to do the work you do.

Good question. What lights me up? Well, other than good food and coffee and pastries and all that sort of stuff. So if we’re trying to bribe you, that’s what we would have to.

Oh, totally. I’m a real sucker. It’s such a Melbourne answer as well, isn’t it? Like, I’ll do anything for good food and pastry and coffee.

Me? Yes. You want me to come into the office? Okay, let’s go. Let’s talk.

Love that. For me, honestly, it’s really seeing, it’s such a cliche sort of thing that inspires me is seeing other people do really cool things, seeing friends, creating great work, being able to talk about problems that they’ve solved. Those sorts of things really inspire me because I’m like, oh, I want to go into those and solve those sorts of problems too.

And it makes me a bit of a digger of problems at companies, but it also creates ways of then how can we connect people to solve these things as well? I love going to art galleries and as well, seeing art, looking at things online, watching endless YouTube videos and plenty of Instagram and TikTok and what are all those sorts of things as well? They’re all great inspirations and looking at beyond, I think, digital design of specifically, let’s say an app or something like that, but animation, an incredible. I’ve been down this rabbit hole before, but I’m back down it again, probably rewatching a bunch of stuff that I’ve watched before. But people that put together Lego and building out animations from it as well, like totally fascinated by it, love the process that they do and the stories that they create as well with it.

Those sorts of things are like the piecing together how do people tell their stories is really also something that’s inspiring. The method or the way that they creatively choose to tell their story, whether it be anecdotally or through a physical thing, if it be through Lego or something else or plasticine or, I don’t know, some cool animation. That sort of stuff is really.

It’s like, oh, cool. That pushes me to keep learning and growing and discovering new things. Like the biggest thing at the moment, that’s not really inspiration, but it was 2050.

This is the biggest joke. The thing that’s making me laugh at the most at the moment about myself is back in 2015, I wanted to try one of these Google short courses of Google Analytics was one of the things that they were promoting at the time, and I was like, cool, I’m going to start this. Well, I can proudly say, like eight years later, in terms of inspiration for myself, I have finally finished it, got a little Google Analytics certification, beginners little certification, and now realized as soon as I finished, oh, they’ve got a whole new platform on skillshare to do Google Analytics beginners on.

So I’m like, cool, let’s go learn more about analytics. Because I was never like a data person or anything else like that at school. So how can I be better at this? Let’s go again.

Let’s keep trying. So things like I inspire myself with stupid choices. Sounds to me that you’re just curious about things that are outside your wheelhouse.

And that’s a really good way to be, I think, just knowing. Yeah, it seems very vast, like UX and product, it seems very vast for people who are in it. But sometimes it is good to take a bit of a step back and realize that there’s so much other niches in design and art and data and tech that I think it’s a good thing to just branch out a little bit and do a bit of a sidestep.

And hopefully they’ll all come together. Yeah, hopefully. Hopefully.

I’ve learned something from Google Analytics that I can apply to something new or be able to understand something a little bit better. And I think that was actually reflecting on my time at stacks going into, I’d said when I was Academy Xi, I was like, no, I don’t want to go into a startup. I’ve got zero interest.

It’s too unstable. Not for me. I went into this really young startup called Stacks, and it was where I did learn all these things.

And it sort of continued to inspire me because you could continue to bring in all these different aspects and you had to learn all these different facets as well for your job that maybe you weren’t used to or expecting. And that’s the other thing I think about design is that whole people call, some people call it design as a journey. Those that know me call, I will call it an adventure.

And the analogy that I have for it at the moment is this Pokemon one where if you play, I’m not a great gamer at all, but the Pokemon one is where you go out and you go explore part of the map and you go do a little quest there and then you go, oh, well, I don’t have all the things there that I need to finish it. So you’ve got to come back and you got to go down another pathway, explore another part of the map, come back and, yeah, you just don’t know where that adventure is going to go for you. And I, that’s probably this, as you maybe say, this curiosity that I have is part of what is my adventure and inspires me.

I love that. No, I think that’s something that most all designers should have in some extent, is that curiosity to peel back the layers and ask lots of questions and try and figure stuff out that we don’t know. But I also really love to flip this and ask over your career.

You’ve traveled a lot, you’ve worked in a few different industries. Have you had any challenges or speed bumps throughout your time? And it’s really made you stop and take stock and ask yourself, like, what the heck am I doing here? Yeah, I’m nodding my head profusely, too many, I guess, along different parts of my career so far. And you sort of go, seriously, can we just cut a climate break? I guess the biggest one there’s have been a few big leaps, like, obviously going, having done fine art first and then gone and done industrial design, there was a big leap of like, well, for three years I haven’t been doing the design things.

How am I going to do that? Am I really ready to do this? And feeling like you’re set back already, comparative to your peers and then going overseas, it’s a huge thing. Am I doing the right thing going to Germany? I don’t speak the language. That’s like the first thing.

My German is still very terrible, probably worse now than it ever has been. So there’s those things. And being away from everything that, you know, and going like, is this the right thing? And the impostor syndrome goes through the roof because you’re around these really talented people and then coming back to Australia and going, cool.

Like, I’ve gone off and done all these great things. Do you know what brown is? Do you know what happens there? Do you know the incredible people there that are so talented and passionate about design? And you come back and you’re like, oh, no one wants to interview me. What’s wrong with my folio? What’s wrong with me? Am I meant to be doing design? Am I good? Am I terrible? What am I? Maybe I should just go be a receptionist and answer phones, because that’s currently all I can do because that’s the job that’s presented itself.

Or am I meant to go work in commercial flooring? And that was like, honestly, I had a big break because I didn’t know what I wanted to do and I didn’t feel I was any good at design and worthy, I guess, of being employed. Despite people around me telling me, you’re so good at what you do. This has been your whole thing.

You just kind of go, yeah, but I’ve had enough. I’m done. I need out.

And so you go do commercial flooring and you’re measuring floor plans and you’re looking at floor plans. That’s really cool that someone got to design this space. Oh, that’s really fun.

And, oh, I miss using Photoshop and illustrator, or I miss having those discussions and being around other people because you just sort of feel. People don’t quite. I felt for me, people got me, but they didn’t get me and my way of thinking.

And you end up craving, like, wanting to be around it. So I end up going to art galleries and trying finding other ways and engaging with design and art and then doing the course of Uxui. And then, even then, it took me some time to get that first job at stacks.

And then when you make that decision to change to a different role at a different company, to learn something new, it takes time. You go through the interview process and there are knockbacks. There are no answers.

You can apply and apply. And to be honest, I didn’t really know about recruiters until I got into the Uxui field, like industrial design, it just felt like, know you had to keep yelling and please say, please hire me. And then meeting recruiters from the Uxui world and having their feedback as well about your portfolio or ways of having conversations and stuff.

And even still, recruiters would say, like, you’re doing great. You just weren’t right fit at that right time, and you’re kind of going, okay, but what else can I do? How can I improve? How can I do more? And then suddenly people take a chance on you and go, I want you. Like, oh, my goodness.

This overwhelming feeling of someone wants me and I want to be at that company because you’ve chosen that as well. And I always talk about so much about the interview process isn’t obviously, and this is so classic as well. It’s not just about the company interviewing you, it’s you interviewing them and not just taking that first job, because it is.

And there’s been jobs where I’m like, I know you really like me, but I’m just not convinced that I want you by everything else. So it’s like this two way street, and then the setbacks of, like, you get into a job and you’re like, oh, my goodness. And I certainly felt that joining Bendigo bank, being part of Frost and the incredibly talented designers at up and developers and just everyone there is really lovely and extremely talented on that team.

And you’re just going, oh, gosh, have I taken on too much? Have I jumped in too deep? And I wanted to be here, and now I’m here. I don’t know if I’m up to par with being even anywhere remotely close. And until you sort of have those conversations out loud, there’s chatty Cathy’s, but I don’t know.

I’m a chatty Sarah, and we’re my heart, my slave. And you start having those conversations with people and saying, I’m struggling, or, gosh, that person’s really great at what they do. And someone else is going, yes, but you’re really great at this.

Until you learn to accept, as a colleague of mine at Nab said, these are your superpowers. And you go, oh, okay. I don’t have to be good at everything.

I don’t have to be the best of the best. This is my thing. This is why they hired me.

Even though you’re like, but I don’t meet that criteria that they put on the job description. It’s like, yeah, but they saw something else in you that could balance out their team and they needed for their team. So it’s a roller coaster of getting a job and not getting a job but also finding out what makes you happy because no job is perfect to be real.

Very true. Yeah. And I appreciate the transparency around you telling your experience with pivoting and finding new jobs and interviewing.

It is really tough. And I, as a recruiter, I feel it like it’s my job to kind of coach people through the process every day and find out what their motivations are and play a bit of matchmaker. And it’s really tricky sometimes when sometimes just some opportunities aren’t around.

And yeah, I think to your point, 100%, there’s got to be the applicant interviewing the business as well. You’ve got to make sure it’s a good fit for you. With my experience as well, I’ve traveled around a bit coming back to Australia.

It’s almost like reverse culture shock where you go away thinking like, oh, I’m going to go out and I’m going to get all this really great experience and then you come home and then people don’t appreciate it as much as you thought they would and it’s like, oh, did I just do this for no reason? There’s so much self doubt and so much conflicting thoughts in your head. I can imagine it would have been quite liberating just to be like, oh, I don’t have to figure out everything. I’ve just got to figure out right now.

Yeah, this year has been a really big year for me, for that sort of stuff to go. It’s okay. You can take your foot off the accelerator of expectations for yourself and whether that’s age or experience or many conversations with friends and colleagues and things like that.

But yeah, it’s hard. It’s really hard to get to that point. It’s not easy, but I think just like having those conversations, I feel like is more welcome now and a little bit everyone’s just being a bit more transparent with their work life balance and how they’re feeling with burnout.

I can imagine. I’d hope that you’re not burnt out considering you’re doing two jobs, but it’s a very real thing for a lot of people. Yeah, look, I’ve probably been burnt out and I’m trying to keep puttering along.

Is that the right word? I don’t know. Keep chugging along. Puttering.

I’m not golfing. Keep chugging along. But that’s also, I’m in the right environment where my manager can see that people that know me well enough and get who I am and why I do all the things I do.

I think that’s why they keep me around. Not just my poor choice of words and embarrassing things that I say and laughter that I like to have, but, yeah, being around the people that say, cool, look, okay, we’re going to just pull back on some of the work, give Sarah some space. She needs to just chill out for a gonna come back, and when she comes back, she’s, like, ramped up again, and you get the best out of her.

I think that’s really great management as well, is knowing that the people on your team want to be there because they are there because they want to be, and just to give them the space to do their best work. And that can be so difficult, though. It can be so difficult for a manager to try, and it’s sad, but at the end of the day, we’re numbers on a spreadsheet at a business level.

How do you justify that to a business that’s saying, well, we need to deliver this feature, but you’re going, we would love to, but our team is cooked at the moment. This person’s really. They need time out.

They’ve got too much going on. How do you manage those expectations? How do you have those difficult conversations? Yeah, it’s a tricky thing to weigh up. I think for me, what I’ve, social media, good and bad, as well as it is maybe being in the relationship TikTok too much.

But Dan Firmosa is a mentor of mine. He’s from smart design. Very, very fortunate to have met him through my ag ideas award that I won and got teed up with him.

But one of the best things he said to me is, like, the way that we look at products is the way that we look at relationships. And so much of that relationship thing is even like, day to day of how we connect and communicate with one another. We need to be able to understand our expectations, but also create within the business and our culture of our teams, what is it that we want from a relationship? What is it that we expect? Do we want to be able to have that Apple genius bar sort of energy of being able to go up to someone in your team or in the business and be able to say, hey, can you help me with this? Or do you want a, dare I say, Microsoft version of, you’ve got to Google it, go through some, know the equivalent of, okay, we’re going to send you to this person in the bank, go talk to them, and then go to this person and you get that run around.

What sort of culture do you want to create? What sort of relationship do you want to have? And how. I always think about how do I want to present myself into these businesses as well, of what I want to attract, what the environment that I want to be in. Yeah.

And how do you foster that yourself? How do you foster. How do you. I’m the worst at saying no.

How do I practice saying no and saying, look, I’ve got too much on right now. I can’t do this, be okay with that, and be like, but let’s put a way forward of how I can help you achieve whatever it is that we need to achieve or you want to achieve, or how can I connect you with other people that could support you with this? And maybe I could be at a consultant sort of level to be able to help guide them on these things. It sounds like some really interesting conversations about boundaries, and that’s almost like a whole different kettle of fish that we could go down, I guess.

I would really love to know. Like you mentioned that we all love TikTok, we all love YouTube and going down a whole bunch of topics, but is there any other really good podcasts that you listen to or books that you love or anyone that you follow online that you’d like to share podcast wise? Is. I really love design system office hours because I always end up in this systematically.

I’m systematical and my mentors are just trying to break the systems out of me, which is great to go back to my creative side, but design systems office hours is really great. There’s just a general design systems podcast as well. That’s what it’s called design life.

And I got really into through lockdown, just like there’s a UX. It’s called Ux podcast. Ended up into that one, really know, running around the park through COVID, plugging the headphones in, listening to a bunch of podcasts double time.

Got to keep up with the pace, that sort of thing. Okay. If they’re speaking fast, I’m going to run fast.

So those sorts of things are really great. And then I think there’s just some great advice that was given to me was for use of social media. Particular Instagram is have an Instagram account for your personal stuff and whatever it be, but actually create a secondary one.

So you play with the algorithm and just only follow creative things and whatever else. So I’ve got one of those and there’s, look, the Dan Moles and all these Xander super fast, which is one of my favorite Instagrams, where he’s always like doing quick Figma things. Tutorials.

There’s so many great resources and creative people out there. Figma community that’s grown huge, really talented people. They’re sharing things, creating plugins.

My colleague Dave Williams does plugins. Many people probably use his plugins when they’re using Figma. Check out similea and Laura Mitsum.

And he does a lot. There’s so many great resources out there to gather things. YouTube channels.

You merely just need to have to Google UX something and you’re going to find something good and bad. Don’t take it biblically. Yeah, it is a bit hit and miss, but yeah, it’s kind of like the highlights reel of things.

Something that I haven’t done in a while, which I really should do if I’m going to say this is. I used to go to the library a lot when I was at university. Monash Caulfield Library.

What is just incredible of art books, state Library there are great resources out there. You can learn a lot from books, whether it be layout, design, illustration, how images and text put together, how do you look at things differently and how can you then apply it to your digital product, if that be the outcome and the experience that you want to create print is wonderful for that and probably something I certainly need to get back to. But I remember learning about fonts that way as well, like going and picking up a couple of books from the library, carrying them home from uni and just grabbing them.

There’s the grid book as well, which is really great to learn about publication grids, but also how do you then apply that and learn that to web design as well? Push the boundaries. There’s something so great about going back to something tactile occasionally or a lot just branch out a little bit from the screen. Yeah, it’s a different experience.

And for me, when I was at art school, one thing that I really wanted to explore was how do you transfer physical other experiences into a space? So maybe that wasn’t always me trying to navigate this, even in the digital world, but I’m not a snow bunny, but I really like the concept of snow. I really like the texture of it. I like how it comes and it goes in seasonal.

And so I create an artwork going back with water crystals, that when you add water to them, they obviously grow, but over time they shrink back down because the water evaporates at them. So that goes process. And so it’s all about coming and going, just the tactile way of things is really still important to understand.

How can you bring that experience to the digital product? Everyone gets bored of plain white and black text at a year challenge. Well, I love it because black’s my favorite color. Such a Melbourne answer.

So Melbourne. This one’s actually my favorite question and I love to end the podcast with it. So if you could give your younger self some career advice, what would it be? How much time do we have? Trust the process.

But that’s not my advice. That’s other people’s advice. That’s Ben Wilson giving me advice from Brown.

Trust the process. Trust the adventure. I guess as well you’re going to end up somewhere.

There was no way that I would have thought that I would end up here where I am today, doing what I do at all. So I’m going to take Ben’s one and say, trust the process. Trust the process.

Love that. I think it’s even Virgil Abloh who. I think it’s even Virgil Abloh, maybe.

I don’t know. Between the two of them. Great.

Two incredible people. Yeah, we’ll give both credit, but no, I think that’s so true. Especially when we are part of an industry that’s constantly changing.

It’s very hard to set a ten year goal and tick that off. It’s always going to change. So, yeah, I think trust the process is a really good piece of advice.

But thank you so much for joining us. I definitely learned a lot and it’s really great to hear all of your decisions and how they’ve all come together to land you where you are at the moment. So thank you so much for joining us.

Thanks so much for having me. It’s been an absolute delight.

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