Two years ago, we spoke to Stéphanie, a UX and product designer from Luxembourg. She enjoys video games and bike rides.
Stephanie now works with a new client and works remotely due to the COVID-19 situation.
1. Introduce yourself, who are you, and what do you do?
Hi, I’m Stéphanie. I’m a foodie and tea lover who enjoys video games and bike rides in the city of Luxembourg (this is also where I live). I’m also a Lead UX (User eXperience) Designer for a consultant company. Which means that I got to different clients to help them build their design and UX strategy. I’ve worked with big corporate companies, start-ups, banks in many different industries.
I also have a blog (https://stephaniewalter.design/blog/) where I share my thoughts and some curated UX and Front-End links and resources. I speak at different tech events (conferences, meetups) and teach mobile UX.
2. How did you arrive at this career (or point in your life/work)? Was it always something you knew you wanted to do?
Maybe this is a good time to say that I was born and used to live in France, for context.
I’ve always been a creative child, I drew a lot, especially during class.
I started playing around with computers when I was 10. My teacher had a bunch of those old computers that required 8-inch floppy disks to work and we were allowed to “go to the computer” when we had good grades. This, in retrospect, feels unfair to children with bad grades who never got to play with those old school computers. To be clear, those were already old-school when I was 10 but our teacher liked those vintage machines.
A friend of the family was a computer engineer. She brought a computer she built with old pieces of computers that were thrown away at work. And here was little Stéphanie, with Windows 3.1. This was 1998 or 1999 (the year of Matrix), Windows 3.1 was already outdated. But again, little Stéphanie, daughter of a farmer was happy with that. Then I got upgraded to Windows 98 and I was super happy. I started creating digital images, “photoshopping” the head of one character on the body of another one with paint and other non-Photoshop software.
I didn’t have the internet at home before my 18th birthday, but I used the public library and my friend’s internet connexion to build my first blog. It was mostly about sharing pictures with your friends at that time.
I wanted to become an art teacher. But I changed my mind when I discovered that there was a master’s degree that offered a mix between website creation and foreign languages. You could say a mix between programming languages and actual languages. To enter this master, I needed a specific foreign language bachelor, so I decided to go through the 3 years of bachelor to enter the master afterwards.
I went to the University in France and got an internet connexion in my room. My blog became quite restrictive. I wanted to change colours and everything but couldn’t. I could have rainbow gradients on the text but that was it. So, I changed the blogging platform. On the new platform, I decided I wanted to have the sidebar on the left. I checked the forums and read that I needed to add “.sidebar-left” here in the code. This is how I discovered HTML and CSS.
Meanwhile, I took extra classes to “prepare” myself for the master’s degree. So, I took a Photoshop class on top of my language classes during the 1st year of my Bachelor.
I kept on playing with the tool and after 6 months I decided that I wanted more, I wanted total control over the design of my blog. Thanks to blogs and forums, I taught myself HTML and CSS. Eventually, I installed WordPress, started playing around with a few PHP loops, and was able to bring my designs to life. I finished the bachelor with a semester in Germany where I also took some extra classes like SEO, in German, which was fun. Then I entered the master’s degree. There were more design lessons but also usability lessons. This is where I discovered user testing and user interviews. My teachers didn’t call this “UX Design”, but it was pretty close.
I worked in Germany for my internship. I finished what I was supposed to do after 3 months of my 6 months internship. The company was building a lot of mobile products on Blackberry and iOS (and a little bit of Android). So, I taught myself mobile design and mobile usability thanks to books, and again, the amazing blogs I could find. I ended up doing product design for mobile. I went back to France after that. I worked for a small web agency and kept on trying to get better at design, usability. I tried to build a user-centric approach in every new project I was working on. But let’s be honest: in a small agency, clients don’t really care about that. I decided to leave France for Luxembourg and work as a research assistant in the Human-Computer Interaction team. It was super fun, we did research to create learning spaces for students and worked on different tools for them. This is also where I got stronger in user research methods and more rigorous. I’m currently working for a consulting agency and go to different clients to help them with their design and UX strategy.
I’m mostly self-taught and learned a lot in books, through conferences and discussions with other people in my industry. Designing user-centric products was not something I knew I wanted to do when I was younger, mostly because I’m not sure if there were that many schools teaching this. But this feels like the natural path for a geeky little girl who also liked to draw on a computer.
Author: Geoffrey Crofte
3. What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning, especially on those cold, dark mornings?
Haa mornings are starting to get quite dark. I don’t really jump out of bed; mornings are quite hard for me actually. But I’m always eager to learn from the people around me at work, or around me in the community through social networks. That’s why I wake up in the morning: to learn from co-workers, from users to find ways to make the interfaces they use better
4. What is your personal cure for stress or how do you raise your spirits in times of doubt? Can you share a story?
I’m super bad at dealing with stress. I should be used to it by now, especially since I give conferences, but it never gets away. I get stressed before going on stage. And I also get stressed when I see that I have a LOT of things to do. Which is silly, the challenge is what makes me wake up in the morning, but it’s also what scares me.
For the stage stress, power poses (putting your arms on your hips like a wonder woman) helps. Also seeing a friendly face in the front row of the audience helps a lot. I try to remember that the audience is rooting for me, they chose to be in the room, that I prepared my topic so everything will be fine. It’s not always easy to remember that.
For the “too many things to do” stress, I often feel overwhelmed at work. Especially when I start working for a new client. There are so many things to understand about their product, their specific domain. I feel like I need to master everything in the first 2 weeks, which is silly. None expects me to do that. So, I have to try to remind myself that the first 3 weeks at a new job or new client are about getting to know the environment and it’s fine.
When I have a lot of things to do, it’s like there’s this big mountain of things in front of me. So, I try to cut that down into small little pieces. And all of a sudden, it’s not a big mountain anymore. It’s just a few little piles of smaller things to do. And I can tackle each little pile on its own, step by step.
5. Who is your role model? If no one, any thoughts on this?
It might sound cliché, but it’s mostly my Mum. She’s a smart and brave woman. Life was hard on her, but she keeps fighting, every day. She has an optimism I will never have. I’m more of a grumpy person than her.
My father is a farmer. She’s a “wife of a farmer” which means she spent most of my childhood helping at the farm without getting paid for that “work” (she still does). We didn’t have a lot of money when I grew up. But she always found ways so that I and my little brother could play music, travel a little bit (even if it was not far away), get access to culture and books, and develop our imagination. She taught me loyalty and courage.
She’s also a geek. My father has NO IDEA how to turn on a computer. She’s the one doing all the administrative tasks of the farm using a tablet, taking care of the accounting. She has a blog and an Instagram account. She’s the one reformatting the tablet when it stops working. Anytime someone is using the “Mum” persona as the “non tech friendly person” I really want to bite them. Because my Mum is more tech-friendly than most people I know!
6. What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back in time?
“You need more self-care, don’t neglect health, even if you are scared of most doctors, it’s important.”
Also, it feels strange because at school I was bullied a lot for being the “uncool fat geek”. Today, talking at conferences and working as a designer is seen as “cool” by some people in my industry. I have colourful hair and a lot of piercings. So, it’s super strange for me that some people think I’m “one of the cool kids” today. I still remember someone telling me when I finished my master’s degree “you will need to remove your piercings and comply to society's expectations to find a job”. Well, I hold my beer as they say?
So, I would tell myself something like “ you are stronger than you think you ever will be, it will get better, don’t listen to the haters”. And then I would of course not listen to myself.
7. Top 3 tips for girls starting out in STEM?
Find a sisterhood, a group of women to support you. You will need that kind of backchannels and safe spaces if you want to survive. I have a slack with 5 friends. We have channels like “#complaining” to post about ugly stuff, but also “#inspiration” and “#gratefulness” to post about our accomplishments in life or just self-love. To know that you have a few women you can rely on and share with helps a lot.
Selfcare first: you might want to change the world (so do I), but you can’t if you lie in your bed and are totally exhausted. It’s okay to pick your battles. You don’t want to burn out at 25/30 like so many amazing women I saw. Maybe you will need some “me time”, maybe you need some music, maybe you need a book, a warm meal, anything that makes you feel good. There’s no shame in taking care of yourself first. When I was a teenager I hated “girly stuff”. Mostly because “girly” meant being superficial in the eyes of society. This is bullshit. I’m in my 30’s and start to embrace girly stuff like spas and a comfy night on my couch with Netflix. Maybe it’s because society changed a little bit and those are now considered as “self-care” and not “girly stuff”. Or maybe again, I was just silly.
Read feministfightclub.com, a nice book that lists different strategies to survive sexist workplaces
8. How do you measure your success?
I don’t measure it. I don’t really care. As long as I get a roof, food, friends and I can travel, I think it’s a success. If I can have fun at work while doing all of that and learn new things in the process, it’s even better.
9. Where can we find out more about your work?
You can check my portfolio https://stephaniewalter.design/ and my blog https://stephaniewalter.design/blog/
I also have a dribble where I post more illustrations and drawings at the moment https://dribbble.com/stephaniewalter
10. Are you social? Will you share your Twitter handle, or LinkedIn profile, or Facebook so that young women can connect with you?