Designers, Interviews

Balancing the Grind With Erika Lauro, User Experience Strategist & Architect at AKQA

July 16, 2019

Erika Lauro is the User Experience Strategist & Architect at AKQA (Amsterdam office), a digital agency, with over 20 studios across the US, Europe, Asia, and Australasia.

Balance the Grind spoke to Erika about her UX career path, her role as part of the Experience Design team at AKQA, a typical day in her life, and plenty more.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your background and career?

I’m an Italian Strategic Designer currently based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. After my Bachelor in Industrial Design, I specialized myself in Strategic Design with a MA at the Politecnico di Milano.

I started my career in a more traditional environment, working in adverting agencies like Publicis in Milan for big accounts and few other boutique branding agencies.

After a couple of years though, I realized I was missing the user-centric part of my work and actually research, structure and design new solutions to improve people’s lives.

In 2015 I decided to gather all the learnings on strategy and research and go back to my design roots to grow more as a User Experience and Service Design professional.

2) What is your current role and what does it entail on a day to day basis?

I’m currently working as UX Strategist and Architect in AKQA Amsterdam, a global innovation and design agency.

In the Experience Design team, I’m mainly responsible for the strategical and architectural projects and I have a strong expertise in Data Driven Design, User Research and Validation.

That means we advocate for the user perspective always taking in consideration the business one. I define and frame challenges with a deep data analysis, involve users with interviews and run multiple user testing sessions to make sure we solve real problems with valuable solutions.

3) What does a typical day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

Everyday I make sure I do start my day with a good Italian cup of coffee and a good breakfast. I cycle at work (very typical from Amsterdam) to feel active and energized before I go to the office.

Me and my team start the day with a stand up to define the tasks to do, keeping track of the progress and the interdependencies between projects and people. After that, we go straight into workflows.

On a daily base, I collaborate closely UI Designers, Art Directors and Developers so clear communication and a chilled vibe are essentials. We have a very close relationships with our clients so we have frequent check-ins during the week to brainstorm, align and move forward with the final requirements and designs.

4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you manage your workload and schedule?

I took the habit to plan my week in advance on Sundays evenings. It’s life changing.

I have a clear overview of what is my work schedule and I can adjust tasks accordingly to make sure activities and meetings are spread evenly during the week and I’m not overwhelmed on a specific day.

I find Outlook Calendar and Evernote quite effective for that.

5) In between your job, life and all your other responsibilities, how do you ensure you find some sort of balance in your life?

Honestly speaking, one of the things helped me the most in my life has been adopting a minimalist lifestyle.

As you might know, this doesn’t involve only owning less physical objects in your life, but also declutter your mind and your agenda and put focus and give priority to activities which create value for you.

I learnt to say “No” to requests, invites and projects which wouldn’t give me any value on a longer term. I wrote an article on Medium: If you are a User Experience Designer, you can embrace Minimalism easily, if you want to check it out.

Also, during the last 6 months, I started to plan specific relaxing activities to make sure I release some tension and relax properly during the week. I do 15’ yoga session everyday after work and practice other sports 2-3 times a week.

On Thursdays, I have an evening dedicated to self-care where I take care of my skin, meditate and unwind with some good music.

6) What does work life balance mean to you?

To be a good professional, it’s key to have a balance within your life. Most of the times I feel the design environment can be quite overwhelming and pushes you to make your work the center of your life.

Work-life balance to me means to be gentle with yourself and listen to your needs. If you feel tired, anxious and not sharp anymore, make your team aware of your current state of mind and ask for help, in case.

7) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?

Great question! One, for sure, is having a standing desk at work.

Back pain is one of the most common complaints of office workers who sit all day. Having a standing desk helped me significantly to have a better posture, increase blood circulation and feel more productive during the day.

The other one it’s meal prepping once a week. Invest some time to make sure you would have proper nutrients and vitamins at every meal will ensure you good energy, more time and less money spent in processed foods.

8) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?

For somebody that wants to learn more about UX Strategy, I would definitely recommend the one from Jamie Levy – UX Strategy: How to Devise Innovative Digital Products that People Want.

Regarding the rest, I do read a lot of blogs and watch videos online.

9) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

Get enough sleep and eat a good amount of vitamins. Those are crucial ingredients for me to face everyday’s life.

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