Meet Jillian Vardy.
Jillian Vardy is a Product Designer at Auvenir, an auditing start-up that works within the consulting firm Deloitte. Their goal is to take a more automated approach to auditing. Despite still working in beta version, they’re developing revolutionary processes and spreading like wildfire throughout their industry.
What is your role?
I’m a product designer. It encompasses UX design, visual design and also working on the product team.
Is that what you expected to be doing in this role?
I expected to wear many hats, as it’s a startup. There was only one designer when I started so I knew that would spread me amongst the teams. I would say everyone is given full autonomy, no matter the location of their manager. It’s one of the core values of the company — to be bold — which requires giving us autonomy. It’s essentially up to me to make my own plan based on projects that I’ve been given.
What is your salary range?
I can’t say, but I will say that Glassdoor might give you an indication. What’s great about Auvenir is that you can grow over the course of each milestone throughout the year.
What is your educational background?
I have a Bachelor of Community Design [degree], [which is] very similar to user experience in many ways. It taught me how to research, sketch, etc and test. It was more working with physical spaces, but the parallels are pretty interesting. [But] I like working in digital more because it’s a lot more flexible; after I graduated, I went into a UX Design bootcamp.
What was the learning curve for you coming out of a bootcamp?
It was huge! I would say the learning curve starts right after you finish the bootcamp. I knew I was going to have to put the work in, but I wasn’t really prepared for how much extra work it was going to take.
Initially, my self esteem and confidence was pretty low, especially after spending so much time looking for a job. It’s a pretty steep emotional curve. I really had to switch my mindset and think of continuing to develop my skills while looking for a job as a full-time job. The weeks you put into a bootcamp can set you up for a really junior job, but [the onus] is still on you to keep learning and growing even after the course is done. You also have to learn to be adaptable and find your own approach to the UX process. Be honest with yourself that you still have so much more to learn, especially in the industry that we’re in. One thing I’ll say is that bootcamps teach you high-level theory, but you have to be in charge of diving deeper. Way deeper.
Tell me about your first month at Auvenir.
I had some formal onboarding, both through Deloitte and than through Auvenir. I really spent my first month learning about the company and what the design process looks like here. A lot of my time was spent meeting people in each department and understanding their role, how they came here, etc.
I pretty much started working on a feature right away, but it was challenging to learn the workflow here at first. I really focused on keeping up with the amount of work I could and delivering my solutions in a quality way.
It was overwhelming at first, but I loved the challenge. Basically, three weeks after I started, the other designer went on vacation and was gone for a few weeks, so it was a bit of sink or swim situation. I loved it!
What elements of UX do you do?
We don’t really touch research unless I get stumped on something. I’d likely go ask questions and validate my assumptions internally with our specialists.
I’m always initially given business requirements where I produce flows and validate them. I’ll then do some sketching and wireframing. We have a design system in place, so I have all of our buttons and what our text fields look like so I’m not worrying about what the visual design looks like. But I quickly move from low-fi to hi-fi, prototype and hand it off to developers.
Our developers use InVision Inspect to build it, so I need to make sure that all of my designs are hand-off ready. Everything needs to be exportable and labelled properly.
What does the “Holistic Design Process” look like at Auvenir?
It’s really subjective depending on the ask. Our roadmap and goals are constantly changing as we get different contracts and different users. It’s hard to explain, but auditing has 3 main components, and we’re still building out the process of how to automate them.
On top of that, there are many different guides that auditors use and, depending on the auditor, they’ll have a unique approach.
A lot of our features are trying to problem solve for those really dense, tedious, monotonous tasks that auditors do.
The process normally looks something like this: I’ll analyze business requirements, compile my questions and assumptions and identify a flow. Once I’ve identified that flow, I’ll sit with one of our product specialists or the team at Deloitte to validate. After that, we go through [sometimes] lengthy iterative process that consists or sketching, wireframing and prototyping.
We don’t have a huge amount of time to test right now, because we’re in such preliminary stages, but we test when we can. We do, however, get feedback from our beta users. For example, today, I have a meeting with a beta user where we will walk through some components and get feedback, but we don’t get to do that all the time.
The majority of our feedback typically comes back from our customer success reps that we have.
We don’t do so much user research because we have people in-house, and specialists in auditing, who give us insights into the process.
We don’t have the ability to do so much primary research, because it’s such a new approach to an older industry. Early on, there was a research company brought in to do persona research and interviews to understand pain points of auditors. They did a lot of preliminary research to develop who we’re designing for. I have the transcripts to refer back to.
I tend to refer back to those transcripts to see if I can find some insights into the person I’m designing for, but I don’t look at them a lot.
They’re pretty basic and they don’t outline every single type of auditor. So, having a couple of personas doesn’t make sense. You would have to have more like 10–15. And because we’re in a startup, the majority of our time is spent on features and that sort of stuff.
What tools do you use?
We use Sketch and InVision for design. For project management tools, it’s mainly Confluence for documentation and Jira for tickets — this helps bridge the gap a little bit between what we’re working on and what development is working on. We use Slack for ongoing communication and Outlook for email and calendar. For research tools, because we’re apart of Deloitte, being given access to tools is a bit of a slow process and often we’re denied. I’m not sure why, but we’re apart of a huge company and there’s a process.
We work in a very agile way, but we have to work with Deloitte as a whole. Deloitte is in the process of making a digital transformation and moving away from some of the old processes by challenging their old ways. We’re encouraged to be innovative, but sometimes it’s more like being innovative in a small box. It’s interesting to have that red tape, because we have to find other ways to work within our own constraints. It’s not necessarily conducive to quick and innovative environment, but it definitely keeps things interesting.
Do you need to learn how to code?
No, but having an understanding of technical feasibility is encouraged. You need to be able to communicate with developers.
We also have Business Systems Analysts that bridge the gap between product and the development team, They look at what we’ve designed for the site, write out the [tech] requirements, functionalities, etc. They come back to us if there’s something that can’t be built or if there’s something we need to change.
How do you collaborate with developers? What does that process look like?
It’s honestly pretty informal. It’s normally through Slack message or I’ll just walk over to their desk. We do have some offshore dev teams, which makes it a bit trickier, so we need to coordinate times.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Depends on the day and where I’m at in my design process.
It could be full of meetings if we have a new contract. For example, right now we’re working on a new project that’s focused on small-to-medium-sized audits. Their team is currently in Toronto right now, so we’ve been having to meet up frequently to sync up before they leave.
There are some days where I’ll come in and it’s really self-guided: maybe I’ll be in the middle of a project, [it] might be all sketches and wireframes all day.
Some days I’m working in high fidelity or working on tiny details. No day is the same — it’s exciting!
What’s the culture like?
We’re very team-before-self, I suppose. We do a lot of team-oriented activities during and outside of work. Because we’re in a big open office there’s always lots of chatter and excitement.
There’s a lot of flexibility with work here. They really want employees to focus on whatever they’re working on in whatever way works best for them. For example, maybe that means working from home, working nights over days, etc. As long as you’re getting your work done, that’s really all that matters. Some people will come in at 10 or 11 AM, go home, and continue working in the evening.
What are characteristics you look for when hiring UXers?
One of the biggest ones I’ve come to learn is humbleness and being able to accept feedback and to be able to grow — I think it’s very critical as a designer. As design can be so subjective, taking into account how people critique your work is so important. That doesn’t necessarily mean change your designs completely, but being humble and taking everything into consideration.
We want to see your problem-solving abilities, and ability to think through the work without following a strict process. It’s so important to be able to create your own UX process catering to the problem put in front of you.
Learning how to apply them in the appropriate situations is imperative.
What is your advice for someone looking to maybe work at Auvenir?
I would say that it’s going to take a lot of work and you’ll have a lot of self doubt, but you have to kind of push through that. Always ask as many questions as you can, and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you don’t understand something. Just be curious and be humble. Most importantly, be willing to wear many hats and define what your craft is.