Why the comfort zone holds you back with Product Designer at Uber Eats, Femke van Schoonhoven

Juraj Mihalik

Hi Femke. Thanks for taking the time. Let’s start with who you are and what you do.

I'm a product designer in the Uber Eats team based in Toronto, Canada. I just recently moved here from Amsterdam, The Netherlands, after living there for five years. I definitely miss the cycling infrastructure of The Netherlands, but Canada has much more nature and diversity to offer, which I'm thoroughly enjoying exploring.

As a product designer, my role is being responsible for creating the end-user experience of a particular product or feature. To do this successfully, I spend a lot of time with my UX researcher, diving into preliminary research about the problem space before creating some prototypes or rough concepts to a user test. Once we have a clearer picture of the problem we're solving and some ideas on how to create a good experience, I dive deeper into designing end to end flows and journeys.

In addition to design, I began several side projects as a way to self explore and create. The Design Life podcast is probably the one I'm most proud of. This November, it will have been four years since my co-host Charli and I decided to start showing for motivated creators.

Design Life Podcast

In addition to my podcast, I also run a design-focused YouTube channel, where I teach others about product design principles and processes.

What was your design journey like?

I haven't always been a designer. After graduating with a degree in business and marketing, I realized my strengths lay more in the creative execution of projects rather than the business and strategy side.

It was around this time that I met my good friend Charli Prangley, who encouraged me to explore design. It all started to click for me – I'd always been a creative person. I was known to complete my math homework as quickly as possible, so I could flip over the paper to draw on the other side.

I enrolled in Massey University's Visual Communication Design course and completed my post-graduate diploma there. While part-time studying, I picked up a job at a startup called Atomic, which was building a design and prototyping tool. This gave me the perfect mix and exposure to what it was like working in tech and building a tool for designers. I felt like I'd hit the jackpot.

Along with my studies at University, I also began attending a lot of meetups and exploring various avenues within graphic design online. I tried hand lettering and joined the seanwes community, gave drop type a go via Jessica Hische's skillshare course, and even enrolled in Treehouse to learn front end development. Trying different things helped me explore which parts of the design I enjoyed the most. It was through my friendships with folks at tech companies, and my interest in technology that ultimately leads me towards product design.

You're now working full time as a Product Designer at Uber Eats. How did you get there?

I was previously working on Uber Money in Amsterdam and transferred to the Eats team in Canada as I was ready for a lifestyle change.

The Eats design team is spread across San Francisco, New York, and Toronto. Amongst that, we're broken up into several work-streams – courier, eater, restaurants, and so on. While we're a distributed team, each city houses it's own work-stream. For example, the courier team sits in San Francisco, while the restaurant team is in New York. As Eats is a multi-sided marketplace, we're constantly collaborating together, whether it be in crits or more closely in a project.

My day to day typically involves checking in with the designers and researcher in my team, reviewing any potential updates to the PRD priorities, catching up with engineers, and of course, heads down designing. I'm a rigorous documenter, so I like to document my progress and project on an internal website I run.

Tell me about Uber Money. What was your role?

As the Uber Money team, we look after in-app experiences relating to payments. Our goal was to create seamless payment experiences for all sides of the marketplace. This can include everything from managing rider payment profiles all the way to driver payouts.

I worked on the driver side of money, particularly focused on Cash. In many markets around the world like India, Brazil, and Egypt, riders can pay for their ride in physical Cash, which is a more accessible payment method for some. Cash, while convenient for riders, can be more cumbersome for drivers to deal with. I helped ensure that drivers had a good cash experience on our platform.

I ran into a saying: "Surround yourself with people who push you to be your best self." I would like to know how are you doing this?

I'm constantly looking for opportunities to put myself outside of my comfort zone. Perhaps I'm attending an event where I don't know much about the subject matter or attending a leadership retreat when I'm not yet a leader (like the recent Within retreat), or engaging in conversations with people about new topics.

When in the unknown, I feel like I have the most potential to learn and grow. By surrounding myself with people who know more than me, I'm in a position where I can be curious and open. However, being around these people and having curiosity sometimes isn't enough. The people around you also need to be vulnerable, selfless, and encouraging.

Just recently, a friend and I have been vulnerably open about our personal finances with each other. We've been having conversations where we share how we manage our money. Within these conversations, we're often talking real figures and showing each other our bank balances. I'm incredibly grateful for her selfless vulnerability – these kinds of conversations help me improve and be a better citizen.

This kind of example has also happened to me within the design space. Thanks to safe spaces like the Design Life Community, Within and a trusted group of close design friends, I feel I always have someone to learn from and, most importantly, the support and encouragement from others.

You’re hosting the Design Life Podcast. What made you start the show?

In 2015, Charli and I were both having these long, open conversations about our careers, side projects, and motivations. After a few times, we thought, what if we turned on a microphone and recorded these conversations as a podcast?'. Design Life was born – but that's the short story.

The long story is that the conversations we have are honest, vulnerable, and in-depth. We thought maybe other people might benefit from learning about how we're tackling challenging hurdles or grabbing new opportunities. This has always been an important message for us – our show is not about preaching what's right, or how to be successful, but rather a diary of our own personal journey's.

Both of us loved listening to podcasts but felt there was a lack of women's perspective within the design space. We started recording and sharing it amongst our existing networks on YouTube, Twitter, and our email lists and were surprised at how many people resonated with the show.

Design Life Stickers

We're now at 170 episodes after four years of recording. Early on, we both decided we hated ads in podcasts as it ruined the flow of the episode. To date, we've never run an ad or worked with a sponsor for our show. Instead, it's entirely self-funded from our community (monthly membership) and swag we sell on our store. Right now, we're selling a limited edition set of Work in Progress pins designed by community member Hollie Arnett.

Design Life Pin

What would be your advice to someone who wants to launch their podcast?

Practice first! Charli and I did at least three practice episodes before we began releasing them to the public. You don't need to have the top microphone on the market, but it is good to invest in something that will help improve your audio. When I started, I bought a Blue Yeti microphone. This is the mic I still use today.

Start telling people now. Seanwes always says, "People don't notice announcements, they notice consistency." People may not notice the first time you share an episode or your announcement tweet about your podcast. Keep. Telling. Them. You don't have to have an episode live to begin spreading the word. You could show the behind the scenes of getting started. Or create and share your website now, encouraging people to subscribe so they'll get the first episode.

As a product designer, what are the essential skills for you, and why?

Curiosity and empathy.

Curiosity – A good designer will challenge Why and always ask questions to understand the problem better. Curiosity allows you to dig deeper, uncover hidden insights, and generate new ideas.

Empathy – You are not your user. Good designers have empathy for those they're designed for. Put yourself in their shoes, understand how they think, what they want and don't want, and what their pain points are.

In general, Dieter Rams Design Principles are a great collection of skills for any designer.

How do you educate yourself?

I read a lot of books – not only on design but also on management, leadership, creativity, and growth. You can find my growing list of design books here that I've read and recommend. Reading is my go-to education tool during a commute or an hour before bed. I'm constantly carrying my kindle around for those unexpected dry moments like the doctor's waiting room or waiting for someone to meet me for a coffee.

In addition to reading, I am thoroughly enjoying listening to design podcasts on my cycle commute to hear other perspectives. Some I recommend are:

Lastly, being a YouTube creator, I also look to YouTube to see what others are doing and gain ideas for how to adapt my design process. Some channels I love are Hello, I'm Alexa, Design Gal and Charli Marie.

What's an interesting or fun fact about yourself we wouldn't find on your social media?

I know how to sail a boat! I was a sailor as a teenager and participated in (and won) regattas around the region. Sadly I don't sail anymore as I stopped when I outgrew my little optimist boat; however, I would still love to pick up sailing again in the future.

What do you like to do when you're not working?

If I'm not busy working on my podcast or YouTube channel, I like to spend as much time outdoors as possible. You'll often find me outside running, cycling, dog walking, or hiking. Cooking is my non-digital creative outlet. I love experimenting with food and hosting people.

Where is the best place for people to connect with you online?

I love Twitter! It's my go-to place for connecting with other designers, sharing thoughts about design, and gathering ideas.

YouTube is more of my education outlet, where I share a lot of learnings and teachings about my experience in design. It's great for anyone new to the product design industry or looking to grow their skillset.

Of course, you can also follow me on Instagram or check out my website where you can subscribe to my mailing list to get news updates and exclusive design thoughts and articles.

Bonus Question: What's your favorite way to eat avocado?

Sliced cleanly on toast with heirloom tomatoes, the classic down under brunch choice.

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