UI Narrative: How to use Your Multicultural Experience for Product Design | Zalyia Grillet
UI Narrative: How to use Your Multicultural Experience for Product Design | Zalyia Grillet

UI Narrative: How to use Your Multicultural Experience for Product Design | Zalyia Grillet

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If there are two takeaways , it's design is in everything and we all have a story to tell.

In this episode, Tolu Ajeyi, interviews Zalyia Grillet, an Afro-Caribbean UX strategist, discusses how she combines design thinking, her multi-faceted Trinidadian-American background and exposure to accessibility design needs, to navigate everything from a post-pandemic world, to her work .

But it didn't always start out this way. Like most marginalised people, in this instance a black woman, she's had to battle imposter syndrome in the tech industry.

When it comes to marginalised communities, there is a vicious cycle of imposter syndrome and bad products: lack of representation ⇒ imposter syndrome ⇒ relatively slower growing talent pools ⇒ non-diverse product teams ⇒ poorly designed biased products.

Zalyia started her UX journey in a General Assembly course. The only other woman of colour dropped out and despite being top of her class (yet still doubting her abilities), when she graduated, she was the only person left unhired.

When it comes to marginalised communities, there is a vicious cycle of imposter syndrome and bad products

She was left with her design-thinking toolbox to create a new path for herself, utilising social media and failing fast, to gain her success, and eventually mentoring other marginalised groups to do the same. I’m not gonna go into systemic bias in tech (that's a whole other can of worms), but I can testify that as a black women, I've regularly had to (and still do) work twice as hard as many of my peers to get similar opportunities.

The key to solving this is more representation which will benefit us all in the long run. Getting feedback from a different point of view can be intimidating, as it will often lead to some kind of pivot.

Intimidating, yes, but equally as important. If we're going to make good products that serve 'humans' in the long run, we need to not be shy in asking for feedback from diverse sources and pivoting fearlessly.

Whether you like it or not, a non-diverse team is going to build a non-diverse product. We all have privilege and often fail to see it. Personally, I know I need be better at building accessibility into my products. Zalyia herself had her eyes opened to accessibility design, when her late mother was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and began to add new considerations into her design thinking toolbox.

All our experiences are valid. She claims she is not a 'guru', but found her experiences are still relevant to the audiences she serves and mentors. Often, we think people won’t going to be interested in what we have to say because we’re not X or Y enough. We forget the people we see at 'the top 🙃' are only 0.001% of the world and that there's a forgotten, large, audience waiting for us to put a fresh and more relatable spin on recycled news.

Our lived experiences are superpowers and it's essential that we amplify them

I might be at the beginning of my journey, but I can already relate to Zalyia's story. Six months ago, I started The Notion Bar with zero followers and six months later I have budding community. I grew my following by leaning into my authentic voice. When I stumbled into the Notion community, I was wowed by how engaged the community was. Although, I realised:

  • None of the 'thought leaders' looked or sounded like me
  • Everyone was productivity-obsessed .

Productivity is just one aspect of Notion. I personally just see it as a blank canvas with digital lego blocks.

I like Notion and happen to be really good at using it. Although, when it comes down to it, I'm just a gen-z/millennial mixed West-African black girl obsessed with pop culture, aesthetics and UX. That was the voice I wanted to bring across when The Notion Bar was born.

I focus on products/templates that solve problems for other people out there like me. Yes, I can do all the hardcore productivity stuff (I'm a full-time PM and have Notion-designed our entire internal/external agency process) but it doesn't make my heart sing. Instead, I find joy in lifestyle-based products like building digital gratitude journal communities , Zines, personal CRMs to remind you to call your aunt every once in a while, grocery lists and an online delivery manager.

Notion is a really powerful tool and I want more marginalised voices to be exposed to its possibilities.

Host |
Host | Tolu Ajeyi

I see The Notion Bar as a) kind of like a gateway drug for people who have never used Notion before b) a place to let your hair down for hardcore productivity heads.

In short, our lived experiences are superpowers and it's essential that we amplify them. If we don't then, the world will continue to be designed for the 1%.

In the tech world specifically, a lot of products claim to be designed for everybody... but were they designed by.. everybody? Too often we hear about products that end up backfiring in specific communities because no one had 'thought of it'. The only way out of this hamster wheel of bad products is to merge design thinking with our inner voice and let it shine ✨

By Frances Odera Matthews

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