Tell us something about yourself.
My name is Raja and I’m a User Experience Designer in the Finance team at the Innovation Center in Potsdam. I live in Berlin and travel every day with the shuttle to the Innovation Center. I was born close to Dortmund in Germany. I studied in Aachen and afterwards worked for one year in Walldorf before coming to Berlin to do my Ph.D. at the Hasso Plattner Institute, which I did for five years. After that I travelled a bit before starting here at the Innovation Center.
Your degree encompassed both Communications and Computer Science. Why did you choose to study both fields?
I had the difficulty at school where both fields interested me. On one hand, I wasn’t sure if doing only computer science would be too tough; on the other hand, while I knew I was interested in media and communications, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to focus on that alone. By accident I found this program called Technical Communication in Aachen that combined both of the things that I liked, so I was very happy that I could study both.
Having a background in these particular fields is an increasingly valuable combination; how do you think your background has influenced your own opportunities in the evolving job market?
It has helped me very much. I have the feeling that I can understand both sides, which for some people can be more difficult. So if you’re coming from a technical field it is more difficult to understand the social science perspective, and the other way around as well. This is also where I have more empathy for both areas, so I can also understand that from a technical perspective something may not make sense, and then I can argue in another way.
Having worked at SAP in another context before joining the ICP, how would you compare your experiences working in the two different environments?
The way of working at the ICP is pretty different because we have smaller teams of people who are co-located together, whereas during my previous experience at SAP, the UX and development teams were located on different floors, so we met mainly for meetings. Here, I’m part of a team. I have the same manager as the team and we’re really integrated; it’s also a luxury to sit side by side, so if the team has questions they can come to me and I can have a look at their screens and have a discussion right there with them.
What is your role at the ICP?
There are different tasks that we have. The central one is obviously the user interface design. This entails creating design wire frames and mock-ups of what the software should look like, then using that as the discussion basis with the development team to see what is feasible. Additionally, I’m often involved in the beginning stages of projects before they are even conceptualized—this involves working with customers to find out what they really need, what problems they want to solve, what we can offer, and how we can work together. We do this in separate user research sessions, but also in design thinking-style workshops with customers that I moderate. To bring design thinking methods into the development process I’m also giving internal design thinking trainings.
Can you tell us more about the process for a typical project?
First of all, working with the customers is very important. It really helps to talk with them about what they want to have, not just to discover user interface components, but also to compile backend data. Sometimes we do customer interviews, and sometimes we hold customer workshops where we sketch something together with the customer to visualize what they want. After that, I create design files from that session and discuss it with the development teams—frontend and backend—to understand what data we need and how we will display it in the user interface. We do several iterations, and as expected there are plenty of questions, so we have a constant loop with customers to get their feedback on our concepts and UIs.
How do you think your experiences at the HPI have influenced your current role at the ICP?
I did my Ph.D. there in the Design Thinking research program and my project was about how design thinking can work while at separate locations, so “digital design thinking.” Also for that project I needed to understand the users’ requirements, create the interface design, and work with my colleagues who were doing more developing, so basically my job there was similar to my current job. Also, I was a coach for design thinking for three semesters at the HPI School of Design Thinking, and it has been really helpful to have more experience for the coaching work that I do here.
What do you think sets the ICP apart from most traditional workplaces?
One thing in particular is the building, which I love—it’s so great that you have so many areas for so many different ways of working. I really like that you can always find a place that suits your way of working at that moment. And also I think it’s really pretty, from the interior design perspective. And then it’s also about the people. Somebody told me, and I think they’re right, that in other locations, people are not always as social. When I come here, everybody’s friendly, everybody’s open-minded, and everybody seems to be quite happy. It’s a very relaxed atmosphere, and I feel very at home here.