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Humble Design Leadership + Design Agency and Experience Design Evolution with Aleksandra Melnikova — DT101 E33

In this episode, I speak with Aleksandra Melnikova and talk about her position as Head of Experience Design at Publicis•Poke in London, England, humble design leadership, and how design is evolving to better serve our clients and the world. Aleksandra tells us about how her art, sculpture, and drawing training inform her work as a designer and leader.

We explore Aleksandra’s work and her team at Publicis•Poke in London, design agency evolution, how she leads an experience design team with a wide array of talents, and how she inspires by mentoring people outside work. Aleksandra likes to start from a blank sheet of paper and accepting that she and her team have a great deal to learn from and with clients. She fosters the culture of not being afraid to ask questions and being blunt about the information and what is going right and wrong. She encourages her team to spend 80% of their time on questioning. She believes the answer she needs will come to her when the question is formulated in the right way.

Aleksandra talks about design agencies approaches to the work, and noted agencies are getting away from presentation culture and moving towards collaborative approaches to working with clients. She enjoys going into a business and looking at their workflow as a point of reference to start her work with the client. “We are communicators of connections in this world,” and Aleksandra believes these connections are systematic connections, and they more they are exposed, the better the end product.

This episode also offers a look at the shift in approach to user design, and how the previous system of UX design was disjointed compared to today’s design thinking process of a team working together to manage the entire project. She talks about exposing research and data to clients that they have not synthesized into their operations, and how the data set is made into practical actions to solve problems. She also talks about how her team acts as a facilitator to the design thinking process.

Our Guest

Aleksandra’s mission is to bring the power of connected disciplines into design, research, and team management. Her background is in the Arts and Product Service Systems Design, her playground for creating new methods, tools, and approaches that frequently challenge existing structures and the status quo. Two of her biggest strengths are storytelling and system thinking.

During the past 11 years, Aleksandra has worked from both the client and agency perspective and successfully delivered digital experiences for companies such as VISA, Lloyds, TSB, SKY, Aviva, VSO, GSK, and British Airways, and she has led the experience design team within Publicis•Poke. She has collaborated with UK universities, mentored at Global Service Jam, and has been a speaker on the topics of connections between literature, art, and design.

Show Highlights

[01:30] Aleksandra’s journey in design thinking.
[05:04] She describes the team she leads as Head of Experience Design at Publicis•Poke in London.
[05:25] How Aleksandra brings out the best in her team, which has a wide array of talents.
[06:58] Aleksandra coaches humility with her team, based on the ever-changing world and the lack of knowledge we have because our world changes so fast.
[08:56] How Aleksandra assists clients in adapting to this process of questioning when they are working together.
[10:50] Tuning the relationship with the client when they haven’t worked with a team who uses design thinking.
[13:06] How blurring the boundaries on design affects the work being done by her team.
[15:03] Is there a shift in approach to experience design?
[18:54] The five why questions Aleksandra uses when having conversations with her clients.
[20:08] Viewing your project from the protagonist’s viewpoint is helpful with design thinking.
[22:14] Elements and engagements that is making Aleksandra’s work possible.
[24:09] How Aleksandra uses simple interviews and other elements to create valuable data for her clients.
[26:45] The value of the journey in the process of design thinking and how Aleksandra is against selling deliverables.
[30:41] Where can you find innovation in design thinking.
[35:47] Advice Aleksandra gives to emerging designers.
[40:08] The ethical role expanding and emerging in the design process.
[44:17] Thinking about the future and what is the worst thing that can happen if you say “no” to an idea or action.
[50:57] Use of technology and how technology can impact work.
[52:21] Don’t get too focused on the mono tools or methods and using them for every project.
[55:46] “Best practice” means “stop thinking”.
[57:34] Looking forward to what can lead to transformation.


Design for the Real World by Victor Papanek
Ruined by Design by Mike Monteiro
Aleksandra Meinikova on Medium
Aleksandra on Twitter
Aleksandra on the Web
Find Aleksandra on LinkedIn

Aleksandra at Women Talk Design

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