Now Director, User Experience (UX) at Alkami, Tiffany Huynh says she didn’t always know UX would be her path.
“I started my career as a product designer at Fossil, designing women’s handbags and small leather goods,” she said. “As I transitioned to a local startup, I found myself wearing multiple hats, straddling the fence between fashion designer and ‘web designer’ as we built out our first e-commerce site.”
From there, Huynh worked her way up to her current role as a proud Alkamist. Her love for all things beautiful, functional and business-savvy make her great at her job. But what makes her good at leadership? A passion for giving back, a dedication to understanding the business and a hands-off approach.
We spoke to Huynh about her path to UX leadership at Alkami and how she makes leading a tech team a success. She also shared the piece of career advice that’s shaped her approach to everyday business, how she’s helping women in tech and the advice she has for female leaders trying to carve out their space in the design world.
How long have you been in your current role, and what were you doing previously?
I have had the pleasure of leading the UX team for close to 3 years. Prior to life as an Alkamist, I helped build a UX practice at the nation's leading healthcare performance improvement and analytics company. During that time, I built a strong affinity for data, analytics and business intelligence — you can call me a data nerd!
What first got you interested in UX?
Surprisingly enough, UX fell into my lap and became a big part of my life before I realized what it was. I started my career as a product designer at Fossil, designing women’s handbags and small leather goods. As I transitioned to a local startup (now known as Leatherology), I found myself wearing multiple hats, straddling the fence between fashion designer and “web designer” as we built out our first e-commerce site. From there, my career has continued to center around my curiosity and genuine passion for solving problems and serving others through design.
What projects or programs are you currently working on? What about this type of work most excites you?
As a UX leader, your focus transitions from experience design to the business impact of design. As the Alkami UX practice matures, my leadership team and I are focused on several things: building out a strong DesignOps discipline, establishing KPIs that communicate and articulate the ROI of our designs and the business value UX continues to provide to the organization, and ongoing evangelization.
What excites me the most about this type of work is being able to leverage my creative license in a different way. It forces me to stretch my design skill set to help drive strategy and direction (minus the pixels). I would say the thing that gives me the most satisfaction are the small wins — hearing a developer ask what users think, hearing an executive talk about personas, or seeing a product manager pull designers into projects before kick-off.
How would you describe your leadership style?
Work hard, play hard. As a high achiever, I tend to set the bar high for myself as well as for my team. I love seeing how they continue to grow, expand their potential and shatter each goal that we set as a team. I enjoy working through challenges together, discovering solutions and “getting scrappy,” as I like to call it. I typically set a loose framework to provide some guidance and from there, I take a step back and watch how my team is able to discover the edges and come back with really innovative solutions. My team works extremely hard and I think it’s incredibly important to celebrate all the wins, no matter how big or small. As a team of foodies, our celebrations usually consist of a big bowl of pho and bubble tea!
What’s one strategy you’ve used when managing an individual (or team) that you think has been particularly effective?
Ask questions. Build empathy. It is incredibly important to keep the lines of communication as open and transparent as possible with your team. It helps to build trust so that you can address issues (both ways) as quickly and effectively as possible. It’s never easy, but I want it to feel natural for my team to tell me when I mess up and I want to be able to do the same with them as candidly and directly as possible so we can address it, learn from it and grow together.
How have you used your role to help bring up other women behind you? How do you build time into your schedule for this kind of work?
As a woman of color, I have faced a lot of challenges and had a lot of learning opportunities throughout my career. Early in my journey, I really wished that I had different levels of support to help me through my fumbles. So for me, it’s really important that I make the time and become a level of support to early careerists — providing mentorship, giving feedback on portfolios, answering career questions or just offering words of encouragement.
Also, I think it is incredibly important to build a community of strong women around you. It’s like a built-in safety net when you need support or when others in your community need support. I have a small WhatsApp group of UX women that I truly admire. We leverage this platform on a daily basis to provide support, motivation and advice on day-to-day challenges that we face. It is one of the things that I am most thankful for — they are my lifeline.
What’s the most memorable piece of career advice you’ve received?
I spent the better half of my career agonizing over how I wasn’t as eloquent as another person — as commanding or as outgoing. The best career advice that I ever received was just be you. Focus on you and what makes you unique. Do what feels most authentic to you.
What advice do you have for women in UX who want to take their career path to the next level?
I can’t emphasize this enough: learn the business. With design, it is critical to know your personas. In a business setting, it is critical to know your audience. Understanding the business and learning how to effectively communicate the value of design to your leadership (e.g., revenue growth), to product (e.g., adoption/retention), to engineering (e.g., cost savings), or to sales (e.g., win rate) will help establish your influence, ensure you have a seat at the table and provide you with the investments you need to continue to fight the good fight for your users!
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