Transcript of Interview With Mrinali Kamath

Interview With Mrinali Kamath

This interview features Mrinali Kamath, product design director of safety & security at Ford. You can watch it on Mrinali’s profile page.


– Hello, I’m back again as the conference director for ConveyUX, the user experience event that is taking place at the end of February, the 27th, 28th, 29th in Seattle, and also online. We’re going into our 12th year for this event, and I’m pleased to be able to have the opportunity to chat with many of the speakers from the conference. Today I am talking with Mrinali Kamath. Hello Mrinali, how are you today?

– Hi, Joe. I’m good. How are you doing?

– Yeah, excellent. As most of the time, usual, I’m in my home office in Bellingham, Washington, which is just north of Blinks headquarters in Seattle. Where are you talking to us from?

– I’m from, I’m talking to you from home in Sunny California. I’m based in Cupertino.

– All right, great. Well, we’re really happy to have you as part of the program. Probably the best place to start is if you could talk a little bit about your background and experience and the types of things that you’re doing for work today.

– Sure, yeah. I’m a design director with Ford Model E, and at Model E we’re trying to build the next set of electric connected vehicles for Ford. And while at Ford, my main focus is safety and security. So what do we do when cameras and sensors come into the vehicle and how might that work for protection, privacy, and prevention of bad things? And previously I worked at Amazon where I was at the Amazon devices innovation lab called UX Lab and at IBM as well.

– Well, it’s great to have that kind of experience, and also it’s interesting to have a, a person involved in the automotive industry with the kinda the newest flavor of that. So I, I’m sure that will add a lot to people’s interests in your information and meeting you of your topic is titled Leadership by Design, how Design Thinking can help you lead with Impact. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about how you came around to that topic and why you think it’s important for people to learn about it?

– Yeah, so my talk is really about transitions and transformations, and it’s particularly the transition of an individual contributor to that of a leader. And it’s the place that I found myself in personally last year. And that’s when I realized that with the conversations with friends and colleagues that oftentimes people in this transition, so people who are amazing individual contributors are not necessarily good managers or leaders because the skills that made them exceptional in their role as an individual contributor may not apply scale or evolve really well to their new role. But then the other insight I had was that I saw a lot more empathetic and successful design managers and leaders, and that got me wondering if it’s designers that are actually better equipped to make that jump. And so by applying the design process that I’m used to applying, that all us, all US designers are used to applying with certain tweaks and adaptations. I feel that made me scale really well from being an individual contributor to a design leader and just be more empathetic and adaptable as a leader. So I’ve been applying this process and improving it based on my observations and interactions with exceptional leaders, both at Amazon and Ford. And so through my talk, I’m hoping to share those tweaks and adaptations so other leaders who found themselves in, in a position like mine, transitioning to a leadership role will find helpful.

– Well, leadership is one of the main themes of the conference this year, so this is gonna fit in very well and should prove to be valuable to a lot of the attendees. I’m sure you’re doing a lot of different things in your work. Is there anything that you’d like to talk about that you’re particularly excited about or passionate about, or is is just very interesting aspect of your work right now?

– Yeah, so yeah, again, coming back to transitions and transformation. So going from really focused work to now a larger scale sort of design project at Ford. And I’m gonna talk more about, and as you know, I’m part of the safety and security team, and that includes like basic protections, like seat belts and of course moving to preventing bad things from happening using ai, cameras, sensors. But when bad things do happen, providing s emotionally sensitive and human centered support and help. And so for me, it’s really been interesting to see how at different points of the customer journey, we are able to leverage technology where technology does its job best, like keep a watchful eye on behalf of humans, but when bad things happen and someone is going through physical or mental trauma, how might we leverage the humans behind Ford to be able to help them get the right help and feel safe and protected even though something bad happened? And so it’s been really interesting for me on one end to learn about all these technologies because a car is a really complex, drivable computer and there’s a lot of things going on in there. So it’s been really interesting knowing the technology and the amount of work it takes to get everything working together on one end. And then also being able to learn about the, the driver, the brain, the the human behind the wheel, and what sort of emotions and mental space they’re in when they’re driving and when bad things happen. We’ve been able to talk to doctors and people dealing with trauma and understand how we might be there for them in that mental, physical, emotional state. So to me, it’s really been interesting in my past experiences as a designer, I was really focused on like, what does the app look like? But now I’m zooming out to think like, what is the customer, what does the customer experience look like for someone interacting with Ford? And how might we make them feel safe and secure at every point in their journey?

– Well, that is very interesting and, and I, I happen to be some who’s always been interested in the, the design of cars and and trucks, but to tell you the truth, I never really thought about that safety and security human aspect of it. Obviously, you know, that’s a core part of it, but I never really thought about it with respect to our profession. So it’s gonna be really interesting to get those insights from you.

– Yeah, yeah. I’m super excited to share them.

– Well, I, and one of the areas that we, that I mentioned as important this year is our leadership theme. Most of our attendees are fairly experienced practitioners, but we do have a lot of people who are relatively new to the profession, and I think everybody is, you know, looking for ways to improve their skills. Do you have any thoughts maybe a, a tip or some advice for people that are just getting started in the profession or just want to improve their skills?

– Yeah, I think the, I think when most people think about design, they think about knowing tools like Figma and Sketch and knowing how to draw or be creative, which is definitely true, especially in the early parts of your career. But what I’m learning is that as you grow from being a junior to mid to senior designer, what becomes really important is your ability to identify the right problem and then synthesize everything that you learn both internally and externally from your customers, your colleagues, and put it together in a well articulated solution. And I don’t just mean that visually or by design, but I also mean with your ability to present that solution and build allies within your organization so that that product is truly successful. So I would say whether you’re starting out early or like you are a mid-career professional, I would say practicing presenting your work confidently and learning to take feedback and defend your decisions is super important. But the, and to add to that, working really closely with business partners like your PMs to know who to present to, how to present to, so that the right product is built and you can do right by your customers.

– Well, Ali, it’s been great to have this time to meet with you and I appreciate you taking the time to give us a pretty good preview of what we can expect from you at the event. So look forward to seeing you in Seattle in less than two months.

– Thank you, Joe. This was lovely.

– Thanks a lot. Bye-Bye

– Bye-Bye.