Made by Camille Woods: From Bagging Groceries to Self-Taught Design Success — A Journey Through the Heart & Mind of Design
“I sold a painting for $1200 and bought a Macbook,” says artist and designer Camille Woods of the turning point that brought her to design. After college, Camille worked at Whole Foods, bagging groceries and eventually working her way into the corporate office where she discovered UX and UI design by doing her first ever heuristic evaluation of their new website and checkout flow. “From there, it just clicked,” recalls Camille, and she began her journey toward becoming a designer.
In this week’s argomade profile, we trace Camille’s path from artist-grocery-sacker extraordinaire to self-taught design success, and she shares her secret to solving any design problem she encounters: unearthing the heart and mind of the matter.
It’s a framework Camille uses each time she approaches a new project to get connected with both the human aspect of the problem and the technical requirements. Only when both are in harmony can inspired solutions reveal themselves.
How did you go from bagging groceries to design expert?
It’s true, you could say I started my design career on the floor at Whole Foods. I worked my way into the corporate office by demonstrating my natural curiosity, optimism, determination, and passion. Eventually, I landed a spot on a new e-commerce team, and that’s when I was exposed to UI and UX design. I’ve always been an artist, so design felt like a natural extension of my skills and interests, and I couldn’t get enough.
I started taking tutorials during my free time — acting like I was in school again! I’d come home from work and go in my home office for a couple hours to study, like it was a second job. I reached out to friends for freelance gigs and slowly, but surely, started to build a portfolio of personal and professional work.
Within a year, I had enough work to start looking for jobs. I accepted an offer from a small startup that builds websites for small to medium size e-commerce companies, and the rest is history. Sometimes it’s incredible to think I used to bag groceries, and now I get to use my creative and intellectual abilities. Every day presents an interesting problem to solve.
Talk about your unique approach to solving problems. What inspired you to think this way?
My approach is a yin and yang sort of model for design. It seeks to understand and balance two core components of every challenge - what I call the ‘heart and mind’ of design.
The ‘heart’ of design represents the human motivation, inspiration, or passion behind an experience while the ‘mind ’speaks to the business strategy and user experience.
I love to find the heart in every project. Behind every design challenge, there’s a human motivation that drives why and how an experience or a product should exist. As an example, I once had a language testing company as a client that was hoping to rebrand, re-architecture, and redesign their product, as well as appeal to a new, younger market. I first and foremost immersed myself in the user’s experience, imagining their desire to get ahead in life, explore new skills and places, and master a challenging subject. I wanted the experience to evoke a sense of empowerment and inspiration that comes with gaining language proficiency. Channeling this kind of passion into design can bring about powerful solutions.
On the flip side of the same coin are data-driven aspects of the design problem. Regardless of how sexy the client is, there’s always an intellectual puzzle — the mind of the matter. Design is so much more than making something beautiful. Creating a worthwhile experience means designing holistically and considering how an entire ecosystem works together. Seeing the forest for the trees. A strong solution should start by considering the overarching business strategy, market conditions, architecture, communication strategy, content strategy, design language, and graphic expressions to construct the full context of the project.
Design that skillfully solves for the heart and the mind of the matter has the power to effect real change.
How do you discover or investigate the heart of the matter?
To find the heart, I consider both the people that make the product and the people that use the product. I always want to understand how and why a product came to be. It’s not only inspiring, it’s critical to hear the story of conception of an idea and its evolution into a full blown product or platform. Seeing the passion and grit that goes into making a product can help you map the way forward.
Next, I want to hear from users about the different ways they interact with the product and how it makes them feel. Getting under the hood of human motivation, desire, and delight to create an experience I know strikes the right chord with users makes me feel like not just a hired hand, but a meaningful stakeholder in what I’m creating. An in the end, my passion for the work strengthens the final product.
What questions should designers ask themselves while connecting with the heart of the matter?
For me, some of the most interesting research happens around why a product or service exists. To dig in, I may ask questions like:
- What is the story behind what/why/how this product/experience came to be?
- Who are the founders and what is/was their vision?
- Who are the humans that will be using or are currently using?
- Who are the humans you want to use your product?
- What are the current ways in which users interact with the product
- What is successful about your product?
- What is less successful?
- What are your aspirations for your product/experience?
How do you discover or investigate the mind of the matter?
Regardless of industry, I enjoy unpacking the intellectual challenge in what clients bring to the table. Digging into the mind of the matter is a great way for designers who might not be so thrilled about a “boring” client to get past their superficial assessment of the project and get pumped about the solution.
Nailing the mind of the matter requires gathering full context and putting forth a holistic answer. For example, at argo, we had an anti-virus software client approach us to improve the customer experience, especially on factors of legitimacy and approachability, to boost the conversion rate post-free-trial. We asked ourselves, “how can we make the user feel they’re getting lots of value out the product, in a way that is not obtrusive, but informative, human, and delightful?” We attacked at all angles — through the architecture, content strategy, communication strategy, the design language, animations, transitions, and more. We created a “hypothesis” with a working prototype to put in front of users to test and iterate until we found that sweet spot MVP. And we got there by having a clear understanding of the business strategy, history, and available customer data.
What questions should designers ask themselves while connecting with the mind of the matter?
For the mind, I think about how the ecosystem and architecture of the design can best service the goals expressed by the heart. The two sides working together create magic. To get there, I often ask:
- What are the business goals driving this engagement?
- What is the current state of the system/experience/product?
- What data is available to analyze?
This can be really tough, heady stuff. What are your top three tactics for refreshing yourself or getting un-stuck?
- One of my favorite ways to decompress and connect with the world is going to a swimming hole or a local wildflower center.
- Make art!
- Travel, travel, travel. Embrace new people, places, and things, and you will always return inspired.