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Office Hours: I’m a Fellowship Partner at Coho (prev. On Deck) and I've led Product Design teams at Netflix, Coursera, Scribd. I’m Chetana Deorah. AMA!Featured

Hi Elphas!

I’m Chetana Deorah, currently a Fellowship Partner at Coho, previously known as On Deck Design where I create and facilitate UX design strategy and leadership learning curricula. I facilitate a monthly series called “Steer your job, career and calling” as a collective dialogue for our global community of design fellows. I have over 14 years of experience in product design innovation, with a focus on leading design for growth, content design, and customer-focused research.

Before Coho, I led design teams at Scribd, Netflix, and Coursera where I jokingly say I went from enabling binge-reading (Scribd, digital reading subscription app) to binge-watching and binge-learning with Coursera in the edtech domain! I have served as a board member at Inneract Project where we focused on design education for less privileged black and brown youth. As the board for the non-profit AVIUSA (Auroville International USA), I helped with fundraising and awareness for Auroville, an international city in South India exploring human unity via Integral yoga and spirituality.

During my downtime, I recharge by doing pro bono graphic design projects, making mixed media collage, cooking vegetarian recipes, traveling, mining eclectic music, hiking, and working on my passion project “Poetry By Design”. I am currently in Auroville, India, part of an intentional community and exploring the intersection of design, art, education, and yoga.

Ask me anything about product design, building diverse teams, leading remote and distributed teams, equity and inclusion in the workplace, managing a team’s perception of you (personal brand), product-led growth, designing for global audiences, content design, digital branding, visual design, impact and effectiveness as a leader, the job hunt lifecycle, hiring, and negotiation, compassionate leadership, sabbatical, ikigai, growing your career, changing careers, design education…and more!

Thanks so much for joining us @ChetanaDeorah!Elphas – please ask @ChetanaDeorah your questions before Friday, October 13th. @ChetanaDeorah may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites 🔥👍🏾➕
@ChetanaDeorah I'm new in product design. I just recently graduated a UX bootcamp and have done a couple of projects for startups. I'd love to chat and get to know you and your journey through UI/UX!
Kudos Samantha for graduating from the UX BootCamp and embarking on the journey ahead. In my case, I did my undergrad in Science with a focus on Biology and a dream to serve by being a doctor. Dissecting human cadavers was clearly not my calling but helped me pivot early on to what I cherish and do now: Design. I shifted my academic training to Commercial Art and Advertising (at that time Graphic Design was not well known). I augmented my education with hours of pro-bono and freelance consulting work in India creating website, educating clients about the value of a digital presence, and designing identities. For my love of Typography, and my eagerness to be more independent I came to the US and completed my MFA in Graphic Design. Pentagram was my first job after which I landed at Yahoo, where I learned everything that design school could not have taught me; about craftsmanship, shaping to shipping, and the ability to influence as a product designer. It is also where I met my network of friends and well-wishers whom I cherish to date.Between Yahoo and Netflix, I chose to make job decisions based on which area within me personally or professionally needed to grow, and what fears needed letting go. I worked at a few mid-to-stage start-ups which allowed me to take on more responsibilities as a lead on projects and with people. I often say this in my monthly series at Coho “Steer your job, career, and calling” that not each of your jobs will be your dream job. Many are stepping stones that prepare you for where you want to go next. I was fortunate to work with design teams where we were able to dissolve the divide between visual design and interaction design and I was able to learn more deeply about the end-to-end user-experience lifecycle. Along the way, I also developed a strong understanding of Research methodologies, Content Design and led a few digital rebranding initiatives.As I connect the dots backward for my career journey, a theme emerged with leading products and teams in the consumer space focused on Content, Media, and Education. Given my background in advertising, empathy for global cultures, and a scientific approach to problem-solving, at Netflix, I was able to fully embrace the emerging field of product-led Growth Design. All along my career journey, I volunteered in domains that were important to me: design education, wellness, and community as no one job or role would fulfill all I dreamt of or knew I wanted to do or be.Good luck to you!
How exciting to be in that stage of your journey! And congrats on completing your bootcamp and jumping into new projects straight away. Please feel free to post your questions here, as I'm sure other Elphas who are also new to product design will resonate with and find great value in your questions!
I'd love to hear about your experience as well as advice for taking a sabbatical – when did you take yours? what was your intention going into it? did you follow your ikigai? or find it during the sabbatical?
Hi Lynn,Thank you for your question. ​​Stefan Sagmeister's TED talk, "The Power of Time-Off," inspired me to embrace purposeful breaks in my life and career. Despite the odds, as an immigrant woman of color in a Silicon Valley work environment, I sought organizations with unlimited vacation policies. I randomly blocked a day in the month when I would take time off and recharge in these long weekend “self-care sabbaticals”! I could never quite agree with having to take a vacation when it was accrued versus when it was needed the most :-). A risk that has been well worth the reward. I yearned for more of these mini sabbaticals to help define my identity beyond my day job. And it was during COVID-19 that the courage and clarity came together. My current stay in Auroville, India is part of this experiment and exploration. To embark on this longer break from full-time corporate work, two key factors were important to me -- 1) Maintain stability over my finances, health, relationships, and career 2) Define the purpose of the longer time off (these are not sabbatical in the sense its not paid time off work)I continue to explore my ikigai (the reason to be) by embracing my roles as a maker (from being a manager), reconnecting with my creativity, immersing in community life, and being closer to family. I'm grateful for the paying jobs that facilitated my engagement in volunteer work overnights and weekends, and side hustles in areas like graphic design, design education, yoga teaching, vegetarian food, and wellness. These experiences have led me to discover and refine my ikigai (that which makes life worth living): To help celebrate human diversity not just by always doing and by being.
Thank you for sharing your journey! I love the idea of long weekend "self-care sabbaticals". And I'll definitely check out that Ted Talk, thanks so much!
Given that you've worked at companies like Netflix, Scribd, and Coursera. How do you see the role of design evolving in the digital streaming and online learning spaces?
Hi Chetana! Thank you so much for joining us for Office Hours. I didn't know about Auroville and, after doing a quick google search, I am intrigued! Can you tell us more about your journey there and your biggest takeaways from choosing that lifestyle?
Ah, sure Josefina. Auroville located in South India is an international city, one could say an intentional community. It was born in 1968 based on the vision of The Mother and Sri Aurobindo. I have been visiting this place since my childhood and had set the intention at some point to be able to be back here. Had no idea if and when it would ever be possible! To explore and live the dream that has been put forth in this vision; ‘Auroville wants to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realise human unity.” While it is still far from the vision as we continue to work through human politics, cultural differences, funds, etc. it is certainly a place I believe in, and am immensely grateful to have this opportunity to contribute and grow in my journey. You can learn more here www.auroville.orgThanks for your curiosity and question!
Sounds like such a unique and fascinating place – thank you for sharing!
As a leader, what are some best practices for managing a team’s perception of you? What tools or frameworks do you recommend for that temperature check?
As a leader it's helpful to first and foremost be aware of the various touch points of interaction and impact, to know your “internal customers” which typically would be 3 groups: your direct team, your peers, and those you report to. As part of my performance review and goal setting, I would use this diagram I created (that one of my managers introduced to me); a “Circle of Influence” with concentric circles with me in the center. Each circle represents the various teams I work with. On each circle, I plotted names and roles of key individuals whom I needed to work with closely, had issues to resolve, or were teams and individuals I needed to stop spending my time with. You could use such a framework to track progress in terms of your impact and the perception of who you are as a leader by focusing on a few key members from each of these groups instead of the “trying to please all” myth. I learned quickly that while you cannot be loved by all especially when you move up the leadership ladder, you can certainly strive to be respected by most for what you stand for.On a more direct level, nothing is more powerful than building trust and candor such that in your 1:1s you can ask and give feedback about what is working well and what could be better. These could include areas like your leadership style, communication, etc. In my early days as a design leader, given the trust I had with my Director of People(HR) at one of my gigs, they politely informed me that the speed at which I walked from one meeting to another made it feel like I was inaccessible to my team. I seemed to always be in a rush! At the end of 3 months in most new jobs, I collaborate with my HR partner and manager to run a mini feedback survey on my performance and expectations from my direct team and cross-functional peers. It was a dose of tough love that helped me reflect and align sooner rather than later!
Thank you @ChetanaDeorah. I'm interested in changing career. When is the best time to change career and what are the best steps to take to do it in a sustainable way?
Hi Adebola, For any career, I encourage connecting with what your core values are. And to make note of what has worked well with the current job/career and what has not worked well. This could be a helpful guide or blueprint for the career change you wish to make. For the career you wish to change to, I would assess the industry trends, make sure you map out all the transferable skills you have from your current career to your new career, and include that in your professional narrative. Personally, in preparation for larger life-changing decisions, I like to think of its impact in terms of finances, relationships, health, and purpose. Having a mentor or a group of folks (like Elpha) through such a transition could be valuable as a sounding board as well as for resources and connections.
Thank you for your response. I picked very germane points there: mentor and connections.Thank you.
@ChetanaDeorah Thank you for answering questions! I'm a 20-year veteran of a brand and marketing design consultancy, pivoting to product design via graduate school. (The idea is to teach at night while slaying at design during the day). What made you want to lead teams instead of doing the design work as an IC? I'm not sure if I want to manage designers, although people who know me well say I would be good at it. I do know I want to grow into a thought leader, but I'm uncertain that I want to manage the daily operations of a team. Thoughts?
Dara @dchilton I could not recall this website earlier and wanted to share with you as a resource for IC senior staffhttps://staff.design/resources
Thank you @ChetanaDeorah. #Grateful
Kudos Dara for the willingness and chutzpah to pull off this dual commitment with transitioning or adding value to your career. The clarity with which you have stated your question to me the answer lies within it! Managing teams and people is not and does not need to be everyone's cup of tea or the only way to succeed. Also what one is good at, what one loves to do, and what will make one money might not always be the same thing (Ikigai...!)In my case, while working as an individually contributing Designer, I often found myself contributing and taking on more than an individual! I naturally organized, questioned, connected, mentored, empowered, and cared deeply not just about products, projects, and our customers but also about the people on my team and the organizational culture. I had the urge to improve the hiring process, the interview experience, the performance review criteria, and how to better negotiate with stakeholders for budget! Eventually, when I had to make the complete switch to leading and managing from being in maker mode, I was at a point where seeing my success in my team's success became a natural way to be. I felt challenged by investing in how to manage myself to lead better.Today fortunately it is very doable to carve your path as a strong Principal or even Director level product designer, Design Strategist, and mentor without taking on management of a team even if you are good at it. Those skills will be helpful in winning hearts and minds to make a pitch for good design, in my experience!
Do you have any advice for designers in individual contributor roles who eventually want to transition into formal leadership roles?
ps. Dara and Nora should chat 1:1 ;-)Hi Nora,I learned early on in my career that one rarely gets promoted into a leadership role unless one is already operating at that level, delivering above and beyond and the promotion is a way to get the title.A few areas of inquiry for you to consider in preparation for moving into leadership roles- Understand your strengths and areas for growth as a leader- Be clear as to why you want to manage and lead vs. design- Identify the leaders you value and why- Explore getting yourself a mentor or coach to help make this transition with intention- Volunteering is a great way to exercise your leadership skills and get a true feel for your impact and sense of fulfillment. It also helps build your resume with leadership experience.Good luck!
Hi @ChetanaDeorah 👋 I'd love to know more about growing your career. I'm a content marketing freelancer who just went through some severe burnout. How do you keep yourself motivated, produce creatively, and continue to make income?I feel like balancing all three can take a lot out of me.
Hi Georgette,Marketing domain, yes burnout can be real. The deadline often seems to be yesterday!In my experience living a work-life balance requires the ability to say NO, setting those boundaries that your rooted in your north star vision about your career map or journey.The 3 aspects you call out are quite inter-connected in my experience. When you are producing creative work (which might require saying no to clients who deplete you of creative projects) you are likely to stay motivated. And making income oftentimes might need to be prioritized over all other criteria. Even then you could operate from a set of core values or work principles as a freelance content marketing expert.I have seen jobs and clients who are the best for you, your well-being, expertise, prosperity, and career come to you or you are able to reach out to them when you are rooted in how you want to live and work. The power of knowing one's self and ability to say NO is often underestimated. I am still strengthening this muscle of mine! Wishing you rejuvenation and recharge to steer your career your way!
Hello @ChetanaDeorah thank you for your time. I am a product manager and I would like to know how product managers and product designers can work better together.
A favorite topic of mine, Timileyin! As a starting point, I would suggest (and have done so in most of my gigs as a design leader) to spend a day or week in the role of a designer (get into their shoes) and likewise have your design partner wear your shoes. Nothing more powerful than empathy to begin with and a clear understanding of what each role does versus what is expected within the context of your organization. I had a series of roadshows called "Empathy with internal customers" where we did such role-play including show and tell of projects between design and product, data science and engineering. Was fun, team-building, and impactful!Here are a few quick tidbits of the top of my mind --1. Define the what and the why qualitatively and quantitatively to motivate and empower your designer. Not so much the how and when. Collaborate with your designer on those two2. Connect with your designer as a person and not just a cross-functional peer3. Being a PM is a tough, thankless job, honestly. Create ways to build empathy, camaraderie, shared vision, and pride in your cross-functional team for the work they do defined by you as the link between the business and the makers. 4. You all align on one thing even if you disagree with all others - customer satisfaction. let that be your north star as a PMLastly, something I have found useful when interviewing PMs is to give me an example of a time when you had to have strong opinions, loosely held on a project you were leading.Thanks for the caring question.
Hi @ChetanaDeorah what an awesome career path! Wondering what you’re looking forward to in this stage of your career?
What led you to specialize in UX design?
Hi, I’m a graphic/UC designer with some programming skills. I recently got let go and am thinking of transitioning into Product design. I really enjoy working on bigger projects instead of just designing small pieces. How would recommend starting in that field. I am not sure if I should do a bootcamp or is there a different way more ideal. Thanks!
As the tech industry and UX field bring in new and younger talent, what would be your advice for the seasoned designers to stay relevant and hireable?
Why are designers expected to be influencers, is there no other way to stand out from other designers, by just posting design opinons online?
Hi, @ChetanaDeorah Thank you for taking the time to contribute to this community. As a mid-senior level product designer, I'm stuck looking for my next role after a short hiatus to recover from post-layoff burnout to focus on my ikigai and mental wellness. Currently, I'm looking for my next opportunity and am overwhelmed by what hiring managers are looking for. Recovering from burnout has been very real, and I am trying not to let looking for a new role kickstart that cycle. My education is in illustration and toy design with 10 years of design experience, 6ish of those in UI/UX/Product affiliated. As someone looking for their next role, what do you do to suggest to keep one's skills updated while job hunting?
Do you have advice on creating meaningful continued education and professional development opportunities for teams on a budget?
Hello Chetana Deorah! What a fantastic experience!! I'm starting out as a designer and I would like to know if you would have suggestions for cool programs to create our design work. What was your biggest difficulty at the beginning of your career? What do you think Artificial Intelligence will do to our careers in the near future?
Hi @ChetanaDeorah! I'd love to hear your advice for finding a Product Design position in this tough market. I'm a UX Product designer with 5+ years of experience in a variety of industries but would like to know if you have any job search strategy advice. I of course have an updated portfolio, resume, cover letter, and pitch deck but don't feel like I stand out as a candidate...at least the results so far don't seem to say so. How can I grab the attention of hiring managers?
I'm in the same boat, and I'm here thinking " how do I quickly communicate my unique value proposition early in applications in this current market?".
Hi Vanita, Aishat and others,Let's play this out as getting into the shoes of a hiring manager: What would help them as they review 20-30 portfolios a day or have 1:1 interviews with 4-5 candidates a day? As a hiring manager, I look for candidates whose professional narrative is authentic, whose career goals are clear (not merely influenced by the current trend), and who have showcased their skills and expertise via well-crafted case studies. They show interest in the role and the org by doing their research and are able to ask thoughtful questions. It is also a huge plus to come in with a recommendation.From the candidate’s standpoint, what can you do to prepare in this competitive market where standing out has become more of a numbers game rather than truly match-making the appropriate candidate to the most relevant job opportunity? In my experience, the question to be asked is less about grabbing hiring managers' attention and more about an approach that can help one land work that is fulfilling and meaningful and connects you to the next step in your career journey.Job searching is a strategic process, and I'm glad you brought it up in your question. In my experience, a job search lifecycle involves the following stages:DEFINE- Determine how the next job aligns with your career path. - Have you explored your calling, and identified your core values and preferred work culture? Articulate your vision statement for yourself even if it seems impossible right now!- Build your brand slowly and steadily, your voice and value add to the community by writing or speaking on topics that matter to youIDEATE- Identify areas of professional growth, your current expertise and offering, and your core job criteria. - Consider factors like agency or in-house positions, company size, and industry (consumer or enterprise) and compensation in your requirements. - Ideate around domains and industries you would like to work for and reach out to people in those orgs to build a connection. - Do you need a mentor or coach to help you through this job search experience and interview process?SOURCE- Explore the various channels for sourcing appropriate opportunities. - Be proactive in reaching out to companies, and managers you want to work for. - Connect with those recruiters you have a rapport with, who care about what you are looking for in your next job and why. - Attend relevant networking events and check out postings in Slack design communities as the ability to connect there directly is stronger than via cold job applications.TEST- Get feedback consistently throughout various phases of the interview process.- Review your portfolio and refine your professional narrative.- Practice interview to identify your blind spots.REFINE- Adjust your job search criteria based on what you've learned. - Fine-tune your portfolio and interview artifacts (pitch deck, portfolio, networking approach) accordingly.Volunteering to contribute to the design community and establishing an online presence is highly advantageous for gaining visibility and recognition as a leader and a team player.I believe and have personally experienced that "Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen." You might have to go through a few 'not-your dream-jobs' to acquire certain experiences and skills that eventually help you to get to the stage in your career you want to be at. The intention can be a compelling differentiating factor.May the most suitable opportunities discover each of you.