What makes a successful design and product team leader? At Product Unleashed’s November meetup, we heard from Inclusive Research & Service Designer, Aleksandra Melnikova, who told a story of creating the futures of people, together with people. It heavily featured one brilliant team, and a multitude of tangible team evolution examples centred around four aspects of leadership she believes in: listening, co-creation, pro-active inclusion and sustainability.
We caught up with Aleks to learn more about her career and background, plus what inspired her talk and any takeaways for those who missed it. You can also watch her talk on our YouTube channel here.
Hey Aleks, tell us a bit about you and the work that you do…
I’m a co-founder of Cosmic Velocity, an inclusive and multicultural service design agency I run together with Olena Bulygina and Stephen Tomlinson. We specialise in inclusive research, service design and training.
Did you come up through a “traditional” techy route, or has your career taken a bit of a different turn?
I’d say it has been a relatively squiggly career within design domain – I got a BA from Academy of Fine Arts (Vilnius), moved to Italy, completed MSc in Product Service Systems Design from Polimi (Milan), moved to London, where I hit the famous “do you have UK experience” barrier, so I started as an end to end web designer (from brand to the implementation, even coded some responsive emails), then transitioned to UX, then research, then leading design teams across leading UK agencies (Research, UX, UI). Most of my work has been agency side, working closely with clients from various industries. All the experimentation within various leadership roles eventually led me to starting an agency of my own.
Is there a moment that helped define your career?
As a part of my degree I studied philosophy, history, culture. It was quite early on that I have understood I didn’t want to make another thing (chair, product, building), I wanted to create things that help people do other things and ideally are not tangible. I’d say that led me to a place I’m in now. Also, I love learning about anything and everything, that’s definitely the influence of my parents who I admire and I’ll be forever grateful for their support.
What piece of advice would you give your younger self?
Same as the one I keep giving to self now, which is be more patient. Also, any job you are likely to take is a value exchange between you and the business you’re about to enrich with your knowledge, skills and time. Seek to define and articulate your value, and stay strong throughout the process, don’t let the inner critic creep in 🙂
What was the inspiration for your recent talk? Any key highlights / takeaways for anyone who missed it?
As I progressed in my career, I naturally took on leadership as a part of my role. I love helping people progress and learning in the process. In time, I started realising that leadership itself needs to be (re-)designed, similar to a service, and we can use the methods we use within design process (research, experimentation, co-creation) to make it more inclusive and accessible to everyone. I believe in holacratic team models with distributed power, not so much in hierarchies.
I gave quite a few tangible examples on how the design skillset can be applied to leadership as a subject matter, in order to make it better, more inclusive, more welcoming of new people entering it. Exercises ranged from looking at your own path within design as a traditional narrative to experimenting with non-hierarchical team models and moving from jobs to roles.
What’s your big tech prediction for 2022?
More of a hope than a prediction: inclusive research and design will stop being a prerogative of government services, and make its way into more products/services.
Anything else you would like to share?
Cosmic Velocity. We work with a vast range of clients from small purposeful startups to large organisations, including design studios. We don’t compete, we partner, listen, research and co-create.
And finally, Silicon Brighton wouldn’t be here without people like you giving back to the community, so what does the word community mean to you?
People who are passionate about making the world better by applying design skillset.
Missed Aleks’ talk or want to watch it again? Check it out below…