Speaker Spotlight: Insights from MPB’s Head of Product Design, Gess Puglielli

In this exclusive feature, gain valuable insights from MPB’s Head of Product Design, Gess Puglielli. From graphic design to UX/product design, her path exemplifies the art of balancing technical expertise with strong communication skills. Discover how adaptability and continuous growth have shaped her remarkable success. Read on…

Can you share a bit about your background?

I’m the Head of Product Design at MPB and I’m also a Photographer.

Did you come up through a “traditional” techie route or has your career taken twists and turns along the way?

My journey has been filled with twists and turns, often driven by my desire to enhance specific aspects of my personality that I believed were crucial for advancing to the next level. These self-improvements have shaped both my personal and professional life in profound ways. For example, although my career has predominantly focused on design—ranging from graphic design to web design, and ultimately to UX/product design—I reached a point where I realised that technical expertise alone was not enough for me. I recognised the importance of developing strong communication and interpersonal skills, which I felt were essential for my growth and effectiveness in any role.

To address this gap, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and immerse myself in a different environment. I took up a position in a technology department store. This experience was not just about a change of scenery; it was a deliberate step towards acquiring new skills. Working in retail allowed me to interact with a diverse array of customers and colleagues, each with unique needs and expectations. Through these interactions, I honed my ability to communicate effectively, listen actively, and empathise with others. Additionally, I gained valuable experience in sales and negotiation techniques, which involved understanding customer pain points, presenting solutions persuasively, and closing deals efficiently.

This period was transformative as it equipped me with a broader skill set that complemented my design expertise. The ability to articulate ideas clearly, engage with stakeholders, and navigate complex interpersonal dynamics has proven invaluable in my design career. It has enabled me to collaborate more effectively with cross-functional teams, advocate for user-centred design solutions, and ultimately contribute to more successful project outcomes.

Reflecting on this journey, I see it as a testament to the importance of continuous learning and adaptability. Each twist and turn has been a stepping stone, guiding me towards a more well-rounded professional identity and preparing me for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

Reflecting on your career, is there a specific moment that stands out as pivotal or defining?

I would have to say that choosing to leave Italy 12 years ago and move to the UK—first to London and later to Brighton—was the defining moment of my design career. This decision marked a significant turning point, not only geographically but also professionally and personally. Moving to a new country presented a myriad of challenges and opportunities that profoundly influenced my growth and development as a designer.

In London, I was exposed to a dynamic and vibrant design scene, where the diversity of styles and ideas was truly inspiring. The city’s bustling creative industry provided me with unparalleled opportunities to collaborate with some big brands. It was here that I refined my skills, learned to embrace innovative design thinking, and began to understand the global standards and trends that would shape the future of design.

Later, relocating to Brighton introduced me to a different pace and a more community-oriented approach to creativity. Brighton’s unique blend of coastal charm and cultural vibrancy offered a nurturing environment for creative exploration and experimentation. It allowed me to connect with a close-knit community of designers and artists who shared a passion for pushing boundaries and exploring new frontiers in design.

Both cities, with their distinct characteristics and creative energies, played crucial roles in shaping my design philosophy and approach. The experiences I gained, the networks I built, and the lessons I learned during this time were instrumental in defining who I am as a designer today. This move not only broadened my horizons but also instilled in me a deep appreciation for the power of diverse perspectives and the importance of adaptability in the ever-evolving world of design.

What piece of advice would you give your younger self as you embarked on your professional journey?

Be yourself, aim high but with kindness, listen to the advice of people who have been there before you. Know your worth, know that there will be people who will try to undermine you, raise above and keep going.

Looking ahead, what’s your big prediction for the tech landscape in 2024?

I suppose what is on everybody’s mind right now is AI. The rapid advancements in artificial intelligence have created a wave of enthusiasm, pushing everyone to explore and utilise AI technologies for a wide range of applications. From automating mundane tasks to enhancing creative processes, AI’s potential seems limitless. However, as with any technological revolution, I expect there will be a curve that follows this initial excitement.

Once the novelty of integrating AI into every aspect of our lives begins to settle, we will likely reach a point of balance. This will be a moment when we carefully evaluate and decide when it is appropriate and beneficial to use AI, and when it might be more advantageous to rely on traditional methods or human intuition. This balance is crucial, as it ensures that we harness the strengths of AI without losing the valuable qualities that human creativity and judgment bring to the table.

This phenomenon is reminiscent of how people are now rediscovering the charm and uniqueness of vinyl records and analog cameras, after years of digital dominance. Despite the convenience and advancements of digital technology, there is a growing appreciation for the tactile, authentic experiences that analog alternatives offer. Just as vinyl enthusiasts cherish the warmth and character of analog sound, and photographers value the artistry and imperfection of film photography, we may come to recognise the irreplaceable qualities of human touch and insight in the age of AI.

In essence, this curve will guide us towards a more nuanced understanding of technology’s role in our lives. We will learn to discern when AI can truly enhance our capabilities and when it is essential to preserve the human elements that make our work and experiences unique. This thoughtful integration of AI will ultimately lead to more meaningful and effective outcomes, blending the best of both worlds.

Considering your involvement in Silicon Brighton and community-building, what does the concept of ‘community’ mean to you personally? How important is it in the tech industry?

Community, for me, is a space where you know you are accepted for who you are and feel safe in that acceptance. It is a sanctuary where you can express your true self without fear of judgment or exclusion. As a queer, immigrant woman working in the tech industry, the significance of such a community cannot be overstated. In an industry that is often criticised for its lack of diversity and inclusion, finding spaces where I am genuinely welcomed and valued for my unique perspectives and experiences is incredibly empowering.

Knowing that there are companies like MPB and initiatives like Silicon Brighton, where diversity is not only fostered but celebrated as an advantage, reinforces my sense of belonging. MPB’s commitment to inclusivity and its proactive approach to creating an equitable workplace make it more than just a place of employment; it becomes a community where my identity is respected and my contributions are recognised. Similarly, Silicon Brighton stands out as an initiative that champions diversity in tech, providing a platform for underrepresented voices and promoting a culture of innovation driven by diverse viewpoints.

These environments exemplify what community means to me. They are not just about shared interests or common goals; they are about creating spaces where every individual feels seen, heard, and valued. In these communities, the richness of our differences is harnessed to drive progress and creativity, leading to more holistic and innovative solutions. They remind me that diversity is not a hurdle to overcome but a powerful asset that enhances our collective strength and resilience.

For someone like me, being part of such inclusive communities provides a sense of security and empowerment that goes beyond professional growth. It affirms my identity and allows me to thrive both personally and professionally. In a world where many still face discrimination and prejudice, these communities serve as beacons of hope and progress, showing what is possible when inclusivity is prioritised and diversity is embraced. They inspire me to contribute my best, knowing that I am part of a supportive network that values and uplifts each member for who they truly are.

How do you balance staying updated with the latest industry trends while ensuring continuous personal and professional growth? Any specific resources or practices you find particularly valuable?

Apart from books, I used Linkedin and Medium a lot. Muzli and other design resources platforms are also a good source of inspiration. I also occasionally listen to Product and Design Podcasts.

As someone who has contributed significantly to the community, how do you see mentorship playing a role in the development of the next generation of tech professionals?

Mentorship will increasingly need to focus on human and personal skills rather than technical skills, which are now much easier to acquire via the web. In today’s digital age, resources for learning technical skills are abundant and accessible. Countless online courses, tutorials, and educational platforms offer comprehensive guides on virtually any technical topic, allowing individuals to self-educate at their own pace. However, the nuances of human interaction, emotional intelligence, and personal development are not as easily conveyed through digital means.

Mentorship is fundamentally about sharing your experiences and telling stories that help the next generation understand what to expect and how to prepare for real-world careers. It’s about providing guidance on navigating the complexities of workplace dynamics, building strong professional relationships, and developing a resilient mindset. These are the skills that often make the difference between success and struggle in one’s career, yet they are not as straightforward to teach through online resources.

Through mentorship, experienced professionals can offer invaluable insights into the challenges and triumphs they have encountered throughout their careers. They can share practical advice on how to handle difficult situations, communicate effectively, and lead with empathy and integrity. Mentorship provides a platform for mentees to learn from the lived experiences of their mentors, gaining wisdom that textbooks and online courses cannot provide.

Additionally, mentorship helps bridge the gap between theory and practice. While technical skills can be learned through structured programs, understanding how to apply these skills in a real-world context requires personal interaction and contextual learning. Mentors can help mentees navigate this transition by sharing stories of their own experiences, illustrating how theoretical knowledge is applied in practical scenarios, and offering support as they encounter similar challenges.

Moreover, mentorship fosters a sense of community and belonging, providing mentees with a network of support and encouragement. This aspect of mentorship is especially crucial in industries where individuals may feel isolated or underrepresented. By building strong mentor-mentee relationships, we create a culture of collaboration and mutual growth, where everyone feels valued and empowered to contribute their best.

In conclusion, as technical skills become more accessible, the role of mentorship must evolve to emphasise the development of human and personal skills. Mentors play a crucial role in shaping the next generation by sharing their experiences, offering guidance, and preparing mentees for the realities of their careers. Through this holistic approach, mentorship can help cultivate well-rounded professionals who are equipped to thrive in the ever-changing landscape of the modern workplace.

Is there any additional wisdom, experience, or anecdotes you’d like to share with our audience?

Nothing in particular, however I’m happy to help designers and product people with their careers, so if you have any questions please reach out.

Anything else you would like to promote to our community?

Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn, I’ll always have time to talk about Design, Photography and Tech. And keep an eye on MPB’s career page, we’re constantly expanding.