Recently we caught up with Adeline Salkeld, Product Design Lead at RUSH. We talked to about freelancing, making the world better, learning dressage and moving to NZ and settling in UX and working at RUSH.
Can you tell us a bit about your career background and what led you toward digital?
I was lucky to have a summer job working for a small graphic design studio while I was at high school. Getting such an early introduction to the world of design really set my direction from a fairly young age, and I’ve mostly continued along that path. I have always been creative, and seeing an opportunity to follow a career path in an area I was passionate about seemed like a no-brainer!
Although I studied and then initially worked in graphic design, I was exposed to the world of digital design quite early on (Dreamweaver anyone?!) and fell in love with it’s interactive nature and seemingly endless possibilities. It didn’t take me long to move over to digital design 100% and I haven’t regretted it since. My first role as a digital designer was in London at a small agency. We mostly worked on websites for charities which is where I found my passion for creating things that make the world better in some small way.
What does a Product Design Lead at RUSH do on a day to day basis?
It varies quite a bit! As a Product Design Lead at RUSH I head up the design of the squads in our tribe. Each squad is a multi-disciplinary team that works together on projects. The tribe is made up of multiple squads. I work closely with the other leads in my team (Product, Engagement, and Tech) and between us we spend a lot of time making sure all the cogs are turning.
My day-to-day could be anything from facilitating workshops or presenting to clients, to coaching the designers in my tribe or helping upskill and energise our design practice as a whole. It’s a really varied job and I love that!
You moved from England to NZ – could you tell us the story behind this, and how it has been adapting to NZ?
I moved over to NZ in 2009 from London after a couple of holidays here. I immediately fell in love with the warmth of the people and the beauty of the country during my visits, and it wasn’t a hard decision to make the move. I grew up in a small village in rural England so the landscape in NZ and the closeness of nature appealed to me.
Caption: Rural Bedfordshire.
London had felt too cold and busy. The hardest part was leaving my parents behind as I’m an only child, but they soon followed me over here too! I didn’t find it too hard to adapt to NZ in retrospect. I tend to embrace change and be quite decisive so once I had made the decision to move my heart was already over here, even before the plane left the tarmac. Initially I missed things about the UK (mainly the chocolate) but now that I’ve been here so long it has become home. When I went back to visit England in 2014 everything felt quite alien to me and I was glad to get back home to NZ again.
You’ve held a few different digital roles, what made you settle into the UX arena?
I had done some training in accessibility and usability before I arrived in NZ, but hadn’t had much of a chance to really grow in this area. My first job in NZ was for Optimal Experience, which later was bought by and became the UX department at PWC. The job at Optimal Experience gave me the opportunity to practice properly in the UX field and I found that it closely aligned with my beliefs about digital design in particular – that beautiful but unusable design is essentially pointless.
That being said, I’ve always enjoyed doing both User Experience (UX) and User Interface Design (UI) and I would say that I’m quite evenly spread across both areas. One of the great things about being able to do both is that you get to see the design through the whole process of the project, something that our product designers at RUSH also do.
I do think it’s valuable to learn about the aesthetics of design as a digital designer. Understanding the theory behind design and how to use shape, colour and typography in creative ways makes us more well-rounded and less likely to just follow trends willy-nilly. Training in graphic design taught me critical thinking, designers intuition, craftsmanship and how to work to a brief. Then learning UX taught me how to look deeper and really understand the ‘why’ of a problem. I believe that having both of these skills increases the effectiveness of each of them.
How did you end up at RUSH?
I was self-employed and working as a consultant for around 5 years before moving to RUSH. Consulting allowed me to have lots of variation and freedom, and I was working with some incredible people, but there came a point where I wanted the chance to mentor others and try my hand at people leadership. I had already heard of RUSH of course, and when I heard about the Product Design Lead role I jumped at the chance.
I still remember talking to Steve Horner while I was interviewing for the role, and he said that if you can come up with a design, the team can build it. RUSH is one of those rare companies that isn’t held back by one particular technology or another. The engineers here can literally build anything. As a designer who was used to the constraints of the web, this was quite an inspiring concept (and ever so slightly terrifying). If we are not restrained by the limitations of a particular technology, then we can truly solve problems in the best way possible.
RUSH turned out to be the perfect fit for me. The company genuinely does live their purpose of ‘designing technology to better serve humankind’, and this greatly influences the kinds of projects and clients we take on.
How did you find it being self employed and consulting in the digital industry? What were the up and downsides of it?
One of the main downsides of consulting for me was that you are often only present with a project for a small period of time. Sometimes you can still make a meaningful impact in this time, but you rarely get to see something you’ve designed, released into the world, or understand it’s impact on users. The same is true of the working relationships you build. I like to make meaningful friendships with my work colleagues and this can be harder if you are only around for 3 months.
It did take some adjustment going from the flexibility of being self-employed to a full-time position again though if I’m honest. The main adjustment was that as a consultant, you learn to solve all the problems yourself. You become almost overly proactive because you’re hyper aware of all the possible solutions and are fast to jump into problem solving. But as a people leader this can cause issues. I’ve had to learn how to hold myself back from solving all the problems, and instead try to nudge and guide my team to find their own solutions – which are often completely different from what I would have done – and also much better!
Is there a notable project you’re especially proud of?
I’ve been incredibly privileged to work on projects with Tourism New Zealand, Auckland Transport and many other kiwi household names in my time here. The project that has probably touched the most people would likely be the ASB Online Banking vision piece I worked on that has now finally been released to the public. The project was to reimagine the face of online banking at ASB to align it more closely with the mobile app experience, and also the brand vision. We created a set of design principles, and then did some conceptual design to explore how an updated UI might look and feel to customers based on these principles. The outcome was a refreshed experience with more warmth and friendliness than the older design.
For me, the projects that are the most meaningful are still the ones that make the world a little bit better in some way. One of the projects we are currently working on is for an organisation called What Ever It Takes. WEIT offers home based rehabilitation services to some of ACC’s most high needs clients living in the community. This project is still in the very early stages but I’m already incredibly proud of the work that the team is doing. It goes back to that spark within me that wants to not just do great work, but to do it for people who really need it the most. When you see the tangible benefits your design work has on people’s day-to-day lives it can be quite humbling.
What hobbies or interests do you have outside of work?
Outside of work I am a mum to a wonderful son, so I spend quite a bit of time doing kid stuff with him. Other than that I also have a horse and I’m learning dressage at the moment, or will be once I’m allowed to visit him again. I’ve only been riding for 4 years or so and don’t get much time to practice but I find riding helps me relax. My ultimate goal is to gallop along the beach but we are still working up to that one!
I also enjoy painting when I have time. It’s not something I do for money but more just as an artistic outlet. Once you move more into leadership you don’t get much chance to be creative in your day-to-day role so it’s nice to have some way to scratch that itch, although, getting comfortable with being not great at something is a whole learning experience in itself.
What’s next, where do you see yourself going?
I’m really loving my time at RUSH and I plan to stay here for the next few years. After that, who knows. I may decide to pivot my career at some point and study fine art or psychology, but for now design leadership is where I want to be.