Could you describe what a typical work day looks like for you?
Everything I do now is high-level strategy for applications of Design Systems across web, native apps, and email. Every day there is some level of all the following: championing cohesion for improving overall user experience no matter which surface a customer is interacting with, advocating for the team and continuous design system adoption across the company, ensuring that I provide guidance and leadership to the team around what our goals are to help them feel empowered to make decisions on their approach to the design system work that will raise the quality bar impact at scale, and supporting team members in their career in alignment with design system work.
Which can also be translated into: lots of writing, presentations, knowledge sharing, and meetings.
What are the specific aspects of your work that you find satisfying?
The human part. Not just leading others—which is definitely a satisfying component to what I do—but how humans are at the core of the work that we do. We’re working to create tools that can increase efficiency and enable humans to think about bigger, more complex problems that will at the end of the day better serve the end users who are interacting with our “product.” Ultimately, what we’re trying to do is positively impact others to improve their quality of life when they’re working, and that’s what makes you feel good about what you’re doing.
Why do you think you find those satisfying?
It’s all about improving things for other humans, and that aspect is an extremely satisfying part of the job. I lead with Insights Earth Green so that probably has a lot to do with it. And supporting each team member, rallying for them and their passion areas, assisting them in areas they want to grow, and helping to find alignment in the work we do provides its own dopamine hit as well.
What are you most proud of in your work and why?
I’m proud of being able to always keep humanness at the core of everything I do and every decision I make. An example would be, there’s a tweet I saw that said, “The world is burning, and there’s a pandemic. But let’s talk KPIs,” and that really spoke to me. So sometimes I tell my team we’re all taking the rest of the day off. I can feel and see and sense in the way people are showing up in meetings or the way they’re chatting on Slack that no one’s able to concentrate. I believe we’re not actually very effective if we’re not treating ourselves as humans first. The work is always here, and it can come later. So I think that’s what I’m most proud of, because we’re not just numbers or cogs, we’re people at the end of the day.
A very second close thing I’m proud of is being able to hire and work with people who are a lot more talented and smarter than I am!
What would you tell someone who’s trying to implement an email design system at their company?
First, take a breath and know that getting buy-in can take time and patience is important. It will also likely mean taking on presenting, storytelling, and “making the case” for an executive level audience. But if you care about making it happen and feel passionate that having a dedicated email design system at your company will make an impact with positive outcomes, dive in.
Start by getting to know what executive leadership cares about at a high level: gather information about email at your company that are in alignment or ladder up to those things leadership cares about, and tie those things to email and how those things can (and will) improve with an email design system.
How have your intersecting identities affected the way you approach your work or your career?
This question makes me laugh and smile a bit, because I really do have a variety of identities that I typically keep pretty separate. I think the intersecting identities I have and the impact to my approach at work and in my career circles back to my centering of humans: having empathy for others and ensuring that humans are recognized and supported as whole humans—and not just a number or solely a producer of work—and ensuring that people’s identities aren’t seen as a blocker to growth at work and in their careers. Performance and ability should be the focus. Identities can bring experience or learnings that can directly improve the work that people do, even if it doesn’t seem obvious on the surface.
Being bi is something I don’t talk about a lot, but I did come out, and I realized I never talked about it before out of fear, because you do see people get treated differently. Then, as a Latina I’ve often been mistaken for the receptionist or the service person, particularly when I was younger. Those are important jobs, and I kind of wish everybody could have a service job at some point in their life so they can understand and appreciate it; I worked those jobs, and was happy to do so at the time. But to have someone assume your role based on your identity doesn’t feel good. I don’t want anyone to feel that way, especially since we can control what we’re doing to ensure that we don’t make people feel that way. So I tell my team, let’s try to take that approach in our work—anyone who is going to consume our design system or be an end user that interacts with it are a variety of people from a variety of identities, and we don’t want to cause harm to anyone.
What would you tell that younger version of yourself just starting out in this industry?
To keep going with your instincts, and to not lose sight of your personal core values, because that’s what ultimately leads you to success. I’d also tell them that you don’t have to be competitive to make it in the industry.
I never wanted to be competitive with my coworkers, because we’re all on a team. I know there are places that are focused on competition, and making sure that you’re the one that’s the most heard so that you get the most credit and the most promotions. I cannot function that way, and I do think every once in a while that thought worried me, thinking that I wouldn’t be as successful. But that turned out to be untrue, and I have found a lot of success in keeping that non-competitive, team-focused mindset.
Which songs pump you up, and which songs chill you out?
This can change every few months! Lately my pump up songs include anything Megan Thee Stallion, or the dancey pop tunes of SG Lewis and Tove Lo. For chill, it’s usually a type of “pumped up” chill sound from Stevie Wonder and Prince.
You’ve finished work for the day, and need to recharge—what do you do?
Depends on the day! I’ll exercise if I haven’t yet—moving around really helps me mentally. Sometimes I’ll draw or do some creative photo editing if my creative energy is ready to go. If my energy is depleted, watching a show or movie I’m excited about can reinvigorate me. Lately, I have been playing Skyrim for the… 6th time now? Running around Tamriel seems to never get old.
Learn from (and connect with) Crystal
Would you like to hear more about Crystal’s work with design systems? You can find our webinar with her covering this very topic here.
Be sure to follow Crystal on Twitter @sentbycrystal.