- Artwork by Eli Jorgensen
Shaheena Attarwala defends a woman’s right to design her own future, especially in the face of fierce adversity and opposition. She champions living ruthlessly amid oppressive whims and societal precepts. She’s a magnet that brings the issues forward and carries the water for anyone who dreams of raising their standards and never settling for status quo expectations. She’ll persuade you to hunker down, prove your grit, and rattle some cages if you have to. This episode is not just about design. So make your way or step aside. It’s time to hear her metaphoric journey, examine your own life, and bring more awareness to poverty and oppression. In other words…sh*t’s about to get real!
Shaheena is a UX Design Manager at Zoomcar, India’s first self-drive platform. At Zoomcar, Shaheena leads the UX team to build a definitive, hyper-local, multi-modal urban mobility transport solution for India and emerging economies, with close collaboration with cross-functional teams.
Born to a conservative family in a village of Uttar Pradesh to growing up in the grimy slums of Mumbai, her repugnant experiences propelled her to reduce ‘bad’ human experiences by creating more impactful and empowering solutions through a seamless union of human-centred design, curiosity, intuition and logical reasoning. In this journey of adversity, Shaheena is the first generation in her clan to rebel her way towards educating herself and changing mindsets about a girl child.
Shaheena harnesses her life experiences while building solutions. Living a frugal life has taught her empathy and compassion for fellow humans and the planet.
She’s passionate about human behaviour and cross-cultural experiences and loves reaching out to people and sharing perspectives, for she believes that is a sincere way to learn and form sustainable communities!
Apart from making the digital world a better place by building better experiences every day, she also endeavours to reshape the lives of the less fortunate by blending design, technology and her legal skills. Over the years, her initiatives to create a positive impact has received recognition from the United Nations.
Fun fact: She loves children’s bedtime stories even now. She asks close friends, her mom or siblings to tell her stories. If that’s not possible, she puts some online to listen to, and falls fast asleep 🙂
- Origin Story (3:56)
- A Kid’s View (6:25)
- Oppression In Cultures (8:42)
- Ah-Ha Moments (11:38)
- Family Relations (13:48)
- How Did You Find Design? (16:52)
- What’s Driving You? (20:53)
- Design Influence (22:26)
- Legal Skills and Design (33:04)
- Gaining Empathy (35:29)
- Don Norman (40:59)
- Teaching Curiosity (45:45)
- Harnessing Life Experiences (59:36)
- Story Banks (1:02:49)
- Design Superpower (1:06:46)
- Design Kryptonite (1:07:20)
- UX Superhero Name (1:08:32)
- Habit of Success (1:08:58)
- Recommended Book (1:10:15)
- Taking Risks (1:12:24)
- Best Advice (1:14:26)
Shaheena Attarwala’s Twitter
Shaheena Attarwala’s Website
Jason Ogle: I am delighted to welcome to the show. Did I say that right Shaheena?
Shaheena Attarwala: Yes, you did.
Jason Ogle: Awesome, I usually ask that before, but we’re doing this live like Bill O’Reilly– so, okay. So, I, usually Defenders, as you know, I usually will take a few moments in the beginning to sort of touch on some bio points. I used to read the entire thing word for word. And then Andy Buds like that sounds kind of scripted and so I started doing like bullet points. And the thing here about with Shaheena is I feel like a lot of what we’re going to talk about today is her story. And so, for the sake of not spoiling what she’s going to really dive deep into, I’m just going to tell you that Shaheena is a UX design manager at ZoomCar and that’s India’s first self-driving platform that sounds fascinating. I hope we get to talk about that a little bit as well. That’s all I’m going to tell you. That’s, all you get, that’s the tweet. So, here we go I’m going to say officially Shaheena welcome to User Defenders. I am super excited to have you on the show today.
Shaheena Attarwala: Thank you so much Jason. I’m equally excited and I’m really looking forward for this chat today.
Jason Ogle: You have a fascinating story I want to jump right in and just let you tell us your story, I basically just want to kind of preface this with, you know, take us back to your childhood. You know, what, tell us what it was like growing up in the slums of Mumbai and what your family life was like. Because I know that’s a really vital part of where you are now as a, as a UX designer and the journey that you’ve been on for how long have you been on the journey of becoming, of being a designer and now a design leader?
Shaheena Attarwala: It’s almost 10 years now.
Jason Ogle: Okay, wow so, take us back. I really want to start from the beginning here. I think it’s critical to our conversation.
Shaheena Attarwala: Yeah, so, Jason I was born in a village in [inaudible 02:04], which is in North India. And my father was a Hawker here in Bombay Telavi. He used to sell perfume and roam around and sell perfumes. And it’s so happened that I had to move to Bombay with my dad and he was living here with his brother. It was a family of like, around, after I moved up here, it was a family of around like 15 odd people in like a 10 by 20 house. And you know, the house was made up of like, you know, like a Shanti wooden sort of steel roof and yeah, I mean at that point that was I don’t know how to put it, but when I moved here that time, we did not even have like water in our house. My mom used to go out and fetch water. The memory of my childhood of hers is that either she’s cooking, cleaning or either washing clothes or going to fill water. And this is exactly like how my life was back then when I moved here as a child.
Jason Ogle: I’m American, I feel like I can’t identify with that challenge. Like I grew up in a pretty small house and my dad was very successful in his work. There’s many who have a humble beginning. There’s some certainly who are born with a silver spoon in their mouth and they never, they all they ever know is kind of privilege and just kind of whatever they want they can have. But I just feel like a lot of us have humble beginnings and you certainly like, I mean the small house, I grew up with one bathroom and two siblings and two parents. Like that was hard to even, but I had plumbing, I had, you know, it’s like it’s those things, those little things. And I just, I’m just curious like how did that, what did that do to you, your mentality? Like what was that like as a kid? Did you even really know the difference as a kid? Was this just cause that’s kids like they’re so you’re so resilient, right? As a child and you just kind of, you just accept your surroundings and you don’t really know any different. Like did you know that there was something different or lacking about your upbringing or your environment?
Shaheena Attarwala: You’re absolutely right, Jason. Back then I did not know that there’s a better world out there. So, for me that was the best. And honestly, I was okay with all of that whether it’s you know, if I’m going out, we did not have a toilet growing up, so there was a public toilet. I mean, and it was extremely, extremely filthy. There were human feces all around and I will have to literally take a bucket of water from my house, walk it up to there, and then in dark filthy place I had to go. But I mean, when you’re a child, there are women who ask you to just go out and defecate on the garbage because it’s literally like slums is literally like throwing in the garbage. And when you’re out there defecating, there are you know, boys and men who are trying to molest to you, tease you, do gestures at you.
So, it’s not easy growing up. But one of the things that I realized was when I was going to school I faced you know, I was, I used to really look forward going to school because I got access to clean toilet and that was amazing you know. I was like, wow, there’s something that’s an achievement for me probably at that age. And I was like, no, I don’t want to carry the bucket and go, it’s so heavy. And those ladies are other adult ladies asking me to go outside and, you know, men molest me. And then, so in school I used to really look forward to it and it was very peaceful. So yeah you know, I just I was, I did have access to something better and whenever I did, I knew that this is what I wanted in the future. I would want to have a clean toilet that was probably my ambition back then as a child.
Jason Ogle: Wow, I’m just humbled by what you share, and I am totally humbled. So, we’re going to dive even deeper here. I know I read your bio. I read some of the information that you sent me and you grew up in India in the culture tends to be somewhat repressive to women. Would that be accurate? Is that an accurate statement?
Shaheena Attarwala: I would probably just talk about myself and what I have seen. It is, in most part it is, especially from where I come in North India it’s very, very repressive. I mean forget about talking about other women myself you know, being in Bombay and the situation that I was living in, I still felt that it is, still better than living in a village because out there I would have probably been married by now having five kids and washing utensils. But here at least I had basic education. But growing up, my father wanted me to get married after my 10th grade, which is like probably at the age of 15 and that’s something that do not go down well with me and we started having fall outs. As a child. I was very rebellious, so I used to be beaten up almost every day. There’s something that I knew what I did not want. I did not like people abusing me I did not like people beating me.
And for all I knew this was just a getting magnified day by day in the life that I was having. And you know, my dad was absolutely against my education, but I sort of you know, after a lot of beating and constant abuses, I had a conversation with him. I told him one day that you know you’re trying to curb my education; you want me to get married and I don’t even know who the person is and what kind of a man he is going to be. But if you’re going to curb my education, I wouldn’t be able to achieve anything in life. You know, if tomorrow I, if I have a problem in life, I’ll be so, dependent on other people and you won’t be there to protect me. So, you have to at least empower me to you know, study and make something out of my life.
Shaheena Attarwala: I am not doing anything wrong I’m not doing anything that will hurt you. So, you have to give me that freedom because you’re not going to be there with me in my entire life, all the time. So, I knew that my parents also, did not know any better; they themselves were abused. They themselves came from a village and they did not know any better. So, what else can I expect more from them? I mean that… I still remember that night when I went to him and I spoke to him this because I was ready to leave my house, I packed my bags in a piece of cloth–.
Jason Ogle: How old were you?
Shaheena Attarwala: I was around 16.
Jason Ogle: Okay.
Shaheena Attarwala: Yeah, and I told him that I’m leaving this life that I have here in the slums, it’s not any great. I can always go and sleep on the roads. I’m very resilient like that. So, I’m not afraid to lose anything because at this point, I have nothing. So, somewhere I think he understood what I was meaning to. So, he started sort of you know, letting me go ahead and, you know, study at least. And I mean he didn’t completely support, but at least he was not interfering too much after that.
Jason Ogle: What were some of the pivotal ah-ha moments for you? To when you just said, you know, this culture that I’m growing up with, which is sacred, I know the fact that it was kind of upsetting to your dad, that you wanted to get an education, you wanted to make a path for yourself that really did break tradition. What was that like? What was the pivotal like, ah-ha moment for you that made you do that?
Shaheena Attarwala: You know, Jason growing up, like I said, I saw my mother being beaten up and I was surrounded by a lot of women. Whether it’s in my village or slums, and I used to, you heard them talk a lot. One of the senses of each conversation would lie around, Oh, my husband did this or my husband did that. But what can we do? We can’t do anything; this is our faith. This is what women are made for cooking, cleaning, giving, giving birth to children. And I realized that why is it that they are so helpless. What is it, you know, and constantly talking with my mother about this even though she has no exposure about the outside world, she never had any friends. But she is very revolutionary in her thinking. So, one fine day when I was talking to her about and problem, and she told me that if I was you right, if I was you and I was educated, I would move out. She’s like, I don’t have education I don’t have parents who will accept me back and so here it is, that’s why I’m cooking and cleaning in your house. That was a conversation that I had as a woman to woman, not as a mother to daughter… And that really made me take courageous steps as well though she was also not very supportive, but just the fact that when she became neutral and she spoke as a woman, the thoughts were so moving.
Jason Ogle: Now that you have really found a lot of success in a field that you love and that you’re so, passionate about and you’ve worked obviously very hard to get where you are now and obviously overcome a lot of obstacles, more than many of us listening would ever be able to identify with. I’m curious, what’s your relationship like with your family now? I guess maybe with your dad it seemed like, did you and your dad bump head the most? It seems like your mom had some empathy and understanding of what you were trying to do. Tell me about that. What’s that like now that you’ve achieved this success and you’ve plowed your own path?
Shaheena Attarwala: You know my father; he and I were like enemies. Like I, at some point I wished he was dead. You know, like, you know how teenagers are, they go to their bed and that like, I don’t have freedom I wish they just die. But in the middle of the nights, you know, when you have no one to talk to you like try and figure out like, see, I knew that violence or aggression won’t work here. I wanted to find a middle way where they also grow with me. Because eventually my success would be nothing if it’s just an individualistic goal. Because I knew that they loved me and whenever parents, they oppress you. It is also coming out from a place of fear because they knew what kind of a place, we were living in. They knew that I was getting molested right when I’m going to school. There are men who are constantly passing comments and so, they wanted to protect me from all that abuse and sexual molestation that’s happening as well. So, they probably, you know, didn’t want me to be exposed to that side of the world where I get freedom and at any point I’m alone or mistreated.
But now my relationship with my dad is very cordial, we’ve learned to coexist. We are very empathetic towards each other and I understood that they didn’t know any better at that point. And they also understood now that, you know why I took the decisions that I took regarding my education, they were best. And now both my parents they are actually advocating for girl child education in our extended families and our villages and our slums. So, even if, you know, parents of girls, they don’t want their female child to get educated, but my parents at least say the teach her some life skills, whether it’s stitching, painting, computers, something that’ll help her be independent in some way. And a lot of girls have been educated and learned skills and because I have gone ahead and done so, much, other parents feel that, you know, oh, it’s okay if she can do it, our daughter can do it too. And that that’s immensely fulfilling for me because I have not just done things for myself. But when I look back, I feel so humbled and happy that, you know, my journey is not just been about me, it’s been about more women and more children that are being influenced and inspired.
Jason Ogle: That’s so, so, awesome, it’s inspiring to hear that. And it feels like there was like a 180 that sort of happen with your folks along this journey and you were a big part of that. Like them watching you succeed and watching your tenacity and your curiosity and your drive that’s inspiring. I mean, we’re just getting started here, but I’m like, I’m pumped up already. So, I’m curious about design, like how design, enter your journey. How did you find design?
Shaheena Attarwala: When I was in school, I wasn’t a very good student, I was …English wasn’t my first language Hindi was. So, whenever I went to school it was so, difficult for me to decipher what the teacher’s actually talking…she used to speak fast and so I felt so left out. And because of my grades and poor English, I didn’t have really many girls fond of me who wanted to be friends. So, yeah but then one fine day in the late nineties, early 2000, I guess in my school there was a computer course was started and I over confidently, I said, I’m going to learn computers. I want to learn computers even though my grades are so bad. But there was something in me that I said, I want to learn, and I fill the form.
And I said, yeah, let’s do this. And the teacher rejected my form and she put me in a needle work class stitching class. And I, I, I went to the teacher, I said, ma’am, I asked for computers. I don’t want to go in that needle work because I already know that I already do all of this at home. Like I’m already a half mother at home, taking care of my siblings, I don’t want to… I want to learn this. This is what I need. She’s like, no, no, your grades are not good and everything. So, that was a biggest letdown at that point, I was so, furious. And every time that needle work period used to go, I used to first go to the computer class, see all the girls working and touching the computer. And I was like, wow, this is magic.
Like, I know I need this magic in my life. And I was, I was a creative as well. I used to draw paint I love doing that in school. I realized that I was good at it. And so, you know there was a little course that got started in my area around, and a friend was talking about it and I said, okay, yes, this is what I need in my life right now. And there were always these aha moments, like God is guiding me like Shaheena now go there. So, I said, yeah, I need this and then I went to that and I said, okay, listen, this is a course I want to do it and I got thrashing of my life.
I was like, do whatever I need to do this now you tell me what you want, if you want me to do something so, that I get that. So, there was a bug in there started. So, he’s like, okay, you will take your brother and then you will cover yourself completely and X, Y, Z. I said, I’ll do everything what you want. You want me to take an army of men? I’m ready to do that. And so, I joined the course, and you know, with a lot of resistance, but and there was no looking back then, you know, I used to just spend entire day in the class in my computer classes. In my college, I used to finish my college I wouldn’t go home I used to just go to the computer class because then there was internet.
I think internet was the best thing that happened to me after my school. I said, you are my father, you are my mother because I could learn so much from it, like day and night I was just always there. So, and there was no looking back then I started doing small time projects, freelancing you know, doing project for my college, for different other colleges. And you know, starting making a little money here and there and collecting money for buying a computer then. You know, like every rupee, every 10 rupees, I used to walk back home. I didn’t take a bus, so, I use to walk back home not have snacks in the college and just save that money. Because I knew my father is definitely not going to buy; and he said no straight. We didn’t have that much, so, I said, it’s okay, I’ll do something, and I bought my computer I bought that. Then I bought a MacBook then I bought an iMac, like I didn’t hesitate for once that, you know, I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I just did that like there was no looking back after it.
Jason Ogle: Wow. That’s so, inspiring. What was driving you the whole time that you’re doing this? Like what was it?
Shaheena Attarwala: Yeah, I, still keep thinking. I think I just wanted to get out of that, and I knew that I will get out of it. Because once I’ve seen a life that’s better, once I’ve seen that it is possible, you know, adversities are there, but you can have a life that you want, that you dream of and it is possible. And I knew that I was different and I just… and I was you know, unapologetic about it. I didn’t, conform to the views that I am a girl and I can’t do this because I’ve already seen that. There was nothing new that I was giving to myself if I was just going to adapt whatever is ready made given to me. So, I, I knew that I didn’t want that life that’s something that I was very sure from a very early on in my life, if someone would abuse me, I knew I didn’t want to be abused. What else did I want in return? I didn’t know, but I knew that I didn’t want this treatment or this life. So, I think that whole thing of just getting out of it was something, you know, it’s like a survival instinct that either you do or die. That that’s, that’s how it was.
Jason Ogle: There’s so, many things I want to ask you and I’m just really am, I’m on this journey with you Shaheena. And like, I just feel like you’re taking me into places that I could not have gone gotten to on my own. Like you, I just appreciate it so much your transparency and your vulnerability and telling your story. It’s deep and it’s, powerful. How did growing up in the slums of Mumbai with really nothing and so, many obstacles, like how did that influence you as a human centered designer? Like what did that do for you now in your profession that you can look back and go, wow, that’s why I do this or that’s why I do that.
Shaheena Attarwala: I think you know, going back with very limited resources, you always try to optimize, and you know, your problem-solving skills, like just one of the very few examples I would give you. Is the bucket, the toilet bucket that I was talking to you about when I used to go. An open bucket, an open bucket is something, when we used to take it used to hurt our hands. And by the time we reached the public toilet, half of the water would have been spilled. You tried taking that and half of the water would be spilled because you’re walking a long distance, you’re tired, you’re keeping that again. So, what we did was we took an oil container, an oil container has a much better grip something that we get here in India. So, where the cap of the container is, you heat the knife and you cut it out very small, and then you remove that and then you use it as a bucket. It’s not completely, it’s just, it’s just has like a small rounded cut opening and then you use it for that. And that actually does not let your hand get tired. It’s even more robust when you’re picking it up and helps you walk along distance. Now that is something I, as a young girl or living anywhere, I didn’t need too much of thinking, but had it not been for the constraints.
Of resources I would not have been able to develop that idea. Like something so small and, and every aspect of life, we are constantly trying to optimize over that. That’s one thing, you know, trying to understand the problem that we have, whether it’s a leaking roof, whether it is a water entering your house during the monsoons, how do you take it out? Because we don’t have any openings. So, what you do is you use little plates, you use whatever you know, vessels you have, and you remove it. So, these kind of constant you know, problem solving during your living there, it helps you become a very frugal liver. You know, you’re like living life very frugally and when you are frugal, you try to iterate quickly so that you optimize for your as you put it in today’s world, your best MVP and quickly tested and iterated that, that’s exactly what I think a lot of people like me do. In villages especially, you know, there’s a lot of frugal living that happens and I think that’s the hub of innovation. When you try and use things which you already have for a purpose more than one, that’s when you start learning to solve multiple problems with a few solutions that are available.
Jason Ogle: That makes so much sense to me; and how you explain that. Because what better way to become a really good problem solver than to have like a lot of problems that you have to solve. Right? Like what better way to just flip that switch in your mind and I’m sure it’s not just something you flip, it’s something that you become right?
Shaheena Attarwala: Yes, absolutely. Yeah. It’s always like first principles right there, whether it’s cooking, cleaning, going out to travel, anything it is, you’re constantly thinking about the resources first and then the solution. I have this resource. How can I make the best use for it to build a solution? It’s as simple as that.
Jason Ogle: That is the root of what we do Defenders, we are problem solvers at the core. It ties into fighting for the users, which is a big message. That’s the banner that I wave here at the show. We fight for the users like Tron, but it also lends itself to business because without a business we are hobbyists. That’s the reality. We without a business, without a cause, without something sustainable, we are… we’re still doing good. We’re just maybe not doing good on the scale that we would like to do and that’s okay too. Like I say, if you want to change the world, change the world for one person at a time, that’s how you do it. You’re showing us that we can all be innovative where you are today and where you’ve come to as a result of a really difficult journey. You know, my hat is tipped to you. My heart is like really full for you and this journey you’ve been on. But I think the message here, Defenders is we’re all on different journeys. We all come from different environments. We all have a different upbringing. But the reality is, is that we can all do this, we can all innovate, and we can all become problem solvers if we truly desire.
Shaheena Attarwala: Yeah, I think that’s absolutely true. Like you know Jason, even today online when I go and see some of the innovations that people are coming up with, like for example, there this innovation recently that I saw that, you know when you sit on your pot, toilet pot, there’s a table… there is small tool that people have designed where you put it under the pot and you put so that can be a squatting position on the pot. And I why can’t people just use a bucket? It’s already existing, right? You’re trying to fool people in the name of innovation when something already can be used for multiple things, that’s not innovation. It’s just bullshit, right? You, yourself can make so many things at home. See as designers, it’s so important to understand the problem first because we delve into solutions so fast that we forget about the problem.
We feel that just being based superficial and aesthetic about the solution will actually make you a problem solver. No, if you want your solutions to be accepted by the masses by scale. If you want to impact millions of lives, the billions of lives, then you have to go to the root of the problem and understand that. That’s exactly what Google is trying to do with the next billion projects. Like they’re trying to bring billions of the next billion people onto a, a tech platform, which is going to revolutionize the way people use technology. And that’s what is my vision, right? For myself as well, because I, when I’m designing, when I’m coming up with solutions, when I’m solving problem, I don’t look at it like a one-off thing. I look at it that how impactful it’s going to be, right? Is this the best way? Is this the most scalable way? That’s exactly what I think. And I think that sort of thinking really is important. If you want to scale at a level where you impact millions of people, because as a designer you don’t know who’s using your design. You don’t know how many people, so you might as well put your best shot forward, you know, with a lot of scientific thinking also, which is involved in it.
Jason Ogle: There’s a quote I really like a lot about innovation ‘An innovator is not someone who creates something out of nothing. An innovator is someone who wakes up to the constraints caused by false assumptions and breaks out of them’.
Shaheena Attarwala: Wow, I’m hearing that for the first time actually.
Jason Ogle: Isn’t that great?
Shaheena Attarwala: Use that somewhere, I’m going to copy it somewhere Jason.
Jason Ogle: Yeah. Do it the way this is being recorded, thankfully, so. But I just really liked that a lot because I think that a lot of us really confuse what innovation truly means. And as designers we need to be careful because innovation is not about doing something nobody’s ever done before. It’s not. It’s actually quite the opposite; it’s about finding something that exists. Something that people do already, that people use, and finding a new way to make that better, to make that a better experience. Steve jobs did that with iPhone Steve jobs and Apple computer did that with iPhone. We did not know. We needed a phone that played music, that access the internet, that did text messaging. We didn’t know we needed that, and now we can’t live without the stinking thing. Some of us put it under our pillows at night. We love it so much. Right?
Shaheena Attarwala: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. I think it’s changing behaviors, right? Your innovation should not be just there somewhere kept. It has to change your behavior. You need to evolve with it. So, you’re absolutely right. I totally agree with you.
Jason Ogle: Yeah. Yeah. I like that. And then you know, even just some of the examples that you’re mentioning about a toilet, it’s like there’s just a toilet. All the toilet really is, is a bucket that’s looks better, that looks more attractive than that’s all it is, folks. And you know, some fancy pipes underneath that are hidden, you know? But that’s the magic. That’s the magic of design of the toilet. It’s all the stuff you don’t see underneath.
Shaheena Attarwala: Yeah. Actually I, work a lot in the sanitation space also. Right Jason?
Jason Ogle: Yeah, tell us about that.
Shaheena Attarwala: So, my conversation at some point it just involves toilet for some reason.
Jason Ogle: Thanks for clarifying that. [Laughter]
Shaheena Attarwala: Yeah, other people will like constantly to think that she’s obsessed with poop. [Laughter]
Jason Ogle: Get your mind out of the gutter, Shaheena [Laughter]
Shaheena Attarwala: I hear that a lot. [Laughter].
Jason Ogle: Oh, you do, I thought I would be the innovator around that saying for you now.
Shaheena Attarwala: Yeah. I just, I just wanted the people, you know the Defenders to understand where my thought process is coming from because I think whenever you are passionate about something there is a history attached to it. You know there is a shared value that you have attached to it and that’s why it becomes so, close to your heart that you want to make something out of it. Like no matter who that person is, you know, people who are innovating things, people who are solving problems at some point they must have been touched by that problem and that’s why they pick it up to solve it.
Jason Ogle: So, you have legal skills is what I heard and is what I read in your bio, you have some legal skills. Can you tell us about that and what that’s done for you to help you make you a better designer?
Shaheena Attarwala: Yes, I studied Law as well and I do paralegal services, which means that I help people, especially women, again coming back to that who do not have access to legal consulting.
Jason Ogle: Wow.
Shaheena Attarwala: So, I do let them know that what is the best thing that they can do in this situation. Also, like in your future, you know, I want to… I am very socially active in the sense I do a lot of social activism. I work in hygiene, sanitation space as a social worker. And taking that cause forward, maybe in my forties, I would want to start my own enterprise social enterprise where I solve these kinds of problems, at a very large scale. What I do right now is that a very small scale, but that’s why I studied Law because it always helps to have that as a skill and to take your cause forward.
But what I understood when I was studying law as well is that even the legal policies, the laws they’re designed, …they’re designed for people like we designed products for users. The legal policies are also designed for people keeping the problem eventually problem that it’s going to solve in mind. And it is tested, vetted also, you know, by multiple stakeholders, which could be policy makers, which could be experts in those fields, whether it’s a domestic abuse law, whether it is an IT add anything. So, when I was going through and studying these three years, they made me realize that everything is designed. It is not just design that we see, but even designs that we don’t see whether it affects our behavior with the effect affects our life. Every single thing is designed on this planet.
Jason Ogle: Yes.
Shaheena Attarwala: I think God must be a designer.
Jason Ogle: I fully agree. Genesis 1:1 very first scripture in the beginning, God created.
Shaheena Attarwala: Yeah, absolutely. Jason.
Jason Ogle: Sorry, evolutionists, I just don’t see enough that all of a sudden there was perfect order in design out of an explosion [Laughter] feel free to argue with me. Argue with me on Twitter about that if you want. But yeah, I fully agree with you. There’s way too much design in this world for there not to be a designer for everything, including our DNA and including this universe. Tell me about, so, legal skills and frugal living, like what does that done for you in your empathy and compassion for fellow humans as a human center designer? How has that helped you?
Shaheena Attarwala: You know, like my empathy, I think I always tell this to people when they talk about empathy. You know that your empathy begins at home and your empathy begins with the people you work with closely. Forget about the users. You’re a UX designer later first, try and empathize with the tech guy that you’re working with, the product manager you’re working with, the business head you’re working with. Because most… so many times I see our fellow designers, they’re so, bullish and strong headed then no, we are only going to represent users. Yeah, yes, that’s all cool. But these people are also your teammates who are trying to solve the same problem. Maybe their approach is different, so, understand why they’re behaving that way.? Because once you do that, they will become your teammates. They will actually take your cause forward. You will have more people who will speak your language.
And being a designer is also about selling your vision, not just selling your design. Because once you’ve sold a vision, you have sold an entire product. Right? So, how do you sell that vision of your design? Not just two or three screens, but your vision? When you talk in a larger context, people understand. People relate to stories. They don’t relate to you know, one or two screens or this button or that phone. They relate to stories. How are you conveying that story that’s so, important? Like you spoke about compassion, right? You know, couple of years back, I my mother and I, we were talking she and I have a lot of conversations about how this world can be a better place. Now, she and I were having a conversation about this family in UOP, in Uttar Pradesh, very poor family offer, three, four girls and a mother living, they did not have a toilet in their house.
So, in villages what happens is these girls, these women, they have to go in the fields to ease themselves and when the crops are there in the fields it’s okay, you know, they can just sit somewhere. But when the crops are harvested, it’s so, difficult because then it’s land. Then they have to go and find a tree and it exposes them to a lot of molestation, Eve teasing or even raped sometimes. And my heart broke when I was hearing that and I said, ma, I, I’ll try and do something I constantly do. I keep doing this. And this was one of the projects that I took up. I actually crowdfunded a toilet to build in their home. I gathered people, I send some funds, collected funds and I asked one of my relatives in the village to go to that village, build it for them.
And you know, I made an entire project and a case study out of it and it goes published in the United Nations, website as well. So, yeah, I think things are possible. It’s you, if you desire to do something, if you have compassion, empathy for your fellow human beings, it’s only then can you solve the problem. I can’t be an arrogant designer and still say I’m empathetic towards my users that’s never going to happen. You’re just fooling yourselves. Right. By just learning a few tools you cannot say you’re empathetic just because you build a screen. There’s much deeper connection to it. So, these kinds of things, and I feel compassion should not just been designed. It’s everywhere. And it just, it’s, for me, it happens to be designed.
Jason Ogle: I’m a big fan of empathy. I feel like any life-changing product or service, anything designed, really, if their empathy isn’t at the core of it, it’s just not going to be as effective as it could be because you’re not considering the people using what you’re creating. You’re not thinking about them, you’re not talking to them. Like some people say, if you’re not talking to users, it’s not user experience. So, I, I’m a big fan of empathy for so, many reasons beyond that, beyond design. I think it’s just one of the unique signifiers to use a Don Norman a quote there a signifier of us as humans I’m a huge fan I love that story. And you mentioned stories and that’s another reason why I’m so, glad you’re on the show Shaheena is because I really believe that stories are what really stick with us, that that helps us learn the best is when we hear stories and we can kind of tie it into a message or a takeaway. And so, that’s really, I’m, I’m huge fan of you in that way, that you have so, many stories to tell you have so, much to offer and helping others. I want to kind of talk about your experience you have with Don Norman because that was a really special, like I think you spent like a full day with him like he was consulting with you.
Shaheena Attarwala: Yeah.
Jason Ogle: He was doing a talk out there. I don’t want to… I guess I’ll let you tell the story because you were there, [Laughter] so, I want to hear about that story.
Shaheena Attarwala: Yeah, actually, I volunteer for this organization called [inaudible 37:13], it is a not for profit organization. And I offer my user experience skills at a pro bono basis. And he was down here you know talking with us members of [inaudible 37:25] as well about how we can, you know, solve a human problem in India. And looking at the problems I had already a user centric approach and I had an entire day with him where I spoke to him about how I’m passionate about education. Like I told him one of my stories about how I explained solar system to my mother, you know, because she doesn’t understand what Jupiter, Pluto is. What is solar system for these people to understand that sun … the earth round is a big deal. So, you know so, when I came from school and I had to explain it to her how I did that, and I was, I was telling him the story that I explained to her in Hindi, that how the sun is in the center, the earth is round, earth has water.
If you go to, you know, say for example US it’s night there and its day in India because of the rotations, et cetera, et cetera, right? How to break that information in chunks that is chewable for her. You know, that she can understand. Because hey, I know that I understand, but does she also, understand? And if I want to coexist with her, I have to share knowledge with her so, that we can have conversations. And that’s how I think equality in this world will ever exist. Then we have to share knowledge. We have to bring the person who does not have that knowledge at our part. So, I explained to her in Hindi and him just he, he got so, excited about that because he himself is a person who is extremely passionate about education. And he totally believed in my story and he, when he was giving official talk later to the designers that day and he actually used that example and I was like, yes, my life is successful now that Don has used my example, I’m done.
Like, I’m so, happy, I was in so, much awe that day because, you know, I, I think the fact that he also believes in education in a very different way because I don’t think people who do not have access to science can now go to class one and study. But there are certain basics that we can definitely expose them to so, that they start being critical thinkers. Not believe in the stupid theory of Earth is flat. For example, people from my village, people from my village when they come and see a sea an ocean, they think it’s a big lake.
Jason Ogle: Oh, my goodness yeah.
Shaheena Attarwala: Like that’s how it is. So, we just need to at least provide people with basic critical thinking tools and this being one of them that science is so, so, important. Not that I’m an expert, but just the fact that we shared the same value helped us you know, speak in conversation. Like he actually squatted in front of like 200 all top-notch designers in India and said, see, the culture here is that Indians can squat an icon. He was so, so, candid and I love that fact that I was like, Hey, if he’s Don Norman and he is not ashamed to squat in front of so, many people and talk about relevant user behavior. I am nobody to be ashamed of talking about my life story because I know that if he would not have done one or two things, I would not have probably understood what he’s trying to talk to us and being one level and being candid and open and honest in an interview or talk is so, so, important because I feel it’s, it’s, it’s being true to your audience. Like, you know, every Defender who’s hearing this right now, it will be unfair to them if I wasn’t myself right here.
Jason Ogle: Amen, sister. That’s so, cool. So, one of the things that Don mentioned, and I think it might’ve even been a part of your conversation with him that day, was the importance of curiosity for designers. Not just importance It is critical for designers to have curiosity. So, what I’m wondering, and obviously you’re a very curious person and that’s, I believe one of the things that’s propelled you so, far is being so, curious and you have some funny things in your bio about like asking so, many questions, well why is it this way? Why is my brother this way or why is, you know why? And those are good things to ask why, right? Like Simon Sinek, like people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. And I think asking why as another good reason for that. So, I’m curious not to, you know, no pun intended or maybe pun intended. Sure. I’m curious, is it possible to teach curiosity and what do you think about if so, how, how do you teach curiosity to other people? Especially designers.
Shaheena Attarwala: It’s totally possible to teach curiosity. You know, like I love talking to children. I absolutely love because I think it’s amazing to talk to them. You know, I just call any random kid as like, hi, what do you study? I study so, and so. Why are you studying that? Oh, my parents put me in that class, but why are you doing it then? Do you enjoy like these kinds of questions? And I make them think, you know, and then they just roll their eyes. Like, why is she talking to me like this? You know, is she mad that she has nothing better to do? But my point is that kids start thinking, they will start thinking, you know, if you tell them, be curious, they’re not going to be curious. You have to show what curiosity is. If you’re curious in knowing about what they want or what they are excited about, they’ll be like, oh my God, she’s excited so, I need to get involved in this.
Right. They feel like equal participants as opposed to someone who’s trying to sort of you know, impose their vision or their thought process on them. I always told my mother, ma, why you feeding me with stale food? Why not your brother? Oh, he’s your brother he’s a man child. Why is it means y’all? Why is he so, celebrated and not me? I used to ask this, right? Not, out of malice or anything, but it’s just that I’m curious, you know, so, just to figure out that, what can I do to get better food so, that I can up my game, that sort of thing. Not out of resentment. And I’ve always been curious that, okay, that person speaks English like that. How can I do that.
Let me go and ask. I’ve got a lot of rejections. Honestly, if people didn’t want to be friends with me, people didn’t want to speak to me. They didn’t want to sit beside me. But [inaudible 43:28], hey, not that my life is any great. Now I can do with a few rejections. It’s not that I have a reputation to keep, right? So, I used to reach out to people. You know, that, Hey, you know what? I think I want to learn this, or can you help me just go one step ahead. I’ll manage on my own rest. I’ve got rejection. But it’s okay to have rejection. Life is all about rejections, right? And if I would not be rejected and always be accepted, I don’t think I would have probably been so, resilient or enjoyed my life either. Now I have funny stories to tell about my rejection as well.
So, but curiosity is so, so, important. I think it’s always a, you know, a treat to talk to kids. Even my mom, she’s like 60 years old. But whenever I go home, I teach her something interesting and I come back and she always tells my other siblings like, look, she comes for just two or three days, but she’s taught me this. What have you guys taught me? Right? So, she’s learned English, she’s learned WhatsApp, she’s learned YouTube, she’s learned map YouTube maps a voice, right? So, I mean, she’s curious at this age. So, I definitely think, people can be curious. They just need to get out of there, you know, belief of their victimhood and see another side.
Jason Ogle: There’s so, many takeaways that are happening for me right now, Defenders in our time with Shaheena, like I’m thinking grit, right? Like resilience, growth, mindset, curiosity. Like there’s no stopping you, not just as a designer, but in life as a human, like when you can and really embody those traits like Shaheena has. Like there’s just nothing that can stop you. I’m inspired right now. Like there’s a book called ‘Rejection proof’ that I really liked a lot and you made me think of it when you’re talking about how you’ve had rejections and we have to just accept that we’re going to get rejected in this life. We’re going to get rejected a lot even. And, and if we’re not, then I questioned whether we’re doing enough. I questioned whether we’re passionate enough if we’re not getting rejected. So, that’s something to ask ourselves Defenders. But there’s a book, it’s called ‘Rejection proof’ and it’s by a fellow named Josh Zhang, I think he’s Korean.
He basically, I won’t tell you the whole story, but he was trying to be like a Silicon Valley, like the next Silicon Valley app trying to create it and he just got rejected. And then he basically was in transition for, from his job. And he told his wife, he’s like, you know what? He’s like, I’m on a mission. I want to spend the next hundred days getting rejected at least once every day. And so, he came up with this is true, there’s a book. And he came up with a challenge for himself every day for a hundred days that he would go with the goal with the aim of being rejected. So, the book is called ‘Rejection Proof’, how I beat fear and became invincible through a hundred days of rejection. So, one of the challenges that he did for himself, I love this one, he actually went to a stranger’s house and asked, I think there was in Texas or something and this cowboy answers the door and he like went, and asked him, the guy was watching the Super Bowl or something really important, but he went interrupted his football game and asked him if he could play soccer in his backyard.[Laughter]
Shaheena Attarwala: Then did he allow him?
Jason Ogle: He said yea, he said sure. [Laughter]
Shaheena Attarwala: That’s super awesome.
Jason Ogle: Cool and another one of his challenges was he actually he had a Krispy Kreme worker, it was like the Olympics day or something. And he said, can I have you, he’s like, I’d like to ask you if you could make me an Olympic donut. Like where you, if you could color the donut rings and then join them together and the manager like stood there for a second, she’s like, I might be able to do that for you. [Laughter]
Shaheena Attarwala: People are actually like joining., oh good, yeah.
Jason Ogle: That’s the thing, like even the most ridiculous things like I guess the message in that is that you can’t get a yes unless you ask. Unless you try to get a no. Even though some of the things we’re so, afraid of, we’re so, afraid of people saying no, they might say yes. And like this is a perfect example, so, anyway, you just inspired me to kind of mention that book I have. I have it on audible I haven’t listened to it in quite a while, but it’s really fun. It’s really, and it’s inspiring in the same ways that you mentioned Shaheena about how much even the rejections you’ve experienced have, how far they brought you to resilience to grit.
Shaheena Attarwala: Yeah.
Jason Ogle: Passion.
Shaheena Attarwala: Absolutely. [Laughter]
Jason Ogle: What’s living life without passion?
Shaheena Attarwala: Yeah, and humor as well. You know, we are a bunch of humorous people like we love humor. We make fun of each other. Like for example, in rains in monsoons when our house used to be flooded in knee deep gutter water, it’s literally gutter water because we stay on top of a gutter and we just use to tell ourselves. Like guess what? Nobody would ever have a swimming pool in their own house [Laughter]. You just make fun of it and you have to make fun of yourself. [Laughter], move ahead.
Jason Ogle: You have to my basement was flooded once, that was that was one of my first world problems that I experienced, and it sucked. It really sucked. We had just paid like $5,000 for flooring that we just got put in like maybe a month or two prior. We only got to enjoy the floor, the nice floor for like two months and then all of a sudden, the water came in and we had a bunch of rains. The water came into the basement and here I am two months later, basically like burning $5,000 and then just, [Laughter] it was so, painful. Every panel, every panel, they had to dig up a crowbar. [Laughter] It just hurt my heart. [Laughter]. And then the same week–.
Shaheena Attarwala: I can totally imagine you scrubbing that floor like it’s so cool, I’ve totally visualized that right now.
Jason Ogle: The water and the water kept coming in. So, it was like a full-time job to like take the wet dry vac, suck as much water up as we could for that three hours and then go and like just try to heave dump, dump this thing out and then go and do it again in three hours. We did that for a week, and it sucked. It was, it hurt. That’s just another example of like our trials–.
Shaheena Attarwala: You can always tell your grandchildren, that story, that your grandfather was coming from $5,000 floor in monsoons. [Laughter].
Jason Ogle: Exactly. Yeah. And here’s the thing, like I said, like after hearing your story Shaheena I feel like my problem was like, just as it was, it’s simple. It was a simple problem compared to just hearing your story. Like I feel like, yeah, I had $5,000 to put a floor down into my finished basement. You know, like I had that the means to do that and here I am like complaining and of course it sucks. Of course, it does not take away from that. But like, I think if we have the empathy and we get outside of ourselves, and we actually, especially when we look at things in a global perspective, I’ve never been out of the country the furthest I’ve been in Canada and Mexico and I just feel like that doesn’t count. I feel like that doesn’t count. I haven’t traveled that much. And I’ve talked to other designers who travel a lot and they tell me, every one of them tells me my empathy has increased so much from traveling and visiting other cultures, visiting other areas of the world and seeing how other people live their lives. Just some of the kids that are growing up in these really awful environments, like they may have more joy than a lot of the kids growing up in the United States that have everything they ever want.
Shaheena Attarwala: I totally relate to what you just said. Like just looking at other people live, you know just going back to my life in the slums, like I just came back from home yesterday, a morning and so, I’m, I’m, I again go back and meet my parents and they still live there.
Jason Ogle: Wow.
Shaheena Attarwala: But you know, when I was growing up, I mean, there are people who are even in worse conditions than us. So, we at least have a roof. We have food on our plate and that’s happiness. That’s privileged for us, but my father always made it a point to get people who were underprivileged. So, say someone who’s selling some sweets around and he sleeps on a pavement near a house somewhere or on the floor somewhere, he used to call him and make him eat dinner with us whatever we had.
It’s not like they had separate plates or sep… they use to eat the same food that we eat. They used to have the same glass and plate that we ate. That, just seeing that, I still have that, you know, those memories in my head that this is what my father did, he had, you know, multiple flaws. But I think the genesis of the empathy that I got is probably from them because if they did not feel the other person’s hunger or pain, I don’t think I would have been able to probably decipher or continue with this. I would have probably been a nasty kid in a slum who does not probably care or who is indifferent to other people pain, you know, we still give and help our neighbors. Like my neighbor’s kids, you know, they were, did the poor of course, but for their exams, they did not have money.
They actually went without food for a couple of days. When I heard that I was so, so, depressed and I actually raised money for them and so, that they could just eat well and give their exams and it’s only because my parents have continued with this journey of empathy for other people to solve their problem. I think that’s something that we must do is be, be happy and be, be, have an attitude of gratitude. That you say, my plate is full, my life’s really good. Let me go and fight another war. Let me go and make my life better. But not dwelling in that I think in that victim hood that we live in a slum was probably the biggest learning of my life. That you know, you’re still in a much better position than a lot of people.
Jason Ogle: I want to ask you. I’m moved, I’m move Shaheena and I, I get sometimes gets a little dusty on the show and this is one of those times for me. We all have a story to tell, in fact our lives are a story that only we can tell. How do we, since we knew how powerful and effective storytelling is, especially in the field of design, how do we as designers like you harness our own life experiences to become better designers?
Shaheena Attarwala: For me, I think one of the things I do very often during my design journey, even during my talks is use analogies, A lot of time, jargons and case study and design words, they get so, boring that people lose you somewhere in the middle.
Jason Ogle: Yeah.
Shaheena Attarwala: So, giving an analogy always helps because they bring an instant human connection because they have faced it somewhere else and you have faced it somewhere else. People will instantly connect with your story. And I always do that. It’s, I know, it’s funny sometimes people will be like, Oh, what is she saying? This is so, not part of this, but I think analogies are so, important. Sometimes, you know, it’s like a technical definition about something, but then people are like, can you give an example? And then you have to give an example of what it means. So, every time when I have a, when I’m designing the screen or when I’m you know, talking, trying to solve a problem or working on a PRD, I say, you know, imagine yourself being in this position. Like, how did you speak to that rickshaw driver? Does he understand you have to go down to his level and speak his language, behave like he does, and then you will be able to converse because eventually design is also a conversation with your users. It is not pixels. It is a conversation that you’re having with your users. And if the language is not shared, if the eventual idea is not shared with the users, how can you converse? So, that level of understanding between your users and you are about design is about conversation. It’s just that it’s a, look and feel conversation rather than a verbal conversation.
Jason Ogle: Use analogies, I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again if it’s good enough for the son of God is good enough for me. Yeah, parables. There’s a lot of parables and those are, you know, Jesus told more parables than he stated facts and people identified with that and those who followed him were, it was because they connected with that story that he told and related to. So, I just feel like there’s so, much, there’s, that’s such an important point you just made about telling stories and using analogies because people don’t really care unless you are one of those just maybe edge cases that you just love to look at like a bunch of numbers and data and you just love that. And I’m glad you exist. Thank you for existing. But lot of, there’s a lot of people that just will not be able to resonate with the facts unless it’s wrapped and it won’t last at least unless it’s wrapped in a story that has a beginning, a middle and an end.
And that resonates in that connects somebody emotionally to the data, to the facts. So, I really liked that a lot and I want to throw something as an idea that I’ve actually had for quite a while and then, and I’ve been doing this and I’ve, this is the first time I’ve kind of put this out there, but I feel like Defenders, I feel like this will be helpful to you as well as it is for me. I created something, I’m an Evernote user and I love that tool a lot. I it’s, this podcast wouldn’t even be possible without it in the same way for each of my guests. I have notes, questions, I have a template that I use, but I also have a note that I put in there called story bank and what that means is basically we all, like I said earlier, we all have a unique story that only we can tell and they’re defined by experiences that only we have experienced. So, what I’m, suggesting we all do is we create a story, bank, a note, and Evernote put it in your Apple notes, whatever cloud note you use.
Just start thinking about stories, even from your childhood. Start thinking about really unique things that have happened to you or that you’ve experienced that just aren’t even stories. You’re just like, I could not make this up. Right? Especially the stories like that and then find a way to tie that into a takeaway. Find a way to tie that unique story into a design lesson, into an empathy lesson, into a humanity lesson, right? Like whatever your messages, find a way to like, tell your story and then tie that in, like have an anecdote, Seth Godin calls it anecdotes; that guy is the master at this. He is the master at, at doing this. But I’m sure he inspired me in some ways, but I just feel like that we could all, we should all do something like that. Like have a story bank and then where we can tell our unique stories. It’s not something we, and it’s okay to tell other people’s stories, but I think it’s more when there’s more conviction when we do it ourselves. So, that’s my idea. Shaheena what do you think?
Shaheena Attarwala: Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. I would totally agree with that. Like in fact, the story is that I have been talking, I have somehow like the problem-solving story, right? My toilet bucket story, it is a manifestation of my thought process at that time. But those learnings have helped me today also, right? So, how do you connect? Because see, we’re not here to talk about a victim hood story or anything of that sort, right? We’re here to talk about passionate stories, passionate stories that can make other people drive towards their passion. So, how can you talk about your story? I’m sure people who are entitled or privileged anything, they all have stories. Drunk stories. Dinner stories, school stories, college stories fashion show stories, etc. Etc. Try and see how it fits in your professional life.
Because when you are wonderful for one moment in a speech, in a talk, in a presentation, that is something that people will always remember. That he or she shared his personal experience. That means you’re strong enough, you’re so, secure in yourself to be vulnerable. And it is a good quality to have because if you’re not sharing your life stories, then you’re just sharing a public face of yours that other people should see. But humans love to trust each other and learn to work with each other only when there is a common connection emotion or like I said, vulnerability because then they know that, okay, you’ve been a little vulnerable with them. I can also, be vulnerable and that’s how team is built, that’s how trust is built.
Jason Ogle: I’m going to go into what I’m calling the super six. These are my superhero questions and you are a superhero Shaheena like in every, every manner of the word. So, I want to ask you, what’s your design superpower?
Shaheena Attarwala: Go at it, I don’t know how else to put it. I just go at it. I don’t think much. I think I just take things in my hand and I tried to do it. Because if you put too much of thoughts into things, you’ll just become a procrastinator. So, for me it’s like, it’s in the present. We get up, build it and work with it.
Jason Ogle: Go at it, that’s great. There’s like, I feel like there’s some like pugilism in there too. It’s just like go right at the fight, go right into it and just do it. What’s your design kryptonite?
Shaheena Attarwala: I haven’t really thought about it, but I think my design kryptonite would be impatience. Sometimes I’m very impatience. I want things to move fast, but then I have to be very mindful that I’m working with 50 other people together. There are teams and teams that I collaborate with, so, I have to be very mindful about other people’s space as well. So, impatience would be my kryptonite.
Jason Ogle: Yeah, I think we can all identify with that too there’s the whole move fast and break things; we’re finding that’s not the best way to build products. Facebook has certainly made some errors doing that. That’s like their mantra or that has been their mantra. I mean, they certainly have made some insensitive errors by moving fast and breaking things. So, I think that there’s the balance, right? And patients like haste makes waste as like the old adage. So, I think there’s a nice balance where we do need to keep moving. We do need to stay nimble; we do need to just launch and test, but we also need to make sure we do diligence and the midst of that. So, I really identify with that one as well Shaheena, this is a fun one. What would yours UX, superhero name be?
Shaheena Attarwala: Ruthless UX that’s my pseudo-name. I created it a couple of years back and it’ll always be my superhero name. I think Ruthless UX.
Jason Ogle: And that totally defines like that’s a good title for you. And especially given everything we’ve learned about your story. Like you certainly you have been ruthless, and it’s paid off. What’s one habit that contributes to your success being ruthless?
Shaheena Attarwala: That’s definitely, that’d be repetitive. I’ve come up with something perseverance, I think that constant and consistent pace of getting up every day, doing it, getting up every day, doing it. That discipline is so, so, important because only passion can take you so, much. Talent can take you so, much. But discipline and perseverance can take you a long way in life.
Jason Ogle: Jocko Willink says ‘discipline equals freedom’, I fully agree with him. He’s a US Marine and he wrote, wrote a book about leadership, which is really, really good, called ‘Extreme Ownership’. He and one of his fellow soldiers, they wrote this book and told some really powerful stories, but it’s really just the whole core of it is about owning your crap. Like if you, especially as a leader, and I know you’ve experienced as you’re a design leader, you’re managing a lot of folks doing some innovative work. So, it’s really like, I think the best leaders are the ones that own their stuff. And so, anyway, like I don’t know why, I started going there, but out of the, other than like, just persevering through it and, and owning it. So, if you could recommend one book to our listeners, what would it be and why?
Shaheena Attarwala: One book that I’d really, really like, and I keep going back to is a book called ‘Predictably Irrational’ by Dan Riley. Dan Riley is actually a psychologist and a scientist and a user behavior and his talks available on Ted as well. But reason why I really liked his book and his talk and in general his work is because he has an understanding of humans in a way that we sometimes don’t understand ourselves. Why are humans so, irrational? For example, that if someone’s driving a car and you know, using his phone, is he trying to denote that he does not care about his life? Definitely not. He cares about his life. But why are we irrational? Why do we behave in certain ways that we do? And when we are pointed out that you behave like this, we sometimes even con. Now that, Oh, we did behave like this. So, his book is very twisted, and it has a lot of examples and case studies. I really, really loved that because it helps me in designing because psychology is an important part of our designs and it does give me an insight into human behavior. So, yeah, I just really liked that book.
Jason Ogle: I’m a recent student of psychology and I love the pop sci genre of books. So, I definitely have heard of Dan and I actually have one of his books, his other book called ‘The Honest Truth about Dishonesty’. And I haven’t read it yet, but now I really want to, right now I want to get predictably irrational too. I’ve heard good things about that book as well. So, now I’ve got to get another book. How do I find time? I need a Neo jack in my head for books.
Shaheena Attarwala: In fact, now that I’m going to London, I’m actually pestering Dan on chat, LinkedIn everywhere. Please meet me. So, he has sort of agreed.
Jason Ogle: Nice.
Shaheena Attarwala: Because I went somewhere, saw his schedule, and I like, I saw you’re free on this day. You meet me. [Laughter].
Jason Ogle: Oh wow, nice.
Shaheena Attarwala: Yeah,
Jason Ogle: Way to be ruthless. So, here’s my last question for you Shaheena and I’m going to kind of reframe this question a little bit. I typically ask what’s your best advice for aspiring UX superheroes? And you could certainly answer that as well, but I really, I feel like I want to frame this a little bit differently based on everything that we’ve learned about you today and your journey, especially being a woman and really having to fight a lot of expectations or traditions. And I just want to ask you like what’s your message for all, especially the women Defenders who may be feel repressed or maybe feel held back where they happen to be now. And then you can also offer your advice for, everybody that’s really trying to succeed in design, however you want to answer that.
Shaheena Attarwala: I think for women and for young girls, I would definitely like to tell them that take risks, whether risk in terms of relationships, where the risks in terms of learning, whether risk in terms of failing, just take risks. The more you take risks, the fear of losing just gets out of your way. So, it’s very important for women to take risk. We have been born and brought up in so much of safety, right, we’ve not been taught how to take risks. We feel very apologetic, if we speak out of turn, we’ll be like, I’m sorry, but can I talk about this? You know, there’s a sense of apology in something that you do; don’t do that. Just, just take risk. If even if you’re offending somebody, it’s fine because you will learn by offending people. You know, you will learn by, even if people get pissed off, it’s okay. The fact that you’re a woman, there are any which ways pissed off. So, just let it go. Just take risks in everything. Because once you take risks, your sense of taking calculated risks in the future increases. And then you build a sense of actually taking risks that are worth it. But you have to start somewhere.
Jason Ogle: That’s so, powerful. If you don’t mind answering the other part of that question is just what’s your best advice for, for designers new up and coming UXer’s who are really just trying to break in really trying to land, maybe land their first job, maybe feel discouraged or just maybe just don’t know what to learn or where to go. Like what’s your best advice for these Defenders? Listening
Shaheena Attarwala: For the best advice for them would be curious and be shameless. Be curious because there’s enough to learn. There’s always something to, I feel so, in-equipped, you know, I feel I, there are so, many better designers than me. I constantly see how did they do that? They’re so, good. How can I become like them? It’s not that I want to copy somebody, but it’s just that, you know, admire someone, admire someone so, much that you want to become like them because someday you will need inspiration, you know, have that, be curious, you know, look for inspiration. It’s all around you. There’s ample amount of inspiration and be shameless. Be shameless. Make mistakes. You know, if even if your work is bad, go and show it to somebody. Someone will say, what kind of, what crap? This is what it’s okay. At least you know it’s crap. Then you can move to a better, better version of it. It will make, might still be grabbed, but after 10, 10 iterations, it might become better. Appreciate. Well, don’t feel bad about it. So, you know be curious and be shameless.
Jason Ogle: Shaheena this is, this has been just rich beyond even my already deep expectations of our time, like this is, this has been moving. It’s been filled with passion, filled with fire and like Defenders, if you’re not motivated right now, if you’re not inspired, if you’re not moved, I’d say check your pulse. You may not be alive. You may not be alive. Somebody might be putting ear buds, Air Pods into a corpse. [Laughter]
Shaheena Attarwala: I can’t believe you said that. [Laughter].
Jason Ogle: Its true. [Laughter]
Shaheena Attarwala: Oh goodness. [Laughter]
Jason Ogle: Now I have a weird visual in my head of like a grandfather, like figure or grandmother with like with the AirPods like open casket with like AirPods in. Oh, that’s so, weird. Sorry. Not sorry. No. What’s the best way for our Defenders to connect and to keep up with you because I know they’re gonna want to,
Shaheena Attarwala: Yeah, they can connect with me on Twitter. My handle is ruthless UX or they can just email me on ruthless email@example.com
Jason Ogle: Shaheena, you are a new superhero of mine and I no doubt every Defender listening right now. You are the perfect of UX beyond the screen because just what you’ve told us, what you’ve shared and just being so, vulnerable, which is a super power by the way, vulnerability is I think one of the greatest and you have it in spades. Just your work in social services, your legal counsel for those who can’t afford it, your work in sanitation. Oh my gosh. Not to mention what you’re doing in the actual field of design. I mean design is all around us and you are making such a huge impact and you’ve inspired me so, much and note, no doubt again that I know the Defenders are with me.
Shaheena Attarwala: Thank you so, much. Thank you, Jason. Also, I am extremely proud of the work that you’re doing. This is a very unique podcast and that is why I only reached out to you. And I’m so, glad that you have me on the show because I was more than just being, I was so, excited to just talk to you because I heard your podcast and I was like, this guy is amazing. It is so, casual candid and so, honest. I need to just speak to him. So, thank you so, much for having me.
Jason Ogle: Oh, I am humbled. I am humbled. Thank you. Shaheena I just, I just want to say like, as always, and especially last but not least, fight on my friend.
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