Photo credit: Sasha Abram from

Designing involves many levels of politics. This talk focused on the complexity of interpersonal relationships, in a not-for-profit start-up and how Sasha navigated her role as Design Lead (and Product Owner!) in this tangled web of relations. It mapped the stakeholders, power dynamics and challenges faced in design and delivery, and include lessons learned along the way.

We ran out of time at the end of the meetup and there were a few questions that could not be answered. Thankfully, Sasha sent me on the answers to share with the community!

How would you navigate in the land of self-interest politics differently if you can turn back time?

This may sound odd, but I would have made more space for work/life balance. I think as the role took more of time and energy, I really neglected my own wellbeing. This would have better equipped me to deal with the toxic dynamics.
I also think having been through it, I am now much better at articulating my professional needs, so I would have tried to include more of these as requirements up front. Circumstantially I had a lack of leadership in the start-up but also at my home organisation, where I really should have been able to lean more on my People Leader for support and advice.

In an environment of varying degrees of personal opinions, grounding conversations to real needs and pain points of users generally tends to build consensus. Did this in any way help in some of the conflicts in your stories?

I answered this question via Linked In, so I’ll paraphrase that response here. We had support for our user needs and pain points at a management level, that did not help to diffuse the power plays and ownership debate that plagued the organisation as a whole.

What was the business reason to use shopify over existing platforms?

We did a full tech review of competitors including white-label and tourism platform options. Shopify, with a local plugin called Book That App, allowed us all the functionality of a booking platform with the inventory capability of an e-commerce site. It is incredibly stable and has a very secure and well-designed payment pathway. It was also chosen as a market differentiator, with the click-to-buy functionality and this came with incredibly high conversion rates via Instagram.

Sasha Abram is Lead Customer Experience Designer at icare NSW. She applies a human-centred approach to designing for social innovation and sustainable outcomes. She has spent the last decade working in service and strategic design, with a particular interest in community engagement and service reform. She has a Master of Design (Research), from UTS looking at service design for creative industries, in remote indigenous communities. She also has a M.Des in sustainability, strategy and enterprise (UTS). Prior to this, she spent over a decade working with some of Australia’s premier fashion companies in design, visual merchandising, retail management and brand engagement.

Lessons learned from navigating the labyrinth of human relations in design

Posted by Rebekah Murphy

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