15 fresh ideas from women who design tech in Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley design pioneers give tips on how to get on board and succeed as a woman in tech; how to design for a broad range of consumers; and how to bring a more diverse crowd of professionals into the tech industry

The range of consumers for modern products and services is more diverse than ever. But the tech industry itself, unfortunately, isn’t. During Women Designing Tech panel Wunderdogs has organized with AIGA SF, we’ve asked 5 leading female design experts to share their knowledge of paving the way into innovative industries for other women to follow. Here’s what they had to say:

Empathy and Design Process

  1. The new customer requires the new range of products built for various types of users. In building products for those you’ve never met, it is important to learn a lot about how they live, and think beyond design and into impact that your product will have on people’s lives. When we design these products or experiences it’s about seeing that difference we’re making. We’re not just making products that you use for two years and replace with a new one. We crave meaning. People want products to save lives, change societies, products that actually influence the way technologies adjust to the future.
  2. We are designing into new dimensions where rules haven’t been made yet. Diversity of personal and professional background is fundamental for creating a full range of experiences accessible for all.
  3. UX research should be on top of the funnel at all times. We have to really embrace the nebulous parts of the user-centered research. We need to look at items on the roadmap not as “things we are going to build” but as “assumptions we need to validate or not validate.”
  4. There’s a workplace tendency for protected classes like women or people of color, or women of color especially. And that is, we often get into a defensive mode. And we often forget that as designers we always have to practice empathy. We are used to doing it towards our users. But often times we lack empathy towards people we work with - our stakeholders, executives and teammates. Empathizing with people around you is very helpful. It opens a door for the opportunity to elevate yourself and your work to the CEO, your superiors and your peers.

Leading a startup

  1. For consumer products, a product designer should be the first hire. And you should trust the process - even if it makes you go slowly. It pays off - you end up with a useful, beautiful and insightful product built with the user in mind. On top of that, having a polished website, deck, and social media shows that your brand is committed to winning.
  2. When you lead a design-driven startup (or you are an early design hire), you get to rethink what the new products and brands should be. And also what the new business models should be. You get to truly influence the industry and the relationship framework with all of its stakeholders: customers, providers, suppliers, and investors. Embrace a chance to create a product that both lives up to investor expectations and social impact duty: combine those things and welcome a value-driven leadership.
  3. Being a woman in tech gives you a lot of power as it gives you that competitive edge to be able to relate to more people.

Succeeding in tech and emerging industries

  1. If you are job hunting, seek out design-led organizations because not all of them are. Seeking places where design is valued by the top executive level will help a lot. That is something that is typically quite public, but in addition, the design drive of an organization is visible right away through interviews - they help understand how fundamental the designer’s “say” is in the organization.
  2. Say Yes to everything. Especially early on in your studies and career. Use as many opportunities to learn and explore the unknown as you can. Often for women in tech, we as designers are perceived in a specific way “you are a designer, you are good at colors and materials”. But you are good at other things too - for example, I am good at technical things and can argue with engineers, or I am good at public speaking for presenting our projects - yes, yes, yes.
  3. Be a volunteer. Be seen and learn things - it will always help you to get into space, and then to stay fresh in it.
  4. You have to really advocate for the work that you think is most important to the core process, even if sometimes you have to stand up to the CEO and his asks to design a sales deck. Women in tech have to defend the space that you need to do good design work. Most of the people kind of know what it is that you do, but actually they have no idea - they think you just squeeze out magic - educating them about your process and helping them understand that it is hard work helps. The irony is that with good design people often underestimate what it took to get there. If you don’t defend yourself, the key elements of the process you did not highlight will eventually erode your reputation. Don’t let people take your design for granted - it’s your duty to educate them about the process, for them and for you.

Finding time for yourself

  1. It is important to find time for yourself and for people around you. Chances are, an incredible project can always come out of a fun dinner with a friend or a simple hobby. New skills that you learn will influence your professional growth, sometimes in unexpected ways. As a designer, exploration is a crucial part of our professional journey. Side projects and personal projects are extremely important because they help you set up a mind space for creativity.
  2. Making time for yourself can be very freeing if you start to feel obligated to be creative outside of work - expanding your creative energy sometimes is a luxury you can’t afford. To help yourself, you can start with finding time to calm your mind, through giving yourself permission to not be creative at all times. There are other things you can focus on for the sake of your own growth - like becoming better at managing difficult conversations, getting some coaching or therapy, practicing meditation or taking up a new sport.
  3. If there is something you would really like to do, make time for it - even on weekends. Do not beat yourself up if achieving consistency is challenging and your side projects last for months - personal projects are for you to be happy. They can pay you back in very unexpected ways, and sometimes long after they’ve ended. Just do your best not to give up easily and keep coming back to it.

Dealing with impostor syndrome

  1. Feeling like an impostor means you are doing something new. You are in the beginning of your learning curve. As you are entering this new territory, asking for help is not shameful - you will get help. And next thing you know - you are no longer an impostor. Cultivating a culture of comradely and help is crucial for a design-driven organization.
  2. It’s easy to feel like an impostor if you are different from other people in the room. Trusting yourself through this journey gives you an unfair advantage. Embrace your unique point of view (as women in tech, as Millenials, as a minority, and so on).

As women and minorities in a white male dominated industry, it may be tempting to only see the negative. But your outsider perspective is a strength once you learn to navigate the landscape. Have confidence in who you are and what you have to offer - and never apologize for yourself.

Thank you to the amazing Women in tech who shared their expertise with us:

Michelle Kim is Senior Product Designer @ JUUL Labs. Previously from FinTech, Healthcare, and gaming. Michelle is passionate about health, fitness, CBT, and dogs.

Phnam Bagely is an Industrial Designer. She runs an agency called Nonfiction based in SF. Her job is to turn science-fiction into reality to create a better future for all.

Maggie Connors is the Founder and CEO of besito, the world’s most beautiful cannabis vaporizer. Previously she worked in brand management at Pepsi, Starbucks, and Apple. She received her MBA from Stanford and a BA from Northwestern University and was a cannabis investor before starting besito.

Ericka Ames spent last 5 years @ Turo, currently in the Associate Creative Director role. Ericka is a multifaceted graphic designer specializing in print, identity, packaging, marketing, web, motion graphics, and UI.

Heather Gallagher is the Vice President of Product at Enklu, where she is helping to build a new digital canvas and ecosystem for the next era of creators and innovators. For 16 years prior to joining Enklu, Heather lead technology and design services for Burning Man, helping to grow an assemblage of outcast artists and creatives into a worldwide global cultural phenomenon.


How do vision and mission statements impact a company's long-term direction?

Effective vision and mission statements should ideally constitute important tools in formulating a company’s strategy. They should largely remain unchanged through the years, though a significant pivot may bring about new vision and mission statements. Together, they work to define the focus of the business and how it impacts the world. 

The vision statement is a representation of your company’s view of a better world. The mission statement reflects how it sets about to achieve this vision. They work together to create internal alignment and help with strategic decision making. When planning for the future, developing new products, or experimenting with new strategies, teams can perform a quick check against the vision and mission statements to ensure that these initiatives are aligned with the essence of the brand. 

In short, the vision and mission statements are powerful tools which can and should impact decisions across the organizations, making them important factors in a company’s long-term direction.

How does brand strategy influence the overall success of a business?

Your brand strategy reflects how your brand sees the world and its role within it. It is the framework that, ideally, should guide all your communications (both external and internal) and audience touchpoints, i.e. each interaction an audience member has with your business. 

Having standardized communication across all channels and touchpoints makes business processes smoother and positively influences your client relationships, ensuring you develop strong, long-term connections with your customers. It also simplifies strategic decision-making and aligns your team. All these factors are vital to the success of a business.

How do messaging frameworks help communicate your brand message effectively?

Messaging frameworks are structured guides that outline the core messages, value propositions, and differentiators of a brand. They ensure consistency across all communications, from marketing materials and social media posts to customer service interactions. By defining key messages that resonate with the brand's target audiences, messaging frameworks help ensure that a brand’s communications are clear and memorable. 

They also help organizations stay aligned internally and ensure that each member, regardless of their role, understands what the brand’s key message is and how to communicate it effectively. This internal alignment is crucial for presenting a unified brand image to the outside world.

What specific elements contribute to a brand's verbal identity?

A brand’s verbal identity should align your team on how your brand communicates and how this communication changes depending on the situation. It defines a specific and recognizable language through which your brand can deliver its message to your audience or audiences.

Typically, a verbal identity includes some, or all, of the following elements:

Brand personality: This captures the human traits or characteristics that your brand embodies, such as being adventurous, sophisticated, or reliable, which help shape how your brand is perceived.

Brand voice: The brand voice reflects how your brand reflects its personality across all communication channels.

Brand tone: While the brand voice remains consistent, the brand tone can change depending on the context of the message and the audience being addressed, ranging from formal and professional to informal and friendly.

Messaging frameworks: These are strategic tools that outline the key messages your brand intends to communicate to its different target audiences, ensuring that all messaging is aligned with your brand's mission, vision, and value propositions.

Messaging examples: These provide specific examples of how your brand's messaging might be applied in various scenarios.

Style and grammar guidelines: These outline your preferred spelling, grammar, and style, ensuring that your communication is consistent across the board. 

What are some key considerations when developing a tone of voice for a brand?

The first and most important consideration is the brand’s personality. While businesses are functional, they still communicate with people – and people primarily connect with stories and personas. Your brand’s personality will define a set of human characteristics which reflect how it sees itself in the world. By giving your brand these human attributes, you are making it both distinctive and easier to identify with. The tone of voice should reflect your brand’s personality.

It’s also important to consider your target market and your audience’s expectations. While having a distinctive tone of voice is important for memorability, there is such a thing as being too different. If all brands in your segment adopt a serious, professional tone, and you would like to be fun and playful, there is certainly space for that, but consider very carefully why you are doing it.


No items found.


How do brand guidelines ensure consistency in visual identity across different platforms?

Brand guidelines are a key tool for maintaining a consistent visual presentation across various platforms. These guidelines typically outline the main use cases where the brand's visual identity will appear and provide comprehensive rules and standards.

The guidelines include detailed instructions on how to use the brand’s assets, such as logos, color palettes, typography, and imagery. This ensures that anyone using these assets, whether they're designers, marketers, or external partners, can apply them correctly and consistently. 

It’s crucial that the entire team is familiar with these guidelines. It’s important to get team buy-in on the visual identity and ensure that the guidelines are easily accessible. When the whole team understands and follows the guidelines, the brand's visual identity remains unified across all touchpoints, enhancing brand recognition and trust.

How does visual identity differ across industries, and how can a brand ensure it stands out while remaining authentic?

Visual identity varies significantly across industries, shaped by both the industry norms and the unique aspects of each brand. Understanding where your brand stands in the competitive market is essential when crafting a visual identity that both stands out and remains authentic.

Industries have distinct visual trends that are often expected by consumers. For instance, financial services brands typically adopt a reserved, traditional look with a color palette dominated by blues and greys. In contrast, skincare brands often go for a lighter, more colorful approach with pastels. Being aware of these industry-specific trends is important because it helps to decide how much your brand should differentiate itself from these norms. This differentiation should be based on your audience's expectations and your brand's unique value propositions.

For example, a financial services brand that emphasizes its use of innovative technologies might choose a more digital-oriented visual language. Similarly, a skincare brand that focuses on scientific innovation might benefit from a more science-based visual language.

How does competitive benchmarking influence the development of a visual identity?

Competitive benchmarking is important in developing a brand's visual identity as it provides insights into the market environment. By examining the competition, a brand can better understand its unique value proposition and strengths. This understanding is crucial in identifying what sets the brand apart from others.

With this knowledge, a brand can lean into its unique strengths when crafting its visual language. This approach ensures that the visual identity not only looks appealing but also reinforces the brand’s distinct point of view and competitive edge.

What are the key considerations when creating visual concepts for a brand?

The visual identity of a brand should quickly and clearly reflect its strategic positioning. Designers begin the process of creating visual concepts by immersing themselves in the brand’s strategy to extract key narrative themes. These themes are then translated into a visual language that employs both emotional and aesthetic elements to communicate the brand's messages. This translation is crucial as it shapes how the audience perceives and interacts with the brand.

When developing visual concepts, it's important to make sure they align with the brand's strategy and fit well within the competitive landscape: demonstrating key differentiators, but still fitting into the industry at large. The visuals should also be suitable for the mediums they will be used in. Whether for digital, print, or physical applications, the choice of medium can greatly influence how the visual concepts are designed.

How does visual identity contribute to brand recognition and trustworthiness?

Visual identity is key to boosting brand recognition and trustworthiness, especially in busy markets. When a company maintains a consistent visual brand across different platforms, it becomes easier for customers to recognize and remember it. This consistency is crucial for standing out among competitors.

Having a consistent visual identity also shows professionalism and attention to detail. These qualities make customers more likely to trust a brand. When a brand looks the same across all touchpoints, from websites to products and ads, it tells customers the brand is reliable and serious. This builds trust and makes customers more likely to pick this brand over others that may not look as professional or consistent.


What are the advantages of having a well-designed and user-friendly website for a business?

The business landscape has changed dramatically since the pandemic. Now, your digital footprint is definitely at the center of most business growth strategies. A well-designed website allows companies to connect with users in an effective manner, ensure customer loyalty, and expand business - among other benefits.

Website design is the key ingredient to digital success, alongside well-functioning SEO tools, connected backend, and user-friendly strategy. A user-friendly website for your business will:

  • Increase user engagement and conversion rates
  • Improve SEO and searchability of your business
  • Improve retention rates
  • Make your business more credible while making your brand more memorable
How does the design of a website impact its accessibility to users, including those with disabilities?

In website design, "accessibility" refers to whether a site is designed in a way that is inclusive and usable by everyone, regardless of their physical or cognitive abilities. 

This may include important site characteristics such as text-to-speech functionality, video captions, alternative text tags for images, enhanced with good design practices of intuitive navigation, straightforward copy. and others. Accessibility is integral to website performance and user experience.

How can businesses ensure consistency and credibility across their website, brand, and marketing materials?

To achieve consistency and credibility across all your collateral, you need to ensure that the brand message - both verbal and visual - is compliant with your brand guidelines. This can include:

  • Using the correct tone of voice principles across all communication channels to differentiate your brand personality

  • Communicating consistent messaging and key differentiators on all platforms

  • Ensuring that key visual elements (logo, color palette, typography, imagery) on your website, marketing, and sales materials are aligned with each other

What are some common pitfalls to avoid when designing and developing a business website?

According to a 2024 web statistics report, a staggering 75% of business credibility is attributed to various web design decisions. In order to improve your website’s trustworthiness, avoid the following common design mistakes:

  • Not prioritizing accessibility: One of the biggest design mistakes out there is overlooking web accessibility principles on your website.

  • Not investing in responsive design and customization: With the majority of global traffic coming from mobile and tablet devices, lack of responsive design and customization can break a business.
  • Prioritizing aesthetics over function: Compromising user experience in favor of flashy aesthetics will dilute your brand message and user journey to the required call to action.

  • Lacking clarity in messaging and navigation: Clear navigation and messaging will reduce the friction users may experience when landing on your site as they are trying to get a clear picture of what your business is.
How does website copywriting contribute to user engagement and conversion, and what role does SEO play in this?

The goal of web copywriting is to guide your users through their web journey while providing information, engaging with and converting them into buyers. Each section of your site shapes the visitor perception about your brand and affects their buying decisions. 

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is a practice of creating engaging and persuasive content that not only appeals to your users, but also incorporates relevant keywords and techniques to attract organic traffic to your site.

To start writing SEO-friendly copy for your site, you can:

  • Manually conduct keyword research by checking what competitors are ranking for
  • Use SEO software like SEMRush to investigate new keyword opportunities
  • Make sure to review keywords frequently as their popularity changes often and you want to keep ranking for competitive terms.

Get in touch

Inspired? We’d love to connect and explore ways to collaborate.