Charged Chats are a series of interviews featuring inspiring voices from the pros. What motivates them, what inspires them, and what can we take away from their stories to charge ourselves up.
Davis Neable is a design leader, mom and air guitar virtuoso living Waterloo, Ontario. She currently heads up a design team at Manulife, focused on creating simple and elegant financial experiences. In previous lives she’s consulted to companies big and small, established the UX Team at Shopify Plus, was a product designer at a travel start-up, and held a number of positions at IBM including the incredibly lofting title of Usability Practitioner; needless to say, she’s come a long way from her Kinesiology degree.
Tell us about your career path. How did you get to where you are now?
The line between two points is rarely a straight one, and my career path is no exception. When I started my undergrad, I was pretty convinced that I was going to be physiotherapist, but I’m ever to grateful for being in co-op, as my first placement taught me that was exactly what I was not meant to do. From there, I turned to ergonomics, which is designing physical spaces for humans; while I loved the problem solving and design pieces, working on engineering lines wasn’t for me. And then in my last co-op term I landed a position doing what was at the time called, “cognitive ergonomics” (today, we just call that human-computer interaction) and I was hooked! Since then I’ve worked in a number of roles within the UX space, as both an individual contributor and a leader, and had the opportunity to do it in California, England, the west coast of Canada and now in Ontario. Having a variety of experiences, for companies of all sizes, has been incredible learning. Change really is the only constant, so being open to new opportunities as both I and the technology landscape have changed keeps me challenged and fulfilled.
Describe your current role?
Manulife is going through an incredible transformation from a financial services company to a digital company in the financial services industry. Within the last few years alone, we’ve gone from paper processes, like requiring our customers to mail in their health expenses, to having the number one mobile banking app in Canada. It is such an exciting and inspiring place to be! I am a design leader in our Canadian division, guiding and supporting both product and systems teams. Practically that looks like a little of business strategy, design evangelism, design operations, people management, workshop facilitation and a whole lotta sticky notes.
How do you stay motivated when you’re going through a rough patch?
Over my career, I have learned the hard way that doubling down and pushing through is never a good response. Rather, taking the time to pause and reflect will be more impactful as rough patches can be a sign that the universe is trying to tell us something. They usually start out as whispers – off days or unproductive conversations – and then if we don’t give ourselves the time to explore why we’re feeling this way, the signs get louder and more consequential – maybe a failed project or even being fired. As I mentioned before, the only constant is change; we are always changing whether we’re aware of it or not. Given this, it only stands to reason that how we provide value in our roles will change, too. We need to give ourselves the space to continually check in and see if we’re still having impact in a way that aligns with our values and if we aren’t, how we might go about addressing that. On a very micro level, working harder rarely pays off, but going to the gym always does. Those magical endorphins pumping through my blood inevitably leaves me feeling energized and empowered to go back to the task at hand.
Take the time to invest in getting to know yourself and let that be your guide.
Do you have any words of wisdom for anyone looking to follow in a similar career path?
You can do this! Actually, spoiler alert – you’re already doing it. Every day, we are creating and shaping experiences for each other, for our families, for our colleagues — and probably are already shaping your product’s experience in some way. Every time we answer a support call, update the website, tweak a workflow — all of these affect some point along the user’s journey. So now that you realize you’re already in a place of influence (woot!), the next steps are keeping curious about your user, passionate about change, and resilient to the challenges of growth. You got this!
Best piece of advice you’ve received?
Before anything, find yourself, be yourself and love yourself. Especially when we are just starting out in our careers, it is so easy to get swept up in the race, the chase for that perfect job and to look to our peers to know what that is. However, this approach will never lead to good outcomes. What’s right for someone else may not be what’s right for you. Finding that next perfect job might be about the people, or it might be about the mission or even about the pay. And they are all equally right answers because they are right for you. Take the time to invest in getting to know yourself and let that be your guide.