How To Design Your Life with Mona Patel
Missed the 2017 Conference? Watch this interview with our 2017 Keynote speaker, Mona Patel, by Gerard Adams.
Mona Patel: If I really think about it and I really reflect on whether it’s the app that I’m building or the person I’m mentoring or the time I’m spending this afternoon, do I feel good about what I just did? For me, that’s always led me well. Maybe not always in money, but in the richness that I want to have in my life before I die.
Gerard Adams: I love that.
Mona Patel: It’s not all money. Then that leads to money.
Gerard Adams: I love it.
Mona Patel: It always leads to money for me. It’s crazy. Every time I try to do something for money, I fall.
Gerard Adams: [crosstalk 00:00:28].
Mona Patel: Every time I’m like, “Let me help. Here’s all my stuff,” it’s like, oh, here’s the person on the plane giving me a project for a quarter million dollars.
Gerard Adams: Wow. Check it out, guys. Episode 12, Leaders Create Leaders. In this episode, we’re going to be meeting up with Mona Patel, the solo founder and CEO of Motivate Design. This is a company that represents over 2,000 designers across the world, and Mona herself has been a UX designer, an expert in the field for over 18 years. She’s also a professor at the Parsons Design School, and she’s a best-selling author, and she’s just an all out badass.
But she’s going to get into her back story and talk a little bit about her culture and how growing up, she actually was in a really tough position where they didn’t allow females to be put first. In fact, when I was reading her book, she tells a story how when she was growing up, she was eating ice cream on the couch next to her brother, and her grandmother came up and literally took the ice cream right from her and gave it to her brother. We’re going to talk about her culture and her back story before we get into how she became one of the most renowned UX designers in the world.
Mona Patel: I am Indian, and in … I don’t want to blame culture, but in the culture where I grew up, it’s borderline illegal to put yourself first as a woman. Your job is to serve. Your job is to make food, serve food, pick up the dishes, make the dishes, raise your kids. The guys go make money and the girls stay home. This is extended family. My parents are different, but not because they were born different, because they had a really annoying daughter who made them different.
Growing up that way, you’re not supposed to put yourself first, so the amount of guilt I had to deal with around I’m going to prioritize myself was … That hill was so high for me to climb. I didn’t even know, is it left, right, right, left, or do I stumble up? How do I get up that hill, because in cellular structure, in me, I didn’t have that ability quite yet to put myself first, to say, “This is what I want, and everybody else stand in line,” or not. I didn’t have the confidence, and so that was a huge … It unraveled slowly, but last year was where it all hit, really, really powerful, but you come out on the other side of that. There’s no fog, there’s no hill. Now you’re just like, “This is amazing.”
Gerard Adams: Just for the audience, what is UI/UX?
Mona Patel: I know. A lot of people think of UX as UI. If you’re on an app or you’re on a website, everything you see is a user interface. That’s what UI stands for. A lot of people think of UI designers as people who design that. It gets confused with visual design, but really, it’s about what do you put where so that people can get to where they want to go? If you think of our job in a simple form, we’re building roads. You have a person at point A. You want to get them to point B. How do I design the screens that will get them from point A to point B?
UX takes it up a level. It’s about the experience that you want people to have. You have a person at point A. You have the goal, which is point B. How do I get you to want to go there? I can design as many screens as I want. I can make it simple, I can make it easy, I can make it efficient, but if you don’t want to go there, if you’re not persuaded to go there, then you’re not going to. There’s no emotional connection. So user experience is about understanding this person’s mindset, and when you build the road, build the right road and get the person from point A to point B, not because you want them to go there, but because they want to go there.
Gerard Adams: Right.
Mona Patel: If I can simplify it in terms of what I do, that’s been it.
Gerard Adams: Oh, wow.
Mona Patel: It’s having this humility around I can’t make anybody do anything they don’t want to do, but what I can do is design screens that make it simple and design experiences that tap into basic human needs so that they want to.
Gerard Adams: How did you find this? How did you find this passion? How did you find this craft? Did you always look at yourself as a designer growing up?
Mona Patel: No. No, and you’re going to hear a theme, I think, from me of stumbling upon things and then just having my eyes open enough to know something cool has come into my life.
I got into UI/UX. I stumbled upon it, because I was in college, and I knew I wanted to do psychology. I had taken some bio classes. My dad’s a doctor, and he was like, “You’re going to be a doctor.” I took some bio classes. I was like, “No. I’m not going to be a doctor. That’s disgusting.” So I took psych classes. I was really, really excited about learning what drives people. What motivates them, what keeps them moving. A little bit too chicken to tell my dad I was going to be a psychologist, so I found this engineering psychology combo, and the engineering is on the Indian side. It’s like a check. It counts as one of the things you’re allowed to be. On the psychology side, it’s what I actually wanted to do. It was amazing. We were redesigning vacuum cleaners and redesigning dental floss and really getting to the heart of how do you observe people, see what the problem is, and then design cool stuff?
I didn’t realize how creative I was until then, when I had to come up with a new vacuum cleaner, I had to come up with a new … There was a new wheelchair, I remember, a new digital camera before it launched. It was so fun. I could instinctively know this is what I should be doing. That’s the thing that I think people are scared of paying attention to. I still remember the conversation with my dad. I still remember telling him, “This is what I want to do.” I remember coming out of college and being nervous about a job market, because everyone was going to bio and chemistry and I was this engineering psychologist. Where do I go to get a job? But I knew that’s what I needed to be doing, and then I just got good at it. I think it was that humility, that perspective around, “Oh, I’m just creating a road.” I’m not taking my idea and trying to sell people on it. That got me going up in the field.
Then in 2009, I wanted to do it for myself. That was as simple as it could be. I had come up with a lot of ideas, and I realized that I was scared of following through on my own ideas. It had nothing to do with the place that I worked with. Everything was great, but I was missing something. I wanted to own a part of my future growth, and so without a plan, I basically quit, started a consulting practice of one, and then the work just kept growing, and the way that we do it and having this perspective and all the cool ways that we simplified UI/UX so that anybody can access it, that’s what kept going and turned me into an entrepreneur from a UI/UX person. It took a lot of strength to do that. I remember my designers just changed the title to CEO. I was like, “What are you doing? I’m a UX strategist.” They changed it, and they said, “You’re not anymore. At this point, we have 14 people here. Somebody has to run the company. That’s what you do.”
Gerard Adams: Wow.
Mona Patel: It was stumbled upon, stumbled upon. I was totally chicken. That’s what led to the book. That’s what led to all of my passion around God, if you just stop being a chicken, how much you can accomplish.
Gerard Adams: One thing that I actually learned from Mona was how to reframe your mindset by asking the right questions. Now, I’ve always been a problem-solver, that you’re never going to be able to truly, truly move forward unless you really become solution-oriented. It was really interesting to understand how Mona discusses how to use the right words and questions in order for you to reframe that mindset. For instance, instead of saying, “What if I can’t?” she switched that question to, “What if I don’t?” Then by doing that, you take a problem and turn it into an opportunity.
All right. I have a question for you. What is a word that you hate?
Mona Patel: It’s an easy one for me. Can’t. Can’t is a word that I hate. Again, back to my upbringing. I was told so many times, “No. You can’t do that.” I think that’s what brought out the toughness that is in me now that I use to be an entrepreneur. I think we say it too much to kids. I think we say it too much to our team.
I’m actually working on a children’s book of an elephant that goes to a playground. She loves to play. She sits on the swing. She breaks the swing, and so she feels bad, and then she’s like, “I’m going to redesign the swing.” So she asks all these what if questions, like, “What if it has temperature control,” and, “What if it makes fart noises?” She goes off, and there’s this skunk the entire time who’s like, “We can’t do that. That’s not in the budget. We can’t do that. That’s not in scope.” It’s in kid language, but essentially that’s what the skunk is saying. The point is not to live your life in black and white like the skunk, but to remember that ideas and the world opens up when you’re just in full color. So don’t say can’t. That’s a big rule in our house, but it’s … I’m allergic to that word.
Gerard Adams: I love that. I love that. Do what you can.
Mona Patel: Do what you can. I love it.
Gerard Adams: Yeah. Even after 18 years of becoming this design expert, Mona’s … Her book is unbelievable. She really killed it on her TEDx talk. She got to a point where she really didn’t feel fulfilled inside, and she talks a little bit about how after a whole year thinking everything was great, and the next thing you know, she looked at her bank account, and the business was really sinking. This really gave her the opportunity to rethink about where she was at in her life, and I think we all go through this at different points. This goes into really finding your why. I’ve talked about this a lot of times, how important it is for you to truly, truly find your why in life, and Mona did that. And by really figuring that out and digging deep and figuring out what really drives her, she now is killing it more than ever before.
Mona Patel: I love when, especially mentoring, when you spend time with somebody, and there’s that light bulb that goes off, and you see that they are going to change the entire trajectory of their life as a result of that thing that you said. That … I am so addicted to that. I am so addicted, so I’ll do it on big stages. I’ll do it with big clients. I’ll teach my team to do it, but I try to make sure that that is happening at least weekly, ideally daily. That is why I’m here. I know that’s why I’m here. There’s this really awesome feeling around serving someone else. That leads to the power and the money and all that stuff. That came after.
Gerard Adams: We’re on the same [inaudible 00:11:46], girl.
Guys, hopefully you took a lot from this episode on why UX is so important for your business, and also personally, how are you designing your life? How are you reframing your mindset and asking yourself the right questions to take your problems and turn them into opportunities?
So another episode of LCL. Thank you guys for watching. Make sure to comment. Make sure to subscribe. Share this with your friends. We appreciate it. Let us know if there’s anybody else you want to add to the show. It’s your boy, G.A. Peace.[inaudible 00:12:32] have the mindset of you’re wrong.
Mona Patel: Yes.
Gerard Adams: Like go and figure it out.
Mona Patel: I love that. I love that. To push all the way against what am I missing, even, and that could be a more humble way to take it. I’m at the airport to figure out what am I missing. I’m not leaving this airport until I figure out what am I missing? It keeps you in a powerful state. It tells you what you’re trying to do, and then when you accomplish it, you go home. If you figure it out in the first five minutes, go home.
Gerard Adams: Yes.
Mona Patel: You don’t need to stay there forever, but if you did not figure it out in three days, don’t get frustrated. You’re on a mission to figure out what are you missing. That’s the curiosity. I want to know what I’m missing. I’m here to know what I’m missing, and I’m not going to presume or assume that I know enough about your life that I can design. Some of the first questions I asked, even, were, “How many people have you talked to, and how did you talk to them?” If you sent a 2,000-person survey, do you know your customer? Can you represent them?
If you’ve done a lot of research, you can put yourself in the user’s shoes, but most of the time, you haven’t. You don’t really know what their life is like. You don’t really know where their pain point is. Once you resolve one, there’s another one that emerges. It’s like when you get a massage. You get one side[inaudible 00:13:43], and then the other side starts hurting. So to constantly stay in their life? Of course, I’m biased on this, but I find it so fascinating to do. I could do it all day, because you get all these really awesome sparks of insight that keep your product moving forward. They give you new ideas. Yeah.
Gerard Adams: I think it was Steve Jobs who said that … The same way that you mentioned that you never got the product right the first time … that a great product is never finished.
Mona Patel: Yeah, right.
Gerard Adams: It’s interesting, because I always feel that way. With Elite Daily, it was like … If you looked at the launch of Elite Daily, it looked like what it was, a bunch of young people who didn’t really know how to build a website, built it on their own, WordPress. It just was … And learned. Learned as you went, listened to what people like, what they didn’t like, observe. Started to make iterations, V2, V3, V4. Started to understand our data, then, and continuing to grow it and to iterate it and to …
Mona Patel: Love it. Love it.
Gerard Adams: … add new features to it and test new things. Some things worked. We launched our app. It didn’t really work well. We changed that. The same thing with Founders. I’m going through that, and slowly but surely having that patience of like, hey, we’re not going to perfect this. There’s a lot that’s happening. There’s a lot of disruption happening in the marketplace, but you know what? Let’s create the culture. Let’s actually provide the resources. Let’s give the education, and then let’s find out what these entrepreneurs really need and what their pain points really are.
Mona Patel: Love it. Yeah. I love it.
Gerard Adams: I guess I would ask you … I guess for the entrepreneurs out there that … I guess they struggle with never knowing, are they headed in the right direction? What would you say to the entrepreneurs that don’t have that confidence just yet. They’re just getting going. It’s like … To understand that they’re heading in the right direction. Do you have a set of questions that you ask? How do you know?