Designing Woman: 4 Lessons from IDEO Designer Miki Heller

When we are young, many of us have dreams of becoming an astronaut and exploring space. Miki Heller followed that galactic path throughout college, studying aerospace engineering before becoming a business designer in Silicon Valley.

After college, she joined Teach For America (TFA), inspired by the opportunity to have an impact on young children’s lives. From this experience, she learned that she loved education, but wanted to approach it from outside the classroom, so she went on to Harvard for a joint degree in business (MBA) and public policy (MPP). She went back to TFA as a Director of Strategy, launching a new program focusing on after school programs. These diverse experiences led her to become a business designer at IDEO, a global design and innovation company. Though she knew nothing about design going into the job, she knew it would be a great learning opportunity at a company with a strongly-held culture focused on its employees.

No two days are alike for her, but the biggest theme is that days are very collaborative in nature. They’re spent sitting with team members in a circle in collaborative discussion. At the beginning of a project, there’s a lot to be learned about the task at hand, so the team does in-person user interviews to understand their clients’ world. After this needfinding process, they move to brainstorming and ideation days, where they generate as many ideas as possible. Finally, they build rough prototypes to test the solution with users, and based on the feedback they receive, they repeat the cycle.

Her diverse professional journey has taught her some amazing life lessons. Here are four of her favorites.

  1. Be opportunistic. Planning your entire life is overrated. I never would have ended up where I am if I had followed my five-year life plan. I’ve found that the most valuable learning and experiences come from taking advantage of diverse opportunities and doing the things that seem exciting to you.
  2. Become a good storyteller. No matter what industry you’re in, it pays to be a good storyteller. Whether your clients are companies, individuals, or even your coworkers, explaining ideas in a way that resonates with people is an extremely valuable skill.
  3. Be generative. A lot of times we’re primed to ask one question and give one answer. While quality over quantity is definitely important and valid, sometimes you need the quantity to find the idea of quality!
  4. Be comfortable with not knowing. A lot of times we feel like we need to know all the answers, so we just take the best guess we can make at the time and go with it. Throughout my professional journey, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of becoming comfortable with saying “I don’t know, let’s figure it out together.” Life is a learning process, so by embracing not knowing, we are embracing learning.

When she’s not innovating with her team, she loves to spend time with her pets and watch TV (some of her favorite shows include It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Rick and Morty).

Contributor: Megha Keshav

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