August 17, 2016
An Interview with Liz Magura
Liz Magura is a native Phoenician. One of the few, perhaps? With an undergraduate degree from Loyola Marymount University and a lifetime of swimming under her belt, Liz has a knack for being resourceful, looking at the bigger picture, striving to solve problems on the daily, oh, and bringing a smile to a meeting or two. She strives to create engaging user experiences and visual design is her expertise. Her experiences extend across many verticals and brands including the Phoenix Suns, Aetna, Ryland Homes, PGi, LOCTITE, Valley of the Sun United Way, and most recently, University of Phoenix. Liz is going into her second term as President of AIGA AZ and is a member of the Phoenix Design Week planning committee. When she isn’t living and breathing design or managing projects and teams, she enjoys spending time with family, friends, her boxer pups, traveling, gardening, country music—live concerts at that—or enjoying a nice glass of champagne.
Monomyth Studio: So, you recently changed jobs, and we’re curious, what are you doing now?
Liz Magura: Yes, I did! I am a Senior UX/UI Design lead with University of Phoenix. The position is really unique in the sense that they’ve been without a UX team for a small amount of time and are now beginning to implement this design practice back into the organization. The cool thing about working in this type of industry is the chance to improve the experience for students—helping them navigate through applications and websites in simplified ways. Not to mention the building I work in has a brand new UX Lab where we have the ability to do all kinds of studies to validate designs we’ve created or that are currently in use. Score!
I also have the chance to lead a small team, work closely with UX researchers, product managers—overall, an entirely new experience. I’m looking forward to getting my hands far into the products and experiences that are in place and helping to design new ones through the summer.
A lot of your work is focused on UX/UI work. What about this facet of design interests you?
I think this sums up my interest nicely:
“Never forget the WHY: why you’re designing this product, why people will use it, why you made the design decisions you did. Document the Why. Explain it to whomever will listen. Put it in your wireframes and in presentations. The Why should drive everything, because it’s what gives the product meaning, a story, a theme.” – Dan Saffer, VP of Product at Mayfield Robotics; designer and author
I think ultimately my drive to focus on UX/UI design comes from the desire of wanting people to have great experiences. Functionality is the key to great design. If the beauty of the design trumps the functionality of the design, chances are you will end up with a frustrated user. I want to know their pain points and how we can make them better, with their help. Through my career I have become more of a people person: I enjoy entertaining guests at my home, going to dinner, happy hour, parties, festivals. I have a way of connecting with people and making them feel welcome. I think this plays into my outlook as a UX/UI designer.
We can only imagine how much work it is to be the president of AIGA AZ. Why is it important to you to volunteer your time in this way?
Oh, gosh. Well, I’ll have to tell you my journey of AIGA for it to all come together. So here we go!
I started as a member of the Los Angeles chapter when I was in college at LMU. One of my professors pretty much ingrained it into my head that this was something that all of us design students should join and be a member of. I attended maybe one or two events throughout the two years that I was a member of the LA chapter, only because of how intimidating the design scene was. I may not have been as much of an extrovert during those years, as well.
Once I moved home to Phoenix after graduating from LMU, I was doing my best to reach out to anyone and everyone I could to get some sort of design job or internship. Through that process, I also made sure to follow AIGA AZ and keep up with what the chapter was doing.
I think it was within the first year that I was living back home at my parents’ house that I’d noticed a call for board volunteers with AIGA AZ. I can’t specifically remember if it was on Facebook or if I’d signed up for the e-newsletters, but regardless I reached out to see what joining might take. I emailed expressing interest, sent my resume along (boy was it short) and I remember Jim Nissen interviewing me for a programming chair position—what my design experience was, why I wanted to join the board. It was definitely intimidating, but I made sure to speak strongly and attempted to remain enthusiastic (which wasn’t hard) about Jim inviting me on board. And here we are, going into my 7th year on the board. How crazy is that?!
So why is it important that I volunteer my time and currently serve as president? I may not have known this when I joined the board back in 2009, but now that I’ve come this far, I can see it more clearly now. Design has a loud voice in pretty much every aspect of what we do in life. As a designer and leader, it’s my duty, responsibility, and honor to lead our design community as president. What a lot of people may forget is that AIGA is a national organization—there are connections that can be made beyond your local chapter and that’s pretty darn cool! There is a whole network of people that you can reach out to and pick their brains about anything—design, experiences, the good companies to work for, the most frustrating part of financing for a freelance business, client mishap stories—the list goes on and on. With technology at our fingertips these days, Slack for one, we can ask someone a question 3,000 miles away who will respond in a matter of seconds. And now you have a conversation happening and quite shortly thereafter, a new Facebook friend or Instagram follower.
Overall, my role as president is to empower others, especially those on the current board. Ideas don’t need to come from presidents and vice presidents, decisions don’t need to be made by presidents and vice presidents. I’m not a dictator, but a cheerleader and supporter. Helping each board member make their own decisions and providing guidance when it’s most needed. It’s always the team that makes the president role rewarding.
What do you see as the biggest need for the Phoenix design community? What would you love to see?
That’s a hard one. I think the best thing to see is people believing in the design community that’s here. I think continuing to spread the passion, noticing the fun, the ability to build meaningful relationships, the constant desire to showcase talent—all of those things play into our design community being great and continuing to be great. It’s interviews like you all are doing to showcase the talent we have right in front of us. So for that, thank you!
Maybe one of the things that always sticks out is how last minute our community seems about things. I’m curious why that is. Work and life always get in the way, but is there a time when we can just commit to something and make sure we’re there? Perhaps we need more confidence? I know we have a great support system within our design community, but maybe we need to hold each other more accountable.
How do you manage your time between your full-time job, side projects, and being the president of AIGA AZ?
I have always been a busy person and have enjoyed being involved in every which way, whatever the thing might be. It can make me insane sometimes and I can occasionally feel like I’m in over my head. Being an athlete for most of my life has taught me a lot of what it means to manage my time, work efficiently, and strive to be a better person. I think the discipline of being an athlete has helped me lead my career, pushed me to continue to learn, granted me heightened experiences and always reminded me to be the best that I can be. So I thank my parents for that!
A lot of the time, I attempt to prioritize, but sometimes, I might be feeling the need to do one thing over the other.
Dedicating the early years of my career to all of these things can only help me in the long run. There are so many people within our community that have way more things in their lives to manage and that’s entirely more impressive.
What has your experience been like as a woman, being such a prominent community figure in a male-dominated industry?
Being a woman can definitely have its challenges, but I feel like I’ve learned to rise up and embrace it. I’ve worked with many talented women and men, and it’s hard to really ever feel like men dominate this industry any longer. Perhaps their voices become a bit louder in a conference room. I remember my mom saying to “speak up!” throughout my younger years, and it’s definitely applied to my life.
We have a new Executive Director of AIGA who’s a woman and the current president of AIGA is a woman. I’d say there are some pretty great figures in the industry right now that solidify this shift and create confidence in women rising in the industry.
What does Phoenix, as a city, have to offer its design community that is unique?
Phoenix has a lot to offer. There are these statistics out there that college kids, here, graduate and move away to get experiences in places like LA and NYC. Don’t get me wrong, I love both of those cities, but when it comes to feeling at home, making connections, having great job opportunities available, and getting valuable experiences for life and design, Phoenix has those things. We somehow are able to uncover these unique aspects that make up the design community and it continues to thrive and get better each year, simply by the people who make this place what it is. Sometimes you just have to put yourself in the mindset that this IS a place for you. Make Phoenix your home and create in it the life that you want. You have to do this anywhere anyways, why not do it here?