Q&A with Treasure Brown on UX, Impact and Design

A conversation with interaction designer Treasure Brown on how she got her start in UX, what trends she sees in terms of DE&I within the design industry landscape, and why she’s always been driven by impact work.
Sydney Morrison

Treasure Brown joined frog a little over 6 months ago, and despite starting at the height of lockdowns and a global pandemic, she has made herself right at home in frog’s new virtual, global studio.

I spoke with Treasure over video chat about how she got her start in the world of UX and experience design, her journey through biomedical engineering, web design and advertising, and what drives her most as a designer. Aside from using design to solve everyday problems big and small, Treasure loves to sing and read tarot—that is when she’s not recording her own industry-focused podcast The Creative Block 

Sydney Morrison: Tell us a bit about yourself and your role at frog. 

Treasure Brown: I am an interaction designer based in the frog Austin Studio. I learned about frog a few years ago from a previous New York intern who spoke so highly of her time here—she had so much enthusiasm for the work and really loved the company, so I decided to check it out. I was really in awe of all the work that was being done. I remember discovering the Yona project, and just being so impressed that this team was trying to solve a problem like re-designing the speculum. So, I made it my mission to come work here.

Then I met someone from the Talent Acquisition team at a conference called “Where are the Black Designers,” and I kind of just cold emailed her. I told her how my values aligned with the company and what I felt I could bring to the role and she got back to me! The rest was history!

SM: You mentioned that you finished your graduate school program recently. What were you studying? Where did you go and what was that process like? 

TB: I went to a program called VCU Brand Center, which is connected to Virginia Commonwealth University and they are really known for their foothold in the advertising industry, but I studied experience design, which was kind of natural for me because of my past experience in web design.

SM: How did you make the shift from web design to experience design? 

TB: I actually started out wanting to be biomedical engineer, but I ended up studying visual communication, technology and marketing in undergrad, which is where I really learned about web design and coding. I had a professor there named Dr. Jerry Schnepp, who had created a sign language interface for the internet, which I thought was super cool. And then I ended up doing my senior project with him—we did a study on the usability of touchscreen prototypes. That was really my first taste of experience design. Then after graduating, I took a little break from it and worked in digital marketing, but I always just felt called back to it, because I wanted to help people in a way that wasn’t like being a doctor or a lawyer, but more in a creative capacity.  

SM: That’s super interesting, my background is also in biology and visual art, which also combines the creative, strategic and analytic. I’m interested to know how you discovered design as a field? 

TB: So, as you probably know, design in our community is not something that’s seen as like, a lucrative career. It wasn’t something that I was introduced to at a young age, it was something that I really had to kind of dig through the weeds to find. I’ve always been creative. My dad, he built computers, and my mom, she’s like, super crafty. So creativity and technology were always in my household 

SM: Now that you’re working in design, what are some of the biggest misconceptions about it as an industry or field? 

TB: Prior to becoming a designer, I think the industry felt really gate-kept, in a way. I don’t think people really understand what design is or what designers do. From the outside looking in, I think the biggest misconception is that designers just make things pretty—and honestly, up until a year or two ago, I thought the same thing. But I’ve since discovered that design is really all about problem solving.  

SM: When we think about design as solving problems, how do you use design in your everyday life? What’s most inspiring to you about design as a tool for problem solving?   

TB: Design, for me, is a way to create things in the world—to solve for people’s everyday problems and to make life a little easier. But I’m a huge advocate that design is everywhere—it exists in everything. Take parents for example, they may not consider themselves to be designers, but they end up inadvertently creating rituals to support their families and they constantly solve for everyday problems, like preparing dinner, cleaning up, or organizing a household. They are designers because they are making it easier for their families to navigate life. This is a form of design that people don’t necessarily consider to be design in the traditional sense. There are so many other examples of this—like teachers, doctors, creatives. Whenever you are providing a solution to a problem, you are a designer. You may not consider it, but I call it design.

“I’m a huge advocate that design is everywhere—it exists in everything.”

SM: I think it’s true that people are designing every day—it may not be web design, per se, but it’s still essentially using different strategies to solve problems. Given that the design industry can be somewhat exclusive or closed-off to some, what would you like to see change most in the design field in terms of accessibility and education?

TB: That’s a packed question! So, of course, first, you have the pipeline problem that exists in the design industry. Talent mostly comes from the same few renowned schools or institutions, but there are people who exist and that are innovative in their own way that maybe don’t have a design degree—or at least not one from the fancy schools. So I would love to see people being able to harness their creativity and be able to bring that into the industry.

“We are pushing the needle on diversity, however, we’re lacking on the inclusion part.”

Secondly what I’ve seen more and more is that we are pushing the needle on diversity, however, we’re lacking on the inclusion part. So, we’ve made room in these spaces, but then people have to bend and conform to fit in it, rather than making room for those people to feel comfortable enough to create freely. It’s not just design, it’s something I’ve seen in advertising, in the medical fields, everywhere. It’s like, you can come in, but we’re not going to make it comfortable for you to be here. So you’re going to want to leave. I think that’s something that has to change in order for people like me and you to stay. We have to make room and we have to allow people to feel comfortable enough to share their ideas.

SM: What are some of the most exciting programs you’ve been able to work on at frog?

TB: I’ve learned so much, I don’t even know where to begin! But I will say my first program was to create a connected medical device and I was extremely excited to work on it because the capstone I did for my master’s, was based on developing connected wearables for pregnant women. During that time, I did a lot of research on the inequity of care, where Black women are up to 11 times more likely to die during childbirth than other women. To be able to work on something that was similar was really exciting for me because I was able to take my knowledge and research that I had done in the past, apply it to a real-world problem, and actually see it come to life.

I’ve also learned a lot about the design process, as before it was always just me, you know, doing what I do. But in working with a team I’ve gotten a lot more structure within my process, which is weird to say because frog is not really a “structured” place, but I feel like I’m growing as a designer here.

SM: Have you hit any major challenges yet?  

TB: I think one of the biggest challenges that I personally struggle with is just having the confidence to not feel like an imposter. It’s always looming. But I know I have to just be myself and trust myself. I think it’s also really helpful to speak up and be open and honest with people about what’s going on. Being honest with people helped me feel more confident in what I was doing. Because it’s like, everybody goes through it—but girl, you got this!  

SM: You have a podcast about human centered design and how it can be applied to unconventional scenarios. I loved the recent episode where you talk about applying UX frameworks to romantic relationships. What inspired you to want to create a podcast addressing these everyday design challenges?  

TB: The Creative Block podcast started as the Justice podcast a little over a year ago with two of my classmates, Danielle Scott-Patxot and Jeremy Stokes. We came together to create thought leadership for our master’s thesis project. A through-line in our project revolved around empathy, so our podcast actually did not start with human-centered design, it was originally going to be a podcast about understanding and learning empathy, and how that applies to different problems in the world. We recorded a few episodes, and then realized that there were not many voices like ours in the podcast space, having the same types of conversations from the perspective of Black and brown creatives. So we continued to do it, and we’re in our fourth season now. As we continued to develop the podcast, we decided that we were going to take a new approach and really try to infuse more everyday topics into our content to make it more relatable to those people who may not be UX designers or may not even consider themselves designers or creatives at all. It’s been great to see how design influences your everyday life.

SM: What advice do you have for people looking to enter the design field?  

TB: My first piece of advice for people looking to get into design is that relationships are huge. The design world seems big, but it’s actually not that big. It’s important to create genuine relationships with people and create genuine connections. I’ve gotten to meet and collaborate with some of the most creative and amazing people that I probably would have never gotten to cross paths with.

Second: Do your research! Tons of people reach out to me and ask how I got my start in UX, and I always tell them, there are tons of disciplines under the UX umbrella. It’s very important that you know what type of work you want to do, because that’ll make all the difference when you’re looking at different companies to work for or different projects to freelance on. I knew I wanted to create impactful work, so I looked at companies that did that work. I was drawn to frog, for instance, because it was one of those companies that really pushes the needle on innovation and always has people at the center of what they do. For me, when I work on a project, I want to know that it will influence society in a way that makes it better and pushes it forward rather than just being cool or only for entertainment’s sake; real impact is what matters to me.

For more resources on UX and design, check out more of Treasure’s recs:  

The UX collective on medium does an amazing job of breaking down new emerging tech, and all sorts of things that relate to UX.  

Podcastsincluding The Creative Block by Treasure & co, and The UI Narrative by Tolu Ajayi, who is also amazing at breaking down different disciplines under the UX umbrella, and different applications of frameworks and methodologies.  

@Ollyandfranc is a duo from the UK on Instagram who provides tons of resources for new designers or people looking to get into design.  

Authors
Sydney Morrison
Business Development Associate, frogNY
Sydney Morrison
Sydney Morrison
Business Development Associate, frogNY

As a Business Development Associate, Sydney applies design thinking to complex business challenges. Through strategy, marketing, communications, and analytics she is able to uncover unique opportunities for frog and clients in unconventional and strategic ways.