Labs Life: Getting to know Giulia Mazza

Continuing our series of interviews with the people that make Sutherland Labs tick, this week, we try to track down the owner of the locker in our San Francisco office that is labelled “Guido” and instead find the wit and wisdom of unrepentant Nespresso addict, Giulia Mazza, one of our Senior Design Researchers.

How did you come to work at Sutherland?

Giulia: I studied psychology and anthropology, and at first intended to be an academic anthropologist. Then I realized that I wanted to apply human insights to solving real-world problems, so I joined a small design agency with lots of projects in the automotive industry. We worked closely with car designers to inform the design direction of concept cars and mapped out broad future trends in mobility. It was a blast!

Anthropology is a natural conduit to Design Thinking practice. It’s all about observation, listening, empathy, and suspending judgment. The belief that there is no wrong way to be a human.The ability to get close to the ground of a particular behavior, whether it’s traditional weaving or online shopping, and then take a bird’s eye view to see how things connect and what they really mean is at the core of both disciplines.

Giulia working in the labs

As an anthropologist in Silicon Valley, there is less traditional weaving in my life. These days, my routine involves lots of emails, scoping out projects, writing proposals, biz dev, more emails, and sometimes a class at the local YMCA if I’m being good. Everything is liberally interspersed with coffee from our trusty Nespresso and Giphy wars with my lovely colleagues on Slack. If I’m actively working on a project then that’s a whole different scenario and I’m fully immersed in that flow: planning and scoping, recruiting participants, assembling materials, going out and doing the research, analyzing data, writing and presenting the report.

Why does your locker say…

Giulia: Blame Shauna and her label maker.

Image of Giulia's locker

So what do you do for fun?

Giulia: Dote on my brother’s pug-bulldog mix. A bull-pug? Anyway, his name is Enzo and he’s so ugly he’s cute! I also read, (try to) write, and watch obscure movies. Figure out what else I can make with eggplant for my vegetarian boyfriend. Explore the many hidden nooks and crannies of San Francisco. Have long existential conversations with the person sitting next to me on a transatlantic flight. I’ve also been making a greater effort to connect with people who inspire me, say, someone who wrote an article or gave a talk that I really enjoyed. I contact them and say, “Hey, you’re great at this! Tell me more?” People are almost always so generous. It’s been a great learning experience.

Giulia's brother's bulldog-pug mix

How do you see your role changing in the future?

Giulia: I hope design researchers will increasingly tackle more macro questions and outputs, rather than discrete processes and interfaces. Look at the “big picture” behind the digital screens. Organizational design is something I’ve become interested in because I notice design recommendations don’t “stick” unless there are conducive workplace dynamics and structures to support them. We also need to think more about the lifecycle of the solutions we recommend, including implementation and long-term sustainability.

Organizational design is something I’ve become interested in because I notice design recommendations don’t “stick” unless there are conducive workplace dynamics and structures to support them. We also need to think more about the lifecycle of the solutions we recommend, including implementation and long-term sustainability.

When I peer into my crystal ball, I see tech companies likely continuing to bring design and research talent in house and doubling down on the investment, because it’s clear that great UX is a key differentiator. Instead of competing with in house teams, agencies will seek to complement them, each becoming more specialized and skilled in a particular methodology or industry. While tech was the first to change, more industries will follow suit. No one is safe from disruption: think of the car industry and Uber or the hospitality industry and Airbnb. They will need to majorly pivot to a human-centered mindset if they want to be competitive. I hope the financial sector is next, as it is in major need of a human touch…

Will Giulia ever get the right name on her locker? Will Enzo ever recover from the terrible insults rained down on him? Will the financial sector get with the program? Come back next week for another instalment of ‘Labs Life’ to find out these answers and more.

Communications Director

Sutherland Labs
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