Learn From Leaders with Momo Estrella

Momo Estrella

Design Director/Head of UX at IKEA

Momo Estrella is a design executive based in Shanghai since 2010. He has worked across corporate, consulting, and startup setups in leadership roles where he has defined the foundations and set the capabilities to sustain human-centered innovation. He has worked at companies like EF Education First, Imagination, Publicis Sapient, IDEO. He currently serves as the Design Director / Head of UX at IKEA.

He is a firm believer in the power of education, collaboration, and communities. This has guided his endeavors as a writer, industry speaker, and board advisor.

At SOSV’s Chinaccelerator & MOX, he advises startups on leadership, capability and capacity building, as well as particulars of consumer research, product strategy, and design operations.

Five Questions with MOMO

Q1: One habit that helps you keep focused and productive

To me focus is about bringing a clear mind to my decisions. For example, if I need to review complex information, or synthesize complex findings into insights, what helps me focus might be complete minimalism, silence, comfort. These help convergent thinking. But if my decisions have to do with creativity, what I do is to surround myself with the opposite. Loud music, more colors, a bit of a messy environment. These things inspire divergent thinking.

Q2: One piece of advice for entrepreneurs in your industry

The first thing I’d ask is… what is your creative intention? Do you want to design for brands, or do you want to design for people? And… Do you want to use design to solve problems, or use design as a form of expression?

My advice then would be to be very clear on where exactly you want to bring your creative intention. If you care about design as expression for brands, you’re probably gonna do great as a B2B business. If you care about design to solve problems for people, you’re probably gonna do better with a purposeful D2C business.

The reason why this ‘intention’ is important is because these are places that require different thinking. Each quadrant in this 2×2  leads to different books you will read and different people you will have to connect with.

Q3: One of the most important lessons you learnt from your career

One of the most important lessons earlier in my career was to understand that most design feedback we receive has a strong business learning behind it.

For example, when somebody would tell me “you need to make that button larger”, I just thought it was a matter of taste and preferences. Before learning that lesson, I would just assume the other person doesn’t understand design so he is asking me these weird things. What I understood later was that because these buttons look not big enough, our conversion rate was suffering. We had data telling us that people cannot find the next step.

So behind design feedback, especially when coming from non-designers (e.g. business people), we should seek to understand in more depth. Designers need to understand that design is a way to solve challenges, including large business problems.

Q4: Something you’ve changed your mind about in your career

I used to believe that consensus doesn’t work well with creativity. I believed that creativity was a very personal (almost selfish) endeavor.

What changed my mind about is that I realized that collaboration (a form of consensus) is incredibly important. Creativity may feel very personal, but it’s actually best served when we collaborate by collecting different people’s perspectives. Different people will give different ideas and provide different expertise. That will always be far more impactful than what’s in the head of a single individual.

Q5: One trait that you would like to see in people you work with

Two things: Curiosity and Optimism.

Simply said, curiosity helps to build knowledge, and optimism helps to put it to good use.

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