commercetools not only builds a smart eCommerce platform but also is a group of visionary minds from diverse cultures and backgrounds, working across the globe, and connected by a shared passion to enable brands and retailers to create inspiring shopping experiences every single day.  

People around the world are not only discussing the future of digital and predicting new trends, but there is also a huge movement to empower women in the tech industry. We want to highlight a member of our UX/UI design team, María Barrena, to get to know more about her enthusiasm for creating personas, prototyping, and creating intuitive interfaces as well as her daily must-haves and her thoughts on women in tech.

María Barrena, Interaction Designer at commercetools

Hi I’m María Barrena, UX/UI designer at commercetools…

In my opinion, the job of a UX/UI designer can be summarized in two words: efficiency and pleasure. Most people are familiar with the second part, the one related to creating the User Interface design (UI) by laying out buttons, inputs and any visual interface components needed. However, the process from where we decide to go for a certain design solution is even more relevant. That process is what we call User Experience design (UX).

UX includes many steps and techniques that can be applied depending on the situation. One of them is research. During the research process, we interview users and stakeholders, create personas based on our user’s profile, read research of UX professionals and investigate other tools and websites to learn how they solved a similar problem.  

With all this information, we start sketching first on paper and then in digital. Digital prototypes help us to understand if the user flow is clear and the task is achievable. If we have enough time, we even bring those prototypes to real users so we can see if they can complete the task without any help. That’s why even the words we use in the prototype have to be chosen carefully and tested.

Once we can prove the proposal is understandable and check with development that it can be implemented, we start designing the user interface. We create a nice layout, consistent with the rest of the platform, based on all that knowledge and feedback.

Where does your drive come from to work in the Tech industry?
Maria: I got internet access at home when I was 18 and that happened simultaneously with many technology milestones: Youtube started to take off, PlayStation 3 was launched a bit after that, and the first iPhone was introduced. All this news slowly triggered my interest in new technologies. I started working in tech when I moved to Germany 7 years ago, in one of the most important companies in the Augmented Reality industry. Working there I realized that tech was where I wanted to develop as a professional.  I want to be part of the industry that is shaping the way that we, as human beings, are evolving.

You started working in Spain. How different is it working in the IT industry in Germany compared to Spain?
Maria: The mentality toward work is quite different in both countries, especially after the economic crisis started. The unemployment rates are still quite high in Spain, but companies are benefiting from it. They feel like they are doing their workers a favor by hiring them. People live in constant fear of losing their jobs because for every job offer, there are 1000 applicants willing to take the position for less money. Consequently, it is common to do unpaid extra hours every day. As you can imagine, work/life balance is non-existent and the working environment is less healthy there.

In the IT industry, the only ones who are a bit more safe from that situation are developers. For them, the salary is the biggest difference between both countries. The salary of a senior developer, no matter the technology we are talking about, is similar to what a junior developer earns in Germany. There was recently a viral article in Spain where the biggest Spanish IT company was complaining that they could not find qualified workers. I have many friends who have worked in that company and they left to work in international companies because they did not pay adequate salaries.

What are your goals working as a UX/UI designer?
Maria: In the short term, I would like to start participating in UX meetups not only as an attendee but also as a speaker. At commercetools, the UX/UI designers of the product team are located in Munich while the rest of the product team is in Berlin. For the year-and-a-half that I’ve been working in the company, I’ve learned a lot about working remotely far from the rest of the vertical team. I recently wrote an article about it, and the next step that I would like to take is doing a talk to share my findings.

What are the biggest challenges working in the eCommerce industry in your role?
Maria: As a millennial, I’ve been an eCommerce customer since I had my first job and my own salary. But my perspective as a professional is quite new. I find it interesting what we do at commercetools. We help eCommerce companies by providing a tool to help them be more efficient in their daily business. My responsibility is to think of the end user all the time, but what I find fascinating and challenging that in fact, we have two end users: those who work on the eCommerce platforms and use the Merchant Center, as well as the customers of those companies. All my design proposals have both of them always in mind.

What can a company do to encourage women in the tech sector?
Maria: Everybody around me works in the IT industry and I’ve heard many horror stories: From one company giving a rose to every woman on their team as a gift on International Women’s Day, to one company making an unfortunate comment about GamerGate. If people making those types of decisions had women among them, those types of things would probably never happen.

I want to be part of an industry that is shaping the way that we, as human beings, are evolving. That’s why one of the first steps that needs to be taken across the entire tech industry is breaking the glass ceiling that exists in high level positions.
But there’s much more that can be done. For example, encouraging  female workers to share their expertise by giving talks about it, both externally and to their own colleagues. By doing this, companies are not only setting an example in the industry, but it also normalizes the message that women are experts too. I find this topic one of the most urgent things to fix.

If you could change something in the IT industry to improve the current situation of women in tech, what would it be?
Maria: Related to what I was just saying, I find it unfortunate that in 2019 there are still many males in the industry that feel uncomfortable when a female peer proves to be an expert in their tech area of expertise.

A recent example is Katie Bouman, one of those responsible for the algorithm that led us to the very first picture of a Black Hole. When her name popped up in the news, a wave of hateful comments spread across all social media platforms saying that the work was done by a bigger team. You will never see such a response on any SpaceX rocket launch, of which all articles about it mention Elon Musk as the brain behind it when it is clear that it is a team effort as well. We should all celebrate progress independently where it comes from, instead of criticizing it.

What tips would you give your younger self if you were to graduate today?
Maria: I was quite young when I decided not to go to university. The financial situation at home when I was growing up was never great, so I felt the need to finish high school, do some 2-year specialization, and start working ASAP to support my family. In Spain, we have High-Level Diplomas, part-academic and part-vocational studies just one level below a university degree where you learn something. This is what I did. Looking at it now, I don’t regret it.  

What would your job be if there was no IT?
Maria: Design was not something I considered when I was growing up, but I got really good marks in technical and industrial design in high school. One teacher suggested I have a look at the role of a graphic designer as a plan B. However, I’ve always been really interested in the audiovisual industry, with emphasis in the music industry. I did a bit of research about jobs in both industries, and even though I found out that getting into the music industry was really hard without contacts, I ended up applying to get into Audiovisual school at the same time as I applied for the Design school. The second one accepted me first.

Luckily I was able to finish my studies and find a job before the financial crisis exploded in Spain. Otherwise, I guess I would have ended up working in a clothing store or as a cashier as the other 90% of my classmates have been doing for the last 10 years. That’s why I moved out of the country.

Quick Facts 

What is Design for you?
One of the best tools to solve problems.
A good use of the space.

What are your daily must-haves?
Coffee
Music
Memes

Rather not?
Using Dribbble to get inspiration on UX decisions.
Snow

What are you listening/watching/reading at the moment?
Listening: El mal querer by Rosalia
Watching: The third season of Twin Peaks for the third time already.
Reading: Let’s Talk About Love: a journey to the end of taste by Carl Wilson

Follow her blogs at Medium: https://medium.com/@mbarrena