Career Path: Dave Stein, Senior UX Designer at BCG Omnia
What do the career path and the day-in-the-life look like for a Senior UX Designer at BCG Omnia?
We connected with Dave Stein to find out!
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Where did you grow up? What did your parents do for work?
I’m from Winchester, MA and went to Winchester High School, which isn’t just a great high school but also where Tom Hanks Captain Phillips learned to fight pirates.
My parents are both lawyers: my mom’s been heavily involved in government work, representing everyone from kids in social services to different governors, while my dad does corporate work focused on mergers and acquisitions.
Where did you go to college? What did you study and what were some of your initial jobs out of school?
I went to Cornell, in the subarctic tundra known as Ithaca, NY, where I actually studied Hotel Administration and Real Estate. My major was definitely a far cry from digital product design, but between an almost lifelong infatuation with the Timberline Lodge (aka “The Overlook Hotel” from The Shining), lots of art classes, a love for construction, and high school jobs ranging from ski resorts to snack bars, I really wanted to get into real estate development, specifically for hotels. It turned out to be exactly what I hoped for: a great mix of learning about finance, law, operations, and design.
Since I wanted to pursue hotel development, my early career was pretty different than the type of work I’m doing now: my first job was as an analyst at Tishman, a real estate company in New York City that builds hotels around the country. After that, I took a similar role at Virgin Hotels, which is Sir Richard Branson’s hotel company. It was a great job: everyone had a British accent and I sat next to people working on Sir Richard’s spaceships. I was focused on acquisitions (buying development sites or existing buildings to be converted to Virgin Hotels), but still got to help prepare for the construction of the first few projects in Chicago, Manhattan, and Dallas.
I’d always thought that I might go back to school for architecture, but after getting to work with some amazing architects during my real estate career, I realized that there might be other design jobs that allowed for more control of the “creative” process, and that moved faster than the typical timeline for constructing a skyscraper. So I went to Parsons to study graphic and interactive design, and ultimately had the chance to work on start-ups and at a digital agency before moving to Colorado, where I focused on applications in the commercial real estate industry. After a few years of skiing, enjoying good beer, and honing my enterprise design skills in Denver, I moved back to Boston to work here at BCG.
What has attributed to your success thus far and has helped propel you to the position you have now?
I’d say that I consider myself “successful” today because I’ve never given up on staying true to my interests. I’ve learned that I can find ways to prioritize and focus on the things I like about any given job, but also turn the parts I don’t like into opportunities to learn new skills or empower myself to be more productive and make more time for the things I actually care about. For example, even though I was a “number-cruncher” when I first graduated college, I used every opportunity I could to help with designs, presentations, and other visual collateral - those things helped me build an initial portfolio. Then, once I became a designer, I was still often asked to help with analytics. At the time, I really didn’t want to look at a spreadsheet ever again, though, so I taught myself to program and was able to automate a lot of that tedious work. Even though I’m a terrible programmer, it turned out to be a way more fun and effective way of “crunching numbers”, which I still do now as part of my research process. It also helped me become a better designer since I can fluently speak and contribute to front-end development.
Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as Senior UX Designer at BCG Omnia?
I’m currently the lead designer on two products at BCG Omnia. As the lead designer, I’m responsible for ensuring that these products are tools that our consultants and clients want to use - that they deliver business value and are fun to interact with. One of the products is a widely used program management product that has an exciting future and the ability to touch just about every case at BCG. The other is a “start-up” product focused on serving projects within the field service operations practice area at BCG. It’s one of the first products to be fully incubated in-house at BCG, but it already has a large pipeline of potential customers, and could be applicable to industries spanning from energy and infrastructure to media and consumer delivery services. They’re both really exciting and require me to have a strong understanding of the business needs that flow through the applications, like corporate finance, operations, governance, and asset management.
Any tips for someone considering a career in Design?
For someone aspiring to a similar design role, I think it’s important to recognize that you need to be equally interested in both the subject matter you’re designing for, and the fundamentals of design (typography, UI, writing, technology, process, etc.). As the tools we use to get more efficient and “smarter”, there’s much less need to focus on the minutiae of making a button, for example. Instead, the design process really starts to feel like you’re iterating on the more complicated issue of merging two multi-billion dollar companies. Obviously you can’t expect an application to run a process like that by itself, but the vast majority of procedures and workflows needed to complete a merger, for example, can definitely be handled by (or at least greatly improved by) thoughtfully designed applications. So I would recommend that aspiring designers (myself included) take the time to consume as much business news as possible (like reading the Wall Street Journal, or even just listening to podcasts like Robinhood Snacks), so that we can be literate in those conversations, and maintain a perspective and design process from that high-level context.
Other than that, I think it’s important to just keep making things, discover and think about good and bad design (like going through the App Store on your phone and trying out anything that interests you), and expect that you’ll make mistakes and bounce back from those mistakes.
Lastly, I think that designers will also be asked to do more and more work that looks like front-end engineering, so I think we should all be prepared for that. Code is essentially the raw material of our work too, so just like a painter should appreciate how oil paint works, I think designers should at least know how their work is actually implemented. It’s also just fun to be able to take a mental break from Sketch and play around in code, even if you can’t implement production quality code yourself.
Day in the Life
Coffee, tea, or nothing?
My drink situation is a lot like the end of the movie “Signs”, where the house is full of half-finished glasses of water that Mel Gibson’s family ultimately uses to kill the aliens and save the world. Unlike “Signs”, my desk is actually covered with half-finished mugs of coffee that get cold between meetings. I usually finish all of those mugs, so I think that’s like 6 cups a day 😬.
What time do you get into the office?
I prefer to get there as early as possible. I’m definitely most productive in the morning, so I try to push through work as quickly as possible, and it helps to be at my desk for at least a few hours straight before lunch time arrives and the hanger kicks-in.
What are three things that motivate you in your role?
I’m probably most motivated by the fact that this job is really mentally stimulating - I pretty much get to touch all of my interests in any given day: design, business problems, engineering issues, etc. Sometimes it’s overwhelming, but it’s always great to be able to learn and collaborate at this level.
Beyond that, it’s just awesome to work at BCG, where I know that every project I’m working on directly or indirectly has a very significant impact on major businesses, which trickles into the world economy and across industries at a scale that’s hard to match elsewhere.
Lastly, Omnia is new and my team is growing, so I’m motivated to help make us our design processes as scalable as possible so that we can address the tons of projects and problems that are waiting for us.
Every day is different, but can you outline what a typical day looks like for you?
My day typically starts around 7:30am with the first call to a team of developers in India. We work through questions on design that they’ve encountered as they’re going through their latest sprint, and I let the team know about new work and adjustments that are coming down the road based on feedback from our business stakeholders, new ideas, and user tests. After that, mornings are mostly a matter of bouncing between calls, responding to engineering questions, and trying to work through smaller design changes that I share as soon as I finish. I try to be extremely transparent and make my work available to our wider team through Trello boards, Slack channels, and scheduled calls. The goal is to fit an iterative design cycle into everyone’s very busy schedules, and build on feedback as quickly as possible.
In the afternoon, I have much more time to work without calls, so that’s when I’ll focus on large or new features. Once in a while, I’ll take a short break to look at some tutorials or quickly check out blogs to read about new tools and best practices. Usually, though, the afternoons fly by and it’s dinner time before I know it!
What time do you head out of the office?
I try to leave around 6pm so that I can get home to walk my dog Panda. She has amazing bladder control, but I don’t like to keep her waiting too long. Occasionally I’ll stay in the office until around 7:00.
Do you log back in at night or do you shut it down completely?
I usually log back in. If I’m close to finishing a design, it’s just easier and faster to finish that night so that I can completely dedicate my time the next day to something new, or use fresh eyes to tear down whatever I worked on the day before. My work is usually terrible or close to terrible the first time around, so I think it’s better to just knock things out and make time to do it all over again. It’s never fun to drag out a single design out in pursuit of perfection.
Any productivity hacks?
Pomodoro Timers! You can actually go out and buy one of those wind-up tomato timers, but it’s pretty obnoxious to have one of those things go off in the office, so I use Chrome Extensions like Marinara instead. I think I follow standard Pomodoro procedure by doing 25 minute working sessions with 5 minute breaks in between. If you do enough sessions, you get to enjoy an entire 15 minute break! It’s like a mini-vacation. On a good day, I’ll usually do 9 or 10 “pomodoros”, so I can look back and say I essentially had 250 minutes of uninterrupted work, and resisted the urge to check emails or the news until those breaks happen.
For designers, the Runner plugin for Sketch is also a massive timesaver. If you’ve ever programmed, it’s kind of like having a command line interface for Sketch, so you just save hours by not having to click around to add symbols, change styles, navigate, etc.
What are the 3 apps that you can’t live without?
My favorite 3 apps are Robinhood, Notion, and Whimsical. Robinhood is a stock trading app with some super satisfying interactions (like when you buy/sell a stock, or the when the cat winks at you once you’re done reviewing the news). Notion is a nicely designed project/life management app that integrates with just about everything. Whimsical is a well built tool for quickly putting together workflows and diagrams, and you can even use it for quick wireframes. All of these tools are really effective at getting out of your way, and just letting you do the work that you want to do.
What professional accomplishment are you proudest of?
I’m most proud that I’ve largely grown in my career by being recommended and hired by people with whom I’ve built working relationships. I’m obviously extremely fortunate to have a network from a place like Cornell, but I’ve actually found most of my new opportunities through former managers and co-workers. It’s one thing to have a nice-sounding degree, but I think it’s another to do the work and have a track record that makes people want to hire you or tell their friends about you.
Who do you admire or call upon for professional advice?
My go-to mentors are first and foremost my parents and brother and sister. They’re essentially impossible to beat in terms of being hard-working, thoughtful, and caring about the people you work with and the work that you do.
I’m also thankful for the people I’ve been able to work with before: even though most of them would probably call themselves “numbers” people, they’ve been really supportive of the “creative” path I’ve gone down, and in some cases hired me to help them with their own projects or companies.
Lastly, I consider my dog Panda a mentor: even though she’s never helped pay the rent once, I would argue that she’s a true professional when it comes to rolling in the grass or smelling things. I think it’s genuinely great to be truly and completely infatuated with things that have nothing to do with money, so I’m trying to follow her lead on that one. Unlike her, though, I am going to keep wearing clothes for the foreseeable future.
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