Angela Bode is no stranger to trying new things. This nomad is of German/Finnish heritage, has American citizenship and has lived and worked in the UK and Australia. We sat down to discuss what motivates her to take on new challenges, and how she’s learnt that the best approach of all is to just be herself.
So you’re a Service Design Lead, can you tell me what this means?
As a Service Designer I design the experience of interacting with a product or a service from the end user’s point of view. This doesn’t sound like rocket science, but you’d be surprised how many services are designed from an organisation’s point of view. As a customer, when you interact with it [the service], it’s hard, it’s not intuitive, it’s clunky, and that’s because they haven’t considered the end user’s needs.
What’s been a challenge for you in your career?
I was brought into a new position at a large management agency and was pretty much told, “Go. Set us up a service design practice.” That job was really hard because my values and ways of working clearly didn’t align with the way a management consultant should operate and present themselves. But I tried it, and I learnt so much. I learnt about the areas where I needed to grow, but also about the kind of person I didn’t want to be.
And how did you deal with your values clashing with your workplace’s? Did you push back?
Yes, I tried to push back. I said, “You wanted this for a reason, you wanted me for a reason.” I eventually realised though that the people working in my teams really enjoyed my approach, because it was different. It wasn’t prescriptive, I wasn’t micromanaging everyone, it felt very inclusive I think. I only realised maybe a year in that people were seeking out my projects and my team and I thought, “Well, that stands for something.” That role was definitely both a challenge and a highlight.
Coming to Thick, where I work now, a highlight has been applying my craft to very social projects – people needing problems solved in the public service, in healthcare and education, for example. Catering to the needs of citizens is really satisfying, that’s what gets me up in the morning.
You work in a male dominated field, have you faced any challenges in your career as a result?
Oh, so many! What I’ve found is it’s more on the client side that I struggle with it. I don’t experience it so much now at Thick, but at Huddle and Deloitte Digital I’d have big corporate clients. I’d come in as a Project Lead, I’d be the only female in the room and I look quite young, so that was an uphill battle.
Looking quite young and having to take control of the room has always been really, really tricky, and it’s something that I’ve just had to embrace and learn how to manage and deal with. I think my first instinct back then was to come across as a bit more dominant, which isn’t in my nature.I realised I was just being counterproductive because it wasn’t me. Slowly, I started to embrace my own way of doing things, which was being a bit more approachable.
Now I go, “Yep, I’m the only female in the room. Yep, I’m half your age, but I’m here for a reason. You guys wanted my help, I’m an expert in my field, and you’re the subject matter expert. Let’s work together.”
What action would you recommend to someone reading this who’s being doubted or disadvantaged at work because of their age or sex?
That’s a good question and one that has multiple answers. My personal way of dealing with situations like this has been to take a step back to understand the possible reason for someone treating or perceiving you this way. And to not take it personally!
With a better understanding of the possible root cause of a behavior, the better the chances are that I will deal with it appropriately. I then go from there.
However, if it is a repeated occurrence I would always seek support from a colleague, friend or family member. Don’t wait too long – clear the air and have that honest conversation. You never know what you’ll find out – the reasons behind someone’s attitude or perceptions can often be very surprising! We’re all adults after all who can work together – so never doubt yourself and stick up for who you are.
You previously worked in design management in the UK. What made you leave the UK for Australia?
After living in the UK for six years and working as a Design Manager, I decided to just do something different and I started literally a world-wide search for a new job. I came across this thing called service design. This was seven years ago, and service design in Europe was just starting up.
It was such a natural transition from design management to service design because it’s all the same type of thinking, you use all the same tools, techniques and mindset, but instead of being product oriented, you’re service oriented.
Once I knew I wanted to work in service design, I literally just started Googling companies across the world.
And were you really open to going anywhere in the world?
Oh my god, anywhere! I obviously started in Europe, and then I started looking at the US. The financial crisis was happening at that time as well and the first jobs to be cut were from the design industry and service sector. That probably challenged me to look a bit further. I looked at Asia, I was applying for jobs in Shanghai, in Bangkok, I even considered South Africa at one point. And then I just started emailing companies, and one company in Melbourne [Huddle] responded and said my email looked really good.
Had you ever been to Australia before?
Never. I didn’t even seek it out as a destination.
Wasn’t that terrifying?!
Well, when I was telling my family and friends there were asking, “Aren’t you freaking out? You don’t know anyone there!” But I felt fine, and when I got onto the plane I was fine. I landed in Melbourne at 6am and I looked at the flight tracker map and that’s when I thought, “Oh shit. What did I do? How do I turn around? How do I go back home?” That was the moment when I realised it was real. I had a bit of a moment, but I collected myself and I started work on the Monday morning which was a good distraction!
You were born in the US, grew up in Germany, have spent a lot of time in Finland and studied and worked in the UK, and now you’re here. You’re clearly no stranger to change, is change something that excites you and drives you?
Absolutely. At one point I almost moved to India – thank god I didn’t do that, I think that would’ve been an uphill battle. I think it’s because I come from a bit of a multicultural family – my Dad’s German, my Mum’s Finnish and I have American citizenship. My parents put me in an international school when I was really young because they wanted me to go out and explore the world, which I’m incredibly grateful for.
I’m almost nervous to ask what’s next for you?
I’m always playing around with the idea of this career ladder. Do I want to be climbing up towards director level? There’s been so many opportunities for me to progress higher up, but it means that I’m not as hands on, which is what I really enjoy. I feel like that’s where I can have the most impact at the moment.
On the personal side of things, I’ve just finished my yoga teacher training. I want to start sussing out teaching jobs.
Wow, service design AND yoga teaching. You certainly know how to keep things from getting boring! What motivates you?
I get a little bit restless. I think it took me a while to realise that I like to divide my attention across different things. If I didn’t divide my attention across a few things, I’d get restless, and I’d take things for granted.
I’ve learnt to appreciate taking a step back and to be really grateful. It’s so easy to get caught up and think, “I want this and that, things could be better.” It’s such a vicious cycle these days where we’re always striving for something more, something better, and we forget to appreciate what we have now.