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Ep 12: Enterprising Innovation with Theresa Slate

My guest is Theresa slate and she is a multidisciplinary designer in diversity and inclusion consultant. Who's been crafting meaningful experience. In a range of industries, including consumer electronics, retail, and healthcare. She supported organizations, both in-house and outside as a consultant, which we'll get into.

She'll take us from school in Cincinnati to Seattle, Palo Alto and Chicago where she is currently a design lead at Northern Trust.  We dive into designing systems at scale and the challenges associated with that, and what innovation means when working at a large legacy companies.

Ep 12: Enterprising Innovation with Theresa Slate


Theresa Slate

Theresa Stewart  is a multidisciplinary designer and diversity and inclusion consultant who has been crafting meaningful experience in a range of industries, including consumer electronics, retail, and healthcare. Deeply rooted in interaction design and innovation, she’s supported design organization as both a consultant and as an in-house designer by making complex interactions, specialized software, and data heavy workflows more accessible.


Full Text Transcript

And we're back. 

[00:00:20] Glad you could join me today and just like the words to this song, and hopefully you're enjoying this at the start of your day. 

[00:00:29]Like, if you're sitting down, you should get up stretch. I would implore you to go out for a walk weather, permitting. 

[00:00:39] And enjoy this next 35 minutes. 

[00:00:44] Now we've been sitting down too long. So hopefully this encourages you to, to, to get up and out.  

[00:00:53] My guest is Theresa slate and she is a multidisciplinary designer in diversity and inclusion consultant. Who's been crafting meaningful experience. In a range of industries, including consumer electronics, retail, and healthcare. She supported organizations, both in-house and outside as a consultant, which we'll get into. 

[00:01:17]And she'll take us from school, in Cincinnati to Seattle, to Palo Alto. And back to Chicago where she is currently a design lead at Northern trust.  We dive into designing systems at scale and the challenges associated with that. And what innovation means when working at a large legacy companies. Here's Theresa in her own words.  

[00:01:46]Theresa Slate: [00:01:46] And I'm like less in Figma doing things and more like working with the business and attending meetings and, you know, being like, and I think it's great. Cause I don't have to convince anyone the value of design. So that's like that happened before I got there. It's awesome. It's more like. How can we use design to leverage a more strategic  All good. All good. Um, yeah. As, as we were saying before, everyone in their mom has a podcast, but I'm, I'm, I'm all here for it. It's all good.

[00:02:18] Yeah. I mean, isn't that the whole point of public radio and things. Everybody has access. I'm like, yeah, everyone has a podcast and that's good.

[00:02:26]Harrison Wheeler: [00:02:26] It's actually pretty crazy that it's already been, I think more than a year since we

[00:02:32] Theresa Slate: [00:02:32] Oh, my God has it. It has. Cause that was like early November. Last year at the black, the black, Oh my

[00:02:38] Harrison Wheeler: [00:02:38] I think it was, it was the week before I ProTech, right. Either the week

[00:02:41] Theresa Slate: [00:02:41] I, it was like, I think it was like the week before. Cause it kinda got like smushed in there at the end of the year. Cause I remember when I got accepted, I was like visiting my family in San Diego and then it was like, Oh, they're going to be flying to San Francisco like in three weeks.

[00:02:56] Harrison Wheeler: [00:02:56] Yeah, but that was, that was cool. I'm glad we got like that small little intimate group of designers.

[00:03:02] Theresa Slate: [00:03:02] Yeah, I liked that. I thought it was a great summit and just like, yeah, it was a lot of chance for like personal connections, which is, I think what I hate about going to large conferences is like, I have so much social anxiety that I'm like, ah, I'll just talk to myself in my phone. Like,

[00:03:19] Harrison Wheeler: [00:03:19] Did you, did you make it's Afro tech?

[00:03:21]Theresa Slate: [00:03:21] no, I have never gone to any of those. Any of

[00:03:25] Harrison Wheeler: [00:03:25] it's pretty. It was, it was pretty big. I mean, there's a lot of people. I was like, Whoa, it's a lot.

[00:03:30]Theresa Slate: [00:03:30] I feel like I am a terrible black person, a terrible designer, because I feel like I never go to those events.

[00:03:36] Harrison Wheeler: [00:03:36] No, that's all good. I mean, I mean, CA conferences are there. They're very intimidating, especially at a larger scale, you know, uh, even like the concept of  networking at conferences.

[00:03:48] Theresa Slate: [00:03:48] Yeah.

[00:03:49] Harrison Wheeler: [00:03:49] yeah, let me go to this random table and strike up a random conversation and then almost get shunned for it because it's like, that's what you're supposed to do.

[00:03:57] Like that is not natural.

[00:03:59] Theresa Slate: [00:03:59] is it natural? And I also feel like every time I go to something I'm like the wild card. Like I was just telling my, I was talking to my friend today and she lives in Shanghai. So, you know, we overlapped like early morning, evening, and I was telling her like, yeah, The T the working title of my memoir will be, you will not be invited back because it's like, I think people see me online and they're like, Oh, her online persona must be like a more ramped up version of her real life.

[00:04:22] And I'm like, no, my online persona is like toned down of me real life. Cause then they're like, Oh, okay. Okay. Don't have her speak again.

[00:04:31] Harrison Wheeler: [00:04:31] Oh, my gosh. Well, we'll look, we we've got a lot of, of opportunities. Uh,

[00:04:41] Theresa Slate: [00:04:41] going to be like, ah, go ahead and add Theresa to the list of

[00:04:45] Harrison Wheeler: [00:04:45] well, the good thing is, is, um, uh, in, in true podcast fashion, you will be able to listen to this 24 seven anywhere around the globe at your choosing. So this is a commitment.

[00:04:58] Theresa Slate: [00:04:58] this is a commitment. So, you know, if you listen here and you're like, wow, that black lesbian is pretty radical. I'm like, yeah, that's going to be true.

[00:05:09]Harrison Wheeler: [00:05:09] Theresa we've, we've had a lot of, uh, you know, uh, catching up that we've been able to do beforehand. It's actually really funny. I was looking at your, your LinkedIn in, through LinkedIn employee fashion. And I feel like we may have had like cross paths, like way, way back in the day I saw that you worked at RushCard.

[00:05:28] Theresa Slate: [00:05:28] Yes, I

[00:05:29] Harrison Wheeler: [00:05:29] And I used to like work with them. I used to do work. I did, uh, I did Russell Simmons, his corporate website back in the day. And I did, uh, I did some work with art for life.

[00:05:44] Theresa Slate: [00:05:44] Okay. I, yeah, RushCard was like my first internship at a school. And so like, the company itself is like in, uh, around Cincinnati, Ohio, which is where I grew up in, where I went to school and yeah. So we never, I never got to meet Russell Simmons. Cause every time he would come, I would like always be gone.

[00:06:03] But I do remember our, um, Was that our CEO or CMO was always getting calls from him during the middle of meetings. So it'd be like, we'd have like this design company, like presenting the redesigned website and then all of a sudden his phone would ring and it would, you could hear it being like, hi, this is Jessica.

[00:06:21] I've got, uh, you know, Russell on the line for you. And he's like, Oh my God. Okay.

[00:06:25] Harrison Wheeler: [00:06:25] He's like, Theresa, Can you move the button? I would like the button there.

[00:06:31] Theresa Slate: [00:06:31] I know he came to our university. And they were like, we told them all about you. He really wants to meet you. And I'm like, I'm in California. Like how do you guys not understand the concept that like three months of school and then three months of work. So,

[00:06:44] Harrison Wheeler: [00:06:44] Oh, my

[00:06:45] Theresa Slate: [00:06:45] yeah.

[00:06:46] Harrison Wheeler: [00:06:46] Well we'll Hey, uh, let's maybe kind of dive in, uh, you know, where you're at today. So right now you're, you're at Northern trust, uh, in Chicago. Um, just tell me kind of where you started from like the internship, you know, to, to sort of where you're at now.

[00:07:03] Theresa Slate: [00:07:03] Yeah. So my journey, I feel like it's both traditional and very winding at the same time, because I went to design school at the university university of Cincinnati and the formerly called DAP program, which I now think is like the Myra at all the junior college for design or something. And I studied a major called digital design, which was totally made up, doesn't even exist anymore.

[00:07:22] And like before I had joined, I guess 15 years prior, they took like seven students from graphic design, seven students from industrial design. And we're like, let's do a major with this like emerging digital technology. So, uh, in school it was a mix of interaction, design, 3d modeling, and motion design for five years.

[00:07:39] And we alternated. Uh, three months of school with three months of work. So that's how the program was five years. Cause you have a worker a year and a half work requirement to graduate. So I started off, um, not really knowing what I wanted to do. It was my second choice major, actually wanting to be in graphic design and I got rejected and I always.

[00:07:57] Harrison Wheeler: [00:07:57] How do you get rejected from graphic design?

[00:08:01] Theresa Slate: [00:08:01] Listen, I have a lot of beef with this, so I get my letter right from the university of Cincinnati. And like my first, first major was graphic. And after that, I didn't know what to do. Cause I was the only kind of design that I knew about. And my sister went to the same university and a friend and her scholarship.

[00:08:15] She's like, I don't know, he just digital design, he's got a camera and he likes it. And I was like, okay, that seems fun. So I like put that down. Until my acceptance letter to my university started off with unfortunately, and I almost had a heart attack. I was like, did I just get rejected from my public university?

[00:08:30] Like in my hometown? Like that's insane.

[00:08:33] Harrison Wheeler: [00:08:33] Yeah.

[00:08:34] Theresa Slate: [00:08:34] So, yeah, so I got rejected from graphic design, which is like one of the, one of the most popular programs ended up doing digital. So I was like, Oh, I think this works out. Because prior to that, I feel like I'm a classic, uh, Millennial. And the fact that I made, I used to build websites for fun.

[00:08:51] Like I started coding probably when I was about 10 I'm using like Microsoft front page. And then, and then like dream front page, uh, Dreamweaver. Uh, I'm not made of money. Okay. I grew up

[00:09:04] Harrison Wheeler: [00:09:04] Oh,

[00:09:05] Theresa Slate: [00:09:05] so we have front

[00:09:06] Harrison Wheeler: [00:09:06] okay. I got you yet. I, you, right. Cause those was those Adobe products were actually, it was Macromedia back then.

[00:09:12] Theresa Slate: [00:09:12] It was Macromedia. And I think my first version of Photoshop, I got my senior year of high school and it was Photoshop five because at that time it was already at like 10 and so five was on eBay for like $30. So I was like, okay, let me do this. So like sitting here, like Photoshop at my little blog layouts, you know,

[00:09:33] Harrison Wheeler: [00:09:33] the new generation got it. Easy with these subscription plans.

[00:09:37] Theresa Slate: [00:09:37] listen, when you're like, especially when you're poor, you're just like, listen.

[00:09:40] Okay. I heard graphic design as a thing. So yeah, I started off, um, like shout out to Neo, Pat, shout out to Zynga and shout out to live journal. Cause that's where all of my stuff was and all my GeoCities websites that I made for like MP3 rotation. So that was kind of, I was like, okay, so digital does web design.

[00:09:57] That'll be like what I'm interested in. And then my first internship. So we talked about, I worked at RushCard and that was great because I didn't actually really know what I wanted to do. So I got to be a generalist. So I did some graphic design, some motion design, just a whole bunch of stuff. And then for my next job, I did corporate web design because I was like, yeah, that's what I want to be a web designer.

[00:10:15] Like, that's what I've done. It was horrible. Like I like had got to go to San Francisco to Larkspur. It was awesome. The company I worked for was awesome, but I hated that job because I was a corporate web design is so boring to me. So

[00:10:31]Harrison Wheeler: [00:10:31] What were you doing? You were the webmaster?

[00:10:34] Theresa Slate: [00:10:34] I wasn't even that I was like the intern and it was, so it was just like, Oh, We're doing this corporate website, here's a hero image in three content buckets.

[00:10:42] Like every single thing is like the same, but sometimes it's red, sometimes it's black. And I was like, Oh my gosh, this is so boring. So after

[00:10:50] Harrison Wheeler: [00:10:50] button bigger.

[00:10:52] Theresa Slate: [00:10:52] yes. And I'm like, okay, this is good to know that. I thought I wanted to be a web designer. And now in three months I realized this is not what my dream is. And so then, um, from there, I ended up getting an internship at a JC penny I'm there and I'm a former innovation team.

[00:11:06] And that was I think, a real eyeopening moment to realize I liked interaction design and like user experience and those sorts of things. So then from there, that's kind of where the rest of my internships laid out. Um, worked at a few places across the country. And then my first job was out in Palo Alto at a firm at a small like web enterprise firm.

[00:11:25]And then, uh, unfortunately that closed in four months because the guy just like, had so much change happening and that opened 15 years. And he was just like, I'm missing time with my kids. Like I want to do something else. So he closed the firm and I was like, Oh God, I just moved all the way from Cincinnati.

[00:11:42] I sold all, I got rid of my winter coat. Like, what am I going to do? So, um, I ended up interviewing with a place called insight product development in Chicago, which. Funny enough. I had interviewed for an internship there my senior year and didn't get it because they ended up not hiring anybody. And they had reached out to me when I graduated to see, um, if I had a job yet I had, so I turned it down.

[00:12:03] So just like four months later, I was like, Hey, like, are you still looking for a designer? Because things have changed on my end. And it was wild. So I got interviewed on a Monday, offered on a Wednesday and the two weeks on election night of 2012, I moved to Chicago, which was like, I didn't even think about it.

[00:12:21] I was like, Oh my gosh, this ticket from Palo Alto to Chicago was so cheap. Like, it's awesome. And I'm like, of course, this is election night in Chicago. And Obama is there. Like all the roads were closed. My like airport shuttle van guy was like, I hope I can get you to your hotel. Cause they have everything closed off because like Obama was staying at the Hilton, but he had wanted to go play basketball.

[00:12:40] So they had like closed off the entire rack. He was just like driving around, trying to drive to drop us off. Um, And so yeah, insight was, um, uh, medical device, design firms. So there, I did a lot of, um, I think the biggest project I worked on was designing things for, um, what's called an external fixator. So when somebody breaks their bones, um, and they have to get it like, uh, like wired around them.

[00:13:06] And then they have to slowly turn the levers every day. So the program, what it does is like here's the broken bone. Here's what it looks like when it heals. This is the external fixator you apply. And here are the measurements you have to do every single day to get it, to heal in this amount of time. So just print out a chart that a doctor would give to a patient.

[00:13:23] So it would be like, okay, this day, you screw this one twice, this one once. And like do that for the next six months. And that's how the healing

[00:13:29] Harrison Wheeler: [00:13:29] that sounds terribly painful.

[00:13:32] Theresa Slate: [00:13:32] It does sounds terribly painful, but very fascinating. Cause I'm, I'm very analytical. And so before becoming a designer, I thought I was going to be like a scientist or an astronomer also thought I might be a doctor.

[00:13:42] So I did like anatomy and took Latin. So I'm like a lot of random knowledge popping around in my head, but yeah.

[00:13:47] Harrison Wheeler: [00:13:47] do you think some of those moves were a part of just like our glimpses of those random pieces of interest over time? You're like, Oh, this will be interesting. I thought about this in the past.

[00:13:56] Theresa Slate: [00:13:56] Yeah. And I think like all of that has come in. Come in handy. I was actually just talking to my friend today because the one in Shanghai, she's also a designer went to the same college. And, uh, yeah, it talks about how, like in design school, I learned sort of the fundamentals of being a designer, but everything that's in my career now are all personal passions I had growing up.

[00:14:14] So like, You know, from insight to medical device design, I worked in innovation consultancy at a place called gravity tank for three years until it was bought by Salesforce. And then I left, um, some of you may know, based on my name, I also worked at cards against humanity, uh, was not ideal. And then from there I freelance for a couple years before joining Northern late last year.

[00:14:37] And, um, and all of the times, like what was interesting for me is I really love data, heavy stuff. I really love complex things. So. Where I really thrive as a designer is like, I'm a systems thinker at the end of the day. So I love to see how little complex parts and pieces come together and make those things easy to understand for others.

[00:14:55] So now that Northern trust and I work as a design lead there, which just means I'm heading up design on one of their products called wealth passport. And last year I got brought on as a contractor before joining full-time to help with what's called a refresh. So not a rescan and not quite a redesign, but a refresh.

[00:15:12] So it's like, where can we, they love the phrase lifted shift. Like where can we sort of just re-skin what already exists? Because like the user experience is okay, but then where can we really dive in for larger impact for larger user experience things? And so the product itself, um, so Northern trust, if you're not familiar as like.

[00:15:29] Old school bank in Chicago, like it's an institution it's really involved in the community. So it's been around for about 140 years. And, um, what they do as essentially Manish managed well for what we call like high net worth individuals, which the best way to say that as like really, really rich people.

[00:15:46] So in order to pick at Northern, if you're not an employee, you have to have like at least $2 million. And so that's kind of how we split up all of our businesses. So I work on wealth passport, which is in the wealth business, which is for individuals and families who have anywhere from 5 million to like $450 million.

[00:16:01] And this is the point where after you get so wealthy, you don't want to manage your money yourself. Like it kind of becomes a

[00:16:06] Harrison Wheeler: [00:16:06] Wait, the range, the range is to 400. That is such an arbitrary number.

[00:16:10] Theresa Slate: [00:16:10] well it's because once you start hitting half a billion, that's when you start setting up, um, our other office or other offering, which is like corporate institutional.

[00:16:19] So like endowments university funds. So it's kind of like, Based on how much money you have is kind of like what kind of structure you might fit into or kind of business you might set. So a global family office or DFO is just like a team of accountants and back office people who help families like manage their money and make sure all their bills are getting paid.

[00:16:39] Check on. Inheritances and trusts and like all that kind of stuff. So, um, the people who work in those offices, that's why I work with. So, because people are like, how can you be about ethics and work at a bank? And I'm like, okay. It's because I don't work for the rich people. I work for people like me, who also worked for rich people.

[00:16:56] And I'm just like trying to make sure they can do their job without like getting fired or yelled at, at the whim of like their boss, because it's notoriously like really stuck on my personal relationships. So like, There are people who have been with the family office that are like their CFOs. And some of those family offices have been managing, uh, families across like six generations.

[00:17:14] So like there are accountants that are managing the funds for babies, like literally being born and like making sure all their money is in like a nice trust and like making sure it's accruing interest and like all of this other stuff, like it's a, it's a wild ride. So. As the design lead, I helped with their refresh, which is like, um, a couple of years before I joined Northern trust, um, created a design system.

[00:17:37] And so we're moving from both like a like look and feel like UI UX perspective and a tech perspective to like a whole new technology platform. And so a lot of the refresh was how do we take, how, what passport currently exists and put it on this new, like digital design system for faster development and more cohesive experiences like.

[00:17:56] Not just in a product, but across a suite of products because quite a few Northern partners also, aren't just our clients. Aren't just stuck into like one area. So I might use wealth passport, but I also might have to use this module that comes from like CNIs. And so if that's coming across a different business function, how can we make sure it seems like a seamless experience. 

[00:18:15] Harrison Wheeler: [00:18:15] It's like the, uh, the Adobe creative suite for finances.

[00:18:20] Theresa Slate: [00:18:20] Yes. Yes. And like, so the three functions we have, like the private, which is like two to two to 4 million, uh, the wealth management, which is the. Like I said 5 million to half a billion and a half a billion up is usually CNIs, which is like endowments or like, think of like the Gates foundation is there.

[00:18:36] And so some of these clients might have a dip into each of these, like, so they might be a wealth client because their family makes like $400 million and there's a team of accountants, but then the individual family members might be private clients. Because it's like, okay. Of this $400 million, I have like 3 million that I'm allowed to manage.

[00:18:56] So then they have to use the private client to like, manage that. So it's like very interesting on how all these things play together. And I think as Northern gets more and more mature as a design organization, one of the big things we've been pushing on is like, it's not just a look and feel. It's also like a technology stack.

[00:19:11] It's also looking at where all your data comes from and the database. And like right now, The data is much like the organization was, which is siloed. So it's like, Oh, well this, all this exists here in this database. So we need to duplicate it and put it into another database instead of just having them talk to each other.

[00:19:26] So like a lot of what I do outside of just like the look and feel, and the design is, um, like working with the development team and also working with the business to say like, here are better ways that we can start moving this forward. Like I find now being almost 10 years into my career, it's like, I'm less.

[00:19:41] And I'm like less in Figma doing things and more like working with the business and attending meetings and, you know, being like, and I think it's great. Cause I don't have to convince anyone the value of design. So that's like that happened before I got there. It's awesome. It's more like. How can we use design to leverage a more strategic vision?

[00:20:00] So like, this is how your outdated technology stacks impact your user experience. So just talking about how those things kind of played together, um, and then helping them understand that like for so much time, their user experience was driven by the complexity in the backend and saying that like, even though these two things, not to each other, Like the complexity of the back end should be hidden from the front end user.

[00:20:22] Like if we have to go and translate that stuff, that's fine. But this person shouldn't need to be like, Oh, okay, well, I spelled this like general ledger detail wrong. So let me go ahead and modify that and like, make sure it's all linking up. It's like, no, we should just be smart enough to the, to be able to do those kinds of things.

[00:20:36] So that's like a lot of what we're. Well, I know I'm working on and fighting against, especially as we continue on is let's not that that's, let's not let the technical complexity of the backend like sour. Well, we actually need to present to users. So like, it might not be, it might not be the same. Like, one of the things we're working on is like consolidating these kind of two things that are called transactions that come from two separate databases and they're different financial things.

[00:21:00] And then like, yeah, but to a user, it's all a transaction. They don't care.

[00:21:05] Harrison Wheeler: [00:21:05] think, you know, I, I, I love, I love this because I don't think there's enough conversation around. Um, legacy enterprise problems. Right. And, and I think the only way to be able to address those things is by being a strategic partner, you know, and, and, you know, it's, it's, I'm, I'm coming at it from this scope and perspective, because right now, like, you know, uh, FinTech is very hot and, uh, you hear a lot of stories from brand new companies.

[00:21:42] Right. That that really are working from, from scratch. Um, but I think it's actually very interesting when you're dealing with large clients who have invested years in sort of like this organization. And now you've got the software piece that, you know, the steps that you take are actually probably going to be more impactful long-term in terms of how people actually portray that, because I think were becoming. Less of a relationship based sort of society. Right? It's it's very sort of transactional. Self-serve tell me, let me, let me actually be able to go out and seek this information. Right. You tell me how it works and then if I have any additional questions, then I'll call on somebody when it's absolutely necessary.

[00:22:28] Theresa Slate: [00:22:28] Right. Right. And I think that's also been a big shift because at the core Northern is a service organization. So one of the reasons I joined and I was so most impressed is like, That is their, their core. And so it's new to them that the younger generation is coming in and they're like, no, just let me figure it out myself.

[00:22:44] And if I need you, I'll call you because the older generation was very much like, Oh, let me call my relationship manager and have them do all this stuff for me. And so I think, I dunno, that's what excites me. Like the, I think it's been interesting to see my transition because my final internship in school, I worked for, um, T out in Seattle.

[00:23:02] Which is like the designers design firm. And I went because I needed to prove to myself that like, I was good enough to go there. You know, like black turtle, necks, all love, Apple, that kind of thing. And, uh, rod, the experience was great because I actually got to work on a medical project there, but they mostly do like high-end design, like, you know, airplanes and porcelain phones for people in, you know, Singapore like high rich people in Singapore.

[00:23:24] Uh, at least at the time that might have changed. And I am really happy. I have that experience because I realized that's not. Really where I thrive. Like, I really love getting into the complexity of legacy systems and like, that's my advice. If anybody wants to get into, if you're a systems thinker and you love complexity work at a legacy company, because it will test you in ways that you don't like.

[00:23:46] That you're just not aware of. And I think too, it's like when legacy companies work with like consulting companies, I think it's given me such an edge and an eye about what it was like when I was coming in as a consultant. And I'm like, Oh, I get why they were rolling their eyes at me because you have to, you have to acknowledge the current struggles.

[00:24:04] And I think so much of working with legacy. It's honestly, I always call it like a Festivus meeting or I'm like, okay, we're going to kick off a project. Let's talk about all of the annoying reasons why we can't do what we want to do. Like let's get it all out there. And I want you to know that I hear you.

[00:24:19] I hear you. We're documenting it. And now we're going to put those away and we're going to talk about how we can move forward. And then we'll go back to that festival board. What do we need to like pull a post-it be like, okay, we want to do this in this. Here is the thing from festivals that we know is going to be the problem.

[00:24:33] So how do we tackle that? Because often it's not even like a design issue, it is like our tech stacks were built so siloed. So now we need to work on creating an API and like I have. Really enjoyed being able to do that. And like, I think I was, I think, I mean, I haven't gotten a ton of feedback on it, but I'm like, I think people feel listened to when I come into the room because it's like, I have that consulting background.

[00:24:57] So I haven't been like, sort of beaten down by being in financial institutions for 25 years, but I also have. Empathy for lack of a better word of like, I get it. You're going through something that's impossible. And every time you've tried to make changes in the past, your hand has been slapped. I'm here to tell you, let's talk about those hands laps and let's move forward because I just think they're so I don't know, to me, it feels like the industry is changing and that those like new hot startups and companies are just going to become less and less.

[00:25:28] Um, Available. And it's going to be more and more legacy products and legacy companies that are realizing the power of design and spinning up their own teams. And like, that's where I have appetite. And that's where it's kind of like, I feel like I've been sort of the stepchild in my entire design career.

[00:25:44] And I'm like, yes, finally, like my systems thinking, my analytical mind, like my love of calculus and anatomy and all this stuff has come together to create like a really niche, uh, career path for me.

[00:25:56]Harrison Wheeler: [00:25:56] I love, I love enterprise design. I love legacy design, I think. Or, you know, working with legacy applications. Right. Because I think even to your point, it's just like a different approach. I think.

[00:26:10] For instance, like design system takes on a whole other meeting when you are looking at these different systems that need to interplay, right. Or talking about an API to a team that, you know, doesn't really understand what those things are. There is a startup company that is. Focused on FinTech, just for connecting different banks that is, has this huge valuation. I'm like, this is so simple,

[00:26:37] Theresa Slate: [00:26:37] you would think that you would think that, but it's,

[00:26:40] Harrison Wheeler: [00:26:40] think that

[00:26:41] Theresa Slate: [00:26:41] And that even within Norbert, I'm like connecting between. Other systems, it's such a big, expensive thing. So then once we start adding third party into there, it's like a nightmare because financial data, you know, much like medical data with HIPAA is so tightly regulated that there are all of these checks and balances.

[00:26:59] And I know too, I'm like, I don't know. I would, I would recommend a lot of, especially young designers coming out. Maybe look at some of those legacy places. Like it's going to be frustrating and other ways, but you are going to learn so much about feasibility and innovation. Like I think one of the greatest things I learned at gravity tank was like talking about incremental innovation.

[00:27:18] So instead of it being, you know, what is it instead of blue sky it's like brownfield or something. And I'm like, that honestly is really interesting to me because all these people have actually had to be innovative for a really long time, because it's like, okay, we don't have any money. We got to get this thing, working for our clients.

[00:27:34] Like how have we sort of cobbled things together? And now they're at the point where like, they've been cobbling together, things for so long, it's hard for them to understand that it's like, you don't have that restriction anymore. They're like, you know, and I think that's like one of the greatest things is, um, I was thinking about this quote, which I feel like.

[00:27:51] It's both for legacy companies and for people's personal life. So this is a semi therapy session. It's like the tools that you use to survive will not help you thrive. And I feel like that is so true for a lot of legacy organizations. It was like, like, you know, cause Northern has been around since the late 18 hundreds and, you know, technology is relatively new, sort of in the, in the history, the whole history of that company.

[00:28:11] And so most of their products haven't been touched in like 20 to 30 years. And so it's like, Okay. Yes. In the eighties, technology probably did feel like a fad, but we're not there anymore. So. You know, that data file that in the eighties was like, Oh my God, I have to move a megabyte of data. That sensei is now.

[00:28:28] Like, you can do that. Can't even think about that. Like now we're talking in gigs. And so it's like, as that starts to grow, that's where it starts to get really interesting because it's like, well, they've already dealt with these problems before. Like, even though the maybe file size has changed, they know what it's like.

[00:28:44] If you're loading a super huge data file and how to make that load fast. So. There's just like a lot of knowledge. It's really just like pulling it out of people. And like, I think that's where my skills as a consultant comes in, because it's like, I'm not here to judge you. And like, I I'd like to approach all of my Prague.

[00:29:00] Like problems with humility. So I'm like, I'm a designer. I have a set of skills, but I can't solve the problem. Like I'm never going to know the ins and outs of like managing a general ledger better than an accountant, but I can hear what you're saying and we can work together to like, solve the problem visually.

[00:29:15] Like I was just talking to my friend today or it's like, I feel like a visual engineer is kind of the best way to describe. Where my value is, because it's not just about aesthetics. It's about coming together and making sure that, structurally things are sound and they work and not just about like, Oh, what typeface did I choose?

[00:29:33] But it's 

[00:29:35] Harrison Wheeler: [00:29:35] like, yeah,

[00:29:36] And look to your point though, and I'm a firm believer in this, like innovation doesn't happen, with a bunch of black people are a bunch of black people wearing. It does happen with a bunch of bubbles. It doesn't happen. It doesn't happen with a bunch of people wearing black turtlenecks in a room.

[00:29:53] It is a series of incremental steps. It's listening, it's doing the research. It's having that humility and solving really hard, complex problems. And over time, You're like, Oh, snap, like, we've got something

[00:30:06] Theresa Slate: [00:30:06] Exactly.

[00:30:07] Harrison Wheeler: [00:30:07] It's not like this magic moment. It's like, Oh man, we've we've been doing all this work. These small incremental steps have added up to something like so different and very unique that we're providing value.

[00:30:19] Theresa Slate: [00:30:19] Right. And that's like another big thing. Like some legacy organizations, they hear innovation and they want like shiny and new and it's like, no, no, no, no, no. You got to take a little bit of step, a little, a few steps at a time. So again, it's like the concept car, right? The couple of those concepts. And they're like, okay, if this is 20 years in the future, what model can we release every single year?

[00:30:37] So that, that doesn't seem because also major innovations, like. Rip Quiby. You don't look at that. Like that was unfounded unfunded, right? It was a new way to view or stream content without being tested or looking at what else other people are doing. And it just. Was rejected, like a pandemic took it down because now nobody's watching stuff on their phones.

[00:30:56] Cause no one's traveling. So like some of those big innovations, like are such a big gamble. Where's the incremental innovation is like, how can I take a little bit of risk, learn something from that little bit of risk and then take maybe a little bit of a larger risk next

[00:31:09] Harrison Wheeler: [00:31:09] yeah. Embrace the process.

[00:31:12] Theresa Slate: [00:31:12] And that's, I mean, that's me, I love a process.

[00:31:15] I always love a framework. I feel like they get so annoyed with me on calls. I'll be like, well, if we put this into two by two, they're like, Oh my God, Teresa again, I'm like, listen, the framework works.

[00:31:24] Harrison Wheeler: [00:31:24] you've got, you've got the lead I mean, not that that's the strategic partner in

[00:31:30] Theresa Slate: [00:31:30] Yeah. And I'm like, it's also, I think just my brain, because even if I wasn't a designer, like. I'm trying to think back. Oh, what a time was like before that, but even then I was very strategic. Like I can imagine myself as a child being like, okay, mom, I'm going to do my chores, but here's my thing. If we think about chores on one access and like time it takes on another access.

[00:31:51] But I think it was because my mom was a project manager. So I feel like she sort of instilled all of those things into us. So in college, they used to make fun of me because I would be like, we are not leaving this meeting without action items. I would throw like, what are you talking? I'm like, listen, we have to do this group project.

[00:32:06] Here are the five actions we need who was going to do each one of these.

[00:32:09] Harrison Wheeler: [00:32:09] Why weren't you? My friend in college, my I, my group, my group projects got nowhere

[00:32:16] Theresa Slate: [00:32:16] Aye.

[00:32:17] Harrison Wheeler: [00:32:17] We're like, who owns what?

[00:32:21] Theresa Slate: [00:32:21] No. I started feeling like, I know I was like my studio's den mother at some point, because even when we weren't on group projects, I'd be checking in on them. I'd be like, okay, we know that this is going to be due next week. How are you doing? Are you staying up late? Do you need me to bring you some food?

[00:32:36] That was just kind of like, we're all in this thing together. So, and I think too, like, You're talking about that. So my studio, so, um, how the design school works every like major takes 50 students a year they used to. And so then they would split them up amongst two sessions, people who would go to school and the winter and summer and people who would go to school in the fall, in the spring.

[00:32:56] And so we started off with twenty-five and we graduated with 12 only our section. The other section kept all 25 people. And we realized towards our senior year, it was because when people were meeting our standards, We either push them to do better, or I felt like burrito, but not braided them, but just like pressured them to drop out because it started to become like I have spent.

[00:33:17] Like all of my time working on this, something really great that I want good feedback and critique on. And it's so disrespectful for you to walk into the studio, having put no work into it. And so it's like that I think was kind of a cut throat mentality. We had not like, you have to be good, but it was like, if you're not going to be here to work, like the rest of us are working, that's just disrespectful.

[00:33:35] And we don't want to like waste our time on you. And so I think that definitely played out because only 12 of us ended up finishing in my section, but it was like a solid 12. It was people who were like, No, I'm here to be here. Like I'm in it to like work and do stuff and yeah.

[00:33:51]Harrison Wheeler: [00:33:51] Well, Hey look, we're going to wrap up

[00:33:53]In the spirit of giving gratitude. Uh, what are some things you've been thankful for over the past year?

[00:34:00] Theresa Slate: [00:34:00] thankful for. I've been very thankful for my wife. Um, shout out to Kaleena. She's awesome. Or they're awesome. Sorry. Um, And I think I've been really thankful two of my team at an order. Um, there's so much going on and to have the security, to actually thrive and be able to not just do design work, but also help with pushing like our diversity and inclusion initiatives.

[00:34:25] Like, um, I will shout out my manager, John Fisher, who is, singally one of the best managers I've ever worked with. And because he approaches it as like, not that he's managing my time, but that he's leading and he wants to understand, like, what are the things that I'm passionate about and how can we do that at Northern?

[00:34:41] And if there's something he doesn't understand, he comes at it with humility, like. Incidents of racism that I've experienced from people who were in the old guard in the bank, he listens and escalates those. He doesn't go like, well, maybe it wasn't racist. He's like, no. And so I feel like I finally have that sort of psychological safety for the first time at this the 140 year old institution that I never thought would happen.

[00:35:02] So those are like the biggest things I've been like really thankful for. And just like, especially as I dogged on social media before social media being able to keep up with my friends. So I can't see. And like, Finding new and fun ways to, to like connect. Like we're about to throw like a virtual Christmas party or like our friends had a baby during COVID, so we couldn't even go really see them for awhile.

[00:35:23] And it was just like, Oh great. We it's it's like taking me back. I feel like just sort of simpler, simpler times. We like made them a bunch of freezer food and dropped it off, or just like other ways that we've learned to connect outside of like seeing each other face to face. I've been really thankful to sort of let that.

[00:35:38] Kind of thrive and also to have the quiet of not always hustling. Sorry.

[00:35:44] Harrison Wheeler: [00:35:44] Yeah. The, the, uh, We had a family group zoom session over Thanksgiving. And I tell you not the first 30 minutes, we just all spent roasting each other. It was hilarious.

[00:35:59] Theresa Slate: [00:35:59] I mean, that's what you gotta do. I know we did that yesterday too with my family and like, I'm trying to get my brother. I'm allowed to buy my sister a replica Mandalorian costume because she loves the show and she loves, she loves love obsessed. She's obsessed. And they have a. They have two kids, but their youngest is about to be two.

[00:36:20] And that's like the thing, the costume come also comes with a replica of the trial tech. So you just got to take Brielle, you know, just pop her in the popper in the sec. And then, you know, you're all messed up. It's like $4,000. And that was just me, the whole video call, just trying to like buying it for her.

[00:36:37]Harrison Wheeler: [00:36:37] The nice thing about working from home, you can just rock that on the zoom call.

[00:36:42] Theresa Slate: [00:36:42] I know my sister had been working from home cause she's a, a patent reader for the government. So she's been working from home for a long time, but like, uh, yeah, I'm like working from home. It's awesome. I don't think I want to go back because I've been grateful. It's given me a lot more time to like, with my wife, we have lunch together everyday now.

[00:36:59] And I feel like there were times when we were losing track of each other and we've gotten so much time together and it like fits into my work style. I'm an early bird. So I like roll out of bed at six. Eat breakfast start work, usually wrap up the day by two or three, if possible, because that's when I work best.

[00:37:13] And so just having that flexibility, I feel like has given my mind so much more opportunity to do other things like the screen writing or the activism. It's like, Oh, I get off work at free. And I can like text bank. You know, my alderman later tonight at six and I'm not so drained from the day. So it's been a bit of a, like, I mean, COVID is terrible.

[00:37:32] I hope that we get a handle on it because people should stay home and wear masks, but like it also also been nice. It's been like a forced pause to stop and like, really think about what's kind of important. Yeah.

[00:37:44] Harrison Wheeler: [00:37:44] So how can folks connect with you? Uh,

[00:37:49] Theresa Slate: [00:37:49] You can find me on LinkedIn, Teresa slate. I think my thing is still atria a store, but I can't take it to feedback for LinkedIn. Okay. I should be able to change my, my little slash URL. Um, I don't have a Twitter anymore, so mainly just LinkedIn is probably the best way I have like an Instagram, but it's not that exciting.

[00:38:08] It's just like pictures of the food that we make and me making really terrible jokes. I have a lot of Instagrams actually. I got really into the Sims. So I have an Instagram for all of my SIM architecture builds. I haven't updated it in a while, but it's pretty impressive. So if you look for slate unlimited, I'd be very proud for people to follow me on there.

[00:38:29] Harrison Wheeler: [00:38:29] that I wanna, I want to follow that. That's I appreciate you being on the show. This was a very high energy, energetic conversation. Uh, enlightening as well. And this, this, this, this mean that Theresa is running for president in 2024. Like what? What's this what's what's going

[00:38:50] Theresa Slate: [00:38:50] No, no, I can't run for P I'm. Like I would never, there are so many reasons I wouldn't get to be president because I have like too many, too many fake jokes about inciting race Wars that. They would, people would pick up, but like, um, I know that's always what I tell my wife. So my wife is a white and non binary.

[00:39:08] Um, but they grew up like in the world, Illinois. And I was like, I was marrying you for generational wealth. And they were like, I know I'm sorry. But, um, no, my, my plan right now is probably I want to do local office. Cause I don't want to be a career politician and I really love Chicago. So my goal, if I end up running would be for city council in 2023.

[00:39:28] So we'll see.

[00:39:30] Harrison Wheeler: [00:39:30] Awesome. Well, well, best of luck. Uh, and, and let me know once, once the campaign contribution page goes up, I got you.


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