Pani Fooladvand is a Senior Experience Design Manager at T-Mobile. She’s one of our favorite grads (Class of 2016). Originally from Iran, she took a chance on Seattle when her fiancé got a job opportunity here. The move was supposed to be a temporary adventure in this world traveler’s life, but they fell in love with the Pacific Northwest and ended up getting married in Kerry Park at the top of Queen Anne Hill. She is now happy to call Seattle home. We talked to Pani about her current role at T-Mobile, how her path led her to (literally) stumble upon Seattle Central Creative Academy, her passion for creating useful design, her perseverance, and the community she’s built along the way.
A designer from the start
Pani knew from the time she was tiny that she wanted to follow a creative path in her life, even earning the nickname “little artist” in elementary school. One of her prized childhood possessions was a set of 24 Faber-Castell colored pencils and she harbors fond memories of drawing flowers and animals with her grandmother, her first artistic influence. Pani’s mom told her that she drew animals all over the walls of their house (and her cool mom wasn’t even upset about it). She always thought she’d be an artist – but at 10 she got a book on something called graphic design. Looking at the logos and layouts in the book she remembers thinking “This is a design for a purpose. Paintings are great but I also want to make things that people can use.” She held onto that goal and graduated with a BFA in Visual Communication Design from one of the best Art Universities in Tehran where she learned typography in Farsi, studied illustration, web design, and design history. After graduation, she continued her education in Art History and worked as a visual designer, web designer, art director, and UX design lead both in-house and at design agencies as well as large corporations in Iran, including Iranian television.
A life-changing discovery – found on a walk.
When she moved to Seattle she was able to continue her design work, but it was not the “step-up” she’d been hoping for. Working alone, she realized she was missing being a part of a community of like-minded people like she had in Tehran. She began research on going back to school, hoping it would help her level-up her skills, and find a community like the one she’d left behind. One day on a walk she happened upon Seattle Central College, went inside, and asked about the programs available. The woman she spoke to said, “We have a design program upstairs!” Surprised and curious, Pani ventured to the 5th floor and talked to a few students in the hallway. She returned for an open house, applied, and started the program in 2014. “From the very first moment I walked in, I realized this was for me.”
Set up for success at SCCA
“The courses at SCCA are diverse and challenging. I loved that [the program] gave students the freedom to choose their own path and to set themselves up for success in the future.” Pani reflected that the diversity of courses she experienced at SCCA – from coding to poster design and everything in between, set her up for success outside of school. She leveled up her Adobe software skills in Jason’s production classes and honed her typography skills in Jill’s extensive typography coursework. In Julia’s poster classes, she enjoyed learning new techniques and creating meaningful posters in “the best poster design experience ever”. In Erik’s classes, she was able to deeply connect with her childhood dream of designing useful products for people. Starting with empathy, and deeply rooted in the Design Thinking process she found the coursework prepared her to always be thinking about her user. “The process before and the way you care about your user is more important than rushing to a final product.”
She highlighted a project she created in Marc’s Special Topics class as being a sweet spot where all of her skills converged: Legends. She started with the problem: “How might I make World History more interesting for younger generations?” She was able to solve the problem using her passion for problem-solving, user research, illustration, and skills in Adobe Illustrator. It was a showstopper in her portfolio.
The Legends project was created for educational purposes by collecting and preserving legends and heroes from all around the world and to create a connection between ancient cultures and our contemporary world. “Through my user research, I realized the importance of education for younger generations and I found flat style illustrations as a functional element to communicate complex ideas. The project is a collection of legends, gods/goddesses, and heroes around the world that I translated into my flat design illustrations in a fun and interesting way.”
Iterating on her career
After graduation, she had hoped to be part of a team, where her ideas and input were valued. Instead, she found herself in a role that required her to work under a lot of pressure, turning out digital assets at a breakneck speed. Applying her design thinking skills to her own career, she thought a lot about what she wanted and didn’t want in her next job. Keeping a laser-sharp focus on her goal to be part of a team designing useful products, she was willing to iterate until she found a better fit. She soon found herself working at an exciting start-up and after a couple of months, working at T-Mobile on the Engineering Team as a UX designer.
Finding her team at T-Mobile
Pani joined the T-Mobile UX Engineering Team in 2017. She’s earned multiple certifications at T-Mobile, was recognized by the VP of Engineering and T-Mobile for her work.
As a Senior Experience Design Manager in the consumer retail organization, she focuses on the design process, customer experience, and User Experience, while overseeing all aspects of a project. Pani has found T-Mobile to be a place where she gets to live out her passion, and she loves to hear about people using the products she’s worked on. “I’ve led teams designing user-centered consumer and enterprise products and have led teams of UX and visual designers for T-Mobile for business products. eSIM and BusinessHub Connect are examples of applications for iOS and Android that I’ve been involved with from concept to completion.”
She’s found the various teams she’s worked on to be collaborative and fun to work with. “I wear multiple hats at work from concepting to my involvement in user research sessions, and working across a wide variety of products across all platforms.”
Multiple hats make life more interesting
Pani wears multiple hats outside of work as well and credits many of her interests as being the fuel for her creative life. She sees her travel adventures with her favorite travel partner, and BFF (her husband) as a way to build empathy by connecting with other people. This influences her design practice as well “My cross-cultural life and travel experiences influence my work in a unique and special way.” They’ve been to 20+ countries so far and have dozens more on their bucket list.
She’s also a classically trained alto singer who loves singing in choirs. And she still draws. “I can usually be found at the art supply store, planning for my next cosplay project, reading about different cultures around the world, or looking to find new and interesting illustration techniques for my next illustration project.”
Unicorns: It takes one to know one
Asked what advice she might give someone thinking about starting the design program at SCCA, or current students she said “Look for your passion. Your passion will show when you are at work. When the stress and pressure of school go away, it will show. Look for the place you want to grow, and always learn new things.” She continued, “So many people coming out of SCCA are unicorns. And I call them unicorns because they can do visual design, they can do typography, and they can do UX and that is a really rare unicorn in the job market. All the design disciplines are connected and are equally important to the end-product.”
She added, “I appreciate the opportunity SCCA provided me, and the instructors who are fantastic, extremely knowledgeable, supportive, and inspiring. I’m grateful to SCCA for having helped shape my career in preparing me for these next steps.”
Thanks, Pani – we appreciate you, too!
Written by Julia McNamara and Edited by Pani Fooladvand