Mentor Spotlight: NeYane Daniel and the Art of Design

A senior product designer’s take on respect, diversity, and a people-centric attitude.

March 10, 2021


It’s a term often used in today’s approach to problem-solving and we hear it a lot in the design space. Companies are realizing the importance of solving for people rather than just producing products and while demand for UX/UI designers is growing, its competition even more so.

With more and more required skills to have under your belt, it can be overwhelming trying to land that first designer role. But take it from NeYane, a seasoned product designer in the tech world, the one thing to always keep top of mind: be people-centric.

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NeYane Daniel has a rich history as a designer in a colorful range of industries. She’s worked as a user experience (UX) researcher and designer for digital products in healthcare, retail, food services, education, and automotive—just to name a few. Not only has she brought the significance of user-centric design into companies’ traditional way of working, she’s also guided other designers in their careers as a mentor.

Currently a lead product designer at Reverb, she most recently has joined the Co.Lab community as a Design Mentor!

Attend the Winter 2021 Demo Day!

Our Co.Laborators have been hard at work for the past few weeks! Come hear from Product Managers, Designers and Developers on how their first time working within a real product team went, and see their shipped products in action!

Industrial to Digital

The digital space hasn’t always been in NeYane’s world. Her childhood dream to design cars drove her to study industrial design, which was more in the physical products space. Along the way however, she realized that UX design hadn’t been limited to the physical world but can also be applied to the digital space. She saw that technology was starting to have a bigger role in almost everything we did.

NeYane wanted to be able to be a part of that.

“I’m happy that I started in the physical product world because although UX seems new to many people, it’s actually not. It’s been around for as long as things have been around. When you’re talking about tangible goods, you’re hyper-aware of how someone senses everything: where they’re sitting, the things that they’re doing, how they’re touching, how it feels and sounds and looks. You also have these engineering of physical goods, which takes a very long time [to get products out].

In the digital world, we can build and break things so quickly with engineering and get things out faster, but sometimes we aren’t as human-minded as we could be. That’s where UX designers come in. I saw the opportunity to make digital product design more human.”

During the transition into the tech space, her biggest learning curve was user interface (UI). She wasn’t 3D modelling anymore, but mocking up user interfaces. It was a different set of tools she had to pick up and NeYane had to learn to crack the code on visuals. At the end of the day however, it all came back to the foundations.

“I realized that with UI design, it’s not purely visuals. Just like in the way of being a designer is not purely creating whatever you want to create. I leaned on the principles of design and usability to guide what I did. This was still problem-solving. There’s a rhyme and a reason to everything.”

Keep This in Mind

And what is one of the foundations? What is a fundamental trait to have for building people-centric solutions? I ask NeYane the one key principle to keep in mind for all designers.

“Respect. You hear empathy a lot, but also think about respect.

For the people you are providing the solution for. Respect for their differences, for their pain-points and frustrations, for their intentions. And not only the users, but have respect for your team and company and the goals and visions they bring.

Ultimately, what you’re making isn’t about you. Having a respect for people in general leaves you much more with an open-mind and this ability to listen. You’re able to come with a lot more curiosity and see things from many different angles. You will likely produce different types of solutions that maybe you didn’t think about before because you’re listening more.”

Your Move, Businesses

The sentiment extends to not only the different clients NeYane works with but to individuals she sees breaking into the industry. Respect the diverse problems and users but also respect diverse designers. Talent is not only about skill, it’s people-centric as well!

When prompted on the subject of diversity in the tech and design space, she recounts on the importance of representation.

“I was interested in designing cars because I was looking at a magazine at my grandma’s house when I was a kid. There was a black woman over there at Chrysler and I thought, ‘oh there’s a black woman doing it. I could do it too!’ Looking back, I realized that whoa, representation matters.”

As a black female in the Midwest, in tech and design, NeYane clearly sees a diversity gap and makes it a mission to help people of colour kick down doors. She does this by being a mentor at ADPList, a community for designers to connect and participate in mentorship opportunities.

“The talent is out there. You hear all kinds of excuses as to why environments aren’t diverse enough but there isn’t any excuse. I have so many mentees who are minorities so I know the talent is there. It’s your move, businesses, and I want to do what I can to empower the talent to go after what they want. It’s partnership time.”

NeYane as a mentor at ADPList

Real World Experience in Co.Lab

It comes as no surprise then, when NeYane decides to be a Design Mentor at Co.Lab for the Winter 2021 cohort.

“Seeing what places like Co.Lab is doing, democratizing mentorship, helping people get their foot in the door or levelling up, helping under-represented groups is amazing. I’m honored to be a part of that.”

During our chat, she dove into the unique experience that Co.Lab brings that bridges the dissonance between theoretical education on design and its real-world application. 

“The biggest thing that I think will come as a culture shock when people come out of design labs or boot-camps is that they’re not going to be in a bubble surrounded by other designers. They’re going to be working with a lot of non-designers and they’re going to have to advocate for their designs in a way that they have not yet learned.

There is an art to advocating for your design recommendations. It’s not going to be pretty all the time, it’s not going to feel comfortable all the time. You’ve got to communicate and build that trust with your team. Even though you have different roles and responsibilities, you all have the same goal at the end. So how do you make sure you carry that through everything you do?

People having that experience now is amazing, it’s invaluable. So I’m excited that something like Co.Lab exists.”

NeYane is currently a discipline mentor to four design students. And the one thing she hopes to see by the end of the program is their confidence as a designer to tackle problems and to realize the impact they can make.Hustle, Collaboration, Diversity

NeYane with her design students

Hustle, Collaboration, Diversity

Just like our previous features, I asked NeYane which Co.Lab-approved words she best resonate personally with:

Hustle – “I’m a hustler through and through, ever since I got my first job at 14. Go for what you want. Be mindful of how that transforms over time based on how you continue to grow and be.”

Collaboration – “Building relationships with people who don’t necessarily work with you is key to providing solutions to people. Collaboration is getting perspective.”

Diversity – “I’m a firm believer in companies in not being their own benchmark. You can’t provide solutions for people that are meaningful when they’re only coming from you.”

Any of them resonate with you? Maybe it’s a sign to become a mentor like NeYane ;) Mentor applications for Co.Lab’s Spring 2021 season is out—why not try your hand in it?

Or meet up with like-minded individuals and join us on Demo Day on March 27th. The Winter 2021 cohort will be showing off their amazing ideas and products after nine weeks of hustlin’ and bustlin’!


Stay tuned for more as we chat with our members and get to know their story. Don’t forget to connect with us on Linkedin, Twitter or Instagram.

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