<aside> 💭 Zahin Ali is an Interaction Design Lead at IDEO where he is passionate about prototyping human centered touch points around ambiguous problems involving people and technology. He pursues simplicity, beauty, and elegance in designing products and services. His language of design is getting tangible through deep collaboration, and he seeks to inspire clients and teams through the art of storytelling and teaching.

He builds this on a varied background consisting of industrial design at a medical wearable startup, designing drought indicators at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and designing manufacturing systems at Tesla.

Outside of IDEO, Zahin is committed to mentoring and teaching design at DePaul University and at the Jacobs Institute of Design at the University of California, Berkeley.

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💭 Who are you and what do you do?

I have an undergraduate degree in industrial engineering and operations research from the University of California Berkeley. I discovered design through the famous shopping cart video by IDEO in my senior year of undergrad in a product design course. I worked at Tesla over 10 years ago optimizing production, manufacturing processes for cars, and working with people and assembly lines. Losing my job was the push I needed to enter the design world in the days before UX went mainstream.

My first foray into design was through an independent studio class during a summer program at Parsons: doing actual physical product design, working in 3D softwares, and telling stories through the documentation of my work. When things got clearer in terms of what kind of designer I wanted to be, I took a year off and worked at some startups and completed a few internships where I learned more about creative technology, Arduino, speculative design. I also completed a graduate education in design. From those experiences, I realized I wanted to apply more problem solving, and I felt an urge to connect with people with a more vigorous research based approach which led me to working at IDEO as an Interaction Designer.

💭 Can you tell us more about the work you currently do?

To me, UX design and Interaction design are rather interchangeable. I’ve been at IDEO for almost 5 years now, where I started as a designer and am now an interaction design lead. At IDEO, we have different designers from different disciplines: industrial, business, interaction, communications, and even research design. I’m part of the Products and Services cohort, which is a collection of all sorts of designers focused on this as a theme in their work. As an interaction designer, I work in prototyping at all levels of fidelity. Most often, I work a lot with sacrificial prototypes — throwaway design artifacts that we can use as probes in an interview. These can take the form of sketches, screens, mock-ups, and journey maps. Being a team lead also means I oversee projects, client relationship management, and direct design processes.

<aside> ☀️ In my work, I have to be very deliberate about determining the right fidelity of the prototype based off the time and phase of the project. It is crucial to make that decision when presenting to clients to ensure a project goes smoothly.


Many of these projects span across the early exploratory stages of businesses design innovation and production. Based on the project, we engage in a wide breadth of work, such as testing prototypes and launching pilot runs, which allows us to inform clients on different paths they could take, which I refer to as tangible forms of design strategy.

💭 How do you lead multidisciplinary teams at design consulting firms?

Working in design consulting and at IDEO is a highly collaborative, cross-disciplinary environment. My work can be a hybrid of interaction design, research, business design, product design, which can lead to an all-hands-on-deck type of approach. For example, if it’s a highly exploratory project, it would likely require a design researcher and business designer who would be responsible for defining learning goals as well as what we need for the client, creating research screeners, actively recruiting, and also designing the research assets and discussion guides.

<aside> ☀️ IDEO has a dedicated team to staff projects with the right composition of designers to tackle design challenges and client needs. I’m a project lead for some of those teams.


During the course of a project, we also work together through research synthesis where we work to extract insights from raw data, define a research-based direction, summarize our findings, and create design principles to process insights in a more directed way to inform future conceptualization. From there on, I take a more active role in realizing client needs through appropriate means.

💭 What is the most challenging aspect of leading and tackling design challenges as a multidisciplinary team?

One of the toughest challenges in design consulting is that there’s almost a given unknown when designing things for the first time, especially if it’s innovation based. The low point of projects from my experience is when ambiguity level is high and the team doesn’t know what to do next. Breaking new ground also requires us to be more imaginative and blue-sky thinkers, which becomes even more of a challenge while working alongside the constraints of the client. This tension between ambiguity and negotiating open creativity with business constraints is a challenge.

<aside> ☀️ 9 out of 10 times, prototyping something is the right thing to do. Make something and see what happens or ask the right questions to move beyond ambiguity.


As a project lead, a lot of the responsibilities is to be able to anticipate those ambiguous moments and pull in resources at the right time to keep the wheels moving. It’s about setting your team up for success, determining when and how to apply design resources at the right time, and finding the requirements to solve problems. We need to ask ourselves “how do we keep track and focus?” At the core of it, storytelling also plays an important part in my role.

💭 How do you weave storytelling into working with teams and clients?

It’s more than just reading a quote off the deck. We use storytelling to get the client to practice empathy while also highlighting the needs of users. For example, in one of our research and insights workshops, we presented stories to clients and had in-person gallery walks with illustrations, personas, and voice recordings. Clients were able to feel the emotional aspects and weight of what people had been saying about the project.