Kimberly Mitchell, director of product design at Navan, has always been hyperfocused on the user experience—even before the term existed.
“Back in the ’90s, user experience was not a well-known term, and concepts like product design and design thinking didn’t exist,” she said.
Kimberly describes her path to becoming a designer as nontraditional and circuitous. She was mainly guided by her own curiosity: She taught herself how to code websites through trial and error, and as her skills and expertise expanded, she soaked up knowledge about design principles along the way.
“I've always been the kind of person who jumps in and figures stuff out, which was great at that time because there was no school for being a webmaster,” said Kimberly.
But there was a definite need for businesses to have websites. She recalls how businesses would hand over cumbersome Word documents and ask her to get the content online and make it “look pretty,” with little thought behind what a user was trying to accomplish.
As her client list grew, Kimberly saw that there was so much more to a website than its aesthetics.
“During every single sales pitch, I’d spend time teaching potential clients how a good user experience is key,” she said. “I wanted to help businesses get to the heart of what they wanted to do and who their audience was—and show them how their website could help them achieve business outcomes.”
After working as a web designer and a consultant, Kimberly became a serial entrepreneur. She started and sold several small businesses, including a high-end portrait photography business, a commercial photography studio, and a marketing agency that specialized in profiles for families looking to adopt children.
“I began to understand that I enjoyed designing businesses, which is essentially service design,” she said.
With her new clarity of purpose, Kimberly decided she wanted to return to the corporate world. She worked at a seed-stage startup before taking a succession of service and product design roles with Capital One, Intuit, Facebook, and Brex.
Five months ago, she made the move to Navan. Not surprisingly, a large part of the draw for Kimberly was the company’s intense focus on user experience. Ensuring that the company is always in pursuit of what’s best for users is one of Navan's values.
“It was great to hear leadership talk about how taking care of end users is the core of what it takes to build a successful business product,” she said. “Working for a company that understands how to innovate and then how to make it real and how to ship it has been my goal for a long time.”
Kimberly said she immediately felt aligned with the company’s values and was pleased to see that design had an equal and strategic voice in how product-level decisions were being made.
“Every time somebody refers to design as the function that makes things look pretty, a little piece of me dies inside,” she said.
As the director of product design, Kimberly partners across business functions to ensure that the entire product organization is aligned on the product vision, strategy, and goals. This collaborative effort also makes certain that teams are prioritizing and building the right product features—those that provide value to businesses and end users.
“Designers need to be driving conversations and influencing how things happen,” she said. “These are skills they don’t teach in design school, and part of supporting this team is teaching those skills and building that muscle.”
Kimberly’s team is currently hiring for several roles at the intersection of product design and user experience. See open roles at Navan.
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