ArticleNovember 1, 2023 · 6 min read time
Principal Service Designer Liisa Benmergui recently celebrated her first work anniversary at Nitor. Liisa places her trust in pen, paper, and adaptability, often finding herself surprised at how her winding path has led her to design digital services.
Hi Liisa! Could you start us off by sharing a bit about your career up to this point?
My background is quite diverse. I initially studied biology but later earned a new degree in media technology in Finland. So, while I do have engineering credentials, I don't necessarily consider myself an engineer. I've always seen myself primarily as a problem solver.
After school, I ended up working on a project for the European Union, where I spent a couple of years alongside working on my thesis. I created numerous paper prototypes and became interested in methods that weren’t considered typical in the early 2000s. Eventually, one of my teachers asked if I'd be interested in consulting work.
I ended up applying for a job where I had the opportunity to present some of the drawings and processes I'd created, focusing not so much on the end results but the methods behind them. The Design Director interviewing me was delighted: I’d been the only one who presented the methods I was working under.
So, that's where it all started. What was the next step?
I spent many years working on UI Design, but I wasn't particularly fond of working in a pixel-perfect way. Gradually, I found myself transitioning to roles where the goal was to discuss and contemplate the ultimate purpose of what we were working on. I essentially became a concept designer, as at the time, the title of Service Designer wasn't commonly used in Finland.
When service design, ethnographic methods, and involving more people in the process started to become the norm, somewhere in between the concept of Service Design emerged as well. I worked in the B2C world for a long time before moving to the public sector, where I worked as Lead Service Designer in projects with the Digital and Population Data Services Agency, as well as Helsinki’s Regional Transport Authority (HSL).
At HSL, I worked on projects like travel pass online top-ups, the online journey planner (Reittiopas), and HSL's web services. There was plenty of work to complete and refine, so my partner and I had our hands full. I worked on everything from user interfaces to research projects, and was heavily involved in various different enterprises.
If someone had asked me 30 years ago what I’d be doing today, I doubt I would have answered designing digital services. But here I am.
Life takes unexpected turns indeed! How has your role evolved and developed over time?
Over the course of time, I've transitioned into a role where I still ponder over user interfaces, but with added focus on the overall user experience. I enjoy customer projects where I can work closely with the client's employees. Employee experience undeniably impacts customer experience.
I'm inspired by Liisa's innovativeness, the constant desire to learn and grow, and the ability to make everyone feel valued. Liisa's positive attitude lights up any room she enters.
- Eveliina Lakka, Business Strategy Consultant
What has your experience been like as a Nitorian digital engineer so far, given that you've been a part of Nitor for only a year?
Nitor extends employees an exceptional amount of freedom to shape our respective job descriptions and what types of projects we can participate in. From a designer's perspective, I’ve found it very liberating that design is so highly valued at Nitor. There’s no mindset to the effect of, "We're a development company, and designers just doodle away at pretty pictures while developers do the real work". On the contrary – right from the start, I’ve felt that the possibility of projects benefitting from designer's skillset is explored from the outset. I feel that my work is respected here.
Nitor's employees also have a wealth of experience across the board. I'm a generalist myself, and I get a kick out of the fact that diversity of experience is so highly valued here. At Nitor, people’s unique features are genuinely appreciated.
That's great to hear! Can you tell us a bit more about how you see your role as part of Nitor's comprehensive puzzle of experts and professionals?
My strong suit is nurturing collaboration and team spirit. I can adapt my role according to the team's needs and approach situations from multiple angles. I'm not rigid about how things should be done or the framework of routine. I don’t know if that’s a particularly unique feature, but many tend to find that way of working challenging.
I'm also part of Nitor's team in the UN Global Compact program, which aims to promote workplace equality. I organized the Service Design Day event at Nitor last summer, which was a big undertaking as well as an interesting project. Client work of course takes up a lot of my time, but even during my first year at Nitor, I've enjoyed a wide range of experiences. Who knows what the next year will bring!
Surely even more exciting twists and turns lie ahead! You mentioned that you are also taking part in promoting workplace equality at Nitor. Given your extensive experience, how would you say the landscape of equality in the industry has evolved over time?
Throughout my career and working at many development companies, I’ve found that a significant number of women work in design. Fewer women operate on the software development side, but that's influenced by how the industry has developed over time.
When I was in school, there was no separate education for interaction design. It was part of the software development line in engineering education, and most students were men. Today, I'd venture a guess that there are many more women studying software engineering at universities. However, the industry values seniority, and even today, that means more men are hired. In many places, leadership positions are also primarily occupied by men.
However, I feel that in the field of information technology there are many roles where the value of one’s perspective shouldn't be gauged through a binary lens such as gender. The most crucial thing is one's unique perspective and vision. Bringing that to the forefront can sometimes be challenging for women in a male-dominated industry. I, too, have been belittled by higher-ups in a large company. It’s irritating, but one should also be able to laugh off such behavior and try to steer the conversation in a more positive direction with a positive attitude.
That certainly requires a stern backbone. What advice would you give to women considering a career in technology who are concerned about facing such issues?
If you encounter condescension, remember that the underlying deficiencies lie within the people who harbor such attitudes. Maybe they lack knowledge, skills, or understanding, and that manifests via foolish or inappropriate comments. In such situations, trust in yourself and remember your worth. When you present your skills and do so confidently, you can be sure you will secure the position you deserve wherever you end up working.
In this campaign, we’ll introduce Nitoreans in different roles. Every Nitorean is a Digital Engineer: a pragmatic and solution-oriented helper who doesn’t settle for assumptions. Instead, they take one step further to seek the right questions and even better answers.