In this new edition of Spotlight I’m talking to Dalia Moya, a UX/UI & visual designer from Seville who lives and works in L.A. Smart, easygoing and full of life, I am proud to introduce you to this wonderful woman and her work. Join us as we talk about culture shock, design, creativity and much more.
I met Dalia some years ago. We both worked at the same digital marketing agency. She was designing graphics for social media, logos and websites, I was thinking up content and running campaigns. Lots has changed since then but, doesn’t it always?
Originally from Gines, Spain, this small town girl moved across the ocean to Los Angeles, California. She likes to say I am partly to blame for this, guilty of nudging her in the direction of an adventure she’d always dreamt of.
Inspired by a desire to improve her English and a longing to explore the world, she swapped our office for an English school, and the quiet of her pueblo for a metropolis of over 3 million.
In times of pandemic, an ocean apart and with time zones to factor in, our conversation took place the only way possible: over Zoom. As our screens became windows into each others’ worlds, Dalia told me her story.
Love, design and the American dream.
“I’ve been in L.A. for about four years now. Coming to the United States was a bit of a childhood dream. America had always sort of been ‘the world from the movies’ that I was never going to get to experience,” she began.
“What brought me to Los Angeles was meeting the man who is now my husband. When I met Jackson, I began to dream a little again [about America] and started thinking ‘What if I went over there too?’ I could live the dream for a bit or at least learn the language. That’s what brought me here. It seems I liked it so much, I stayed!”
America had always sort of been ‘the world from the movies’ that I was never going to get to experience.
What is your favourite part of living in Los Angeles? I asked.
“The adventure.” Her reply is emphatic and full of excitement. “Right now we can’t go out much, but before, making plans with friends, you realise they’re putting on a comedy show about Facebook just down the road. So you go over there, not sure what to expect and suddenly you find yourself in a small venue, with no more than 20 people, and you realise the actor who is performing is someone famous. It’s unexpected to suddenly see him up there. I’m watching a famous actor perform! That’s one of the things I love. You get plenty of adventures and stories like that.”
Moving abroad can be difficult as well as full of adventure. Did you experience a lot of culture shock?
“Yeah, I suffered from huge culture shock when I moved here. I arrived thinking I was going to be in a city full of surfers, with palm trees everywhere and beautiful sunsets. It’s true, the sunsets are marvelous here but other than that, I didn’t see any surfers, I didn’t see the palm trees… I moved to Corea Town. I didn’t move to Beverly Hills.” She laughs at this, realising how much she has learnt since she first arrived.
“Bear in mind that I had hardly left my town, Gines, before this. I hadn’t even lived in Seville. So moving here to a huge city, it was noisy, a little crazy…” She pauses as if processing everything that has happened so far. “But yeah, it was a big shock.”
“Living in L.A. has opened my mind at an accelerated pace. Discovering and learning to understand other cultures and ways of life. Other cultures do things differently. It doesn’t mean they are better or worse, it just means we need to learn to communicate differently without criticizing. […] I don’t think I would have learnt that if I hadn’t left Seville. In fact, I’m not sure I would have leant it if I had gone elsewhere in the U.S.A.”
From arts and crafts to building a creative career.
What about design? When did you first discover it and what made you want to develop a career in this field?
“Ever since I was a child I’ve been involved in creative activities. My mum would sign me up to all sorts. Maths Camp was definitely not for me but things like making clay figurines or any craft course, I loved it! I could spend hours on that and I would take stuff home with me and keep working on it there. I think my mum realised quite early on that I wasn’t going to be a lawyer or a doctor.”
When she was 15 she found an old book with yellowed pages in her parent’s home. Published sometime in the 80’s, bought second hand at a flea market and then forgotten about, this book showed up just as she was beginning to wonder what she wanted to do as a career.
“That book told the history of brands and logos and why logos such as ‘Renault’ work as well as they do. It showed a progression from the first ‘Renault’ logo to the latest. I remember being fascinated by that.”
I remember thinking ‘Wow, this is so cool. Is this really a job? This is something people do? They create brands?’
That is when she came across the Escuela de Arte de Sevilla (Seville School of Arts). She did two years of graphic design there, then went on to study a year of photography at the same school while sending out CVs.
“Half way through that photography course I was offered my first job in graphic design.”
It took a little umming and ahhing but she decided to go for it. She quit her photography studies and started working at an agency in a posistion directly related to what she wanted to do.
“I spent about two years at that agency. The first few months I was in the marketing department, but I was always eyeing the web designer’s screen. After a few months of watching her work, I remember telling my bosses, ‘I think I could do this’. I was more interested in designing websites. I thought it was a lot cooler and so I requested a department transfer and they were ok with that. And that is the story of how I started out in design.”
From there it was just a matter of time and experience, leading to the work she does today.
Have you always considered yourself a creative person? Why or why not?
“I grew up thinking I wasn’t creative. I don’t know why. I remember wanting to draw things and not really coming up with many ideas. I think, perhaps, that is something a lot of creatives have trouble with, thinking they’re not creative enough because on that particular day they’re not very inspired. So I’ve never really considered myself a very creative person. My mum, on the other hand, did use to say it a lot. So over time I started believing it.”
As a UX / UI designer Dalia’s job is to create user-friendly interfaces to help make tech usage more intuitive. There is creativity in problem solving as much as there is in a masterpiece that hangs on the wall at a museum.
“Today, people refer to me as an artist, but I don’t consider myself an artist at all. Because what I do is create products for clients, making sure things work well for them.”
“I don’t consider myself an artist, but now I do onsider myself to be creative, because I have understood what creativity is. My job requires me to create and invent things, such as visual or functionality solutions.”
Can everyone be creative or is it a special skill just a few are born with?
“I believe everyone is creative from the moment they are born. We all have to look for ways to solve problems, it’s something we all do from a young age and I believe that’s creativity. Placing a stool in the kitchen to reach the cereal high up is a creative solution. I heard an illustrator say recently ‘the reason I’m an illustrator and you’re not is because you stopped drawing when you were young and I didn’t’. I believe that’s what it boils down to.”
“For example, my brother is an engineer, something many people think is the opposite of being a creative, very logical, mathematical… Last summer we were sat having a drink, waiting for him to get the tires on his car changed, and he was telling me about a problem he had at the factory, a machine wasn’t working and the replacement wouldn’t arrive for another month. He’d figured out a temporary fix, to keep it running until they could change it. We happened to be talking about creativity at the time and how our jobs were so different but I said to him, ‘you’ve just come up with a solution out of thin air, if that isn’t creativity, I don’t know what is, even if it’s a different type of creativity’. So yeah, I think everyone is creative in their own way.”
Who or what inspires you?
“Dribble inspires me, a lot.” She laughs at this, but it’s true, nonetheless. “I find inspiration in lots of people. Right now, someone who inspires me even though they have nothing to do with UX design, is Home Sweet Home, because I just love the way she runs her business. She does lettering on walls for businesses, so she goes there in person and does a huge mural. I’m finding inspiration in the business side of things, in how she has ways for making passive income as well as her main creative work. But, really, every month it’s someone different.”
What do you do when you’re feeling uninspired or can’t think of any good ideas?
“When I don’t feel creative I always try to do a different creative activity, something unrelated to my job like watercolour painting or playing the guitar, something that stimulates your creativity but doesn’t imply thinking about work. It helps you unwind and return to work with fresh ideas.”
“The book ‘Steal like and artist’, gives some good advice. It says something like when you get stuck creatively, do boring things: do some ironing, go for a long walk, because when you get bored you start thinking about the last thing you did, which was the problem you had and you were stuck on, and eventually when you spend time bored thinking about the problem, you think up a solution. So if I’m not feeling inspired I either do something boring or something stimulating that is unrelated to the creative blockage. Hopefully that is helful advice for someone.”
How do you get from an idea to a finished project?
“When I face any web design project -which is what I design most at present- I have to take three things into account: 1) The designer (which is me). 2) The client. And 3) The team I am working with at the time. So I have three opinions to pay attention to.”
“The first step is to interview the client, if the team hasn’t already done so, and I create a briefing with the aim of understanding what the client needs, to make sure I cover all those needs in the solutions I provide, in a way that is user friendly. The next step is to create the website architecture and decide how the website will work. Once we have decided on the structure, which section needs to link to which information and so on, I can begin focussing on the design part. I create a moodboard with examples the client has provided as a reference, or things my boss and team have suggested based on the client’s preferences. Once I have all those ideas to refer to, I go on to design the site.”
“Once I have the design with a few of the website pages, I build a prototype. This basically means bringing the design to life, so that my client can see and imagine what the final result could look like. Then, when it is approved, we move on to creating the full website, which can either be done by me or the programmer.”
Do you always like the results of your creative process?
“Ooh, good question. Not always. I mean, I always try to feel proud of the final result, whether it’s what I would have chosen to do or not, and I’ll tell you what I mean by that. When I present a first draft to a client, I am presenting a design I love, one that I think would work perfectly, based on the three opinions I mentioned before. Then the client provides feedback and the changes they make I might think they don’t benefit usability. So I always try to provide solutions that fit with the changes they ask for but, also, that I can still be proud of having done a good job as far as usability and design goes.”
What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out in UX Design?
“My advice would be never present a final design that you don’t consider to be right. It might not be the option you would have gone with or the best design solution, but you should always produce something you are proud of, because it’s going to have your name on it and as a professional you always have to produce the best solution in your expert opinion. Otherwise, later, when you have to put together a portfolio, you’ll have to add it and you won’t feel proud of the work you’re showing, because you know you can do better. Or if you hate it so much that you don’t include it in your portfolio, it’s just another project. And over time, if you have lots of projects like that, where you’re not proud of the work you produce, it leads to frustration and burnout. So, you need to be proud of what you create or at least know that you have provided a solution that works and that won’t make users close the website the second it loads. So that’s one piece of advice I’d give.”
Would you give that advice to your younger self? Or what would be something you would have liked to know when you started out?
“Something I would say to my yourger self is: take feedack as a challenge and not as defiance. Frequently your clients or your boss will say they don’t like something and maybe the way they say it or simply the fact that they are criticizing the design feels like ‘how dare you?’. However, when I make those changes I realize I had been wrong and I’ve learnt loads from the feedback I’ve received from clients and from my bosses, even if they had no specific notions of design.”
“Whenever you receive feedback, there is a reason to it. It might just be that the client isn’t happy because they don’t feel the design you created represents their business. That doen’t mean the design is wrong or not good, it just means it isn’t conveying what the clients needs. Which is why you should always take feedback as a challenge to grow professionally and improve your skill and not take it like a personal attack, because it’s not.”
Do you have a favourite project you’ve worked on or one you feel particularly proud of?
“I feel very proud of a project I’m finishing up at the moment. It’s the first mobile app I’ve done alone. It’s an astrology app and it has been great fun to design because it has a lot of magical effects with sparkles and the like. It’s not got as much content but it has provided a chance to solving user experience elements such as where to place a button so that it’s closer to your thumb and easier to click on, which have been fun to figure out and I’m really happy with the final design.”
So tell me about your illustrations, are they just for fun or is that something you want to do more of professionally too?
“I’ve always loved illustration, but maybe due to lack of confidence in my abilities, I never thought I was a good illustrator – I still think I’m not – but I really enjoy it. So I spent several years practicing drawing on the ipad and when I gained some confidence I started posting a few illustrations on Instagram or on Dribble. Then I realised there was potential there, too, because illustrations are gaining popularity in website design. Take Mailchip, for example. Their site has illustrations everywhere. I’m trying to improve my illustration skills, right now just as a hobby but looking to add it as one of my services in future.”
We can’t finish up without talking about travel. Right now we’re all missing the ability to hop on a plane and go and explore, but what’s a favourite place you’ve visited? Somewhere you really loved or surprised you?
“The first place that comes to mind is Cuba, which was the last place I visited, it is so beautiful. It was somewhere new for us both, neither my country nor his, and everyone was very friendly.”
“Travel definitely inspires me. Every little thing can teach you something, each trip, different cultures, they inspire your life. And part of my life is my work, maybe if my job weren’t my passion it wouldn’t influence me as much, but I love what I do, so it’s all related.”
Thanks, Dalia, for talking to me and sharing your story, tips and advice.