As the Design Lead for Microsoft’s digital personal assistant — Cortana, created for the Windows Phone 8.1 — Sogol Malekzadeh is a force to be reckoned with in the tech industry. Scroll down to learn about her inspirations, her advice for other designers and what else she’s got in store!
Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
I began my career in Iran in the art industry and have a great passion for the intersection of humanizing technology and design. I joined Microsoft about five years ago, and since then, I have been enjoying working on an array of projects from Windows Phone to services across Microsoft.
How was Cortana born?
We believe technology and experiences are more meaningful when they’re deeply personal to an individual. With Cortana, we wanted to design experiences that embrace human values and our complicated life, to elevate our emotions, to celebrate our behaviors, to grow the ways we grow, to learn and evolve as our life is changing every day. Cortana was born out of a desire to create deeply personal tech that not only helps you with productivity, but ultimately gets to know you, builds a trusting relationship and anticipates your needs. Design is key to creating that trust.
Where do you get your inspiration?
We are surrounded by inspirations. Most of the time all it takes is taking a moment and paying attention to your surroundings, using all your senses, being open to discover and explore, being curious and letting your imagination fly. As a designer, I rely on my senses a lot, and with that, I have been able to find inspirations in things, ranging from simple everyday objects to complex and unknown universes.
What other hobbies do you have?
I love to learn new things. From sewing new headbands for my eight-month-old twins to designing and building modular furniture with my husband and illustrating a story with my seven-year-old, there is always something to learn and something to love.
What project are you proudest of and why?
That’s kind of like asking which child you love the most. I’m proud of every project I do for different reasons. I strive to design experiences that meet people where they are and are unified around the people and things that matter most. Cortana is an example of the intersection of human and technology, hence I am proud of it. Our team has been working on many projects and I think the combinations of all of us working together will make humanity proud.
What’s one piece of advice you’d share with other makers?
Tech is a tool and we have a responsibility as the tool makers. Our opportunity for innovation lies not just in designing a tool to meet a functional need, but in understanding the human truth or motivation driving that need. It’s our responsibility to create with care so the burden doesn’t fall too heavily on the user’s shoulders. It should be physically, cognitively and emotionally appropriate for people and should also fit us individually, yet connect us universally. We are moving in a direction where in the future, there will be software in everything: packaging, clothing, home goods, etc. And it will no longer be about pressing a button on a screen, rather technology will be embedded into everyday objects we use and responding to the way we behave. Therefore, it is important to stop and ask yourself, “What is the result of putting this product in the market and why are we designing it?”
Is your design philosophy similar to Sogol’s? Let us know in the comments below!