Meet the Woman Who Designed That Smartphone You’re Texting on
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!
It can be intimidating to step out on your own and build a business from the ground up. As part of our collaboration with Office Depot, we're talking with Selfmade alum and solopreneur Colette Lawrence, the faith-based motivator and relationship builder behind The M.E.E. Movement, about ways in which women in business can find success.
B + C: How did you know M.E.E. Movement was your business to start?
The M.E.E Movement represents motivation, empowerment, and encouragement for women. It is what represents me. I did not know at first that it was my business to start, but then the thought of monetizing what I loved came to me. It scared me, however. I registered the business in July 2020 and have been slowly building my wings since.
B + C: What's one strategy that's helped you start your business?
Thinking through and researching what the requirements are to start my business, and then asking questions of people who are in the business. Not all advice worked; however, it helped me to figure out what I needed to do and not to do.
B + C: Did you always know life coaching would be your entrepreneurial path?
(Smiles) No, I did not. I 'stumbled" on it. I knew that people were always coming to me for advice and I found that I loved having conversations with them, especially with women, young and old.
B + C: What was your most valuable takeaway from Selfmade?
My most valuable takeaway was the first day of training: Get out of your own way. There were a lot of great moments and important takeaways from every presenter. However, getting out of my own way, pushing past doubts, was for me my most valuable takeaway. Doing something that I had never done before took courage. If I do not focus on what is happening with me mentally then I cannot deliver to my clients successfully.
B + C: What's one piece of advice you would give to female entrepreneurs on the brink of starting?
Get out of your head. You have something to offer. You have what you need to succeed so go ahead and do it.
B + C: How do you stay motivated?
I stay motivated by listening to music and listening to motivational speakers, and sometimes someone will just reach out and talk about the impact that I made in their life. That adds the extra juice or sauce I need to pummel through the day.
B + C: What's your best organizational tip?
Keep a diary and journal. It's the best way for me to keep organized and it also provides a source motivation as I record not only my "losses" but my wins as well.
B + C: Who inspires you in the entrepreneurial space?
Shirley Toliver – She motivates and empowers and makes me always want to show up.
B + C: What has receiving the Office Depot scholarship to Selfmade done to help you start or grow your business?
The scholarship was a blessing in that all the areas that were covered offered valuable information that I needed, from social media to HR. As a new business owner, I needed to know this to increase my own personal awareness in what it takes to run a successful business. The candidness of the presenters made it easy to see myself in their shoes and helped me to realize that I can also get there.
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Head to Office Depot's Selfmade page to check out even more amazing business resources (and discounts!) to help you accomplish more on your entrepreneurial journey. These offers are available for a limited time only, so be sure to take advantage of all this goodness while supplies last. Want to join the next Selfmade cohort this summer? Check out all of the scholarship details right here.