Harnessing Design Thinking: The Professional Odyssey of Khushali Sandhi

Khushali Sandhi, a Senior User Experience Designer at Amazon, has etched her professional journey through meticulous skill, dedication, and a profound understanding of user needs. With over 13 years of experience under her belt, she embarked on her career journey in India, soon after securing a bachelor’s in Electronics & Communications Engineering. 

Her curiosity and passion for solving customer problems led her from being a front-end developer to a specialist in UX/UI design. Her quest for depth in the field brought her to the US, where she pursued a Master’s in Human-Computer Interaction Design. Today, Khushali’s work at Amazon Web Services involves designing complex cloud-based database solutions, highlighting her ability to navigate and simplify intricate user experience challenges.

Khushali’s journey narrates a story of evolution—from her initial role as a developer to her current position where she merges technical prowess with an empathetic approach to design. This transition underscores a broader narrative in the tech world, where understanding and solving customer problems lie at the core of innovation. The essence of Khushali’s career reflects a deep-seated belief in design thinking—a methodology that empathizes with users, articulates problem areas, ideates solutions, and refines designs based on feedback.

A natural progression

Khushali’s transition from a front-end developer to a UX/UI designer was not abrupt but a gradual shift fueled by her experiences and innate passion for solving customer problems. Working initially with companies like Infosys and Cignex Datamatics, Khushali found herself at the intersection of designing and development, where she wasn’t just coding but also contributing to the design and feel of the solutions. 

“When I started owning the designs gradually, the impact of my work on customer satisfaction became evident. I felt a profound connection in solving customer problems through design—which led me to specialize in the UX design field,” Khushali mentions. Her journey reflects a natural gravitation toward where her heart truly lied—in understanding and enhancing user experience through thoughtful design.

In her early days, the engagement with clients like IHG and AON at Cignex Datamatics and tackling R&D challenges at Tata Consultancy Services honed her skills and passion for UX/UI design. This experience laid a strong foundation for her educational venture to pursue a MS in Human-Computer Interaction Design, steering her career path firmly toward UX design.

Shaping a designer’s mindset

The profound impact of Khushali’s educational journey on her design thinking approach is undeniable. “The master’s program introduced me to a plethora of research methods and design techniques, significantly influencing my work ethos,” she explains. 

Khushali’s stories from her time at Indiana University Bloomington, where she engaged with projects like creating feministic mood boards and utilizing affinity diagramming, illustrate how education played a crucial role in her development as a designer. She recalls, “These methods helped me dive deep into customer problems, bringing forth insights that were previously inaccessible.”

Furthermore, Khushali emphasizes the importance of applying these learned techniques in real-world scenarios, particularly in her roles in ed-tech companies and Amazon. Her educational background not only provided her with the tools but also instilled a confidence and broadened perspective towards tackling customer problems.

Evolving design thinking in diverse environments

Evolving design thinking in diverse environments reflects the dynamic adaptation of creative strategies to address complex challenges and meet diverse user needs effectively. Khushali’s stint across various organizations has been instrumental in refining her approach to design thinking. From focusing on collaboration and feedback in the initial stages of her career to adopting a more inclusive and research-intensive approach at AWS, her design thinking methodologies have matured remarkably. 

“Working at AWS, I realized the importance of involving a wide range of stakeholders and maintaining a continuous research phase throughout the project lifecycle,” she explains. This broadened perspective allowed her to deepen her understanding of customer problems, ensuring that her solutions are well-rounded and truly address the users’ needs.

Her experiences highlight an evolution from a designer who focuses on immediate feedback to one who values comprehensive research and collaboration at every stage of the design process. This progression is a testament to the dynamic nature of design thinking and its adaptability to different work cultures and environments.

Addressing complex challenges through design thinking

One of Khushali’s significant projects at AWS involved designing a solution for database schema conversion—a challenging endeavor due to its complexity and the involvement of multiple user personas. 

“Understanding the varied expectations based on users’ roles was crucial. Providing personalization for these personas in the solution not only addressed their needs but also enhanced the overall user experience,” she recounts. This project, which received positive feedback at AWS re:Invent 2022, stands as a prime example of employing design thinking to solve complex issues effectively.

Khushali’s approach to this project—conducting feedback sessions with multiple stakeholders and external customers—underscores the importance of empathy and user-centered design in delivering impactful solutions.

Joining forces with cross-functional teams

At AWS, Khushali’s collaboration extends beyond the design team, involving product managers, engineers, customer support, and marketing teams to drive solutions that are not just creatively competent but also aligned with business goals. 

“Building relationships with stakeholders has been a key element in my process, enabling me to have a voice in the product’s strategy and roadmap,” she notes. This inclusive approach ensures that her designs are pragmatic, achieving a balance between user needs and business objectives.

Khushali’s methodology of setting up deep-dive and brainstorming sessions with relevant stakeholders has been pivotal in understanding and shaping business goals. This collaborative framework not only aids in understanding the business aspect but also in ideating, validating, and implementing designs that are both user-centric and strategically viable.

Mentoring the next wave of design thinkers

Khushali places considerable emphasis on mentoring budding designers, focusing on teaching them the importance of understanding diverse customer sets. “Choosing a diverse customer set is crucial in de-biasing the data and truly understanding the user base,” she advises. Through her mentoring, she encourages designers to dive deep into customer personas and journey mapping to grasp the full spectrum of user experiences.

Her mentorship goes beyond technical skills, instilling in upcoming designers the ethos of empathy, research, and inclusivity. Khushali views mentorship as an avenue to impart her learnings and experiences, helping mold the next generation of design thinkers.

The design game changer

Khushali’s work on AWS’s Database Migration Service (DMS) highlights the transformative power of feedback in the design process. By engaging with a spectrum of users, from product and customer support teams to external customers, she uncovered that the product was utilized by multiple personas, each with distinct expectations. 

“I learned that the product is used not by a single persona. There are multiple personas and each one had different expectations from the product based on their role and responsibilities,” Khushali notes, emphasizing the diversity of user needs. This revelation led her to introduce personalized features catering to both non-technical and technical users, significantly enhancing the product’s usability and effectiveness.

The introduction of high-level schema details for non-technical personas and actionable, troubleshoot-free recommendations for technical users exemplifies the tailored approach she took to meet diverse customer needs. 

“This feedback helped me design the recommendations as per customers’ needs,” she reflects, underlining how specific insights from feedback sessions directly influenced her design decisions. 

Steering through AI integration

Looking ahead, Khushali envisions the integration of AI as a transformative force in the UX/UI domain. “AI will not only streamline the design process but also become an integral part of the user experience,” she predicts. Khushali’s strategic plan involves leveraging AI to enhance design processes and user interactions, fostering a user experience that’s seamless, intuitive, and trustworthy.

Her anticipation of AI’s role in UX/UI design reflects a forward-thinking approach, aiming to harness emerging technologies to elevate user experiences further. Khushali’s readiness to adapt and innovate positions her as a visionary in the evolving landscape of UX/UI design.

Khushali’s journey from a front-end developer to a UX/UI design maestro at Amazon is a captivating story of passion, perseverance, and continuous learning. Her evolution reflects not only her professional growth but also the transformative power of design thinking in creating impactful user experiences. 

Through her work, mentorship, and visionary outlook, Khushali continues to inspire and lead in the dynamic field of UX/UI design, making her journey a beacon for aspiring designers worldwide.

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