WILD Portraits: Heather Jansen

Get to know Heather Jansen, Senior Product Designer in fintech and WILD Programming Co-Lead. Like many, her path through design has been marked with some twists and turns. With a diverse background and a passion for both artistry and problem-solving, she continues to thrive in her chosen field, always seeking new opportunities to make a meaningful impact through design. Heather shares her thoughts on craft, integrity, and going with her gut as a creative leader.


Tell us #Your Story. How you got started in design and your journey to where you are today.

I grew up as a creative, curious kid in a small town in northeast Indiana. I dabbled in various creative pursuits, including jewelry smithing, theater, show choir and designing signage for my farm market job. I planned to major in computer science—thinking I would learn how to code and build websites—but applied to art school last minute after realizing I enjoyed the creative aspect more. I was accepted into the graphic design program after my freshman year of college and graduated with almost a double major in photography.

After graduating in 2003, I faced a challenging job market in the creative field, which delayed my entry into the design world. During my first year out of college, I worked for the Ball Corporation on their home-canning hotline. This experience taught me valuable skills in problem-solving and the importance of listening to the customer. Following that, I spent the next two years working as an advertising sales assistant at InStyle magazine's Chicago office. I found inspiration in observing my manager's creative talents in securing new business partnerships.

In 2007, I moved to Washington, D.C., and landed a job with the National Geographic Society. My experience made me a good fit for their international licensing and publishing division. For the next six years, I collaborated with companies worldwide to publish National Geographic books in different languages. This role taught me the significance of communication and compromise, as well as the importance of considering market and user needs in product development. Although not strictly in a creative role, I closely followed editorial design and found great inspiration in the scientific efforts and photographers at National Geographic.

In 2013, I transitioned into creative work and managed the marketing design and production efforts for the U.S. book publishing department at NatGeo. Additionally, I designed various collateral materials for our books. One of the highlights of this role was solving complex design and business problems through catalog redesign. I streamlined six catalogs used by various global sales teams into one catalog that met everyone's needs. My time at National Geographic was special, and I value the collaborative relationships I built there, which I believe were fostered by the alignment of the mission with our work.

In 2015, I moved to Sonoma County and focused on graphic design. I mainly freelanced or worked as a contractor, serving big-name wineries and small agencies. It was a relief to find my place in the industry after years of feeling inadequate as a designer. I worked on a diverse range of projects, including wine club newsletters, logos, annual reports, catalogs, social media graphics, wine labels, and packaging. I also delved into website design and gained some coding experience.

In early 2020, unrelated to the COVID pandemic, I unexpectedly lost my full-time job. I had also grown disenchanted with marketing design, frustrated by exclusion in strategic planning and feeling a desire to move away from promoting consumer products. I seized my newly found freedom, moved to Oakland, CA and transitioned into user experience design. I am now working full-time as a Senior Product Designer in the financial tech industry. The switch has 100% been the absolute best decision for me. It’s a cross between strategic planning and creative design—my strongest skill sets.


What advice would you give to aspiring design leaders?

I’ve had a fortune cookie taped to my computer for ages which says “There are lessons to be learned by listening to others.” I’ve found that taking the time to understand your client and their user’s needs and goals can make the largest impact on design success. Ask why and learn as much as you can.

I’ve also found it’s okay to not know the answer to everything. I’m not pizza and I’m not pretending to be—there is no way I can make everyone happy 100% of the time. Releasing myself from internal pressure to be on top of it all, all of the time, has given me the freedom to focus on what fuels my growth and creativity.


What are your hopes for the future of design?

  • Accessibility as a default instead of a stretch goal

  • Thoughtful and ethical use of AI within marketing campaigns

  • Return to craft and an appreciation of analogue making


What are the super powers you associate with great leadership? Why?

  1. Intuition—sticking to your gut. With design leaders facing increasing challenges associated with the democratization of design and design as an executive function, being seen as a partner and being invited to the planning table rely on a leader’s uniquely valuable perspective.

  2. Communication skills that effortlessly motivate others and bring teams to work together.

  3. Advocacy for craft. I see craftsmanship and analogue processes being reduced in value due to the rise in AI (but maybe I'm just nervous).


How do you stay motivated and inspired?

  • Remembering that all moments are temporary— this too shall pass

  • Getting outside to explore nature, woods or ocean

  • Using my hands for something other than pushing pixels

  • Going to concerts to soak up loud live energy

  • Singing real loud in cars


How do your personal interests and hobbies inform your work?

I’ve found that creative inspiration comes to me only when I am not in front of a screen. This doesn’t necessarily mean I’m always making something—creative breakthroughs usually come while lost in my own thoughts, walking around Lake Merritt listening to punk rock as loud as possible.

I’m also getting back into film photography and darkroom printing after 20 years, which comes with all kinds of experimentation with analogue process. Oakland has a large artist & photography community and mingling with like-minded folk makes my heart happy.


Favorite leadership resources

I can’t get enough of the Ask a Manager blog. And I’m currently listening to Daring Greatly on audio book from my local library!

Follow Heather’s adventures and artwork on Instagram at @fierce_flawless, connect with her on Linkedin, or check out her portfolio at www.heatherj.design.


As Women in Leadership & Design (WILD) redefines paradigms of design leadership, we elevate the perspectives of the creative leaders in our midst. “WILD Portraits” shares the distinct stories of Bay Area women and non-binary design leaders, highlighting each individual’s unique path and point of view. Together, these profiles provide a sketch of the state of design leadership and how it’s evolving.