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Etch Community Spotlight with... Lilian Tula


Lilian Tula

Design Consultant 

The Etch Spotlight series lets you know the talent that makes up the Etch Community. Find out their successes and challenges, how they got started, and their experience of working with Etch. This week, we met Lilian Tulaa Design Consultant and founder of Goody Please. 

Hi Lilian, please briefly explain what you do as a contractor?

I'm a design consultant. I have always found it interesting to do the design process in a complete way, so starting with very abstract briefs and taking that through into design artefacts, like user interfaces and app designs - actually putting it into the hands of users. 

I work with finance companies and other essential services, such as insurance or care and bring an ethical lens. I help organisations elevate their digital products to be accessible and inclusive. And I do this in various ways like training and workshops etc. 

Tell me more about the ethical side of your work…

I specialise in finance. It's a sector that's beginning to gain traction in creating inclusive products. 

Last year, the FCA released a paper that gives guidance on serving vulnerable customers. These are customers struggling with their finances because of poor physical or mental health, declining capability, or financial shocks. The paper addresses the needs of a relatively large contingent of customers, which often get overlooked in the broader landscape of financial products. 

I contributed to the consultation, which made its way into the guidelines. It's been an exciting journey and something that I'm proud to be a part of. 

So, you were part of the initial consultations that helped to shape the implementation of the guidelines? 

That's right. It all started with work for a start-up called Touco. We originally had a grant to deliver an app that could help people struggling with their money due to declining mental health get timely help from a buddy in a way that didn't involve numbers or full disclosure. Because finances can be uncomfortable. The app prompted the buddy to check in when it saw specific patterns that indicated that the customer was spiralling or in distress.

The outcome of that app was a research paper, which influenced the advice given to the FCA. It was pretty exciting. 

Fantastic. So, let's go back to the beginning; where did it all start for you? 

I'm an innate creative. I was born creative. And I always knew that I would do something creative with my life.

I did well in creative subjects at school, and then I thought I'd continue doing that college, and then I'll continue doing that University and continue doing that as a job. So, I've been creative my whole life and a professional for well over a decade now.

I graduated in the middle of the 2008 financial recession. This was hard going because most of my class ended up in minimum wage jobs. And I knew that if I ended up with a gap in my CV, then I was going to be up against fresh graduates, and I'd be scrutinised under a lens that I can't help by potential employers. 

I was very fortunate to be able to freelance straight from University. I worked with local clients, creating blogs and freelancing for an agency. And it went from there. I ended up networking with many awesome people within tech on the south coast. That's how I ended up meeting Tom Frame, the founder of Etch. 

After that, I moved to London. I wanted to work more specifically on products. These were my accelerator days, so I worked with a bunch of start-ups in finance-related incubators. And this is how I got interested in the industry. 

I was also struggling with my own personal finances and mental health at the time. I was creating products for affluent millennials, and felt something was missing, like something here could be better. That's what spurred it all on for me. And seven years later, here I am.

What are the best bits about being self-employed?

Well, firstly, there's the regular stuff, like the freedom of being able to choose who you work with, being able to dictate what your schedule looks like, taking prolonged breaks and even a step back from work for a little while. This is important for me. I am diagnosed with ADHD, making it hard to engage with a full-time role. Full-time employment is just not suited to how my brain works; for example, sometimes I'm utterly unsynchronised from everyone else, and I'll be working from 10 pm until 4 am. So, the freedom of self-employment lends itself well here. 

What have you found the most challenging? Why? 

Well, I used to find things challenging, but now what's happened is that I've become very effective at communicating, delegating, and setting boundaries. For example, I find it impossible to do admin. It's a task that almost causes me physical pain, but I mitigate that by having a personal assistant who does that for me.

So, I've become very good at raising my hand when I need help. And that's been phenomenal for me. My openness with clients has helped them establish better ways of running things and better support others. 

Another thing that I used to find challenging was working with people who were potentially quite tricky. But now, I'm able to have tough conversations. Having tough conversations is my forte. And this has come from having the confidence to speak to regulators about challenging subjects like mental health and money. So, I've taken that confidence and applied it to everyday negotiations. For example, when a client comes to me with an idea that I know won't work, I can tell them why directly. And this has been an eye-opening experience for me, one that's enriched my career and relationships. 

Can you give me an example of how you would approach this with a client? 

Yeah absolutely. Whenever I have a lead or prospect or someone comes to me, one of my favourite things is to apply the null hypothesis. I ask them what would happen if they didn't do this project? What would happen if they just got a Wix website? What would happen if they just did an MVP within three days and released it and see if it works? 

It's about testing your hypothesis with an actual market rather than sinking money into something that might work. It's a no brainer. For me, it's always a case of finding or having the evidence that this will work. If you don't have that evidence, you must scale it back.

Can you tell me some of your career highlights as a freelancer?

My career highlight was making it into a paper that influences financial regulation in the UK. That's pretty awesome. And being able to say I'm a design authority on it. I've also contributed to another paper on universal design with the Money Advice Trust. And I'm super proud of the work I've done with charities. But I think, overall, being able to submit knowledge that is freely available for use for any financial or essential firm, so they can improve their products to help a broader range of people, is my proudest work.  

How have you found working with Etch? 

Etch is the agency that inspired me to get into design thinking (I believe the terminology has since moved on from design thinking, and it's called all sorts of things now). Still, I was always trying to use my talent in the creative arts discipline, linking this to the briefs I was getting, ultimately improving and elevating products to another place. Etch helped to connect those dots for me. 

So, there is an alignment there on delivering that kind of value. It's not just taking the brief and building out what the client thinks they want. It's about collaborating with the client and working together towards something that you know everyone will win from.

This is something that I took forward in my career and something that I will always associate with Etch. And that's why I still really enjoy collaborating with them. 

If you're interested in the work that Lilian mentioned, check out the links below. 

For the feedback submitted to the Financial Conduct Authority that helped to shape the guidance for firms on the fair treatment of vulnerable customers, see here. Chapter 4 is specifically about designing for vulnerability in a product and service design context for designers. For guidance to The Money Advice Trust on inclusive design for essential service firms and regulators, see here

James Perrin was speaking to Lilian Tula as part of the Etch Community Spotlight series. The Etch Community gives digital professionals a platform to grow and a place to belong. It is for freelancers, business owners, and fellow agencies looking to grow their business by plugging into a community of top digital talent. Visit The Etch Community for more information.