What if you could do more than work to just make a living, and instead work to build a better future? In her position on the front lines of the digital transformation journey in financial services, Alana Washington is working to do just that.

As a strategy director on the Data Experience Design team at Capital One, Alana combines expertise in machine learning with a human-centered design approach to create vivid, clear data visualizations aimed at building a better future. Her work empowers employees and customers alike to make more intentional, data-driven decisions, by providing them with powerful tools and surfacing valuable stories and timely information.

For Alana, the end goal is simple: democratizing access to financial services and building a better, more equitable world. She says, “I look at my job as a chance to help dream a new kind of future into existence.”

If that sounds like a tall order, it’s because it is. But Alana and her team are up to the challenge of pushing the envelope with technology.

For instance, they’ve been working with data scientists in the company’s Anti-Money Laundering team to understand how machine-learning algorithms can identify suspicious accounts and transactions. They’re hard at work translating that incredible story into a digital display at the company’s HQ, viewable by Capital One associates and guests alike. Alana’s team has also played an important role in redesigning screens used across the company’s systems, replacing outdated, legacy designs that no longer enable associates to do their best work. These new designs substantially improve service and security, while providing powerful machine learning-generated insights in real time.

She says it’s exciting to be part of the technology vanguard—especially when it offers the opportunity to use tech for good.

“We get to solve really interesting problems and are at the forefront of defining best practices in the visualization of streaming data in real time,” she says of her team’s partnership with Capital One’s Center for Machine Learning. “We want Capital One to represent what the future of banking can look like, so all consumers have a better experience.”

Bringing Your Whole Self to Work

From her first interview, Alana saw that Capital One was different from other potential employers. The people she met were diverse, open-minded, and eager for authentic conversations and relationships.

“It felt less like a marathon of interviews and more like a single discussion building over time” she says. “The people had the same skills as those at big tech companies and the same innovative mindset, but the emphasis on empowering people stood out.”

Early in the interview process, Alana was particularly struck by a VP whom she pressed about the company’s approach to doing good—to changing banking for the better. “The way he engaged with the issue really spoke to me,” she explains.

In her time on the job, she’s observed the company’s commitment to inclusion and authenticity. Which is a good thing for a designer whose job it is to upend conventional ways of doing things—for instance, by asking new questions about data, exploring new ways to sort data to uncover surprising insights, and ultimately disrupting the company’s traditional methods of analyzing data.

“I always feel valued as a person,” she says. “It’s clear that people respect my input and life experience.”

As well they should. To inform her approach to design, Alana draws from her tapestry of experience. She began her career in industrial/organizational psychology at HBO, and holds a Master’s degree in the subject from NYU. She has applied her graduate studies of research methods and statistics to her Data Visualization practice as Director, Design Strategy in market research at GfK. She’s learned the importance of paying close attention to every aspect of the customer experience having gained haute cuisine experience in New York’s renowned Per Se restaurant, where she worked front of house and began her sommelier training.

Improving Financial Technology with Hip-Hop, Afrocentrism, and Afrofuturism

For Alana, being her whole self means viewing her work through the lens of inclusive frameworks like hip-hop, Afrocentrism, and Afrofuturism.

“If you think about it, hip-hop is about taking apart old ways of doing things—of writing and communicating, of artistic expression—and reconfiguring the old ways to make something new that resonates more with people,” she says. “In my work at Capital One, that’s pretty much what I’m aspiring to do.”

But that’s just the beginning of how these interests inform and are reflected in Alana’s work. She cites Afrofuturism (which is about envisioning a different kind of future) and common themes from African culture (like joy, circularity, and abundance) as major inspirations.

“My approach combines human-centered design with my cultural interests,” she says. “Bringing my approach to projects like customer-journey mapping enables me to help create more joyful customer experiences and empower traditionally marginalized people. That’s the kind of world I want to help create, and at Capital One I have the support and freedom I need to do it.”

SIDEBAR:

  • What I’m reading: “Ruined by Design by Mike Monteiro” and Aesthetics Equals Politics
  • What I’m watching: “Reality television—If it’s on Bravo, I’ve probably seen it.”
  • Apps I can’t live without: “I have a three-year-old, so I rely on parenting apps like Parenthoods and Winnie.”
  • My ideal dinner party: an epic surrealist dinner party with Roxane Gay, Amos Oz, Pablo Neruda, Maya Angelou, Yehuda Amichai, Beyoncé, Edward Said, adrienne maree brown, Dalí, Donald Glover, Ryan Coogler ... among others. It’d be weird, but it’d be grand.