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Academy Xi Blog

You don’t have to navigate your career alone

By Academy Xi

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Mentoring programs can greatly benefit all parties involved, presenting mentors and mentees alike with amazing opportunities to develop personally and professionally. We caught up with Designer in Residence mentor Joanna Grygierczyk to hear about  her career journey so far and the experience she’s had with being a mentor.

Q: Hi Joanna! Tell us a little about yourself and your professional background

I graduated from Design in Visual Communication at UTS with first class honours in 2012. It was my dream then to work for a brand agency (…and be ‘in’ with the cool kids). However, dreams don’t always go as planned and my first role was in a property consultancy where I had a fantastic director who encouraged my development and was supportive of my talent. 

I had the great opportunity to travel to various destinations, build brands, websitesall with the support of an external design mentor as part of my career development plan. This mentor was my champion and kept saying that “to grow you need to immerse yourself alongside other designers”.

In 2015, I landed my first role at a creative advertising agency, but I soon realised it wasn’t for me. 

After a night working on a pitch till 4am in the morning and coming in blurry eyed the next day, I thought, ‘I needed a job that energises me and something that isn’t driven by awards or egos’.

I found myself transitioning to a digital design focused agency called Canvas Group, learning how to design websites (in photoshop back then!). 

This is where I fell in love with digital and helping businesses and users navigate the digital realm. 

I landed my first role in UX/UI Design at Vodafone, which opened many doors to similar roles such as BWS where I worked on their e-commerce app. I then settled into a permanent role at Bilue – a mobile and emerging technology company, where I’ve been working on developing my breadth of knowledge in the end to end process. 

Reflecting on my journey, I couldn’t be any happier and also grateful for making the transition from graphic design to product design where I can focus on creating products that make people’s lives easier and daily interactions better.


Q: What made you want to become a mentor with Academy Xi?

I’m currently at the stage in my career where I want to mentor and develop my mentoring skills, as well as share my knowledge with others and help young designers navigate what can be a difficult landscape and industry. 

I’m also a natural empath and feel fulfilled giving advice and seeing my mentees grow and become confident practitioners. When I heard about the opportunity to participate in the Designer-in-Residence program, I thought it would be the perfect alignment to my career and personal goals. 


Q: How was the whole experience of being a mentor? 

This is my first time being part of the program and the experience so far has been really rewarding. I’ve been having regular catch ups with my mentee where we align on what the goals are and work together on what they’d like to learn. Sometimes I might prepare something before running a session, other times I give feedback on their work or just let them ask questions about what they might be concerned or confused about. 

I also like to help them from an empathic level by reminding them that Rome wasn’t built in a day and that your professional career takes time to develop. I let them know that it’s important to remind themselves that they don’t have to be an expert in their craft at this stage of their career. Making mistakes is part of what makes you a successful designer


Q: Has mentoring at Academy Xi helped you professionally or personally? 

Mentoring has definitely helped me on a professional level to build my skills in teaching, advising and communicating. It’s also a good platform for moving towards a lead role as the team grows. Personally, it has been gratifying to help others and see them be so appreciative of your advice and support. Further to this, it builds my network with other mentors and designers in my industry where we share our tips.


Q: How can one get the most out of a mentorship program?

I think to get the most out of the program it’s good to take part in the regular Designer-in-Residence catch-ups where we share our mentoring experiences and tricky situations and how to tackle these. You not only build your network, but also knowledge through a Slack channel where all the mentors share resources.

Academy Xi Blog

EdConnect Case Study

By Academy Xi

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When empathy isn’t a given: Department of Education on redesigning relationships [Case Study]

Completing the unit on time while bandaging scraped knees? A teacher’s everyday job. Answering 3,000 calls a day and managing 60,000 queries a month from every school across NSW? An EdConnector’s remit. When communication lags and empathy dissolves between the two parties, few problems get solved. 

That’s where Service Design and Customer-Centricity come in handy. 

EdConnect (part of NSW Department of Education) hired Academy Xi to help enhance communication and build empathy between its Help Desk staff and teachers across NSW. Instantly effective, the training was then scaled across the entire EdConnect organisation. 

The Department of Education’s roll-out of the SAP finance system was a decision that impacted all NSW public schools. As EdConnect solves technical issues and gives expert advice to schools in critical financial areas, they were a core player in the roll-out. 

EdConnect staff provide advice in areas like accounts payable, accounts receivable, transactional banking, assets, master data, and taxation. If it’s a complex issue, the call goes to an internal expert in one of these areas and those teams will resolve the issue with the customer and the school. With four contact centre locations in Bathurst, Newcastle, Wollongong, and Parramatta, EdConnect contact centres receive around 60,000 inquiries a month and roughly between 3K-4K calls a day. 

This can lead to a lot of frustration if communication isn’t efficient. 

What EdConnect needed from teachers was patience and understanding, and to see that admin weren’t a “jack-of-all-trades,” capable of waving a magic wand to solve all problems on the spot. 

“There are a number of ways schools can help things run as smoothly as possible, such as ensuring correct processes are followed and working together with the EdConnect team to get the support they need,” said Reece Mahoney, Director of the EdConnect Contact Centre. “What would be great for the schools before they call is if they’d advise of what they’ve already tried, whether they’ve looked at a handbook or an online guide, just advise what they’ve tried and what’s failed, and then we can get straight to the problem quicker for them.”

Meanwhile, teachers needed the same thing from EdConnect staff. With countless activities, responsibilities, and tasks to balance every day at school, they needed EdConnectors to appreciate the urgency of their issues and the time it might take for them to adopt EdConnect’s recommendations.

On both sides, receiving and supplying what was needed required a substantial amount of mutual understanding, and that’s where Academy Xi stood out as the perfect fit for the job. 

As part of their “Embedding Empathy” project, the EdConnect team and NSW schools used Xi’s help to increase empathy and understanding between individuals and teams. 

Part one of the training resulted in the creation of a Playbook outlining more human-centred behaviour to be adopted within the EdConnect team. An online booklet, flashcards and videos with practical tips were also developed for the team. 

 Part two involved scaling the initiative across EdConnect and all its departments, with rapid training programs designed to be self-sustaining once Academy Xi had finished its work. 

Digging into the problem

After 37 hours of research across eight different locations—which included desktop research, market and competitor research, customer interviews, stakeholder interviews, and contextual inquiries—Academy Xi helped EdConnectors and teachers unearth five major insights about their relationships and goals:

  1. Empathy is about balancing the needs of all customers.
  2. EDConnectors want synergy, not silos.
  3. An EDConnect interaction is part of a broader customer journey.
  4. Internal networks are seen as the easier option.
  5. Change is a constant for EDConnect and schools.

Staff on both sides discovered that there was a “lack of understanding and clarity on how teams can work together” and that many team members were “reluctant to adopt changes due to technology gaps and the volume of change.” They were able to dispel certain biases, such as the common refrain from teachers that “If I call [the centre], it’s going to take a while,” and instead show teachers that “99.9% of people want to do the best by the customer.” 

Co-designing a solution

The goal of the project was twofold: 1) Create a Way of Working (WoW) framework that supported individuals to think and work more collaboratively and 2) Use this framework to drive empathy across the organisation.

For this particular task, co-design was the obvious choice. 

“Co-design allows for the design approach to take place with stakeholders and business representatives, rather than alongside,” says Eric Lutley, Academy Xi’s Head of Partnerships. “When we work closely with an organisation to embed the design approach, capability is continuously built over the life of a project. This capability remains in-house long after we have departed ensuring the long-term success of the project. Importantly, this also allows the project to run at a much faster pace and decreases the need for a lengthy sign-off process.” 

What’s more, co-design means the long-term benefits will be even greater.  

“Having people in the organisation who have experienced the journey and understand in detail each decision point, we naturally created an internal group of people who championed the benefits of the project and will support it post go-live,” Faoro says. “Co-design also ensured that any outcomes not only align to the needs of our customers but also the strategies of the organisation.” 

Mapping different perspectives

As part of the Service Design Thinking process, teams created EDConnect Personas, which were workshopped using a behavioural matrix based on findings from the research across the various EDConnect teams. The behaviours were grouped and mapped, and aligned to the following axis:

  1. Individuals who value fixed processes vs. individuals who seek alternative ways of doing things
  1. Individuals concerned about change vs. individuals with a positive regard for change

Part of the power of this exercise was to show that Personas are not a one-size-fits-all classification, and individuals within the organisation may not resonate strongly with one specific persona. 

“They are there as a broad consideration point to ensure you think about a new approach from multiple perspectives and how it would be perceived or adopted by different audiences,” Faoro explains.

Creating Personas is an exercise in empathy itself, as it leads teams to rethink the preconceived notions they might have about certain groups or individuals and to, somewhat ironically, resist the urge to throw all individuals into one category or another.    

Using human-centred tools

With the help of Academy Xi, the EdConnect Team created a Playbook containing Tools, Templates & Plays that specifically helped EDConnectors overcome frustrations within the organisation. 

The Playbook contained the new EDConnect Way of Working (WoW) capabilities, including the Tools & Plays that would help embed those capabilities across the organisation, forming the future of EDConnect’s service design. 

For instance, to facilitate the “Achieving Service Excellence & Innovation Through Human-Centred Design” capability, participants were directed to do the following:

  1. Create a succinct set of Way of Working capabilities that align to the Way of Working strategy and framework as well as to the broader Public Sector Capability Framework and ecosystem.
  1. Create a set of practical, future-focused Performance Criteria for each capability at three levels of performance: Foundational, Intermediate, and Advanced.

These initial activities then led to two key sets of capabilities: the “Be”s and the “Do”s. 

  1. “Be” Capabilities: A higher-order set of mindsets that overarch all company operations, these capabilities allowed staff to support, practise, and apply certain behaviours in projects, everyday activities, and interactions, helping the organisation move progressively toward a human-centred culture and build its capacity to achieve human-centred outcomes and innovations.
  1. “Do” Capabilities: A set of practical skills specific to a human-centred design methodology, these skills allow staff to conduct activities throughout the double-diamond framework, and are used in tandem with “Be” capabilities. 

In addition to the Playbook, EdConnectors participated in a Training the Trainers program called “Walk in My Shoes,” which reinforced the goals of delivering a new Way of Working, learning new capabilities, and embodying a human-centred mindset.

Transforming communication 

EDConnectors and schools reported substantial gains in empathy and inter-team communication as a result of the Embedding Empathy project. 

One key to the project’s success was direct, face-to-face communication between EdConnectors and teachers. Directly connecting with actual school staff gave EdConnectors a new-found perspective and enthusiasm for their clients, and schools reported being highly engaged and gaining appreciation for EDConnect’s approach.

“Quantitative data does not paint a picture,” one EdConnector said. “The stories [schools] painted for us was the most powerful outcome.”

Reflecting on the program outcomes, another participant reported, “Importantly, the staff were not just telling the stories from the schools that they visited—they also described how it made them feel.”

Academy Xi provided a “comfortable learning environment” that allowed EdConnect participants to be “very collaborative when creating the empathy map and school profiles.”

As an added benefit, engaged participants went on to engage and inspire others who hadn’t been involved in the training directly. For that reason, selecting the right participants was also a key to program success, and to self-sustaining, continued training within the organisation.

If empathy builds trust, then trust promotes clear communication. Whether it’s juggling phone calls or lesson plans, both EdConnectors and teachers now feel well-equipped to handle problems that arise on a daily basis. Academy Xi showed up with the right tools for the job, but it was the trainees who empowered themselves to solve their own problems in the future.  

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Academy Xi Blog

Have you ever had a mentor?

By Academy Xi

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Whether it’s industry-related topics, career advice, job search, best work practices or leadership lessons, having the right mentor to bounce ideas around with can help a young professional break into a field and build a lifelong career. We chatted with Designers-in-Residence program mentor Daniel Foulds about his experience with our DiR Program and how it’s been so far. 

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Q: Hi Daniel! Tell us a bit about yourself and your design background?

I’m a UX-er currently working on Kmart Online’s new e-commerce experience. Like many of us in the field, I shifted my career trajectory from a different work stream a few years back. After formal qualifications in Graphic Art (print), I landed my first job working for a Swim/Sportswear wholesale company. From there, I held a number of product design and management roles working primarily in apparel within the street, surf & sportswear, and sporting hardgoods segments.

One of the speed humps I encountered in my professional career was being made redundant. It was a discussion with my brother-in-law who discussed with me the potential of a career switch to an emerging field with opportunities that are becoming more available. This is where the UX seed was planted. 

I got stuck into some initial thoughts and discovery about a career switch. I met and spoke with a few people. At that time, I had just gotten married and my wife and I were expecting our first child so there was a bit on my plate.  However, I fell back into what was easy and what I knew best and that was a design role at Kmart. 

Fast forward 8 years later, along with some pro-bono work, creating my own UX case studies, formal UX training, plenty of upskilling & reading, a couple of role changesplus a lot of grit and determinationI’m proud to be able to reflect on where I am today. 

Q: What made you want to become a DiR mentor at Academy Xi? 

When I first saw the post on LinkedIn relating to the DiR program, it piqued my interest. I thought, not only does it align with where I would like my professional career to be, but also an opportunity to help the next wave carve their path, which I know a little bit about. Also, one of the aspects of this industry that I’m in which I’ve always been impressed by is how giving people are with their time, knowledge, and experience. So I thought to myself, sure, I would love to throw my hat in the ring at this opportunity – an opportunity that aligns with my personal and professional values.

Q: How’s the whole mentoring experience going?

I am currently mentoring my second student! As a whole, it’s been ultra rewarding. The feeling of giving to someone to help guide them as they embark on a new professional experience is really fulfilling. 

To date I have experienced two contrasting individuals as my mentees which has kept me on my toes and given me the opportunity to think differently with how I handle our relationship, there’s definitely been some growth on a personal front. The one constant piece of advice that I would pass on is pretty simple: you really do get out what you put in and, ‘it takes two to tango’ if you will. 

This has rung true in my professional career as well. I encourage my mentees to come up with agenda points, send out the meeting invites and schedules and let me know how I can help them or ask them what is bothering them. 

I want them to know that I am here to help make a difference in their professional (and sometimes) personal journey in this industry.

Q: Any advice or anything else that you want to share to our community? 

As a mentor, an analogy I like to use is that I’m the guide rails on a bowling alley to stop the bowling ball from going down the gutter. If the ball happens to go in the gutter, that’s ok, we pick ourselves up, go again and learn from it. It might begin to sound a little cliche but I am a firm believer that persistence pays off when applied in the right manner.

One of the topics we discussed with our DiR group is that we aren’t ‘know-it-alls’ and don’t have answers to everything in our chosen fields. What we do have is depth of experience in different scenarios (and that could sometimes intersect with other industries) that can help steer, provide feedback or pose thoughts for our mentees to approach a topic perhaps from a different angle. 

In the program we have access to a massive knowledge pool via our various Slack groups and regular lunch and learn discussions and the like. I feel more than confident that if I receive a curly question or something I haven’t experienced in the past, I have a group of team mates ready to help and assist me and ultimately my mentee, who is in a really fortunate position to be in.

Academy Xi Blog

International Women’s Day

By Academy Xi

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This International Women’s Day 2021, we honour our leading ladies of the Xi Tribe. Making up almost 50% of the team – we lead with inclusion and equality first. 

Thank you to the Xi Women – Inma, Kerry, Kritika, Lei, Leola, Marina, Olivia, Patsy, Ranji, Sharna, Syakirah, Tiffany and Vivian. We are grateful for all of you, and also shout out the amazing Xi men who work alongside us everyday.

This year’s International Women’s Day theme of “Women in Leadership” is something which we asked the tribe to reflect on. Have a read through our responses below.

“Who are the leading women / woman in your life?”


The leading women in my life are: 

  • My Mum – for teaching me that all my problems can be solved after a good night’s rest. 
  • My Wife – for teaching me that I can’t control what people do but I can control how I react to people. 

The incredible women I work with: 

  • Lei – That leadership is a choice and not a rank. 
  • Marina – That listening is more powerful than speaking


A few leading women in my life I don’t interact with directly, but I believe are impacting the wider world profoundly. There is a new breed of world leader, women who lead with heightened empathy for their people.

At Academy Xi we teach students to design and lead using empathy as a tool, and I believe leaders such as Jacinda Ardern and Angela Merkel personify this. Their ‘less confrontation / more listening’ approach is important because it works. Role models like them (and the lack of success of their opposites) could be the start of a shift in leadership style the world over.


I feel very fortunate to have grown up within the filipino culture which is marked by strong matriachical roots. Within my own family we have a history of women (my grandmothers, my mum, my aunts) who not only ran households but ran their own businesses or actively participated in the workforce. Their example taught me very early on in life about resilience and leadership.

As I reflect on this year’s IWD theme “Women in Leadership” I fully appreciate the significance of sharing the stories of the leading women in my family with my two young daughters. After all, you can’t be what you can’t see. 


The leading women in my life are my two grandmothers.

On my mother’s side is my very ‘young-at-heart’ and spritely grandmother. She is always on the go, preparing food, Skyping family all over the world on her iPad and rarely sits down to take a break. I can barely keep up!  

On my father’s side is my grandmother who just turned an impressive 102. She took up painting as a hobby only in the last 12 years and has a beautiful collection of artwork to show for it. She has also kept up her singing skills from her younger years.

I find it inspiring that both my grandmothers have never stopped learning and developing their skills – whether that be in the realm of new technology or creative hobbies. I believe this type of mindset is what keeps us happy and ‘young’. 


The leading woman in my life is my own coach. She stretches me beyond measure. When we do uncomfortable things, we grow. 


In the business setting, our Chief People Officer, Lei Iglesia plays a critical role in ensuring that our most important asset(s) – our people – work in a safe, supportive and productive environment. Lei’s ability to ensure that communication and information is regularly flowing around the business is unmatched, and sets the tone as to what a great leader looks like – showing genuine empathy; offering trusted advice and support; and being bloody great at her job!

Without Lei’s leadership, the Executive team just wouldn’t be the same, and the wider business wouldn’t run so smoothly. Lei is a trusted colleague, an integral member of the Exec team, and a fantastic leader!


I’m so fortunate to have so many amazing women in my life. My mother Lynne, of course, the woman who has battled it all, raised three beautiful children. A brave person who has explored the world, seeking truth within the unknown. She has always been the person that has supported me to follow my dreams, to be true to myself, and has held a tremendous amount of trust for me. I wouldn’t have achieved what I have without her support.

My eldest sister Laura and niece Ella, until she made me an uncle, I did not truly understand what it meant to be a mother and the challenges/rewards that come with it. Motherhood is underrated by those who haven’t been exposed to it as an adult.

My sister has inspired me to raise my children like her, and my eagerness to bring a powerful, intelligent, curious baby girl like Ella into this world. Empowering her with all that I can provide.

My youngest sister Jacki who left her corporate career in the UK to follow her passion, to pursue what truly matters. I’ve been blown away by her wisdom and courage to face her fears, step out of her comfort zone and not be afraid to challenge the status quo. Her elevate worldview and perspective holds a level of maturity that is way beyond her years.

My close friend and pseudo-sister Saskia is someone that I have always admired. Some whose extroverted charisma can get any job or task done. She’s a mum who is not afraid of any challenge and can skillfully balance multiple things at once with absolute finesse. Being a mother does not slow her down or stop her from life, if anything it has made her stronger and more resilient.


I have always gravitated towards female friendships. Interestingly, the older I get, the stronger and more steadfast a lot of these friendships become. There are a couple of fantastic women around me who carve their own path. They take risks when things aren’t obvious or clear. 

One good friend moved to New York with her husband when he landed a job over there. Far from being a ‘trailing spouse’, she has started her own business, podcast and worked remotely for the better part of the last two years. She saw the opportunity and grabbed it. 

Another close friend recently stood up to some workplace harassment when it would have been much easier to remain silent. She decided to speak up despite her concerns around what it would do to her career. She is brave, resilient and her company listened. What a remarkable example to set for the other women around her.

And then there is my Mum. Staunch feminist, attended university during the progressive 60s, attended rallies. She then decided to boost her own career in her 50s by deciding to move overseas for a new role and career promotion. Now in her 70s and into retirement, she is still leading a pretty daring life.


I can’t imagine life without my mum, Jasvinder Kaur, hands down the most inspiring woman in my life. Her actions always speak louder than words. She might not say “I love you” often, but she proves it every single day, and has been the glue that has held our family together during some tough times. Always going above and beyond for those she loves, being a rock that we can all lean on and smashing ceilings at work – she’s the best and motivates me to be the best and happiest version of myself too. 


All the women in my family have experienced so many things, good and bad, to be where they are right now. They’re not perfect but nor am I—and I think that’s what makes them amazing—the imperfections that tell you the years of hard work, perseverance, and freedom that brought them to good places in their lifetime. I haven’t been home in almost four years, and I miss them a lot.


Greatful to have so many women-spirations in my life. But to narrow down one, it has to be Halimah Yacob. She is the first Female, Malay-Muslim, Hijabi PRESIDENT OF SINGAPORE. That’s right. She is the current president of one of the most populous, advanced and thriving nation in the world. What inspires me is how she has been breaking the glass ceiling since she started her career. She became the first Malay-Muslim woman to become a Member of Parliament (MP), she was also the first female to hold the position of Speaker of Parliament.

Undoubtedly her success being the minority of minorities (female + mother + Malay + Muslim + Hijabi) have not come without criticism. When she first took office as a MP, she was asked “Who would take care of your children?”. She responded gracefully to her male counterparts pointing out that none of the male MPs were asked the same question, then stating that taking care of children is not solely a woman’s responsibility, it should be shared equally between husband and wife! #legend

All these while being a strong advocate for mental health issues and establishing two rehab centres.


The woman who I look up to each day, the woman who I call my hero, and my bestfriend is my Mom.  Growing up, my mum has been a fighter – and have  persevered in the most difficult of situations. But even so, she never lost sight of hope nor did she lose faith in the power of kindness. For the greater good, she has been selfless and taught me to think of the world greater than myself – ultimately, to help those in need  &  understand the importance of empathy.

Also – to never underestimate the impact of giving, however big or small; whether it would be the old & fragile,  those with disabilities, children without a home, or even pets who are abandoned. She inspires me to be my best self and to serve goodness to the greater community – in whichever way I can because at the end of the day, in her own words “you never know, you can start the change for someone else’s life


I’m blessed to have so many amazing women who have played integral roles in my life. But there is one woman who I’ve always looked up to since I was a child – Elma Fleming.

I run a charity with Elma (and others), and I met her when I was about 11 years old. She is mainly known for her work in the crisis centre of Wayside Chapel. Recently Elma was appointed Order of Australia and continues to provide services for the vulnerable through her charity Streethearts. 

I’ve seen the homeless run to hug her in the street as well as her walk in between 2 very large men to break up a fight in the middle of the road – and might I add Elma is a petite lady in her 70’s. She is truly leading by example and is an important role model in my life.


I have literally hundreds of leading women in my life – from family & friends to my extended family of aunties, cousins and nieces in my ancestral village, to my personal, professional, academic, artistic, spiritual and martial arts networks. Hundreds! 

But I’ll shout out here to the Australian philosopher & critical theorist Elizabeth (“Liz”) Groscz, who way back when taught me as a very inexperienced and green undergrad: she blew my mind, challenged my thinking, and exposed me to a whole new universe of ideas and discourse. The intellectual rigour, depth, discipline, critical thinking as well as openness and compassion she brought to learning was transformational, and has stayed with me ever since. I’ve never, ever forgotten it & continue to build and evolve from those lessons.

To paraphrase one of her books: “To refuse to seek answers but pose questions as paradoxes can make us more capable of bearing up to continuous effort to go against the relentless forces of sameness, more inventive in the kinds of subversion we seek, and more joyous in the kinds of struggle we choose to be called into