Europe, Interviews

Saran Diakité Kaba – Interactive Design Director at PSA Groupe

Everything is possible, and gender, age and color are not an issue because talent has no colour, no gender, nothing to do with the age. So it’s just a question of motivation and believing in yourself.

Saran Diakité Kaba is an industrial designer specialised in interaction/interface design, global User eXperience and agile development methods. Since graduating from The National French school of industrial design she has worked in France and around the world as a specialist in User Centred Design. Her projects which span from automotive design to museum experience are frequently unusual and highly innovative in their attempt to imagine better designed futures with magical interactions and recently have included visions for sustainable living in french biggest towns in 2030, interactive ways for young people to learn about all trades, re-imagining television or radio and leading HMI/usages for actual cars and next generation of autonomous cars.

In a nutshell, tell us a bit about your journey, and what role does technology plays in it?

My role is very simple, I am the director of human machine and interaction of PSA Groupe (Peugeot, Citroën, DS, Opel/Vauxhall, Free2Move) for cockpits, infotainment, connected features in cars. So technology plays a huge role in this function, that aims to provide the best user experience based on interaction design and interactive technologies in the car. 

Where did your professional journey start and how did you get to where you are now?

I think everything started when I was younger in the 90’s… I was very interested by music electronic devices. I tried to find out which profession can help me manage my double interests for technologies and sciences as well as arts. This profession was design and more particularly interaction design. When I entered the National school of industrial creation in France, I was absolutely not focused on automobile industry but I was quite fan of natural interaction, around music and sound design. As soon as I discovered other playgrounds, I expanded my interests to any kind of interactive devices, not only music software or sound technology.

What is the greatest transformation in technology you’ve witnessed in your career?

Indeed, in my career and in the automotive industry, the biggest revolution not only in terms of interaction but also from the phenomenological point of view, is the autonomous connected car. It changes everything, our relationship to mobility, cars, objects, robots… This device that used to be just a car, and will be an intelligent robot in a social network in movement, can be so much more… and convey so many more experiences than just driving. This changes also our relationship with alterity, on the road, the relationship issue between humans and robots is crystalized in the autonomous car paradygme change.

We’re mentioning sound, cars, interactivity, so how do you connect the sound and electrical or autonomous cars?

Every electric car must make a sound to signal its presence. Otherwise, as electric car is silent, it can lead to inattention accidents as we are used to guess the presence of a car by hearing. Each electric car has a branded sound signature in order be able to identify it in a noisy environment of pedestrians. Sound is the only modality that can address that issue, but we also use sound modality for many other information in the car…

Tell us about the first image that pops up in your mind when you hear the term “female empowerment”?

Two role models come immediately into my mind when we talk about “female empowerment”: The first one is Michelle Obama, I read her book in one go. It was a really fascinating to discover and understand where she comes from and what was her vision. I think she would have been a very good president if she had wanted to, as her husband. She is definitely a role model. The second one would be Oprah Winfrey for the media empire that she has built from scratch.

Everything is possible, and gender, age and color are not an issue because talent has no colour, no gender, nothing to do with the age. So it’s just a question of motivation and believing in yourself.

We always hear there are not enough women working in tech. What needs to happen to change that?

We ask ourselves the same questions within industry or companies like PSA Groupe, for example. I was in charge of thinking about female role in the company a few years ago and we have taken some decisions in that direction.

The first one is to be sure that when there’s a new position available, we should have at least 50% of women candidates. If we don’t do that, women can be forgotten, don’t ask me why is still that so… We need to give them the same chance as men and put them under the spotlight when there is an event for example.

The second decision is to be sure that women can understand that ambitious positions are also available for them. There are many brilliant women in the company, we need to explain their career path through interviews, and explain that everything is possible as talent has no gender and no color.

And finally, we decided to monitor the status of women at each level of the company to be sure that equality of chance is respected, that women and men are treated the same way. And it works, we progress!

What skills do you need for a career in tech (aside from the actual tech skills)?

Of course, you need to have a very good technical background. But when you look at tech schools, there are not as many girls as there are men, only 20% of girls in technical schools. Here is the problem. And it comes from very long ago. We should be very careful about the way we educate the girls so they are not directed towards non-tech directions just because they are girls. It starts with a gift you offer to a little girl at the first age, when you choose between a robot and a doll, know that a robot can also be offered to a girl. There is no difference of skills between men and women, so there are no gender skills for tech and whatever is related to the industry.

What would be your message to all the future generations of women trying to get into tech?

I would just say that everything is possible, and gender, age and color are not an issue because talent has no colour, no gender, nothing to do with the age. So it’s just a question of motivation and believing in yourself. Do not let anybody tell you you are not as good as your male colleague just because your are a woman.

What and who were the influencers of who you are today?

Good question that I have never asked to myself. My mother and grandmother were a source of inspiration for me. They are strong women, totally free and know what they want as entrepreneurs. They have been role models, have met the challenged and overcome difficulties to finally suceed. I have met some great people in my career and during my design school that helped me develop capacities I didn’t know I had. I am still in touch with my sound design mentor and also have another one in the school where I teach that is a very good coach when I have to face strategic choices. It is important to be supported by a person who knows you well and has an helpful influence in accordance with your values and your capacities.

You have to be ambitious for yourself and for a better world, to try to make a difference and not to improve or fine-tune an existing concept that you do not really believe in anymore.

What would be the most important business advice that you got?

The best advice I received is when I have chosen to stay at PSA, to change position within the group instead of working for a GAFA company for example. My mentor asked me if I wanted to make the mobility revolution or if I just wanted to be a piece of the puzzle already designed by others. I was also advised to believe in myself and stop thinking that I am not able to do anything just because I have never done it before. You have to be ambitious for yourself and for a better world, to try to make a difference and not to improve or fine-tune an existing concept that you do not really believe in anymore.

If you had 1 Million € to invest in women, what would you do?

I would invest in education and schools for sure. I would create a dedicated programme for women education in regions where women are not valued, the equal of men, like India, the Arab Emirates or Africa, in order for them to develop their potentials and understand what is available for them. When you are born in some places of the world, where women are close to being worth almost nothing you can’t understand that if you cross the border there is a different world that is waiting for you open arms. I would like to create these educative programs, starting from these 1 million €, so that every little girl can understand her value and what she can offer to the world. And then, I hope that many other investors will join me.

Saran Diakité Kaba is an industrial designer specialised in interaction/interface design, global User eXperience and agile development methods. Since graduating from The National French School of Industrial Design she has worked in France and around the world as a specialist in User Centred Design. Often in a situation of driving change, new challenges with the agencies Plan Creatif (Babel), Absolute Design (BETC Design), 3e-Oeil Studio (Dassault Systèmes Design Studio) and PSA Groupe introduced her to the world of innovation strategy through user experience. Her projects, which span from automotive design to museum experience, are frequently unusual and highly innovative in their attempt to imagine better designed futures with magical interactions and recently have included visions for sustainable living in french biggest towns in 2030, interactive ways for young people to learn about all trades, re-imagining television or radio and leading HMI/usages for actual cars and next generation of autonomous cars which will exist in our public space completely differently to cars today.

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