Maya Benari joined Skylight in August of 2019. She’s a designer who’s spent the past several years developing design systems, which help teams create great products and cohesive user experiences quickly and at scale through a collection of reusable components guided by clear standards. Maya previously served as one of the lead developers of the U.S. Web Design System while at 18F.
Chris Cairns: Tell me about your path to Skylight.
Maya Benari: I started my design career as an independent contractor and collaborator with design studios where I worked on web projects for companies, startups, and non-profit organizations. I always felt satisfaction working on things that left a positive impact in the world.
In 2014, I did a fellowship with Code for America. I worked with the City of San Antonio where we worked on bridging the gap between the city and the people they serve.
After the fellowship, I joined 18F and worked on a lot of different federal projects. I worked improving experiences for the public: enabling voting by launching vote.gov, improving the search of clinical trials on ClinicalTrials.gov, ensuring people who need it can find opioid treatment centers.
I also worked on improving the overall design experience in the federal government: I worked on the U.S. Web Design System, a design system for the federal government, from the initial launch (when they were called “Standards”) to the end of my term when we relaunched it as a design system in version 2.0. I launched the Accessibility for Teams guide to ensure every role on a project team builds accessible and inclusive products. Those projects contributed to my thinking on how to improve design at scale for the government.
After completing my four-year term with 18F, I’m now here at Skylight.
Chris Cairns: How did you find out about Skylight?
Maya Benari: I first heard about Skylight from my previous job, when folks would send their goodbye letters and included where they were going to next. After I finished my 18F term, Chris Cairns, Skylight’s founder, reached out to me about joining.
Chris Cairns: Why did you decide to join?
Maya Benari: I joined because it was a natural way for me to continue doing the civic-minded work I’ve spent my career doing. A few of my former 18F co-workers (who I enjoyed working with) joined Skylight and then when I saw all the other great talent in the company, I knew I’d be right at home and could learn a lot from them. Skylight also has a good remote-work policy, which is something I was looking for.
Chris Cairns: What have you worked on so far?
Maya Benari: I’ve worked on a tool that’ll let women in the Air Force report issues with their gear. I learned a lot about the challenges women face in the Air Force, inheriting ill-fitting equipment designed for male bodies. I was in awe of their strength as I listened to their stories of the challenges they’ve overcome.
Now, I’m working on the future of design systems for BESPIN, a digital center of excellence in the U.S. Air Force. I’m getting to learn from other project teams and think through how to begin systemizing design and providing tools and resources to enable design.
Chris Cairns: What was most surprising to you about joining Skylight?
Maya Benari: It’s always a pleasant surprise to find yourself among so many peers who are there to change things for the better. I found a lot of similarities with working inside government to now as a contractor outside of government, so don’t find myself missing anything. It’s a relief not to have to be under the bureaucratic burdens that you’re working in government, like not being able to use specific design tools or other onerous requirements. In my work with BESPIN, I was surprised to learn about how much they’re investing in military personnel becoming designers and engineers.
Chris Cairns: What would you tell your colleagues from a previous job who were contemplating coming to Skylight?
Maya Benari: If you want to be part of a growing company, where the work is meaningful, you’ll feel supported, and learn something new every day, then join!
Chris Cairns: Maya, thank you for taking the time to share with us. You’re amazing, and we’re so honored to have you on the team. To our readers, if you’re interested in engaging with Maya to help learn how to make effective use of design systems, we’d love to hear from you.