Earning a Seat at the Table: Andrew Birgiolas, Sephora’s Head of Product Design & Research

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Getting a seat at the table is something aspiring design leaders lust after; they all want to be seen as more than just an execution team, and they want to have a say in steering the business.

“The truth is that a seat at the table is something that must be earned,” says Andrew Birgiolas, Sephora’s Head of Product Design & Research. “You’ve got to put in the work and prove your value.”

For the last seven years, Birgiolas has been leading design transformation at the LVMH prestige beauty retailer as it ascended to the position of second-largest beauty e-commerce site in the world and shattered records with a reported $10 billion in sales in 2023, confirming its position as world leader in beauty retail.

Gradual Transformation, Remarkable Outcomes

Birgiolas rebuilt Sephora’s UX function from the ground up, operationalizing for scale and standing up a mature research function. He has been at the helm of transforming the UX of Sephora's digital touchpoints across e-commerce, store experience and enterprise software, elevating design as a vital strategic business partner. He’s shared his formula at Google's Conversions Summit and written for Think With Google and UX Collective.  

He was instrumental in steering experience design for Sephora's foray into omni-channel fulfillment, introducing services like same-day delivery and buy online, pick-up in store and curbside. This new venture necessitated a service design approach that took into account the entire customer journey, including interactions between customers, associates and internal systems. This strategic move was recognized with a Top 3 ranking in Omni Experiences by the CI&T Connected Retail Report.

He also led the charge in directing the design of Sephora’s ColorIQ ML-powered skin tone scanning app, which uses artificial intelligence to analyze a user’s skin and recommend the perfect foundation matches. With around 75,000 scans conducted weekly across over 500 stores, the tool has boosted sales and earned a spot as a finalist in Fast Company's World Changing Ideas.

In 2023, Sephora claimed the top spot in Gartner's Digital IQ Index for Path to Purchase and Loyalty UX, snagged the Baymard Institute's Top 1% E-Commerce UX Performance Award,  and ranked #1 on the Sailthru Retail 100 Personalization Index — all thanks to seven years’ worth of human-centered, research-driven design transformation under Birgiolas’s leadership.

“I feel personally accountable for exceeding the expectations of our nearly 40M Beauty Insider Members, 15,000 Beauty Advisors and thousands of enterprise users,” Birgiolas says.

But this obsession with user centricity is not new. Birgiolas has overseen business critical design initiatives at companies like J.Crew, where he led UX for a wholesale redesign of J.Crew, J.Crew Factory, and Madewell; and at global digital agencies like AKQA and Blast Radius, where he led design efforts for clients like Verizon, Citibank, Marriott and Land Rover.

How Andrew makes it happen

His nearly 20 years of experience has provided Birgiolas with some steps to earning that proverbial seat at the table.

  • Understand that your job is to deliver business outcomes.
  • Establish credibility via a track record of results.
  • Understand the business.
  • Understand the people and build partnerships.
  • Take it personally. Set a high bar for quality.
  • Get in the right rooms.
  • Take control of the process, make it inclusive, collaborative and bring everyone along for the ride.
  • Anchor everything in user needs, and test everything.
  • Build a “keep it weird” culture to foster innovation.
  • Be a servant leader. Good management practices are fundamental.

The Future of Design Leadership

How does Birgiolas see the design profession advance? In order to further cement design’s role as a critical strategic partner, he believes that “there should be a standardized baseline definition of what a head of design is responsible for that can be socialized with CEOs and other C-suite decision makers,” he says. He added that C-suite leaders need more data and studies “around the business ROI of design investment” and often refers to a McKinsey study around the business value of design. Also, he adds, “a standardized design maturity matrix or assessment can support organizations in understanding how they stack up and identify areas of opportunity across different measures.”

But the work doesn’t stop there. He wants to see change specific to the field of design leadership where design is no longer seen as a production discipline; and where UX is heralded as a critical strategic partner and core business strategy informer - equal to Product and Engineering in the product triad.

It’s of little surprise that he’s beating this drum. Keeping the user at the center of every decision has generated massive business results and credibility for Sephora’s UX team.

DXC: Shaping the Next Generation of Leaders

Birgiolas sees DXC as a global network to support the exchange of vital and exclusive knowledge. “DXC can increase the visibility and influence of design leadership among the C-suite and define and elevate professional standards with a unified definition of what successful design leadership looks like,” he says.

And, he added, DXC is a community working for the future; it can provide “mentorship and career development to help the next generation of design leaders claim their rightful seats at the table.”

Stay tuned

Part two of Andrew’s profile will take a deeper dive into how to earn a seat at table.

About

Andrew Birgiolas

Andrew Birgiolas is the Head of Design at Sephora of the LVMH Group, based in San Francisco.