Alumni SpotlightYoung Alumni Series

Shannon Ray ’12: Digitizing the World of Life Insurance

Shannon Ray ’12 is serving others by digitizing the outdated world of life insurance as a senior product designer at start-up Bestow Inc. in Dallas, Texas. She gained experience as a design assistant for the Alumni Association before graduating from Auburn University with a bachelor’s degree in graphic design. Ray broadened her skillset by working as a designer for various start-up companies throughout her career.

Auburn Magazine: What made you choose Auburn?

Shannon Ray: My parents, one of my siblings and my grandparents went to Auburn. They were big proponents of singing the praises of Auburn and selling me on how great of a community it was. I was looking at graphic design, we had interviewed with the professors there, I was looking to go into the marching band, and Auburn has a great marching band, so all of these boxes kept checking off — it was pretty much a no-brainer for me.

AM: Did you always know you wanted to get into graphic design?

SR: At the time, I had applied to two schools for college. For Auburn, I was going to go into graphic design, and for the other school, I was looking into astronomy or some science field. I had strong leanings toward graphic design and lot of that was based off of a class I took in high school, learning tools on the computer and recognizing that I could do it for hours.

I latched onto the idea of doing art for the purpose of somebody else, as a service to somebody else’s idea or company. You learn about how you can impact something’s importance based on how it’s visually presented. All of those things were leading up to graphic design as a career.

AM: What interested you in product design?

SR: In school, I recognized that I enjoyed interactive design. I had classes where we designed a website, apps and a digital magazine and I got fascinated with the idea that how you present information and lead somebody changes how they perceive it. When I graduated, I had to decide between a branding-focused career versus web design.

I kept exploring and ultimately ended up in product design, because I knew that was an emerging and challenging field. I’m not just designing a website; I’m designing how a user will enroll in a program or engage in a game or something. It’s incredibly fascinating, and I’m so happy I’m in this field.

AM: In what ways did your experience as a design assistant at Auburn Magazine help prepare you for your current position?

SR: Having that opportunity to work in those programs in a real business setting and see how that all comes together was really beneficial. It was a great opportunity to get my toes wet, and it was a really safe environment to get started. The other thing about Auburn Magazine, and Auburn in general, is that everybody is really earnest, good-natured and collaborative. The nature of Auburn and its community is very supportive and that’s a great place to be at the beginning.

AM: In what ways did your experience as a design assistant at Auburn Magazine help prepare you for your current position?

SR: Having that opportunity to work in those programs in a real business setting and see how that all comes together was really beneficial. It was a great opportunity to get my toes wet, and it was a really safe environment to get started. The other thing about Auburn Magazine, and Auburn in general, is that everybody is really earnest, good-natured and collaborative. The nature of Auburn and its community is very supportive and that’s a great place to be at the beginning.

AM: What was your first job after graduation?

SR: My first job after graduation was Carbon House – doing websites for music venues, performing arts centers and any sort of event space. We created “the experience” for people visiting the websites. They had a good setup for a young designer – they had their own product content managing system and website service. They have a huge client list and a hold on that niche market so it was a great opportunity to touch larger brands.

I got that job because one of my cohorts in my graduating class met one of the heads of that company and recognized there was an open position. It wasn’t advertised anywhere, so having this good friend in the same program got me that interview, and my portfolio pushed it over the top and landed me that job. Especially with design, a lot of these fields are about making relationships.

AM: How did you end up working with life insurance for Bestow, Inc.?

SR: A mix of life events. I ended up moving to Dallas to be with my husband and I got the job because I worked hard on my portfolio and tried to make it visually attractive. I interviewed with one company that didn’t have a role for me but knew of another startup in their kind of company. They sent my resume over, I got interviewed and landed that job. Somebody I had interviewed with at the original company split off and started Bestow. When I was ready to leave my previous job, I had an interview with him and they had a great position for me.

AM: What kind of product design do you do?

SR: I’ve worked a lot on startups, especially young startups. If you join a young startup, you have to be able to handle a lot of different areas. I’ve done graphic design, web design, web development, email design and the actual product design. When you only have one or two designers and a lot of needs for the business, you cover everything.

As Bestow and other companies have grown, I’ve been able to focus more on product design. Right now, I’m working on a business-to-consumer product that’s focused on how the everyday person will interact with an application that will complete a task for the business – in this case, selling life insurance. I’m starting to focus on more complex products that will solve bigger issues.

AM: What project are you most proud of?

SR: Working now for Bestow, for sure. The life-insurance world is very archaic; everything’s on paper, you use an agent, there’s a lot of overhead in order to maintain those models. What this startup is trying to do is make it all digital. I like it because it’s a mission-based company, life insurance is a general good for people, that’s attractive to me.

That’s also challenging with regulations and special cases you have to account for. I actually enjoy that – it’s like tackling a challenge and being able to overcome it and start selling policies. It’s been a great experience working here and seeing my work come to life knowing that I had a big hand in it.

AM: Is there anything you’re currently working on that you’re especially excited about?

SR: I have a couple freelance efforts that I do with some friends, one of which is picking up. It sounds kind of crazy, but it involves “World of Warcraft.” I don’t play, but my friend is super into it and built an entire community around stats and ratings. They’ve gotten connections to Blizzard, the producer of the game, and they have special access to some of their data. I’m getting to work with him on some new features. That’s been really good to mix it up a little.

Having those side projects keeps the creative juices flowing. From nonprofits to friends’ projects to illustration, you just keep trying to round out your skills and keep growing.

AM: What’s the number one thing you love about your job?

SR: I really enjoy working with my coworkers. They have a driven, optimistic nature, and I think we really value that here. They’re willing to go that extra mile, which really jives with what I want, too; I want to be able to do really good work with good people. I enjoy that people appreciate that I’m trying to deliver quality and they’re expected to do that, as well. I’ve gotten some really awesome experiences just by being close with my coworkers.

AM: What is one thing you miss about Auburn?

SR: One of the things I obviously miss is the friends that I had there, and so many great people in one place. Auburn is definitely beautiful, but I would say the people I had there during my time. You can’t keep them forever, we’ve all scattered various places, it’s harder to get back together, but I still definitely miss that. I also miss being able to go to Toomer’s Coffee, I don’t even think it’s open anymore, but to work quietly there, drink coffee and walk the campus in the early morning.

AM: Do you have any specific goals for the future?

SR: I’m happy with where I am right now, but of course there’s things I want to grow. I want to be able to have more speaking opportunities within the company or local design community. A big thing people talk about is being prepared for the next exciting opportunity that comes so you’ll be ready to jump on it, maybe that’s in Bestow, maybe that’s a side project. I want to keep building my portfolio because, the more work you do, the more opportunities you’ll have.