Muriel Naim built fabric’s design and UX departments from the ground up by applying her well-honed leadership skills.
Bias for execution and insisting on the highest standards are some of Muriel’s most important values.
She actively encourages communication within her team and cross-functionally to execute the company’s vision.
You can join Muriel’s team at fabric as a Senior UX Manager.
In this employee profile for Threads of fabric, learn how Muriel Naim, our VP of Design and UX grew our design department from the ground up with well-trained leadership skills.
“Design can unlock a company’s future, but function and experience needs to come first to make way for the creative process.”
Muriel Naim, VP of Design and UX at fabric
Muriel Naim, the talented VP of Design and UX at fabric, never followed a conventional path into the lightning-fast world of tech startups and unicorns.
Born and raised in Tel Aviv, to an ethnically diverse Israeli, Polish, and Iranian household, she initially studied theater at an arts-focused high-school and gravitated towards film and art in her early formative years. On her way to becoming an award-winning independent film director and writer, her passion led her to the famed California Institute of the Arts, or CalArts, where she pursued a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree in Design and Cinematic Arts, later transitioning to the prestigious American Film Institute, where she earned her Masters in Film Directing.
But her zest for functional design led her into the booming tech industry even earlier, and more specifically, into the highly innovative field of user experience (UX). As she honed her craft and naturally moved into more prominent roles, she quickly excelled at establishing, mentoring, and leading creative departments in companies such as Disney ABC, Sisense, and HopSkipDrive.
Eventually, Muriel joined the retail giant Walmart in 2019, where she led the International User Experience department of Walmart Canada, and served as Walmart Labs’ principal Research & Architecture Strategist, focusing on the international and localized future of e-commerce. After two years of leading design operations at scale and managing teams consisting of dozens of designers, researchers, and data analysts in four different time zones, she was ready for a new challenge.
That’s when fabric came knocking.
Admittedly, Muriel had never heard of fabric when a recruiter first approached her to join the headless commerce software-as-a-service (SaaS) company. But a meeting of the minds between herself, co-founder Ryan Bartley, and CEO Faisal Masud, convinced her that fabric had the leadership style and the vision to turn this small, growing startup into a roaring success:
“Ryan leads with empathy and insight. I knew it was the place for me after speaking with him, along with Faisal’s robust vision for fabric’s premise and purpose.”
However, taking on design and UX at a young company was fraught with challenges that are typical in early-stage startups. For starters, fabric didn’t have a design department—just a small group of highly-talented individuals who were in need of direction and mentorship.
In classic Muriel fashion, she immediately rolled up her sleeves and got to work. With 13+ years of design leadership and mentorship experience under her belt, she began applying what she learned to her exciting new role.
Muriel’s first task at fabric was to strike a balance between functionality and creativity, which she knew from her past experiences was vital for building thriving and successful creative teams.
“When I came to fabric, the first thing I did was assess the current end-to-end process and set up a baseline for all creative processes,” Muriel says. “Design can unlock a company’s future, but function and experience need to come first to make way for the creative process.”
Processes, Muriel says, are essential for preventing burnout amongst employees and creating efficient workflows. Before starting work on any design, the team had to learn the correct processes for research, timelines, communication, and design strategies. With those frameworks in place, creativity was encouraged by embracing failure as a building block to unlocking true original thinking.
Another key area she focused on was finding a medium between “high standards and excellence” and “genuine care and empathy.” That balance, she says, is especially important in relation to creativity. It fosters an open environment where everyone feels heard and where each person’s input matters, no matter their position. She believes that true innovation happens when each team member’s ideas are valued and considered.
“Be Who You Are and Lead With Integrity and Empathy”
When asked how her leadership style has changed and transformed, Muriel recalls her father, a lawyer, whose leadership style was more traditionally heavy-handed. This approach influenced her early leadership roles, but Muriel also found herself “vacillating between softness and hardness.” Over the course of her career, she developed her own leadership style and philosophies, which still guide and inform her decision-making to this day.
At fabric, Muriel encourages her team to excel, but her encouragement isn’t muscular or aggressive; she motivates with empathy, strives for originality, and prioritizes a growth mindset; steeped in the belief that everyone’s skills can improve over time and that no one’s capabilities are static. All is mutable and changeable with the right support, but it also takes willpower for an individual to unlock their talent as well.
“Be unapologetically yourself. Be less self-critical. Whether you’re gentle or bold; it doesn’t matter – be who you are and lead with integrity and empathy.”
She’s had to learn this lesson herself, as many women have. In trying to conform to male-dominated expectations and communication styles, she’s seen how women can easily lose their voices in organizations.
However, she’s also recognized that the more women can accept their own leadership and communication styles, the more room there is for varying viewpoints and diversity all around. In Muriel’s experience, mimicking ineffective communication for the sake of conformity or adopting a top-down attitude to manage employees are not the right approaches to leadership. Instead, one should always strive to bring their full self to the table while being open, honest, and vulnerable.
That’s why the one piece of advice Muriel has for current and future leaders is the same piece of advice she wishes she’d gotten when she was younger: communicate more. Communication is an undervalued pathway to success, and creating well-worn communication pathways within teams is fundamental. This includes an openness to being questioned on one’s own opinions. In fact, Muriel believes that every talented leader should be “always open” to change when given the opportunity for feedback.
With that, she urges fellow women in leadership positions to only take in what’s constructive and not let the rest hinder them from moving forward. Discerning helpful critique from bias is something women have to navigate through in many workplaces, which is why she often tells women to “be your own cheerleader and create your own communities to ensure you’re supported, too.”
What changes need to happen in tech, and how can companies improve? Muriel emphasizes the importance of open dialogue and inclusiveness.
“Many companies have the tendency to inhabit top-down mentalities,” she says. “Creative solutions can and should come from anyone. When the door is open for all to contribute, we’re allowed to break the standard and welcome ideas from all sides. There should be no ego in ideas, no sole ownership. This creates company-wide success.”
A scarcity mentality and possessiveness over one’s ideas is ego-driven, but when ideas are perceived as communal and free-flowing, team members can re-check themselves, validate new ideas, and build something that will break the status quo rather than conform to it.
At fabric, it’s clear that Muriel is leveraging her creative experiences in film, art, and theater as well as her well-honed leadership skills to foster an innovative and open team environment that prioritizes empathy and balance, as well as hard work. According to Muriel:
“Work hard, play hard! But wrap it with a heart.”