Meet Amazon’s Magical Unicorn, Anna Godfrey

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Amazon principal designer Anna Godfrey is a multi-disciplinary, creative visionary with broad experience in user experience and interface design. Most recently, she has crafted elegant, mobile-first app design solutions. An evangelist of user centered design, Anna is fluent in the full design stack, ranging from user research and information architecture to communication design. She stands at the intersection of technology and human empathy, bringing the two together via brand and interaction.

Her personal self is wonderfully intermingled with her professional life. To sit with Anna is a little like tripping on LSD and happily chatting away with a magical unicorn. The inflections in her voice, bright smile and view of the world are childlike with wonder. Amazon is lucky to have her. Below are some highlights from our conversation:

Pro-Age at Amazon

Audrey: Tell me about what you are doing at Amazon these days and how agelessness relates to your work?

Anna: I am working on a presentation at Amazon to speak on ageism and intergenerational collaboration. I’ve tailored it after Chip Conley’s book Wisdom at Work: The Making of a Modern Elder, where he talks about the secret to thriving as a mid-life worker: learning to marry wisdom and experience with curiosity, a beginner’s mind, and a willingness to evolve, all hallmarks of the “Modern Elder.” In the book he talks about how as we age, we can work increasingly better from both sides of the brain simultaneously. 

As an example, my son works at Amazon. While he is not on the same team, I usually have him review my work. He’ll look at something with completely different eyes. Mostly everyone I work with is under 25, right? They’re just coming out of college. I work exceptionally well with younger people. My tips:

  • I think, first of all, as you get older, you’re more chill, so you bring a lot more chill to the room. 
  • Number two, you don’t care about what people think about you. Very important. 
  • Then number three, as you get older—those who have embraced becoming modern elders—you actually behave more like a child. So therefore you’re more curious, and you’re more willing to break rules. 

I’m also very careful when I’m with younger people that I ask them why they did what they did or said what they said. I’m always being very, very humble. I ask them if they would like some coaching and they are always open. I never offer in front of people, always aside, as a matter of respect. I just say, “Hey would you like some feedback?” That’s a very Amazonian thing. 

“I JOINED AMAZON AT 54.”

I joined Amazon 54. As an example in Chip’s book, some of the stereotypes that we have to work against are that we’re poor performers, we are resistant to change, we’re harder to train, less adaptable, and less flexible. We’re less able to learn, we won’t last a long and therefore have a shorter tenure. We’re more costly than younger employees and less willing to trust younger workers. And that we’re less healthy, and we prioritize family over work. Interesting. Yeah, so I’ve definitely debunked all of these ridiculous stereotypes!

It’s so interesting, when I would tell people my age—I’m gonna be 59 this year, I’m like practically 60—and they’re like, that’s not possible! Everyone has definitely looked to me as a source of inspiration, because I have so much background. I’ve been a designer since 19, I started in 1979. That’s a long time ago. I love how Amazon is opening up the conversation around age barriers.

You have to understand all my documents have unicorns, hearts and emojis on them. No “older” person does that. I get to say no when I don’t think the work is fun enough. I need for it to give me a hit of dopamine. Can you imagine? 

I come from Jamaica, and Jamaica is a black culture, a culture that embraces the elders. It is also a very swagalicious culture.

Ageless Style

Audrey: You have such a unique style. Truly ageless. What are your influences?

Anna: I come from Jamaica, and Jamaica is a black culture, a culture that embraces the elders. It is also a very swagalicious culture. Why would you buy something that is not swagalicious? Right? And then also because the language is constantly changing, the patois is actually, you know it’s a constantly evolving language, so you have to keep up with all the new the new slang, or the news, the new way of speaking and communicating, so everything is always fresh and cool and swagalicious. 

As a youngster. I was always trend hunting. The way I tuned in from Jamaica was, I had a little radio because I didn’t grow up with television. I had a little shortwave radio and I could listen to radio stations all over the world. I would listen to what people were listening to. I got to develop this crazy antenna for interesting things. 

Keeping Fit and Energetic

Audrey: Last we spoke you were on a fruitarian plan. What is your diet these days and what are your values around being well and fit?

Anna: I’ve never been a drinker of alcohol. I think it tastes delicious, but my body doesn’t like it. I think minimizing alcohol is important, and I have mostly been vegan—although I love cheese, but I don’t eat it, and I love bread, but I don’t eat it. When I get really, really, really, really old, like I’m about to die, I’m gonna eat a lot of cheese. A pile of bread and cheese. Oh man, that’s gonna be so good because I’m going to mix the two together. 

I’ve done a complete fruitarian diet, which is hard to do in the winter, and I will probably move back to that soon as it’s getting warmer. It’s my favorite diet. But I would say mostly mostly vegan, lots of veggies. Then, a lot of moisturizer, like mountains and mountains of moisturizer.

Also, it is good to consider as you get older and if you stay in shape, then you get to be with younger guys, which is also great. Ha!

Also, it is good to consider as you get older and if you stay in shape, then you get to be with younger guys, which is also great. Ha! I mean, if that’s what you want, right? My mom was born in the 19, the late 1930s, and that Silent Generation really was uptight about sex. I think that I definitely inherited a lot of maybe not sexual burdens, but a way of being in a relationship, from my mom, which is not really, really great. Overcoming all of these things, obviously I think as we’ve gotten older, we’re much more free in our hearts and in our bodies. 

Art

Audrey: Typically, people wait to “retire” to express their creative side. You have a fully formed world of art expression. tell me about your artwork?

Anna: When I turned 50, I had this awakening, and then all of a sudden, my work became very powerful and I would paint very, very quickly because I was channeling. The response to and support of my work has been very rewarding for me to come into my own as an artist. The work has given me a great sense of validity. My work is not rainbow colored, so it’s a completely different side of me. It’s very ethereal and a little surreal, abstract expressionist. It’s a way for me to express the other part of myself that’s not the rainbow brand of inclusivity. I love that because I really, really leaned into the rainbow. Like, bigtime. (she smiles)

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