UX STAR INTERVIEW: Co-organizer of UX Wellington Meetup

Through this interview series “UX STAR”, we provide a learn-from-peer approach for the UX space from diverse perspectives and make UX more understandable to the public. We invite UX practitioners and professionals, instead of focusing on UX theory or knowledge itself, to share their insights about UX, the inspirations they got along the way, and how a local community is engaged in different regions.

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It’s our pleasure to have our second UX STAR interview with Kelsey Thomson. Besides working as a User Experience Researcher at BNZ, Kelsey is the co-organizer of User Experience (UX) Wellington Meetup. We also welcome Ryan Walker to this interview, who is also co-organizer of UX Wellington.

Starting the Career in the UX Industry Was Somehow an Accident

To start the interview, we asked Kelsey how she became involved in the UX space, as well as her career development in the UX field. When Kelsey started her degree in Design Innovation, Game and Interactive Media Design, she came in contact with UX for the first time.

As she further elaborated, “My degree at Victoria University in Wellington was very broad. It handled a lot of different topics such as game design and coding. But I think the key things that my university taught me were the critical thinking skills, enabling me to analyze information and to judge if it’s useful for the context, which is really a key role for a UX researcher as well as the mindset of thinking about the effect that you have on the world as a designer. This is when I realized, I wanted to move towards a more people-focused role”.

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An interesting fact is that Kelsey’s UX role became more apparent when she started her first job. She initially applied for a Front-End Developer position, until she was hired for a UX role.

“In hindsight, I had a lot of great skills for user experience, I just didn’t know that that was a job option. They just created this UX position for me. I’ve always been very good with people and good in leadership positions, analytical brain, all these things that I think are really great for UX. The day before I started my job, I had to google what user experience actually is”.

The Many Roles of User Experience

Looking back at her career in the UX industry, we asked Kelsey and Ryan how to describe UX to the general audience without any previous knowledge. For Kelsey, “UX is understanding the behaviors, motivations, and attitudes of people and using these to create something of value for them. It’s about making product decisions based on valid evidence”.

For Ryan, UX in one sentence is about “Finding out what makes people tick and using that to find insights”.

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The meaning of UX for Kelsey and Ryan, can be captured in their favorite quote “Design doesn’t happen in the deep cold vacuum of space, design happens in the warm, sweaty proximity of people with a lot on their minds” by Eric Hall.

Another personal favourite quote from Ryan follows: “It’s okay to add complexity, to whatever you are doing, as long as you add clarity along with it”.

From Battling Social Phobia to Engaging the Community

Kelsey claimed that she didn’t have a qualifying story. She was basically terrified when going to the UX meetups because she didn’t know anything yet about UX.

“The first two or three years of my career, I was constantly battling my social phobia. I was so anxious to go to UX meetups. When I started to attend these meetups, there weren’t too many people actually. Maybe ten or fifteen people in every session, hence I was the only person in the meetup who would talk and answer questions”.

Kelsey joined the organization team in the UX Wellington community soon after attending the monthly meetups. “Back then it was just myself and Ben, the previous organizer”. Thereafter, Ryan joined the organization team. “We also have a couple of new people who are helping. It’s a great way to bring new speakers up and help them get a platform for user experience and practice”.

Though Kelsey still finds public speaking quite challenging when she has to introduce a speaker as part of an event. “I know it sounds really silly that I’m scared of public speaking but I run a meetup community. But I really enjoy the one-to-one conversations with people at a meetup. And I like to greet them at the door, talk to them and make them feel comfortable and connect them with other people”.

In comparison to Kelsey’s personality, Ryan enjoys public speaking a lot. With great teamwork, they make UX Wellington community like a family. Although the meetups are only once a month, it’s gives a great opportunity to discuss and share job’s experience. It is also a good opporutunity to hear what everybody has been up to.

UX Wellington Organizers

The UX Wellington Meetup is not only a community for people to learn things and connect with each other as it was but also becomes a great platform to find potential jobs. The team welcomes every month a wide range of people, from experienced UX practitioners to curious newcomers. The events cover each month different topics, ranging from UX, CX, design and product areas.

Bringing UX into a Strategy Position

There is one thing Kelsey would like to change about the UX space nowadays, which is to bring UX to the strategy table. From her personal experience, commonly across New Zealand, UX is often brought up a bit too late.

“The UX research should be involved more in the strategy level. Many companies fall into the trap of validating ideas rather than doing proper research to even uncover an idea or an opportunity space”.

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The Next Step for the UX Wellington Community

Before UX Wellington became as it is today, the meetups started out as lunchtime meetings with only a couple of people. The meetups were mostly focused on IT people, such as software developers. However, nowadays this has changed and there are more designers and less IT people.

Kelsey realized that in order for the UX Wellington Community to grow, it’s important to continuously ask herself “What is the next mission of the UX meetup?” and “How can we refocus, start again and learn what we’ve been through in the past year?”

For this year, the next step for UX Wellington is to focus more on providing high-quality events as well as the different kinds of events.

“We typically have a lot of talks, but we’re looking to do more hands-on workshops and social events. One of the main reasons people come to our meetups is to connect with other people in the industry. So, that’s something we’d like to provide more opportunity for people to network”.

Q&A Talk with the UX Wellington Co-organizers

Q: What do you like to do when you are not UXing?

I like to read books and play video games and listen or go to see live music. Also going for walks in nature and traveling. It’s kind of broad.

Ryan: I love just going out and having experiences and stuff, trying things. Having experiences with other people. Just making the most of it.

Q: Could you describe your community in one word?

“A good word would be genuine. Naturally, people who are UX, are very people-oriented. As a community, we share knowledge and we share each other’s success and pains and we help each other out, it’s all coming from a very genuine place”.

Ryan: Authentic, like Kelsey mentioned, we all help each other in a way that’s not a force”.

Q: If you could give an aspiring UX junior any advice, what would it be?

Understanding technology a little bit. It doesn’t have to be very deep, just enough to be able to understand the constraints of what your researching and designing.

In addition, I think that teamwork is very important. So you have to ask yourself: “how do you work with developers and business analysts? “How do you collaborate with people?” and “How do you bring people to the table and facilitate workshops?”

Ryan: Explain your value. You need to be able to explain the value and let people understand as much as possible.