Ich bin:

Interview mit Jemma Kamara

Ein brandaktueller Sektor innerhalb der IT ist das UX Design. Mehr Einblicke zu User Experience und Hinweise, welche Skills für Jobs in diesem Kontext notwendig sind, verrät Jemma Kamara in unserem Interview. Außerdem berichtet sie darüber, wie ihr der Einstieg in die Branche gelungen ist.

What is it that you do? How does your typical day look like?

My most recent job was as the Experience Design Director at AKQA – a global advertising and design agency. I call myself a service designer and a design strategist. What that means in practice is that I help my clients find the right problems to solve be clear about their objectives understand their customers and users needs and context conduct research to understand the problem, the competition, the audience design solutions that really work plan & prioritise improvements pitch ideas to the board design and facilitate workshops. Typically the solution is something digital, although it may also have physical or even operational components.

How do you define your workfield?

The field I work in is usually called UX design (which stands for user experience), UCD (user-centred design) or sometimes Interaction Design. It is one of the many fields of working in ‚digital‘ or ‚technology‘. Everything that a real person interacts with so that they can use a digital tool or product or service, needs to be designed so that it makes sense and that it helps the person using it achieve what they set out to do. On top of that, ‚brands‘ want to make sure that their solution looks and feels different to their competitors. Booking a flight is a good example, the website & app for easyjet is very different to the one for Lufthansa, but they’re really solving the same problem for their customers.

What skills are necessary?

I strongly believe that the most important quality for working in UX is to be really inquisitive. It’s important to always be asking „why“ so that you can truly understand a problem and can come to the right solution. In myself the other quality I innately have is a deep ability to empathise with other people’s life experiences even if I haven’t experienced them myself. This is particularly useful in UX as it is our responsibility to help the client and the team understand and empathise with the people they are designing for.

Do you think you are perceived differently than your male colleagues? Was it hard for you to find your place in the dominated field?

Yes definitely, and unfortunately, I do still think that as a woman working in technology I can be perceived differently…or in fact not perceived at all. There are better and worse workplace cultures with regards to diversity and inclusivity of course, but there are still some issues being seen as a serious and intelligent practitioner, particularly when working with large, traditional companies especially here in Germany. It’s not uncommon to be ignored, assumed to be very junior, spoken over or condescended to. I have learnt over the years to try to assert myself without being ‚aggressive‘ or confrontational. I am also a very big believer in listening more than speaking, which in male-dominated environments can sometimes mean that the air-time is dominated by male voices who might not really have much to say, but they feel the need to fill the silence. Also as a woman in a leadership position there is often an expectation that you need to assert ‚masculine‘ qualities – loud, pushy, aggressive, forceful and these aren’t qualities that I am comfortable with. I have very consciously tried to manage my team and be a leader who practices empathy, listens more than talks, invites others perspective and contribution. I think the only way to change the masculine culture in the workplace is to role model a different approach and hope that others feel comfortable enough to do the same.

How did you get into IT?

I had a meandering journey to where I am now. Originally I wanted to study Psychology & Sociology at university because I thought it was so fascinating to understand how people work and how groups of people work. But then I panicked and thought I’d never get a proper job, so I switched to Business Studies with a focus on HR (Human Resources). I thought that HR would allow me to still learn about people, but really it was all about employment law and protecting businesses from their staff. I knew pretty quickly that I didn’t want to be an HR manager, or any of the other advertised ‚business‘ roles like a finance person or CEO.

How did your career-path look like?

Discovering UX
Towards the end of my degree I read an article about Apple and how they designed their computers. I thought it was fascinating that they were blending technology, design and human insight to make stuff. That spark got me researching this term I’d never heard of, „UX“ or „user experience“. I contacted the one company I could find who specialised in but they couldn’t pay me and I couldn’t afford to work for free.

First job at Aardman
After finishing university I stumbled across a job in my city that was called „web production assistant“. They were looking for a junior person to do some admin helping a team who made websites and online games. I knew absolutely nothing about that, but it sounded a lot like the blend of technology, design and people that had excited me when I read the Apple article. I interviewed for the job and to my surprise they hired me. It turned out the company was Aardman Animations, the studio who made Wallace & Gromit, Shaun the Sheep. I worked there for 5 years, moving into a role as a Digital Producer. A digital producer is a bit like a movie director, they bring together all the different skills needed to make a website, game, app, etc, and make sure that they all know what to do to complete the project.

Adaptive & Penguin
After Aardman I went to work in a start-up as a Product Manager, helping clients come up with their product concepts; then to Penguin Random House, the book publishers, to look after the digital work for the children’s division.

Freelancing & CXpartners
Eventually after all of that I started freelancing as a project manager and had the opportunity to work with the UX company I had contacted all those years ago. Whilst I was there they asked me if I would help on a project as a UX consultant, and so finally I got to officially do the work of a UX professional.

How did you feel when people encountered you to be a talent in UX?

When I was first asked to be a UX consultant, I was terrified that I’d be terrible and wouldn’t know what I was doing. I think it’s very natural to feel some Imposter’s Syndrome – in fact as women we’re much more likely to experience it than men. Honestly I still feel it after many many years working in this field, particularly when I take on a new client in an industry I know nothing about. For example, a couple of years ago I worked on a project for the UK Space Agency, the British equivalent of NASA, to help them design their application process for companies who wanted to launch a satellite. That project was particularly useful in teaching me that almost anything can be understandable enough‘ for me to be able to do my job.

Is there one last thing you want to give the women on their way, a message?

Yes, I would encourage everyone to be their true self and use your life experiences to your advantage. Sometimes I think there is an unspoken pressure to be a certain type of person from a certain type of background, and we can hide parts of ourselves that we think don’t fit that expectation. My feeling is that the workplace and the work we produce will only be better if people draw on their diverse backgrounds and experiences.

Von Fabienne Milke

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