I’m a second careerist, which in the field of UX (user experience) isn’t as unusual as you would imagine. Around 50 per cent of other UXers I meet did another job before they moved into UX.
I used to be a theatre stage manager, working predominantly in opera. I went into theatre because that was my number one passion, but after a while I had to make a change. When I was nine I broke my back and although the surgeons had said “go forward and live your life” I found that standing on my feet for long periods of time, heavy lifting and no sleep accumulated over time leaving me struggling physically to meet the demands of the job.
I was 24. As I had always wanted to be in theatre, there was never a plan B, but I soon realised that I needed to find one. I did a variety of temping roles, working in different places. Then, completely by chance, a friend of a friend was looking for someone to help them out at work, and before long I found myself working for a digital agency in London. This probably sounds very dramatic, but from the moment I walked through the door I thought – this is it. I just understand this world.
That said I could just about switch on a computer and use email. I wasn’t a digital native by any means. Within my friendship group I was the last person to get a smartphone. But the parallels between a theatre production set up and digital are huge. In theatre I had techies. I had a director. Then there was the production manager and the producer who you worked out the budget and the timeline with.
As with a show, in digital, you have a project that people are engaging with and which you should be delighting them through. They shouldn’t be exposed to anything going on behind the scenes. Instead, they should see this beautiful, wonderful product at the end of it all. You are still faced with a tight deadline, which I love, and you still get that sense of coming together as a team to create something special.
I was at the digital agency for just over a year. It was fantastic, very much like an apprenticeship. I ended up doing a lot of client facing work, creating the brief, winning in projects, doing a lot of the project management and the strategic work. All of this moved me into what I now know as UX, but at the time had never heard of.
I then worked in New York and Manchester before deciding to come back to London when I moved to a start up called HouseTrip, a peer to peer platform for holiday home rentals, which is where I am currently. I’ve moved to the client side, which is really great.
I picked up an awful lot of knowledge as I went along, and I worked quite hard at it. I’ve taken a lot of evening courses and weekend residentials in my spare time to ensure that I know what’s going on. Immersing yourself in the UX world, which is what I’ve done, means that you are constantly learning. That way you can’t stagnate, which I like.
In 2013 I co-founded Ladies that UX. A friend (Lizzie) and I went out for a drink in Manchester, and we were saying how up until that stage we had never worked with a woman that does UX. Even now I still haven’t. I’ve also never had a woman in a more senior position than myself within a company. We were sitting there, saying wouldn’t it be great if there was someone we could ask the questions that you can’t really take into the workplace, or would like to ask in a different context.
There are very specific things like what to do if someone asks you out while you’re doing usability testing? There has been a lot of discussion about maternity leave and getting back into work post pregnancy. If you’ve never known a woman in a management position, it can be really tough, so how do you manage a team as a woman, or give them creative criticism? We know that there is a problem. Women in technology are not reaching senior positions and we know that there is certainly an issue with gender balance, in some job titles and in some locations more than others.
What user experience does is create solutions to real world problems. But if the people who are solving the problems all look the same, or sound the same, then the solutions aren’t going to be suitable for everybody. What we need is a diverse group of people, thinking about these problems which will allow us to come up with solutions for the whole of society. Gender, ethnicity and sexuality are all a part of that, as is class and age, which are all issues in technology.
After setting up the group we opened a Twitter account, put it up on Eventbrite and wondered if anyone would come. Thankfully they did. It was lovely. We went out for dinner and there were eight other women there. Lizzie and I were beside ourselves because it was so exciting. From there it has quite literally taken the world by storm. We now have seven groups internationally: Russia, Australia, New Zealand, America, Spain, Sweden, Ireland and the UK.
Despite my profession, I’m still not on Facebook (I’m anti Facebook), but I now manage around four Twitter accounts, including my own. We use LinkedIn an awful lot for the group, and there are various other channels we’ve started to use, so I’d like to thin I’m in the 21st century now.
Georgie Bottomley was interviewed by Julie Tomlin, co-founder of Digital Women UK.
About the author
Georgie is the co-founder of Ladies that UX and is currently working in house at HouseTrip. Originally a theatremaker, she has worked for Amaze, HomeMade Digital in the UK as well as The Spark Group and Slideluck in the US.