Jenny Shenin conversation with Vasilis van Gemert

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Jenny is an independent UX/Product designer who at the moment specialises in cross-cultural design for the travel industry. I saw her talk about this subject a while ago at CSS Day, so of course we talk about this a lot. We wonder, for instance, if the question what makes a thing good yields different results in different countries.

So I was thinking: is this the UX community in Amsterdam? Where are all the women? Why aren’t there more women in these events? Are there no female UX-er in Amsterdam?

We also talk in detail about the Ladies that UX Amsterdam chapter she started. We talk about why it was needed, about its success, and about why it is still needed. And we talk about how her mentorship program works, and how you can apply for it. Among many other things.


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Vasilis: You're listening to The Good, The Bad, and The Interesting, a series of conversations about quality with Vasilis van Gemert and an eclectic mix of designers. In this episode I have a conversation with Jenny Shen. Jenny is an independent UX/Product Designer, a public speaker, a meetup organiser and a mentor for designers, among other things.

One of the things Jenny specialises in is localisation, so of course we talk about difference in design patterns for different countries. We talk about the highly successful Ladies That UX chapter that she started in Amsterdam, and we discuss in length why it is so successful, and why it’s needed. Among many other things. But as always we start with the question: What makes a thing good?

Jenny: What makes a thing good? So my point of view it is from the angle of UX design and by definition UX design is to solve a problem. So I think something can be considered good, depending on what the thing is of course, if it does what it is supposed to do. And good is like meeting expectation. Great is like exceeding expectations. And like I said it depends on what the thing is and sometimes a thing is good if it achieves a greater purpose than just meeting the expectations of doing what it is supposed to do.

V: Okay. So if it is good so you have at first you define some sort of expectations. We are supposed to achieve these and these goals and then when you meet those expectations it is okay.

J: It is good because good how I read it compared to other adjectives good is like fine it is like almost like okay slightly better than okay.

V: Okay. That’s interesting. It is so good to see so many people have different definitions. Good for some people means excellent but for you it obviously means fine. Good enough.

J: Yeah. Good enough exactly.

V: Yeah. So then you have really good and then you have excellent.

J: Excellent, brilliant, fantastic. Yeah.

V: Okay. And what makes a thing fantastic then?

J: So it should exceed expectations and probably bring more benefits to the context, to the use, to the goal and probably it also involves a very positive emotion like it would be really good the person using it or being is a good event so be feeling extremely happy or satisfied and it will be a lot more satisfaction compared to when a thing was good.

V: Okay. So and I guess when you go from good to excellent it gets much more complicated.

J: I will say it is much harder to design something to be excellent than to be good.

V: Yeah. Meeting expectations is probably something you can tick off but then going the extra mile and I guess it is also something with considering the context. It gets more complicated because you think about the impact and you think about external factors maybe things like that.

J: Yeah that’s how I see it.

V: That’s very interesting. And now one of things you are specializing in I mean you do so much stuff it is incredible. I guess we can go on for two days probably talking about what you are doing but one of the things that you do and what you talk about a lot. I saw a talk from you on CSS Day a while ago. It is about localization and culture research. So I am also curious about the outsider look who live in the Netherlands so are there some […] so what would make a thing […] or are there things are specifically good for the Netherlands that make an user experience specifically good for the Netherlands. Are there such things?

J: Something that makes the experience good in the Netherlands. If we are talking about good means meeting expectations and being in line with what people actually do then the good things for the Netherlands is the systems or processes ways that are suitable for how people use it. For example so I live here for three years now and when I go to restaurants or like friends, people and we need to split the bill and it is really common to use this app called tikkie and of course there is many other variations of it where you can just like send payment request ‘cause you need to split the bill. And having lived in multiple countries I would say Netherlands is the one where this one is really popular and very commonly used because in Canada or you know in Singapore it is not as so common to split the bill and precisely to the cent. So I find that interesting. Yeah I owe you four euros and 53 cents send me a tikkie. So perhaps this app the existence of it and how it is meeting the user’s need is good in this country but then if you […] if I tell my friend in Singapore like hey send me a [… ] I’ll send you a payment request of three dollar and they would be like are you crazy?

V: Okay yeah so that’s a very cultural application. Yeah it is true I am half Greek and in Greece it is the opposite. They will not split the bill there people will start fighting at the end who is allowed to pay the complete bill. No I will pay it, no no no, I will pay it.

J: Yeah. That’s the same in Taiwan and sometimes like Singapore depending on the context but my culture is that yeah just like you said people fight for the bill like no I’ll take all of it. Don’t worry about it because a person who takes the bill is supposed to be you know the one that is more generous and the one that’s more sort of have a better finance to take care of each other.

V: Yeah. It is a very good example. I think you showed some example of a search page if I remember correctly. And then there are some differences. I mean we have seen these differences now between let’s say more distant cultures like Taiwan and Singapore compared to the Netherlands and Greece compared to the Netherlands. But are some of the differences maybe tiny like with Belgium or Germany countries we often compare ourselves to. Are there big differences you notice because you have been studying this I guess.

J: So one of the examples that I give in the talk is that even though certain say European countries might be next to each other. In Germany for example it is much more common to let’s tell all of the details and everything step by step in a really structured in a really organized way and users are just used to seeing much more information, reading much more compared to the neighboring countries. And for instance is that on the website perhaps something that’s suitable, that’s like more minimal and with just the bare minimal information probably would not work in Germany where the homepage for Germany includes a lot more information. If there is like e-commerce product page the description will be much more detail and maybe explaining about the fabric, the origin like the different color variations and so on.

V: Yeah. So much more detail and some assurances as well right. So they, if I remember correctly, they like stamps more.

J: Yeah. So it is very common in German e-commerce to have those things called trust badges or It is a social proof to tell the users that like you know 1000 people have signed up and they rated 7 out of 10 or something like that so they can have more assurance of trusting their money with the company.

V: Yeah. Very interesting. Yeah. So these are relatively small regions right and we see there are definitely noticeable differences between doing business in or making digital products in Germany compared to the Netherlands for instance. But what about bigger countries, for instance I mean we always talk about China but would you do this localization in China for China or would it be more regional within China.

J: That’s a really good question and it is up to really the company and also if there’s business value to localize for each region. Because so China is a big country, so is Russia, so is like United States and some people might also think like Germany is a big country you can also localize per region.

V: Sure definitely. Some would even say that about the Netherlands.

J: Yeah. It is ultimately depending on what people are or what the companies are wanting to get out of localization. One key benefit is that the users who use localized products probably find it more intuitive find it more easy to use and if it makes business sense than I think it may be worth the investment. However, localization is a big […] is a lot of work, it requires a lot of research, studying the culture characteristics, studying the country, studying the users, researching the users so I will be very keen to see if a product actually localized to that level but I haven’t really seen that yet.

V: Okay. But it would be interesting to look at it. Because if you take a localization to the extreme I guess you end at individual targeting.

J: Exactly that’s what I think is interesting how artificial intelligence is helping us personalize digital products that machine learning is learning about individual preferences and even in the same country, the same region like people are different like do we need to actually localize and personalize it to be that specific.

V: Yeah. For instance if I look at the voting maps of how people vote in the Netherlands, the general elections you see a big difference for instance between cities and rural areas. So you could localize for those things as well I guess.

J: I don’t actually know about that can you tell me more about like the difference between cities and rural areas how they vote?

V: Well you could […] I mean if you look at it I am generalizing here but in cities it is more usually a little bit more social and liberal and it is a bit more conservative in rural areas but it is not a 100% of course.

J: Right.

V: I mean this is generally speaking. And there is other ways […] I was thinking as well if you look at the United States which seems to be very polarized at least politically would you want to target.

J: I am confident that the politicians or maybe the people who design a campaign have probably some kind of targeting that if they they want to like they want to target this state versus that state they might have different approaches in different political sites and also towards each state. I don’t work in politics I sure don’t know but I should think that makes sense.

V: Okay yeah it makes sense from a success point of view from a business point of view. Are there ethical sides to that?

J: Yeah I was asked about this as well and I would say it is really I think a difficult question to answer.

V: Of course ethics are very complex.

J: Yeah if we take the users preferences or like cultural characteristic but the user does not like it. Like they don’t want to have a product designed just because he or she or they is Dutch or Taiwanese or whatever then you know where does the ethics fall into that. I personally think that I don’t actually have an answer about this in the realm of work that I do we are experimenting like certain patterns and how the users react to certain patterns. That if we provide more information does it make the user feel more assured and more eager to sign up. And how I see it is that we are providing benefits to the user in the way like what they are looking for. If they are looking for assurance like credibility in a company and we have the option to work with trustedshops. de badge for example and put it on our website to give the user assurance that they are looking for than what’s the downside of it.

V: I guess so.

J: Yeah so that’s kind of how I see it but then you know overall we can get into like personalization, artificial intelligence, customization. I am afraid I am going to like put it on something that’s not inappropriate.

V: Okay doesn’t really matter. I think I mean the ethical question is very difficult. It is also something that we are speaking about more and more.

J: Yeah.

V: So but it is not always something that you have to talk about. So one of the other things that struck me is that you showed some design patterns that you would suggest for Germany but if I look at those patterns I would not suggest them to use over here. This is interesting because one of the things that I teach my students are design patterns and to understand these patterns and to know when to use them. And more and more I am starting to doubt if they even exist design patterns.

J: That’s an interesting point of view because like in my talk and also like in the cross cultural UX talk I kind of advocate for really studying the users and see what works for them and some […] like design patterns that we are […] it is normal in one country or it is very common in one country might be not the same case in another country. However I do think that most humans like our fundamental similarities that we are all humans and psychological patterns do affect us maybe in certain in different levels for example the social proof thing. The funny thing is even though I am Taiwanese and also like kind of Canadian the social proofing does not really work on me.

V: No?

J: No like if I see like 1000 people have bought them. Okay, well good for them but I know very specifically like what I want. If it does not meet my needs like they can use all the persuasive patterns but it is not going to work on me. But I am very […] I think in this part I am very different. And I also notice how […]

V: Is that maybe because you are an expert on these things and you recognize them?

J: Maybe yeah maybe. So that’s not […] that could be a possibility and then when I also did […] I am going to go back to the Germany example again because I have done a lot of research into that. I think German users are generally speaking less inclined to giving to this time pressure compared to in my research American users. ‘Cause when you go to a landing page that is for American users it is all like timers and it is all like count down, it is all like limited time offers but when I go to […] when I encounter a product or a website landing page made by German company it is like totally different. It is more calm it is like they are trying to tell you how good their product is, information and some testimonial but it is not like trying to pressure the user with time.

V: Aha so it is convincing on the quality of the product instead of convincing with […]

J: The time pressure.

V: Yeah that’s interesting.

J: We are going off […] I think your original question was do design patterns exist.

V: Yeah.

J: And I guess what I am trying to say is the social proof things. It probably works for a lot of countries but there may be some cases when it doesn’t but it is still on a personal level like me like I find it does not work for me or that’s it on a kind of cultural level.

V: Okay so design patterns of course they do exist but I guess what you are saying is that you should really really investigate them if they are appropriate for your target audience or the people you are working for or […] depending on very many just the things that you have to consider.

J: Exactly. And also design pattern can also be a little bit more broad like the way that landing pages are designed or home pages are designed. If suddenly the user have to scroll instead of top to down they scroll left to right then some users might be kind of shocked because that’s not really how it works on the internet like sort of the custom is right now is scrolling from top to bottom. So designing with patterns actually mean that we are designing the users mental model according to how it usually works is scrolling from top to bottom. So I think there is still some benefit to design pattern but like you said we do have to research if that works for our target audience.

V: Yeah and the content that we are working with. Yeah I am also […] at the moment I am working with blind people and I see that many of the design patterns that we have been taking for granted over the years. For instance that we put the navigation on top. They make no sense at all for people who use screen readers. And so I am actually starting to think that maybe we should reconsider some of these things. Isn’t the navigation for instance part of the footer or is it that important that it should be on top of every page.

J: And yeah I think that topic I am totally like really a newbie when it comes to accessibility design and I am thinking that if we are designing for blind people does it actually matter that there is something on the interface or can it just be programmed designed in a way that works for the screen reader. Does it actually need to have an interface.

V: Yeah well it doesn’t really need a visual […] well it can […] there is different people who use screen readers of course. There is also people who use a screen reader to read it aloud while they are looking at it. It can help for certain other disabilities. But yeah I mean there are people who think well maybe we should design separate websites for blind people for instance. Like we used to do with mobile design before we had responsive web design. That we made separate mobile websites. But then there is an ethical question there. Do you want to identify people as disabled?

J: Right because like if you are disabled then you go to this website. Yeah.

V: You’ll get the disabled version.

J: Yeah.

V: Yeah it is a tricky question.

J: Exactly. Doesn’t sound so nice does it?

V: No.

J: But then in the daily life we also have situations like well take the accessibility path and this is the accessibility parking spot or if you are disabled then go this route so it is already happening in real life.

V: Yeah. So you could of course add some options I guess. An option to remove the navigation from the top and add it to the bottom. Okay there is lots of work that you do. So I looked at your website and there is one of the quotes that struck me because there are so many interesting words in it. And that’s Today I focus on solving difficult UX challenge in the travel mobile e-commerce and SAAS markets. Curious about this what are the difficult UX challenges at the moment? Are there any global challenges or are these particular to the clients that you work with?

J: It is great question. In travel I am just going to point that out because I have been working in travel project yeah over the last few months. I cannot say it is a global challenge but at least also the challenges of my clients is that first of all like travel industry is very competitive and kind of across all other industries they are trying to incorporate emerging technologies like machine learning or personalization, block chain and what not. So first it is working emerging technologies and secondly because the user’s expectation are getting higher and higher and now that you know a lot of companies are getting better of providing a good user experience I would say that for me the difficult challenge in helping the client to solve is how to provide an excellent user experience and not just good while having these emerging technologies in mind so that we can stand out in the competition. And also travel industries specifically. I am personally very interested to make just the experience a lot easier for travellers so I think you travel a lot as well. I travel a lot as well. It still takes so much time and effort to go from one place to the other and it is 2018 and we are still having to go through like tons and tons of different steps so my goal is to help companies in these industry design excellent user experiences and I am personally more interested to design inclusive experience that kind of work more globally and helping companies getting to new markets.

V: Okay very interesting. There is some very interesting things you say there. For instance you use the word inclusive which I think is a term that many people use in different ways. So what does inclusive mean in your context?

J: Inclusive means that it is not exclusive by whoever want to use it whoever might have a need for they can use it and also the product is designed with pretty much everyone in mind but everyone as in like their target audience and it is not excluding people because of their age or gender personal traits or ability and culture and what now. You are taking all those human differences into consideration.

V: Okay wow. I think that is a wicked problem to solve right.

J: Yeah.

V: Because that’s […] I really believe that. It is very […] I mean it is a fantastic and beautiful goal to design for everybody but I guess it is also very hard.

J: It is. I can give an example of how I try to design, try my best to design inclusive experiences.

V: Yeah very interesting.

J: So indeed like I said I am working on […] I am solving, trying to solve difficult challenges but I am doing like kind of one step at the time because if we try to push too far like companies are gonna bounch back and people are gonna, you know not gonna get it if we make really really big leaps so I am doing it like one tiny step at the time. In one project I work with we were designing like forms for example. Designing the payment form designing the forms where you users can fill in their names and to do inclusive design in my way it is to consider what are the names people can possibly have and how to design like error messages so that we are not telling users who have like a sort of a you know different name with dash like my name and give them a warning like no you cannot enter a name with dash enter something else then people with names are not you know I don’t know how to say it better but like normal Latin letters like we just feel like okay what’s wrong with my name like why can I not enter it in the form. So that’s kind of like my tiny effort towards designing for inclusion. And another one is just to tell the client about in some countries like names could be long and they might be like difference in the order of first name, last name of maybe different terms. It is just to advocate that there are differences and I advise that client that if you want to target a multiple markets which you are saying like you want to then do keep this in mind.

V: Yeah. I really like the detail here that you said designing the error messages. I think that’s something that is forgotten so often. I think Vitaly Friedman did a talk at CSS Day as well where he said that he started the redesign of the new Smashing Magazine with designing the error messages. That was the starting point of the complete redesign. I think that’s very interesting.

J: Yeah.

V: Yeah and of course names I guess that’s one of the most complicated things out there.

J: For sure. I looked into it. I looked at the possibility of different name combination and it is like more complicated than I thought so my definition of inclusive design is at least the bare minimum to not upset an user because they have a long name because they have a short name or because they have a dash or you know some apostrophe in their name. That’s like the bare minimum we can do.

V: Yeah. Nice example. Simple but nice. And are there bigger issues for instance years ago before I became a lecturer I used to work with big Dutch, what are they called, well KLM and Transavia, things like that. And one of them was looking into stream lining the different flows of where their visitors came from so that they always knew okay that they could always give them a good starting point which I thought was a very wicked problem as well. So try to get a map of where do all the people come from from social media, from e-mail campaigns from search engines so just from the homepage and how do you […] so what does the website look like when they enter from different regions. And another one, a big one I think, was another one which had […] they changed from airplane first to digital first. Where they said the airplane is not the […] well that’s of course pretty important of what we do but most of the people will, most of the time be in our digital environments and that’s the first place where they will meet us. So they switched to digital first design. I think there are som big UX challenges there.

J: Yeah of course.

V: Do you work on some of those issues as well or is it more on the […]?

J: On the small things. Currently if anyone has a difficult challenge feel free to come to me. I am very looking forward to having those difficult challenges.

V: Okay looking forward to these kind of things. Okay, good. I heard you talk about emerging technologies. What are the emerging technologies at this moment you think that we should investigate further? What are the things that people will be using in the near future or start using already.

J: I think the block chain topic is really hot. It is so hot that people are putting block chain in things that don’t really make sense. And I am very interested to see how that will turn out because having those smart contracts and not talking about just crypto currency but like smart contract can probably really change the way, shape the way of how digital products currently are. So I think block chain is one interesting thing. I am also quite interested in AR. I am more interested in AR than VR because having just the phone as a device and being able to like read and work with the environment. With AR I think that’s really interesting.

V: Yeah. I think so as well. For instance with, what is it called, Pokémon Go.

J: Oh yeah.

V: The game. That was sort of an AR where you saw […] I remember that a few years ago I used to do this a lot with my kid and then we were in a park in a town in the Netherlands and we were […] a year later we were there again and we thought when we were walking around there last time we were in this park there were all these animals here, what were these animals. And we remembered the animals in the location but these were Pokémon Go’s on our phone. So I think AR is really something that it is very interesting as well. And do you use any of this […] do you know any examples of how that is used in travel or […]?

J: In travel not AR specifically but I do know some ideas I just can’t remember the names of the companies. They want to help travellers understand more of their context or if they see a picture and be able to know like where is this place and like what is this item or when they travel for example they can just in their surrounding get information overlaying the landscape like telling them what building it is or what road whatever. So that’s in travel. What else? I was gonna say something but I totally forgot. I blanked.

V: Yeah I think there is lots of things happening there as well in the indoor navigation.

J: Yeah.

V: Another thing you do is the Ladies that UX you started the chapter of Ladies that UX in Amsterdam. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?

J: Yeah of course. So Ladies that UX is a global organization and the mission is to promote female talents in UX in tech just so that we can have diverse voices especially when we see leader boards or like leaders board members or conferences and speakers and they tend to be primarily one type of profile. So we want to change that and we also want to provide women a safe space to discuss their struggles, discuss how it is to be a woman in tech, how to promote themselves, how to negotiate. So that’s our goal. In 2015 when I moved to Amsterdam I started the Amsterdam chapter and that’s just […] I just did it myself and luckily afterwards I was able to have more team members to join me and right now I am not involved in the Amsterdam chapter any more since a few months ago and the community has currently grown to more than 2000 members.

V: Wow. That’s incredible. That’s fantastic, isn’t it.

J: Yeah. It is unbelievable. I would have never imagined it to get bigger than like 600 people.

V: Yeah that’s really really […] so that’s 2000 people, wow.

J: Yeah.

V: I didn’t really realize that the UX industry is that big in Amsterdam. But of course it is, yeah.

J: It is pretty big. The biggest UX meet up in Amsterdam has about 3000 people. And so we are 2000 and some people have overlap so I think the UX industry is probably kind of about that size or maybe including, yeah including folks who are not on meet up probably even bigger.

V: Yeah. So I think one of the things that’s of course one of the reasons why it is started is that in influential industries like tech and in leadership positions you see that women are far under represented. And I know in technology that is true. Is that in design is that the same as well?

J: In design it is the same as well.

V: Okay.

J: Yeah. And I can also talk about why and what kind of got me to start the Ladies that UX Amsterdam. So when I moved here in January 2015 I was trying to know more people, trying to learn and going to meet ups and events and what not. I have been to a lot of different kinds of meet ups like the ones where I hear talks or drinks and after a while, after a few months and I kind of realized that I was most of the time I was one of the handful of women like you know you can count them with two hands in the meet up. And there was even one event with 80 people, like the room was full and I looked around the room and I realized I was one of the only like less […] one of the five women in the room. So I was thinking to myself like is this like the UX community in Amsterdam. Like where are all the women? Like why aren’t there more women in these events? So I just […] that’s why I decided to start Ladies that UX Amsterdam I mean while it is cool to network in those events I still feel that the underrepresentation kind of bothers me so I wanted to change that. I wanted to know first are there just not female UX-er in Amsterdam.

V: Yeah that’s an interesting question.

J: Or are there some but they just don’t go to the meet up. And if yes than why don’t they go to the meet up.

V: And which one is it? I guess there are definitely UX designers, women UX designers, the proof is over 2000 members of Ladies that UX. Are the meet ups unwelcome?

J: So I think from the research I mean I haven’t interviewed every single person that joined but people who joined tell me that especially the ladies who joined tell me that it is really nice to be able to socialize with other women. We didn’t specifically like ask like oh why don’t you like to go to other meet ups. We didn’t kind of ask that.

V: Okay.

J: But my personal experience is that people prefer our event because we have this welcoming very inclusive vibe and our chapter, our meet up is not only open to ladies. We are actually welcoming everyone and we also encourage men to bring their female colleagues, bring their you know partners and what not because we want everyone to hear about the amazing work that these UX ladies have done and we are talking a lot about inclusion and diversity in our meet ups.

V: Yeah. Is this something that’s improving. Do you know that? Or is it a very hard struggle that we have to keep on putting much effort into keep it going.

J: So I can give an answer and I think I might be biased or overly confident but from what I see the difference of before Ladies that UX Amsterdam started and after I can see that other meet ups started to have more female speakers and also I start to see more and more female attendees in other meet ups and also conferences start to have more female speakers. I don’t know why or maybe something else has changed but I was one day I was actually looking just out of curiosity like I wanted to know the other meet ups how many female speakers do they invite. And other events how many female speakers, how many event attendees so I was just browsing like multiple UX and tech meet ups by looking at photos, by also looking at the speaker names before 2015 like October there were really not that many women. And afterwards I started to see more women in pictures and start to see more female speakers and a lot of them come from the Ladies that UX community so kind of one of the assumptions is that maybe nobody gave them a platform to speak ‘cause meet up organizers work in different ways. Sometimes they get referrals sometimes they reach out to speakers but if the organizer don’t know any female speakers they will never be contacted to speak. ‘Cause it is less likely that I am generalizing again but it is less likely that they will be more proactive and just send to meet up organizer hey can I speak at your meet up that’s not really common.

V: It is something that you do though?

J: Yeah. Like I said I think I am a bit different.

V: That’s good we learn from different people.

J: Yeah.

V: Sameness is not interesting.

J: Yeah I think I have no shame I just reach out if I think I can be of help I can share my knowledge and I just reach out.

V: Yeah if I read it correctly you said a few years ago I wanna speak at one conference at the end of this year and you spoke at four conferences. And now I think you are traveling all day all week all year around the world to speak at conferences.

J: Yeah that was really amazing. So that one year I wanted to speak at one conference, that was last year.

V: Yeah.

J: Yeah it was last year I set up a goal to speak at one conference I end up speaking at four. And this year I think so far this year just counting my conference list I am doing 18.

V: That’s fantastic isn’t it.

J: Yeah. Thank you.

V: So more people should do that. More women.

J: I really hope so. And it could be a lot of reasons why people including women don’t feel comfortable reaching out like some people don’t know what to talk about, some people don’t know how they should take about is. So some people just feel uncomfortable to reach out and they prefer to be contacted and you would be surprised when we contact speakers in Ladies that UX Amsterdam we still get turned down. They said oh no like I am not the most qualified speaker on this topic, I don’t have enough experience but you should contact this person and sometimes it is a male. And we are like oh but we are trying to have more representation so but we will like to really help you to formulate a topic. We can help you rehearse. I can give you feedback and some people end up taking the offer and some people did not. So even if our goal is to have more female speakers for more better representation it is still challenging. It is not as easy as people think.

V: No, okay. That’s interesting. So if they want to one of the things […] so if people want to start speaking but they feel uncomfortable one of the things they can do is contact you right. I mean one of the other things that you do is you do mentoring.

J: Yeah that’s true. They can contact me or they can read this blog post that you just mentioned it talks about why I want to speak and how I got started speaking. How I planned my first talk really. And some people have messaged me and said that that post really inspired them to start speaking and when I get these kind of messages especially from women I am super super happy and yeah so I do mentoring and some of the things I also help mentees if this is their goal is to get into public speaking.

V: Yeah okay good. And why is it important I mean I guess not everybody knows that but why is it so important that more women speak at conferences? That we see more women at these places?

J: Yes very good question. Diverse voices, hearing diverse voices can bring different advantages because if we all hear from just one single profile that perhaps have a more similar way of thinking or similar company cultures similar line of work then it is a danger that we are not hearing. We are hearing a single story. But if we hear diverse voices we can get to know that women or non-binary folks or underrepresented folks that what is it that they are doing what challenges are they facing. I think it will give us a better view on what is actually the status of the tech industry and how can we design for people like them. Because if we only hear from one profile then […] I think one thing is sure that we all have biases if we all hear people from one profile then we might get affected by their design decisions which might involve their biases. But if we hear different opinions then it will help us like I said have a more holistic understanding of the society in whole and especially if our target audience are women or non-binary people or we strive to design for everyone then wouldn’t it make sense to hear from everyone.

V: Yeah of course. Another thing I always say is if I look at for instance my students not 50% of […] half of them are women probably maybe a little bit less but about half of them. But if I look at lots of the design agencies most of the people there are men and definitely at higher level positions. This is of course not very welcoming right if you look an all male company do you wanna work there.

J: Exactly. And also […] so first that’s a thing if the company is all male and if I am the only […] if I am applying for the job I have to think about I have to work with these people all day for you know five days a week. Then what are the topics they are gonna talk about. How do I fit in. It just feels more difficult and I actually have been there before. In most of my careers when I work in a team I am most of the time the only female in all male team. And sometimes even though people don’t say that you are not welcome it is sort of a voice that feels like okay I am very different. I like to talk about different subjects or I don’t like to drink beer, I don’t like to talk about craft beer I don’t even drink alcohol. So these kind of things can hinder somebody from entering an all male conference or not all male but you get the idea or an all male work environment. Generally speaking like I think the first workplaces, conference line up or attendees can help people feel more welcome and feel like I belong here I am a part of this place.

V: Yeah okay. So you work I think mostly remotely. Is that true?

J: Yes.

V: Yeah but you […] do you get to make your own teams that you work with so you get to assemble them?

J: It depends per client project. So in one of the long term contracts I have with a client I was part of a team and my responsibility is just to work well with the team and sometimes like initiate things within the company. We didn’t actually have a need to recruit more people or hire junior designers. And in some other client projects I am more doing the hands on work myself and regarding like recruiting a team that’s not what I currently do but I would like to get involved with that because I am doing […] I have already done a lot of those recruitment things at Ladies that UX. So if a company wants me to recruit a team kind of educate about design best practices I am more than happy to help those clients.

V: Okay, good, yeah. So how does that work working remotely because I see you have been working with clients from all over the globe. I guess you work with people who live tomorrow right who are in a time zone that’s the next day things like that which I guess can be pretty confusing or how does that work?

J: So yes like you said I work with […] I remote work with companies in different time zones and it is confusing sometimes but luckily we have a lot of digital tools to help us with that. There are time zone calculators, you can also have different time zones in your Google calendar so you can easily find what’s the best time for you to meet with somebody in Sydney for example or San Francisco. And I have been remote working for about seven years and yeah over time I just kind of learned to get used to it and the only thing to watch out funny thing is that […] the biggest to watch out is not the time zone calculation in my current time zone versus the very far country. It is like my time zone to compare to like UK or Portugal or some European country. Because I kind of forget there is a time difference.

V: Yeah one hour.

J: Yeah it is like one hour before one hour after and then sometimes when say somebody in the UK will say hey let’s meet at 12 and I will say okay and I forget there is a time zone difference so I am waiting for them at 12 and then I am like okay this person is not showing up but actually it is 11 their time.

V: Yeah. So the time differences are actually harder when it is close by. That’s interesting I never heard that one before.

J: Yeah.

V: Okay if I work from home. So you work from home most of the time?

J: Yeah.

V: Yeah right here?

J: We are recording a podcast from home studios so Vasilis can exactly actually look at imagine what I am doing every day. Yes small desk, small computer.

V: Yeah. And I get very distracted when I work from home. So there is other stuff that I can do. There is a whole library with books that I can read. There is a garden that I can go to. There is tons of things to procrastinate, let’s call it that way.

J: Yeah.

V: Do you have any tips any […] do you have any issues with it? Maybe you don’t have that problem at all? Some people just work but […]

J: Yeah the procrastination thing I used to in the beginning and I think I procrastinate the most when I was …… as a freelancer on the side when I had a fulltime job. So it is very tiring to have an eight-hour workday and you come home you still need to finish a client work at like 7 or 8 pm and then work through the night. I tend to procrastinate in those situations but then when I set aside time […] usually in the daytime like on the weekends I find that actually easier if I just tell myself okay Saturday from the morning till noon I am going to work on this project and I am going to deliver to the client whatever I have done. I find it easier to work in the daytime then the nighttime and over time like after many years I just developed this self-discipline which I am very amazed on myself ‘cause I am really good at procrastinating.

V: Yeah.

J: And maybe not having a lot of distraction being intentional about that is also something that helps because my home is kind of boring. Out here is not a lot of things going on. No I live in …. and like every day I just look outside the window I have like a very calming view to help me focus I make a cup of tea I don’t have a lot of noise in my home office so I can concentrate very well.

V: Okay, good.

J: And sometimes like the whole day just pass and I do a lot of work.

V: Wow excellent fantastic. So I work in design education so I teach a part of the next generation of digital product designers how to design digital products what are the things that future designers need to know? What do they have to know if it is up to you?

J: The future designers I think earlier we talked about the design ethics I think it is a really important topic because designers […] we design stuff that people actually use and it can create habits sometimes you can create addictions sometimes it can kind of generate this loop of maybe even create anxiety with notifications and kind of a constant habit of checking their e-mail, checking their social media and what not. So I think that the future designers should be aware of ethics at least be interested to learn more about it, learn our role in ethics. What is the designer’s responsibility in ethics and maybe if we […] if the designers feel like we are responsible then what can we do to make sure that we don’t design products that make people’s lives worse but good for the company.

V: Yeah at the same time, right?

J: Yeah.

V: Yeah.

J: And so I advocate for diversity inclusion. So I would say to the future designers try to learn more about diversity inclusion and why diversity and inclusion matter and if somebody does want to design international products which are basically products for people around the world then try to hear from more diverse voices and be mindful in their design that they are not excluding anyone knowingly or unknowingly.

V: Very good. And is there a type of attitude that designers should have?

J: I can’t say for everyone but then generally speaking like what I tell my mentees is that designers will be really good if they have an attitude of being curious. If something doesn’t work be curious to find out like why. How can we make better instead of just leaving it at that. Also the industry is constantly like changing and moving really fast so we do have to be prepared to keep up and also be constantly learning like life is […] just practice life long learning and always be interested to hear about the things thats happening outside of the industry to have a more holistic view. Because if designers all they hear about is UX design and what not but we don’t hear the business side we don’t hear the marketing side we don’t hear from developers like what do they care about how do they work what matters to them maybe the reason why they don’t like a design pattern is because it affects the speed or something else. But if the designer only kind of have a very single focus on what he or she or they like to learn then I think it is a danger of not being able to work well with people in other disciplines. So […]

V: So that’s important. Keep a holistic view. Yeah.

J: Keep a holistic view and try to be more curious in what other disciplines are doing. It is not a bad idea to go to business or marketing or development even just to see what is it that they are actually doing.

V: Yeah that’s very interesting. I started talking actually at different kinds of events because I always thought that when I went to front end development conferences people were saying that what I already knew. But then I said but my design colleagues don’t know this.

J: Yeah.

V: Go speak at their conferences.

J: Yeah.

V: And then there is […] I mean we talked in the beginning about the good versus excellent. And I guess whenever possible we should try to achieve excellency instead of just good enough. But is that an attitude that designers should have as well?

J: I would think so but only sometimes. Yes and no. Because I am a person who practices being like lean and agile and sometimes going after the low hang fruit. A lot of designers the way that we are taught or in courses and university and what not is to have a very like thorough design process and you have to follow every single step. If you don’t do a persona if you don’t do a customer journey then this is not done. So it takes a designer like a few months to actually complete something. But in some cases being lean and being experimental I think it is a good thing. So I wouldn’t say that designers have to do everything excellent also know like when to just do it good, when to do it excellent and if it is like an idea that’s not even validated why are we spending so much time to perfect it and make it excellent we don’t even know does anybody need it, does it solve the problem a lot in a way that they will buy it or whatever. So yeah there are times where it makes sense to design it good and design it excellent.

V: That’s so interesting. Wow. Thank you so much that was so interesting. Do you have anything to add to this conversation? Do you want to say a final word to our listeners.

J: So I wanna say it is really great to chat with Vasilis and we covered a lot of topics on ethics, about design and I am happy to be able to kind of share my thoughts about diversity inclusion in case people haven’t figured it out that’s kind of like my main topic and sort of my main mission.

V: Okay excellent. So if you are looking for anybody on these topics that we discussed and many more I guess get in contact. And also for mentoring. Let’s talk about mentoring a little bit more. I think that’s very interesting what you are doing there. So you said you mentor UX professionals right? And students as well or […]?

J: Yeah the people that I mentor are not necessarily professionals. I am not saying they are not professional but they are not yet UX professional.

V: Okay.

J: I mentor people who either want to get into UX or they already are learning UX but they need a clear next step in their career or in their portfolio and I also help people who are already practicing UX how to get to the next level. So I basically help these three different types of people in different places of their career.

V: Okay. And how does that work? So they contact you and then […]

J: Yeah so they contact me I have a website set up where people can read about what the mentorship program is about, how I work, social proof of course and then they will out the form for me to understand what have been the experiences so far like why are they getting to UX and what is their goal and what they are looking to get out of a mentorship. Then I select the mentees based on whom I think I could be a good mentor for ‘cause sometimes people have different mentoring styles and it actually does take time to find a mentee that’s working well with your style. And then so after a mentee is selected I have a strategy call with each mentee. I try to understand more in detail about their career goals and understand where they are right now and where they want to get to. Some people have very ambitious goals like they want to get into UX consultancy and they already have their dream companies and roles in mind. Then I lay out like a plan for them like okay right now you are here your long term goal is here in the middle there are these steps so we have to get through one by one and most of the time it involves improving their portfolio to speak to an employer or also working on self initiated projects to improve their experience and a lot of times it also involves practicing interviews, design exercises, resumes writing, cover letter writing and yeah all of the things that can help a person advance in their career.

V: Fantastic. Wow. That’s really good. Really good. Really more people should do that. I mean I guess it really helps.

J: Yeah and especially like happy when people have come back to me and tell me that they got a dream role that they were looking for or they got their first freelance clients. Aside from all the career things that I do I also help people get more familiar and practice like remote work and also freelancing. I have helped mentees who actually just graduate out of general assembly like help her with her fulltime job and freelance job. So they are actually doing a lot of things. Kind of like mimicking what I do basically but I think it is wonderful.

V: Okay really good. Wow. Well thank you very much again for this wonderful conversation.

J: Yeah likewise thank you so much.

V: This was episode number 64 of The Good, The Bad, and The Interesting with Vasilis van Gemert (that’s me) and Jenny Shen. If you feel the urge to give any feedback you are more than welcome. If you want to get in contact with Jenny you can find her contact details on her website. And you can send me an email via vasilis at Or, if your feedback fits in a tweet you can find me on twitter via @vasilis. Another thing you can do is helping me pay the bills for the transcripts of this podcast. These transcripts are necessary for those of us who can’t, or don't want to listen. They’re handy for robots or people who want to analyse the contents of these conversations as well. Support can be done in many ways, and they all make me very happy. You can find all options on, patreon, direct money transfer or a virtual cup of coffee. A steadily growing list of wonderful people are donating regularly, like Paul van Buuren, Job, and my employer CMD in Amsterdam.

I have no idea when the next episode is going to be recorded and with whom it will be. I am a bit busy with other things at the moment. It could take a while. I hope you don’t mind too much.

This transcript was funded with the generous help of CMD Amsterdam, Job, Paul van Buuren, Michael Hastrich, Peet Sneekes, and Peter van Grieken. If you want to you can help as well by donating a (small) amount.