Interview: Anne Stevens, the Brain Behind UX Mums

Last month on a lovely day at Kings Cross I got a chance to catch up with Anne Stevens, the founder of UX Mums. We discussed how she got into the UX industry, her biggest UX mistake as well as the future of UX Mums.

LTUX London: What is UX Mums all about?
Anne Stevens: UX Mums is a group for anyone who is a parent or parent-to-be and works in UX. I say ‘mums’ because it is really for people who are looking for ways to balance looking after children and their career which is usually more of an issue for mothers than fathers. It is a way for people in that situation to catch up whether you already have kids, you are pregnant or you are thinking ‘if I have kids/when my time comes, how will I cope?’.

At UX Mums we talk about maternity leave, employment rights, how to negotiate flexible work hours and managing childcare. We also talk about UX and have lots of conversations about agile and user research, among other things. The main point of it is that it is for people in the same boat, balancing home and work, to share their experiences.

What made you start UX Mums?
It came out of a Ladies that UX event where myself and Kate Shaw presented. She spoke about freelance versus permanent roles and I talked about agency versus in-house. After we presented the conversation veered off a little bit as people started to ask about which options might be better for flexible hours and managing childcare. So we thought that might be an area that people might be interested in discussing but I didn’t want to do a whole LTUX event on this topic as it wouldn’t be very relevant for ladies that don’t have children or aren’t interested. I spoke to Georgie about doing a one-off session just on that topic for anyone who was interested, but she was thinking bigger and suggested we turned it into a separate group that host a series of meet ups. That’s how UX Mums came about.

Our next meeting will be on Tuesday 14th July at the Argos Digital Hub and we already have topics lined up for the next couple of months.

How long has UX Mums been around?
We first started talking about it in the summer of 2014 and we had our first meet up in October 2014. We’ve had three meet ups now and we are planning our fourth.

How did you get in UX?
By accident. Which would never happen nowadays. I started my career in 1999 as a developer when the web was a big thing that had just come along and everyone was trying to get jobs in the area. I applied for a job as a developer at a web agency called iXL and when I went to the interview pretty much the first question they asked me was ‘What interests you about the internet?’ I said that ‘I’m interested in how people use it to find information’ and my interviewer suggested I shouldn’t be in development but information architecture; which is what UX roles used to be called. I was interviewed by the Head of Information Architecture and he offered me a role as a trainee and that was 14 years ago.

What’s your favourite aspect of UX?
My area of speciality, which is research; that is what I spent most of my career doing. I like one on one usability testing as well as working closely with product managers on UX strategy. I believe quite strongly that you need to be as aware of the business needs as you are of the user needs because otherwise you won’t really be good at your job.

What has been your favourite thing that you’ve designed?
I’d probably say my most recent job which was blinkbox Music; it is a music app and the first app I worked on. Music is obviously an interesting and exciting area to explore.

What has been your biggest UX faux pas that you’ve ever made?
Allowing the business stakeholders to make the decisions and not listening to the users. This can be easily done if lots of people are shouting at once and you’re not in a senior position yourself.

What do you have in the pipeline for UX Mums?
We are looking to revamp the meetings a little bit. The first three were like a general social catch up, but going forward we’d like to introduce topics for discussion.

Our next meeting will be on Tuesday 14th July at the Argos Digital Hub and we already have topics lined up for the next couple of months. One will be around negotiating flexible working and the other will be using agile methodologies to manage your home life.

We’d really be interested in what people want to hear about and if anyone wants to talk at our future events feel free to contact us; it doesn’t necessarily have to be related to parenting.

What advice would you give someone who is starting out in UX?
That’s really hard to answer, especially for me getting into UX so accidentally. For me I think you’d have to look into doing a masters degree or any other formal education.

Also if you are lucky enough to work in an environment where there are UX professionals who might let you shadow them or possibly get them to mentor you, take that opportunity. If that is not possibility and there really isn’t any UX yet in your company you should speak to your line manager and expand your role out. I think it is very difficult these days especially if you do not have formal qualification.

I believe quite strongly that you need to be as aware of the business needs as you are of the user needs because otherwise you won’t really be good at your job.

What would you change about the UX industry?
The confusion of visual design and UX. Of course there are people who are good at both and that’s fine; but they are separate disciplines and it can be frustrating for someone like me, who’s never done a day’s work of visual design in their life to be expected to have that in their skill set. It is important that employers understand the difference.

Next UX Mums event

The next UX Mums meeting will be on Tuesday 7pm 14th July at the Argos Digital Hub.

Argos Digital Hub (big red door to side of store)
279 Vauxhall Bridge Road
Victoria, London

To catch up with the latest from UX Mums and find out about future events follow them on Twitter.

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