Event Highlights: Ladies that UX MCR – Lightning Talk – Being a Female Founder and Software Engineer


Image credit: Ummi Jameel

Ladies that UX is an international community of UX designers, practitioners and experts. It started out as monthly meet up in Manchester in 2013, organised by Lizzie Dyson (@lizziedyson) and Georgie Bottomley (@bottomley_g), both User Experience (UX) professionals, to give, in their own words

“us women somewhere to have a community that understood our interests, work challenges and family commitments”.

It has since expanded into nearly 50 cities around the world and Ladies that UX groups now meet regularly in locations as far apart as Denver, Colorado, Cape Town, South Africa and Tokyo, Japan. There is also an international conference, TalkUX, taking place in its third outing in Taipei, Taiwan later this year.

It is fitting therefore that the founding group that is Ladies that UX Manchester tackle the thorny topic of gender diversity on speaker panels at industry events. And this is exactly what the lightning talks format of the April event was designed to do.

What’s a lightning talk?
A lightning talk is a very short presentation lasting only a few minutes, given at a conference or similar forum. –Wikipedia

How would this tackle gender diversity at events? Well, the opening paragraph of the signup page on Eventbrite stated the case quite plainly:

“At February’s Northern Powerhouse event in Manchester, just one in seven speakers was female. Some panels, including one on diversity, exclusively featured white males. And, sadly, this scenario is not unfamiliar. Ladies that UX want to redress the balance.

One of our main goals at Ladies that UX is to provide not only a support network, but also a supportive environment. We started because founders Lizzie and Georgie couldn’t see other women in UX and we still have work to do to increase that visibility. For our April event at rentalscars.com on the 18th. We’re turning the floor over to you lovely lot.”

And so they did. 7 lightning talks given by 7 women speakers, covering topics as varied as ‘How to win £5k at a Hackathon (& get an invite to Google HQ)’, ‘Power of making and breaking stories’ and ‘Selling user testing in agency’.

I was thrilled to find out I would be speaking at the event and spoke on what it’s like to be a female founder and software engineer in Manchester in 2017, sharing a little snippet of my journey in taking real-time Q&A platform assenty.com from original idea to minimum viable product (MVP). I’ve embedded my slides below. If you were there, I’d love to know what you thought, and any suggestions of what you think I could have done differently 🙂 Thank you.

I found the Ladies that UX event incredibly refreshing. I’ve attended events using the lightning talk format before, and featuring women, and blogged about this. I guess what made Ladies that UX different was the atmosphere. Very congenial, welcoming and, how to put it, ‘dress down’.

Perhaps it’s because the community exists purely for the purpose of encouraging women whatever their working environment, as can be seen in this invite for an event in April 2014.

Or maybe, as Lizzie puts it here,

“the main theme is always the same: a supportive community that promotes women.”

Anyway, whatever it is, it needs to be put in a bottle and exported round the world. Oh, it is, already!

This lovely picture of the speakers taken before the event started says it all.

And you should know we were still going through tech setup at the time that photo was taken, dealing with retrieving multiple slides for the different speakers, on different laptops, to varying degrees of success. And yet, the smiles.. Congeniality… like I said.

I really enjoyed the other talks by the amazing speakers and have summarised them briefly below.

Sue Irving (@thinkhappyuk) – How to win £5k at a Hackathon (& get an invite to Google HQ)

First to speak, brave woman, was Sue Irving. Sue is a designer with a passion for UX. Hers was an insightful account of what it was like to give 48 hours of your life wholly to a well-run hackathon, football stadium sleepover, rapid prototyping and nerve-racking presentation and deadline included.

She got to take part in Manchester City Football Club’s hackathon, HackManCity earlier this year, and shared what it was like. Her team won second prize for their Buddy Up app idea, a way for local fans to provide visiting international fans with an authentic match day experience. I really liked the insider sneak peak into the hackathon process, as my photos below express.

Llara Geddes (@The_Llara) – Selling user testing in agency

Up next after Sue was Llara Geddes, UX Consultant at well-respected digital agency Amaze. Clara’s talk was chock full of real-life case studies on encouraging sometimes reluctant agency clients to invest in user testing. Her examples of using a variety of user testing models, from basic paper prototyping, to ’15 for 15’, where testers are paid £15 to test applications for 15 minutes really drove home the fact that efficient user testing need not cost the earth, and can drive real value for the customer. She used a lot of GIFs in her talk, to great merriment.

Bec Evans (@eva_bec) and Kat Palmer (@KatPal24) – When innovation met UX

After Llara, Bec Evans and Kat Palmer spoke on the journey book publisher Emerald Publishing had taken to incorporate agile techniques, including UX into their methodology. Presented as a narrative with the two presenters taking turns in sharing Emerald’s story, their talk, given without slides, drew us all in, and could have gone on a bit longer to be honest. I like the enthusiasm they both showed for the topic; Bec’s honest account of hiring team members as head of UX was full of helpful tips for those aspiring to enter the industry. Kat’s passion for the new strengths the team had gained after applying agile and UX to the workplace at Emerald was palpable. They both travelled a long way to speak at the event and it was a joy to hear their double act. Would be good to hear more from them.

Tiffany Sun (@tiffalopolus) – Power of making and breaking stories

Tiffany Sun, the first of the Hyper Island students speaking was up after the short break. She is from San Fransisco and her talk was full of colour, audience interaction (actually more on this during Ummi’s talk below), and insightful moments of self-reflection.
She spoke about how she was able to turn old stories of fear of the unknown preventing her from making the decision to leave San Fransisco to study Digital Experience Design at Hyper Island in Manchester to new ones. Her closing words said it all, “Challenge your beliefs and make new stories”.

Ummi Jameel (@ummijameel) – Natural creativity and design

Ummi Jameel is also a Digital Experience Design student at Hyper Island, and the last of the speakers to present. Though we had run over a little bit time wise, her disarming stage presence and quick witted banter had us all attentive to the very end. She spoke very convincingly on being creative, and very deftly turned what could have been an awkward technical hiccup with a non-playing video clip into a great little parlay on how designers can easily succumb to font size and typography envy.

Her case study example of how dental hygiene brand Oral B redesigned toothbrushes for children after watching how small children actually held a toothbrush was a striking example of the need for observing real users.

And she did this awesome doodle of me, what’s not to like!

As requested by Tiffany on Twitter, here is a picture of some of the speakers at the end, in a spontaneous group selfie! Those not pictured had to travel a long way home, and left before the end.

I would be remiss to leave out the great audience participation at Ladies that UX. All the speakers got to answer some good questions from the audience, and I, thankfully, remembered to answer the one below, the top voted question on the event’s question board. Thanks for a great question Sarah Ing (@Sarah_Ing).

And that’s a wrap!

Thank you to the team at Ladies that UX Manchester, especially the tireless Fianna Hornby, (@fiannahornby) who juggled all the speakers into position, and welcomed everyone that came, and answered emails before the event etc etc. Thank you 🙂

Were you there, what do you think of my account? Spot any omissions, inaccuracies or misquotes? Please let me know in the comments! Thanks.