6 of the most influential women in UX today

4 min read
Raffaela Rein
  •  Mar 8, 2018
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It’s no secret that women are underrepresented in the tech industry, and we still have a long way to go to level things out.

When asked what changes need to be made in order to get more women in tech, a panel of female UX experts was unanimous: Role models are key. We need to make women in the industry more visible so that other women and girls can easily visualize themselves in similar roles.

No wonder, then, that Grace Carey was so disappointed to see just one woman mentioned on a list of influential UX designers. We know there are more than that, so we’ve taken the opportunity to celebrate some UX rock stars who stood out in 2017.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it does represent women from all walks of the UX community. From interns to industry veterans, each is inspirational in her own way. So without further ado, here are six of the most influential women in UX today.

“We need to make women in the industry more visible so that other women and girls can easily visualize themselves in similar roles.”

Cathy Pearl, VP of User Experience at Sensely

Cathy Pearl has been rocking the speech recognition industry since 1999, and earns her spot on this list as our designated voice UI expert. Voice design is fast becoming one of the hottest topics in UX, and Cathy is well and truly leading the way. Her CV boasts some pretty impressive projects, including designing helicopter pilot simulators at NASA and, most recently, writing and publishing her book Designing Voice User Interfaces.

Cathy currently holds the position of VP of User Experience at Sensely, the San Francisco startup that invented Molly, a virtual nurse who helps patients manage their chronic health conditions. Sensely is at the cutting edge of healthcare technology—combining artificial intelligence, voice technology, and human empathy to create a truly life-changing user experience.

So how did she get there? Cathy completed her BS in Cognitive Science, followed by an MS in Computer Science, before working her way up the industry ladder. Aside from her day job, Cathy can often be found sharing wisdom on Twitter or participating in various talks, podcasts, and panels.

Lizzie Dyson, UX Designer at Rentalcars and Co-founder of Ladies That UX

Since graduating from college in 2012, Lizzie Dyson has already made quite a splash in the world of UX. Her journey began with a degree in web design. She then went on to gain extensive experience as a UX designer at the BBC.

Lizzie now works at Rentalcars, but that’s not the only reason she’s on our list. She’s also on a mission to get other women involved. Together with Georgie Bottomley, she founded Ladies That UX, a local meetup that has now gone global.

Back in 2013, the pair, both UX professionals, noticed a distinct lack of female role models within the industry, so they created a collaborative space for “women from all levels to engage and talk about their experiences… and get the support and inspiration that they are looking for.”

These ladies know from first-hand experience just how difficult it can be for female UXers to break into a predominantly male sector—and they did something about it. In their own words, “Ladies That UX is all about giving women the chance to support each other, push the UX boundaries, and promote female skill and talent.”

With meetups in over 50 cities worldwide, this has had a huge impact, and will no doubt continue to do so.

What’s next for Lizzie? She’s currently in talks with Manchester Metropolitan University about how to best deliver a new user experience module for future web development students, and she hopes to play an increasingly active role in the future of UX.

Elizabeth Churchill, Director of User Experience at Google

A quick scroll through Elizabeth’s LinkedIn profile may leave you feeling slightly awestruck—and hopefully very inspired. A psychologist by trade, she’s been a major contributor to the UX industry from day one.

Armed with some impressive qualifications, including a PhD in Cognitive Science, Elizabeth spent the early years of her career working as a senior research scientist. She is now Director of User Experience at Google and Secretary of the ACM (Association of Computing Machinery).

With over 150 publications and 50 patents to her name, Elizabeth is a leader in innovation—and an example of someone who is super smart, highly ambitious, and has worked hard to achieve her goals.

To top it all off, Elizabeth is also known for her remarkable work on gender equality—notably Feminism and HCI: New Perspectives, a study exploring the impact of feminist thinking on human-computer interaction. Elizabeth is an all-round UX superstar, and you can follow her here.

Indi Young, Independent Data Scientist

Indi Young is a data scientist, researcher, author, and all-round user experience buff. A true pioneer in her field, she created the mental model diagram to help brands and designers really get to the heart of what the user wants. Indeed, she’s a proven expert when it comes to empathy, personas, and behavioral economics.

What’s especially admirable about Indi is her entrepreneurship. She founded her own user experience agency, Adaptive Path, back in 2001, and she has spent a large part of her career coaching and empowering others in the form of consultancy, workshops, and mentoring.

Another interesting fact about Indi Young? She abandoned her MS in Computer Science, realizing that it wasn’t the path she wanted to pursue. Quite evidently, this has not held her back in any way. It’s an excellent reminder that it’s never too late to change direction and follow your passion.

Alana Washington, Design Manager at Capital One

Alana Washington first dabbled in design when making her high school yearbook, a passion that has since driven her career. After studying psychology in college, Alana was snapped up by HBO. It was while building a presentation skills course that she rediscovered her flair for design—a talent she has used ever since to create life-changing solutions.

Alana’s career has gone from strength to strength, and as she mentions in her 28 Days of Black Designers interview, she’s super proud of “being able to maintain a seat at the technical table” despite coming from a human-centered design perspective.

Alana is great at what she does, and she’s refreshingly honest about the challenges she’s faced. Of her experience as a woman of color in the design industry, she says: “I’ve felt the adages of you have to work 3x harder, and be 5x smarter, to be true.” She opens up about her struggles with imposter syndrome—something that many women struggle with—and provides a much-needed reminder that believing in yourself is half the battle.

Alana prides herself on the fact that she’s constantly evolving and learning. She’s currently “nerding out” on machine learning, AI, and applied Afrofuturism, among others. For more Alana-themed inspiration, check out her work here or follow her on Twitter.

Hwanghah Jeong, UX Design Intern at Microsoft

Last but not least, meet rising star Hwanghah Jeong, student at the Savannah College of Art and Design, and UX Design Intern at Microsoft. She hasn’t even graduated yet but she’s already well on her way to big things.

On her personal website, she showcases her works in both interaction and visual design, complete with detailed insights into her research, processes, and tools. In her latest project, Spark, Hwanghah addressed the issue of physical therapy being underutilized by patients. The outcome was an adaptive, immersive, rehabilitation platform that received the 2017 Red Dot Junior Award.

Technical prowess aside, what really stands out about her is her attitude. She’s curious, compassionate, and fearless. Referring to her love of travel, she explains: “Unlocking and understanding cultures and traditions outside of my own is one of the best feelings. For me, happiness isn’t the absence of problems and challenges, it’s the feeling you get when you overcome them.” Spoken like a true UXer.

Feeling inspired? If you want to join these women in shaping the future of technology, find out how you can start your UX career here—or upskill in UI, frontend development, or voice design. Curious about what it’s like to be a female in the industry? Read this open letter to women in design.

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