The UX Review
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The UX Review

Interview with Claire Waterworth, Senior User Experience Designer at Softwire

We interviewed Claire and learned about a project which led her to work in the public sector as a Designer, her effort to decrease the gender pay gap, her wide responsibilities as a Senior User Experience Designer at Softwire and her passion in using her design skills not only for users or profits but also for society. She also gave us some tips to get into UX. Enjoy! 🦦

1. Could you tell us about what you are currently working on?

At the moment I’m working within the Gender pay gap service which is part of the UK Government Equalities Office.

— Is it for companies to proactively reduce the pay gap between genders, or is it more for people to be aware that there is a gap?

We’re trying to impact on behavioral & attitudinal change of both employers and the public. Creating awareness amongst the greater public of the gender pay gap and the associated inequalities and encouraging positive changes.

It’s a bit of both. So by law in the UK, employers with a headcount of 250 or more have to submit data on their gender pay gap. This information is made public on the service. Once employers have published their gender pay gap data via the service, the public can look up that employer and compare that with another employer.

But we know that reporting their gender pay gap data alone won’t close the gender pay gap.

We’re also trying to impact on behavioral & attitudinal change of both employers and the public. Creating awareness amongst the greater public of the gender pay gap and the associated inequalities. The service is for both employers and the public equally.

A big part of what the service needs to do well is to help employers understand how to diagnose their gender pay gap, so they can take effective action off the back of that knowledge. So there’s the challenge for us — how to encourage employers to investigate the cause of their gender pay gap? To engage with their gender pay gap and do something about it?

What employers don’t have to do by law is to explain their gender pay gap figures, or implement an action plan to address their gender pay gap. They have an ability to submit what we call a ‘supporting narrative’ and they can put this on their website and link to it from the service. The aim of this is to provide a publicly visible context to their gender pay gap figures.

A lot of employers do this (create a supporting narrative) but the tricky bit is that not all employers know how to effectively diagnose their gender pay gap, or create meaningful action plans (or just do this in the first instance). And some just aren’t interested at all!

If employers aren’t able to understand their gender pay gap, and what’s causing it, when they write and publish their supporting narrative it may not always be reflective of what’s going on in their organisation. So another challenge for us. How can we better facilitate employer’s understanding of their own data? For instance, a lot of employers just assume it’s a question of recruitment. There are several known factors to the gender pay gap and one of them is, yes, recruitment at the senior level of women. But it’s not the only one. There are issues of flexible working, shared parental leave, recruitment and promotion processes, transparent pay structure etc. But if they’re putting out there that it’s just a factor of recruitment, and they haven’t explored other possible contributory factors, that’s sending a message to their employees or the public who might be looking at that report and thinking: “oh, that’s all the gender pay gap is about ‘’. So then the responsibility is back on us — how can we help employers to understand that better?

So, yes, it’s a tricky one, but we’re working on it!

2. What kind of design do you do in your role?

I’m doing a lot of service design combined with UX & UI. It’s really important in my work to either be able to see where my ‘product thinking’ sits in a bigger picture.

On paper, my role is an interaction designer, (public sector word for UX/UI designer). However, in practice I’m doing a lot of service design combined with UX & UI. I sort of took it upon myself to work in this hybrid way, as there’s not much point thinking and designing only in terms of a digital product if there’s no design strategy or approach that extends to the service(s) as a whole. It’s really important in my work to either be able to see where my ‘product thinking’ sits in a bigger picture. And if I can’t do that, I will focus my time a bit more on the overall design or understanding of the service.

Because the online component of a service shouldn’t be seen and designed as a silo. It sits within a bigger ecosystem. I haven’t been able to map out the entire ecosystem of this service, because it’s quite a small team, but I’ve spent a lot of time trying to get team members and the wider department to think about the service model as a whole in relation to how we want to impact on outcomes. As opposed to a more features/output based approach which is sadly too common! It’s been hard work doing this. The concept of an outcome isn’t rocket science, but in terms of shifting from a feature based approach to design work, it can really rattle people sometimes. It asks them to really consider what it is they’re trying to achieve. And then take responsibility for that. Getting consensus on that isn’t easy.

So I think my role is a hybrid of service and UX. But the definitions of both are a bit blurry at times and I try not to get caught up in any debates about ‘what is a designer’ too much. Well, to the extent that I try to reinforce it’s not just about making things look pretty. But anyway, I don’t think there is one answer to those kinds of questions.

3. How does designing in the public sector differ from designing in the private sector?

Profit motive is different so the designers mindset when they design could be different too… Better to spend the time designing it ‘right’, than just building something in the ‘right’ way.

On a really basic level, the difference is profit motive. The public sector is based on services for people and creating ‘better’ outcomes in society, it’s not primarily driven by financial wealth creation.

On top of that, I guess you could say it can be more focused on human centered design. Public sector organisations are often looking to change outcomes and attitudes within society — not just individuals. While design in government has a strong focus on user-centred design, I think it’s ultimately with the aim of going beyond just individuals (or at least, I would like it to be!). That’s my interpretation, broadly speaking.

It’s not that the private sector doesn’t consider other factors beside profit — and I’m speaking extremely broadly — but I think that having profit as the primary lens in which your business model is based on, will change how you as a designer might think or address certain aspects of product design. Or be expected to. And that in turn, has an impact on those who use your products or services. If you’re in the private sector and your boss or your CEO or your shareholders largely only care about the profit motive, those attitudes can filter down and become normalised. I’m not interested in helping capitalism, basically — I’m a bit of an anarchist!

I’ve met really great people in both sectors. However, I’m much more partial to working for organisations that work in the public realm. That’s not to say people in the private sector don’t care about what they’re putting out in the world. For me, a really critical part of design is being conscious of the responsibility we have as designers to consider the impact of our design choices. Design can have an immense impact, and we have a responsibility to manage that. Often times, profit motives don’t produce the best outcomes for society.

— Are there differences in speed in public vs private sector?

I think it can vary hugely. It really depends on what kind of way your team works, your manager’s attitudes and priorities etc. But very broadly speaking — I would say yes, the private sector often produces at a faster pace. Which isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Speed is used often as a marker of value. How fast can you get it done? If you do it ‘fast’ it must be valuable right? Therefore I am valuable, my company is valuable. I don’t buy into that on a wholesale level, although I’m often judged by how quickly I do work, so I can feel the pressure at times.

On the other hand, the speed of delivery is not something to wholly discount. It’s no good for projects to drag on for lengthy periods without justification. Particularly in the public sector. If that’s occurring, you’re potentially wasting taxpayer money. But it’s finding that balance between quality and speed. If you do something quite quickly but it’s rubbish, and generates awful outcomes you may have to spend years trying to fix it. Better to spend the time designing it ‘right’, than just building something in the ‘right’ way. This is where Service Design can be really important as a method to de-risk this occurring.

When I look back on my time in the private sector, there’s a big pressure to have it as fast as possible. The development lifecycle is all about quick, quick, quick! Get everything out really quick! Test it. Iterate it! Make it better! If we get it wrong we can always iterate, right? Right? Well, yes. But it’s a bit of a lazy approach in some ways. Iterating something that’s substantially rubbish will only make it less rubbish. I would like to think we as a society can do better than that, better than aiming for mediocrity.

4. One of your former colleagues described you as having a “genuine drive to make lasting and meaningful impact”, where does this drive come from?

I was thinking about that before the interview. You’ve made me reflect deeply about my entire life. Joking slightly, but I think maybe because in my head I’m still basically a teenage rebel.

I was very into art and design in my teenage years (still am, obvs!) and also hugely Influenced by the attitudes within the music that I listened to. Riot Grrl stuff in the 90s, Fugazi, lot’s of Nine Inch Nails. It was the 90s. And looking at art that was challenging, outside the box or outside my own experiences. I was involved in student politics at uni. And when you’re immersed in that — it’s all about questioning things all the time. Why? Why? Why? How can it be different? How could it be different? Not too dissimilar to design philosophy really.

Having said that, it’s important to acknowledge or give context. I grew up in Australia. While there’s most definitely inequalities in Australia (particularly and disproportionately for indigenous peoples) — because of my relative privilege I wasn’t exposed to much inequality growing up that I was aware of.

Living in the UK for over 13 years now, and also just being older (!) I have seen, and see an immense amount of inequality in society.

I think a lot of times when you design, even if it’s graphic design or branding, you’re often doing it for another company, organisation or industry that you have little prior knowledge of. As a designer you really need to understand them and find out a lot about them so that you can design meaningfully. That process can be really fascinating and you gain a really great insight into some good and bad aspects of society (and business practice!).

I’ve been fortunate to work for really big organisations, as well as small independent businesses. You get a really broad lens on how different people, organisations and systems operate. I think combined with that insight, and a bit of perpetual teenage rebellion is where that drive comes from. I’m also perhaps a bit jaded. I don’t know. Some people might say I am cynical. I like to think I’m a cynical optimist.

— You are exactly what society needs right now!

Ha. Another jaded cynic? Yeah. It’s hard, though. I don’t think I always get it right. I can get frustrated quickly with stuff and I have to remind myself “inside voice, inside voice”. It’s hard, especially when you’re in a position to really influence your work. Which I take with great responsibility. It’s exciting to do that but equally, it’s a bit terrifying because it’s a privileged position to be in and I’m conscious that bias will always creep in.

5. I believe your first job was with the Sydney Opera House. It seems very interesting, could you tell us about it?

For nine months, I worked with a group of young people including indigenous Australians in Redfern. I was teaching photography classes, helping them to keep visual diaries, and just generally document their lives.

I had recently graduated from University of Technology, Sydney where I studied Visual Communication (Design).

For my honors thesis I was doing research on how the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child actually filters down, and impacts social services for young people, from a visual communication perspective. I felt really passionate about youth rights, and still do. And I wanted to insert my passion for design and photography somehow. After writing the thesis I worked on a related ‘practical’ component. I decided to work with a group of young people who lived or interacted with a homeless shelter for young people in Sydney.

I was interested in how I could facilitate others’ use of photography and design to express their social values and experiences.

During my graduation show the Youth producer from the Sydney Opera House saw the work I’d created with these young people, and asked if I wanted to put in a proposal for a creative piece as part of a youth festival that was being hosted by the Opera House and the Museum of Contemporary Art (Sydney).

So for nine months I worked with a group of indigenous Australians in Redfern (inner city Sydney), and two other young people (not indigenous) who were also from inner city Sydney. I was teaching photography classes, helping them to keep visual diaries, and just generally documenting their lives.

Often times young people, particularly homeless young people, just aren’t seen as the same as other people. I wanted to use my platform (the Sydney Opera House) for these young people (and the communities they are part of) to show what matters to them, what their lives are like. I facilitated that as, I guess a designer, a bit of a workshop teacher and a bit of a photographer.

Tatea Riley, one of the participants was amazing. At the time I was running the project and photography workshops there were these huge riots in Redfern which came about as a result of police treatment of young indigeneous people who live in the area. She went out with her camera every night of the riots, shooting all these images of what was going on.

It was quite a formative experience for me — in good and bad ways. Particularly in terms of how the final exhibition in the Sydney Opera House was received. For example, I got a write up as the artist in the national newspaper, the focus was on me. Not much mention of the indigenous students’ artwork — which happened to include a 2 metre by 2 metre image taken by Tatea Riley, of an injured young indigeneous boy with a white police officer standing over him.

It was also quite formative in terms of my experience and awareness of institutional bias.

— What do you still remember and apply to your current practice?

Even if you have the best of intentions, the impact of that drive won’t always align in terms of outcomes — you have to understand how big institutions operate and what you might have to negotiate to see the change that you want to see.

I remember the opening night. It was a huge festival — part of a Sydney wide festival. And the Opera House is a massive cultural institution. Throughout my time working on the project, and the opening night I was overwhelmed with feeling how privileged and lucky I was to be part of this. On the opening night, Tatea and her friends from Redfern came down. But they were sitting in the corner. They didn’t engage with other people there. They clearly didn’t feel comfortable in that space. I just remember feeling “how is this a success? Who did this project serve?”. I’m not sure. It was eye-opening for me in the sense of seeing the power of institutions. So even if you have the best of intentions, the impact of that drive won’t always align in terms of outcomes. I think it was also my first experience of realising how projects are as much about trying to use creativity to create an impact as they are about having to understand how big institutions operate and what you might have to negotiate to see the change that you want to see.

6. What advice would you give to a designer at the beginning of their career or someone trying to get into design?

Ultimately I think it’s about getting your name and your work out there in a creative way. Start your own speculative design projects that you are passionate about. People (including employers) respond to that.

At the moment, particularly with covid-19, there are not many jobs out there for juniors. I haven’t done an extensive look, but I would say it’s pretty safe to say that it’s pretty devastating out there.

I wouldn’t say this is the case across the board, but often smaller teams will just have one designer so you can’t have a junior and that’s tough if you’re just starting out.

For people who are wanting to get into UI or UX or just design in general, I think my take would be a bit like what you’re doing (the UX Review) and getting your name out there. I recognize that that can be difficult, and it requires a level of confidence to do. But I think by having conversations with people, you’re getting your name out there, but it’s not all reliant on your work to achieve the same result. If you have time, which I recognize not everyone does, finding or creating your own project can be an effective way to build your portfolio.

When I finished university, the course wasn’t a graphic design course, and not many of us were looking to go to an ad agency — not least because it’s an old white boys club and I wanted nothing to do with that.

But we realised we needed to create our own projects so that we might get noticed for work we actually wanted to do. I went off writing grant applications for more community art based projects and got quite a bit of significant funding for several projects, as well as artist residencies. Is there a need in your community that you think design could be of value? Could you propose some kind of project that you’re able to manage? That can be a great way to engage with design, in a scope that suits you, and exposes you to a wide range of aspects that would be involved in design work.

Ultimately I think it’s about getting your name and your work out there. It doesn’t have to be paid work — it could be your own speculative design work (I never advocate doing work for free for others). I know it’s a catch 22 where you need the job to show that you’ve got the work on your portfolio so that you can get a job but make those projects for yourself. Again, I recognize that it takes time and equipment and skills, which not everyone has.

I think in part when I was younger how I got the Sydney Opera House project; it came from a project that was something I was completely passionate about and I am still really passionate about. It wasn’t hindered by a client and profit motive or restrictions of a brief. I was doing the whole thing in terms of managing.

That passion comes across and people respond to that. It’s quite hard now, but I think it’s maybe doing some of your own speculative design work, as they call it in the biz.

I also know it’s hard when you’re less experienced to say that you’re worth something and not everyone can do that. Maybe it’s asking questions of other people saying, what would you recommend? And, you know, just trying to think of some creative way, that’s what we’re good at as designers — trying to find lateral approaches.

Then you’ve got something — it may not be an expansive work history, but you have a presence. I think employers respond to that.

Interviewed by Misato Ehara
Edited by Misato Ehara and Claire Waterworth
Illustrations by Misato Ehara
Edited with Google docs
Published on 10 Nov 2020

Interviewee:
Claire is passionate about using service design, user experience & visual design to innovate within complex aspects of society, and provide services that meet not just user needs — but societal needs. She has a strong belief that design-led thinking and practice can be used to effect wide-ranging social change.

Currently she is working on the design of the UK government’s Gender pay gap service. Prior to that she has worked extensively in the urban innovation sector (PlanTech) as a product & visual designer.

She has 20 years design experience working in public, non-profit, and commercial sectors. This has been within agencies/consultancies as well as in-house and as a design lead on her client work.

Interviewer:
Misato Ehara is founder of The UX Review, former design Strategist at Gensler. She has just completed a Masters in Curating Contemporary Design and currently working as a User Researcher at Honest Research.

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