Our return to The UX Coach Podcast features an interview with Learning Experience Designer Fiona MacNeill. We talk about what the design industry can learn from education and visa versa, how to align professional development with business goals and the value of finding a community to lurk in.
The UX Coach (00:03):
Hey, I'm Andy Parker. This is the UX coach podcast. I believe that by sharing our experiences, we can redefine how we learn and find purpose and work by helping each other grow. I started this podcast to share people's stories about how they've developed their skills within the UX industry, where the future is heading and what makes a great UX practitioner wanna share your story and your experiences with everyone else in the industry. Get in touch with email@example.com. Let's get into the episode. I can't tell you how great it is to be back doing this again, and being able to talk to so many fantastic people, and then even better than that, getting to share that conversation with all of you today. Our returned to the UX coach podcast, I met with Fiona McNeil, who is a incredible designer from my hometown of Brighton, but you are not here to listen to me. Let's go meet Fiona.
Fiona Macneill (01:11):
I am a learning experience specialist, which is a UX adjacent career. I would say I work on performance consult within a sort of HR setting. What I do is work using UX methods to figure out the underlying business problem and how we can solve it with learning and where learning can help and where we might need to take other types of intervention to help with the problems that we're finding. So it involves quite a lot of user research. It is not dissimilar from service design because we have to look at the whole issue that's occurring and what the consequences and situation is for the business with regard to that. And it's also really focusing on people and what people need. So that is sort of how I describe it, but it's a very new, new field.
The UX Coach (02:12):
Tell me how, how did you end up here?
Fiona Macneill (02:14):
Well, I started off in the arts so I didn't art undergraduate degree a long time ago. And then I found myself working in museums and really wanted to be a curator. And at that point I became extremely interested in audience experience and that became a really clear journey for me into UX. However, I didn't end up working in UX. I actually went into higher education, supporting the arts and working in technology, supporting the arts specifically. So I had a role that was an academic technologist and then a learning technologist. And what that role is about is really being a liaison and a translator between the educational needs of academics or faculty. And it, so it's thinking about intentional ways of using technology to augment learning and teaching and, and support them in a proactive way. So that career also led me to UX because in order to solve a problem, you need to understand a problem.
Speaker 2 (03:20):
And UX is a very good way of doing that. The methods that are sort of sit underneath the UX umbrella, if you will. And also things like design thinking have been very influential throughout my career. So I've worked as a learning technologist for about 11 years, and I felt like I wanted to unite my love of learning and unite, my love of UX in a new type of career. And so I was very lucky to have the opportunity of a learning experience designer or learning experience specialist come to me through a recruiter because of some choices I made about how I marketed myself on LinkedIn. And I've been doing that since February. So it's quite a new career for me, but UX to me as in terms of the methods and the mindset and the continual learning is something I've been doing for about the last nine years.
The UX Coach (04:18):
That's really cool. So what's, what's the kind of like day to day look like with that, because if I think about, so there's such a, a broadness to the things that you've described there working within higher education. That's my sort of familiarity with that is, is sort of working in universities and and colleges where it's really just about create a lesson plan with some very loose scaffolding, create some assignments and stuff like that. And a way you go, but I'm guessing when you are looking at how you do that for how you do that for the faculty or for members of staff, I suppose it probably looks quite different to that. And then I'm guessing where you are now is sort of even beyond that kind of point. Is that fair to say?
Speaker 2 (05:11):
Yeah. So, I mean, I think when you work in higher education, you have a very specific structure, which is predefined. And when you work with adult learners who are learning while they work, you have the structure of their jobs and the structure of the business and the requirements of the business to be thinking about. So it's, there are similar in the sense that the, the constraints are at the individual level at then a kind of midpoint level in terms of, you know, perhaps the, the, the teams that people work in and then the divisions that people, people work in and the regions that people work in, and then you have the high organizational level. So there's probably, I think the difference for me between a commercial world and the higher ed world is actually, there are more levels in the commercial world to worry about.
Speaker 2 (06:12):
There are far more people <laugh>, and there's far more complexity, but in terms of how people learn, when we think about learning experience, there are many similarities. And in fact, I sometimes think that we could learn so much about looking at how people learn as they work in higher education. And perhaps that could inform ways that people learn in higher education to give more variety. Because I think that some of those authentic learning assignments, like things that are projects, like things that are critiques, like things that allow people to have a flavor of what their real work life will be like, are those learning opportunities that can really capture people's imagination and get them really revved up about their future career or what they might think about going into. So in terms of how my role looks like on a day to day, I would say if you take the double diamond I'm, I'm really focusing in on the discovery phase.
Speaker 2 (07:14):
And that's where a lot of my work is, but I will kind of follow a project throughout and make sure that the things I've found in discovery phase are born out and integrated as far as they can be through to the final product and implementation. And then when evaluation is also something I'm trying to design in throughout the process. So we have a kind of framework in instructional design, which is one of the foundational careers that's sort of led to this learning experience, role emerging. And it's called Addie, which stands for analysis, design development, implementation, and evaluation, and what a lot of that slant would be slanted towards was very much the design development implementation part, and perhaps the, the actual discovery section or the analysis section as they call it. And the evaluation section at the end would be kind of missed off. So for me, it's about uniting the double diamonds with that framework and really getting our diamonds balanced out instead of having one diamond that's way bigger than the other on the right hand side, that's kind of all involved in implementing without perhaps understanding the problem as well as we can.
The UX Coach (08:35):
Yeah. Got you. There's so much in that that's, that's a big, big, broad remit to, to be exploring. And there's a few things that you described there that I'd like to hear your thoughts and understandings of a little bit more. The first one was just that point on things that could be learnt from adult education or workplace education that could be adopted into our sort of like traditional school system and, and college system, this whole sort of concept of this 70, 20 10 rule of, of the, this theory that 70% of what you learn is through doing and when you're on the job, and then you've got just, just this tiny bit in the middle, I'm never entirely sure what the 20% is, I think, is it like lunch, eating lunch, and having tea breaks. And then 10% is like formal formal qualifications or training.
The UX Coach (09:29):
And so I always find it really fascinating how we have quite large organizations you know, particularly well they're global organizations, but I've, I've had a lot of exposure to them in recent years that focus on this 10% and, you know, are designing and crafting these things that, that ultimately, you know, make up 10% of someone's learning experience when they're working. How do you sort of see that? And, and how do you find that balance with like, you know, value versus effort of, of what you are, what you're doing, how, how does it actually align with what someone's looking for as a learner?
Speaker 2 (10:08):
The way that my work feeds into that is that when a new project comes to me or well, to my team, or it might not just be a new project, it might be a very refreshed project, say something's being relaunched and it's time to refresh that content. We work through an action mapping process, which is a process that's quite similar to customer journey mapping potentially, or use story mapping. I think customer journey mapping would be closer. And it's by an American writer, thinker educational, well educator called Kathy Moore. And what you do is you work through with your stakeholders and the people requesting the learning, looking at what is it that you actually need people to do? So what is the behavior you need them to adopt in order for them to be successful based on what you, what you need them to do in order to serve the needs of the business in order to solve the business problem, if you perceive it to be potentially something where training might help.
Speaker 2 (11:21):
So the first thing is to look at what are the barriers to people being able to actually do that thing. And quite often, when you look at the barriers will, for example, look at environmental barriers. So things to do with culture. And I mean like business culture, perhaps specific processes are standing in the way of someone doing something in the way that they need to, or perhaps it's something about their team. Also, you look at knowledge, so are they lacking some knowledge that would allow them to do, or, or assume that behavior that we need them to adopt? Are they lacking in skills? So skills are something that needs to be practiced in order to be a skill. So it's not that tacit knowledge, it's something that needs to become part of everyday activity and to come become second nature. It's a skill. And then is there an issue with motivation and sometimes, well, and quite often that motivational factor is very, very closely tied to environmental barriers.
Speaker 2 (12:32):
So where that leaves us with is a very clear idea of where learning can and cannot help and where we might need to make other interventions. And also what kind of formats we might think about towards the end. So there's different levels of learning. So when you learn, while you work, you need to think about, is this knowledge I need to recall, or is this knowledge that I just need to be able to recognize? So if it's something I need to recall, that means that it's knowledge I need to build, which means that having something like maybe a job aid that you can refer to over a period of time until you've learned something, you know, a typical example of that would be learning categories that you need to classify things with within some kind of product system or something like that. You might have a job aid, which is within the software itself, or you might have something that you can download and kind of keep on your computer desktop or something like that.
Speaker 2 (13:37):
So that's kind of a job aid, but then where you need to perhaps accrue more soft skills where there's a series of steps of thinking, perhaps there's no wrong or right answer, or there's more right answers <laugh> so you can have a right answer. And then there's a better right answer. That's where training that is perhaps a specific certification that is structured within the workplace, or perhaps a standalone practice activity say practicing, having a difficult conversation as an activity of some kind that's where those more structured learning elements come in. So really the soft skills for where learning can come in and, and be most helpful in a work environment, but those particular learning opportunities need to be authentic and they need to give people a chance to practice in a way that is right for their type of job. So there's a lot of design involved in that.
The UX Coach (14:38):
There's, there's a huge amount and an awful lot of stakeholder research as well. Like it sounds, I can really see where there that, you know, cross discipline of what you would expect to be involved with in a UX design process comes into play there. And if we, if we kind of pick up on that a little bit, so you talked about a few times about the, the needs of the business. That's, that's something that's, I I've always had friction with mm-hmm <affirmative> when it comes to sort of you know, your, your learning and, and development budget, it feels like it's all too often, a one way street where the only value in developing an individual is if it is of benefit of somebody else, how do you wrestle with that? You know, I know there's lots of organizations that have these very liberal, modern thinking programs where, you know, you can, you can go and learn woodworking if you want.
The UX Coach (15:36):
It doesn't matter that you are a, a Java developer. If that's what you're into, then there's, there's value in us as an organization giving you money to go and broaden your skills and your horizons. But they're few and far between, right? The, the most common path that we would see is something where it's got to be related to your personal development, your career goals, which are effectively actually the organization's needs. You were talking about, you know, the, the motivators in environmental things, surely one of the biggest challenges is that the only things that are available for someone to learn are things which are directly related to something that's suitable for the business and not necessarily peaking their own curiosity.
Speaker 2 (16:19):
Yeah. I think it's an interesting one. I think that a lot of this is reliant on how goals are structured within the workplace as well, because goals in terms of how they are set, do need to serve the needs of the business in that when you set a goal, it needs to be looking at what's going on strategically and how you as an individual or someone who manages individuals can feed into that goal. However, there is scope for creativity and curiosity within that. And I think if that, if there isn't space for that within a goal, then it's not a very good goal. So there should be within a goal, not only reflecting the needs of the business and the values of the organization you work for, but also personal values. So I would say that within my own organization, they have a very strong idea of values and how we individually embody those values in our work.
Speaker 2 (17:21):
There isn't one way of doing that. And that's where you are given creativity to set those goals and set those measurables. And part of that is learning potentially. But then part of the challenge for people who design learning is that we have to understand that any learning people undertake needs to then be intrinsically connected to the work they do in order for them to be motivated. So we need to, to tap into both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation for those individuals and the extrinsic element is that whatever we design needs to be very closely mapped to the work of the business. Otherwise you also end up with adult learners, not really seeing the point of what you're providing. That's. I hope that that helps to explain, I think it will be different at different organizations, but I certainly think that the people agenda is very important at my organization.
The UX Coach (18:16):
Yeah. That makes an awful lot of sense. And I, I think that, that point on having some kind of understanding and, and the, and the wider context of why, why is this of benefit to you to learn about this? Or if it's coming from the other direction of, I'm very interested in this, it's really about you being able to communicate what benefits you think it will have in learning that particular skill quite often for, for anyone who's not sort of experienced the, the model of like learning design in, in this kind of environment is there's a, a heavy emphasis on evaluation, but so frequently done badly. The, the worst case scenario is always the what do they call it? It's like the happy sheet or whatever at the end of a course, or a webinar or whatever yeah. Of how, which reaction. And then it's like, yeah. And then it's like, and we are done. We've evaluated it. What's your thoughts on like how you actually demonstrate impact?
Speaker 2 (19:16):
So that is a really good benefit of using that action mapping mapping. I'll say that again, that action mapping option that I mentioned earlier which it was devised by Kathy Moore, because there's a big part of that. You define the business problem, and then you look at a measurable related to that problem. So you'll say in six months time, we will have seen a decrease increase in this particular measure as a result of our intervention. Now she has a specific wording for that statement, which I haven't done justice too, but that is a way of always making sure you keep that front and center when you devise that initial problem statement. I also think though, that for me, evaluation is a work in progress. I didn't particularly like how evaluation was done in higher education. I think that quite often it ends up being quite a tick box exercise, even though the embed, the intention with it is a, you know, the people want the best for it.
Speaker 2 (20:18):
They want it to be formative. They want it to be useful, but quite often it ends up being so structured that it, that the perception of the people who should benefit from it is that it is a tick box exercise and that they just need to satisfy the criteria to this extent in order to jump over the, through this hoop or jump over this barrier. And unfortunately that a lot of that is to do with the kind of extrinsic motivation that is endemic in the way that education is designed formal education. I think for me with evaluation, what I'm trying to do is design it in at every single level. And the issue with that is that things can become quite complex. So it's, how do we keep things linked together without becoming overly complex? So one of the systems or frameworks I use to think about this is Kirk Patrick.
Speaker 2 (21:12):
So Kirk, Patrick has essentially four levels of evaluation. Kirk, Patrick level one is reactions. So that's like those smile sheet type things you mentioned. So there is a space for those in the sense that, you know, it's almost like when you're on a website and you get asked very quickly for your opinion on something it's like that snap judgment. And I wanna keep that really, really lightweight, more lightweight than it typically is within a course setting, but like, literally, what are you thinking right now? What is happening for you right at this moment? Then level two is learning. So that is how much have you actually learned. So the way we have to find this out is really looking at how we structure learning, and then leave a little bit of time before we ask about what people retain. So one of the best things is to think about how we space out learning so that it, there is better retention and then space out.
Speaker 2 (22:09):
When we ask about how much people have learned, what they're actually applying in their work. So ideally we would wait a couple of weeks before asking them if they've con completed a piece of learning to find out, has this actually been retained? Has it actually made a difference for you? And then the third level of Kirk Patrick is behavior. So behavior is something that probably someone else observes. So this is where you would try and find out if a behavior had been adopted by asking an observer, say someone's line manager or someone they work with, how ha have they adopted new behavior as a result of going through this piece of learning through adopting these no new ways of doing things. And then the fourth level, which hardly anyone ever gets to is the actual kind of impact or result I think is the term that they use officially for this.
Speaker 2 (23:03):
And that's the thing that's much harder to show. And that's the thing where we kind of have to decide on metrics or key performance indicators to say, okay, what is the problem? How are we going to change this problem with this intervention? And then I'd like to ask the question, if that hasn't changed as a result of the intervention, can we go back to the original problem and find out is this is something else causing this? Is there a barrier that we need to look at that is stopping this from having the desired effect? So, yeah, that's my thoughts on evaluation, but I'm definitely trying to build in frameworks across programs where I can, so that there's the, a, a link between the reflective aspect of evaluation, because we want people to reflect on what they're learning as they're learning it. Mm. And also to be able to potentially have opportunities to present that back or play that back to other people, because that, again helps with reinforcing the learning. So how are we asking them to evaluate themselves? Do we have a framework? This is something I'm actively thinking about now. And then how does that framework relate to kind of our overall evaluation planning and making sure that evaluation is both soft? So like usability testing is a form of evaluation, so we need to be doing that. And we need to be testing our concepts for new learning, with different groups of learners, with different needs as well. So there's lots of levels of formalized and informal evaluation that I'm trying to think about actively.
The UX Coach (24:40):
That's so massive, like the, the Kirk Patrick models, one that I'm quite familiar with. It's, it's referenced quite a lot within the sort of like coaching space. And the thing that it always reminds me of is, is another model. That's, that's almost identical in so many respects, which is that theory of change structure and, and the, the, the whole sort of being able to appreciate that if you're looking at wider almost nebulous things that you're trying to have an impact on is that it takes time and you can't just say, it's like, oh, turn this tap off. And then that will solve that problem. It's it's a lot more nuance. And then, and there's other factors at play that have a result that are culminating in that big challenge that you're facing. So it's really interesting to hear you talk about that idea of the evaluation process needing to be able to come full circle and go, okay. So the problem that you thought you had now that we've addressed it in the way that we thought was best based on that, was that actually the problem, or was there something else that was going on in that, that, that caused that to happen? And, and let's try again. So how does this relate or how does it mirror your experiences yourself of, of learning your UX skills throughout your career?
Speaker 2 (26:07):
Yeah, I think it really, it really resonated with me as a career opportunity because I have very much learned UX within my own working life by applying it in non UX situations. So I first got the UX bug, if you will, when I was working in the us doing learning technologies and I went to a conference called IO conference and there were lots of people from IDO there. Talking about data visualization, but also talking about design thinking, talking about ways of applying mostly methods that at that point were definitely in the brainstorming phase, cuz you know, how ideal sort of had their enhanced brainstorming. This is pretty early on, we're talking like 2008, nine, 10, somewhere around there. And so those methods were sort of coming from a combination of human computer interactions, psychology, so sociology stuff various different scientific, I guess, areas were influencing the way that they came up with these methods, but they were quite fledgling.
Speaker 2 (27:25):
So I started to implement those in higher education. Cause I thought, well, you know, this is the context I'm in. Let's see if I can apply some of this stuff to solve problems that I'm encountering right now. And that really continued when I moved back to the UK and still was in a learning technologies type role and thought, well, I'm encountering problems every day. And I'm asked to solve them in specific ways, but are these solutions actually the right solutions? Are we actually solving the right problems? Even so sometimes I got into trouble, <laugh> doing that. Because I would figure out things, new problems that we hadn't thought of <laugh> but yeah, in general it was, it was a positive thing. And I think the thing I'm most proud of with my tenacity around using UX methods is being able to drive forward progress on accessibility and being able to show different experiences in an access in, in a way that helped people to understand just how important accessibility is.
Speaker 2 (28:34):
So that was, I think that the thing I left higher education thinking, I made a difference here. I really advocated for it and was able to use UX methods to think about the best ways of creating help materials, but also for even thinking about how things were structured or how, how my, the way I spoke about things was structured. It informed like every aspect of my practice, some of the research user research I was able to do through observational interviews and things like that. I think that my journey has very much been with UX. I'm constantly learning. I am very engaged in local networks in Brighton and for a long time, I kind of lurk in those networks as someone who practiced UX, but wasn't a UXR and I just want everyone to know that's totally okay. And that maybe you need to do lurking for a while and learning from other people for a while before you take the leap into a UX career or a UX adjacent career. Because for me, my circumstances just went such where I could do that for a long time. And then I felt totally ready when I finally did.
The UX Coach (29:50):
Did you feel there were sort of environmental challenges there with, with being able to do that? What gave you that sense that you weren't necessarily ready or you, you weren't gonna get in the door? Cause I, I think it there's, there's so many different parts and avenues into UX or, or traditionally there was now I'm wondering whether it's become established enough that there's a little bit of snobbery about who you are interested in interviewing.
Speaker 2 (30:20):
Yeah. I mean, I've never been in an interviewing situation for UX role. But my experience as a candidate is that for a long time, I suffered my own issues with imposter syndrome, I think. And I took as part of my role working in higher education. One of the fantastic perks is that you can do education for free. So I did a postgraduate degree in user experience design at the university where I worked and that was great because I used a lot of it in my job. I was able to do projects that were related to my job. And I felt like I was giving back to the organization as re as well as receiving something from them. But in terms of it actually preparing me for work in UX, I think the networking aspect of it was the most positive element in terms of some of the people I went to university with on that program have really helped me over the years and continued to be amazing mentors colleagues.
Speaker 2 (31:24):
I kind of consider them to still be my colleagues within the Brighton UX scene because I'm alone UX are kind of in or Alexa within my organization right now. And so I feel like they're my extended network of colleagues. So that aspect of higher education was priceless, but in terms of it preparing me for interviews, preparing me for work possibly less so because when I went into interviews in UX, I encountered quite a bit of stigma about coming from working in another field, particularly working in education. And the thing that kept coming up was like, you don't, you won't understand the pace of projects in commercial. And I was very surprised by this cuz I thought, well, every year I have a gigantic problem and project, which is called term start and there is absolutely no leeway on that whatsoever. And yeah, I have found consequently that I am very able to keep up with the pace and was used to having, you know, upwards of 20 different types of projects. I was working on four people with people in higher education. So yeah, it it's different, but the pace has not been a problem. So I was very disappointed. I'm more disappointed for them cuz they missed out on me having getting the chance to work with them. But yeah, you know, it was just this thing that I came up against like three times in different interviews where there was this sort of perception and networking chats, whether it's its perception that education was sort of really relaxed or something <laugh>,
The UX Coach (33:04):
That's so insane. I can't believe that. Yeah. And you're absolutely right. It's, it's a hundred percent their loss because have it, I think that that, that experience is one that's sort of massive asset it, a lot of it's about communication and if there's one like fundamental requirement in, in any kind of educational role it's communication, also more importantly than that is that you develop this really intrinsic way of being able to identify how individuals within a group need to have information provided to them as well. And as you said through, through your like research and experience of that, being able to identify that of like accessibility needs surely just makes you a far greater empathetic designer.
Speaker 2 (33:52):
Absolutely. And I think that when you unpick the experience of an educator, you think about it, they're essentially iterating on a regular basis for an entirely new group of users who are, you know, have extremely diverse needs. So yeah, being able to understand the difference is such a key piece of understanding why it is worth going to, and putting in that work to do the different formats, for example, with accessibility and that idea of sort of constantly improving what you're doing and listening to your students and coming up with new materials and innovating in your field as well. These are all things that you can apply within design, right? And also the research methods that you use in education can also be very helpful when you go into design. So yeah, that, there's so many things I felt way more confident, confident doing in terms of research because I had had that background in working in higher education and understanding ethics and, and how to treat people with dignity and respect when you speak with them and understanding things in relation to diversity, equality, equity and inclusion, which is quite advanced, I think in higher education in terms of the sorts of discussions that happen and the progress that is trying to happen, not everywhere obviously, but I think that there's a lot, you can learn in an educational setting in ways that you might not learn in other settings or be open to learning in other settings.
The UX Coach (35:29):
But something that I, I always found a, a, a really painful challenge is that the feedback loop is an entire year. So if you've designed a new a new sort of topic, you don't get a chance to try and fix some of those mistakes potentially for another year. You know, you might not teach it again, that term. How do you, how do you ensure that those kind of like changes and things actually sort of like, you know, you can demonstrate those improvements. I, I guess, with the work that you're doing now, you've got the advantage of that. Hopefully you, you can run these things, you know, infinitely and quickly get feedback on them.
Speaker 2 (36:11):
Yeah. I think that there's more of an iterative process with it, for sure. I also think that in terms of formalized design education, I would really like it to more resemble design <laugh> in sense of like being able to iterate it actively within, within the learning itself. And, and that speaks to the fact that the structure of these causes doesn't really allow for that to happen. And it's a shame because I think when you pilot something new, to be able to involve the people and have that transparency about the fact that you are piloting it, you are prototyping it. How can we run this experiment? How can we try this out in the real world and see what happens and actively engage you as co-designers, this would be a better way of running design education is to have that metacognitive level of not only are you a participant, not only are you a consumer, not only are you someone who has come here to take away knowledge with you as a lifelong asset, but you are also a co collaborator.
Speaker 2 (37:21):
You are also a co-designer. And I think if programs could be designed with that in mind, from the start without having perhaps the same <laugh> dogmatic issues in terms of how things are structured, that that would be amazing. However, I know it's very difficult within higher education as it is right now because of the kind of guidelines that come from the government and things like that, for them to have that level of flexibility and still meet key performance indicators and things like that. So that was my, my feeling as someone in education,
The UX Coach (38:01):
Let's talk about what you sort of see as the the future challenges. So in terms of skills that organizations are looking for people to have or to develop. So
Speaker 2 (38:12):
The creative fields specifically, I think there will need to be a real emphasis on technical skill. I think less and less will. I think everybody has to have a certain baseline of technical skill. I think historically in certain roles in creative fields, there's been more of an opportunity to potentially have different levels of roles that work together. And certain people produce things and certain people think about things and certain people strategize about things. And I think what I'm seeing is that everyone needs to do it's about understanding what it is that you need to know in order to do your role. And so it means we need to constantly be learning about technology and innovating and developing our skills in that way. And I also think this relates back to your earlier question about how do you think education might change? Because I think some of these demands that, and, and requirements that will come and be driven from business, we about this idea of lifelong learning and accruing and developing technical skill over time will end up influencing education.
Speaker 2 (39:27):
Because I think we are seeing a mismatch between what people learn in formalized education and what's actually actually needed, I don't want it to go too far though, in terms of only meeting the, the needs of say a commercial enterprise. So certain programs where it's just about training someone to be a certain kind of coder, let's say, I think that you do lose something in terms of having a well rounded education. And that comes from me as kind of an academic on some levels. I enjoyed learning about different perspectives, investigating aspects of history, understanding art and design, and, and that informs my practice every day. So to say that stuff isn't also important is missing part of the value of higher education and formalized education in general. So I think there can be a middle ground, but I do think that technology and using technology needs to be a higher emphasis and, and skills in those areas, applied skills.
The UX Coach (40:31):
The last thing that I'd like to explore with you is, is another kind of component, I think to the, maybe a little bit more the adult learning space. And that's this idea of mentoring and mentorship and, and coaching, or having a coach and just interested to hear what those things mean to you. You've mentioned that you, you feel that you've still got people you would consider to be mentors, that you were doing your, your course with, what does that look like? In the grand scale? Yeah,
Speaker 2 (41:10):
So mentors, it's so interesting that people, I went on the course with ended up kind of being mentors to me because we were at one point at the same level, but they were able to then progress quite quickly within the UX field. You know, so for them and where they were at probably doing the higher education degree and then finding the kinds of opportunities they got to pay potentially do work experience and internships alongside that actually did make the deciding difference for them because I couldn't leave my full-time job, that wasn't really an option for me. So it's great that I can consider them as mentors. I think also kind of the UX Brighton community, I was involved with them long before I did the master's degree. I mean, at least two, three years before I started doing it and just making sure that I went to conferences because I could get that reimbursed, which was very kind of my employer at the time.
Speaker 2 (42:09):
And and yeah, just networking with people. So that was important, but I, I have to say that coaching for me was actually a very, very important decision <laugh>. So I, I self-funded career based coaching with someone who had knowledge of public sector organizations and that made a big difference to be able to talk to someone who was female. I consider myself minority gender I'm, gender fluid. But to be able to talk to someone who understood some of the challenges of working in public sector organizations also understood some of the challenges of imposter syndrome and feeling like you're not good enough feeling like you can't take that leap because of life circumstances, whatever. And helping me to objectively see that actually I had the skills within myself to take that leap, but for a long time, I didn't feel like I could.
Speaker 2 (43:11):
And it was just yeah, that's coaching made a huge difference to me because it helped me to realize all of the skills I had at my disposal to solve my problem. My problem was that I really wanted to move into a new career because I realized that my career in higher education as it was being a technical professional staff career had really no scope for promotion or change because I had moved laterally. And it, it really was a, a career with a very definite ceiling, which was a shame because I loved a lot about it, but yeah, it wasn't gonna move forward. So I had to make a change and just having that coaching experience and being able to look inside myself and go, what are the skills I have to solve this problem? Oh, I actually know a bit about data analysis.
Speaker 2 (44:00):
I know a bit about algorithms and what are recruitment processes based on algorithms, LinkedIn keywords. Okay. Let's go and have a look at what all of the keywords are on the favorite jobs I would really like on LinkedIn. And then let's think about how those apply to me and do I have them? And I thought, yeah, I actually do. I can genuinely cover all of those keywords. Those are all things that I know about and have applied. So then I added those to my profile. And within a week I got a recruiter contacting me. And it was like, if I just thought of about it in the way that I think about solving problems in my job, <laugh> then I could have been onto this much earlier, but because it was about me and I'm not used to thinking objectively about me, <laugh> because that's really hard to do. I just didn't have that moment of inspiration that I could actually totally solve this problem through data.
The UX Coach (45:01):
That's such an amazing story. I, I, I love it when, when people have been able to work with a coach and they realize there is that critical difference between a mentor is still, ultimately a teacher is someone who's gonna show you how to do something. And that coach is that person that's going, but you already know how, yeah. You already know how you just, you, you don't, you know, you can't see it right now, right?
Speaker 2 (45:25):
Yeah, exactly. And it's that, it's not being able to see the wood for the trees. And I think also wherever, whatever you do in your life, you carry certain baggage with you, right. And a coach can help you to understand that baggage exists and find a way to park it. So for me, like a, a major thing that I took away from just UX, I think it was a UX obsession where I think Al power was demonstrating things. And he talked about the idea of a parking space. And then I realized that actually a parking space is just something I have to have in my studio. So I have a parking space, which is a drawing of me in cartoon form with like little affirmations of, you know, take breaks. Remember that your like notion of perfect is actually more than enough. Like that's more way more than potentially what you might need to do in order to meet the need here, you know, stop, listen, think, then talk, stuff like that.
Speaker 2 (46:29):
I mean, I'm looking at it right now, but I also use it to park some of the things that I'm finding most difficult. And it's that for me, like the idea of parking is a core facet of my coaching experience, because it was like, okay, we've identified this thing exists. Perhaps you can't fix that because that's a barrier that's beyond your control. So let's park it and move on to something you can't actually do something about. And I wish that perhaps instead of or not, I don't think that I wish instead of, because I think that higher education and doing that master's degree was great. And in a sense, I probably would've always wondered what it would've been like to do a master's degree. If I hadn't done one, I always initially, like when I finished my undergraduate, I was gonna be on the PhD track and I just kind of changed my whole outlook on things because I found this amazing art gallery that was just like doing the most mind blowing work.
Speaker 2 (47:25):
So that took me away to that. But I think I would've always felt a bit hard done by if I hadn't finished a master's degree, but in a sense, I think that had I done coaching just from my current career or my past career, then I could have probably gone directly into UX having identified the things that were transferable and had a really clear idea of what it was that I needed to do that I could do. And it was totally within my power to do. And for some people, maybe that's the right route to find their way in. But for me, I have actually no regrets about the slightly meandering route I've taken because I am a complete nerd and love learning. So any opportunity to learn anything is great by me. And yeah, if I don't have lots of letters after my name, I'd be frankly disappointed. So, you know, that, that is part of my own extrinsic note motivation.
The UX Coach (48:24):
That's good to have, you know, we, we've all got to, we've all got to sort of figure out what's important to ourselves and, and where we wanna go. And I, I, I think that's really fascinating of that, that point of you know, doing, doing something or being motivated to do something, to demonstrate that you are capable of it, even though you, you kind of already are. And, and I, I think that that's been one of the, the biggest bug bears I've had throughout my career is not, not having any like formal education I, or any qualifications of any sort of meaningful note for, for a really long time of just like that piece of paper is not gonna tell you anything about me though. I, I want, I want you to see me not whether or not I've got this piece of paper. And I, I kind of the same, I wish I'd met the coach that, that had a real impact on my life. I wish I'd met her decades earlier. I, I think it would've been a very interesting life. Not that I'm not happy with the one that I've got now, but yeah, it's, it's, I think it just helps with being able to reframe the way you look at things and, and set expectations. Right.
Speaker 2 (49:42):
Exactly. And it's interesting because I've had such powerful mentors in other aspects of my life. So for example, martial arts is something that's very important to me. And I've had a sense a for nine years now, who is amazing at helping me achieve balance in everything that's outside of work. And just recognizing where things are imbalance, then making little comments and making little suggestions for improvement. And it's that idea that once you are a black belt, that's when you actually start to learn in any kind of martial art field. And that's something that has influenced my own practice. And perhaps sometimes maybe I, I take my time on taking leaps because I really want to know something before I claim to know it. So sometimes it can be a way of, I might hold myself back slightly, but then I think that that kind of intentionality, that kind of empathy and thoughtfulness is one of my values and one of my strengths.
Speaker 2 (50:53):
So it, you know, you can, <laugh>, you kind of have to take one and with the other, it's like, these are the attributes. And, and actually understanding that, that, that tendency to hold back in the interest of fully understanding a problem is actually sometimes a really good thing because you don't jump into a solution that could be the wrong thing. So it's about sometimes I have to kind of kick myself to take a leap of faith, and I've gained more confidence in doing that through coaching because I gained more confidence in myself and the fact that I am resilient and I can persist and I have skills and I can find other ways of doing things. And I need to, you know, sometimes I think we can all get bogged down in whatever structure we're working in or the kind of broader structures of society in which we function.
Speaker 2 (51:53):
And I think it's really important to, yeah. Sometimes take that step outwards, whether it's through coaching, whether it's through mentorship that is carefully structured, whatever it is you need to do to be able to take that step outwards and even creating a portfolio can really help be a step outwards. But I think it's that can be a real challenge as well, because there's even specific ways of creating portfolios to kind of meet certain expectations. And that's a shame because to me, a really good portfolio is one where someone's actually taken that time to kind of go, okay, how could this have been better? How was the original problem not quite right? Like what, what was I doing? What did make a difference? What didn't make a difference. That's much more interesting than just loads of kind of shiny Figma diagrams and visualizations. But I think that they've got so such little time to make an impression it's quite hard to get that stuff across in a portfolio.
The UX Coach (53:02):
Yeah. Yeah. It's a big challenge. And I, I think it's one that is, is probably why I still very frustrated with the way that coursework led courses work, because a lot of the time, you know, that they're graded based on meeting specific criteria. So actually we were doing is answering a question question rather than thinking genuinely creatively about the, the brief itself especially in, in like design courses where it's always like a mock brief, you know, make a poster for a festival. And sometimes like you need to be able to ask more questions of a brief to be able to get it, to be exactly what is actually wanted you know, in the commercial world and you don't get that opportunity with coursework. So yeah, I, I hear you on that. Okay. We, it's kind of coming up to time here. I appreciate I've taken you for a little bit longer than than we'd said, but if people wanted to hear a bit more about you learn about you meet, you, talk to you, have a chat about stuff, is there anywhere in particular that they can go to do that?
Speaker 2 (54:18):
Yeah. So locally in Brighton I frequent UX up, which is one of the meet up groups. I'm also in, at UX Brighton quite often at the show Intel events. And I'm also hoping to be part of restarting UX, ladies or ladies at UX, I should say to use the I'll need to edit that out. I'm also hoping to be part of restarting ladies at UX as a, a co-organizer, so that one has been on hiatus for about 18 months now, thereabouts. And it would be great to bring it back because for me, the really great thing about that particular group is that it allowed me to learn methods and practice methods in a really concentrated way for two hours. And that's the, the other groups in town are great, but they don't have quite that same remit.
Speaker 2 (55:11):
And I think it was that safe space to ask silly questions in my case, and also to learn methods that I wouldn't otherwise be exposed to as kind of a learn alone Alexa or alone researcher. So again, it's that either of extended colleague net network. So that's really important to me. If people wanna learn more about my work, I have Fiona mcneil.co UK where I have a blog that I update about once every two months. But that also has some case studies of things I worked on in higher education and how I applied UX in that setting, which gives you a bit of a picture of where I'm coming from. And yeah, I'm very active on Twitter as well, which is at F McNeal, F M a C N E I L L
The UX Coach (56:04):
Super super wise words there, Fiona McNeil really, really great time speaking to Fiona about everything that you've just heard and, and a whole load of other things that just, there's not enough time to be able to share with you all. But if you'd like to get to no Fiona a bit more, why not come and join UX, Brighton, slack channel, it's free. It doesn't matter where you are. You could be in Taiwan, you could be in Australia, it's a slack channel. So it's on 24 7 and come and hang out with some really, really cool people that are in this community that are always there. When you've got a question and you're trying to figure out how to deal with a really wicked problem, that's it for me. I'm gonna shut up. I'm gonna leave you to the rest of your day, your evening, your night, whatever you might be doing right now. And I really hope to see you back here, listening to the next person, sharing their story. I'm Andy Parker. This is the UX coach podcast. Thank you for listen.