Interview | Sophie Mitchell | Ladies that UX London
We come back to the UK for this week’s Women of Ladies that UX series, with Sophie from London.
Sophie is founder of the London chapter (which she’s run for over 5 years now) and Lead UX Designer at Whitbread PLC, the UK’s largest hospitality company. You may be familiar with their brands, including Premier Inn, Beefeater, Brewers Fayre, Table Table and Bar+Block.
Sophie, we always love to hear about the varied ways in which people came to UX – what’s your story?
I got into UX in a bit of a roundabout way. In a nutshell, I did a Web Design and Development Diploma at Birkbeck College and discovered my inner geek. After a long stint of working in a variety of senior admin roles at The Royal College of Surgeons of England and designing and building websites in my own time, I finally took the plunge and changed careers to be a Front End Developer.
“All too often, I was hearing what a client wanted without consideration for who their users were [so I] began integrating all aspects of UX into projects.”
Sophie – Ladies that UX London
As I progressed in my role, I was becoming increasingly interested and involved in UX research and design. All too often, I was hearing what a client wanted without consideration for who their users were. Instead of just building a website, I started thinking in more detail about user needs, how to improve their experience and educating my peers on the importance of keeping users at the heart of business decisions. I began integrating all aspects of UX into each project, mapping user journeys, task flows, sketching, wireframing, prototyping and testing. I did the Coursera online Human Computer Interaction course which was pretty intense but I learned so much, plus it really confirmed a lot of what I had already learned on the job. I was 100% hooked and decided to transition over to UX full time.
And what does your role look like these days?
I lead a team of three UX Designers and one UX Researcher at Whitbread. My role involves the planning and prioritisation of upcoming projects, facilitating kick-off meetings with cross-functional teams, design reviews, talking to stakeholders and lots of (too many!) meetings. I seem to be less hands on these days and becoming more involved in DesignOps. One area I am currently looking at, along with a small working group, is how to better structure our design sprint process to ensure the team is working more efficiently and collaboratively with Product and the wider cross-functional team. I do still really enjoy being hands on when I get the chance and love collaborating and solving design challenges with my team.
I’m particularly passionate about self development and career progression and always looking at ways to support my team in reaching their objectives, short and long-term career goals.
Love it – you’ve had a really inspiring journey, one that really demonstrates how you can transfer skills across disciplines. What message would you give to someone else looking to get into UX?
Go to as many events and meetups as possible to create a network of UXers of all experience levels and backgrounds. Find a mentor. Get involved in volunteering. Present at UX Camp Brighton. Be enthusiastic and have an enquiring mind.
“In a moment of madness, decided I wanted to run a UX event in London… I offered to found Ladies that UX London and I’ve never looked back.”
Sophie – Ladies that UX London
On the topic of meetups – we, of course have to ask how you came to be involved with Ladies that UX…
I presented at UX Camp Brighton, (huge thanks to Patrick Samson, who encouraged me to ‘just go for it’ after I tried backing out when I realised I’d signed up as a speaker not an attendee). I’m so glad I decided to present, everyone was so welcoming and friendly despite the fact that I was a fairly new UXer and a front-end developer at the time. I loved the vibe of the event and in a moment of madness, decided I wanted to run a UX event in London, just a small, monthly pub event for a small group. Someone put me in touch with Georgie Bottomley (Ladies that UX Co-Founder) who was looking to expand the Ladies that UX network. I offered to found the London Chapter and I’ve never looked back.
And what keeps you doing it?
Meeting such amazing women who are so passionate about their craft and in helping each other to learn and develop. I also love the enthusiasm of the UX community to solve problems and address challenges.
Meeting a vast amount of people in the UX community really does open you up to all sorts of possibilities from hosting events, supporting charities and schools, speaking opportunities, mentoring others, even the odd job opportunity here and there! I know I’ve said it already, but I’m so passionate about helping others get into the UX industry and progressing their careers and if Ladies that UX London can contribute to this in any way, big or small, then that makes me happy.
I’ve been leading the group now for 5 and a half years and I never thought it would grow the way it has – I still love being involved in it and, along with the volunteers, we’ve achieved so much and put on over 70 events. We really couldn’t do it without the support of the global Ladies that UX group, the speakers, hosts and sponsors.
You’re painting such an inspiring picture! Tell us about who inspires you.
For me, the leading women in UX who have been in the industry for a long time have inspired me with their wealth of knowledge and experience. Sandra Gonzalez, Anne Stevens, Clare Munday, Sophie Freiermuth and Jane Austin to name a few and who are all most likely very much unaware how much they inspire others. I also have a great network that I can lean on for advice and support as well as give back to.
You’ve mentioned some amazing women there. What are your thoughts on how women can support each other, and the importance of that support?
The London Chapter is, as far as I know, the only UX group in London for those who self-identify as women or identify as gender non-conforming and we have such positive support and feedback about this from the UX industry as a whole. It’s important to say that it’s not about excluding men, it’s about offering a space for the group to collaborate, share ideas, learn from each other, inspire others and build confidence. Seeing our regular attendees grow professionally and having the support from the group is fantastic.
“Ladies that UX is incredibly supportive and encouraging. There is always someone who knows someone who can help you or give you advice.”
Sophie – Ladies that UX London
The UX industry and the Ladies that UX network are both incredibly supportive and encouraging. There is always someone who knows someone who can help you or give you advice. For me, if Patrick hadn’t encouraged me to present at UX Camp Brighton all those years ago, my story in UX would have been completely different. I would never have met Georgie and Lizzie and I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this 😉
What would you say to someone who hasn’t taken the plunge and gone to their first Ladies that UX meetup yet?
Go, you won’t regret it. Everyone is so friendly and supportive as they are either most likely in the same position as you, or have been in that position once upon a time. We have a high number of entry level UXers or those who are thinking about transitioning into UX. We put on a variety of events for all experience levels and cover important topics such as Mental Health, Accessibility, Designing for Kids, Leadership, CV and portfolio advice. Once you’ve been to an event, we automatically register you onto our Slack group where you can participate in discussions, ask questions and share advice. We often have members arranging their own lunches or coffee in their local area. I still look forward to every single event we put on.
And what if someone’s feeling inspired and thinking about volunteering?
Please do! Ladies that UX Chapters are run entirely in our own time and not for profit so the more people who can contribute the better. The London Chapter volunteers take it in turns to run an event which is a fantastic opportunity to take the lead and gain some great experience.