Interview: Kayla Heffernan on UX, accessibility advocacy, & quantum physics

Last week, we interviewed UX designer Hollie Doar for our design/shine interview series, a new series that highlights the accomplishments and ideas of women in the design and tech industries. At the end of the interview, we asked Hollie to tell us about another woman in the design field that she admires, and she talked to us about Kayla Heffernan, a UX Designer at SEEK. In Hollie’s words, Kayla “is doing some really great stuff around accessibility advocacy. She’s also working on a PhD on insertable devices which is a whole other fascinating realm.”

Here’s our interview with Kayla: 

What do you do for work, and why do you do it?

kaylacircleKayla: I’m a UX Designer at SEEK. I work in our discover stream which helps candidates search for and find opportunities to lead more fulfilling and productive working lives.

How did you end up working in the field of UX design?

K: I’ve always been interested in IT thanks to my older brother having a computer – we had one in the house before most people, back in the pre-Windows days! This meant they weren’t really easy to use, and the experience could be extremely frustrating. I chose to study an IT undergrad after receiving the highest grade in my VCE IT class. I didn’t really like coding, and the corporate side wasn’t my thing either. It was really a System Analysis & Design subject, and a 6-month placement at Unisys working on GUI’s, that opened my eyes to the importance of UX. I went on to do a HCI subject, and focused my masters on UX and e-health. I specifically got into UX to create the best possible experiences and help everyone access technologies.      

What are a few industry trends or technology innovations that you’re excited about?

K: The best interface is no interface. No one comes to your site just to use the site; they have a goal to complete. Your interface should not get in the way of what they are trying to achieve, it should be as invisible as possible. Following along this theme, my PhD work (which I am completing part time at The University of Melbourne while working at SEEK), looks at devices people are voluntarily putting inside their bodies. For example, individuals are putting subdermal NFC microchips into their hands, so they no longer have to carry keys or access passes. These insertables allow individuals to entirely eliminate a visible interface and in effect become the interface themselves, removing barriers to interactions.


What are your go-to tools for collaboration, working, and productivity?

K: I love Google Inbox – the ability to snooze emails really helps me manage my time and to do list. I also love Trello – I have lists for everything, even non-work related things like home improvements and our nightly to-do list around the house. Without Trello I wouldn’t be able to manage work, PhD, home and personal life.

My go to design tools are Sketch for iterating and Axure for demonstrating moving parts and testing. You also can’t go passed sketching on a whiteboard and talking through the problem. For sharing designs we use InVision, Principle, or problem-specific Slack channels sharing concepts early for feedback and collaboration. As our UXers are embedded in delivery streams, we also have weekly pin-up sessions with other designers to share and critique our work.

Some of your work focuses on accessibility advocacy – why do you think that’s important in the design industry?

K: Accessibility and diversity are my jam; it’s what I’m most passionate about. As designers our job is to be the voice of the user. This means all users. This includes the 1 in 6 Australians are affected by a disability, the 30,000 deaf-mute Auslan speakers, the 350,000 blind or low vision users,the  over 2 million people with dyslexia and 2.6 million Australians living with a physical disability.

“UX is like quantum physics: your design is both excellent and horrible, usable and unusable, at the same time.”

It is our job to point out unconsidered user needs and assumptions. We need to point out when something might come off as insulting, insensitive or hurtful; when something might not be useable for someone with ‘impairments’. We have to bring that users view to the design process to make things easier for them. We must the advocate for more empathetic and inclusive design, even if it doesn’t always make things organizationally easy for ourselves. When it comes down to it, it’s really the morally right thing to do (and you’ll grow your potential audience).   

What blogs/sites are your must-reads for creative inspiration?

K: I find it easier to visit one place, and for me that place is Twitter. I have a curated list of UXers and other IT professionals that inspire me, which I am constantly updating. Between this list, and our UX Slack channel at work, I find more valuable advice than I can keep up with.

When I’m blocked, I don’t go to blog/sites, I get offline. I go for a walk, I do the dishes, take some time out to talk to colleagues about something unrelated; inspiration always strikes when you least expect it.

If you had to give an aspiring designer one piece of advice, what would it be?

K: UX is like quantum physics: your design is both excellent and horrible, usable and unusable, at the same time. It is not known which until it has been tested with users and observed. Schrödinger’s interface. Only once you test with the real users of your website can you know whether or not your design is meeting their needs.

The name of this interview series, design/shine, is a nod to shine theory: the idea that women should focus on raising each other up and highlighting each other’s accomplishments (“I don’t shine if you don’t shine”). It’s a concept that’s been used across many industries and fields, and even recently by female staffers in the White House.


Credit for all photos: Kayla Heffernan. Header photo: 

Brittany Jezouit

About the Author Brittany Jezouit

Brittany is a Contributor to the Envato blog. She helped launch the publication and was its founding Editor. You can follow her on Twitter @brittanyjezouit.