For this edition of FFS, we're delighted to be joined by design leader Julie Kennedy.

If you're new to FFS – otherwise known as Futureheads Five Stories, this is a regular interview series where we speak to people who have interesting stories to tell. We aim to find out more about their career in the digital world, and the lessons they've learnt along the way.

And we couldn’t resist the acronym.

What’s the story of your career so far?

Well, that’s quite a long story after 20 years in the industry! I began my design career at Yellow Pages working on a drawing board using a parallel motion and rotating pen. When I tell many of my designers today, they look horrified when I say we use to use a fax to request our typesetting, and if you’d made a mistake you had to use a scalpel and cow gum to fix it!

Then the internet happened and in 1996 had launched and I successfully applied for a role on this new team. It was a new way of working for me, learning HTML and saving images as GIFs and JPEGs. At Yell, I built up the Internet design team from two to fifteen designers and then moved to Amazon when an opportunity came up to build a UK team. Within a year I was running the design for Amazon’s European websites for France, Germany and UK.

I had a fantastic time at Amazon and learnt how to put the customer at the centre of the design process. After seven years at Amazon, I moved on to work at telecommunication companies to get mobile experience. An opportunity came up as Head of UX at Betfair where I ran a co-located team in London, San Francisco, Portugal and Romania. It was challenging running teams in different locations ensuring they all worked consistently and shared the same knowledge. To enable this, I ran an annual Design summit, where all the team came together in London to share ideas and best practices.

I’ve also worked at the Daily Mail and most recently at Capital One running a design team across Nottingham and London. Here I’ve been fortunate to work with the US Capital One team and draw on their knowledge from the design agency Adaptive Path they acquired and their experience of structuring successful design teams.

What advice would you give to yourself when you were just starting out?

Don’t be afraid to make yourself feel uncomfortable – that’s the way you learn and grow. For example, when I first started speaking at events I was incredibly nervous but with practice and experience, my confidence grew. I recently spoke at the World Usability Congress in Austria; if you’d told me I’d be doing that ten years ago I’d never have believed it!

What do you love most about what you do?

The people – I love building teams and bringing a talented group of designers together. I enjoy mentoring others and I’m a big believer in bringing young talent into teams and have set up internships and graduate programmes in all the places I’ve worked and I’m proud to say I’ve seen some of those people go onto to be leaders in the industry.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned over the course of your career?

If a good opportunity comes up grab it and embrace it! All my career moves have enabled me to grow and increase my scope of responsibility and influence enabling me to climb the career ladder.

What do you think is going to be the biggest challenge in our industry over the next twelve months?

We’re at an incredibly exciting time in our industry with design being seen as an integral part of most businesses, but I still see in some companies having a design team as a ticking an organisational chart check box. Where I see the biggest challenge is in design being able to influence organisational structures and breaking down silos, so we aren’t building products around organisation charts but cohesively across all customer touchpoints.

A little bit more about Julie

I’ve worked in digital design for over 20 yrs designing great user experiences for some top Global and UK brands spanning a wide range of industries from e-commerce, telecommunications, gaming, media and currently financial services at Capital One.  I’m also a regular speaker at UX and Women in technology conferences and I run an annual WomensTedx event in London.

You can connect with Julie on LinkedIn and Twitter.


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