– Hi, I’m Joe Welinske, and I’m the program manager for ConveyUX. And for the past eight years, that’s been Seattle’s annual user experience conference, and it’s put on by Blink, and we’re pleased to be doing it again. It’ll be coming up March 3rd, 4th, and 5th. And we have a lot of great speakers set up for the conference, and hopefully you’ll be interested in joining us for a fun time with that. And one of the fun things I get to do is talk to all the speakers that are part of the event. And so today I am talking to Kathryn Parkes. Hello, Kathryn, how are you today?

– Hi, Joe, how are you doing, I’m good.

– Yeah, I’m all right. It’s a pretty decent afternoon in Blink’s headquarters in Seattle. Where are you talking to us from?

– I am speaking to you from Dun Laoghaire, which is just outside Dublin in Ireland. So it’s crisp but clean in Dublin.

– Well, yeah, we’re thrilled to also have you journeying over from Ireland to join us, and you’re certainly been involved in a lot of areas of user experience for a long time, but why don’t you talk a little bit about your background and the types of things that you’re doing now?

– Sure, so I originally started from an engineering background, but I worked for many years in educational technology. So when we’re working in that, you’re very much always thinking from a learner’s perspective. So from that, I got an interest, really, in user-centered design. And after that, I decided I wanted to go work in an agency and get a broader experience across different industries. So I worked with agency side for a number of years, and worked with people from all sorts of different industries in different-sized projects. And then I worked for many years as an independent consultant, working with small startups through to larger corporates, helping them both with the UX side of work, as well as research and sort of pairing those two together. And then most recently, I am now working with Cisco, so I’ve been working with Cisco for about 18 months. And I’m on the UX research team, which is part of the design group within the collaboration unit. So we deal with all the different collaboration technology, including the Webex suite of products.

– Oh, all right. Yeah, I was gonna ask you where you fit into, obviously, a very large organization. Does the nature of UX research, does it tend to be similar across the different parts of Cisco, or do the different areas kind of build up their own culture and techniques and things like that?

– Yeah, well, the team I’m on is quite new, we’ve been growing quite a bit recently, so we’re bringing in different sides of qualitative and quantitative. Before, it might just have been usability testing, but we’re trying to broaden that out now across different areas including baselines, benchmarking, as well as doing concept studies and more strategic studies as well, so broadening out the focus that research has, as well as, my team works across lots of different product areas as well. So it’s really interesting, say for me, in now being in a larger enterprise, and also for me working remotely with a team that’s around the world. It’s interesting being in a collaboration unit, and also working remotely with the team that’s in San Jose, some people in Shanghai, going the West of Ireland, and all across Europe. So yeah, it’s a really interesting role to be working in in looking at collaboration from my own point of view as well.

– Yeah, it’s really exciting to be involved with people with those different areas and the perspectives that come along with it.

– Absolutely, yeah.

– I’m sure you always have a full plate of things to do week in and week out. Is there anything new and exciting that you’ve been thinking about?

– Well, one area I’ve been really interested just in my own time has been looking at biomimicry. So it’s this idea of looking at nature and what we can learn from nature, and the idea really is that nature has had, you know, 3.9 billion years of R & D to go through, so what we’re seeing is proven solutions. And natural selection has meant that it’s already tried out lots of different concepts. And the idea from biomimicry is what we can actually learn and take and then apply into different areas of life. So it might be into product design, for example. And there’s lots of examples, really, how that’s been used in physical products. One of the most famous, obviously, is Velcro, for example. So somebody saw the little burs that stick out and thought about this hook mechanism and that became Velcro. And another one was that somebody observed paper bees, and they saw that it was using wood pulp to make paper. So this is where the origins of using wood pulp for paper came from. So it’s gone back a long time, but it’s very relevant at the moment, I think, because people are very aware of nature and sustainability, and more and more people are now looking to those proven sustainable systems and beginning to see how we can apply that into the work that we’ve. So I’m interested in a point of view on whether we can actually apply that to software and software systems as well, and whether we can learn things from the way animals and nature collaborates and communicates and whether I can bring some of that into the work that I’m doing.

– Well, I’m gonna have to look into that myself and read up a little bit about it because it sounds really interesting, but I’d never really thought about it. I’d never heard the paper pulp and the Velcro anecdotes before. It all makes sense, so–

– Yeah, yeah.

– Gonna have to do a little of my own research on that.

– Yeah, yeah, it’s really interesting when you get into it ’cause there’s lots of examples, even the shapes the fronts of trains, they’ve looked at and different animals and the speed they go and all sorts of things, so you get lots of examples from physical products and things like that.

– Well, let’s talk a little bit about your presentation that you’re gonna do at the conference. You’re gonna be one of the sessions leading us off for the three days. So tell us a little bit about what we can expect.

– So my talk is entitled “The Nature of Collaboration,” and I’d like to bring some of these areas from biomimicry in to see how we can look at collaboration, particularly large organizations at scale and how they can actually work efficiently, particularly using collaboration tools to enable remote working and collaborating across large groups in different organizations around the world. And there’s really interesting parallels that you can look at when you look at things like social insects. So these would be things like ants and bees and termites that a lot of the time, the interactions between them are very simple, but all together, collectively, what they can do is solve very, very complex problems when they come together. So quite often the signals between the insects may be very, very simple and there’s simple feedback mechanism, often what they’re doing, though, is just making effect on the environment around them. And another agent comes along and picks up on that and builds from that. And that, I think, is a lot of parallels when you look at messaging, that we’re all each leaving little trails that are quite small interactions, but when we build it all together, we can look at how organizations work together. And again, insects tend to be quite self organizing, and I think that’s very interesting on how large numbers can come together in a self-organizing way and build quite incredible structures together. So that’s part of the area I’m interested in how we can apply this to things like remote working and virtual meetings and how we can make that particularly relevant maybe for doing research as well because a lot of the time in research, we pick up on a lot of social cues, body language, and how we can do that when we’re working remotely. So a lot of the time I’m doing research now, I’m talking to people like this on video conferencing solutions. And are there extra signals and social cues that we can bring into that and a bit of looking at artificial intelligence and things like that can help us in how we do our UX design and our research.

– Well, it’s gonna be a fun talk to hear you present that, so look forward to seeing you here in Seattle in March, and thanks for taking the time to spend a few minutes talking about this with me today.

– Not at all, I’m really looking forward to being there too, it sounds like a wonderful lineup you’ve got, so sounds great.

– Thank you, Kathryn, bye-bye.

– Great, nice to talk to you, bye now.