Interview With Anna Dahlström
This interview features Anna Dahlström, UX designer at Story & UX AB. You can watch it on Anna’s profile page.
– Hello, I’m Joe Welinske, conference director for ConveyUX, and our 12th annual event is coming up the last three days of February. We’re gonna be in person in Seattle for the first time in several years, but also we’re continuing to have a virtual experience. I have the fun activity of getting to talk to our speakers ahead of time. Right now I am visiting with Anna Dahlström. Hello Anna, how are you today?
– Hello. I’m very well, thank you. How are you?
– I’m pretty good. I’m speaking from my home office in Bellingham, Washington, which is north of Blinks headquarters in Seattle. Where are you talking to us from?
– I’m speaking from my home office in Lund, which is in the southern part of Sweden, which happens to be where I’m born. So I’m back where I belong I guess.
– Well, it’s great to have you as part of the program and usually the best place to start is if you could tell us a little bit about your background and the type of work that you’re involved in.
– Yeah, sure. So I kind of guess alluded a little bit to kind of where I belong. I’ve actually, I’m Swedish. I’m born in London where I’m now sitting, but I started my kind of UX career in Denmark, actually in Copenhagen. So I studied computer science and business. Moved there in the year 2000. Started working in UX design in about 2001 for Yahoo and some early e-commerce companies that went bankrupt. So that was an experience. Did some consultancy, finished my masters and then in 2006 I moved to London and I stayed in London until the pandemic hit essentially, but it didn’t really have anything to do with the pandemic. But in, in London I started working out or working for a company that did tax applications for HMRC. So I did that for about a year, which was interesting, but I wanted some bigger challenges. So in 2007 I started working for my first digital agency and that was a, that was a really big shift. So for those who know what it’s like working with agencies, you usually juggle multiple clients and multiple projects at any given time. And that was very much my reality. And I went from, from kind of work environment where it was very, you know, tax applications, you have rigid, there was step by steps you had to pro, had to kind of follow in the application. So not that much creativity to kind of an area where, you know, my colleagues that were absolutely amazing, they did such amazing work and it was a really, really good agency as well. So they were very strategic and very on the forefront of, of everything that has to do, had to do with digital at that point. So that was really exciting. And then what did I do then 2011 I wanted to take ownership a bit more about my career and what I worked on. I didn’t want to go into kind of being head of ux, so I started freelancing, which was something I completely didn’t believe in back then because I believed in kind of being end-to-end when it comes to UX design. But I’m started freelancing, ended up doing a stint for BBC, working on the Olympics website. London had the Olympics in 2012, so 2011 I was working for the BBC, which was very exciting. They did the first dynamic web or dynamic web website. So that was really exciting and actually that that job kind of changed my career and kind of paved the way in a way, and actually was one of the speakers at Convey UX that had a big impact on it. Luke, who’s also gonna be speaking at the, at the conference, ’cause he tweeted on a day when we had a bit of a debate in our team on the Olympics website about designing and what we should do and what we shouldn’t do. And Luke tweeted something along the lines of, I think something along the lines of how do you do anything if everything, anybody, anywhere, anytime something like that is your kind of starting point or your use case. And I responded to his tweet in some kind of way and he was like, oh, what do you mean? And that got me kind of thinking into things. And at the same time that later that evening I saw there was a call for speakers for a Euro ia, which is a conference here in, in Europe. So I submitted a proposal to that conference and it got accepted and that was my first public speaking gig essentially. And then that later on led to more things.
– Well you’ve been involved in quite a lot of things in your career and thanks for mentioning Luke Leski. Luke was one of our first con convey UX speakers and is now back after the intervening 12 years. But let’s talk a little bit about the session that you’re going to be presenting. The title is the role of storytelling for UX in the time of ai. So tell us a little bit about how you develop that topic and what we can expect to learn from it.
– Yeah, sure. So I guess all the way back it kind of, that storytelling aspect comes from the fact that my dad is a writer. So that got me into whole things around how there’s lots of similarities between being a traditional writer and doing traditional storytelling and and ux. So that was the kind of, that led me into doing public speaking on that and led me into writing a book on the topic. And in that book I kind of cover how storytelling can be applied from every single stage to the UX and products design process, from from start to finish kind of thing. And I think last year Jacob Nielsen wrote an article around how AI is the new, the first new paradigm shift when it comes to what we do, like the third paradigm shift. And it talks about how we no longer, you know, the user no longer tells the computer what to do, but rather the user tells the computer what outcome they want. So that got me thinking into how, you know, obviously having, having written a book, writing is a really important skill and kind of being able to communicate your thinking and what you actually want is a crucial kind of skill. So that got me starting to research into AI and and UX and looking at, okay, so where’s the similarities between a or, or where does AI AI come into the picture from the start of a project to, to the end? And how can you then map that onto the storytelling essentially? And I said, I allude to, in my talk description, there’s a lot of stuff that’s changed and a lot of stuff that’s going to change even more. And you know, if you just took a kind of generative ai AI at the moment and prompt and everything, we are kind of gradually working our ways towards what we want, what we want, want the outcome to be and kind of adapting to things. But it’s, it’s gonna be a big change and it’s changed a lot of things already today. So that’s my, that’s what I’m continuing to research. So I’m sure more things will happen in time until the conference starts, essentially.
– Well, are there any things in your daily work that you’re particularly excited about, passionate about, new developments that you might want to share with us?
– So I’m doing, I’m doing a bit of, I, I’m consulting full-time at the moment, but I’ve always had my little side projects. So writing the book has been in a bit, been a big side project for me. It took a lot longer than I thought it would take. And I finished it when our second daughter was just weeks old going through production commerce one handed. So after that I needed a bit of a break and also had to take a bit of a break because of a newborn and then a baby. But what I’ve done recently since then is getting back into writing. It took a long time until it was ready to write again after, after the book. But also what I’m most excited about is giving back to people. ’cause I’ve been in UX since 2001. It’s a long time and there’s a lot of learnings, there’s a lot stuff’s changed. And I’ve coached and mentored UX designers a lot. So giving back to people more is what I’m really excited about. I did a book, book Reading Over the Autumn, just going through the book and talking through things and you, you realize how much, how much you can help out to other people. So that’s what I’m, I’m trying to do more of in my spare time at the moment. And then obviously challenging technologies and learning more about AI and everything and how we can use it.
– Well you, you referred to your book, but I, I don’t think we mentioned the title, but it’s a storytelling des in Design published by O’Reilly. So that’s something that I think we’ll have in our conference bookstore offerings at the event. Most of our attendees are fairly experienced practitioners. We do have a lot of people that are new to the profession. Typically at the event, would you have a tip or a thought of some advice that you might have for people new to the profession or, or for that mass matter? Possibly just people interested in developing their career further?
– I think for me, what transformed my career the most was probably having a mentor, someone who would, would guide me through things, who would gimme feedback on things. So if you’re very much early on starting out in your career, I would try to find a colleague or someone who can review your work and give really constructive feedback on that and help you develop both your soft skills, so your communication skills, presentation skills, all of that kind of stuff. And your, your hard skills as well. So actually how to do the work and then to be, you know, absorb as much as you can out there. Having gone deep down into storytelling, I would probably promote storytelling a lot more. ’cause there’s a lot that you can, you can take from that one. And anything you kind of tell someone, whether that’s in an email or whether it’s a meeting, you know, how you conduct it and how you structure it. There’s a lot that we can learn from storytelling that can actually really transform how you, how your message is received by other parties, which is a big part of our job. So looking at stakeholders as much as users really.
– Well, thanks for that advice, Anna. And also providing us with a preview of your talk and, and your, and your work it. We’ll look forward to having you at the conference presenting in less than a couple of months. But thank you so much for taking the time to visit with me today.
– Thank you.
– Thanks a lot. Bye-Bye.
– Thank you.