The Cognitive Diversity Issue in UX
Ep #34: Today’s episode is a conversation with Melanie Polkosky who is a UX Psychologist with a PhD in cognitive psychology and a long history in tech. After Melanie left a 13-year career at IBM, she wrote a book called Uncovering Truffles, a book about the scarcity and value of Women in Stem. And something she wrote about in her book stood out to me as really relevant to many people UX, across genders. In researching her book, Melanie found that certain cognitive styles can make it more difficult to get ahead in tech and leadership, and that contributes to holding many women back in STEM fields.
And here’s the interesting connection to UX. Thinking styles that are more thoughtful, observational, perhaps more empathetic... the people with these cognitive styles can have a hard time fitting into tech teams, and in leadership roles especially. And, ironically, these cognitive styles — largely intuitive, an interest in people and behavior, and highly empathetic, are a common denominator in the discipline of UX, as I mentioned, across genders. So that’s what we’re digging into today - what can someone do if they find themselves in this place - a place where they feel like to they don’t fit in, or they feel undervalued or misunderstood? Fortunately for us, Melanie has great experience and some great advice.
Melanie is a social-cognitive psychologist, a UX executive, and an author. She has deep expertise in speech technology, artificial intelligence and mixed method user research. She also holds the Associate Certified Coach (ACC) credential from the International Coach Federation. Her coaching practice focuses on career and life coaching. Currently, Melanie leads design and UX as the SVP Customer Experience at Sweepr.
Follow Melanie on Quora: Early Career UX
Buy Melanie's book
If you enjoy this podcast and if you think what we’re doing is useful and important, there are some really simple ways you can help us. You can follow us on twitter. You can like and reshare our posts. You can subscribe to the newsletter for updates and bonus content. And you can share this episode, or any of our episodes, with a friend. And we would love it if you would rate & review us on Apple Podcast!
Connect with UX Cake!
View all episodes
66. Shaping Design Careers, featuring Jason Mesut41:11Do you want your career to be sustainable and aligned with what truly matters to you? Designing a holistic career that embraces every part of who we are can be a complex and meaningful challenge. This week Leigh and guest Jason Mesut have a captivating discussion about the significance of aligning personal values with work and finding meaning in one's career. Jason is an experienced design strategist and leader, who conducts workshops on and has written extensively about shaping one’s future in design. Jason sheds light on the limitations of traditional career labels and role descriptions, advocating for a more holistic approach. He shares his own path of creating visual frameworks and facilitating workshops that empower individuals and teams to delve into their unique qualities, values, and skills.Join Leigh and Jason in this episode as they discuss the common challenges that people bring to coaching sessions, from navigating the job market to making critical decisions about leadership roles, reigniting passions, or even contemplating a career change. Tune in to discover practical tools and strategies that can propel you toward shaping a more aligned career.🎤About Our Guest:Jason Mesut helps people and organizations navigate their uncertain futures. He does this through executive coaching, community leadership, strategic consulting, futures design and shaping workshops. 📚Additional ResourcesJason’s DesignOps 2019 talk “Shaping Design, Designers and Teams”Jason’s Medium article series on Shaping Designers and Design Teams ---Connect with JasonWebsite | LinkedIn | Linktr.eeConnect with UX Cake!uxcake.co | Instagram | LinkedIn | YouTubeConnect with LeighStrategic UX Leader Coaching and WorkshopsFollow on LinkedIn
65. Systems Thinking for Designers, featuring Sheryl Cababa & Leigh Allen-Arredondo43:24In this episode, we chat with Sheryl Cababa, Chief Strategy Officer at Substantial and author of "Closing the Loop: Systems Thinking for Designers." She introduces the concept of systems thinking, which is a way to consider the broader implications of design decisions. By examining the entire problem and understanding the interconnections between various components, designers can anticipate and address potential issues and create more holistic and impactful solutions.🎤About Our Guest:Sheryl Cababa is the Chief Strategy Officer at Substantial, and the Author of “Closing the Loop: Systems Thinking for Designers”, which was just published by Rosenfeld Media. Sheryl is a seasoned design & strategy leader who’s worked with consultancies including Frog and Adaptive Path.📚Interested in purchasing Sheryl’s new book?Rosenfeld Media is offering a 15% discount to UX Cake listeners. Just use the promo code: cababa-cake at when purchasing directly from Rosenfeld Media’s website (expires July 1st, 2023). ---Connect with SherylTwitter | LinkedInConnect with UX Cake!uxcake.co | Instagram | LinkedIn | YouTubeConnect with LeighStrategic UX Leader Coaching and WorkshopsFollow on LinkedIn
64. The Quiet Leader: Strategies for Introverts with Tim Yeo40:05This episode is about quiet leadership - how you can be an authentic leader even if you don’t have the loudest voice in the room. We’re joined by Tim Yeo, a design leader and speaker who helps introverts have an impact and influence without having to pretend to be extroverts. Tim is the brain behind The Quiet Achiever, where he coaches introverts to use their strengths to their advantage. Tim shares his experience working in environments where strong opinions and loud voices are the norm, and how he was pressured to speak up more. Tim identifies as an introvert and shares his journey in discovering more about being one. We also discuss the challenges that introverts face in the design industry, where we have to make our work visible, as well as in leadership, where there can be a perception that the ideal leader is an extrovert, and how to overcome those challenges.Connect with TimTwitter | LinkedIn Learn more about Tim’s coaching and courses at www.thequietachievr.comConnect with UX Cake!uxcake.co | Instagram | Linked In | YouTubeConnect with LeighStrategic UX Leader Coaching and WorkshopsFollow on LinkedIn
62. Adding Strategic Value to Tactical Work with Laura Barboza55:36Are you a UX practitioner who's frustrated with feeling like you lack agency in your work? Or maybe you're someone who wants to take their UX game to the next level by incorporating strategic outcomes into your tactical deliverables? You’re not alone! Listen (or watch) on…This week I’m joined by my long-time friend, colleague, and UX Strategy expert Laura Barboza for the beginning of our 4th season of UX Cake! Laura and I explore the differences between strategic and tactical work in UX research and design. We start by discussing why it's so important to incorporate strategic objectives into your tactical deliverables. After all, without a bigger picture in mind, your work may lack direction and purpose.We give you practical tips for adding strategic outcomes to your tactical UX deliverables in both research and design. We discuss the challenges that designers and researchers may face and possible pushback from stakeholders who are more focused on short-term goals, and how to speak to the value of your efforts and tie it back to user and business objectives. By being clear on these objectives from the start, you can ensure that everything ties back to the larger strategic goals.At the heart of this episode is the message that everyone, regardless of level, can and should think more strategically in their work. By understanding the bigger picture and incorporating strategic outcomes into your tactical deliverables, you can become a more effective UX practitioner and build products that truly meet the needs of your users.Connect with UX Cakeuxcake.co | Twitter | Instagram | LinkedIn | YouTubeConnect with LeighStrategic UX Leader Coaching and WorkshopsFollow on LinkedIn
61. (Best of) On Recovering and Reinvention: Navigating Career Changes with John Maeda29:35With so many people facing changes in their work and careers right now, navigating the complex and turbulent waters of layoffs, org changes, and economic adjustments can be incredibly challenging.My guest today is renowned design leader and author John Maeda - who is no stranger to career shifts and changes. In this inspiring episode, John shares his message of focusing on recovery instead of failure, the importance of intentional reinvention, and the benefits of renewal and rebuilding.This episode is a replay from 2019, and it's just as relevant today as it was then. Since our conversation in 2019, John has gone on to take on different roles and is now the VP of Design and Artificial Intelligence at Microsoft. We mentioned his keynote at Interaction 19, which has since been recorded and is available online - we've included the link to that and other inspiring references we mention in the show description and on our website at uxcake.co.This episode covers a lot of ground - John talked about why we should focus on recover fast vs. fail fast, why inclusive design is so important, and why we should be using Anpanman to train our AI platforms. Links from this episodeJohn’s Keynote on Recovering & Reinvention at Interaction19John Gardner’s Essay “Self Renewal” Get the Collected Works of classic poet Kahlil GibranJoy and Sorrow - poem excerpt from “The Prophet” by Kahlil GibranBooks by John MaedaThe Laws of SimplicityHow to Speak Machine: Computational Thinking for the Rest of UsRedesigning LeadershipLinks for John MaedaYouTube LinkedIn TwitterMore resources from John available on his site https://maedastudio.comConnect with UX Cakeuxcake.co | Twitter | Instagram | Linked In | YouTube
60. Unleashing Your Best Work Through Healthy Conflict and Feedback with Billie Mandel46:50Do you want to unlock your creative potential and foster innovation? We know that collaboration and communication are vital to producing outstanding work, but what you might not know is that the foundation of that is healthy conflict. Without it, we can't achieve our creative best.On this episode, we welcome Billie Mandel, a seasoned expert in design, coaching, and education with a focus on critique, conflict, and creativity. We'll delve into the importance of expressing divergent ideas, how to ask difficult questions, and creating a safe space for diverse thoughts, mistakes, and asking "what am I missing." Additionally, we'll highlight the critical role of feedback in this journey and offer tips on how to solicit, offer, and receive feedback with care and effectiveness. So tune in as we uncover the impact of productive conflict in the quest for creativity and innovation.Books mentioned in this episodeDaring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live by Brené BrownRadical Candor: How to Get What You Want by Saying What You Mean by Kim ScottConnect with Billie MandelCEO and Chief Instigator, Mandel CreativeSpeaking engagementsLinkedInTwitterInstagramConnect with UX Cakeuxcake.co | Twitter | Instagram | LinkedIn | YouTubeConnect with LeighStrategic UX Leader Coaching and WorkshopsFollow on LinkedIn
59. Do More With Less: The Power of a Strategic Mindset13:50If you're in UX, you've likely heard the question, "How can we do more with less?" especially during any economic squeeze. Many companies are cutting back on resources and downsizing teams, while still expecting the same results. Some common approaches are to argue the value of UX, or simply say "no" to requests due to lack of resources. But there’s another way, one that can increase the value of your work and foster cross-team relationships. You can look for ways to be more strategic in the work that you do.In UX, being more strategic means producing bigger outcomes instead of bigger output. It requires understanding the big picture, aligning with stakeholders, and prioritizing work based on impact.Join me as I describe a framework to help you approach your work more strategically, in a way that achieves more for the business and users’ goals without working longer hours.Links from this episodeUser data research portalBaymard InstituteDevelop strategic UX leadership skillsStrategicUXLeader.comConnect with UX Cake!uxcake.co | Twitter | Instagram | Linked In | YouTube
58. Making Space For Meaning and Success with Tutti Taygerly45:03As human beings, it is embedded in us to seek purpose in everything we do. We want to do meaningful work that affects other people or pursue the passion within us.But many people wonder, is it too much to ask for an opportunity to work on something valuable?In today's episode, we are joined by Tutti Taygerly, a Leadership Coach, speaker, and author of the book “Make Space To Lead: Break patterns to find flow and focus on what matters” Tutti's primary focus is to help high-achievers make space for sustainable success, so we dive deep into conversations about making space for the things you want to do and achieve. We delve into how we can create more fulfilling work and build a career that is sustainable, by making space for what matters most to us, and how you can navigate through your current environment to maximize your creativity. Join us in this jam-packed episode filled with actionable tips on how to deal with the "Achievement Monster" and what steps you can take to create your space and utilize it the best way possible.Tutti coaches cofounders and tech leaders to embrace their unique leadership style to achieve professional impact and a sustainable company culture. She focuses on working with women, people of color, and immigrants. Previously she was a design leader at design firms, startups, and large companies including Disney and Facebook. Tutti writes for Harvard Business Review, Business Insider, and Fast Company and her book Make Space to Lead shows high achievers how to reframe our relationship to work. Connect with Tuttihttps://www.tuttitaygerly.com/https://www.linkedin.com/in/tuttitaygerlyhttps://www.instagram.com/tutti/Connect with UX Cake
57. Beyond Titles: The Real Meaning of Leadership09:42Join host Leigh Allen-Arredondo for this UX Cake Pop - short and sweet when you just want a bite of UX Cake! In this UX Cake Pop, I’m sharing my experience with the true meaning of leadership, which is not about having a specific job title or position of authority, but about inspiring and guiding others towards a shared goal. Anyone can be a leader at any point in their life, regardless of their title or level of experience. There are different ways of being a leader without a traditional leadership title or authority, starting with being a leader in your own life. UX pros in particular have an opportunity to create positive change through collaboration and effective communication. Listen in and consider what kind of leader you are, and what kind of leader you want to be!For more leadership resources, workshops, programs, and coaching, visit StrategicUXLeader.comConnect with UX Cake!uxcake.co | Twitter | Instagram | Linked In | YouTube