Although most jobs in tech are dominated by men, there is one where women hold the majority of roles: user experience (UX) design. According to a 2020 Career Explorer report, 53 percent of these positions are held by women. That’s both impressive and a little confounding considering women make up only 25 percent of employees at Big Tech companies and only 3 percent of women students consider technology their first choice in undergrad. What makes UX design so compelling to women and, if not through formal education, how are women getting into these roles?
Before answering that question, let’s take a brief step back to discuss the field as a whole. “User experience” is a tech term used to describe how users interact with and experience a platform, product, system, or service. People working in UX, for instance, monitor how you, a user, navigate platforms like InHerSight—our articles, our company pages, our job listings, our app—and optimize features accordingly to ensure you have the most pleasant and intuitive interactions while here. UX’s sister field, user interface (UI), has a similar function, but by definition, focuses more on aesthetics, like the colors you see and the shapes of the buttons you click. As with most jobs, people in UX and UI come in contact with tasks from both fields, so experience on resumes varies significantly.
Now back to women in UX design. What gives? Well, a whopping 61 percent of designers across industries are women, and because UX is a relatively new field, transitioning into it, whether intentionally or not, is common. You might be a graphic designer at a marketing firm and gradually begin to learn about UX design because of a project you’re working on. Then, five years later, boom, you work in tech. The transition really can be that easy.
But it’s important to remember that women in UX and UI aren’t always designers, and there’s a lot of opportunity for other women to explore careers in this growing field. In fact, there are dozens of UX and UI positions required to keep platforms user-friendly. Writers, programmers, researchers, strategists, and more all collaborate to create a final product.
With the right transferable skills and some good interview and networking tips, the next person in UX or UI could be you—but don’t take our word for it. These nine women in UX and UI have all taken a variety of paths to land these sought-after positions. Hear from them what they do, how they got where they are, and the advice they have for women considering their field.
How women can work in: User Experience (UX)
Abby Christmas, AVP, Leader – Web & User Experience, Brighthouse Financial
What do people in user experience do?
Simply put, we are responsible for delivering solutions that improve product quality—“product,” in our instance, refers to our two corporate websites—and provide a valuable, enjoyable and user-friendly experience.
We do this by leveraging data to inform prioritization of initiatives that will drive engagement and increased user satisfaction. Solutions can come in a variety of formats: technical solutions that improve the performance of our sites or provide added functionality, or design solutions that help ensure connectivity across touch points and better connect the brand promise to the experience a user has with our company.
From a user experience design perspective, if you think about visiting the websites of major retailers that we are all likely familiar with, you could probably close your eyes and recall the general layout of the pages. You know where the “add to cart” button is, where to find reviews and where information about the product is located. A good user experience provides consistent and intuitive design that takes the thinking away from users so that they can focus solely on the content that they are consuming. It’s important to make things easy for them and remove barriers that may prohibit them from doing what they came to your site to do.
How did you get into user experience?
I love helping people. According to a personality assessment I once took at Brighthouse, I am a “coordinating supporter.” Descriptors like “naturally curious,” displays “empathy” and a “commitment to serve” were used in the assessment to describe that particular personality type.
I am fortunate, and don’t think it’s a coincidence, that my current role allows me to be ME: a coordinating supporter. As a user experience professional, advocating for the needs of your users is your primary responsibility. Removing barriers and providing solutions that make the user’s experience easier and more enjoyable is an indication of success. As a manager, I am also able to provide support for my team with a commitment to help them grow in their own careers.
The path that got me to where I am today also allowed me to flex in these areas. I’ve been in marketing for over 15 years in various capacities, first as a trade show organizer working with outside industries and organizations to put their companies in the spotlight at events throughout the U.S. From there, I moved into sports marketing and worked in media research as part of the advertising sales department. That role allowed me to dig into who our audience was and what psychographic traits motivated them. This further sparked my curiosity in learning and connecting with users on a deeper level. After eight years in the sports industry, I moved on to MetLife, Inc., which in 2017 spun off Brighthouse Financial, where I currently serve as the Leader of Web & User Experience.
What’s one piece of advice you could give to someone interested in pursuing user experience?
Don’t underestimate the value of the upfront work typically done during the discovery phase of a project. This is when you truly learn about your users and can be thoughtful in your approach to solving their problems. It is foundational in providing a solution that adds value to the business and the end user.
Albert Einstein said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on a solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than 5 minutes.” Similarly, in user experience design, it is critical that you spend the time up front in the “problem-framing” stage of the process so that you can effectively create a solution that meets your user’s needs.
How women can work in: User Interface/User Experience (UI/UX) Design
Maney Orm, UI/UX Designer, Penn Interactive Ventures
What does a UI/UX designer do?
Analyze existing flows and pain points [in websites, apps, and other programs], iterating on those experiences, as well as A to Z develop new features for digital experiences, hopefully driving the business forward and fulfilling user needs at the same time.
How did you get into UI/UX design?
I pursued UX because ever since I was little, I knew I wanted to work with technology somehow. Eventually finding UX through my love for graphic design in college, I knew it was a great balance of being creative and also being technically relevant in the job market. UX has a high impact on how people function everyday with tech, and that in itself is super powerful to be a part of. I love my job truly and not a lot of people can say that.
What’s one piece of advice you could give to someone interested in being a UX/UI designer?
If you’re a human on this planet, you’re experiencing [ie. using digital platforms] 24/7. Don’t ever doubt your ability to solve complex issues because the experience may seem unfamiliar. You just have to try your best to wear the shoes of the person’s life you’re trying to make better. Use your resources and the rest will follow.
Abby Willis, UI/UX Designer, Penn Interactive Ventures
What does a UI/UX designer do?
The job of a UI/UX designer is to advocate for the user and create a user-friendly interface.
How did you get into UI/UX design?
While in college, I took several classes in UX design and realized that I enjoyed doing design more than development work [meaning: writing code and creating new programs]. I graduated with my Bachelor of Science in web development, but I decided to pursue a career in UX design. Throughout college, I had several internships at small startups where I applied what I had learned in class to the real world. I joined Penn Interactive in November of 2020 as a Junior UI/UX Designer, and a year later, I was promoted to a mid-level designer.
What’s one piece of advice you could give to someone interested in being a UI/UX designer?
Be open to feedback. I have learned a lot from my other team members critiquing my designs and their feedback has helped me become a better designer.
Mary Trujillo, Senior UX Designer, CrowdStrike
What does a UX designer do?
A UX designer takes a human-centered approach to creating simple and elegant solutions to complex interaction problems. We advocate for our users by ensuring that their end-to-end experience is engaging, informative and delightful while also balancing the needs of the business.
How did you get into UX design?
I've always been very creative and loved art which got me interested in design, so after taking a graphic design class in high school, I knew that's what I wanted to pursue.
After I graduated college, with my degree in graphic design, I was hired as a graphic designer for a design agency. I worked on a mix of traditional and digital design work, which helped me determine UI/UX was where I wanted to focus my design career. I started attending UI/UX talks, meet-ups and taking on small freelance clients on the side to get more experience and build out my portfolio.
I was at a point where I needed to specialize and had to choose between UI and UX design, and although I loved the visual design side, I was really more interested in the experience as a whole which led me down the UX path.
I started working as a UX design contractor, and I was eventually hired full time as a product designer at an educational tech startup. Fast forward to CrowdStrike, a cyber security tech company, where I work today as a senior UX designer leading a variety of small and large projects.
The thing about UX design that has really captivated me is that it allows me to be creative and think outside of the box, but there is always a solid reason for doing what you're doing. You base your work off of research and come up with beautiful data-driven solutions that produce actual results that can be measured.
What’s one piece of advice you could give to someone interested in being a UX designer?
I'd tell someone interested in UX to find a mentor you trust and can ask ANY question, including career advice, UX design, or even just someone to bounce ideas off of. Don't be afraid to ask questions. You learn so much from just talking to others who have already been in similar situations.
How women can work in: User Interface (UI) Development
Laura Mahoney, Senior User Interface Developer, Radancy
What does a user interface developer do?
A user interface developer translates creative mockups into launch-ready web applications. This person is responsible for creating all of the elements a user interacts with as they navigate through a website or software application. They are skilled in web programming languages and are able to make the appropriate technical decisions needed for the web application to be successful. This role is perfect for the person who enjoys critical thinking but also has a creative eye.
How did you get into user interface development?
I started my career out of college as a marketing consultant/designer for a full-service marketing agency. I created print and digital solutions for our clients, working on projects from initial conception to final delivery. Through this experience, I narrowed my interest to the programming of user interfaces. UI development was the perfect combination of artistic and technical skill I craved. In my next role as a user interface developer at Radancy, I was able to refine my programming skills by working on a larger development team building complex web applications. I still work for Radancy but now as a senior user interface developer, where I am able to be more involved with our product and collaborate with people outside of the development team.
What’s one piece of advice you could give to someone interested in being a user interface developer?
Utilize online learning resources to keep your skills current. Web development technologies evolve constantly so dedicating time to training is important and will give you an edge when you’re looking for your next job.
Deborah Foerst, Senior UI Developer, Radancy
What does a UI developer do?
A senior UI developer will program websites to ensure users can easily navigate through a client's website. They will make sure the website's appearance matches what was given to them by an art director. They will also work with the art director to make sure the site functions and looks like the art director's vision. They are also responsible for making the website accessible to all users, no matter what.
How did you get into UI development?
I started as a graphic designer, was promoted to art director, and eventually my interest turned to the internet, where I went back to school and received a degree in computer science-web development. Programming is exciting to me. It can be challenging at times, but I always enjoy seeing the end product and how my code will match what the designer envisions. I get to use my designer and mathematical skills.
What’s one piece of advice you could give to someone interested in being a UI developer?
I would have to say to keep up with your programming skills. Investigate new techniques that come out and keep getting advice from other developers.
How women can work in: User Research
Ashten Bartz, User Research Lead, Penn Interactive Ventures
What does a user researcher do?
I advocate for data-driven decisions [around user interface and experience decisions]. For example, if we are unsure about which of two designs we should pursue developing, I can suggest that we conduct research to guide this decision.
As the first user researcher at my company, I built out our research processes and educated my colleagues on the importance of reaching out to our users to validate our assumptions and test our design solutions.
As the user research lead, my primary focus is on managing our research initiatives. This includes strategizing around upcoming research projects, training new researchers who join the team, working to optimize our existing research practices, and also educating across the organization on the value of incorporating systematic user feedback into our product feature processes.
How did you get into user research?
My research career began at an academic research lab, where I built a strong foundation in the basics of human subjects research. After several years there, I decided to attend grad school to facilitate transitioning into the tech field. With a background in cognitive science, user experience research felt like a natural next step.
What’s one piece of advice you could give to someone interested in being in user research?
Many professionals who are in the user research field began in different industries. If you are trying to make the transition, consider how skills you've developed in adjacent fields may translate into skills required by a user researcher, and make that connection clear when building your resume and speaking with hiring managers. You can also continue to build on the core soft skills of being a user researcher in your everyday life. Engage in active listening when communicating with others, and practice posing thoughtful questions that help you go beyond the surface in those interactions. Express empathy for their point-of-view, and practice responding by summarizing what you've heard them say, rather than sharing your own anecdotes.
How women can work in: UX Writing
Hema Manwani, Senior UX Writer (UX Content Designer), CrowdStrike
What does a UX writer do?
Write conversational copy in customer-facing products so the users are able to achieve their goals. Work closely with designers, researchers, and engineers to provide a great experience to the users. We write all product copy which includes error messages, confirmations, directional messages and fields, and labels.
For any product, it's important that the users are able to use it without having to call support or being frustrated. I collaborate with product managers, engineers and designers to understand our product offerings and then write it in easy usable words so that our users don't feel stuck. Making the product usable for the company is something I do through my words.
How did you get into UX writing?
I have a background in commerce and education. I have always enjoyed writing but never thought I could pursue a career full time in writing. In 2008, I got a remote opportunity to write articles and blogs for a company. I then kept growing in my writing role, and after being a website writer/social media writer/technical writer, found a new profile called UX writer. I learned more about it and am happy to do what I am currently doing.
What’s one piece of advice you could give to someone interested in being a UX writer?
Collaborate and be open to feedback.
How women can work in: Voice UX
Jessica Thornhill, Director of Voice UX, Volley
What do you do?
Firstly: did you know that you can design apps and games for smart speakers like Amazon Alexa? Enter voice UX design! Voice UX Design is a pretty new field. Voice UX designers create and manage the experience that users have with voice assistants. It's a role that combines elements of product management, conversation design, and data analysis. We create the conversation that you have with your smart speaker, and work with engineers and data scientists to bring exciting products to life on these new voice platforms!
There are a lot of parallels between voice UX design and more traditional UX design, but the hugest difference is that your final product is usually an audio-only experience. This opens up a huge array of exciting new problems to solve. There are no screens, no menus, no buttons, and your user can literally say anything they want to, at any point. How do you guide them on the right journey and create an experience that they will enjoy? What happens if a user says something unexpected? What if we don't understand what they said? These are all things that voice UX designers have to consider.
How did you get into voice UX?
I started my career as a digital consultant at Accenture, and soon found myself in an innovation team working with new technologies like AR and VR. When Amazon released their first Echo devices, my team was fascinated, and I've been working with voice technology ever since! My current work at Volley is in the entertainment space—we build games, interactive stories and other fun experiences for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.
What’s one piece of advice you could give to someone interested in pursuing voice UX voice?
This is an exciting new field that needs more people all the time. Do some research into what a good voice product/experience/application looks (and sounds) like. If you're really interested, see if you can design your own Alexa Skill. If you're not an engineer, there are great no-code tools out there (Voiceflow is one) that allow you to design an Alexa Skill and get some exposure to a slice of what a voice UX designer does.