Creative Lives — Vogue UX designer Imogen Meborn-Hubbard’s path to designing experiences

Posted 25 July 2019 Interview by Marianne Hanoun
Written by Anoushka Khandwala

UX Designer Imogen Meborn-Hubbard has enjoyed a diverse educational path. After completing her art foundation at Central Saint Martins, she pursued a degree in psychology from University College London. Explaining that indecisiveness led her to try a lot of different career paths when she was younger, Imogen recalls finally realising that designing user experiences encompassed everything she was interested in. From travelling to other countries to do research with Vogue users to synthesising findings into insights that help craft apps, we sneak behind the scenes of Imogen’s daily working life.

Imogen Meborn-Hubbard

Name:

Imogen Meborn-Hubbard

Job Title:

User Experience Designer, Condé Nast International (2017–Present)

Based:

London

Previous Employment:

Freelance UX Designer (2016–present)
Lab Assistant, Institute of Behavioural Neuroscience (2015)
Writer and Illustrator, Hypebeast Magazine (2014–2015)
Press Office Assistant, British Fashion Council (2012–2014)

Places of study:

BSc Psychology, University College London (2012–2015)
Art and Design Foundation, Central Saint Martins (2011–2012)

Personal Social Media

Imogen

Current Work

How would you describe what you do?
I’m an in-house user experience designer at Condé Nast International, working across Vogue’s digital products and services. I carry out research, rooted in both data and psychology, to better understand Vogue’s digital readers (or ‘users’) around the world. I want to know what they’re interested in, what they do online, how they use Vogue’s sites or apps and what Vogue means to them. I then distill this research into insights that will help us to craft websites and apps that are valuable, intuitive and engaging for our users.

What does a typical working day look like and where does it happen?
At any one time I’ll either be carrying out research, synthesising our findings into useable insights, sketching out designs, working with the team to get the finished designs live, or juggling all of the above. Location-wise I’m mostly in the office or working from home. Sometimes I’ll be travelling to interview users around London or, if I’m lucky, to other countries to do research with global Vogue users in person.

How collaborative is your role?
Extremely collaborative! You need to be constantly feeding back what you’ve learned about your users to the immediate team (visual designers, data analysts, product managers, project managers and developers) and collecting their ideas and input. Close collaboration with your team makes it more likely that your shared priorities and live product are aligned with your users’ needs.

“My job is to understand what Vogue means to its digital readers.”

What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
I love travelling when we’re lucky enough to do so; being able to simultaneously speak to real users and immerse yourself in their culture is amazing. I also love being able to work with so many different people and skill sets the whole time, it really opens up your thinking.

On the more challenging side: often newer roles in older companies come with an education piece as to how and why they fit in. It can sometimes feel like you’re spending more time and effort drumming up the buy-in required to do the work, than you do on the work itself. But you just have to accept some level of evangelism as part of the deal.

What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
I recently ran an exciting project exploring the future of Vogue’s runway coverage. We formed a multi-disciplinary team of people from all over the business to tackle this big, open question: what’s next? We started with a research period where we observed why and how fashion professionals use runway imagery for their work and used this to co-produce six new potential product directions that would be way more tailored to these people’s needs. It was the first time people from all over the company had come together on an initiative and used genuine user insights to drive new product development.

Inside the Condé Nast offices

What skills would you say are essential to your job?
Being curious about humans, because that’s what’ll keep you interested everyday! Being empathetic, because you want to be able to tap into your users’ mindsets. Being adaptable, or even experimental in your approach, because you’re always juggling time, money and quality, but also being steadfast, because you need to push what’s best for your users.

Are you currently working on any personal projects?
Actually yes! Nothing to do with UX, but I’m really interested in sustainable, ethical skincare using high quality ingredients. It annoys me that there’s such a shortage of genuinely chemical-free, fresh and nutritious skincare. It’s something I really care about so I thought I’d just make small batches for myself to start off with, but it might grow into something more serious.

“Post-its are the bread and butter of UX.”

What tools do you use most for your work?
Post-Its are the bread and butter of UX. They’re great for getting all your research findings physically in front of you and distilling them into patterns and insights. Sharpies and paper are great for sketching out and sharing ideas, without getting bogged down in the details. On my laptop I tend to use Sketch for digital designs and then turn them into clickable prototypes to test with users using Invision.

Is there a resource that has particularly helped you?
I’d really recommend Ideo’s Design Kit. It’s got activities and methods to help break down and solve problems. A lovely demonstration of evidence-led design is the Netflix Abstract episode with Ilse Crawford. She’s an Interior Designer but their studio’s research and design process parallels that of UX so closely.

Imogen’s UX process

How I Got Here

What did you want to be growing up?
I’m pretty indecisive. I never had a specific thing in mind and did a tonne of work experience in different roles and companies before I even started uni which mostly helped me understand what I didn’t want to do. I think it’s fine to not know.

How do you think your upbringing influenced your choice of career?
One pretty clear correlation is the creative and analytical split in my job and my schooling: I spent most of my childhood at a pretty free-reign, creative school and the final four years at a really academic grammar school. My mum has always been in advertising and marketing, and is very worldly-wise. So I guess that encouraged my own curiosity as to the psychology behind things.

“Don’t get hung up on having a big shiny portfolio to get your first UX job.”

What took you from an art foundation to neuroscience?
A big contributor was that I already had the deferred place at UCL and couldn’t bear the thought of assembling a portfolio all over again! I also (somewhat naively) felt that I could keep up creative work in my spare time, whereas I’d never be able to learn something like neuroscience without a formal education. So I still freelanced in anything creative I could get my hands on (as an illustrator, press assistant for British Fashion Council, photography assistant, fashion intern, to name a few).

How useful have your studies been in your career? Were there any transferable learnings that you took with you?
Central Saint Martins taught me to think laterally and be throwaway with ideas, whereas UCL instilled a sense of process and evidence-led reasoning. Psychology was a lot of taking things back to first principles and testing assumptions, which I still do now. Distilling complex concepts into a tight narrative has turned out to be really transferrable to presenting and storytelling.

The ongoing redesign of Vogue’s online Fashion Shows section. Visual design credit: Andrew Harris

After graduating, what were your initial steps?
I applied for a few jobs like creative strategy and trend forecasting, but they were all put off my confused-looking CV. I couldn’t find any jobs that spanned both art and science, so I then did what everyone else does when they don’t know what to do with their lives, and moved to Melbourne.

Struggling to find any interesting roles there either, I upped and spent the last of my savings travelling the Philippines. Arriving back in London with nothing, I scrabbled together odd jobs to pay rent whilst I decided where to start. At some point, I realised that ‘User Experience Design’ encompasses all the things that interest me in one glorious job. So I trained at General Assembly for three months to get an “official UXer” stamp and soon landed my dream job as an experience designer at Condé Nast.

“Creating a really clear narrative for yourself is key – especially when switching industries.”

What’s been your biggest challenge along the way?
One thing that took me far too long to learn was that having a plethora of random work experience requires strict framing when it comes to applying for jobs. It took ages for me to bite the bullet, delete tonnes of work experience off my CV and to be really strict about how I framed my past work for applications and interviews. It worked a treat though – I finally started getting the outcomes I wanted.

I think the hard truth is that people love to be able to put you in a box and if your CV doesn’t facilitate that, then it leaves them unable to suss you out. Obviously there are no universal rules for these things, but creating a really clear narrative for yourself is key – especially when switching industries. You’ve got to make it effortless for a prospective employer to see you as the natural choice.

Advice

What advice would you give to an emerging creative wanting to get into the same line of work?
Never underestimate the value of grabbing a coffee. Chatting to people who have a similar background to you is a great aid in working out if you’ll enjoy something too. Also, don’t be phased by UX jargon! Read job descriptions and Google things you haven’t heard of.

Medium has many many blog posts describing UX concepts and projects – use these to gauge what daily work might involve. Most importantly, don’t get hung up on having a big shiny portfolio to get your first UX job. Demonstrating your thinking process and how you tackle problems is a hundred times more significant than showing finished designs.

Posted 25 July 2019 Interview by Marianne Hanoun
Written by Anoushka Khandwala
Collection: Creative Lives
Disciplines: Interaction Design

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