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Summit 2014 March 26-30 in San Diego

The Path Ahead Lovely San Diego

An interview with IA Summit keynote presenter

Irene Au

Keynote speaker Irene Au

Irene Au

We’re thrilled to make our first keynote1 speaker announcement for the 2014 IA Summit: Irene Au.

As VP of Product and Design at education startup Udacity, Irene combines a long career designing online experiences for large consumer audiences with her interest in education.

Irene has lead user experience and design efforts at both Google and Yahoo. While at Google, Irene was responsible for the user-interface design of all Google-branded products. At Yahoo, she built the company’s interaction design and user research practices, leading product and platform design efforts worldwide.

She began her career at Netscape Communications as an interaction designer. There, she led cross-product design efforts on Netscape’s browser, mail/news client, and page editor. Irene holds a master’s degree in human-computer interaction from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Beyond the pixels, Irene is a trained Yoga instructor and leads classes in the San Francisco Bay area.

We posed three questions to help you get to know Irene better. Read on and get excited to hear more in her 2014 IA Summit keynote.

This year will be the 15th IA Summit. What is the one thing you wish you would have known 15 years ago?

How to live in the present moment. I’ve always navigated major life decisions based on what would bring me joy and energy, and I’ve always ended up in a better place as a result. So my advice is to follow your bliss: find the best intersection between what the world needs, what you’re good at, and what brings you joy. Surround yourself with people who give you energy, not sap it from you. Surround yourself with work and projects that you love so much that going to work feels like you’re going to play. It’s much easier to spend 10,000 hours (the minimum number of hours to achieve greatness in anything, an idea popularized by Malcolm Gladwell) doing something if it feels like play than if it feels like work.

Working in such fast-paced, rapidly growing companies can be quite stressful. I wish I had been more familiar with mindfulness techniques, yoga, and meditation then in the same way I understand it now. These practices are transformative and life-changing in ways that would have made me better equipped to deal with the challenges I faced, internally and with the world around me.

What advice would you give to someone just starting to manage other designers or starting their first team?

Those first few hires are critical.

The first hires set the bar and culture for the team, and you and your entire organization’s credibility and currency rests on those first few hires. As a percentage, there is a very small number of really fantastic UX practitioners, and there are plenty of mediocre people who call themselves designers or researchers.

Take the time and energy needed to build a great team. Don’t settle just to build an empire and get the role filled. Develop a great interview process so you can truly understand who you’re hiring and what tradeoffs you’re making. Learn how to instill a strong culture and sense of values so you can better delegate and scale yourself.

What do you look for in a designer?

It’s relatively easier than it was, say, 15 years ago, to find people who have the basic skills needed to do user research and design. Now that’s just a baseline to get past the résumé screen.

When I look at portfolios, I try to understand how they frame problems, how they deal with challenges, and what outcomes they have achieved. I look at how effective they are in bringing others on board with an idea, from conception to execution, which usually involves making vision tangible and prototyping. I look at their attention to detail and their ability to reduce and simplify. I’m also looking for passion; passion shines through in a portfolio. Where there is passion, there is more creativity and more joyful outcomes.

Want to see Irene Au at the 2014 IA Summit?

Join us in March in San Diego.


1: Keynotes are moments on the schedule where all attendees come together for a single presentation. Keynote speakers are invited directly by the organizing committee for their distinct voice and perspective.