Speaker Feature Series: An Interview with Kate Rutter, a User Experience Designer with Strong Solving Problems Skill Through Sketching

“I believe that every problem can be made clearer by communicating in pictures, that sharpie pens smell like ideas, and that any group of collaborative and optimistic people have the power to change the world. So long as they have a pack of stickynotes.” – Kate Rutter

This week we spoke with Kate Rutter, a designer and sketcher who thinks, writes and speaks about UX, product metrics, learning environments, visual thinking, and more. Kate is an entrepreneur and designer and Principal at Intelleto, where she creates visual explanations that make complex ideas simple, memorable, and shareable. She’s also an adjunct professor at the California College of the Arts (CCA) in San Francisco.

Kate  Rutter headshot

With over 150 talks under her belt, Kate had so much great advice to share for new speakers. Keep our community  growing by inviting a person who has not yet spoken in public to share their voice, sponsor, and mentor them. Check it out in our interview below!

Why do you speak?

I speak because it’s a way to connect with people and ideas, and that’s how progress begins and how change happens. One of the best parts of the UX Design field is the culture of idea-sharing. Talks are a great way to spread new ideas, to share good practices, and to relate personal experiences that can help others make fewer (or at least different) mistakes. Being asked to share ideas from a stage is a real honor and one that I don’t take lightly.

Tell us about your first speaking engagement?

My first professional UX talk was in 2007 when I was at the consultancy Adaptive Path. I remember when I was invited to present at UX Week, and I was so excited (and terrified!) But the support of colleagues made me feel like I could do it. After that, I started submitting to speak at conferences, and that led to more opportunities.

What topics are you most excited to speak about right now?

Sketching! Metrics! Lifelong learning! Lean Startup! Those are the big 4 right now. I’m interested in a lot of things. It’s hard for me to focus on just one area.

What advice would you give to new speakers?

  1. Your presence is needed: Know that people want to hear from you and you have interesting and awesome things to say. Imposter syndrome is real, so recognize it, set it aside and TAKE THE STAGE ANYWAY.
  1. Your presentation is personal: Tell your story. How you came to the topic and why it matters to you. Bring your personality, your vulnerability and let your freak flag fly.
  1. Practice, practice, practice. My favorite method is to record my talk on my iPhone, and then listen, which is mortifying and incredibly helpful. When I hear the talk dragging or getting confusing, I work to fix it.

And bonus: You will have talks that don’t go well. You might even bomb. It’s painful, but it happens to everyone at least once. Keep going. And if you think you’ve bombed really badly, call me and I’ll be here to listen.

What are your tips for how we can improve visual thinking in 2020? 

Yay! Visual thinking! My heart is singing!

  • Sketch something every other day. I used to say every day, and yay, if you can do that, but I fail at it all the time, so every other day works too. Sketch. Something. Every. Other. Day.
  • Own the whiteboard. If you’re in a meeting and people are talking and nodding, and nothing is on the whiteboard, then the chances are high that things are not clear. Draw the conversation so everyone can see what’s going on. It’s a power skill and one that builds other skills like listening, confidence, and courage.
  • Work out your ideas on index cards and sketches. Every concept you share should be able to be visualized…move beyond bullet points, and your audience (and colleagues) will thank you.

See Kate speak live in May 2020 at Camp Digital in Manchester, UK or at one of her workshops on Metrics with Rosenfeld Media in 2020 in New York.

We hope you enjoyed our interview with Kate as much as we did! To learn more about her speaker topics, experience, and watch her videos for her talks, check out Kate’s full speaker profile on the Women Talk Design website.

A request from Kate: I want every speaker to look at the women around her, find a woman who has not yet spoken in public, and invite her to share her voice. Not everyone wants to be on a stage, but everyone has a voice worth hearing, and some are just waiting to be asked. So ask. And listen and invite and sponsor and mentor. It takes a community to get more representation and visibility on stages big and small; we are that community. So care for each other and spread the love.

Are you organizing an event in 2020? Explore our organizer resources on designing inclusive events, create a free organizer account, and utilize our speaker directory to find brilliant speakers for your next event.