Women in UX: Meet Yael Levey, Creative Director at BBC Weather

by Sheena Lyonnais

posted on 08-03-2017

It’s a beautiful, summer day when I talk to Yael Levey, a detail that doesn’t usually matter but shines bright when you’re talking to the creative director at BBC Weather.

While her users are checking to see if they need an umbrella, Levey and her team are dealing with the challenge of designing with data that changes as often as the weather. They’re designing for a user base in the millions spread across web, mobile and broadcast products, all of which require design consistency across the BBC brand. Then there’s the challenge of being distinctive.

“How do we compete when every phone now comes loaded with the native weather app? How can we be the place for weather information? That’s something that’s a really big challenge for us,” she said.

Like many millennials, Levey is a hustler and overcoming challenges is just a way of life for her. When she graduated university less than a decade ago, she sent unsolicited emails to numerous companies inquiring about UX internships and opportunities. At the time, many of the companies she contacted weren’t aware of what user experience was or how it could benefit their business, nor was she overtly familiar with what working in UX looked like. Still, she persisted and soon the opportunities came her way.

In one case, she convinced a company to let her conduct a usability review on a mobile game they created. This company wasn’t immediately swayed that UX was something they should invest in, but after a week, Levey went back and presented her findings to the team. They offered her a job.

“It was very much a case of putting myself out there and getting my foot in the door when the door wasn’t even open,” she said.

Career Playback

Press rewind and Levey is a teenager debating what to study in university, feeling torn between her two loves: design and psychology. She must make a choice. Her preference leans towards the former, a graphic design program to be precise, but after some thought (and her parents’ insistence that psychology is more respectable) she opts for the latter.

It is years later, during her masters program at the University of London, that her continued passion for design and technology leads her to a module in human computer interaction. Just like that, her path illuminates before her.

“It was that realization that there’s something that combines psychology, design and technology. Those are my three great interests,” she said. “From that point on that was it for me. I was like, this is what I want to do. I love the idea of immersing myself deeply in people, but then coming out at the end of it with something really practical and useful for them. And that was that was the key for me.”

Fast-forward to today and Levey is the creative director at BBC Weather where she manages a team of UX designers, visual designers, design researchers and information architects. When the sun sets, she pens a blog called I Am Not My Pixels, runs a popular Instagram account of the same name (which we recently included in our roundup of 10 UX designers to follow on Instagram for inspiration), and authors a design channel on YouTube—all with the mission of opening up the conversation about what it’s actually like to be a UX designer, and a woman in UX no less.

“I want people to just see a real authentic designer talking about the challenges they’re facing, the times that they don’t feel confident, or some of the problems they might have rather than just kind of having this very carefully curated feed,” she said. “This is something that I’m really proud of.”

Learning To Be Loud When You’re (Supposed To Be) Quiet

Have you ever felt like an imposter? That despite your experience and your expertise that you somehow don’t deserve to be there in a room amongst your colleagues, or that your opinions are not being heard, or worse, that they don’t even matter?

Imposter syndrome is something many women in tech experience regularly and is compounded by working in a male dominated industry, and Levey wants to do something about it.

“It’s something that not only does everyone feel, but because people aren’t seeing people who are a little more senior talk about it, it just feels so taboo. And if it doesn’t need to be taboo,” she said. “That’s something that I’ve struggled with my whole life and having someone at a younger age or earlier point in my career that would have been a bit more vocal about it, I think would have really helped me.”

She references experiences she’s had where her male coworkers have not given her a turn to talk in a meeting, instead ignoring her contributions or speaking louder than her.

“People say, oh if men are talking over you then you should just get louder. Well I don’t want to get louder, because I’m not a loud person.”

Instead of changing who she is, she’s channeled her psychology background and passively conducted research by monitoring situations and picking up on the subtle differences in vocabulary between men and women in the workplace, and now she’s claiming them for herself.

“How can I affect people in the same way that men do in a male dominated environment? How can I be more direct and speak clearer without fluff? Men don’t need to pepper their speech with fluff, but I do,” she said.

“I’ve noticed other women that I work with, we have a tendency to say, ‘Ooh maybe we could do it this way.’ Whereas a man might say, ‘Let’s do it this way.’ Just thinking about small things that I can look at to try and get myself noticed more in a male dominated environment without feeling like I need to change myself, that is a huge challenge and something that I’m always continually working on.”

Advice For Women (and Everyone Else) Working in UX Design

Levey doesn’t want this to discourage women from pursuing a career in UX design, but rather to empower them. She wants to see more women in UX design and offers three tips based on her experiences so far.

Diversify Yourself

Levey has worked as a freelance designer at digital agencies, full-time at startups and at larger organizations alike in many different aspects of UX. She’s worked on her own, but she’s also worked under the guidance of other UX designers, learning their tricks of the trade in many of UX’s various roles.

“I see a lot of designers specializing quite early. They might stick with just one type of job environment or get really deep down into one type of UX skill, and I think that if you do that quite early and you do that for a long period of time then it can be more challenging to diversify later. You cut off quite a few opportunities for learning and development.”

Instead, she recommends figuring out where your best skills lie by looking for opportunities to diversify your skills early. Don’t be afraid to start trying new things now, regardless of where you’re at in your UX career.

Find a Mentor

Levey has surrounded herself with mentors and now she mentors others, both through her leadership role at BBC Weather and also via her personal endeavors. She says mentors are key, and recommends women try to find female mentors to support them and help them grow.

“The best thing I did when I started out was listen to and learn from other women who have been in UX, or at least in design, for longer than I had. That perspective and their experiences really helped me,” she said.

Hustle and Grind

“I see a lot of people who come to me trying to get a job and they’ve done a three-month course and they expect to walk into a UX role with the bare minimum. I think people get sold this myth that they can do UX really quite easily and quickly without much work,” she said.

“I think that no one deserves anything. You need to grind and hustle and work and put in the hours to get something good and not expect something to just fall in your lap. Work hard.”

Don’t Forget to Share Your Knowledge

Levey believes all designers have the capacity to help one another with information that’s already likely just sitting on your desktop collecting virtual dust. She encourages designers to take a few pages from the developer community and learn to share openly and willingly.

“I have a lot of resources that I’ve used for work that I’ve created over the years, and what I tend to find is that all designers have these. They’ll have files or things that aren’t even templates but they could be templates that we use for projects and they sit on our computers and we don’t share them,” she said.

“What I wanted to do is share mine so that a) people can use them and b) so that we can liberate our files from our computers and put them out there. Developers, have this whole open source culture that’s really great. I think us designers, we have lots of things that just sit on our computers and our dropboxes that are actually really valuable to people, so sharing as much of those things as possible can only be a good thing.”

To check out some of Levey’s free UX resources including her “completely customizable people” Illustrator files click here, and don’t forget to view our resources, updated daily, on Adobe’s Creative Cloud Blog here.

Topics: Creative Inspiration & Trends, Design

Products: Creative Cloud