Nat Dudley is the Head of Design for Figure NZ - a tech organisation charity that works to make data open, usable and understandable for all New Zealanders.
What do you do on an average work day?
It could be anything from talking to New Zealanders about the role data plays in their life, to working with our developers to figure out technical solutions to extracting, standardizing and visualizing data into maps and charts and other forms, to designing colour palettes so that color-blind people can read charts and maps to making data quiz card games.
My speciality is user experience and product design and my job is to ensure that it's easy for our team to collect data and publish it. I’m also responsible for ensuring that the data we publish (collected from all sorts of places, like Statistics New Zealand) is able to be understood and used by everyone in New Zealand by building delightful interfaces. Those interfaces might be technical (websites, APIs, apps) or non-technical (education programs, card games).
My responsibilities are a little atypical because we’re a purpose-driven charity, but a career in user experience design is so interesting and so much fun. User experience designers are responsible for researching and understanding how humans interact with computer systems, and then applying that knowledge to designing new things. We create prototypes of new products, test them with users, work on interaction design, write copy and so much more.
What did you study at school? And after high school?
So many different things! For Bursary, I studied calculus, chemistry, biology, physics, history, and English, but up until Year 13, I also did painting, classical studies and languages. At Uni, I starting doing biology and psychology, but couldn’t decide what I wanted to do, so ended up jumping through information systems, economics, and chemistry too, until I dropped out.
Was your study directly related to what you do now?
Yes and no! I didn’t study anything that most people would associate with being a designer, and especially not a user experience designer. I didn’t even know my job existed when I was at school. In saying that, I use things I learned in all my areas of study every day. Snippets of things I learned in maths, physics, psychology, biology and information systems all come in handy on a regular basis. History too—understanding behaviour in the context of what’s happened historically is super important in design.
What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now?
Don’t sweat what you study too much, unless you specifically want to do vocational training. Knowing and loving how to learn is by far a more important skill in the workforce. Figure out what you enjoy, and then find a career that fits that. For me, it’s solving problems and building things and learning new things all the time, so a career in the technology industry is a perfect fit.
What are some of your career highlights so far?
Any time someone uses something I helped to build - whether it’s to make better decisions about their life or business using data on FigureNZ, or to take a helicopter across Sao Paolo using an app I helped build, or a retailer using Vend to power their dream retail business. Technology is about enabling people to achieve things in their lives, and that gives me a total buzz.
At a personal level, specific highlights are launching Business Figures (figure.nz/business), and publishing resources to help people organising events to be more inclusive (conference.hopper.org.nz). Seeing conferences change and become better places for women and other under-represented minorities is super rewarding.
Why do you believe engaging in STEM – whether it’s working in the field, studying it or just educating one’s self around the issues – is important to New Zealand?
A healthy science and technology industry means people focussed on solving problems New Zealanders need solved. We’re a smart bunch who think creatively about problems, and STEM give us the tools to understand and solve the problems we encounter.
Why is it important to have more women working in STEM?
We need all our best and brightest working at solving the big problems of tomorrow, whether that’s scientific research or creating with technology. That means we need more women, and more of every underrepresented minority. At the moment, we’re missing out on the brains of incredibly talented people who can bring a fresh perspective to the work we do. We're just better at solving problems when we have different perspectives around the table.
In tech, we’re continuously told to solve the problems we know and experience. An industry dominated by straight, white, cis men solves problems for straight, white, cis men. I don’t want to work in an industry that only solves problems for those people. The more women and underrepresented minorities we have, the more of the problems that we face that will be researched and solved.
Nat Dudley is the Head of Design for Figure NZ - a tech organisation charity that works to make knowledge (specifically data) open, usable and understandable for all New Zealanders.
This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM.
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