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Summer Effray is a Digital Communications professional turned Innovation Consultant, who discovered her love for the design thinking process and a user-centric approach when taking BrainStation’s Online Live User Experience (UX) Design Certificate Course.
Living and working in Kelowna, B.C., Summer wanted access to digital skills training but couldn’t make it to a physical campus location. We spoke with Summer about her experience learning in an Online Live classroom, and how she’s bringing the UX skills she gained throughout the course into her role as Innovation Consultant for the City of Kelowna.
Can you tell us a bit about your education and career background?
Straight out of high school, I went to university and successfully completed a Bachelor of Arts with an English major from the University of Victoria (UVic). My first job after university was an administrative assistant with a financial investment firm in Kelowna, BC. After three and a half years there, I knew that administrative work, particularly in finance, wasn’t for me, so I found a new job at a local real estate development company as a development coordinator and then a marketing coordinator. During my short foray into marketing, I realized I was heading in a career direction that better fit my skills and interests.
That pretty much brings me to my career with the City of Kelowna, which has spanned more than a decade. During my career in Communications, I took distance education through UVic to get my Public Relations Diploma, became a full-time permanent employee, was promoted several times to be one of the department’s senior Communicators, became a certified Communication Management Professional and served as a judge for the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) Gold Quill Awards.
Most recently, I was in the Digital Communications portfolio, managing the City’s digital channels and strategy, which is what lead me to take the UX course from BrainStation.
Was the UX Design course helpful when moving into your new role?
The UX course has served me well and was definitely an asset when I applied to my current position as an Innovation Consultant.
I believe that my commitment to continuous learning was one of the reasons that I got my current job. Working with the Intelligent Cities Manager, my job is to support smart city strategies and initiatives, help drive improvements to City service delivery, and foster a collaborative, data-driven and customer-centric culture.
What was your motivation behind taking the Online Live UX Design Course?
I decided to take the UX Design course because it looked like something that would help me in my job at the time as a Communications Consultant – managing websites and advising on digital channel development. It also seemed like a good way to spend some time exploring another potential career path, and I’ve always been interested in design.
What factors influenced your decision to take Online Live Learning rather than in-person?
Since I live in Kelowna and there is no BrainStation location here, and I work full-time, the online format was appealing and, honestly, necessary for me to be able to take the course.
I also received a BrainStation scholarship and financial support from the City of Kelowna, which – along with the leeway to leave work a bit early on classroom days – enabled me to take the UX course. I am so thankful to have been given the support and flexibility that I needed to continue my education.
What were some of the most valuable skills you gained during the UX course? Have these skills aided your professional development?
Learning about design thinking; being user-centric; and the iterative process of sketching, wireframing, and prototyping. In my previous role, the course helped me to better advise web content providers about best practices, as well as begin the development of a set of online experience standards to help guide the expansion of the City’s digital channels – all while staying focused on the user experience and providing good customer service.
As the Innovation Consultant, I have helped to bring service design thinking and processes to the City, and having some existing knowledge of design and user experience was pivotal in my ability to become a champion for this new (for Kelowna) way of doing things.
As an Innovation Consultant for the City of Kelowna, what does a typical day look like for you?
Every day is different, but they usually start with some time spent reading about innovation and smart city initiatives and trends around the world. I might also have a meeting with my supervisor – the Intelligent Cities Manager – to regroup on what we are working on and coordinate any follow up that might be required relating to current projects or touchpoints with partners. A bit of each day is devoted to sharing what I’m working on with coworkers and probing to see if there are opportunities for collaboration with other staff or partners in the community.
Project work usually ends up being part of my day as well – we’re investigating the feasibility of a number of other initiatives including bringing AI to the City in the form of a website chatbot to help improve customer service and reduce the demand on staff resources to deal with simple, routine questions. I’m also developing and implementing a strategic communications plan to keep stakeholders updated on the Intelligent City Strategy and initiatives, as well as opportunities to work with us.
Have you been able to incorporate the skills you learned in the UX Design course into your role?
Yes, I’m currently working on creating resources for staff to help them adopt service design thinking and become more user-centric when improving or creating new services. Plus I’m involved in two major online service improvement projects that use service design thinking, UX design principles, and agile development methodologies.
Can you describe the Online Live learning experience? What was the highlight?
The Online Live experience was different than other distance education courses that I’ve taken, because it actually felt like you were part of a class. This format was awesome because you’d start out learning about something through theory and then you would get a chance to practice with a real life example or application. I think this really solidifies things for a learner – it did for me anyway. The opportunities to break out into smaller groups during class was also great. Even though the classes were three hours long, they went by pretty fast because they were so engaging.
If you’re interested in gaining new digital skills, BrainStation offers courses both on campus and through Online Live.