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Throwing Flowers to Yourself

Nikole Arguedas outlines a community-based practice for building leaders, sharpening research practices, and injecting gratitude and empathy into our workflows.

Words by Stevie Watts, Visuals by Allison Corr

As we grow in our fields, there’s often a need to be “the first” or “the best.” We all want to succeed, but working alone not only packs on the pressure, it often doesn’t produce the best possible results.

UX Researcher Nikole Arguedas faced this dilemma early on in her career. But instead of doing everything herself, she decided to turn to a trusted friend for feedback and collaboration.

By being open and brainstorming ideas together, the two produced better deliverables than they ever would have alone. They both wished that others could have a shared trusted space like theirs.

In addition to her work as a UX Researcher, Nikole helped bring a branch of the global community “Ladies, Wine & Design” to Costa Rica and Panama as a space for women in design fields to discuss their career goals, challenges, and ultimately thrive in their fields.

She’s also co-founded communities including Service Design Costa Rica and Friends of Figma, San Jose, Costa Rica.

Nikole took the time to speak with us about what leadership means to her, how curiosity led her through her various career paths, and why building/joining a community is an essential part of growing both as a professional and as a person.

dscout: Can you talk about how you got into user experience/user design and how that path helped inform what you do today?

Nikole: Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always been a very curious person. I remember spending hours in my bedroom immersed in different interests. When I was a teenager, I never thought about design or UX as a career, I actually wanted to study chemical engineering.

Back then, I was fascinated with the interaction between liquids and chemicals. Now, I'm passionate about the interaction between people—so maybe there’s a commonality there.

I ended up switching majors to industrial design and I remember in my final project in school, I was exploring data about breast cancer risk factors. So here I was again, making connections. I connected data to have information, and I connected information to have knowledge.

It wasn't until I graduated that I met my first UX communities and I learned what “UX” meant. I met these communities in my country, Costa Rica, around 2015.

Two years later, I had the opportunity to co-found some new communities: Ladies, Wine & Design, San Jose, Costa Rica, Ladies Wine & Design Panama, in Panama City, Service Design Costa Rica, and Friends of Figma, San Jose, Costa Rica.

To say the least, being a part of these communities completely changed my life. They taught me, and still teach me, so many things in a personal and in a professional way.

Thanks to these groups, I now understand my ikigai, my purpose in life, which is connecting people and connecting things. I connect insights, data, business goals with user goals. I connect with the people I interview. I connect multidisciplinary teams during workshops or during collaboration sessions.

Everything I learn from these communities I am able to bring into my work as a UX researcher and in all areas of my life.

In what ways do you think communities can help foster communication with stakeholders/other non-UX colleagues?

So, in our communities, we have a space for every person to tell their story. Everyone has some time, and they share whatever they’d like, we call it throwing flowers to yourself.

No one knows your path, your journey, your motivations, your needs, better than you, so in our community we provide a space for people to share who they are.

When it comes to research, I do just that. For example, on Zoom, I record the interviews and then pull little pieces of the recording’s audio and I show them to my product owners and my stakeholders, and they are like, "Wow."

It's amazing. Actually, hearing the voice of their users and listening to their stories completely changes any preconceived notions they had about them. They hear firsthand their needs, their motivations, and their concerns.

Providing that space for our user to share their stories and then bringing stakeholders into those insights completely changed the way they receive results because they can’t miss what’s said directly to them.

Thanks to these groups, I now understand my ikigai, my purpose in life, which is connecting people and connecting things. I connect insights, data, business goals with user goals. I connect with the people I interview. I connect multidisciplinary teams during workshops or during collaboration sessions.

Nikole Arguedas
UX Researcher, Banco General

What inspired you to build these communities in Latin America?

About four years ago I was living in San José, Costa Rica and I was starting a new job as a UX designer. Back then, there were many nights after work where I went to my friend Keren's house to share and discuss my work. We would talk through specifics, and she would give me constructive feedback that helped improve my work.

Of course, your work is extremely personal. You don’t necessarily want to share things you’re working on with just anybody.

It was only because of our strong foundation of trust that I felt comfortable showing her my projects and her review really helped me elevate it. We wished that other people could have this same confidence showing their work to others.

We did some research on safe spaces where we could collaborate and ended up finding the global community, “Ladies, Wine & Design.” The organization encourages collaboration over competition among women and their vision is to see more diversity in the creative industry, especially with leadership growth.

We reached out to Jessica Walsh, the founder of the organization to see if we could establish our own branch and she approved. So Ladies, Wine & Design San Jose was born!

Can you talk about the impact your communities have had for women in STEM in San José and Panama City?

Ladies, Wine and Design focuses on designs of all kinds including digital, branding, photography, fashion, etc. But in addition to creating a community where we could all collaborate, we were actually presented an opportunity to bring our space to women in STEM.

I went to an engineering university, and statistically, STEM industries have always been dominated by men. That number is constantly growing, but we still have a lot of work to do.

I remember there was one day a professor from our university actually invited us to run an event there with women from different engineering backgrounds—it ended up being a really special event.

There were a handful of professors that joined that we had always perceived as extremely tough, strong women. During this event, they opened up to us and discussed vulnerable moments in this safe space.

The way they broke into tears telling stories about their past, it made us admire them even more than we already did. And to see all of these first- and second-year students listening to their stories and truly see all the opportunities they have, it was incredible.

It's so important to have safe spaces for women to talk about STEM or encourage them to consider careers in these fields. Because I think that's the best way to close the gap and close it from the very beginning.

How do you conceptualize a “leader”? Can you talk about how we can view ourselves as leaders even if we don't have it in our title?

First, I want to share Brené Brown’s definition of a leader:

"I define a leader as anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential. Daring leaders work to make sure people can be themselves and feel a sense of belonging."

So, if I read that quote, I'm absolutely sure that I'm a leader. I don't need to have a title to know for sure that I am a leader.

I'm a leader in my work. I'm a leader in my life. I'm a leader in the communities I'm part of this idea of “liquid leadership.” It’s this concept that every person can be a leader in terms of helping people connect with one another, listening to each other, and looking out for others' well-being.

Leadership is for everyone, regardless of title.

When we are authentic with what we are passionate about, and we share it, we will discover that there are many people out there with the same interests. Plus, if that passion can make the world a better place, what are you waiting for?

Nikole Arguedas
UX Researcher, Banco General

Can you take us back to when you started these communities and offer some tips or suggestions for someone who wants to join or start a community of their own?

There are two things that I always say, but I truly believe in them both.

The first one is simply seek out others with a common interest. Let's say you're passionate about coffee. To start forming a community around coffee, you have to talk about it. Tell your friends, tell your family, co-workers, even strangers on the street, and ask them if they know anybody else that would be interested.

If you talk openly about your passions with others, you’re more likely to find a connection. You’ll never find your group if you don't express your interests and passions.

My second piece of advice is do your research. There are a lot of amazing communities with incredible missions around the world that you can join. You can also bring a global community to your city like how we brought Ladies, Wine & Design to San Jose and Panama City.

So, if you’re reading this and afraid to start a group or community on your own, this is your sign to do it! It can be intimidating, but as you’re sharing your passions, you will absolutely find someone else with your interests. Plus, if that person is in another country—bonus. Because now you can visit one another and share new experiences.

One other piece of advice don't be afraid to be in a community that is similar to another community. You can always collaborate with them but remember you’re creating your own connections and carving your own path. It may be similar, but it isn’t the same.

When we are authentic with what we are passionate about, and we share it, we will discover that there are many people out there with the same interests. Plus, if that passion can make the world a better place, what are you waiting for?

Stevie Watts is the Copywriter at dscout. She enjoys telling compelling user research stories, growing social channels, and exploring all things video production. As a newer Chicagoan, you'll likely find her at a concert or walking her corgi, but undoubtedly heads down looking at Google Maps.

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