Ladies That UX: Meet Lara Cavezza and Olga V. Perfilieva, Co-Organizers of Ladies that UX Boston

Illustration: Justin Cheong.
Ladies That UX: Meet Lara Cavezza and Olga V. Perfilieva, Co-Organizers of Ladies that UX Boston
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When Olga V. Perfilieva moved from Richmond, Virginia, to Boston, Massachusetts, one of the first things she did was contact her local Ladies that UX chapter. Ladies that UX is volunteer-run organization for women working in the field of user experience design. The community has fostered chapters in 55 cities around the world, including throughout North America, South America, South Asia, Africa, Europe, and Australia. Olga had been a member previously in Richmond, and said joining the much-larger Boston chapter was a no-brainer.

“Because I was new and I didn’t have any friends or colleagues here, I thought, ‘I’m going to go and network, meet new people, get some support, and perhaps be introduced to some awesome ladies that UX,’” Olga said. “I imagined that there are a lot of great opportunities here and a lot to learn from women in a new city.”

The day after arriving in Boston, she reached out to organizer Lara Cavezza, who has been running the Ladies that UX Boston chapter since 2015. Soon after, Olga became a co-organizer.

Lara Cavezza and Olga V. Perfilieva sit together at the EzCater offices.
Olga V. Perfilieva (left) and Lara Cavezza, co-organizers of Ladies that UX Boston.

The two of them now work as product designers at EzCater, an application that connects businesses with nearby catering options, while running Ladies that UX Boston on the side. They are currently gearing up for the Talk UX conference, an annual design and technology conference led by women and featuring women as all the speakers, including a keynote by Laura Granka, director of UX, Google. The event is an official Ladies that UX conference that travels, coming to Boston for the first time Oct. 18-19.

“There’s some data out there that says that at tech conferences, usually only about 25 percent of the speakers are women,” Lara said. “There are some really great organizations out there like Women Talk Design and Innovation Women that are trying to close this gap. For Ladies that UX, this conference gives us a platform to do our part. We really want women to feel empowered to speak at conferences, and that’s why we put together this all women lineup.” The conference is hardly exclusive to women, however, as everyone is welcome to attend.

Attendees at the Ladies that UX Boston Chapter network in the cafeteria.
Attendees at the Ladies that UX Boston Chapter network in the cafeteria.

Getting to know Ladies that UX

If you’ve been reading our blog for a while, you might be familiar with our Women in UX series. This story marks a transition from Women in UX to Ladies that UX. Each month, we’ll feature a designer involved with this initiative.

Manchester-based UX designers Lizzie Dyson and Georgie Bottomley founded Ladies that UX in 2013 out of a desire to build a community of women working in the industry. “In a sector with a high proportion of men in it, Ladies that UX is all about giving women the chance to meet up to support each other, push the UX boundaries, and promote female skill and talent,” they wrote on the official website.

Each city operates differently, but generally includes a mix of meetups, speakers and talks, mixers, and more. The Boston chapter is particularly large, with 1,000 members and growing.

Why finding your UX community matters

One of the reasons communities like Ladies that UX are so important is because they bring people together from all different backgrounds. Both Olga and Lara took unconventional paths to UX, though perhaps unconventional paths are the conventional route after all.

Olga comes from a background in interior design, but originally she studied economics in her homeland, the Ukraine.

“There was not a lot of opportunity back then in Ukraine to go into creative fields, so I was kind of limited, and economics was a sure thing to guarantee me a job,” she said. “As soon as I moved to America, I knew that I could do anything. I was really passionate for interiors and creating spaces for people, and I thought that that’s something that’s going to be perfect for me.”

She worked in interior design for 12 years, her last role at the U.S. Court of Appeals, before heading to New York to attend school at the Startup Institute. Afterward, she started working in UX, learning as she went along, before pursuing a mini MBA at the University of Richmond, and eventually making her way to Boston. Despite being two very different career paths, they contain many parallels.

“The most important thing to remember is that we are designing for human beings,” Olga said. “Remembering that human scale, and the feelings people are going through, the emotions and the motivations of people, it’s something that is important for designing physical spaces, as well as digital spaces.”

Lara Cavezza and Olga V. Perfilieva talk strategy in front of a whiteboard.
Lara Cavezza and Olga V. Perfilieva talk strategy in front of a whiteboard.

Lara, on the other hand, comes from a background in human services and working with children. Prior to moving into UX, she specialized in speech language pathology and worked as a pediatric speech language therapist. She was working with a few nonverbal children who used technology to communicate, and it was there she first encountered UX design.

“The information architecture of these devices is terrible. The navigation is slow, they’re difficult to use, and overall the UX is just so unpleasant,” Lara said. “At the time, I didn’t know any of these things actually have names. I didn’t know it was the job of a UX designer to actually make these things better. Basically every day I was designing solutions for people with the biggest pain point you could imagine, which is the inability to communicate effectively with those around them.”

She began to ask certain questions. How can technology make this child’s life easier? Why is the screen laid out in this way? What is missing here that could improve this experience? She began researching, and eventually found herself changing gears toward UX design.

“I really believe that people who come from human services — therapists, counselors, teachers, social workers — really make some of the best UX designers,” she said.

“These people that are working in human services, they’re conducting the ultimate user research every day in their jobs. They have to understand a person’s pain points more than anybody else. They have to ask the right questions. They have to observe their patients at home, at work, and school, to talk to their parents or their siblings. They have to dive really deep into these people’s lives to understand what the root of the problem is. Then really what they have to do is design a solution that makes the person’s life easier.”

Panelist discussion at the Ladies that UX Boston Meetup.
Panelist discussion at the Ladies that UX Boston Meetup.

Ladies that UX isn’t a women-only game

While Ladies that UX is centered on establishing community for women, men are also welcome to attend the Talk UX conference. As the date approaches, Lara and Olga have been receiving emails from male colleagues expressing their interest and support.

“They’ve been telling us that they want to improve their understanding and gain additional perspective of women in tech,” Lara said. “They’ve been saying they’re moving into leadership roles and want to challenge their personal assumptions and continue to gain further insights.”

The support is welcome and encouraged, but at the end of the day this really is about celebrating women and the efforts they’re making in the field of UX. It’s about finding community, appreciating and supporting one another, and getting women’s voices heard.

“One thing we’ve learned from working at Ladies that UX and in organizing this conference is the importance of celebrating the women around you,” Lara said. “What we try and do every day in our work is that if a woman near us does something amazing, we shout it out. We are really intentional about it — and because we’re intentional about it, other people follow our lead. It’s just this really amazing snowball effect of women celebrating each other.”

The Talk UX conference takes place Oct. 18-19 at the Joseph B. Martin Conference Center at Harvard Medical School. For more information, visit the Talk UX website.

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