A behind-the-scenes look at the people who make us great.
Welcome to the March edition of the Cogent Crew series, where every month we’re inviting you to get to know a little more about the people at Cogent.
This month Myles spoke to Kath about the evolution of her role from fine art student, to designer and researcher. We find out more about her solo trip to Egypt, and just exactly how much Pinot is required to get through a cooking class!
Name: Kath Barnette (née Ross)
Job: Lead Designer
Time at Cogent: 4 years
First question, how long have you been at Cogent?
About four years now, but interestingly, I spent two years trying to be part of Cogent before actually joining the team.
I knew Matt Shanks and he was always talking about how awesome Cogent was. The longer he was here the more I got to see, almost first-hand, that he was right which made me want to join too! Back then, Cogent was a small company and having one senior designer was enough. I approached them twice unsuccessfully, and so focused on other projects – one of which was about to take me to the US for three months. Of course, this was the time that Cogent got in touch with me about a role. I interviewed for a role and told them that I couldn’t start for another three months and Cogent said ‘you’re on’.
Kath with her gorgeous family
Wow, we’ll we’re glad you’re finally here! So what does your average day at Cogent look like?
Like most consultants would say, it depends. Today is a good example, I worked onsite with one client this morning; story mapping new features that we’re building and conducting research with users for feedback. This afternoon I came back to the Cogent Treehouse to work on an internal project, and later in the afternoon I worked on some design assets for another client before heading home.
Design is a very generic term and can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people. Where do you sit on that?
I see ‘Design’ as a spectrum from strategy and problem solving, to front end visual design and graphic art. I’m more on the strategy, interaction and research side of things nowadays but that is not where I started.
Tell us how you started, how did you get into this?
I realised the other day how old I must be if I have 22 years of experience as a designer! I started designing when I was 21 so I’ve spent more time designing than not designing. I went to TAFE after high school and studied painting and illustration because I wanted it to be a book illustrator. Straight out of TAFE, I got a job as a junior web designer by accident. I interviewed to do one thing and they said, “Hey, we’ve got an internet company starting up, you should interview with them.” I had zero experience with web design so couldn’t understand why I’d ever interview with an internet startup. But this was back in 1997, when no one had any web design experience, so I decided to go for it and I ended up getting the job. I had no formal qualifications in web or interaction design, which is pretty much unheard of nowadays if you’re starting out, and I learned everything on the job.
However, my ‘sliding doors’ moment was that I was meant to do a three-year degree in fine art painting, I got accepted into Monash University which was very prestigious. I went to O week and I looked at what we were going to be doing and pulled out immediately. I realised that everyone I knew who had studied fine art had gone onto managing a museum or curating other people’s art. Making money from your art was so hard to do.
Kath enjoying some time with her daughter and husband
What kind of projects are you working on at the moment?
I’m working with one of our longer-term clients called Oculo, which is a medical correspondence platform. I’m there two days a week helping them create new products that are being rolled out internationally. Our focus is on understanding our markets and using those insights to understand how to expand into the US market.
How do you do that from Australia?
With a lot of online tools, plus a great team at Cogent to who know a lot about this type of research. I can still show features to research participants via online meetings, they can still give feedback and that’s 90% of what we would do face-to-face anyway.
Traditionally we don’t think of designers as researchers, but the design team here at Cogent often do UX research. Can you explain how the two are related?
It’s an evolution of the role. When I started in design it was about creating designs that satisfied a client’s need, without much knowledge of whether it hit the mark with their actual users. Over the years I realised that I could ask users if what I had created worked for them. I started to understand that to build something for a person, I needed to talk to them about it rather than just assuming. So I went very quickly from just creating what I thought was the prettiest, best-looking thing, to creating something fit for purpose based on what the person needed and wanted.
So out, of all the projects that you’ve worked on, which one has been your favourite so far?
The most challenging fun I’ve had is my role as a designer for Chargefox. It ticks a lot of boxes for me; it’s a meaningful place to work as their mission is to get Australia to zero vehicle emissions, and I’m learning a lot because I’m looking after research design, visual design and print design. I’ve worked across all stages of the user journey, from the physical EV charging station design to the app screen designs, to the back end of their business dashboard. It’s such a new industry with huge unknowns and we’re starting to create some of the standards now that will be in place for the next 5 -10 years. It’s really exciting. Oh, and the team is awesome fun to work with too!
What’s your favourite thing about working at Cogent?
The values, and the way that Cogent lives them. At Cogent, we have values like transparency, inclusion and meaning which I find so much more meaningful than the values I’ve seen at any other employer. Our values aren’t just signs on the walls, they are truly embedded into who we are as a company and how we make decisions.
Kath participating in a break out session during Cogent Day
Let’s go in the opposite direction. If you could do anything else professionally, what would you do?
I love art, I love having stationary and organising things, so I’d love to have an art studio with an art store at the front. I’d sell all the supplies at the front and have community-based art programs in the back. The other thing I’d do is be a dancer (Latin and Ballroom). My mum’s a dance teacher so I grew up dancing and I always loved it, but I didn’t get into it properly until I was about 25, but by then you’re way too old. You’re meant to get into this stuff when you’re six! I did enjoy showing off some moves at the Christmas Party with Brett last year though! He’s a dance teacher and I learnt some moves from him during a ‘skills and drills’ breakfast at work.
Kath showing off her moves!
Where is the best place you’ve ever been?
I went to Egypt on my own in 2012. Everyone thought I was a bit nuts doing it because of the political environment at the time, but I was part of a tour for most of it and didn’t stray far from my guide. I even managed to get inside one of the big pyramids at Giza all by myself which was cool, and a little creepy! I’m also such a huge sci-fi geek, so I’d always wanted to see the beautiful culture that Stargate was based on.
Kath during her trip to Egypt
That’s very cool. If you had a private chef for the night, what would you get them to make you?
I’ve already lived this – I have a best friend (who is an amazing cook!) and for one of my birthdays she cooked my ultimate menu for me and 7 family and friends. We started with scallops on cauliflower puree with prosciutto crumbs. For the main course, we had five-spice duck with fresh greens and duck-fat potatoes, and for dessert, we had a ridiculous chocolate caramel cake that had 10 layers to it that was so hard to make she swore she’d never do again. We drank lots and lots of Pinot and everyone went home in a sugar coma – it was delicious.
Are you a big cook yourself?
I love cooking and I love going to cooking classes. My husband Paul and I have done a few. One of my favourite memories was going to duck cooking class where you’ve got a whole duck each and we made five different meals from a whole duck that you broke down yourself. Again, we drank endless Pinot which made it even better.
What’s the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you?
You’re not an expert at everything, and you don’t have to be! I’ve always believed in talking to professionals about their area of expertise. I believe in having a personal trainer if you want to do better physically. I believe in seeing a counsellor or a psychologist if you need help mentally. And if somebody needs to find out how to build a better product based on what their users need and want, then you ask me, because that’s where I’ve concentrated all my efforts.
Like the idea of joining the Cogent team? Head over to the Cogent Careers page and say hello!