Rebekah Broughton

Tech was part of my childhood

I met Rebekah through Ladies who UX. She has drive, a natural knack for bringing people together and impeccable dress sense. Hmm, I knew we'd get on great. Rebekah has a beautiful intellect and incredibly humble with it. She pushes for better and got an ability to open, What if...? questions in other people. She's challenged her creativity to go from digital design into the the new realm (and often misunderstood) world of service design. Big companies are complex and service design offers problem solving across the breadth of a company. Rebekah also has a passion for leadership. She's keen to see more creatives step up. I asked her how much she'd charge to be my design mentor. She laughed and said she wanted to be my friend. So that's what happened. I'm massively grateful to call her that.

It’s important to be challenged.

Rachael  1:17

Welcome to the Call On Courage Podcast. I'm super excited for this conversation. And I was thinking the other day, like how long have we known each other? Because it’s been a few years, hasn't it? 

Rebekah Broughton  1:24  

Yeah. You can't ask me to count though. Because I'm a sleep deprived mother. Everything seems like yesterday, as well. A couple of years ago now.

Rachael  1:31  

Yes. And how did we meet?

Rebekah Broughton  1:35  

I think it was a breakfast at Ladies that UX. I remember you were wearing something blue, red and white striped. And I liked the style, was it red lipstick? I can't remember. But I just thought this person's my style. And I think we've bonded really well over that. And then I think you left that breakfast meeting. And I didn't know if we'd ever meet again. Like we'd had a good chat. But we hadn’t said anything about catching up again. And then out of the blue one day, did you message me? How did you get my phone - I picked up the phone and said, ‘Do you remember me?’ and funnily enough, ‘I do remember you.’ 

Rachael  12:49  

One of the things for a lot of people listening to this, that actually don't know about what you do and even don't know about your discipline - you describe yourself as a service designer. This seems to be a bit of a flying unicorn of a role. It's quite emerging. So how would you explain it to people?

Rebekah Broughton  13:20  

Yeah, I mean, belt up, everyone.

Rachael  13:24  

We're ready.

Rebekah Broughton  13:26  

Um, a brief history of services, the service economy. So in the UK, we're predominantly a service industry. We're a service economy. And if you look around Europe, some of our top contributing sectors of the economy, things like government, health care, telecoms, finance, that sort of thing. All these are service industries. So they all have services involved in them. And over the last, not sure how many years, but let's say 20 years, organisations have gone from being more granular and small and micro, to this. The concept of economies of scale that we've seen through the way business develops - we've got massive organisations. So banks are massive, and the government is massive, and even the telecoms industries are massive. And what's happened now is, those companies have got services that they offer to people, but those services have come about accidentally, through things coming together. Different products, different ideas, different pieces of infrastructure, people who deliver those services, they've built that quite organically over time. Not consciously realising that they're designing a service. And so the services emerged, and they're also massive organisations and suddenly you have this problem where the experience for the customer or the citizen using those services is not great. But also the way that the service works is maybe not efficient for the organisation, not very effective, it's a bit chaotic and that kind of thing. So service design is really coming to the fore-front now because we have these massive organisations. With the emergence of tech as well, and what phones and things like that have enabled, now we can start to tackle what a service looks like across an organisation.

Rachael  15:17  

Make it make it more effective,

Rebekah Broughton  15:22  

Good for people to use - more effective for organisations. Basically, design can change the problem that we have. And what we need to do isn't the hard bit that we need to work out, but delivering it. Because it involves so many different people and infrastructures and parts of businesses. Yeah, that's kind of my whistlestop tour of, what is service design, what services are and how design can fix them. Does that help?

Rachael  15:52  

Well, it does…over the last couple of years, you were transitioning from UX into the specialism, more of pure service design. So because you've kind of gone full circle, it was just funny, some of the things that we bonded over where we said, ‘Isn't it frustrating when you're having a lengthy conversation around the colour blue?’ Yeah, that ultimately, there's no data or evidence that backs up? Why wouldn't I go and use that particular colour? It's more at the whim of some director in a studio saying, I don't like that. And, yeah, I'm just curious to know, what took you so far out of being a graphic designer into this sort of specialism?

Rebekah Broughton  17:31  

Yeah, good question. Because it's all kind of happened, because of some of the opportunities that I got the chance to work on. So I started in digital design, and very much at degree level I was very interested in motion graphics. And then when I graduated, it was a few years that passed, but I ended up in London, and I was doing a lot of stuff on exhibitions, motor shows, or even for art galleries and designing digital experiences in a physical space. And so it was transcending UX, into something more interesting, where there were other parts, there was the physical space to consider. There were people and different tech to consider, you know, there'll be special installations that we would have at certain exhibitions. And so that started to get me working in a UX space that was beyond just a screen. And then I studied. I was particularly interested in using evidence based design to rationalise why you would design something a certain way. I studied at General Assembly, and really just focused on user research. I think I remember my feedback was kind of like, ‘you could spend more time refining the screens.’ And I was like, ‘I am not doing this course to learn about screens.’ I know what I'm doing. It's about the evidence based design part of it. And so I just spent all my time doing user research. Moving to Manchester gave me the opportunity to do something different. I started working in a bank. And again, at that point, I was a UX designer. We were working in an agile product team, I could see that all the problems were not on the screen, the problems were the things that were going on. 

At the time, we gave it the label of strategy. But I think that was the first time, where we really looked at the service that went beyond the screens - the flow of the form that people had to fill in for the bank. It was looking at some different products that were attached to overdrafts, current account switching, all that kind of stuff, which were products in and of themselves. It's about orchestrating all of that together. And we also had to think about how certain things would be delivered and how there would be support, you know, customer support, which is a whole team of people. I think that was the first foray really, for me to get into service design.

Rachael  23:44  

Did you know what you wanted to do, even when you were younger?

Rebekah Broughton  23:52  

Yeah, I think I was really lucky. My dad was an engineer. And so sometimes when he needed to work from home, he would bring these massive screens that would have taken up an entire table. And he used CAD CAM to do engineering. He would engineer things like aeroplane wings. He worked on the Boeing 757. So I know about Boeing 757 because I know he designed parts of the wings. And then he went to McLaren once and came home with this amazing box of T shirts and hats. Obviously man size but a beautiful dress for me. McLaren Formula One. Jumpers and T shirts I would wear them and they came past my knees but I loved them. And it was the 90s. It was so in style, I got away with it.

So we had computers and then I think my dad had a car phone which is very different to what we know now. It would have been cutting edge back yet. It didn't have a big screen. Quite bulky. And he could only take calls on it. There's no text messaging at this stage. But yeah, because I was exposed to those things, I was really curious about them as well. And my dad taking me into work and kind of being like, right sit there and play Solitaire and Minesweeper. I was like, ‘This is so boring.’ 

I realised that the computer that I was on, I could go into the settings and completely customise all the chrome of the entire computer. So, you know, it was obviously Microsoft 1990, Windows 95, or whatever, yeah. And I realised I could make all the chrome like a rainbow and all this kind of stuff, changing the fonts. And so I had a great afternoon doing that. And then my dad was like, ‘oh, what have you done, I just left you wanting to play Solitaire and Minesweeper, and now my computer looks like a rave!’ 

I was really young kind of 11 or 12. You know, by the age of 13 I was building my own website, which you know, was before CSS was even a thing. Yeah. HTML and JavaScript were the two things that I was messing around with. JavaScript was very different, obviously, but it enabled me to do other things on the website. So I was trying to put in bits of JavaScript here and there. So yeah, that's where tech intercepted its way into my life. And then, because it happened in childhood, it's never been a question of, I've never consciously thought I will have a career in tech. It's just that as a child, I was doing adult things, changing websites, managing content that had real users on it, face to face, and all the challenges of having my own project delivering things. So I used to run my website for my swimming squad because I was a competitive swimmer growing up, but I used to report on the competitions. I used to consider whether it was safe to put photos online of children in swimming costumes, all this kind of stuff I was thinking about quite young teenager 13 or 14. And so yeah, it feels like it just tech found me rather than a really conscious decision of me choosing to go with it, but yeah, I'm glad that happened.

Rachael  32:37  

Hmm. So this is the bit that for me that’s interesting I recently discovered your Myers Briggs Personality Type. I don't know how helpful you found the INFJ stuff? I found Myers Briggs has been very liberating for me to understand what really grates and what energises me. Yeah, okay, I'm not just being mardy for no good reason! In the INFJ world, what would you say is the personality description or things that you relate to?

Rebekah Broughton  33:38  

My memory of mine… I think I was first introduced to it probably over 10 years ago now. In terms of focusing on INFJs, it came out as, ‘Oh, you're so different. You're so original.’ Yeah. I take that with a pinch of salt. I'm not different, original or particularly special. But it was very interesting to kind of learn Oh, yeah, I am introverted. And actually, I think some people might not think I'm introverted when they first meet me because introversion isn't shyness. 

Rachael  34:12  

There’s a misconception here,

Rebekah Broughton  34:15  

It’s the place where I find energy, having time alone and having space. I think there are bits of Myers Briggs and other things I've learned about myself. Actually even quite recently coming back from maternity leave, trying to learn who I am and how that affects the work that I do. And I think I've learned we've come quite a long way in terms of work culture, especially for women in fairly recent times. When I first started working after university, I was told a lot about my weaknesses. And that was because there was this very Alpha culture and this way of working. 

When I say alpha culture, I don't even mean, all men. Lots of men were victim to Alpha culture. There are lots of women who could be alpha. There is a certain broken Alpha culture that really wasn't very inclusive to a lot of different people. And it kept on telling me that I should be more like this and more like that. And I spent quite a few years trying to change who I was, or be a certain way. Even thinking about how I look and trying to look older. That's always the thing, like, you don't look older. I’ve had that since being a child. Like (looking older) almost qualifies me now on a new level of maturity and authority, which I think is really unhelpful. And so, for me, I've learned not to apologise for being introverted, and that's really important. 

I'm in leadership now, me being quiet is not me not knowing what's going on… It’s me knowing that other people have got the answers. And people have got this, and that it's their time to speak up. If something gets missed, I'll speak up. But otherwise, you probably won't hear from me. And I think that's just because we can be really noisy in offices. I'm sick of a million 1 hour meetings. Let's get them down to 45 minutes, even better half an hour. So yeah, I think if someone has already said something, so long as it has been heard, they don't need you to repeat it to support what they've said. I think introverted people can be strong. You're not always talking and being the loudest, but it doesn't mean that you don't know what's going on. I've learned not to apologise for that now and learn to harness that as my greatness.

being self taught opens up opportunity

Rachael  37:04  

Love it. Look, I mean, massively related to that because similar, introverted and get missed, misinterpreted as Achterberg, especially on kind of initial meetings. But yeah, I think it kind of dovetails neatly into this thing, you know, switch on about leadership, and you are in a leadership position now. I mean, did you feel there was a sense that you have to push through, I don't know if that was a time period, or certain environments, or what actually kind of was a transition into leadership for you? 

Rebekah Broughton  37:36  

Yeah, I think it's ongoing. I felt like I've done things that are leadership for a long time, at different levels. Exposure to what that looks like, is really important. I had this role a couple years ago, I was invited to be a reverse mentor to the CEO of Co-op, when, you know, Co-op digital formed. I don't know what the CEO benefited from that. But for me, the perspective on what his job was, and how important that was, and the career path that he'd been on… I had a stereotypical view of CEOs that they were not very nice people. And most people get to the top because they're pretty hard nosed, not very nice. And he kind of squished a lot of those things that I thought were qualities a CEO had to have. As a person from a background where - a lot of us are from this background - you've never even met a CEO before, let alone been able to have time to talk to them and understand who they are and what they do. For me, it was just the most incredible opportunity, like it will be valuable for me throughout my life. Time and time again, every time I'm in leadership, there are ways that I can understand what it takes to be in that role. There's so much learning that I get from that time. I think it is really valuable. 

Rachael  39:14  

I love that example. My thought was what does the transition into leadership look like for you? So it sounds like you got the opportunity to have reverse mentorship, was that a pivotal moment?

Rebekah Broughton  39:31  

I think I'd been doing leadership before that. My advice to people - the way that leadership happened for me - I’d go in places and work very hard. Be very open, be very kind, be very honest. When there were critical points where an organisation just really needed someone to do something here… I’d show my expertise and demonstrate my value. I took those opportunities all the time. And so over the years, I did more and more of that. But there was always a lag. I would start to get frustrated about. I'm in the next level. Now, why does no one treat me like I'm in the next level? Actually, it's myself that held me back there. 

Every time with leadership, it was about me recognising the level that I was operating at and asking for the platform that I needed. And most of the time, the answer was, yeah, of course. Here’s the platform - off you go. It's something that I'm still doing now, you know, every stage now is kind of a level of leadership that I don't see very many examples of. I don't have very much experience, it's really kind of venturing into a space that I don't understand. The learning, each step for me is massive. But that pattern of always being a bit behind understanding and asking for the platform is something I haven't overcome. Yep. The transition is always ongoing into leadership, because there are so many levels of leadership.

It's understanding what leadership is, and recognising that in yourself, and then asking for the platform to do it. And then more widely as an industry, people talk about being able to see examples of yourself higher up in leadership. And for me, as a parent and a woman, there are less examples of that. As a woman, when I didn't have children, there weren't many senior women. I really needed examples of that. And then as a mother and a woman as well, I think there are even less examples of people in leadership. But when I do meet those people, they are really valuable for me to be able to see them. And I'm sure some people would argue that's not important. But for me, it has been important. And I can imagine other people and the situation that they're in seeing someone like them in leadership is really important for helping people move up and become leaders.

Rachael  1:04:26  

Okay, amazing, thank you. Now, let's go with some quick fire questions to finish off. So immediate thoughts, why be brave?

Rebekah Broughton  1:04:44  

Because you only get one life.

Rachael  1:04:50  

What scares you?

Rebekah Broughton  1:04:54  

Lack of imagination.

Rachael  1:04:56  

What's sexy about courage? 

Rebekah Broughton  1:05:02  

Hmm. Being your authentic self is a very hard thing to do. 

Rachael  1:05:11  

What does courage demand?

Rebekah Broughton  1:05:15  

Reflection. Not always worrying about things in the past and worrying about what might happen in the future. Presence is really important for courage. And it's something that I'm only learning about in the last couple of years. But yeah, I know we see this in wider society, people talk about mindfulness. But what does that actually mean? I think operating from the here and now it's a very powerful place to operate from and under the lens of… it almost sounds a bit buzzword to say some of that stuff. I think that's the space.

Rachael  1:05:48  

Who’s someone courageous that you admire? 

Rebekah Broughton  1:05:54  

That's a great question. I'm just really off celebrities…

Rachael  1:06:06  

It doesn’t have to be anyone that people have heard of

Rebekah Broughton  1:06:08  

I really have given up on celebrities in the last few years and even more widely from TV, but even within our own industry, like design celebrities. Yeah, I feel disenfranchised with that. So the question is people that I admire…

Rachael  1:06:31  

someone courageous…

Rebekah Broughton  1:06:34  

Okay, let's give this one to my daughter. If I can enable her to be courageous and be the mind that she is.. the opportunity that I'm getting as a parent is to see this person grow. And this bold brain. I feel like I am seeing a very unadulterated version of courage, and it's a real gift. I love it.

Rachael  1:06:59  

Tell me a time you surprised yourself with courage?

Rebekah Broughton  1:07:11  

There's quite a lot of times really. I think a lot of them are less work examples and more real life examples. We lost my dad. It is nearly 10 years ago now to cancer. And before he had cancer, I had no empathy with what it’s actually like to have cancer. I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness, this person suffering from cancer, it must be so terrible.’ Going through it was a whole different thing and a whole different way to understand what it means as a family to go through someone having cancer. 

I think in that time, I just grew so much. I had so much courage. I just remember, I can really remember sitting next to him on the sofa. And I would think to myself, one day, we're not going to do this one day, I'm not going to be sat next to you. We're looking at your swollen feet that you have because of all the steroids you're on. I'm not going to hear you breathe in like this. You're not going to be sat watching the rugby on a Sunday afternoon. Yeah. And I really sat in those moments, those physical moments of having him here in this life. Yeah. So much courage was found at that black period in my life. It's two and a half years of, relentless knowing that this person isn't going to be here, but they're still here. How do you make the most of it? That was a huge learning time for me.

I want to be at the table working through the tough stuff
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