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UX + Into, Through, and (Almost) Out of Design with Kara DeFrias — DT101 E103

Kara DeFrias is the current Chief of Staff for the Intuit QuickBooks Platform, with a background rich in both private and public sector experience. Previous work includes serving as senior advisor to the leadership team of the technology and design consultancy 18F in the Obama Administration, founding TEDxIntuit, and being part of the Emmy Award-winning production staff on the Oscars. A do-gooder at heart, Kara has done pro bono digital strategy. Today on the show we talk about UX and moving into, through, and almost out of design.

Portrait of Kara DeFrias

Listen to Learn About

  • Advice for newcomers wanting to get into design
  • Seeing the world through design
  • The importance of choosing work that aligns with your values
  • The need for new voices in the design industry
  • Designing in-person UX

Our Guest

Kara DeFrias’ passion for designing engaging experiences has brought her to many exciting places, including the Super Bowl, the Oscars, and two White Houses.

Kara’s background is a unique mix of private and public sector experience, including 9 years with Intuit and an appointment to the first class of Presidential Innovation Fellows. In the latter she served as entrepreneur in residence, reimagining the relationship between the government and the people from a technology perspective. Kara was Director of UX for then-Vice President Biden at the Obama White House, where she led the Cancer Moonshot work around cancer clinical trials. She then served as Senior Advisor in the Office of Technology in the Biden-Harris White House. She’s currently Chief of Staff for the Intuit QuickBooks Platform team.

Previous work includes Senior Advisor to 18F’s Executive Director and senior leadership team, founder of TEDxIntuit, and part of the Emmy award-winning production staff on the Oscars. She also worked on the Women’s World Cup press operations team and the Super Bowl. A do-gooder at heart, Kara has done pro-bono digital strategy and communications for the likes of Team Rubicon and spent 10 days in rural India teaching micro-entrepreneur women human centered design, product management, and business skills.

Kara graduated summa cum laude from Penn State University with a masters degree in instructional systems design, and was a finalist for San Diego Woman of the Year. According to her 2nd grade report card, Kara “likes to talk. A lot.”

Show Highlights

[02:05] The three stages of Kara’s career.
[02:34] Her time in instructional design, including a graduate degree from Penn State.
[03:03] Moving to California and working in the entertainment industry.
[03:51] Starting work at Intuit and finding UX and design.
[05:11] Working with the NJM Insurance Group New Media team on usability and user research.
[06:39] Developing her UX skillset, and having a great mentor.
[09:03] Some of today’s challenges for new people wanting to get into design.
[12:44] Advice for newcomers wanting to get into design.
[13:20] Kara mentions a few good design conferences.
[14:34] The need for design veterans to mentor and support, and conferences to make their spaces accessible and welcoming to new voices.
[15:02] Volunteering is an important part of skillset and career development.
[17:11] Kara sums up her advice.
[19:56] The importance of ensuring that one’s design work endures, to be used and built upon by others.
[21:26] What do you do when you feel like you’ve done everything you can in design?
[22:30] Kara’s move out of design, and being Chief of Staff at Intuit.
[23:46] Learning design will change how you see the world.
[27:05] Kara talks about a life a-ha she had while leaving the Obama White House.
[27:57] Dawan and Kara talk about aligning your values with the work you choose to do.
[30:50] An early lesson Kara learned about treating one’s team well.
[33:18] Being OK with making mistakes publicly and taking steps to correct them.
[34:54] Asking for help.
[36:57] Kara and Dawan joke about a hypothetical Design Twitter Over Dinner podcast.
[38:36] Why new voices are a critical need in the design community.
[41:51] Book recommendations from Kara.
[42:45] Kara’s experience with TedX San Diego and founding TedX Intuit.
[45:18] Designing great in-person UX.
[47:09] Dawan closes by encouraging veteran designers to become mentors to emerging designers.


Kara on Twitter
Kara on LinkedIn
Kara on Medium
Kara on Women Talk Design
Kara’s website
How to get out of your own way as a designer and get down to business
Designing the Intersection of Government, Cancer, and the People
Cancer Moonshot
Chicago Camps conference
Button content design conference
Confab content strategy conference

Book Recommendations

Don’t Make Me Think, by Steve Krug
The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters, by Priya Parker

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Your Good-Life OS: Designing a System for Living Well and Peak Performance // ALD 004 — DT101 E67
Teaching Yourself Design Thinking + Innovating in Government with Amy J. Wilson — DT101 E19
Design Thinking + Learning Science with Adam Royalty — DT101 E18

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