Putting people and their experiences first with Amelia Diggle

Photo: Amelia Diggle

HI Jewellery (or Human Interface Jewellery) is a gem of a company in New Zealand tech landscape. It combines user experience design and 3D printing to produce wonderful jewellery as a way of self-expression for people in tech space. Behind HIJ is Amelia Diggle. I first met her at a Women in Tech community event a couple of years ago where she did a giveaway of one of her creations. She is incredibly enthusiastic and passionate and has made a massive progress with HIJ since it was founded in 2017. You can read about the story of HIJ here or here. What we wanted to do on Kia Ora is to share Amelia’s own inspirational story.

Amelia, you are a true subject matter expert when it comes to user experience, customer experience and user interface. Could you please start off by telling us what do these things entail? And what inspired you to get into it? 

#alltheacronymns #buzzwordbingo

I think the best way to explain CX, UX, and UI - is with a good old analogy of a house. The CX (customer experience) is the overall perception of the house, the sum of all things ‘house’: the people in it, even the weather, the furniture, curtains, garden, driveway, smell, feel, etc. It’s the entire experience of that house. And that CX is made up of lots of UX’s (user experience) - each touchpoint or object within the house has a user experience. For example, different chairs have different user experiences and different washing machines have different user experiences. The UX is specific to an object or a product and relates to the ‘usability’ of the thing - is it easy to use, easy to learn, easy to understand. The UI (user interface) is a space where humans can interact with machines. For example, your washing machine has a user interface that enables you to operate the machine and simultaneously be provided with feedback as to what the machine is doing - it’s an interface - a connection between two things that don’t normally easily connect. 

I’m inspired by interfaces - they’re like magic. We tend to not notice when they work but they infuriate us when they don’t! It’s quite a privilege to be a human machine translator, especially with the incredible things technology and machines can do these days. I’m also inspired by making technology accessible; able to be enjoyed and utilised by everyone.

HIJ ring that is modelled on On-Off switch Icon

What are some of the recurring themes / issues you see in the field that we could do better in? What do you think needs to change for companies to adopt a true user driven approach?

Continuing on with our house analogy - unfortunately folks get very excited when they have a hammer, and especially when they have a hammer and nails. But just because we have these two things doesn’t mean we have a meaningful reason to use them. A lot of tech companies are very tech driven - they’ve got the latest, coolest, innovative gadget or algorithm or AI or VR or network or whoosywhatsit. But so what if it doesn’t solve a real problem? Right? Why build something if you don’t know why people want / need it? If businesses were more obsessed with solving people's problems and needs - then the tech becomes secondary and your customers become a priority. This is very easy said… 

To shift an entire organisation, or even start an organisation that is customer focused - it has to be led by the culture of the people working in that organisation. You have to be always in an “outside in” mentality. Ensuring every decision is driven by customer needs or feedback. Having NPS (net promoter score) or KPIs (key performance indicators) as business goals is a great start, but I think organisations actually have to restructure their teams, governance and delivery processes all around customer needs. Everything in your business should map to your customer experience, otherwise - why are you doing it? 

When you started HIJ, what was your initial vision? How has it changed since then?  

When I started HIJ, I intentionally wanted to celebrate women and other marginalised genders in tech, providing a way for them to express themselves in a male-dominated industry. I wanted to give them a symbol, like a badge of honour that said they belong in this industry, and there’s something made for them because they work in tech. Also, HIJ is an interface (this is the meaning behind the name ‘Human Interface’) to bridge the gap between humans and technology - specifically 3D printing. 

Since starting, my vision hasn’t changed but my understanding of business growth has. I thought that I would grow a lot faster than I have. And I think sometimes we see these overnight success stories that have actually taken 5 or more years - so sticking true to my vision has become even more important as I know I’m in it for the long haul. 

Every business decision is centred around my customers - tech lovers, and especially women in tech. I listen to what inspires them, and how can I encourage them, and what messages should I support and share. At the moment I’m staying focused on New Zealand, and my goal is to get into a few physical stores so New Zealanders can touch and try the latest tech via my jewellery. 

HIJ creation - a “Settings” cog design

I feel like a lot of entrepreneurs struggle to take that first step to start their own business because they tend to feel like they need to go all in from the start. It looks like you decided to start the company on the side while working a full time job. How has that process been so far?

I started Human Interface Jewellery when I had my dream job (which I worked my butt off to get) - but the company was going under. I needed something to be passionate about, and I needed a new purpose. I had an incredibly meaningful job designing software and customer experiences for a company that made software that helped solve serious crimes. It was challenging, incredibly fascinating, and I was using my creativity for good. But the IT industry is competitive and tough and these things happen. I think that experience made me a little bit risk averse. So working full time while slowly growing HIJ has slightly taken the risk out of the equation, and empowers me to really keep me focused on the vision. 

What have you learned on your journey that you didn’t expect when you started?

Selling. 

Asking people to pay for something isn’t easy for me.

Asking people to give you money for something you have made is very vulnerable. 

Whenever I think of selling, I think of the pushy car salesman with a pinstripe suit and slicked back hair, the kind of guy that could sell ice to an Eskimo. 

I really struggled coming to grips with selling. I still struggle with it - it might be the Kiwi in me. And I definitely find it’s far easier to design and sell other people’s things. So I’ve had to reframe my understanding of selling into “providing people with an opportunity”. I’ve learned that by selling I am fulfilling a need, and creating something that people attach value too.

Jewellery tends to mean something very special to people, and is often attached to a special moment or enables someone to celebrate who they are, their style, purpose, beliefs, etc. Especially precious metals (silver and gold) as they are quite an investment - not something we buy every week! Jewellery is often among the most prized possessions we own. It is such an honour to create precious things for people.    

An assortment of Human Interface Jewellery designs - Settings, Image, Cursor, Map Location, Download icons

Designing jewellery requires a lot of creative input, do you have any particular sources of inspiration that you draw from? 

Designing and testing interfaces is huge inspiration - especially seeing the subtle differences between a bad or great one. I also love the original computer styles, icon designs, interface colours and patterns from our first few computers (think 1980s). I’ve definitely got a thing for the bright blue computer screens - you can see it throughout HIJ. I love sci-fi and a lot of our modern interfaces are inspired by sci-fi movies. I’ve got a giant list of design ideas inspired by modern and old interfaces, code, algorithms, data, physical devices, etc. Cannot wait to create some of these.

Also I studied industrial design at university and love minimal well designed everyday objects. It’s very important to me that all the pieces don’t catch on your clothing and fit everyone. For example, I spent months finding just the right adjustable chains so that my necklaces would work for all! 

Loading Icon piece from HIJ held by a blue colour hand

Tell us about some of the hurdles and challenges you experienced running your own company while working full time? Have you had any particular moments that made you persevere? 

Keeping up with social media has been a challenge. I only want to post meaningful content - which takes time, thought and energy. And after a tough day at my day job I’m often lacking that kind of energy. At Ambit (conversational artificial intelligence startup) I was working four days a week which was incredible during the first year of HIJ. It enabled me to get my processes set up. 

The best moments are when customers send a photo of themselves wearing my jewellery or I hear about how about how much they love their HIJ piece and the unique meaning it has for them. Everyone has a different meaning for the computer icons or interface elements that have been brought out of the computer screen to kinetic 3D-printed precious metal jewellery.

Do you have any advice for someone who might want to follow in your footsteps? What advice would you give to someone who is looking for their passion?

Surround yourself with people who care and support you. People who will actually be honest with you versus telling you what you want to hear. Those ones are the most helpful. 

Also get help with the things that you’re not good at. Be honest with yourself on your strengths and weaknesses - we’ve all got them. #vulnerabilityiskey

Amelia Diggle talking about HIJ on TV - breakfast show

Are you learning / pondering about anything right now that you would like to share with us?

Organisation culture models. I’m super fascinated by the different value models within organisations - environments are so important to our culture and mental health.  

And finally, whose story would you want to read about?

There’s so many incredible women in tech paving the way and shaking up the boys club! From startups to executives and behind the screens superwomen creating safe spaces for girls at STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering. Arts and Maths).

  • Startup founder you already interviewed - Kendal Flutey, Co-founder and CEO of Banqer

  • Exec I’d love to hear about - new CEO at Spark - Jolie Hodson

  • Behind the scenes superwoman - Ruth James, Tech outreach and Engage Coordinator at Xero - and OMG tech, Code club and SheSharp volunteer. 

Elina Ashimbayeva