Katja Forbes is the managing director and customer experience (CX) and user experience (UX) design leader of Designit, Australia and New Zealand. She is one of over 550 researchers, designers, technologists, and strategists employed by the global design firm headquartered in Copenhagen, Denmark. As such, Katja proudly leads her team in Australia and NZ as they work with ambitious brands to create high-impact products, services, and spaces that will be used to enrich the lives of others.
As an Australian pioneer of experience design, Katja works in every component of the field; research, emerging technology, service design, CX, and UX. Most recently, she has been investigating how qualitative-focussed designers can become more data informed as well as how to bring data science and experience design together. In doing so, Katja considers what the combination would mean for artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. “When we are trying to adapt to change so rapidly, we must ask what an advanced version of humanity looks like and how we should navigate the crazy, fast change we see,” she says.
In addition to her revered leadership in design, Katja also holds experience as an entrepreneur after founding her own company, Syfte, as a sole director in 2014. With a national bank and lending organization as her first client, she built the strategic design consultancy up over four years using the tools and techniques of design to solve business problems from a human centered point of view. “Designers will take a human approach and ask how they can make things better. Then, they use all the tools of design, including, strategic futures exploration, co-designing together with the people who will be impacted, all the way to basic usability testing,” Katja explains. After working with a number of well-known brands such as the Australian government, major airlines, large banks, and even Google, Syfte was acquired by an international firm in 2018.
Although she boasts a diverse background, according to Katja, it is resilience and tenacity that sets her apart from others. “I have always had a strong growth mindset and a willingness to learn, fail, and try anything,” she says. For instance, after earning a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism from Charles Sturt University, Katja’s first job was reviewing websites for a magazine called Internet.au before she moved on to work for an internet service provider. She also earned a master’s degree in multimedia design from The University of Sydney in 1999.
Katja then transitioned into working for agencies. She began working for one of Australia’s first digital agencies, Spike, designing for many big brand clients including building the first website for a major Australian surf brand, Rip Curl. Katja later traveled to the U.K., Tokyo, China, and India as a creative lead/project manager for a Sapient, now Publicis Sapient, before accepting a job at Yahoo in product development.
By 2006, Katja wanted to try something new, so she went to work with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), her first personal exposure to what the digital world is like for those who are vision impaired. This is where Katja developed her interest in inclusive design. The experience was career changing, and she decided to earn a second master’s degree in human centered systems from City University London and started designing for Thomson Reuters Foundation. Inclusive design remains a pillar of Katja’s practice today.
In addition to her role at Designit, Katja serves as the international director of the Global Board of the Interaction Design Association (IxDA) and is a co-founding member of IxDA Sydney. She is also a published contributing author, a regular national media commentator for her industry, and an inspiration to women across the globe. Consequently, Katja was listed among the 100 Women of Influence by Westpac and the Australian Financial Review in 2016 and was recognized as one of the Top 10 Australian Women Entrepreneurs of 2018 by My Entrepreneur Magazine.
CX & UX Design Leader
LinkedIn: Katja Forbes