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Meet Angelique Rickhoff, transformative ten years

Headshot of Angelique with a design that reads "Kin+ Angelique Rickhoff"

Our name is intentional. “Kin” refers to family and “Carta” refers to maps. When together, we’re Kin + Carta — a group of connected makers, builders and creators, who come together everyday to help our clients build experiences and plot a clear path forward in today’s digital world. Carta is what we do, Kin is who we are.

Kin+ is a series that uncovers the experiences, stories and lives of the people who make our collective “Kin” exceptional.

Celebrating a work anniversary is a big deal as it’s a recognition of what an individual has accomplished in delivered work, driven impact and personal growth. At Kin + Carta, anniversaries are honored on a near-daily basis as one, two, five, ten and fifteen-year milestones are passed. No matter the number, an anniversary is always cause for celebration.

And it’s these moments and experiences that deserve appropriate recognition. That’s why we’re excited to introduce you to Angelique Rickhoff, Human Insights Strategy Director, who’s just celebrated ten years with Kin + Carta. From the firm’s first UX Researcher to now a leader in the Strategy Practice, Angelique has transformed our firm, our clients and our community of Kin.

Angelique in junior high sporting her “Boy George” look
Angelique in junior high sporting her 'Boy George' look

I grew up being the artist of the family and always knew I wanted to do something creative. As I finished high school and the internet became more tangible, I began to understand how art could translate to design. I am a first generation graduate in my family. Neither of my parents graduated from high school and college was seen as a great expense with little payoff. Luckily, I saw high education modeled by my sister as she started her journey in computer science and I wanted to follow in her footsteps. I attended Prairie State for Digital Design (AAS), Columbia College Chicago for Interactive Multimedia (BA), and then DePaul University for Human Computer Interaction (MA)

Upon graduating from Columbia, I landed an internship at the planetarium in Chicago where I learned about interactive design and how to build compelling experiences. I learned how to educate people around abstract concepts with design, which I found myself really loving. I ended up working there for over seven years, growing into a position where I was leading the digital group. In this role I was responsible for the planetarium’s website, digital exhibit design, podcasting and social media. It was during this that we became the first museum on Twitter. Also, it’s where I met my husband. So, the planetarium is a special place for me.

Angelique standing right next to Jim Lovell and Buzz Aldrin of Apollo Mission
Angelique standing right next to Jim Lovell and Buzz Aldrin of Apollo Mission

Because I loved working in the digital space so much, I started my master’s degree in Human Computer Interaction. My intention was to dive more into the psychology of design and learn how to leverage user research, an interest sparked by my time working at the planetarium. This space, to me, became my muse while earning my degree. It was such a benefit to have this outlet as I had users to engage with every day, ranging in age from newborn babies to grandparents. This real-world experience paired with my education challenged me to think about how to engage users of all ages to learn about a new concept. This piqued my interest in what a specialization in research could do for me and my career. And, it intrigued me to consider how much more I could be learning.

I joined Kin + Carta right at the point in my life, when I was wrapping up my degree. Mobile was just emerging and I wanted to focus more in this area. It was an extremely ambiguous role that I’d be stepping into, as there was no job description. I remember fondly that during the interview process, rather than focusing on specific research skill sets, I was asked questions such as: What are you passionate about? What drives you? What do you think you can do for us? It was this, paired with the past ten years of working at the firm, that showed me that when you put a group of passionate people in a room they can accomplish anything. Passion is 75% of every initiative.

Angelique speaking on behalf of Solstice the Giant UX Conference in Charleston
Angelique speaking at the Giant UX Conference in Charleston

Looking back at this period of my life, and of the firm, it’s bewildering that I was actually the first UX person to come in the door. Now, we have such a robust UX function, but this has been built over the past ten years. If you think back to 2012, it's just when mobile for enterprise was getting started, and at the time we didn't have a strong understanding of what went into designing a great mobile experience. Luckily, I had two fabulous designers, Mark Ritchie and Jessica Hiltrop, who started before me. We began asking questions like: Why are we inheriting design work from other companies and reworking it to make it work with mobile? Why don't we have a design function? Why don't we have a research function?

Angelique with Jess Hiltrop and Mark Ritchie - The OG UX Crew (also celebrating 10 years)
Angelique with Jess Hiltrop and Mark Ritchie, The OG UX Crew members who are also celebrating 10 years

So, Mark, Jessica and I paired these questions with recommendations for how to build a practice, setting the course for what is now a strong UX presence in the firm. We have gone from three to over 50 UX practitioners now. And once that holistic practice was running and proving a lot of value, we made a case for standing up a more focused discipline and established UX Research across the firm. It was about five years ago when I stepped into the role of Director of Kin + Carta’s UX Research practice.

We hired and grew individuals with many different experiences, which helped us build a truly cross-discipline practice and a unique community that is still strong today. Bringing that level of talent in the door and having the opportunity to learn from these folks will forever be some of my most rewarding experiences. And now that I've moved over to the strategy practice, I'm incredibly proud that one of my first hires, Cate Kompare, has stepped into the role of leading the Research practice.

Now, as a part of strategy, I get to create the space to see the big picture and connect the dots beyond purely product development. As a practice, we’re learning what it takes to help our clients make some of the bigger bets while also being more confident in doing so. It’s important that they see and feel the impact of this area, as it’s a catalyst of our expanded success. I think user research is a big part of this work, and I love that. I don't feel like I've left research behind, rather, I'm building on top of it. And to me, that's a great opportunity to be back in learner mode and be comfortable with not knowing everything.

Some of our many founding members of the UX Research Practice
Some of our many founding members of the UX Research Practice

After ten years here, there are so many memorable experiences. One of them was a trip to Kenya. At the time, we were a mobile-focused development and design company, and Nairobi was at the bleeding edge of mobile payments. This was the case because their Wi-Fi infrastructure wasn’t reliable, which required the city to be mobile-first. We went there to learn from tech companies and establish a scholarship program to help them meet their objectives. On top of that, I also went on a safari with a few of my co-workers, which remains one of the best experiences of my life.

Angelique on safari in Kenya with Peggy Dowell and Mark Wallace
Angelique on safari in Kenya with Mark Wallace and Peggy Dowell

I've also met so many friends here. My co-worker, Priya Thakur, invited me to her wedding in India, which was absolutely amazing. To get some exposure to a new culture, have a great time and get to know her family was incredible.

Celebrating Priya Thakur’s wedding in Indore, India
Angelique celebrating Priya Thakur’s wedding in Indore, India

The act of servant leadership has also stuck with me throughout my time with Kin + Carta. I take it to heart. When leading UX Research, I welcomed opportunities to be challenged. I was genuinely interested in seeing people as individuals and discovering what they could uniquely bring to the practice, rather than creating a practice about how I, Angelique, would do research. This all helped me to become a leader I am proud to be. Servant leadership is a mutually beneficial relationship, and there's give and take. Both sides are important to me — how people feel at work and also the impact that they're making on the firm.

Angelique at the UserTesting Human Insights Conference this month.
Angelique at the User Testing Human Insights Conference earlier this month

The team here has always been so driven, since day one. And I think being around such smart people has made me grow immensely. There have been, and will continue to be, times when I feel uncomfortable because I think I'm not the smartest person in the room. But after having experienced this for so many years it’s incredible to look back and think: Wow! Look at how much I’ve grown. It just shows how much we can achieve when we surround ourselves with the right people.

Angelique with J Schwan
Angelique with J Schwan, one of her many mentors

I'm grateful to so many people who have been a part of my Kin + Carta experience. People like J Schwan. It’s him who gave me the opportunity to join the team. J opened a door for me to bring my skill set to a small but quickly-growing tech company with no real job description or title. And like Kelly Manthey, our now Global CEO was my first mentor and helped instill in me the confidence as a woman in Tech. I wasn't sure what I was getting into. I was new to consulting, but everyone still believed in me. Over the years they’ve talked me down some cliffs and encouraged me to keep going.

It has truly been a wonderful ten years. I appreciate all the challenges, the safety to grow and the ability to continue to be my ‘strange and unusual’ self. I'll forever be thankful for all the love and support from Kin + Carta.

Surround yourself with Kin, like Angelique, who are always striving to see the potential.

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