Helen Kokk “Be sure to find a balance between health and work”

Helen is a partner and head of service design/user experience in Nortal. She has created user experience for both public and private sector products and has 13 years of experience in graphic design. Besides that, she has been a part of many different startups and given her input to their appearance and functioning. She is working globally currently with companies in US, Germany, Finland, Estonia and Emirates.

You have a lot of experience with Garage 48 projects – do you have any extra special memories?

I found Garage48 for myself when they had their second official event. The first was in Tartu and the second in Helsinki. From all of the Garage48 events, the vibe in Helsinki has been the best. Usually, there’s everyone working in their own team, building their startup. Finally, some teams came together and started working on some robots that we used to send each other drinks and food across the venue. One time I was just working on a video and out of nowhere a robot came and brought me a gin&tonic. That’s one of the first fun things that I remember from Garage48.

Another fun memory is the opportunity to work in Uganda for 3 months, represent the startup world and see the ecosystem there. That was a different kind of experience for me.


What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?

I think I had my first UX eureka moment with Garage48. Before this, I was a designer, so I made things I thought was aesthetically pleasing. I had a story with a startup I was helping out. They had users that didn’t pay but were still users.

I made a beautiful modern design and then all the unpaying users left as well. They said they’d put the old design back because it converted better. But then 3 months later this new website started converting and people actually started paying for the service. That’s what clicked it for me.


What brought you to UX?

I believe it’s the collaboration from different things. First of all, I never give up. If something’s tough I take it as a challenge, meaning there’s always a way to do something, it’s just the matter of how. And I really like talking to people and listen to their stories. I think that it’s the constant way of clarifying things for yourself that has built the UX to what it is today. Also what others say that I didn’t believe first myself, is the passion for UX, which has brought the projects towards me. The projects that come to me are motivated by some kind of passion.


You’ve got a lifelong experience with graphic design – what’s the biggest mistake people tend to make with UX?

Being scared to talk to other people. The communication problem is the biggest because you tend to ignore people, especially in Europe. Or you tend to talk to people that assure you that you’re doing everything right. That’s the biggest opportunity that people leave unused.

What are the most important things to notice?

If you want to make a user experience you have to focus on the word “user”. Being sincerely interested in other people and their stories. It gives you opportunities to see new ideas or innovation.

If you think about how each person thinks of a 1000 ideas in a minute – how many ideas are there in a room full of people if you’d just have the courage to talk to them.

That’s what you should focus on. Recognize the people around you and give them the chance to share their ideas.

Has something gone really bad?

There’s a lot of fuckup stories, but that should be seen as the opportunity to grow. We make mistakes every day. The biggest mistake is that I tend to forget about my health. My smartwatch has to remind me to walk 30 minutes or drink water.


I really want to emphasize to others as well – be sure to find a balance between health and work.

What with the UX makes your eyes spark the brightest?

I mentioned before that you have to connect with people. My favorite trick in UX is to use my dogs. I have 2 Frenchies – one’s called Sauvignon Blanc and the other one’s Cafe Latte. I take them everywhere with me. I take them on the stage, to my client meetings and spend time with them at lunches and cafes. How I use them is that people come to me, comment on my dogs and ask if they can take pictures. I always let them and also ask them a few questions about a project I’m working on. My dogs are a part of my mental health for me, but I also use them to connect with others. It’s the best decision I’ve made.

You had a seminar at sTARTUp Day on the topic “Why should UX be uncomfortable” – How would you sum it up in 2-3 sentences?

What’s easy for me isn’t always easy for you. How do you understand what’s easy, clear and comfortable for the end-user? You have to communicate! Forget who you are as a person and what do you want and try to identify with the person who you’d actually want to make the service for.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Don’t turn your eyes towards the wall or your phone when you make eye contact with someone. Use what sTARTUp Day is preaching – it’s all about networking!


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Helen Kokk was one of the speakers of sTARTUp Day 2020. 

sTARTUp Day is organized by the University of Tartu, Tartu city, .Contriber, Tartu Science Park, Tartu Centre of Creative Industries, Tartu Biotechnology Park, Tartu Business Advisory Services, Ole Rohkem, and Swedbank. Altogether it took a team of 200 people to organize sTARTUp Day.


sTARTUp Day is sponsored by the European Regional Development Fund, Enterprise Estonia (EAS), Visit Estonia and Startup Estonia.




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