Kunyi Mangalam is nothing if not versatile.
As a marketing and UX researcher, service designer, consultant, outdoors enthusiast, and what alumnus speaker Indi Young calls “a blast of real human tied with incredible intelligence,” Kunyi is always seeking out her next challenge.
For Kunyi, that next challenge is joining a roster of Fluxible alumni as the conference’s first “new voice” speaker.
“I was a little hesitant at first … I’ve always admired people that get up and present at conferences and that’s going to be a real challenge for me. It’s going to be a real new thing,” she says.
Stepping into the world of conference speaking seems natural (and perhaps not very challenging at all) if you consider Kunyi’s 30 years of experience doing just that: talking to people.
Kunyi has done tons of work in qualitative research. She has successfully founded and managed two research companies (Square Rainbow and K2 Discovery Inc.) and worked with government and for-profit organizations, marketing strategists, and product developers across many industries to understand and empathize with the users that they are trying to serve.
In mid-2018, Kunyi decided to take on yet another challenge and transition into a slightly different line of work after the global shift from traditional media (which once influenced most of her marketing research) to digital media. She now works as a service designer and consultant at Mara Consulting, a professional services firm. Here, she has been able to take the skills and experience that she has built over decades of qualitative research and apply them to a new industry. She mostly works with government clients, but nonetheless still receives calls from her past clients who loved her work and need her expertise once again.
After a long and sometimes isolating career as an independent consultant, her work at Mara Consulting is refreshing.
“One reason I’m happy to be working in this company is it’s just fun working with other people. The people I work with are really super smart and accomplished, and humorous, and so quick,” she says. “It’s just a pleasure to work with them.”
When we ask Kunyi what makes her work in UX and service design so fulfilling, she replies: “I think that one thing that’s fulfilling is being able to make someone feel heard. Them trusting me enough to tell me about what’s happened to them, or their opinion, is a great privilege.”
UX research and design is a multidisciplinary field, which is why Kunyi also loves to write. She says that connecting with readers by truthfully conveying the people that she writes about is “just fantastic.”
“I really enjoy being able to wrangle and harness and corral these disparate thoughts that people have told me and represent it in words,” she says.
Kunyi learns for a living. So about four years ago, when a peer who works in digital UX design told her of mental models, Kunyi naturally went to Google to learn more. Here, she came across freelance researcher and Fluxible alumnus Indi Young, and she was fascinated by her philosophy. Kunyi sent Indi her credentials so that she could “hang out by Indi’s elbow and see what she did.'' The two arranged a phone call, hit it off, and began working together. Kunyi was one of the first people to test out Indi’s relatively new training program, which offers courses that teach curious product strategists about problem-space research.
Since then, Kunyi and Indi have worked on multiple projects together, allowing Indi to see Kunyi’s natural confidence and ability to tell a story.
“She’s using all of the power that she already had built and all of her experience in marketing research and making it into UX research,” says Indi.
So, when Indi recommended Kunyi as a speaker for Fluxible, Kunyi seemed like a natural fit! Indi has continued to mentor Kunyi as she develops a talk.
At Fluxible Conference in June, Kunyi will invite you behind the veil of her work as she talks about the quiet tasks and hidden screw-ups that happen before she begins her work of talking to people.
“All of my training and education deals with talking to people … none of my training deals with all the curtains we have to wade through in order to do what we were actually hired to do, which was talk to people and service providers,” she says.
Fluxible’s reputation as Canada’s UX Festival has reached across the country and touched Halifax, where Kunyi currently lives. She already knows that the conference will be fun! She let us know why she’s looking forward to it: “Mark [Fluxible’s co-chair] was telling me about those five-minute musical interludes, and I’ve seen some of the speakers before and they are really phenomenal, so I’m really looking forward to soaking them all up.”
After her talk, you might even get the chance to ask Kunyi about her cycling group “The Bike Divas,” the pot holders that she has made out of old leather samples from her local furniture store, or her budding interest in the violin.