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Kayla Carlson '12

Kayla Carlson ’12 makes her mark on growing livestream industry

Approximately 1.2 million people are currently watching their favorite broadcasters show off their thoughts, talents, and personalities via the livestreaming service Twitch. It is up to design manager Kayla Carlson’s team to ensure the experience for broadcaster and viewer alike is as intuitive and accessible as possible.

“User experience is kind of like coming home. You know the way to get there, you know which driveway is yours, and you know how to unlock the front door,” said Carlson, a 2012 graduate of Illinois State’s graphic communications program. “The core idea of user experience design is asking, ‘How do we make the experience of our users better and more enjoyable when they are interacting with a digital good?’”

Introduced in June 2011, Twitch was initially a video game-centric spinoff of Justin.tv, an early livestreaming platform. Twitch became so popular that the company renamed itself Twitch Interactive in August 2014 and shut down Justin.tv. That same month, Amazon acquired Twitch for $970 million.

Twitch’s popularity has continued to rise. In 2014 users watched Twitch for approximately 192 billion minutes. The company reported 560 billion minutes watched in 2018, with the average user viewing 95 minutes of Twitch per day. More than 70 percent of the hours of live content consumed online is broadcast through Twitch.

Carlson said the communities built on the platform are what make Twitch special. “Working at Twitch is a unique opportunity as we have so many different customers,” she said. “It started off as a gaming platform, but it has really grown into something much larger. There are artists. There are people doing cooking shows. There are people fixing cars on livestream and asking people for help. There are talk shows. The root of it, the heart of it, is about creating communities.”

Carlson is focused on ensuring those communities can continue to grow organically. One of her biggest tasks is working to improve Twitch extensions. Extensions are third-party applications allowing streamers to broadcast live statistics, create polls, and even play minigames with their viewers.

“For example, a streamer can put up a poll asking their audience, ‘What should I play next? What should I talk about next?’ That interaction creates a deeper bond between creator and audience,” she said.

The Bartonville native originally studied marketing at the University of Illinois at Chicago. A first-generation college student, Carlson wanted to be closer to her family and decided to come to Illinois State to study graphic communications.

“It really felt like the folks at Illinois State cared about my future,” she said.

After graduation Carlson worked at Razorfish in Chicago as a user experience designer. She moved to San Francisco in 2013, and after stints at Sitecore, GoPro and Adobe, she joined Twitch last March. Carlson was interested in working for Twitch because they provided an opportunity to move from a design role to a management role.

“I’ve always been interested in leadership throughout my design career,” she said. “I got really passionate about elevating my peers and co-workers and helping them be the best versions of themselves.”

Carlson is excited to hear that Illinois State is working to further establish itself in the video game space. There are a lot of opportunities on the horizon for Redbirds looking to work in the gaming industry.

“The gaming space is really big. It is growing even faster than anyone could have ever anticipated,” she said. “The industry has grown so fast that there hasn’t been enough people to solve problems. So if you have an interest, there is something for you.