Friday Five with our UX Designer: Michelle

1/ What attracted you to a career in Design? Tell us about your journey so far.

Since I was a child, I found myself gravitating towards creativity and art. Where other kids in my school chose facts and formulas, I chose a blank canvas because I wanted to create. But as I became better informed, I realised that there is a lot more to design than just making something look pretty.

I graduated as a business designer, where I spent three years learning and applying Design Thinking. During my course of study, I participated in projects with several government agencies and private organisations to help them create new value and new forms of competitive advantage through human-centred innovation. I went on to practice visual design with NAFA and a local design agency so I could leverage my artistic side with my academic background. It gave me a foundation to build upon, as I design in virtual spaces and create art on paper.

My passion for people, design, and technology eventually led me to the world of UX. It took me awhile to figure it all out and somehow, I found that the sweet spot between business design, visual design and user experience design lies my greatest strength. Being grounded in Design Thinking, I’m able to apply existing skills in research and business strategy to the design process in humanising technology so it can be translated into meaningful experiences for people to enjoy. That’s my journey in a nutshell.

2/ How do you feed your creative energy?

On days when I want to expand my knowledge library, I’ll browse through Medium or Twitter and pick a read or two. I follow a bunch of writers, podcasts and blogs with curated UX content and that has helped widen my horizon on human-centred design.

I also find inspiration through my conversations with people. As part of a self-initiated study group started by six friends and myself, we come together once every month to share insights, tools and techniques on different UX topics and discuss upcoming trends in the field to remain updated and informed. It’s a great opportunity for us to learn from one another as we embark on our own journeys after graduation. And for that, I’m grateful because they keep me curious.

3/ Is there a particular design challenge or problem you’re passionate about helping solve?

To advocate for accessibility in UX Design. Digital accessibility refers to the building of digital content and applications that can be used by a wide range of people, including individuals who have visual, motor, auditory, speech, or cognitive limitations.  

There’s this incorrect belief amongst people who assume that making websites and apps accessible is difficult and expensive but that’s not entirely true. Let’s take Grab’s “plus” icon for the multi-stop option as an example. This simple feature has saved me so much effort during times when I find myself situationally disabled. The ease of adding another location remotely made my experience better as it decreases the chance of miscommunication.

And the people behind this brilliant idea? They’re from the Blind and Deaf community in Singapore. (these)abilities ran Design Thinking workshops with the community as they improve the ride-hailing experience of the Grab app. The context of the feature was that Persons with Disabilities are unable to communicate with the driver when they require assistance or request for an additional stop for the ride. But with this inclusive design, it promoted effective non-verbal communication for them and the mass majority as well.

You see, the amazing thing about accessibility is that improving the quality of the experience for those with disabilities inherently improves the quality of the experience for everyone. And as designers, we have the power and responsibility to ensure that everyone has access to what we create regardless or ability, context, or situation.

4/ What advice would you give design students looking to start a career in Singapore?

Always have empathy. And know that its very different from sympathy. Empathy is perspective-taking, staying out of judgement, recognising emotions and communicating that. Empathy is feeling with people, and in turn, it fuels connection.

I feel like as designers, our main purpose here on earth is to empathise – Empathise with your users, your clients, your teams; and the list keeps growing. With that empathy, we go a step further and do something meaningful with it. I became a designer because it’s not enough for me to theoretically make the world a better place. I needed to know how to do it and do it right, and it seemed that having empathy is a good place to start.

Someone once shared this and it stuck with me for a long time. Hopefully it will stick with you too.  

In social issues class today our professor held up a black book and he said “this book is red”. We were all “no” and he said “yes it is” and we all said “that’s not right”. Then he turned it around and the back cover was red and he said “don’t tell somebody they’re wrong until you’ve seen things from their point of view.”

5/ Can you share an example of an experience that helped change your perspective when it comes to design?

Three years ago, I was working with a company in the public sector. During one of our monthly meetings, I had the chance to play some brain teasers with my colleagues. Here’s an example, try solving this one – Remove 8 Matchsticks to form 2 Squares.

8sticks.png

Surprisingly enough (or not), I got it all wrong. Not because I didn’t manage to solve the puzzles, but simply because my answers didn’t match the ones in her answer sheet. I offered my explanation, hoping to get an A for effort but the facilitator just shook her head and said “sorry but the answer sheet said so.

The “Right” Answer (according to the answer sheet)

The “Right” Answer (according to the answer sheet)

My Answer (if you got this too, we’re on the same boat, and we’re not sinking)

My Answer (if you got this too, we’re on the same boat, and we’re not sinking)

And then it hit me; how people can be so rigid and bent on thinking a certain way and acknowledging only one set of answers that they deemed as correct. It scares me to think that some people are going to live like this for the rest of their lives. Design Thinking teaches us see beyond our own horizon, beyond our own thinking. It taught me to see things in many other different perspectives and that there is never just one correct answer.

As we venture into the workforce, there are bound to be people who will reject your way of thinking simply because they are afraid of change and the biggest part of what Design Thinking has to offer, is change. I hope to continue to design solutions outside the box and hopefully inspire someone else to do the same too. Baby steps at a time, we'll get there.