July 10, 2021No Comments

To all my former design managers [Design Writing Challenge #5]

I've been really lucky to have worked with many incredibly talented designers. At each place I worked, the design manager there taught me something important and unique. Here's what I'd say to them if I were to meet them again. And I do hope I get to meet all of them again in the future!

To Angelique: Thank you for teaching me how to make wireframes and visual designs when I was just a "creative assistant" ordering pizzas.

To Richard: Thank you for letting me work with you as a sub-freelancer taking on different projects.

To Yutai: Thank you for giving me opportunities to explore my skills at work. And also the logo principal "tight not touch."

To Keara: Thank you for showing me top-notch mobile designs and pushing me to pay attention to details. Typos are unprofessional!

To Doug: Thank you for giving me the most fun projects in the startup and encouraging me to think about product directions.

To Rich: Thank you for pushing my visual design skills and encouraging me to learn from other people's work.

To Jeff: Thank you for introducing me to the latest design tools (at the time Sketch) that changed the whole design process.

To Dave: Thank you for being the caring leader of a design team facing clients from hell.

To Karin: Thank you for being a design director who I could always chat with about my career.

To Mike: Thank you for being a calm force during a chaotic project and someone whose work output can always be relied on.

To George: Thank you for showing me how to genuinely care for fellow designers and bring a team together.

Without these design leaders, I wouldn't be where I am today. And I hope to take all of what I've learned and share it with other designers now and in the future!

If you have a chance to say a thing or two to your former managers, what would they be?

July 4, 2021No Comments

Self Review – The Key to Improve as a Designer [Design Writing Challenge #2]

Doing a self-review is an important part of my design process. A day after doing a design I like to give it a second look before it goes out the door. 

Here’s what I do:

1. Review designs on appropriate devices

Your user won’t be using your design in Figma so review your designs on actual devices. For mobile designs, I use Figma Mirror to make sure that my design looks good. For desktop, I use Figma’s presentation mode to simulate clicking through a web page. For print, I use my crappy printer to print a version that I can feel in my hands.

2. "The Next Morning" self reivew

In my process, I put down a design at the end of the day and review it again the next morning. Usually, after a night's sleep my brain is smarter? 😂😂😂 In my review, I see how I respond to my own design. As I look am I saying to myself "Oh wow, that's pretty good" or "Man, who the hell did this shit!?" I often spot mistakes that I overlooked the day before.

3. Design presentation dry run

If I’m preparing for a design presentation I like to do a dry run in my head — as if I’m clicking through the prototype in front of an audience. I start by saying,

"Today we're looking at the xyz feature for our customers..." Oops, I put the wrong slide here, gotta edit this!

"After the user clicks here, they'll be able to see this popup..." Oops, popup not showing, gotta go back and see if the prototype link is connected correctly!

Self-reviewing helps me improve my designs and spot mistakes before they go out to coworkers or clients. Do you do self-reviews for your work? What is your process like?

July 2, 2021No Comments

Five Ways to Win My Heart in Design [Design Writing Challenge #1]

When a design wins my heart, it's usually because it has done well in the following principles:

1. Consistent spacing

The spacing in a design is like backup orchestra for a concert. No matter how beautifully the main element is designed, if there's no adequate breathing space and consistent spacing surrounding the whole piece, the design would seem haphazard and unprofessional. It's as if the backup orchestra is going off on its own tune during a performance. Imagine how confusing (and perhaps amusing) that would be!

2. Legible typography

The study of typography and its history, pairing, and emotional impact is deep. But one of the most important aspects of typography, in my opinion, is that it needs to be legible on the communication device that it is used on. A headline or a paragraph can look romantic, modern, or futuristic. But if it's not legible, it loses most of its power because the meaning is not communicated across.

3. Visual Focus

In a design, there should be one element that grabs my attention within the first glance. It can be typography, illustration, a photo or a button. Without a clear visual focus, the design is confusing and quickly loses my interest. The human brain tends to seek out patterns and meaning. When they are not readily obvious (like life!) it can be very frustrating!

4. Emotional Impact

I love it when I can feel a clear sense of emotion from a design. Perhaps it's a sense of luxury, light-heartedness, sadness, or even terror. Emotion influences brand perception, and plays a huge role in information processing and decision-making. I feel that the emotional impact should be considered an important heuristic of whether a design is successful.

5. Clear call to action

As a form of communication, there are usually actions associated with the information that is conveyed via a design. Knowing the available actions is the first step for interaction. It also helps direct users and provides a sense of certainty.

There are many other ways to win my heart in design, but the above five are the ones that I find the most important. Do they overlap with yours? What are some ways that a design can grab your heart?

About the Design Writing Challenge

Let's face it, I suck at writing!

It takes me a long time to write anything, and it's hard for me to get my meaning across a lot of times! It's especially hard for me to write design case studies, it simply kills me!

I feel like I either sound like a teenager rambling, or some boring industry professional - still rambling. I'd really like to write with ease, clarity and personality.

The only way to get better at writing is to write

I believe the only way to get better at design is to design, therefore it must be true for writing as well. I downloaded an image of 30 writing prompts from the internet and adapted all of the prompts for design.

I look forward to sharing all these design writings with you in the next 30 days!

February 3, 2020No Comments

Team

There's one song called "Team" by Iggy Azalea which I really like. The main lyrics go like this,

"Baby I got me, baby I got me, and that's all I need. Playing on my team, is someone like me."

A few years ago I really identified with these lyrics, thinking that no one can get those designs delivered like me. Even when I was working with a team of amazing designers, I always thought that I could do it all by myself.

Then I moved to Taiwan and started working on my own business ideas by myself. I thought I could do it all alone.

And you guessed it, I couldn't. I knew too little. And I had only 16 waking hours to work.

That was when I started to appreciate people who can write great copy, people who can write a detailed requirement doc, people who can cold email, knock on doors and pitch a new partnership opportunity.

I also started to truly appreciate other designers. I stop thinking about other designers as "better or worse", but "different" designers. They have different perspectives and experiences than me, and what they design would be different from mine.

And that's a great thing to see, think about and learn from.

I'm so grateful to have the chance to work with some fantastic teams with my clients now. I'm also thankful to have the support from my amazing business partner Rei, who is an unstoppable force that is making our dream real every day.

And when I think back, I've had such luck to work with some of the brightest and kindest people in the design field. They've shaped me to be the designer that I am today as well as helped me grow as a person.

So if I were to rewrite the lyrics to this song, it would be something like,

"Baby I got you, baby you got me, and that's all we need. Playing on our team, is someone like you and me."

That's a little longer than the original lyrics, so you'd have to rap a little faster. Now that wouldn't be a problem if we have Busta Rhymes on our team, would it?

Let me call him up now!

Photo credit: Randy Fath on Unsplash

February 2, 20201 Comment

Music to design to

I don't always design while listening to music. But on the days I do remember to pick up my 7-years-old Audio Technica headphones that has its outter skin flaking all over my hair, I usually start by playing Mozart's Piano Sonata K.302.

Listen to it. This is just the perfect "it's time to work!" music.

It starts off with a bang, like, "HELLO! Wake up!" And then, it goes into these tiny rolling notes as if a thousand bees are swarming out of their nest ready to collect the best nectar of their lives today.

That's right. This music makes me feel like I'm going to design the best input fields in all of internet today!

I used to listen to all sorts of music when I was designing. Kpop's BTS, Lord of the Rings soundtrack, Bollywood music, even Lil Wayne could be on my playlist. But in recent years, my playlists have been occupied by long-dead artists such as Bach, Mozart and Handel.

My guess is that, after my kickboxing accident late 2018 in which I got a mild concussion and subsequent anxiety attacks, my brain had chosen classical music to be her best companion while focusing.

Not only am I able to relax and focus to classical music, my brain also became more sensitive to detailed notes, progression and emotions. What can I say, kids, don't mess with your heads!

Don't get me wrong, I still very much enjoy a good Iggy Azalea and dancing to "I'm so fancy, you already know!" but I only get teared up with Rachmaninov's piano concerto No. 3 these days, you know!?

What's your go-to music while designing or focusing? It's totally okay if your brain feeds on Justin Bieber, I won't judge! I'm a Belieber myself. Do share!

July 1, 2019No Comments

My workspace setup

This is my current setup for design work. Not the fanciest through my stints at different startups in the Bay Area, but this is what I've put together for myself at the coworking space now and it's been working pretty well!

Computer and accessories

  • 13" MacBook Pro 2016
  • Philips E-Line 24" LCD monitor
  • Logitech keyboard

I like the left and right setup in which I can do the majority of the work on the large monitor, and use the small laptop screen to check for smaller screen size renditions.

Furniture

  • Ikea bar table and bar stool
ikea bar table and stools
ikea bar table and stools

This is the standing desk option that the coworking space provides. It actually works surprisingly well! I would stand for about 25 minutes, take a short walk and fill my water bottle, then sit for about 25 minutes.

I find that this posture rotation has been really helpful for my back!

Productivity tools

Be Focused timer

I use Be Focused as a pomodoro type timer so I focus for 25 minutes and rest for 5 minutes. I usually do about 10 pomodoros per day, which amounts to 5 hours of focus time.

Toggl

I use Toggl for project time tracking throughout the day.

There, now you know how the sausage design is made!

Dreaming of a new space

I AM dreaming of a little studio space which I can customize and design the interior for maximum creativity, and hopefully there will be other designers who would join me in this awesome space that will be home to many ideas we'll come up with together! Just putting it out there for the universe!