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Women in Design: You Jin Lee

User experience design is currently on the rise, with a projected growth of 22% over the next decade. Knowing this, many probably have a plethora of questions about UX design and how to break into the field. In this interview with You Jin Lee, a lead UX designer previously at Samsung and now at Datasite, she shares with us her journey working in the UX field and helpful advice for anyone looking to start!

Jamie: Would you like to introduce yourself?

You Jin: I’m a senior product designer with seven years of UX experience. Right now I’m the lead designer for Datasite Outreach. It’s a product that helps investment bankers manage the deal marketing phase of the M&A cycle, M&A standing for mergers and acquisitions. Previously I was working as an interaction designer at Samsung. We were launching mobile products like Galaxy S8, Note 10, and Watch Active 2. When I first started out in UX, I was working at several different startups for two years and that was when I was able to accelerate my growth as a young designer, working as a sole designer and touching every aspect of the UX process.

At that time, I was previously more familiar with the UX research side, preparing & analyzing usability tests as an intern at Blackboard Inc. and General Services Administration. In between, I was also a Teaching Assistant for General Assembly’s first UXDI Bootcamp cohort in DC which helps professionals transition into the UX field, and a Code for Social Good Fellow at TechChange.

Jamie: How did you get into this?

You Jin: It’s a bit of a complicated story! I was really fortunate to get exposed to UX early as a high schooler. Back then, I was really into playing with the CSS and HTML on Neopets and Xanga. So my sister was like, “Hey, you should join your high school’s Academy of Information Technology program.” So, I went for it and joined. I was part of the web design track, and then one of the capstone internships was a UX internship at Blackboard, and that’s where I got to meet my mentor, who coincidentally was my professor at a web design class at a community college a year later.

That’s how it started, but then I didn’t study UX or design in college. I studied sociology and international development because I wanted to be a social worker. But over time, as I was taking the classes, I was so fascinated by all the parallels between UX and social work. With both, you have to deeply understand the people you serve to help them, you have to critically think about it. Another is the most sustainable solutions are the ones that you co-design with the people you serve. With UX, you have to design with the users. With international development, you have to co-design with the local community you’re helping. I realized that I can channel my passion for serving others into a career that allows me to design to improve lives. So, that’s when I got back into UX.

…you have to deeply understand the people you serve to help them, you have to critically think about it.

Jamie: Are there any aspects from when you studied sociology and international development that you were able to bring with you when you started your career as a UX designer?

You Jin: I think at first during interviews, people would be like, “Oh! You studied sociology and international development.” But I do think there are definitely skills within sociology you learn about, like the research methods and researching human behavior. Within UX, you have to research how users are interacting with the product, and so I think there are some similarities I was able to bring in. But because I didn’t study design and did not have a portfolio, I really had to start taking up different projects freelancing at different startups and go from there.

Jamie: From those early stages to now, what has your experience been as a woman in UX design?

You Jin: Early on I was pretty aware of the discrepancy in the tech space. Sometimes you could be the only female at the table or slack channel but I was fortunate to join communities like Women and Technology, Girls in Tech. Those communities, I was able to join at work, which provided a safe space for talking about imposter syndrome, feeling shy about having a place at the table, and negotiating your promotions.  So I really recommend people to join those kinds of communities. Also, in the companies I’m part of, there are lots of women who hold leadership positions, you have people to look up to as well.

Jamie: Now, as someone that is more of a senior in this field, what is some advice you would have for any up-and-coming young woman designers who are interested in UX?

You Jin: Focus on gaining real-world experience, which could look like internships, freelancing, volunteering. Because when you’re learning about UX in a classroom setting, or you’re self-taught, you’re going to learn about the new UX process within a vacuum. In a real-world setting, you have limitations like budget, limited access to users, negotiating with engineers, or limited time, and so it’s important to gain experience in that kind of environment. When you’re building your portfolio, I recommend you take pictures of everything and document everything and build your case studies. Also, think about what you want to specialize in because UX covers a pretty broad field. There’s UX research, interaction design, UX engineering. Pay attention to what you want to focus on.

Jamie: Going back to when you mentioned portfolio, are there any projects that you would like to talk about? Any you are proud of or found challenging?

You Jin: It’s really rewarding for me to work on a product that I know is really making an impact in the daily lives of people. For my current product, I’m working on Datasite Outreach for investment bankers. They work more than 80 hours a week, so what our product does is try to shave off that time so that they can efficiently send bulk emails and watermark instead of doing it one by one. We’re able to talk with bankers from Europe, Hong Kong, and throughout the United States, and you get to understand what their work-life is like and design off of that. So right now, we’re gradually releasing those features that they’ve been asking for. I’ve been pretty proud of just that process in itself.

Jamie: Since we’re still in the pandemic, how has your work process changed during this time as a UX designer?

You Jin: I live in New Jersey, and my job is in the city, so in the beginning, I was worried about public transportation. So when I found out about not commuting anymore, I was like, “Yes!” But then because of that, there’s no real separation between work and home life, there’s no commute in between, so I feel like the lines are blurred. When you join a meeting, you see the backgrounds of your co-workers, and you’re peeking into their private life. But you’re also able to spend more quality time with family, which I was able to do.

I think in terms of my work in general, my company did a really good job transitioning towards remote work. My design team uses a lot of tools that allow you to collaborate remotely, like Mural to whiteboard online together, or Figma, which allows us to design together in multiplayer mode. Also, because we have better access to our users now since they’re also working at home, we can schedule user interviews with them. So, I think it’s been a hard time for everybody, but I’m just really thankful for working in a company that really values our well-being.

Jamie: Any last thoughts that you would like to leave with your readers?

You Jin: I would say UX is a relatively new field, so it’s not uncommon for someone from a marketing background or just a totally different background to come into it. I think what can happen is imposter syndrome where they’re like, “Oh, I didn’t go into art school, I didn’t study HCI and go to grad school for that.” But I think to persist and try to really pick up any project that you can make is really important.

You Jin Lee is a senior UX designer at Datasite, a leading SaaS provider for the M&A industry. She has a passion for design that can empower users and improve people’s lives.

Visit http://www.youjlee.com/ to learn more about You Jin and her work.

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