Jessica is a founding product designer at Zugata, reimagining employee development. She was previously an Expert-In-Residence for General Assembly, a product design fellow for Whitespace, and a product designer for ZURB.
Her clients include Samsung, SAP, Sequoia Capital, JCPenney, and BDBiosciences. Besides designing things in the digital world, she has also designed home decor products and led the photo-art direction for Balsam Hill & Treetopia. And in her spare time, she explores the world, makes cute things and shares her learnings. A few of her pieces were featured on FastCo and The Next Web.
Say hi to Jessica on Twitter.
Where do you find inspiration from?
I’m crazy about traveling. When I visit all these different places and immerse myself with all that is around me — from the colors, patterns and architectures, this becomes my inspiration. I’ll also take a closer look into different cultures and traditions from the places I’ve been and try to observe what do all these people have in common. From this, I can understand people a lot better — understand their needs and desires to help me design for people.
Which are your favourite websites or apps?
Hands down! Instagram is my favorite app. It’s filled with so much happiness from breath-taking adventures and memorable moments to adorable events and loving experiences. It’s just a positive place to be, and I simply feed off of everyone’s happiness. By the time I hop off of Instagram, I always leave satisfied and happy.
Other than that, I love the Panda plugin. Not only because of the content, but it does a phenomenal job integrating into my workflow. It keeps me up to date on design and product news around the world each time I open a new tab. And every now and then while I’m working, I can take a peek at various Dribbble posts for inspiration. If you are a designer, I highly recommend installing this plugin.
How many hours do you usually work per week?
Even though I work at an early stage startup and I should be working to the max, I only work about 40 hours a week. A year ago, I realized how important it is for designers and creatives to find a balance in order to give it your all in both work and life. Also as creatives, we are filled with so much excitement and energy about all sorts of possibilities and ideas that we do need to take break and rejuvenate ourselves.
What sort of advice can you give to aspiring designers?
After reflecting on my path to becoming a designer in the past month, I also thought about some things I wish someone told me when I was on my way to become one.
Here are three things that I wish someone told me earlier in my career:
- Find a mentor - Find someone who can challenge you, help you grow, and guide you in the right direction to become an amazing designer.
- Don’t stop producing and don’t stop making - It’s okay if it’s not the best or it’s not perfect. The more the create, the more you learn from it, the better you will be. Pick up side projects to keep yourself busy.
- Be multifaceted - exercise your coding skills, practice your illustration skills, learn to tell stories and fine-tune your interpersonal skills. It’s easier to see your ideas come to life when you can do all of these things to help you communicate your ideas and get everyone on board.
- Find your differentiator - With some many designers out there, think about how you are different and what makes you unique. It could be your set of design philosophies, it could be your design style, it could be the industry you only design for. When you find that, continue to develop it and make it your voice.
What would you consider your biggest achievement so far?
Oooh, this is a tough question. I think it would have be that I followed passion to be a designer. Being raised with traditional Asian parents, it was not easy for me to pursue this dream. They had their minds set for me to be a doctor or engineer; but I knew that wasn’t me. Culturally, I was a disobedient rebel and I didn’t get their full support and blessing. For the past several years, I worked really hard to prove to them that I could be successful and happy being a designer. So all in all, there are two things I’m proud of:
- Following my heart
- Proving my parents wrong
Now my parents are extremely proud and I am truly happy doing what I do - design.
Describe a time you have failed as a designer:
Haha, I’ve probably made many mistakes and failures as a designer. But the one I remember most is from 5 years ago when I was working on a ecommerce site redesign. I wanted to make them larger to show off the quality of our products, while the stakeholders wanted to fit more above the fold, thus they wanted them smaller. I spent several hours trying to defend my design decision on the size of our product images, but they wouldn’t budge. Where I failed as a designer, was that I gave up and just went what they wanted just to end the meeting and move forward. What I should have done was provide more data, show who else is doing this, and communicate better that this is how the web was trending. While it is important to gather feedback from stakeholders, customers, and your team, it is important to defend your ideas confidently and don’t give up too easily.
Do you have any hobbies or fun activities you enjoy while being offline?
When I’m offline, you can find me lettering and drawing. It requires a lot of precision and concentration that I just get lost in flowing with my pen on paper. It’s a nice break from product design since it’s so therapeutic!
Besides that, I make and sell jewelry using horns from water buffaloes in Vietnam and the finest metals in Korea. I started it as a side project in March this year to somewhat satisfy my childhood dream to be a fashion designer. You can check it out; my Etsy shop is called Hathorway. And don’t forget to buy the women in your life something special! :)
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