It’s In the Genes
My parents used to run a KTV when I was a baby in Taiwan. It was a place where the adults would go to sing, eat, drink, and have an all-around good time. So even though I didn’t really frequent the place, it definitely explains the hospitable tendencies that course through my veins. Even after my dad switched careers and started his own insurance agency, he made customer service his number one differentiator. He made sure he was reachable by all his clients 24/7 and because of that, he became something of a celebrity in the Southern California Chinese immigrant community.
I think it might have been right after our first family trip up to San Francisco and our stay at the Hotel California (no joke; it’s now Hotel Grace) when I was inspired to turn our home into a hotel. I was fascinated by all the amenities that were offered by the Hotel California and wanted to recreate that experience at home. My first UX decision for Home Hotel was whether I should station the “front desk” at the front door or in the laundry room next to the garage entrance. I think Home Hotel was only afloat for a few days when I dissolved the company due to a serious lack of customer turnover.
Roughly 8 years later, I set out to study music up at San Francisco State University. To please my parents, I double majored in business with an emphasis in hospitality management. It didn’t occur to me that I had come full circle until a year into my employment at the Hotel Monaco when I learned that the place right across the street used to be the Hotel California (did that blow your mind? Because it sufficiently blew mine).
Really, I am where I am now because of the convergence of multiple different paths. Here’s another one — see if you can guess what year I was born.
When I was 10, I would help my dad build PCs. We’d sit on the floor of the home office and put together parts he bought at the CompUSA. Then I’d help him set up the BIOS. I used to have a lot of fun looking through folders and running programs via DOS. So just imagine my excitement when we got our first copy of Windows. Then imagine even more excitement when I heard my first successful dial-up connection to the world wide web. I was in a local production of the Wizard of Oz at the time so, disregarding copyright laws, I put the entire script online using HTML in Geocities. It was probably my favorite project up to that point (other than the time I made our house into a hotel).
You don’t know the value of on-the-job training until it’s gone
By the time I was 26 years old, I had about 8 years of customer service experience under my belt. My passion for making people happy was deeply ingrained in me. So when I hired my first employees as customer service manager at TaskRabbit, I knew I had to make sure their happiness was my top priority. In fact, I took took it upon myself to ensure not only customer happiness, but the happiness of everyone at the company. For me, happy employees mean happy customers (which means my team is happy, which means I’m happy). Here are a few things that I designed and put into practice during my tenure at the company (without going into too many details that may violate any NDAs):
- I designed UIs and put policies in place that allowed customers to have the quickest and easiest access to the MSAs (member services associates).
- I worked tirelessly (like during a barbecue I hosted) with engineers and product managers to create better, more intuitive internal tools for the MSAs to work with.
- I drove home the idea of “extreme empathy” as being the most important tenet of amazing customer service (I later find out that it’s also a great ux research technique).
- I collaborated with UX designers to create a more effective feedback loop between the customers and the company.
- I guided an entire process that helped the company come up with their core values.
- With the help of the head of engineering, I started a rotational program that integrated one engineer into the MSA team every week to work on high-priority bugs.
- I was eventually recruited to work with the business team on their new product. While on the team, I acted as their UX researcher by providing design recommendations based on customer feedback. On a few of the projects, I provided the mockups for prototypes.
After my time at TaskRabbit, I was still riding high on my new-found love for design. However, instead of focusing on UX, I ended doing some graphic design freelance for a few years. I was burnt out on the startup rat-race and had developed a narrow view of what design can do for the world. That can happen when you’re working in the bubble that is the San Francisco startup scene.
Rediscovering myself as a UX designer
It wasn’t until I was reimmersed into the start-up scene through my partner’s new job that I realized that I’d been in denial this whole time. Good design solves problems and solving problems makes me happy. Duh.
My universe expanded, exponentially, once I enrolled in Designlab’s UX Academy. I didn’t know I had been secretly practicing design thinking until I watched Tim Brown explain the meaning of “human-centered design” in his Ted Talk. He also revealed the need to make design “big” again. The idea that the solutions to the world’s biggest problems can be designed really resonated with me. I want to help people relate to other people in better ways. I want people to have better access to the education and the healthcare they deserve. I want there to be less suffering in the world and less hatred. I want there to be more happiness.
Through Designlab, I was able to connect with others going through the same realizations who wanted the same things for the world as I do. Since I enrolled, I had the opportunity to collaborate on projects and take on a few of my own from research to prototype.
Though I can probably spend my whole life on passion projects like these, I know I need more real-world experiences. I miss collaborating with a team of people with different backgrounds. I miss talking to customers about a product they’re passionate about. I miss the kind of hands-on learning experiences that only happen when you’re grappling with real products with real customers. So, to use a familiar anecdote as an analogy (at the risk of me sounding out-of-date); I’ve built the PC and setup the BIOS. Now, I need to make that dial-up connection so that I can build that website in Geocities.