Season 2, Episode 10: Inclusion in the Design Industry with Priscilla Skylar Lee

January 10, 2024

Stacey Copeland: Welcome to FCAT After School, a podcast project from SFU's Faculty of Communication, Art and Technology. Here on the show we join student hosts in conversation with alumni as they explore career journeys since graduation, and gather advice for the next generation. Whether it's your first day at a new job or awkwardly standing in the corner at a party, we have all felt that desire to feel included. Still, inclusion is often overlooked in classrooms and workplaces. So in this episode, School of Interactive Arts student Megan Yeung, is joined by a program alum with a dedication to inclusivity and ethical design. UX designer Priscilla Skyler Lee chats with us about their career journey, creating an inclusive environment and collaborative spaces and what catches their eye when hiring new designers. Here are FCAT's own, Megan Yeung, and Priscilla Skylar Lee.

Megan Yeung: Imagine you're in class, it's only been the first week back and you're assigned a team project. Your teacher asks you to form groups of four. And if you can't find a group, they'll randomly assign you one. How would you feel some of us might feel indifferent. We took this class with friends and we work well together. Some of us feel a little nervous, but it's no big deal. We see the familiar faces and we're not afraid to approach them. Some of us feel dread. We've had our fair share of horrible experiences a group projects or we just may not feel confident enough in our skills. Whether we find ourselves in one, two, or all of these categories, we all understand that group work is inevitable and essential, not only to school, but in the workplace as well. Joining us today is Priscilla.

Priscilla Skylar Lee: Hi, my name is Priscilla. I also go by PSL, whatever you prefer. My pronouns are she/they. I am a UX designer at SAP. I graduated from SFU's SIAT program in 2020. With a Bachelor of Science,

Megan Yeung: and this was her experience with working with teams while in school.

Priscilla Skylar Lee: Hit and miss.

Megan Yeung: Yes.

Priscilla Skylar Lee: It's like the nicest way you can put that I think, obviously, especially in lower level courses, you do have people such as myself, that were taking them as electives. So usually they do not care as much. Which means that the workload is lopsided very often. But I do think that one strength of the group work is that it really teaches you about like how to work with others, how to communicate effectively with others how to organize your time.

Megan Yeung: So despite the hit and miss experience, would you say that the soft skills you learned from those experiences were beneficial to you when you started working?

Priscilla Skylar Lee: Yeah, definitely, really, as a designer, like your job is to communicate, ultimately, at the end of the day. And being forced to work in groups is like very similar to like when you're being forced to work with like, say, for example, a project manager that you don't really like. But you have to kind of work with them in order to come to like the solution that the business wants.

Megan Yeung: Now, let's imagine this. You've arrived at an event alone, you scan the room and see at least 30 people, none of which you know, how would you feel? I've been in the situation. I felt anxious, my heart starts beating a little faster. How do I approach any of these people? I don't know who they are. Will I even make a good impression? Safe to say I was ready to turn around and head home. But it didn't do that. Why? Because someone approached me and offered to show me around. They introduced me to others, they involved me in their conversations. Without knowing anything about me. They respected me and they saw my value in what I had to share. What if I told you someone like that also exists at your workplace? Priscilla shares how they found their way to seeing value in inclusion, while growing up in Dubai.

Priscilla Skylar Lee: I went to an international school, which is like a million different cultures and religions kind of swarm together and like an adolescent setting, which is like, very confusing and overwhelming at the same time. But I think one of my biggest insights from engaging in that sort of community was that it really put a spotlight on things that you wouldn't think about given your own background. Like I'd be in a group, and I'd hear an opinion that I just like, didn't align with like, just like, for me, it was like, no, I don't agree, like, absolutely, absolutely not. And you would just be stuck, because you'd have to find a way to work with this person, and kind of come to a common conclusion about like, how to best move forward. And I think that's really important, just because it brings so much value. When you're trying to become like a more understanding person, though.

Megan Yeung: No, yeah.

Priscilla Skylar Lee: So not like just taking what you think and putting it aside and, and just really being able to take a step and open and lend a space, like hold it holding space for others to share their thoughts and opinions, even if you don't like necessarily, like, jive with it. Because I think, especially in the workplace, if people don't feel comfortable sharing their unique ideas, you're missing some huge potential for innovation. Just because, you know, like, everybody thinks of things differently. And if you can make like a fun Frankenstein solution with like, the way that I think and the way that you think and the way that someone across the world thinks then often that is like a stronger idea to push forward.

Megan Yeung: Workplaces are getting more and more diverse. Is that inclusive environment exclusively for new hires? Or do you find that you need to apply this with people who have worked at a company for a while?

Priscilla Skylar Lee: I think it's actually both. Because I think a lot of times, especially if we are working within our own bubbles, what happens is we kind of reset back to default, which, for most people is just, I know how this person works. So I don't have to ask them specific questions about things I know, you know, roughly when they would feel comfortable responding, I know how to ask them the question. So that can be troublesome just because a like, maybe your assumptions are incorrect and they actually have never felt comfortable, you know, in the certain situation, and it kind of lends back to the same idea of having someone new enter the company. So I think one very common thing with starting new is like impostor syndrome, right? Like, like, ultimately, it's, it's the root of it, and it can really shut someone down mentally. And this is huge for someone joining the workplace like in their first week, if they don't feel comfortable, they're gonna they're gonna leave man, like, I don't know what else to say like onboarding is huge. And it's such a big deal. So if you know other members of the group, aren't actively trying to be open, aren't actively prompting people. You know, that person can just sit there and be like, What am I doing here? Like, I don't know anyone, they don't, they won't value my opinion, because it's like different than everybody else's. I'm not good enough to be here. A lot of thoughts like that. And, you know, just sit and stay quiet instead, and just listen to everything else. So I think it's so important to make sure that there's different ways of input as well.

Megan Yeung: How can we create an inclusive space? Priscilla shares the solution she saw in an IAT class she took.

Priscilla Skylar Lee: So basically, we had like crit in the room every week, and you posted your work on the wall and you you taped it to the wall, whatever. And for the first 10 or 15 minutes, I'd say we'd all walk around the room kind of like looking at everybody's work. And then what we used to do is we used to just talk about it after but I think after the third week, he identified that there is like people that would always speak up, and then there was people that would never speak up. So he changed crit one week to like a post it method. So he gave everybody will stack a post it and it was like, you know, like this week, what we're gonna do is everybody's just gonna write down their thoughts instead. And then kind of go around the room, post them and then I'll read them out loud.

Megan Yeung: That's great.

Priscilla Skylar Lee: I just remember that moment because I was like, yeah, like, I feel way more comfortable writing on a post it note, then like speaking up in class, because I have felt in the past that I wasn't good enough to be in a 400 level class. And some of the topics were like, really sensitive, there's, you know, we're talking about like mental health and like sexuality as well. And I think like, that made such a huge difference for the quieter people in the class, just because it gave them the opportunity to share their opinion.

Megan Yeung: Yeah, I love that approach. Because I've also seen the opposing point of view, actually, where it is up to you to make sure you're contributing to the team. And inclusion is not the responsibility of your other teammates. Yeah, for sure. It's not fair seniority or superiority, mentorship, can walk a fine line between helpful and unhelpful. Many of us have experienced the latter, at a workplace, for instance, an entitled coworker, or strict manager, how about Priscilla?

Priscilla Skylar Lee: In terms of experience, of course, there's going to be like designers that have more tenure with than others. It's a cultural thing. So like, obviously, as you move up, the focus becomes more about how you can share your learning with the rest of the team, and not focusing on your learning specific way. But like mentoring others, in a sense, and understanding like how, at a deeper level, you influence the rest of the team, and how that influences the rest of the organization in the business. I think like for me, when I started, especially as an Internet SAP, like it helped to be in touch with someone that was really familiar with a product. That being said, I don't think that it was anything negative that I've experienced, like, if anything, they were, I think I said once like, I'm only an intern, and like it was like a senior designer that I was talking to you. And he was like, stop that. Like, you're not. It's not that you're only an intern, like you're asking the good questions. And I think everyone's been really good to encourage the asking of questions.

Megan Yeung: A healthy mentorship works like a team. And as we were discussing before, inclusion is essential to teamwork.

Priscilla Skylar Lee: We have this preconceived notion that mentorship is like, the person who mentors you has to be like older and senior. And I think that's really not true. I think that mentorship is being able to offer something as both a mentor and a mentee, and they're both offering things to each other. And it's more of like a, it's like a friendship really like it's about like talking about daily things that you've come across in your work. And maybe you're struggling with something and you want to get someone else's opinion on it. Like it really is just like a friendship. I don't I don't know. I think that's kind of how I see it at least. And I've been to a couple of UX conferences where it's, you know, they kind of have the same idea. And I really love that because I think there's so much that we can teach each other, especially from like a generational kind of perspective.

Megan Yeung: By second or third year, many SIAT students started thinking about Co Op, internships, portfolios. When am I going to graduate? It's been five years. Why am I still in third year? Well, luckily for you, I've brought these concerns to Priscilla. Here's what she had to say. So you mentioned before that you were in an internship, do you have any regrets about not doing Co Op with SFU?

Priscilla Skylar Lee: I waited until I graduated to look for an internship and that's something that I like absolutely regret. And everyone I've talked to that's like still in school, I'm like, just do it. Like just go out there and get your feet wet. Because it's it's such a different different experience than just being in school the entire time. You really get to explore different different companies, working styles, their structures, and just like meeting people in the industry is such a big deal. Just because yeah, like how else are you going to build a network if you don't meet people?

Megan Yeung: I have a friend who's done co op for almost three semesters now. So a concern that jumps out is that when am I going to graduate? You know, it's never shows past the four year standard mark, which honestly was never the standard for SIAT but, I want to ask you because you started in 2013 and then you graduated in 2020. So that's around seven years. What are your thoughts about how long you should take with school?

Priscilla Skylar Lee: Yeah, I don't think I've met a SIAT student that's always been in a program. Like, I just don't think it's actually possible. But yeah, like, in general, how I see university is that it's a place for you to learn, like, whatever you want. So I graduated in spring, spring 2020, I think, I'm pretty sure. But I was probably done my classes for everything in spring of 2019. So I honestly at the end, like that, last year, I was just taking courses that I didn't have the time for, or, like I always, I just saw, and I was like, Oh, that's really interesting. Why didn't I take this before? And or, like, I'm gonna take this now? Because I'm in it already. Nobody says I have to leave. No one's  kicking me out right now.

Megan Yeung: They're like go, you've been here too long.

Priscilla Skylar Lee: Yeah. No please, I just want to stay.

Megan Yeung: Take more of my money.

Priscilla Skylar Lee: Please take my money. That I mean, that's obviously like a huge thing, right? Is that a lot of money. But yeah, like I was, I was lucky enough to be working throughout my time in school. So I didn't feel like a real urge to graduate within a certain timeframe. Obviously, some family pressure. I'm Asian. So like, definitely a family pressure.

Megan Yeung: I feel you, yeah.

Priscilla Skylar Lee: Um, and obviously, that's like a huge pin point for a lot of people. And it can be really overwhelming. But I think like, one thing, especially in design is that like, you really have to go at your own pace. Because if you are trying to go away faster than it's like something that's actually tangible for you, you're not going to actually learn you're not going to retain any of the information. You just have to trust the process. Like you have just like in design, you have to trust the process. Use the time to find you know, what learning style works for you best, how you work best with others, how you communicate best, what times of the day that you have the most like brain energy, what you'll prioritize and what you're going to say no to, because I think like those are the things that again, like those are the soft skills that companies hire for. If you're able to go and talk to a hiring manager and be like, I work best that 6am to 7:30 and then I need a massive break, and I'll start working again at 1pm. Like, I think they would value that because it's like you have a it shows that you have an understanding of who you are and how you can help other people effectively.

Megan Yeung: You also happen to be one of those people in the position to hire. So what's one thing you frequently see the applicants should improve on?

Priscilla Skylar Lee: I see a lack of storytelling in a lot of portfolios. So obviously, I mostly look at UX applications. We want to learn about your project and your case study from your perspective. So what's your point of view? You know, like, what did you contribute? How did that affect the decisions that your team made? What challenges did you face? And how did you kind of share that with your team? That's, that's the interesting part. Like that's the meat behind the story. I don't like yes, showing me the process is important. And it's interesting, but I also want to know, kind of like, like, why was the research tough? How did you how did you fill in the gaps of, you only got two respondents to do a survey? How did you fill in the rest of the research? How did you decide to pivot? And how did you decide to convince the rest of your team to pivot? Things like that, I think are what really make your portfolio engaging, or your case study engaging, as well as I guess the second kind of piece to that, for me would be business case. So a lot of SIAT portfolios, I can tell the difference between someone that's taken 438 and someone that hasn't from their portfolio, because typically what happens is one will talk about how their design affects the business and one won't. And at the end of the day, as designers like we're part of a business and we have to sell our designs. Like even in a design driven company. You're still gonna face challenges with like, prioritization. And your product managers and development teams are gonna be like, so why should I invest? Send your design versus like just making it faster because our customers, our customers are asking us to make it faster. But why? Why are you trying to sell me your design? And I think that that's like a huge piece that's often missing, in SIAT in general, like we don't have very many business related courses. So it's a big stretch. And it's like that learning hit me when I was in 438. I was like, Oh, this is important. I don't understand anything but business. But this is really important. So, yeah.

Megan Yeung: How do you become a great designer. It all starts from you, and the people around you, how you communicate, how you listen, and how you help each other. Because at the end of the day, all SIAT students have a common goal in mind. And that's to achieve and create a successful design. I want to thank Priscilla for sharing their experiences and knowledge with us. I'll let them do the honor of ending this episode.

Priscilla Skylar Lee: It's important to really embrace your community and be thankful for everyone that's helped you through it. So thank you anyone that's helped me through my journey.

Stacey Copeland: Interested in learning more about the FCAT community? Stay tuned for a brand new episode of FCAT After School hitting your feeds every other Wednesday this season. A big thanks to Priscilla Skylar Lee for joining us here on the show. You'll find links to resources mentioned and more info on Priscilla and the School of Interactive Arts in the show notes. Our hosts for this episode was Megan Yeung production by Megan and me Stacy Copeland. FCAT After School respectfully acknowledges the Musqueam, Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Qayqayt, Kwantlen, Semiahmoo and Tsawwassen peoples on whose unceded traditional territories our three campuses reside, and where many of the stories shared in our series take place. Make sure to rate and subscribe to FCAT After School in your podcast app of choice, so you don't miss any of our upcoming episodes. You can follow us on social media at FCAT @ SFU. That's f c a t at SFU on Twitter and Instagram. See you next time!