Season 2, Episode 1: Entrepreneurship in UX Design with Eric Lee

November 29, 2022


Stacey Copeland: Welcome to FCAT after school, a podcast project from SFU's Faculty of Communication, Art and Technology. In each episode we join student hosts in conversation with alumni as they explore career journeys since graduation and gather advice for the next generation. In this episode SIAT, or School of Interactive Arts and Technology student Megan Yeung sits down with UX designer and program alumnus Eric Lee. Eric reveals his secrets to work passion, balance, and overcoming impostor syndrome, as he describes his personal journeys towards education and entrepreneurship. To top it all off, some helpful tips for personal branding and portfolio building. No matter what stage of career you find yourself in. Here are SIAT's own, Megan Yeung and Eric Lee on FCAT After School.

Megan Yeung: Welcome to the podcast, I'm gonna ask you to start off by doing a favor for me, a classic favor, which is to introduce yourself, kind of talk about what you do, what your current job is. All that good stuff.

Eric Lee: Yes, I'm Eric, and I'm a UX designer at a finance, FinTech called Central 1. On the side, I also host events, in person events for a Vancouver based UX design community called Vancouver Design Check-in. Those are the two probably the most meaningful things you'd like to know.

Megan Yeung: You mentioned UX designer. Now I'm going to ask you, what is a UX designer, like obviously, the name kind of mentions what it is, you know, user experience designer.  However, I feel like the label encompasses a lot of complex processes, right. And I feel like people who are not familiar with the field that we're in, can kind of use UI and UX interchangeably. So I wanted to ask you, what is UX design? And what are some unique features that make it different from say, UI design?

Eric Lee: Yes.  Yeah, I get that question a lot, especially when I was starting off. I would even say UI design, doesn't exist without UX to some aspect. One of my first ever mentors, she told me like, if you are looking for a product, that's for functionality, you go to an engineer, if you're looking for beautiful and aesthetic visuals, you go to an artist. But if you're looking for something that's both functional and aesthetic, you go to a designer. Now adding UX to it, so at its basic essence, I think UX designer basically looks at the overall experience of the product, we design that experience. So for example, how does the product look? And feel? How do we interact with the product? And how does it fulfill its functions and more. So as as a UX designer, I at least spend most of the time communicating with my teams. So like product managers, product owners, my fellow developers, other UX teams and stakeholders. So when it's when I'm given a task, it is kind of like my responsibility to find out everything there is know and understand about it. Before starting with ideating, and solutions, getting all to the UI aspect, on figma, dragging shapes and sizes all around. That, to me is a proper job of a UX designer.

Megan Yeung: Yeah, so you're kind of like the Megamind of the project.

Eric Lee: If it comes to that, yes. And a lot, a lot of positions are looking exactly like a Megamind.

Megan Yeung: So in SIAT, we learn about something called design thinking. Now, design thinking is a very important concept when it comes to being a UX designer. How important is design thinking when performing your job? And how do you even learn how to design think?

Eric Lee: Right, that's a very good question. Yes, you mentioned that we learned design thinking from SIAT. But I feel like even at SIAT, you don't learn the full definition of the process of design thinking. We follow a version of design thinking. In fact, everybody even outside of our school or people just trying to solve a problem follow design thinking to some aspect even without themselves knowing about it actually. Now, design thinking to me, as a UX designer, it's absolutely essential. Because even though we don't get to, we also don't get to follow it exactly step by step, we usually improvise and follow version of it as well. Now, when it comes to learning, design thinking, try to apply it within your own projects or anything, you don't even have to do it on your projects or case studies, maybe even just everyday problem solving tasks. This will help create a deeper understanding on why design thinking is like a cheat code to solving any and all problems. And another part that I would like to add about design thinking is like, uncertainty is something that we face a lot in, in the real life. When we were growing up in our school, there's one one right answer to one question. But now when we come to the real life, everything seems uncertain. There's, there are multiple answers to a lot of problems. And we don't know which one's the right answer. So if you know understand design thinking, it will help you follow a process, follow steps, and also make you comfortable with uncertainty. That's my viewpoint about design thinking.

Megan Yeung: You know, if we take what you just mentioned to us about design thinking, I'm gonna give you kind of a scenario, a POV, roleplay scenario. Okay? So, I have an app, I'm going to make it easy. I have a food delivery app. Okay, called Food Dash.

Eric Lee: That sounds fun.  Okay.

Megan Yeung: Totally original name.

Eric Lee: Very, very nice.

Megan Yeung: Okay. However, I've been looking at my app reviews. And, you know, users are saying, I kind of prefer, Leap the Dishes over this app, you know, this, this app is kind of lacking and things. And so say, I'm a client that comes to you, I'm like, Eric help me, I don't know why my app is not working. I don't know why people prefer the other app. But if we relate this to design thinking, maybe this is a little broad, and you can narrow it down. But if we apply design thinking to the situation, how would you go about it?

Eric Lee: Right. That's a very interesting scenario gave me because that is also very common situation a lot of people a lot of companies or a lot of products are at. So first, I'll go back to those users. People who are complaining people who say they prefer this over my own product, go interview them, talk to them, observe them using our product and use and observe them using the other product, then you'll get insights to why your product's not working or your product's not helping your users solve the need. Then we can go to the second cycle, which is ideating, and brainstorming solutions. And then finally testing those again. And then it goes back over and over and over again. Till till you die. Because iteration never stops. If iteration, if there was like a final 100% final perfect product for our users, then a lot of the companies that we know would stop hiring, or hiring more employees into like, okay, then we solved the problem. We don't have a need anymore. We'll just rake in money. No, that's why like Apple, Google, all those big companies that are still hiring more people, they still improve their product more and more and try to meet their users needs.

Megan Yeung: So I asked around my classmates, my friends who are in SIAT. And I asked them, what's the biggest question that you want Eric to answer today?

Eric Lee: Oh, okay.

Megan Yeung: And they want to know, what skills did you learn in SIAT that maybe helped you prepare for the working world, or, you know, skills that transferred over and you found helpful while finding a job or performing in your job. And a lot of students also wonder about Co-Op, which is a wonderful opportunity that SFU offers. If you have Co-Op experience, how was that experience for you? And was there anything unique, such as unique skills that you learned from Co-Op, that you may have not learned while sitting in the classroom?

Eric Lee: Wow, those are all really good questions. So let's start with what I learned from SIAT that really helped me prepare. There were two things. The first one was just being a jack of all trades. Like SIAT teaches you so many skills in tech and design, like little bit of everything that could, that I could use in starting a whole business entirely and like marketing, graphic design, visual design, filming, all that. That really puts you in a cut above the rest, you could go through different means utilize different tools and different skill sets to provide more value to your boss or your company or your client, whoever. So that was really, that was huge. The other thing I would, that was most important for me coming out of SIAT, since the SIAT promoted, a lot of group projects and group work. It really taught you how to work in a team or group. It cultivated that mindset and the language you use, the tone you use the way you communicate, because that is the most important part of my job as a UX designer. And for a lot of people that I work with, because as a UX designer, I'm working with cross functional teams, who have their own language, who have their own abbreviations they use, just being able to communicate could be difficult. But after coming out of SIAT, that transition for me was much easier. So those were the two most important things I would say, I got out of SIAT.

Megan Yeung: Yeah. To add on. I remember when I first entered SIAT, I was like, wow, like, they teach a variety of things. And for the longest time, I was like, Why? Why do they do that? But now that you mentioned that, you know, it kind of trains us to be a jack of all trades and it's an advantage when we enter the workforce definitely makes a lot more sense. And when you mentioned communication, it's just funny how the biggest lesson that we learned from SIAT is not deliberately taught. It's kind of more of the skills you learn when you're working in a team. But yeah, those are very good insights. For your Co-Op. If you could talk a little bit about that.

Eric Lee: Yes, I unfortunately, was not able to do Co-Op officially, because I was lacking time. So I did internships. So it was not exactly Co-Op, but it was job experience on the side while I was studying. But yeah, doesn't matter. I got experience, basically. And that experience was honestly the start of everything. Because all of these skills were there. I had them. I just didn't know how to put them together. So when I got my first job, I was working for my friend's startup company, Meaningful Work. I was their lead designer. And I thought initially, I knew everything I need to know to start and help that company. But then once I started working, I found out I didn't know anything. I mean, I mean, I knew things, but I didn't know how to apply them. Then I had to self educate myself a lot. I went to different UX design communities, I got tried to get mentorship, I went to workshops, I looked up online, watch a lot of YouTube videos just to find out what exactly does a UX designer do? How do we apply all this knowledge and skills that I have. So I had to do that all by myself for a really long time, which made me by the end of it, which made me really confident as a designer, trying to break into the job market as a full time. In fact, if anything, once I got my first interview, like that was basically I got the job. I knew what I was doing, I was more confident into applying and going into the interview. That's what sets me apart compared to everybody else.

Megan Yeung: You know, when it comes to school, SIAT, you know, I feel like people learn differently. Some people learn better by reading textbooks, and you know, studying, some people learn better hands on like myself. And so to the people who are listening, you know, if you do seem to struggle in your courses, sometimes maybe Co-Op would be a great option for you. And like Eric mentioned, you'll learn a lot of things that you may not learn in your courses. But of course, the many things you learn at SIAT, you can also learn to apply them to your job or whatever work you will be doing, which transitions us to wanting to talk about passion and work, meaning I feel like a lot of students especially you know, the up and coming generation, we feel more and more pressure to kind of have everything figured out right away. And well I personally have reached this dilemma where should I pursue something that I'm passionate about or should I pursue you know, a job that can maybe be more guaranteed but it might not necessarily follow what I like. So I was wondering if you even feel the need to have to balance your passion and your job when you are passionate about your job? And does it always feel like a job? Does it even feel like a job? I think a lot of people want to know the answers to that question.

Eric Lee: Right. Very good question. First of all, my job is related and connected to my passion. But it's not my passion. I'm not working from my passion at my workplace. I'm working to fill a need at my workplace the way they wanted to. Yes, I'm lucky that it's related to UX design, and I am passionate about UX design. But the job they ask me to do, may not be particularly what I enjoy about UX, because it has more business objectives, and they need to get things done. Now, on the other hand, I do a lot of things outside of my job, they are connected to my passion, since those things is something that I do personally, that I personally have more control over. That, to me feels fun. A lot of people ask me like, Eric, what do you do after outside of your work? Why do you always work? Where are you on the weekends? Why are you at this cafe outside of work, working, doing things related to UX, I'm like, No, this is okay. during work time, I was doing work. Now the work I do outside on my work time is my passion, I enjoy doing those. So keeping them kind of connected, yet separate, and have your day job basically support you with your night job with your other passion, I have a great flexibility that I wear. That's a balance that is a must. That's absolutely needed. Otherwise, you blurred the line, and your whole life, you will be basically working for somebody else's passion than your own.

Megan Yeung: That's great advice. I feel like sometimes people can get caught in the mix of trying to force those two aspects together. Meaning I'm not going to be happy if these two aspects do not perfectly work well together. But I really like your approach to the balance of passion and work. Again, with passion, you know, with things you're passionate about, you can kind of talk on about them for hours, days, forever, right? Say with me, what are some topics I can talk about? I can talk about fossil fuels for a long time. Most random thing, the anime HunterxHunter I can talk about all day.

Eric Lee: They added a new chapter today, but yeah.

Megan Yeung: And so like yourself, you're very passionate about UX design. And you know, it's something you can talk about all day. And I feel like that also comes with education, and educating others. Do you think having a passion for UX design has kind of driven you towards becoming an educator and a speaker?

Eric Lee: Yes, basically, a little bit of backstory actually, the way I started, my role as an educator was a bit more selfish. So the reason is, I was basically using educating others as a form of educating myself. So when I'm trying to learn something, I'm trying to learn more about UX design. I am trying to also learn it to a point I can tell others I can teach others. That way. It will make me feel like an expert. It helps with impostor syndrome.

Megan Yeung: No, yeah, definitely. You call it selfish. But I think that's how a lot of people learn. You just kind of tell yourself, you're a teacher and you're a master at it. And then eventually you will become a master at it.

Eric Lee: Right? Fake it till you make it. It's very common. That's that's how it is like you people, a lot of people don't believe it. But this is how everybody works in the industry in the entire like tech industry. But yeah, coming back to when I was teaching. So you say I'm passionate about UX design, but I'm actually passionate about solving solving problems and meeting needs more UX design is I feel like is a way I could impact and affect solving problems at a higher level. That's why I that's why I was really passionate about learning more and more about it and going through it. Now when I was teaching it, it made me realize there was a need for what I was teaching it which in turn inspired me to experiment with different types and styles of teaching. And to figure out how to help people with this need in the best way possible because I love solving problems. I love meeting needs of people in the best way possible using especially design thinking and all that. It just mutually benefits each other, you're not, when you're teaching and educating you don't you're not just helping your students grow, you're helping yourself grow, as well. Be it as a person, be it as a UX design be as, as a communicator, all that.

Megan Yeung: Yeah, definitely. I can relate to that, because I'm an art teacher for little kids.

Eric Lee: That's awesome. That's amazing.

Megan Yeung: And obviously, I love drawing. I love art. But definitely the aspect of like, teaching future artists. For me, it feels like I'm like a older sister who's kind of guiding them through techniques, skills, and in a way kind of transform into even more meaningful work, where you kind of become a mentor, you provide like a good space for your students to learn. So I definitely relate to you. In terms of mentorship, I'm not sure how common it is in the industry. But do you think there needs to be more mentorship?

Eric Lee: Oh, yes, definitely. Mentorship is definitely important. It's actually UX mentorship is very popular right now. But I would even emphasize on giving the right kind of mentorship that truly connects a mentor with the mentees needs. Because a lot of time when somebody is giving mentorship to somebody, for a mentee, they they just gloss over surface level. They don't feel connected, they don't really understand what the student who came to them need or want. Also, the mentee might have some unreasonable requests, like they're literally asking your mentor to do your job for you, at a certain point. So yeah, I'm currently working on a lot of things on how do I fix that? How do I provide the right kind of mentorship for mentees? And how do we how do I provide a platform for mentors and mentees to connect in the proper way, which was exactly what I found, actually, in my UX hackathon that I hosted. I was at a UX hackathon last year called from VXP as a club from SFU. One of the really great results that came out of that was, I accidentally put a experience mentor in a team of complete newbies. And they of course, like they won some prize at the end. But when it came to getting feedback, the mentees were told got back to me and told me they loved the fact that they had a person who was more experienced in the field help guide them and work with them towards a common objective for that given time, which was about 24 to 26 hours. And they learned skills and learned processes and communication that this is something you learn outside of your school in the workforce, even then it's like still very hard to get. So just putting, just getting a guidance with an experienced UX designer, working towards a common goal, that refinement is what is always missing. After you graduate, a school, your university get a bachelor's or even boot camps, that refinement is very much needed that recruiters look for in the field.

Megan Yeung: And when you talk about education, you also mentioned marketing yourself, which already kind of shows the entrepreneurial mindset you have. Regarding that this is just an observation on my own, but I find that if you compare SIAT students, to Beedie students, we're quite different. We're not as outgoing. We don't really touch grass that much. We kind of keep to ourselves. And so how important of a role does having that entrepreneurial mindset play in your career journey? Or would you advertise it as an essential trait that SIAT students who are looking to pursue UX design or careers surrounding that? Should they have that trait?

Eric Lee: Yes, 100% SIAT out students are extremely talented, and they get to experience all these projects and work they do just refines their skills even further. In fact, a lot of my friends they came out with with degrees in business or environmental health science and all that, and they wish that they graduated from SIAT instead. So just being able to put yourself out there being able to market yourself in some form of way even just like a little bit that will put you leaps and bounds further in your career.

Megan Yeung: Yeah. I feel like a lot of SIAT students have impostor syndrome. So here's a confirmation that you're all very talented.

Eric Lee: Yes. 100% even in the current job market, you all think your designs are nothing, there are people that are so much better. There are people in your class that are doing so much better has amazing designs. Don't worry about all that you're still great as a designer, because in the real world, you don't need something that's that pretty that beautiful. People just need something that works. And we're more than capable of providing and meeting that need.

Megan Yeung: Mm hmm. You better write that down SIAT students. And, you know, talking about marketing yourself, a portfolio would come with that, right? You know, even when people are preparing for Co-Op, we have to create a portfolio. And this is more technical tips, but how do you create a portfolio that will make you stand out from others? Because obviously, the market is incredibly saturated right now.

Eric Lee: Yes, right.

Megan Yeung: And so how do you create that portfolio that that employer is gonna be "Yeah, that's the one".

Eric Lee: Basically treat it treat your portfolio like a, like a project, treat it like design thinking project. See who you're trying to work for, what industry are trying to work at. What skills would they value? What skills do you what do you have that you want to put out there? And how to best display your skills? Keep all these in mind and think about showing and displaying your process, have a process build a process, first of all, and that process could easily be the design thinking process that I mentioned before. And people love that. People love that you don't just like blindly go in and come up with designs. People love seeing you have a process and have a reason to every design or visual or element that you you have put up. And never be afraid to talk about your work because it's your work, you should be proud of your work. If nobody if you're not going to be proud of your work, nobody else is going to be. That that would be my advice.

Megan Yeung: Yeah, that's great adviceZecause maybe it's this is because you know, the fear of unknown, just not knowing what to expect when we graduate. But I feel like, you know, a lot of students look for step by step, concrete kind of answers to how do I build a portfolio? But in reality, I feel like, it's probably a lot more fluid than that, you know? And this comes back to self worth as well, you know, don't try to be someone else, right? You're supposed to market yourself. But yeah, what do I know? This is all you.

Eric Lee: No, this is all really good.

Megan Yeung: But um, yeah, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with us today.

Eric Lee: No problem, thanks for having me.

Megan Yeung: If there's, yeah, if there's anything you want to plug, you can do it now.

Eric Lee: First thing, I'm working with IATSU, we're going to be trying to host a UX design hackathon UX hackathon for SFU students coming next year. And if y'all want to participate, or even help out volunteer somehow, like, hit Rishabh up the president of IATSU. Second thing, I would like to promote my UX community that I'm part of solving Vancouver Design Check-in, they are a Slack community, they have a lot of experienced mentors, and a lot of students who go on there and gain that mentorship and build that connection with a lot of existing designers. Plus, you might get a job, you know, you can get referred reference, which is amazing.

Megan Yeung: Yeah.

Eric Lee: The other thing I would like to plug is just, yeah, I am always open for mentorship. Y'all could connect everybody here can connect me with me on LinkedIn, or any, mainly I'm trying to start a YouTube channel, called Eric the design guy, I would gladly talk with you and help you with your portfolio and case studies. And I do have a program that I do on the side where I try to help students build build their perfect case study in 30 days. But yeah, that's everything I wanted to plug.

Megan Yeung: You are SIAT famous now, if you guys see Eric ever say hi to him be like, Hey, I listened to your episode, and I loved it. But yeah, thank you so much for joining me today. And we will see you on the next episode of FCAT after school. See you buh-bye!

Stacey Copeland: Stay tuned for a brand new episode of FCAT after school, hitting your feeds every other Wednesday this season. A big thanks to Eric Lee for joining us here on the show. You'll find links and resources mentioned and more info on Eric and the SIAT program in the show notes. Our hosts for this episode was Megan Yeung. Production is by Megan Yeung and me Stacy Copeland. FCAT after Your 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 also find us on social media FCAT at SFU. That's f-c-a-t at SFU on Twitter and Instagram. See you next time.

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