UXer in Asia Spotlight: Suzen Lim of AirAsia

This is an excerpt from Apical Design’s upcoming e-book, The State of UX in Asia 2017. To know when we publish, sign up at www.uxinasia.com.

I interviewed Suzen Lim, the UX Manager and one of the AirAsia’s first designers, on her experience in creating a design culture. AirAsia is a Malaysian budget-airline company founded in 1993. For the past nine consecutive years, they were voted “World’s Best Low-Cost Airline” by Skytrax.

Suzen first joined AirAsia 12 years ago as one of the company’s first design hires. And since then, she’s seen a cultural shift within the company’s view towards design and the importance of UX — though she admits there is still a long way to go.

When she was tasked to design the first website for AirAsia in 2005, the design team focused on simply filling out information and content from their marketing campaigns. Eventually, she became the manager of a small but growing design team, which quickly expanded to more than 20 webmasters/designers. But still, they were primarily designing for marketing campaigns. When it came to the task of creating a better user experience for booking flights online, her team ran into the same problem many design teams all over the world face — her stakeholders, mainly the marketing department, placed priority on the look, not functionality.

As someone who cared deeply about UX, she took the lead in starting another team within the company: a 3-person UX task force. And over the past 5 years as the go-to UX person within the company, changing the UX culture within has been a tall task. Stakeholders viewed UX very low on the totem pole, so decisions were often made from stakeholder opinions, rather than a reflection of real user behavior.

However, emboldened to change the culture within her company, she began to find ways to provide better quantitative evidence for their design decisions. She credits running A/B Testing as the best mindset shift among her peers, because the UX team finally had the numbers to justify their decisions. And after gaining traction within the company, the team steadily grew.

“AirAsia is great and gives us a lot of flexibility. As long as teams are helping the company, they’re free to do whatever they want. It’s my responsibility to grow this team and convince the other teams of the value we bring to the company.”

She’s seen an encouraging shift in mindset among her peers over the past year, mainly because the whole product team has been placing more focus on data. To the UX team, this was a welcome progress, because this opened the door to provide more compelling arguments to their stakeholders.

Now, as a group of 6, Suzen is pushing for more UX maturity within her organization. This year, they started their own usability lab for extensive UX Research. Though it’ll still take 1–2 years for it to be fully operational, she hopes to show the product team and management on how customers really use their platform, as they currently suffer from being siloed off in their own department.

With this new usability lab, she wants every design to be prototyped and tested before hitting production. This will address the problems in interpretability, as the handoff to developers is still a big pain point in their product process — especially with third party development vendors. By getting project managers deeply involved in the UX process, she’s hoping this will lead to a better and more efficient product process.

Though she admits she’s not an exceptionally-skilled UX person herself, she continues to learn and improve her skills. She’s very optimistic about the future of UX in her company and predicts her team will grow and mature over the years to come. She acknowledges that AirAsia has become far more UX friendly than when she first started 12 years ago. When the UX team requests something, the software team prioritizes the request far higher than years ago, a perk she says she quite enjoys these days.

Like this article? Don’t forget to leave a clap and subscribe over at www.uxinasia.com for the full ebook. And special thanks to Suzen Lim for participating in this interview!