Light Chat with Sam Yuen

The story of how she build her UX career.

In 2014 when I was attending UXSG Conference, I made acquaintance with a UX Designer. Her name is Samantha Yuen. It was a very short introduction and minutes later we already had class to attend to. At that moment, the only thing I remember is the name of company she worked for, Foolproof. I think it’s a cool UX company. Since I learned UX mostly from other people’s blog, reading theirs is like my semester program. So knowing someone there was exciting for me. Yeay!

Few months later, I met Sam again in Indonesia while she was spending her time for vacation. This time I catch her up and had a really good talk about UX stuff. She is a nice person and you can feel the empathy-aura when you talk to her. I think this is a good common feeling that you can get from UX people ☺

That chat was great and inspiring for me. Because getting to know what other UX Designer did, gave me a bigger picture about what is UX (again) and how they did it. So, this time I asked Sam more detail about her journey in UX field trough this interview. I hope I can share the same excitement to you guys with this post and maybe you can get something from it. Okay then, without further ado, this is it.

Please tell us about yourself, Sam.

Sam is in front-right, near the white iPhone.

Hi there! My name is Sam and I’m a user experience (UX) designer in Singapore. I’ve been practicing user-centered design for 7+ years in both agency and in-house teams, and am currently Senior Consultant at Foolproof, an experience design agency.

My background is in hospitality management, so it’s really nice to have come full circle and look at the customer experience in different ways.

How did you start your UX career?

Very serendipitously – I saw a job ad in a forum by chance and became the first employee at web consultancy Digital Boomerang. Prior to 2007, I had never heard of UX. So the realisation that I could do something fun and meaningful for a living with my generalist skillset, still blows my mind.

I started my career as a project manager, but when I discovered I had a knack for organizing and simplifying complex information, I switched to consulting field a year later. This allowed me to try and eventually lead User Research, User Interface (UI) design, Information Architecture and content strategy for website and intranet projects.

What do you love most about UX?

The possibilities are endless! Ultimately, it’s about making the world a better place.

I love that UX is a collaborative and iterative design process based on evidence, and that speaking to people is at the heart of that process. This means I’m often out in the field – in a usability lab, customer’s home or CEO’s office – and using those insights to shape my design.

We are solving real-life problems and the experiences we design have the potential to make a positive impact, whether it’s something small (such as booking a yoga class online easily) or big (like reducing patient waiting time in a hospital). The possibilities are endless! Ultimately, it’s about making the world a better place.

Tell us your most memorable UX project.

We conducted contextual inquiries in people’s homes to understand how they used our client’s product. The client team had no prior knowledge of their customers and took turns to assist me in the interviews by taking photographs, sketching home layouts and noting physical artifacts.

After that research, I saw new fires burning in their hearts as they realized the impact of previous design decisions and how important it was to design with customers in mind.

It was a defining moment in my practice – I felt really privileged to be able to change the way people think about their customers, products and processes.

What are important skill sets do you think a UX designer must have?

To me, the most important skill is user research.

You can’t design effectively for people if you don’t understand their behaviors, thoughts and motivations. If you’re not talking to and testing with end-users as part of the design process, you’re not a UX designer.

While hard skills such as UI Design, Copywriting and Analytics can complement your skillset, soft skills are equally important too. When hiring, I look for competencies in areas like communicating, collaborating and planning as well as strengths in traits like curiousness, integrity and resilience.

However, none of these skills matter if you don’t have the right mindset. Processes and methodologies are just tools — if you follow them without having empathy for and understanding of end-users, you won’t create something useful and delightful for them.

Do you have any advice for UX designers who are just starting out?

It’s easy to be overwhelmed when you’re new to UX — it took me 2 years before I felt like ‘I can do this’, so hang in there!

Generalise, then specialise. Take your time to explore the different disciplines in UX. You don’t need InDesign or Ruby on Rails skills to be a UX designer (I can barely use Photoshop). Find what you enjoy, then develop those verticals further.

Iteration over perfection. Don’t be afraid to present concepts or sketches early to get feedback from colleagues or clients, and test your assumptions with end-users frequently. Think continuous improvement — of the product, the process, and of yourself.

UX is a mindset. Your craft shouldn’t stop outside of projects. Whether it’s an admin checklist, the way items are organized in your fridge, or attendee registration flow at a meetup, be mindful of your environment. Keep asking ‘why/why not’ and keep practicing.

These are important guiding principles, whether you’re new or experienced. Feel free to connect with me through Linkedin if you are visiting Singapore — I would be happy to chat over coffee.

Thank you for your time, Sam ☺ Have a nice day!

If you guys find this post interesting and useful, please recommend and share it ☺. Big thanks to you too, readers!

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