Eng Phannipha

The Key to Great Product Design Is More Than Creativity: It’s Collaboration

Elegant Tools Feature Series: Eng Phannipha

Name: Eng Phannipha
Job: Product Designer
Joined Facebook: February 2015

Describe yourself in 12 words or less.

Seattle-based technical product designer from Thailand and maker of design tools.

Did you have any hobbies when you were growing up?

I’ve always been obsessed with puzzles. When I was a kid, I would buy a puzzle book every time I went to a bookstore, which was about every other week.
 
Over the years, this obsession grew from books to mathematics to games (board, video, and PC), and eventually to algorithmic problems. The last one was influenced by my then-boyfriend, who taught me my first programming language, Python, so that we could work on Google Code Jam problems together.

(I’ve since married my then-boyfriend.)

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

I enjoy exploring the world with my 2-year-old daughter and hunting for the best fried chicken and fries. Occasionally, I tinker with AI robots, go indoor bouldering, and play games.

Tip: If you love fried chicken and ever find yourself in Portland, check out Screen Door.

Exploring the corn maze with daughter Ada

What’s your favorite quote?

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

What are the first three things you do in the morning to prep for a day of work?

  1. Listen to some upbeat music. I borrowed this technique from athletes and found that it has helped to brighten my mood and forced me into a slight meditative state, where I focus on just the song and nothing else.
  2. Check my calendar, emails, messages, and notifications. I do this in the morning, a couple of times throughout the day, and before I head home. About a month ago, I did an audit of my phone notifications and turned off a ton of them, including some of my work apps. It took a while for me to get used to the notification-less lock screen (#FOMO), but I’m now convinced that it has done wonders for my productivity and focus. Give it a try!
  3. Work on my to-do list for the day. I try to chart a course at the beginning of the day, even though I know that my to-do list will change and grow before the day is through.

Is your career as a product designer at Facebook what you envisioned it to be?

As someone who’s long geeked out about design tools and admired Facebook’s contributions in this space, I never would’ve thought that I would get to lead the effort in building the tools and the team to innovate the way we design, collaborate, and build products at Facebook. What started out as a little hackathon project is now a tool that’s being built by a team of 15 people and used by many teams across the company.

So suffice it to say that my career as a product designer at Facebook is more than I could have ever envisioned. And I have a lot of people to thank for that (including my manager and my team—you know who you are).

What’s the best part of your job?

As a design lead/product manager, I have the pleasure of helping the people on my team succeed and supporting them in defining our product direction and strategy. That said, I stay close enough to the action to get my hands dirty and have in-depth discussions about our design and technical decisions, which I also love.

But the best part is definitely the people I get to work with every day. When you put a group of talented and passionate people together in a supportive environment, amazing things will come out of it. Because of that, four years in and I still go to work every day thinking how lucky I am that I get to do what I do and still get paid. What more can you ask for in a job?

What’s the most challenging part of working in your role?

I’m a people pleaser, so the most challenging, gut-wrenching part of my job is saying no and not being able to help someone right away. It feels like I’m letting someone down, but with limited time and attention, it’s the only way I can make sure that I’m focused on the most important things.

I’m still learning and growing in this area, so I don’t have all the answers, but here are some of the things I’ve tried:

  • Where it makes sense, instead of saying no, use it as an opportunity to give others on the team a chance to be more involved or lead.
  • Be open about what your priorities are and why the project didn’t make the cut or took longer than expected. More often than not, the other party will actually agree with you.
  • Lastly, don’t be too hard on yourself. Talk to someone, eat your favorite food, and take a nap.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

During my first year at Facebook, I was fortunate to have been involved in one of our big redesign efforts. But as someone who represented the team in presenting the work to leadership and partner teams, I did not do a great job of acknowledging and celebrating the contributions made by others on the team. As silly as it sounds, I think I was shy about vocalizing my gratitude.

My manager at the time told me, “Champion and recognize the contributions of others.”

This advice was a wake-up call for me. I took this learning into my next project and every project since. The more people I involved and thanked, the more support we got and the more successful the project became. Had I not gotten that advice, I would not have been able to build up the network of supporters and contributors who’ve gotten the product to where it is today.

What advice would you give to someone who is interested in becoming a Product Designer at Facebook?

It takes a team of people to build a product at Facebook, so the good news is that no one here expects you to do everything and know everything. It takes courage and maturity to acknowledge what you don’t know or can’t do well and ask for help.

Be kind, be curious, be flexible, be persistent, be positive, and be yourself. Remember to have fun and stay humble, always.