Jen Zhang is an all-star UI/UX Designer at BlueDot, a start-up in Toronto working data-driven technologies to protect the world from infectious disease. She is also one of the chapter leads of Hexagon UX Toronto.
Jen shares with us how she got her ‘in’ to the field of user experience, the best piece of advice she received about working in UX, and her personal philosophy.
Q: How did you get started in the user experience space?
I studied graphic design at York University and Sheridan College in Toronto where we had to take mandatory Interactive Design courses. While I chose to stay within the graphic design stream — specifically in branding — after my graduation I realized I wanted to be more immersed in a product from ideation to production.
Unsure whether or not my UX chops were any good, I applied to Huge ’s UX School and, to my surprise, got accepted. This was my first glance into the UX world and how innovative user experiences require forward thinking designers. It was an extremely fruitful experience and it taught me a lot about the importance of collaboration between the designer and the user.
After spending a summer in Brooklyn, I came back to Toronto and started my career in the UX space! (This was around the time my close friend and Hexagon director, Fiona Yeung, approached me and bounced off the idea of starting a Hexagon chapter in Toronto. Having three chapter leads in different stages of our UX careers certainly worked out for us!)
Initially hired as a Visual Designer at BlueDot, I primarily designed web and mobile interfaces and interaction patterns for our products. As I began to participate in user research sessions with my friend and past colleague, Julia Meriel, I realized I wanted to learn more in depth the practices of a Product Designer. I had recently met Lindsie Canton through Hexagon UX Toronto’s first event, Know Your Worth, and learned about Bridge School.
After my acceptance into Bridge School’s Product Design Cohort 1, I was able to really delve into each phase of the product design process including research, facilitation, strategy, usability testing, and pitching. It’s been almost three years since I began my UX journey and I’m still learning so much everyday — especially when I’m constantly meeting talented and amazing individuals through work and the Hexagon UX community.
Q: What’s a typical day look like for you?
I start the day breaking a sweat at the gym, either at a HIIT class, or my own gym routine — I find that you look your best and feel your best in your post-workout glow. Aside from fitness, Headspace’s meditation of the day has been a great way to ponder about topics I don’t often think about. Right now I’m taking a course focused on kindness and fostering feelings of compassion towards yourself. [By extension] I’m learning to judge others less harshly too.
During the day, you’ll find me with my headphones on, designing the next version of our main product, Insights, or incorporating branding work here and there.
In the evenings, I’m often cooking a tasty meal, working on Hexagon, doodling my thoughts on my iPad, reading a book, or writing in my journal. It’s usually pretty jam-packed, but I make it a goal to end my day having caught up with the people who I value most in my life.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten about working in UX?
Figure out what you’re passionate about. Yes, every UX designer needs to have a love for solving users’ problems, but if you’re not passionate about the project you’re working on, the outcome of your project will be jeopardized. Reflect and ask yourself:
“What is your niche? What makes you ask “why?” and “how might we?” time and time again, simply because you want the best outcome for the user.
Of course, there’s also the classic advice to network, and lots of it. That’s a solid one. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help of those I’ve met throughout my UX journey. Lastly, attend conferences, be active on Twitter, reach out on LinkedIn, or visit your next local Hexagon event!
Q: Why is it important to you to be a part of a creative community?
Everyone deserves to feel a sense of belonging in a community — a place where they can foster growth, build relationships, and be valued as a member of something greater than themselves. Being part of a creative community pushes me to not be complacent, to remember the thrill and joy that comes with working on new projects and constantly making new connections.
I gravitate towards creative communities where I am able to meet and jive with individuals with a wonderful sense of imagination and innovative ideas.
Q: What’s your fondest memory of Hexagon so far?
Definitely the night after our first (and sold out!) event, Know Your Worth, held at Wealthsimple. My chapter co-leads, Andréa, Shiera, and I had been planning and organizing the chapter for four months and finally seeing the event come to fruition was a humbling experience.
The venue was filled with passionate and positive individuals, we received copious amounts of positive feedback on the need for events like Know Your Worth in the tech space, and how even with so many years in their UX career, for some, it was the best event they’ve attended.
I think it’s fair to say on behalf of Andréa and Shiera that we felt on top of the world that night.
Q: What is your personal philosophy?
My personal philosophy is to be your most authentic self, everyday. To choose to live authentically means choosing self-compassion — knowing that with my moments of struggle, there are also moments of strength.
My most genuine connections are with those who value me for me. Why waste time and energy striving for whatever perfection may be? I am willing to be vulnerable in order to strengthen relationships and grow as a better friend, sister, designer, employee, and co-worker.
Comment below on questions you’d like answered by Jen and other Hexagon UX chapter leads👇
Special thanks to Jen Zhang, Bonne Marie Bautista, Fiona Yeung, and Julia Meriel.
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Hexagon UX is a global community built to empower women and non-binary folks to bring their whole selves to work — building confidence, balancing the ratio in the UX industry, and effecting change on a greater scale while fostering personal and professional growth. Join us on Slack, where we will be continuing the conversation.