The one certain thing in life is uncertainty. This is especially true of human behavior. That colleague you think is super shy turns out to be bold when she sings karaoke, or your grumpy landlord sends you a birthday card despite speaking maybe ten words to you the entire year.
It’s not always easy to predict someone’s actions, which is why you should stay curious.
“People are always going to surprise you,” says Anna Nguyen, a product designer at O/M who, as a college undergrad, didn’t see the point of confirming seemingly obvious observations including, “‘People don’t like it when you’re mean to them.’ I mean, do we really need to study that?”
Now, with every research project, Anna runs into unpredictable findings. “You’ll have a big button that says, “Click Me,” in the middle of the page and people will bypass it and you’re like, ‘Oh my god, how is this happening?”
That type of baffling outcome might frustrate someone who has a singular vision and intent for their work. But for Anna, curveballs are par for the course in product design. It’s why A/B testing is baked into every project, and why she prefers the field to graphic design.
“It feels less arbitrary,” she says. “It’s easier for me to anchor on to data or existing patterns to get a point across. There’s a clear numerical impact you can say about a product before it ships out, and that’s comforting.”
Anna loves research methods as much as she loves painting and drawing. She attended a high school focused on the arts but didn’t see a viable future in such crafts. So she studied psychology and moonlighted as a graphic designer to pay the bills. It’s only when she discovered UI/UX that she saw a way to make a living being both passionate and practical.
“Creativity and critical thinking are never mutually exclusive,” she says. “You need both to succeed in life, so the dichotomy is a bit moot. But it is nice that throughout the design process you can kind of ping pong using one side of the brain, then the other.”
At O/M, appreciates the ability to practice product design in an environment that strikes yet another balance of being both small and focused — a far cry from the chaotic startup environment where she worked before joining the studio.
She was also pleasantly surprised by how O/M defies agency stereotypes, namely creating a safe and nurturing space that doesn’t tolerate lame clients.
“There’s a general expectation of abuse at an agency, and I’m glad to say it hasn’t happened here,” Anna says. “Obviously client projects always have their ups and downs but we’re serious about treating people with humanity. It’s made me think about as a society what we expect out of a workplace. Especially post-pandemic when people think about what work means to their lives as a whole. Like, it’s not ok to be overworked and underpaid.”
Post-pandemic work for O/M means employing a fully remote staff, something Anna is still wrapping her head around. She had a hard time, initially, getting used to working without social cues. For example, in the office she would see people eating lunch and join them or grab her own. At home, she would look at the clock at 3 pm and realize she hadn’t eaten all day. Once she found her rhythm of when to exercise, eat, turn off her laptop, it was easy to appreciate the benefits of working remotely.
“There’s a lot more flexibility. When you’re tired, you can nap for 30 minutes. I mean, you could do that at the office but it might have felt a bit unnerving,” she says with a laugh, adding that remote work broadens opportunities for hiring and equity. “If you could work anywhere, why would you choose to be crammed in a small apartment in a city that can be kind of rough sometimes? I have my personal reasons for doing so but it’s nice to know it’s not just another expectation — something shitty you have to endure just to make it to a certain point in your career. It’s nice to know it’s not mandatory anymore.”
It’s also nice to have coworkers and clients who acknowledge there’s more to life than work.
“I’ve been lucky with my team. They’re all very communicative about where they are, mentally.
Sometimes you have a rough day and it’s cool to take a break,” she says. “You don’t have to hide parts of yourself.”