We sat down with UX designer and artist Jessica Fan to find out what it takes to be an artist, UX designer, and entrepreneur.
- What do you do?
Hi there! I’m a user experience designer, entrepreneur, and currently a partner at Journey- a customer experience consultancy based in Toronto. We help companies create better products and services by understanding what their customers’ needs are. This could be a bank that wants to encourage teenagers to start saving money, or a hospital that wants to help pregnant women access medical services.
- What were your interests growing up? How have they led you to the career path you’ve chosen?
Art has always been a big part of my life. I love the process of creating something new with only a pencil and my imagination. I was also a major science nerd – always exploring nature, collecting odd specimens, and conducting experiments. When I was 8, I made a “science museum” out of old drawers and charged friends an entrance fee.
My passion for creativity and exploration eventually led me into user experience design. Much of my work involves research to understand problems from a different perspective, and finding creative ways to tackle them. It’s the perfect balance of right brain and left brain that keeps me challenged and energized.
- What are your favorite aspects of your job? What parts do you not enjoy?
I love how design can be applied to any problem and industry. I’ve had the pleasure of working on projects in areas including healthcare, education, sustainable agriculture, and finance.
Uncovering difficult issues like environmental pollution or the lack of medical services for seniors can seem overwhelming at times, but it’s also what makes me realize how many opportunities there are for design to make a difference.
- What skills do you need in your line of work?
To be a good user experience designer, you’ll need a good dose of curiosity, empathy, and humility. As far as skills, it’s helpful to have a strong understanding of visual design, user research methods, the latest technology trends, and business strategy.
- You have carried out projects in poverty alleviation, healthcare, and environmental sustainability; do you have any that you were particularly keen on?
I like to find projects that have the potential for long-term social impact, but I don’t have a preference for a particular area of focus. I believe poverty, access to quality healthcare, and environmental sustainability are all interrelated. When we address one area, others are also positively affected.
- Has being part of positive change always been important to you?
From an early age, my father would tell me stories about his life in rural China. Times were hard and few people had the opportunity for a good education. I am incredibly fortunate to have grown up in Canada, and have always had the desire to help others access the same opportunities I’ve had.
- Could you tell us about Journey and how you got started there?
At Journey, we help organizations see the world from their customers’ perspective. For example, we could help a hospital interview expectant mothers to understand what delights and frustrates them about their hospital experience. We would then design better ways to serve them, such as creating a website to help them find the right physician, or creating a hospital support group.
Regarding how I joined Journey: I became good friends with Journey’s founder, Chenny Xia, through an entrepreneurship program called Canada’s Next 36. We both share the same mission of using design to better the world, so we joined forces to make that happen.
- As a partner at Journey, what advice do you give to businesses and organizations looking to increase their impact?
- Dig deeper to find the root cause of the problems you’re trying to solve.
- Take the time to understand internal politics – who are the people that call the shots and how do you gain their support?
- Do you believe a business today could survive without the combination of design and technology? Why or why not?
Having a strong culture of design and technology will be essential if businesses want to innovate and remain competitive. Companies that aren’t able to keep up will eventually be overtaken by others that are more forward-thinking and nimble, like what happened to Blockbusters when Netflix came along.
- Why did you decide to start up SnapLingo and Penyo Pal? Could you explain what both of them are?
SnapLingo and Penyo Pal are companies I co-founded to make language-learning easier for kids. My inspiration came from personal experience learning Mandarin while growing up here in Canada.
Most kids learn foreign languages through boring lessons in textbooks. Penyo Pal is an app that teaches vocabulary through fun games that adapt to your learning progress. SnapLingo connects students in Canada with those in China through a virtual world on the iPad, creating an exciting way to do language and cultural exchange.
- What was it like working for Google?
It was inspiring to be surrounded by so many brilliant minds. Everyone is working on technology that will touch the lives of millions of people. I was part of some great initiatives at YouTube, including a summit where top YouTube Educators envisioned the future of online education. I got to meet Hank Green (vlogbrothers) and Vsauce!
- What is one thing you took away from your university/college experience?
Learning to forge my own path despite uncertainty. I began university majoring in biomedical chemical engineering, but soon realized that my passion lies in design. It was a scary decision to switch into a different program at a new school, but I’m glad that I followed my heart and ended up where I am today.
- Since selected as Canada’s Next 36, what contributions do you see yourself making in the future in the tech, design, and business world for Canada?
My personal mission is to help businesses across Canada understand the importance of user experience design and experimentation. To compete in the global economy, Canadian companies must become more innovation-driven, and that requires a major shift in culture.
- I saw on your blog that you are a 3 time city badminton champion! When did you start playing badminton? Has your interest in sport helped in your career? How?
I started playing badminton in grade 7 after I saw how good my friend was at the sport. I don’t like losing, so I started training religiously to improve my skills. I played women’s doubles, which not only requires good coordination but also complete trust in your partner. When building a company, perseverance and working well in a team is essential.
- From the About Me page on your blog, you seem to be very well rounded – from being in design and business to also publishing a paper on murine stem cell bioreactors! What advice would you give to someone who is interested in many subjects and can’t decide on what to do or how to combine all of them?
I would encourage you to keep pursuing whatever subjects you’re interested in, even if they might not seem related. Everything you learn will help you one day.
When deciding on a career path, reflect on what your values are and what comes naturally to you. Taking a personality assessment like the MBTI is a good place to start.
- What advice would you give to a girl who is afraid of trying new things?
Find out where that fear is coming from and ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that can happen if I try this?” Assess the risk of doing it and what you’ll lose out on if you don’t.
- How do you maintain a work-life balance?
To be honest, I don’t do a very good job of that. This year I’ve made it a priority to take better care of myself, both mentally and physically. I created a big spreadsheet with goals like running a half marathon and spending more time with friends and family. It helps to have an accountability buddy to keep me on track.
Check out Jessicas site and work.