Coleen Baik — Independent
Independent product designer and visual artist based in New York City.
I have always cared about aesthetics, organisation, and problem-solving. I never really associated those things with design, which might explain my roundabout journey. As a kid, people told me I was creative, but I didn’t feel particularly artsy. Couple that with the ‘starving artist’ persona I heard so much about, I didn’t think I could make a living as a designer.
In undergrad, I decided to study what seemed practical at the time and pursued business. My way of balancing that with my creative side was by focusing on marketing. My thinking was that I would study the most creative, practical subject and it seemed like marketing was the perfect intersection. As I progressed through undergrad, the internships I had were more strategic and less creative. Somewhere in there, I lost sight of my love for design and creative things.
After I graduated, I got a consulting job and my first project was for USPS. The project was a redesign of their mobile and self-service platforms and while I was focused on the planning and strategy side, there were designers whose work inspired me to learn more about user experience. That project sparked the beginning of my design journey. The work those designers did exposed me to user experience design and it felt like I had found the creative career for me.
A typical day for me likely begins with coffee, or juice if I managed to make it to the gym that morning. From there I head to work and usually cue up some podcasts for my commute. Once I get to work I open up Gmail and give my calendar a once over, just to know what’s ahead in my day and figure out when I can block out time to work, heads down. I’ll typically have a morning sync with the two other designers on my project, just to make sure we’re aligned with what we want to accomplish for the week. After that, I’ll work for a few hours before lunch. My work time usually includes researching other products and cool interaction patterns, sketching, and then spending time in Sketch fleshing out my ideas. After lunch, I’ll likely have a few meetings, perhaps with my broader product team to plan a sprint or do a retrospective on the previous sprint. Once my meetings are over, I try to squeeze in more time for heads down work. In the evenings I usually try to go to a meetup, or I’ll have coffee with someone looking to start a career in design.
When I first started designing, I would go to Dribbble to get inspired. More recently, I find myself being inspired in more serendipitous ways. A good podcast, a great conversation, or taking a class, inspire me more than any one piece of design. I try to put myself in new situations or engage with people who have different interests than me and see what I can learn from them or how I might be able to make their life easier.
One podcast that doesn’t necessarily inspire me, but keeps me thoughtful and cautious about the impacts of my work is Note to Self. I love hearing about the implications of tech and Note to Self keeps me vigilant about my design decisions.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about leadership and Julie Zhou’s newsletter, The Looking Glass, has been really inspiring. Every week she answers questions from designers. The topics vary, but she always has a good story and her advice is actionable.
I’m still gushing over the design of Snap’s Spectacles. The charging mechanism for the glasses is very well thought out. I’m amazed by well designed physical products because the cost of iteration is so high. As a digital product designer, I have the luxury of testing and iterating much more quickly than a designer who works on physical products, which makes me appreciate the craft that went into the Spectacles so much more.
The Track-Trump site was helpful in keeping up with all the murky happenings of the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency. I like that the site is simple and that they iterated over time. It’s a great example of shipping and MVP and then making it better as you go. It’s been valuable since day 1, and to see the value add over time is great. I wish they’d continue updating because it’s hard to keep up with all the things that happen in government with this new administration.
The work I’m most proud of is the first project I’ve worked on that is actually live. While the interaction is basic and the feature is ubiquitous, I’m very proud of the business impact of the project. As someone who has used touchID for a few years now, I took it for granted. Working on the Android Fingerprint launch at American Express was an eye-opening experience because the business implications of people being able to login faster are mindblowing.
For me, the biggest design challenge is alignment. As a designer, you need to be in alignment with other designers you’re working with, product managers, the business, and engineers. That’s a lot of people, who have varying perspectives, needing to be on the same page. Figuring out what tool to use for which audience can be challenging, yet fun.
Ask for help. This was a hard lesson for me to learn, but the sooner you do it the quicker you’ll get better. If there’s someone whose work you admire, or whose journey you’re interested in, let them know and ask for recommendations. Everyone has different requests for how you approach them, but a great place to start is Out of Office Hours because you’ll chat with someone who has already expressed interest in helping designers.
Make your own projects. When I first started designing I would stay up all night making things. They all turned out pretty rough, but it was the act of making that helped me stay motivated and allowed me to create a body of work that would ultimately get me into graduate school. If you aren’t getting the opportunities you want or don’t yet feel ready for those opportunities, the best way to prepare is to do the kind of work you want to be doing. Don’t wait for permission.}
Feel free to follow me on Twitter @datriannam. I’m always excited to chat about products and design, so tweet me.