Mina is a User Experience Design Specialist at SAP, working in AppHaus, SAP’s award-winning internal design agency. SAP is a multinational software company that makes enterprise software to manage business operations and customer relations. Tune into our chat as we learn more about Mina’s career path, industry insights, and her tips for new UX designers breaking into the field.
Can you tell us a bit about your background, how did you get into the design field?
As a kid, I was always involved in arts and loved drawing. When I was applying for college, I didn’t feel that fine arts or illustration were a viable career path for me, since I wasn’t an amazing fine artist. So, I looked for a career path in the art that was also “realistic.” I found a graphic design program called the York Sheridan Joint program of Design, and I decided to join this program. This program doesn’t exist anymore, as it’s now split into two different programs, but it was pretty well known for a while. During the program, I got introduced to UX design. Admittedly I liked UX for shallow reasons — because of the growth potential as a career path (and the $$) but truly didn’t understand it. So, after graduation, I explored different tech companies so I could set my foot into the UX design world. I briefly worked for a tech Startup asa UI designer, until a company called SAP reached out to me for a UI/UX intern position. I applied and joined SAP Labs in Waterloo. There, I learned to collaborate with development teams.
How did you make your transition into UX Design?
During my time at SAP, I experienced a design thinking workshop for the first time. I was interested in how they were engaging real users and using the information they gathered to make design decisions. I ended up transferring to the team that hosted this workshop as one of the founding members of their newest location. Known as the internal design agency/consultancy of SAP, we are a customer-facing team that follows a human-centered methodology to build out applications backed by SAP technologies. Starting out, I had a very visual focused role. But because our team is pretty small, we all had to wear many hats and practice end-to-end design. That means I was able to take on the role of a user researcher, engage with customers, build out concepts, and work with developers. One of the projects that I’ve worked on was designing a dashboard that helps project consultants manage implementation projects. I also designed a mobile app that helps truck drivers manage their finances in the truck driving industry, which was pretty cool.
Where do you see the UX/Product Design industry going?
When I started out in the design field, being a designer was commonly a UI oriented role. Many graphic designers would graduate from their programs and start out as a UI/UX Designer. These designers made applications and websites look beautiful. Design roles used to be more art-oriented back then. Now where the industry is going, the design is getting a seat at the executive level table and it’s not focused on just art. It’s about understanding the business drivers behind what you’re designing and understanding technical restraints:
● Is this feasible?
● Is this viable?
● Is this desirable?
To me — the last part is the most important one: do our users actually want this? What are our users’ needs and are we actually solving their problem? Of course, whatever you’re designing should look beautiful, but graphic design and UX are in my opinion, completely two different fields. Art is about self-expression and is possible to work on completely independently. For UX, communication and working with other people is key. UX Designers work in a multi-disciplinary setting with developers, business leads, other designers, and product stakeholders in the project. It’s about really being able to communicate design decisions to them to design a great product. When I transitioned from graphic design to UX, I realized that in UX, the design is not able to speak for itself. Someone at some point (most likely a non-designer) is going to ask you why youdid this, and you need to have a good reason for it.
What pain points are the UX/Product Design industry currently facing and how would you advise aspiring designers to address some of these issues?
In general, the design industry is vastly misunderstood. Not many people know or value designers. Many large and older organizations find it difficult to integrate design into their current processes since it’s such a new industry. Teaching people and evangelizing design has been difficult because designers are often interpreted as people who make things look pretty. It’s hard to change people’s perceptions of that. Like I mentioned previously, practice your communication skills. Learn how to sell your ideas and sell the concept of design and justify how it benefits the business.
Do you have a mentor? How have they influenced you?
Yes, I have many mentors actually, many of whom I reached out to on the ADP (Amazing Design People) List. I had trouble finding mentors within my own organization, so I started to reach out to people on that site. I’ve connected with a lot of great designers on that site, including one of my biggest mentors who used to work as a Design Experience Director at Airbnb, and another mentor who worked as a Senior Designer at Microsoft. They gave me candid portfolio feedback, interviewing tips, did dry-runs with me for white boarding sessions, and helped me set my goals towards becoming the designer I want to be in the future. I would design at any level to reach out to these mentors.I understand that the most important item to speak to a designer’s ability is an amazing portfolio.
What would you be impressed to see in the portfolio of a new designer?
Since new grads won’t have a lot of experience with projects for real clients (which is totally fine), I would be really impressed if they could showcase a bit of their business or technical knowledge. I don’t mean expert level stuff. Just briefly explain why this product you designed would be viable in the real market. If you redesigned something, how would it help their business? If it’s a hypothetical company, how would you sell the product to your potential customers/users? If you didn’t work with developers, you could also touch lightly on how you could hand off your work to development teams. To add to that, if you do work on a project without a client, make sure you work on projects with other people. Hiring managers want to know your role and how you collaborated with others since that’s huge in the design industry. I’m sure every designer will hear about this a-lot but be sure to talk about your design process. Hiring managers want to know that they make intentional decisions, rather than pulling something out of no-where. “I did this because it looked nice” usually won’t fly. Make sure that every design decision was intentional.
What advice would you give for new designers on creating a portfolio?
Make sure you know what kind of designer you want to be. If you don’t know your strengths and passion, who will? For example, are you a great UX designer with storytelling skills? Do you have godly visual design talent? Define your talent in the market and really use that to stand out. A hiring manager should be able to glance at your portfolio and understand what your strengths are.
About the Author
Judy Hu is a Toronto-based designer who cares about designing intuitive solutions and enjoyable products for users. Most recently, she was designing at Publicis Sapient and had an amazing time building innovative features for an enterprise client. Judy strives to grow as a designer by learning about human interactions and understanding problems in a holistic approach. In her down time, she loves listening to Kpop and playing Genshin Impact!