Meet the UX Designer: Wen Tong
Wen Tong is a freelance interaction designer based in San Francisco, California. While client work takes up a lot of her time, she always manages to fit in a healthy influx of personal projects that tackle a myriad of UX and UI challenges. We spoke with her about the limits of user feedback, the importance of creativity, and the timeless comfort of a good book.
What drew you to UX/UI design, and how did you get your start?
I love to explore creatively, and got my start in fine arts studying interactive installations. Then I got a hunger to discover something new, so I got into UX/UI design. While they’re both interactive, to me art and design are very different: One is physical, for an audience, and the other is digital, for a user; art is about asking questions, while design is about giving answers.
(I still do installations, and will be debuting “Experiencing the Body as Interface” at Maker Faire this year!)
How does Adobe Creative Cloud fit into your creative process?
I’ve been using Adobe products for about ten years. Often I’ll work on animations, overlays, or fine tuning in Photoshop or After Effects, but now XD is where my UX and UI work starts and finishes. It’s great for high-fidelity mock-ups, and so fast; it really allows me to focus on the design itself.
Let’s look at a few of your projects. What was your process like creating me.travel, and redesigning the Yelp app?
Usually I have about 30 self-directed projects on the go, in varying stages of completion. Behance is where a lot of my clients find me, so I post my finished work there.
One of those is me.travel. When I begin to organize a trip, the first thing I do is find something interesting in the city, then I build up a plan to visit. Existing apps had sightseeing data and information, but no way to also then make a schedule of what to see and when–there was no way to connect those two things. I wanted to link the two in a single place, with an easy interface.
Another is this project for Yelp. I like doing redesigns because they’re such a challenge; when users are familiar with a product, they’ll be able to tell pretty quickly if your design is worse than the original. For this app, I wanted to target a younger audience. I think the information architecture was the biggest problem, but not the most urgent; even though it’s messy, people know how to use it. Visually, I felt it should appeal to a more specific kind of user–someone active on social media–and be less “traditional”-looking.
What excites you most about the future of UX/UI design—both in terms of creating it, and engaging with it?
It’s still a very new area, so there are so many opportunities to be the first to do something, or create something in the front of a trend.
For many experience designers, the sole criteria for a good product is whether users like it or not. I think that’s valuable, and important, but shouldn’t be the only factor to determine what works; because in the future, UX and UI designers as we understand them might disappear. Imagine there’s a smart machine that can instantly create 100 different designs to present to different users, then gather feedback and data to figure out which design is “best.” I believe personal creativity—and surprising users with something new that’s also easy to use—will be one of the most important things to consider and contribute to design.
Also, if I’m honest: the money is good.
What bit(s) of wisdom can you share with creative folks who are interested in becoming UX/UI designers?
Whose UX/UI work do you look at and go: “WOW”?
One typical design principle is to serve users’ needs. For example: If you ask what users want in weather app, they may just say they want to know what the weather is like. So, usually weather apps offer that information; they serve users’ needs, but aren’t engaging. Steve Jobs once said: “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” I believe that designers should speculate about what users might like.
Think of it this way: Typical UX design is like a relationship. One party–the product–tries his best to please another party–the user–and make him happy. But what if one party–the product–tries his best to show his unique charm, and another party–the user–falls in love with him?
Best tunes for getting into a creative flow?
I don’t listen to any songs when I’m working; a quiet environment helps to keep me focused.
People are often blinded by popularity when they are on social platforms, so they aren’t always that “responsible” with their ideas. I still believe that most of the time, profound design thoughts are written in physical books rather than social media. I admire Kenya Hara ‘s design philosophy very much; I like his book White.
While you’re there, check our Wen’s project on UX/UI Hiring Trends.