Women In UX: Meet Ash Huang, XD Designer at Adobe by Day and Renaissance Woman by Night
Ash Huang is a UX designer, illustrator, author and an artist. We talked to her about what it’s like to follow your creative passions wherever they may lead, and why life is more fulfilling when you embrace more than one vocation.
Ash Huang has such a large collection of creative interests outside of her career as a UX designer that it’s hard to imagine how she settled on design in the first place.
Growing up in Connecticut, Huang was always changing her mind as to what she wanted to be when she grew up. Maybe she’d be a biologist, a zoologist, or perhaps a medieval historian. Though she was drawn to these subjects, much of her spare time was devoted to painting. She’d paint fantasy creatures and girls on horses well before she discovered you could create these images digitally in Photoshop as well.
“What ended up happening is I always felt an affinity towards art and eventually I got an email for a design pre-college program in high school,” she said. “Going through that program was really interesting because I realized by going into design I wouldn’t necessarily have to choose a subject matter. I would have this more T-shaped skill where I could do all different kinds of things while also having one sellable skill.”
A Modern Day Renaissance Woman
Huang majored in communications design, but like the true renaissance woman she is, she also found herself taking courses in poetry, history and art programming, to name a few. While she didn’t claim to be a modern day renaissance woman herself, she certainly fits the description.
Merriam-Webster defines a renaissance woman as “a woman who is interested in and knows a lot about many things.”
Huang is no doubt a woman of many passions and talents. She’s a skilled painter and artist, a gifted aspiring photographer, a notable UX designer and an award-winning writer. She has self-published two novels, including The Firesteel and the recently released Suspension, and she is currently shopping around a third novel, hoping to take the agent route this time. She is a freelance writer for publications such as Fast Company, expressing her thoughts on tech-related news like the already infamous Google memo. She’s also a word traveller, having recently visited places such as Paris and Amsterdam.
If that’s not enough, her resume boasts stints at Pinterest, Twitter and Adobe, where she currently works on the Adobe XD product team as a senior experience designer. In her day job, she combines her appreciation of design, art and technology.
“Right now I’m working on design tooling. I’m working with a bunch of teams to do projects on what it’s like to actually draw things and design things on XD,” she said.
Approaching Her Writing Like a Designer
Huang is often asked how she’s able to accomplish so much. She is just 30 years old and yet she’s already worked with some of the top names in tech and written more books than most professional writers.
“I like to be busy. I like to have a full fay,” she said. “I do find that if I’m not filling my days with stuff, I start doing less. As much as I like to be ‘I’m a freewheeling creative, no one controls me, I don’t need structure’; everyone needs a little structure. When I go home, I’ll take a little break, but I think I’m working on so many things that I’m always in the mood to work on something.”
She approaches her work much like you would expect a designer to. It is intentional, well researched, and could almost be considered prototyped.
“When I first started writing more, especially with my essay stuff, I was like oh let me do the equivalent of design exercises, so let me create a structure for myself where I can succeed and then just chip away at it,” she said.
For her novels, she likened her first book to launching a startup. It took her years to write, but she was quick in her decision to self-publish. She set up a Kickstarter to help fund the editing and printing process of the novel, saying she wanted nothing more than to release her first work out into the universe.
“I wanted feedback from real people, that’s the most valuable thing I can have. At this stage in my writing journey, the most important thing is to know if that audience even exists for me, what those people like and don’t like about this. Very similar to designing, you don’t know until real people are consuming what the thing is good at or bad at. I didn’t want to wait,” she said.
When it comes to her characters, she will determine which personality type they are in Myers-Briggs and the Enneagram so she can fully develop their personas.
“I do a lot of work trying to figure the characters out and what they’re going to be like and how they’re going to react in situations. I like to put them in situations where one of the characters might do something and the other one reacts in a certain way that personality type might react. What some people might consider pseudo-science, I am creating these puzzles on how people might interact with each other,” she said.
Finding Your Inner Renaissance Woman and Embracing Her
Huang understands that her way of living isn’t considered the norm, but she encourages others to tap into their interests and pursue their passions, to take the time to learn what it is they like and the kind of work they want to do. She encourages you to spend more time alone.
“I think our society definitely rewards doing one thing really well, being like the one person who can carve ice cubes into diamonds the best. Even the way Instagram is designed, if you want more engagement on Instagram you do one thing. All of our products are designed for this. Twitter is designed to do one thing,” she said.
“At root, if you don’t want to do one thing—its useful to learn how to master stuff or figure out how to get good at things—but I think you have to embrace some bit of how you are and really radically self-accept yourself, how you function and how your brain works, and use that to your advantage.”
Many of Huang’s passions are solitary efforts, whether it’s writing, painting or designing. She is a self-proclaimed introvert who enjoys spending time alone. It is this very solitude that has brought her such great understanding of who she is, and has fuelled so many of her creative endeavors.
“You should try to enjoy solitude and try to enjoy your own company because then it just comes out, I think, the answers start to come to you when you are sitting down long enough to listen,” she said.
“I think spending time alone is key to letting yourself actually tell yourself what you want.”
So go ahead. Be a rebel. Spend some time alone. Who knows what you’ll create.