I had the opportunity of interviewing Christopher Kim who is a UX/UI Designer at Prudential, an Insurance company that helps individuals and institutions improve their financial wellness through life & health insurance, retirement services, annuities and investment products. I wanted to learn more about the responsibilities of a UX/UI Designer at a non-tech company and was interested in the kinds of works and roles involved in this position. Here is a simplified transcript of our interview.
Can you tell me more about your background and your career journey from software to product management and to UX/UI?
In college, my major was in mathematics and I was originally geared towards software engineering but I eventually shifted off software engineering to go into product management. Mainly because I wanted to get into a more management kind of role and I wanted to get more power into decision making. But also because I did work with UX/UI designers as a product manager and realized that those are the type of jobs that I prefer to do, whether it’s for research, making an impact, persuading based on design or feedback. That’s why I made the change to UX/UI design.
Can you tell me more about your role in the work?
I work in life insurance and my role in the team is product design but also UX/UI design as they are used interchangeably. In terms of my role, right now I haven’t been doing any screen designs. I’ve been mainly doing research, leading workshops, doing interviews, and providing insights for another team. I’m working cross functional with three different teams but right now I’m just working on insights. Later on, once the design is done with the other team, I will be the person they will pass it on to give quality reviews and I need to make sure that the design is aligned with the company’s branding, etc. Essentially I will be working on designs later, but my current job is mainly doing research, understanding pain points, etc.
How do you communicate and make decisions as a group with other designers and developers?
It depends on what type of company you work for. When I was a product manager, it was a lot easier to influence people because of my position. But as a UX/UI designer, you can’t really make the decision because the product manager is the one that makes the decisions. But in terms with working with other designers, I think it’s relatively a lot easier than working with a product manager. But with designers, I don’t think it’s that complex because we already know how the design process is like to an extent. But with developers, it’s very different because you need to provide proof saying that the users have said something, the exact step by steps of how your prototype is going to be like, and how the errors are going to be like. With developers, you have to be very exact as well. With product managers, you need to provide insights from the design side, exact step by step, etc. But mostly you need to provide the business value, that’s the biggest thing with product managers. So those are the three general product teams.
For your projects, can you tell me a bit about your work process?
I don’t think there’s one answer to this question just because there isn’t a strict design process or idea. It’s very dependent because in a work setting, it’s pretty big in terms of the number of employees. There’s a lot of bureaucracy I have to go through. I have to get approvals so it’s very different. But if we’re talking about a personal project, it’s very different. So in terms of workwise, it’s more like I have an idea, or I’m going to start conducting research, or I have a hypothesis. Then, the next step is to validate those hypotheses by either interviewing, doing data analysis, etc. Then you present it to your team, and you have to get consensus with your team. That’s how the design process in a corporation would sometimes work. But there isn’t a strict design process because another project would be different.
What would you say are some of the biggest challenges you face at work?
I would say negotiation would be the biggest challenge, where you get buy in from people and people to agree with your idea is the hardest part. I’m personally an extrovert, but if you’re an introvert I realize that leading workshops can be a little difficult because it can be a little timid leading a 30 people workshop, as well as doing presentations.
What kinds of tools or apps do you use for your design or when collaborating within and outside the design team?
In terms of collaboration, I use Miro to collaborate with everyone in my team. I’ve used InVision, but my company uses Sketch and Adobe XD. We also use PowerPoint, Microsoft Word/Excel, Zeplin.
What was a project that you really enjoyed working on?
I won’t really talk about my work project, because I haven’t finished it yet. So I’ll talk about my personal project called Step Up Careers. It’s a fun project I’m doing with a friend of mine. Essentially, it’s about helping people keep track of jobs they’ve applied to. And the reason why I like this project is because I realized the way people are keeping track of their jobs is using spreadsheets or notepads and I realized how inconvenient and time consuming it is to do that. So I thought there may be an easier way to track your jobs. I realize that there are product management tools like Click Up, Trello, Asana, etc. But those are not dedicated for job tracking, but rather for project management and it can be kind of overwhelming if you use it for jobs tracking. There is also another solution that does job tracking but it costs a lot of money. So that’s why I started this personal project with my friend.
Do you have any tips for aspiring UX/UI designers who are looking to get into the field?
I know that people say that you need to learn 3 design tools sometimes like Sketch, Adobe XD or Figma. But I don’t think it matters which one you learn. But honestly I’d say just study one of them and be comfortable with it.
For job searching, it’s hard for me to say. But I know everyone says the same answer such as you have to network or get referrals. Sure that’s true, but it’s not that easy. Even as an extrovert myself, I will go out and add recruiters in the past but I realized with all of my jobs that I’ve gotten, I’ve gotten them just by applying. So don’t be discouraged if you’re applying for jobs thinking that you have to network or you have to meet some standards.
For portfolios, having 4 or 5 maximum projects in your portfolio is ideal. But personally, if your portfolio doesn’t look appealing, it doesn’t inspire somebody to like it or click on it. You have to enhance your UI skills and visuals are the best ways to stick out in most cases, especially when recruiters are going through hundreds of portfolios. Your portfolio also needs to have meaning and it needs to have metrics. I think every UX/UI designer I’ve talked to has this issue. They build a really great passion project but in the end, what does it actually do? What’s the actual impact on the customers, business, or me? I think a lot of UX/UI designers tend to miss that and it’s a big problem because once you actually go to the job, you have to talk about the business impact in every work you do. So you need metrics or business objectives.