Education, Persuasion, and Impact: An Interview with Beyang Shi

Beyang Shi
I interviewed Beyang Shi, who is a User Experience and Interaction Designer, having worked in-house with education startups, as well as a freelancer. I was intrigued by her background as a teacher, often working across language barriers, and what light that unique perspective can shed on what makes something truly usable.

Sarah: So, what is the title of the position you hold now, and what is you’re generally working on?
Beyang: I am a user experience designer. My last job was with an education start-up where I did mostly product design for two of their applications. One was a mobile-based tool for community college students to connect with school support resources. The other was a communication platform for K-12 educators to connect with parents. I also have a few side projects now, including one to help people find others who are passionate about outdoor sports.
Sarah: Tell me a little bit about your background, in terms of work and education? How did you get involved with UX?
Beyang: My undergraduate experience was really different: I studied biochem and anthropology. During school I was part of an organization that developed education and girls health programs in rural Kenya, and went during the summer to teach. After I graduated I moved to Japan, where I lived for almost 3 years as a teacher.
My interest began in Japan, where I was surrounded by incredible experience design, whether it was the way their structures interacted with the environment or the sidewalk texture and electronic devices that supported blind pedestrians in every city I visited. I was truly inspired by the surrounding beauty. I studied graphic and web design through an online school based in Australia. When I moved to New York I worked as a freelance designer and enrolled in a UX course at the New York Code and Design Academy.
Sarah: So, how do you see your UX work as it relates to that other work you’ve done, especially as a teacher or as an artist?
Beyang: I think UX is great for people who like technology and see a lot of potential in how it can make everyday life easier for society. I don’t really consider myself an artist, but more of a creative problem solver. The challenge I faced as a teacher was taking content and making it easier and more attractive to consume and understand. It’s a similar problem for UX designers: you’re trying to get users to perform particular tasks or understand something, in a way that reduces friction points. I think of design as an art of persuasion, and you know you’ve done a good job if your audience does what you want and doesn’t even realize it.
Sarah: What are your goals, career-wise? Do you see UX as a path you’ll continue down?
Beyang: Even though I’ve had the opportunity to ship products, I know there is still a ton for me to learn. My short term goals are to learn more about different software dev processes, and to grow skills in organizing and managing teams. Of course, I love working with end users and conducting research. The next role I’m moving into will luckily include more responsibilities for Business Analysis, so client-facing, requirements-gathering. The role [UX] is still kind of nebulous and varies from company to company.
Sarah: Is there any one person or principle that have had a lasting influence on you as a UX-er?
Beyang: My mentor, who was also my teacher, started her career in social impact design and worked on a project that enabled nurses in remote clinics in Uganda to collect health survey data using non-smart phones. Those types of projects really inspire me to use technology to reimagine how we approach problems that we think there are simply no easy solution for. There are infinite opportunities that people haven’t thought of yet, and though there is tons of “fluff”, there are also tons of people out there trying to create products to help people.
Sarah: Thank you so much, is there anything else you want to add?
Beyang: Oh thank you, no, I think that’s about it.