Sticking to Your UX Core: An Interview with Christine Yoon

Christine Yoon has worked in a range of environments, from the multinational JPMorgan Chase, to the small design incubator Hook & Loop. I spoke with Christine hoping to understand the differences in these environments and how UX designers can succeed in both. Her answer? Stick to core UX principles to be sure that you deliver a usable product, regardless of environment.

What was your background before going into UX?
I graduated with a BFA in Graphic Design. For the first 2 to 3 years after college, I was focused mostly on branding and print design before transitioning to product design at an incubator called Hook and Loop within a bigger company called Infor. It’s mostly focused on enterprise software. So my background comes from visual design transitioning into design thinking; most UX professionals I’ve worked with are from programs more similar to the one you are coming from.

What is the main difference in working for a large corporation and small startups?
Working in a big company there are different sets of problems and a more narrowed down set of expertise for each of those problems. Most big corporations have teams made up of Information Architects, User researchers, Design Planners(strategists), UX designers, Interaction designers, and UI designers. In smaller companies, there’s less separation between design roles, with the positions mostly split into UX and UI. All the roles I’ve listed are important and many professionals claim that they can cover the entire spectrum of roles, but it’s important to present yourself with a more focused skill set of your strengths and preferences. For me, because I come from a visual background, I present myself as a strong UX designer in terms of visuals and motion. My ability to understand hierarchy and execute it in design is the core of what I do.

Implementation time varies depending on the company but can be slower for bigger companies. And the collaboration between UX, design and development can be tricker if the company is bigger as well. After working at both large and small companies, I think its worth it to try both sides to see what you might prefer. Bigger companies do tend to have a “waterfall” design process while an agile process of lean UX and lean design is easier to do at startups.

What technical skills would you say are the most important for UX designers to have?
The ability to rearrange information in ways that users can understand and digest. It’s important to create content hierarchies and identify necessary functionalities without overwhelming the users. And rather then just following UX trends, its important to keep the core purpose of the product in mind. Its easy to add in various functionalities to a product but its harder to keep the core value of the product.

Did JP Morgan Chase have a proactive/forward looking approach to incorporating UX principles into their designs?
When I worked at Chase, UX designer was a very new position and the UX team was a new group for the company. It was challenging to show the company the importance of UX in their products, which were very strategy driven. The UX changed based on the strategy and political aspects of the company’s leadership. As the UX design group, it was easy to implement core UX principles but to apply them to the whole company was a difficult process. There were a lot of players (stakeholders) which shifted the direction of projects and delayed the process.

Where there any particular challenges presented in doing mobile UX?
Designing with mobile in mind is very different from designing for web. Users behave very differently on their phone compared to the desktop and it can be action focused or less action oriented dependent on the industry you are designing it for. Also, there’s a lot more movements you need to consider. Touch screens let users have a lot more interaction compared to the web. Not only do you have to consider a clicked state but hold, pinch, etc states of the screen.

What type of deliverables to you generally produce for a project?
Userflows, Wireframes, UI Design, prototypes. There’s been a shift in UX with annotated wireframes no longer as valuable as a prototype.

Why do you think annotated wireframes have fallen out of favor?
Because prototypes are closer to the real thing. Prototype tools are getting so close to the actual thing that they can now mimic real interactions so they shorten the time of implementation. They also bring interaction designers, information architects, developers, and UI designers closer when they are working. And the iteration you can do on prototypes is not comparable to annotated wireframes.

However I think wireframes can be still useful. In the exploration/beginning phase of the product, I think prototypes are best if they can imitate, if not actually build out, the product at its core. But when it comes to final deliverable, annotated wireframes are some what required for developers. Also, prototypes really work in agile design and in waterfall development it is required to do annotated wireframes.

What type of user research do you find the most valuable?
The initial stage of user research is very important. I think what you initially think and assume about the core users are not always what you expect.

How big a role does time/scheduling play in deciding what you can and can’t do?
This plays a big role with development time and ability to implement your wireframes and design. It can change your design if technically the developers don’t have the ability to build it certain amount of time. Which is why its important to collaborate with development as much as possible and get to know the technical limitation before going too deep into your design.