Interview with Karen Wang, a UX designer at Amazon Web Service

Karen Wang is currently a UX designer at Amazon Web Service (AWS). She had pursued a bachelor’s degree in industrial design at London, and a master’s degree of Strategic Design and Management at Parsons School of Design. Previously, she had also worked for Citibank, NBCU, and Vroom. I am looking forward to interviewing her to learn about her experience in the UX industry and her suggestions for students joining the field in the future.

Here follows a simplified transcript of the interview:

Can you tell me about yourself and your role in the work?

I’m currently working in Amazon, AWS, for the payment council. I’m the UX designer in the team working with PMs as well as a lot of engineers. Major in my day-to-day routine probably just working with the lead engineer as well as two major PMs. We work pretty closely. Major responsibility I had at AWS is actually research, actually UX design, as well as UI development, including create icon for the front end as well. So, it’s pretty much end-to-end design components Prior to Amazon, I actually stayed in Citibank for around 3.5 years. In there, I’m also the UX designer helped with different kind of platforms from desktop experience for document center to working on the native mobile like chatbot, as well as a trading APP.

Can you describe a typical day of your work both pre and post pandemic for me?

I actually work in different organizations. So, it’s kind of not fair to compare that, but I can focus on my typical day in Citibank as a UX designer. Before pandemic, we start with a stand up, which is really typical for a fintech. And then we just go around, but our stand up is actually the design team. It’s a little bit different. It based on a different kind of project, sometimes you can be in a product squad, which you communicate more with engineers as well as PMs if needed. You really have fairly packed with meetings, I have to be honest, until probably lunch time.

And then I usually was blocked around an hour or two in the afternoon after lunch. So that is my kind of focus time. And then a lot of brainstorm sections in afternoon as well when everybody finished their lunch, starting from three to five. It really depends. It’s really flexible. But after pandemic, we don’t have the chance to do white boarding or brainstorm with designers or PMs so we just have more meetings instead. Sometimes the meeting is individual 1 on 1. Sometimes it could be a group meeting. I think the major change for after-pandemic is how you manage your time, balance your own working time with all the meetings you have to address. Before, probably we can just go to somebody’s desk and ask a question straightly. But now we have to send an email or we can use slack, but you still have to wait for the reply. So that is probably the major difference on efficiency.

What are the objectives you aim for in your work? How do you measure success?

As a designer, you kind of need to focus on the user pain point. And then identify the major pain point you want to solve. Doing a lot of user testing, trying to make sure your wireframe, your user flow actually makes sense for the customer as well as for the business perspective. And I would say another success is measure efficiency, how efficient you actually work with your engineering team, as well as legal team to push the entire project process in the other way. As a designer, you definitely need to support a lot of document as well as design mocks or wire frames or flow diagram, to support your statements on each design decision you’re making. So that’s kind of like how you evaluate the success on for UX.

What kind of exercise/techniques/process do you use to ensure efficiency and collaboration within the design team?

Just keep asking for the requirement from the product manager. If you don’t have the document, you kind of blocked, try to reach out for it actively. Most of the case, they don’t know what you need. So most likely you have to use wireframe or it could be simply flow chart, or a workshop. Usually, we do design workshop once a quarter. Each 3 months, we’ll try our best to actually group, everybody, all the stakeholders together. Ask them, what is your opinion on the current project? If you’re the customer, what is the major pinpoint you want to solve? In a way so you really will work from that. So that is more trying to engage them in the design process so that they understand why are we actually doing the improvement and why it actually matters potentially for our business as well.

How do you communicate and make decisions as a group or outside the design team?

It really depends on who the level of the people in the room. Sometimes you would definitely have to listen to the leadership because they actually have more contact information compared to us. But if we’re like more in the stakeholder as a group, usually our list of pros and cons for each design solutions we’re offering. So, it’s more like from the discussion. And then we can make a call. Sometimes it could be the PM make a call to balance the engineer efforts, as well as the design quality in a way. But sometimes it is a hard stop for engineering. If it’s like MVP we have to reduce feature. Then everything is kind of negotiable. But it really depends on whether you have a specific reason on each decision you make. I personally think that is really important.

Which project/product did you enjoy the most and can you tell me a bit about your design process for it?

Enjoy the most is actually API platform for a Citibank. It’s getting a little bit technical. The reason is because it’s actually not really 100 % consumer-facing project. It’s more an enterprise tool, in a way, actually increase the complexity of the project itself.

Which project/product challenged you the most? Why and how did you managed through it?

Yeah, I think the API platform for Citibank because of its complexity based on the customer or target users are so different. The logic behind the entire system based on the API performance, the visual graphic of the data as well as a visualization is actually really complicated. So, I think that is the first one challenge me the most. Another thing probably is the stakeholder. Instead of you have 1 PM or 6 developers, we actually have 4 PM over 100 developer in the same team. I’m not the only UX designer on that. And we kind of build the entire project from its ground up.

The design process is still really standard on the academic level. You definitely start with understanding the design brief, which is the problem statements. So that is actually the most hard part whereas sometimes you work with PM. They don’t know the structure of how might we or they don’t know the structure of persona or customer pain point. They are more focus on the future itself. So, you have to digest in a way, try to make sure that you understand what the problem statement is and who’s your target user. That is definitely step one. After that, you can actually research on the competitors, or you can just research on the other systems to make sure what the industry standard is like.

On top of that you can start iterate on the design solution. Usually the design process, when I was trying to manage it, it really depends on how you collaborate with stakeholder. I would say each phase is different. Sometime it can be 2 days, you can figure out a design brief. Sometimes it can take months. You can have a workshop around that as well. And afterwards, when you’re working on the design solution itself, you have to iterate a couple of times with your engineer as well as the legal team. You have to revise a couple of times. In order to make the entire process more efficient, I usually offer more than one design solution for sure. Try to involve as many stakeholders as possible at the early stage. So, they kind of have empathy without any bias on your design solution. So, they kind of have input or feedback at early stages, rather than have everything fine, and then forgot it doesn’t work.

Do you have any tips for students looking forward to join the field? During building portfolios, job hunting, or anything.

I think the first step is to respect each project you work on. That is definitely my top one recommendation. There’s a lot of opportunity out there. Just try to cherish each one. Instead of increase the volume of the work, more work in depth to truly understand what problem you’re solving and why are you designing no matter whether it’s a website or a app. What is the service? You’re serving for your target customer, exactly who is your target customer? That is a lot of things. When I was interviewing more like a Junior designer, I find out a lot of people follow the design process, but they don’t truly understand why, what is each step and how is that connected. Sometimes I do see portfolios. They have problem statement listed, but their design solution actually didn’t solve for that. Although it really depends on which target. When you say product designer, some of them probably felt more focused on the UX perspective. So, my feedback is more focused on the us as well, because I’m more focused on the UX

And then secondary is even if you’re only focus on applying for UX designer, still try to call attention to details for all your interface design as well. Still polish a little bit on your final deliverables, make sure the pagination, the padding, the colors, and everything is consistent. Attention to detail is definitely a plus one. And then be positive. I personally really think the design world is growing, especially for the product design or UX in the digital platform. So just hanging there. Myself, when I get started into the field, I’ve freelanced a couple of years as well. I’m not saying I did know my perfect job on my graduation. That’s a no. I freelanced a lot of places and then did my portfolio little by little, work with startups. I’ll say just they open to any opportunity you can and be careful, or pay more attention on each product you’re working on as well.