A little about LJ

My name is Lai-Jing. Since middle school, people have been referring to me as LJ. I am the only one in my family without a western name.
My life so far as been a slow journey to the west. I’ve lived in Manchester (UK), Beijing, Hong Kong, New York, and now in San Francisco Bay Area. I love the weather and culture here and have been here for over four years.
In this section, I’ll go into some detail about my design journey so far and how I moved from architecture to digital design.

My journey so far

1988
Born and raised in Hong Kong, I am a quarter Korean and three quarters Chinese. I can speak and write English, Cantonese, and Mandarin.1
2000
Web design was my first love and it had believe that I had a passion for design. I started learning how to design and code websites at the age of 11 during the age of Web 1.0. As a kid, HTML/CSS/JS was (and still is) my lego.2 It felt absolutely magical to me that I could type lines of text on notepad and it turns into something colorful on a screen. I think the reason why I love web design because it constantly requires one to toggle between artistic, creative and scientific ways of thinking. It’s like solving a puzzle and painting a picture at the same time.
2007
Thinking I had a love for design, I went into architecture, the physical kind. Architecture turned out to be a bit of a different animal, but I stuck with it for a whole decade.3 I came to UC Berkeley in 2017 to pursue PhD in architecture, thinking I’d spend the rest of my life, researching, writing and teaching instead.
2018
On my 30th birthday, I reckoned that if I didn’t circle back to my first love — digital design — I’d regret it on my death bed. So I put myself on leave-of-absence and ventured into the unknown.4
2019
To date I’ve worked at several startups helping them bring product ideas to life.5 I don’t feel like my years in architecture was a waste at all, since the process of materializing an idea is not all that different even if it’s of a different medium.6
2020
I started organizing a weekly meetup for architects looking to expand into tech called CritRoom.7 It has been an awesome journey so far as I got to meet many amazing individuals who had gone through similar experiences, or are exploring similar pathways.
2022
I am enormously grateful that I was able to make this career change. My love for digital design has only grown since 11. I’m still learning how to code and use new tools on my free time and it’s a joy to me.
1

By the time my Korean-American mom tried to teach me Korean, it was too late. Despite my best of efforts, my Korean is still at absolute beginner’s level.

2

Upon excavating the fossils of them on the wayback machine, I’ve decided that they are too embarrassing to be shown here.

3

Since architecture was all that I've done since the start of my adult life, it took me too long to realize I wasn’t cut out for it.

4

This is a short version of what happened. If you get to know me, I’ll give you the long version.

5

My stance is that a designer’s responsibility is not just to design, but also to clear the barriers that prevent the designs from seeing the light of day.

6

I always have a lot of fun reflecting upon those parallels — it makes me feel less of an outsider. I'm also not the only one.

7

Though kind of geeky, through this effort, I’ve met new friends from all over the world who shares a similar background and interest. It was genuinely one of the most invigorating things I’ve done in a while.

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The architectural mindset

Drawings of a roof detail which I was working on, circa 2011.

Completed roof and the space below as a result of said drawings.

Did you know that the concepts of “design system” and “information architecture” both have their roots in architecture?

Three ways in which I still lean on my architectural background today:

1— Stay organized to work fast

In architecture, you have to move through volumes quickly and efficiently. Think producing construction drawings at multiple scales, building a physical model, and then making presentation decks all in a night! As a result of going through hell’s fire, I’ve learned how to stay organized in order to move mountains.1

2— Reason well

With an additional academic background, I pride myself on my ability to critically reason and make sound judgments. This helps a lot with the early phases of design and research, where we need to isolate problems and consider solutions.

3— Knowing that what’s shipped is what matters

Finally, ingrained in my training is the notion that I am responsible for both visualizing ideas through blueprints as well as overseeing the build—the two have to go hand-in-hand to ensure the quality of the final output. I know that we need to design for smooth team collaboration as much as we do the final product.2 I try my best to communicate the critical details that cross-functional partners need so that they don’t have to read my mind.3
1

Design softwares are all quite similar.

2

Hello, DesignOps!

3

In architecture, it is widely recognized that learning how to dimension your drawings correctly takes time. Schools and studios generally spend time training us how to do this.

Results driven

Collov Home Design

2020 – 2021

Empowerly

2019 – 2020
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I feel fortunate to have worked with LJ, who is such a great UX designer with comprehensive skill sets, including UI design and Product Management. LJ applied well-defined methodologies to organize the company's UX design as well as Product Management system. Her efforts significantly helped the company to define the ownership and the product KPIs clearly. Furthermore, she utilized user-centric design thinking to isolate the issues both in our existing product and our internal system, which contributed considerably to our system optimization. Our internal system is still benefiting from LJ's design a lot.

Candice Lyu

Operations Manager at Collov

I enjoyed working with Lai-Jing on multiple projects while she was with us in Collov, specifically on our interior designer backend portal.

Lai-Jing was responsible, proactive, and most importantly, displayed a can-do and positive attitude. She has demonstrated a well-developed and strategic understanding of corporate products, and worked diligently to enhance the performance of the new platform through gathering and responding to user and stakeholder feedback. She is full of ideas and continuously challenged us to improve the user experience through design and research.

She is both an authentic individual and a pleasure to work with. I highly recommend Lai-Jing to whoever is fortunate enough to have her on their team.

Nanxin “Peter” Zhao

Senior product designer at project44

I had the pleasure of working with LJ at a fast-paced, online interior design startup. While we didn't work together directly, when we did work together, it was very close. LJ jumped into our company and immediately found where her efforts were needed, rolled up her sleeves, and got to work. What I love about LJ though is that she doesn't just work for the sake of it–I would call LJ a fantastic "zoomer outer." What does that mean, you ask? LJ is excellent at asking the right questions, guiding people to ask the right questions, highlighting the goal or what the goal should be, and overall, getting people to step back and either devise a plan or revisit it. Quickly, she became one of the team's defacto leads. I credit many organizational changes in our company to her and sorely miss working with her. As a designer, she is extraordinarily talented, but you probably could already tell that. I would work with her again in a heartbeat and recommend her endlessly.

Sarah Kamshoshy

Content Designer at Instagram

Lai Jing joined Empowerly as our first UX designer when we were still pre-seed. It was clear from day one that her background in architecture translated well to being a UX designer. She understands how to design for people and constantly has the user’s best interest at heart. Lai Jing is incredibly thoughtful and thorough in research, from usability testing to interviews, and she develops strong processes and documentation that are crucial to any organization's success. I highly recommend Lai Jing - she is as detail-oriented, passionate, hard-working, and talented as they come.

Hanmei Wu

Co-Founder at Empowerly

I had the pleasure of working with Lai Jing at Empowerly. I was impressed at Lai Jing's ability to create and implement successful team collaboration processes that prevent bottlenecks and inefficiencies. As a Product Manager with a UX Design background, she was a jack of all trades. She understood business goals and user needs while also focused on delivering a great product. Any employer would be lucky to have Lai Jing as a PM/Designer. Not only is she smart and driven, but she's a teammate that you know you can rely on.

Cythera Carino

Senior product designer at Intuit

Thank you for reading!