Process and principles

Imagine seeing a phone for the first time. Suddenly, it rings, you pick up the receiver, and you can hear the voice of someone from the other corner of the world. It takes three steps—nothing complicated, yet it belies the complex web of telecom infrastructure that made the experience possible. Like all novel innovation, this experience may feel magical.

No doubt, we must celebrate the incredible feats of science and engineering that had given birth to these great inventions. But, to follow, design curates and defines the quality of your experience using the phone. I am a “form follows function” type of girl, and that’s why I chose to be a product designer in the first place.

Taking it a step further, as a former architect, I’m not only interested in drawing fanciful ideas on paper but escorting them into reality.

Getting my start at early-stage startups as the solo/early design hire, in the absence of product/project management counterparts, my superpower is homing in on what features need to be built and by when, then support teams to deliver precisely that. And I hold deliverables to a high bar.

Doing the proper research, building for the right users, and solving the right problems with an on-point design is important, but implementing, executing, and delivering is ultimately what matters. As a product partner, I guide teams to fix their eyes on the ultimate product goals and work backward. Below is a list of my core principles in reverse process time order.

#4

Engineering support

I’ve owned product roadmaps and facilitated sprints, ensuring that every epic reaches the finish line and adds up to a meaningful initiative.

1— Designers should not leave engineers guessing.

Engineers have the hard job of coding. Designers should have the basic courtesy of spelling out the desired outcomes in human language.1

2— Designers should gate-keep the quality of deployment.

Designers should work alongside the engineer until each engineering task (or ticket) is completed to a satisfactory degree of polish. The devil is in the details.2 “Done” should be defined by the fact that a user can smoothly accomplish one new goal without distractions. “Done” may also mean significant improvement to an existing experience. The designer needs to be a critical voice in quality gatekeeping before deployment.3

3— There are no upsides to uncontrolled, endless tech debt.

The US has a $30-trillion debt which we’re likely to have to pay for for the rest of our lives. Accumulating debt endlessly can, and will, lead to something akin to the big crunch of the universe.4 Conversely, keeping debt down will ensure that the next feature gets done faster than the last. (That’s whydesign systems are so important.)
1

I often think of handoff documentations as IKEA manuals.

2

I’m a believer of shipping small and learning fast. But how do you know the data you are gathering is meaningful and pristine if even you know the quality is a mess?

3

Technically, "done" should not be a column on the sprint board, as everyone’s definition is different. The last column should be “Deployed” or similar.

4

I am not over-exaggerating and deep in your heart you know that too.

#3

Design

I’ve contributed decision trees for backend logic based on user-centric thinking.

To support complex system logic, I have also handed off detailed UI specs to accommodate all foreseeable permutations.

1— Good designing = good decision making.

To design is to make informed decisions. Do so with deep knowledge of existing systems, sufficent domain knowledge, and product users. A relevant feature release solves problems for the current reality of users.1

2— Good design doesn’t always mean more engineering time.

Rather, it means making better decisions, both aesthetically and functionally. Example: two different hex codes take the same amount of time to enter. Short of engineering resources should not be an excuse for thoughtless design.2

3— Our teammates are also our “users.”

As designers, we don’t just design for customers, but also collaborators and other internal stakeholders. Helping the team stay organized and maintain single sources of truth can, and will, make a world of difference.3 (Again, that’s why design systems are so important.)
1

Of course, we need to anticipate future needs as well and make long term goals. What I mean here is that the next release should offer standalone and immediate value to customers and deliver learnings to the team.

2

Of course, there are times when “better” design does mean more engineering time. It’s a constant cost-benefit analysis. That’s why making sensible trade-offs is an art.

3

I believe in good file hygiene, proper componentization, orderly layers, and making the most of autolayout features.

#2

Research

I’ve owned user or customer journey map that incorporates voices from all angles, highlighting areas of improvement for specific touchpoints.

1— Knowledge is power.

The purpose of research (and testing) is to maximize team confidence on design decisions. It is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

2— Get to the point.

Research insights should always answer the research questions. The team should be asking the right questions, and the findings should be actionable. Executive resports should be succinct.

3— Research findings have a limited shelf life.

Relevant research findings are time-sensitive, therefore sufficient data must be gathered within a short and defined time frame and should be executed upon as quickly as possible to observe maximum impact.1
1

For instance, if I set out to interview "x” number of people, I’d also make sure I do so within "y” number of days before the context of reality changes.

#1

Team work

I strongly believe that when deciding which problems need to be addressed and in what order to solve them, it makes sense to get as many voices in as possible to avoid cognitive biases.

1— A product roadmap/timeline is a collaborative effort.

A successful project roadmap is one that considers as many voices and angles as possible, and that can reliably inform cross-functional teams what to expect. It doesn’t have to be rigidly adhered to, but should adapt to current realities like a GPS reroutes based on road traffic.1

2— Documentation is critical to scaling teams.

Creatives, technologists, and business stakeholders all think and work differently, so the right documentation format is the one that is the most approachable to each of them.2 Documentation is also only as good as how up-to-date they are.

3— Good culture is when everyone feels heard and trusted.

Consistently being responsive and delivering what was promised forms the foundation of team trust. Hearing from those who might be most impacted by critical decisions can, and will, boost morale significantly and lead to better results.
1

The entire team should understand the difference between owning the roadmap, sharing the roadmap, and dictating the roadmap.

2

Formats include: Wikis, videos, slidedecks, e-books, Figma component description boxes, interactive exercise worksheets, podcasts, and more. (Yes, I said podcasts.)

My goal is to be effective, and to help teams be effective. Time and time again, the overarching theme is this — not the “what”, but “why.” I always try to fixate on the goals and tailor processes and methodologies to accomplish them. By acting on these guiding principles, I believe it is hard for outcomes to not feel magical.

Want to see some concrete case studies? Enter through here if you have a password.

Results driven

Collov Home Design

2020 – 2021

Empowerly

2019 – 2020
Swipe left

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!