Malaysian-born, NUS-educated, Silicon Valley-focused designer
By A. Asohan October 15, 2015
- Worked 2yrs as an architect, decided to take the plunge
- As UX lead, ‘my job is to speak for the user’
YOUNG San Francisco startup myWebRoom is eyeing the Asia Pacific region to grow its already impressive base of 700,000 registered users for its content discovery and organisation platform.
myWebRoom allows users to bookmark all the favourite site, and open any website, watch videos, shop, and more – all from within the platform’s unique interface.
Boasting an international team of designers, it already has a foot in, in more ways than one: First, it already has a number of users from this part of the world; and second, its lead product designer is the Malaysian-born and Singapore-educated Ling Lim (pic above), who has been living in the United States for about two years now.
“I wanted to create a bookmarking tool for people who wanted an all-encompassing platform. Essentially, myWebRoom is a bridge between discovering content and saving content,” the National University of Singapore (NUS) graduate says.
READ ALSO: myWebRoom: A virtual room of your own, eyes on Asia
Finding a Malaysian working for a Silicon Valley tech startup is not much of a surprise these days, especially if she is one who has graduated from NUS. The surprise is that she is an architect.
DNA executive editor managed to get an email Q&A with her:
DNA: Wait, you’re an architect? How did you end up doing this for a living?
Lim: Yes, I hold a bachelor’s (honors) and a master’s degree in architecture. I practised as an architectural designer in a large corporate firm in Singapore for over two years after I graduated.
As a designer who has always been more inclined towards design theories focused on social issues, working on commercial projects chipped away at my naïve dream of being able to build according to my grand vision. At that point in my life, I was keen on exploring my possibilities and having new experiences somewhere else in the world, too.
[To put a] long story short, I quit my job and came to the United States to travel. After being in many cities, I came to San Francisco.
During my travels, I was quickly exposed to many other disciplines of design, particularly in the tech industry. One of my favourite parts of being an architectural designer was being able to present my solutions to a design brief as a storyboard presentation.
I thought, user experience and user interface designs are not too different from that.
DNA: Tell us about how you, as a Malaysian, ended up in Singapore.
Lim: I had been studying in Singapore from the time I was six. I am still a Malaysian, and also a permanent resident of Singapore.
My parents believed that Singapore offers a higher standard of education and sent my siblings and me there for school right after kindergarten. I am very grateful for that, but however am ashamed to say that I cannot speak Bahasa Malaysia.
DNA: Why did you choose architecture? And why did you leave that career?
Lim: As a child, I had always been creative. My mom started sending me to art classes when I was four. Growing up, I liked to decorate my room. I remember my uncle visiting one day when I was busy arranging the furniture in my room, and he asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up.
I was 15. I said that I wanted to be an interior designer. He suggested that I look into architecture – why design only the interiors when I can design the whole building? I was sold.
Defying the normal route a ‘smart’ student would have typically taken at that time, I went to architecture school in a polytechnic right after secondary school. I did really well in polytechnic, undergraduate school, and then graduate school. I was awarded scholarships and graduated amongst the top of my cohort. I loved every second of it.
I was good, albeit not a very practical designer. I often had very revolutionary ideas which I made sure worked in the context of what was required for school. But suffice to say that I faced real challenges trying to get my proposals accepted in the real world.
I was awarded a scholarship by a reputable large corporate company and had to work for it for a year after graduation. I worked on mainly commercial projects, with limited space for exploration.
As I mentioned above, this dashed my ideal view of being an architect. I realised that I was not happy. I could stay and hope that things changed, or I could leave and look for something which could give me the job satisfaction I yearned for.
I have never been someone who let fear stop her from moving forward, so I took the risk.
DNA: How did you meet the folks from myWebRoom? How long have you been working at the company? What was their pitch to you that made you think this would be a cool thing to get into?
Lim: I was browsing internships.com one day and came across myWebRoom. I was really excited when I learnt about the product, mainly because I was looking to get into tech – but also because I wanted to be part of a great product where my architectural background could be leveraged.
myWebRoom has an undeniable interior design aspect to it. I sent in an application, walked in for an interview and the rest, as you would say, is history. I have been working here for about one-and-a-half years now.
DNA: How many people do you have on your team working on virtual room designs? How many are yours? What’s your personal favourite(s)?
Lim: We have four people in our team in San Francisco, and an external team in the Ukraine, working on virtual room designs.
It is not within my scope to work on room designs. I am consulted from time to time when the room designers need input.
I lead user experience (UX) design at myWebRoom. The room is the interface from which every feature is accessed. I design every part of the user experience from the landing page sign-up, the onboarding process – all the major features down to the little bits.
We have a huge plan to improve the product right now and have been working on this incrementally. A lot of things you see on the site now will be working more optimally very soon!
DNA: Let’s talk about design – how do you approach it? What sparks an idea for what design you can have, and what factors do you keep in mind when you begin designing? What software tools do you use?
Lim: I practise a lot of empathy when designing. I think that is the biggest challenge of all – to not be influenced by any preconceived idea I have [on solving a problem].
An interface looking pretty is really a very small part of design. Most good designers already have taste, and aesthetics can happen subconsciously during a design process.
My personal experiences with people have inspired my design process greatly. Through those humbling interactions, I have learnt that people are very different, and would use a product very differently.
As a user experience lead, my job is to speak for the user. I cannot do that unless I know my users. At myWebRoom, we reach out to users a lot to ask for feedback. We have analytics platforms like Google Analytics and Keen.io in place, as well as customer communication platform to easily talk to our users.
I believe that understanding how our users experience our product is fundamental to good design.
I learn from fellow designers in the Bay Area too. I read design articles and hold exhaustive discussions with some of them. I write my own articles as well.
I think that doing all these greatly contribute to better design thinking. As a designer, it is also very important to communicate effectively!
I currently use these tools: Sketch, Keynote, Photoshop, Invisionapp and Illustrator.
DNA: Any advice for Asean designers hoping to break into the tech startup scene in the United States, especially in Silicon Valley?
Lim: I would advise any Asean designer hoping to break into the tech startup scene in Silicon Valley to first of all, be physically here.
There are countless networking events going on all the time; you never know who you’re going to meet!
It also helps greatly to have a good online presence! This is something anyone can start working on, from anywhere. I would recommend publishing thought articles on Medium.com or on a personal blog, and being active on Twitter.
It can be really challenging to get a break as a foreigner in the United States, so my other advice is simply to stay true to your intentions and to be resilient.
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