August 08, 2018

Getting to Know: Zhenan H., Senior User Experience Engineer at PebblePost

Hello Zhenan

Your job description is UX/UI designer. What exactly is that?
UX stands for user experience and UI for user interface. Actually, they are very different in the product design process. UX tries to not only make the product functional and good-looking but also make it useful, which is the most important thing. The UI design usually comes in toward the later stage of the product development. There’s a lot of UX planning, researching and prototyping before we get to know what UI to design. And UX design doesn't stop there; it happens iteratively throughout the product development process.

What’s the primary goal for you?
It’s about solving problems for humans, not systems. You hear a lot of buzzwords about “user-centered design” like that’s some kind of revolutionary idea but putting the user first should really be the goal of any UX design. UX should enable the user to get the job done effortlessly so that they’ll want to use the product and pay for it.

What was it about the Programmatic Direct Mail® product that made you want to come to PebblePost?
I like being so close to the product with the opportunity to have a great impact on it. And I get to interact with engineers who write code for the product every day. I also get to talk to people who will be using the product every day. So, I get real-time feedback as I’m designing. I can see the product I’m designing grows every day. That’s a dream for a UX designer.

Is any of that real-time feedback surprising?
Well … usually what people say is not what they’re thinking. Also, it’s different from what they’re actually doing. So, it’s good to be very close to the user to observe what they’re doing as facts. And the facts are a great source of truth to support decision-making in UX design.

That sounds like a diplomatic way of saying that not every user who provides feedback knows what they’re talking about.
[Laughs.] Sometimes people don’t know what they want until they do. Their behaviors weigh much more than what they say. Furthermore, people all have different opinions and it’s hard to satisfy everyone’s request. If a product tries to solve problems for everyone, it’s a product for no one. So, we concentrate on solving the most pressing problems first.

On your LinkedIn page you wrote: “Truly understand the problem before diving into the design.” What prompted you to write that?
As I say, design is a process of solving problems, but there is another very important part of the process that people miss. You need to identify the actual problem before you can solve it. You need to understand all the complexities and hide them from the user and deliver thsimplest and most effective solution to help them achieve their goals. On the other hand, it doesn’t matter if you solve a problem perfectly if it’s a problem that’s not worth solving.

UX Design at Work

You’re a big Roger Federer fan. What is it about his game that appeals to you?
I started playing tennis in college and that time was also the beginning of a golden period for Federer. He became the greatest of all time. I followed him every match and witnessed his great accomplishment with the career grand slam.

Did you ever see him in person?
I saw him at Flushing in the U.S. Open three times. Every time I went to watch him he won. I took a picture of him with me but he’s so far away. Really it’s just a selfie with him in the background.

How would you rate yourself as a tennis player?
I would say I’m a good tennis player in the designer community. [Laughs.] I haven’t played another designer who’s better than me.

What are you reading or listening to these days?
I just finished reading a book called Designing Design by Kenya Hara. He’s the art director at Muji. He emphasizes simplicity, less is more and how to leverage white space to encourage more imagination. Good read. I spend 50 minutes on the train every day for my commute so I listen to podcasts. Most recently, I listened to a podcast about technology and product trends in China. I am from China and that’s a good way for me to learn what’s happening over there.

What are you most proud of?
I think I’m most proud that I decided to choose design as my career after coming from a software engineering background. For me, the goal is not to just make something, it’s to make something that is actually useful for the user. Before I gravitated toward design, the things I came up with were usually hard to use and not useful. They didn’t have any impact on people’s lives. That’s why I came to the U.S. to study HCI [human-computer interaction] and became a designer. Technology changes the world; design is also changing the world.

Do you like checking your mail?
Yes. Every day. We have two entrances in my building and I always walk to the farther one just because the mailroom is there. I have to check my mail every day. There’s a trash can right there and I go through and throw away the stuff that’s not relevant to me.

What’s the best advice you ever got?
It would probably be that Nike slogan: “Just Do It.” Don’t be afraid to take the first step. For a designer, the work is always changing. We need to embrace uncertainty and not be afraid to make changes. Building great products, especially for extraordinary ones, is like exploring in the dark. You don’t get a map — you only get a flashlight. You can only see so much around you if you don’t move. The territory will become clearer and clearer as you start moving. So, don’t get ready, get started.

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