February 7, 2018No Comments

Carving out your own design space

A question I’ve had on my mind throughout the past few months is: how do I carve out my own space? How can I make an impact in my own, unique way? Although it’s clear that collaboration is key to making great design happen, carving out your own space allows you to focus on your passions and can give you breathing room to bring them to life.

Here are a few tips I have that have helped me to carve out my own space:

1. Listen to your instincts

If you feel you’re not gaining traction on what you’re currently doing, stop and reassess. Is this something I should be working on? Can I make this my own? Does this excite me? How can I reframe the problem in a way that is motivating to my own trajectory as a designer? If we evaluate, at a basic level, the problem and try to align it with our values or things we care about, then we have a much greater chance of making our own unique impact on the problem.

2. Don’t get territorial 

Some designers “horde” their ideas, and want to own a particular interaction or feature so that they put their mark on the product. Fair enough. But if other people on the team want to work on the same problem, then ask how they are going about solving it and see if they are approaching it in the same way. Also, seek role clarity from your manager or PM - they might have a different idea on your role on the project.

3. Ask for feedback frequently

Carving out your own space doesn’t mean going off into a corner somewhere and hiding your work. Rather, it’s about showing your work and being quick to get feedback so that you can iterate further. Carving out your space doesn’t only need to be an individual, solitary activity, others can lift you up to make your own mark. Be open to their feedback.

4. Take a break, meditate

It’s difficult to create your own space without clarity on your role or a clear idea on where you want to be. If you want to carve out your own space but don’t know how - take a weekend off and do something else that you love. Clear your mind, meditate. For a good introduction on how meditation can help provide clarity, read Dan Harris's book 10% Happier.

November 12, 2017No Comments

What kind of designer are you?

Product design is about being a part of the entire product lifecycle - from early concepting, wireframing, testing, mocks, and execution for developers. But within each of these phases there may be user journeys, surveys, interviews, branding, icon specification, other illustration work, motion design, and prototyping involved. But what aspects bring you the most personal satisfaction?

For me, I am most interested in the problem space - do we truly understand what we're trying to solve? Is this based on actual data? What does the journey looks like - from A to Z - and are we addressing all the specific pain points that might arise? What does the flow look like? How does a specific interaction work? Are we using the right patterns? How do we prototype and test this new idea in the most efficient way?

As a writer, I'm also interested in content strategy: do we understand all of the content we have, and how will it affect the product moving forward?

Other designers on my team are more interested in branding, in illustration. Although I am interested in these topics, they aren't where my primary passions lie. Spending 16 hours on illustration work would not serve me, or my team, in the best way.

Knowing who you are, what you are truly passionate about, and what specific kind of skill sets you can deliver is important. It helps you spend more time on making magic happen, rather than trying to be a kind of designer you're not. If you don't know where your passions are, what brings you the most joy, then ask your colleagues, look at the work you do out of sheer interest.

Just keep digging.

February 26, 2017No Comments

Notes from IXDA 2017

A couple weeks ago I travelled to NYC for IXDA 2017, a conference focused on interaction design. It's difficult to put in words what I experienced, as the days were jam packed with brilliant, thought-provoking talks and connecting with other designers. But here are some highlights:

  • "Prototyping Conversational UI" - Greg Vassallo at Fidelity talked about designing for conversational UI. His emphasis was on first understanding the intent behind what someone is trying to do - and acting on it within an appropriate timeframe. I've briefly tried prototyping a conversational UI in Sketch and Framer, and it didn't go well. A few conversational UI tools I'm excited to try out: ChatFuel, wit.ai, api.ai, and Microsoft Bot Framework
  • "Content Strategy for Conversational Interface" Elena Ontiveros described her content strategy process at Facebook, specifically around Messenger bots. The main idea around her talk was to design with intent - ("what is the user trying to do?") and to do several versions of each message to avoid repetition and create a more diverse experience, similar to how designers go through several iterations until we get it "right".
  • "Sh*t Show" Jon Kolko gave an amazing talk about creative clarity in the midst of ambiguity, running through these four points:
    1. Acknowledge how your designers feel. When creating new things, it's often not very good, and people feel like shit. Instead of having that feeling fester and wasting time, shortcut it by turning self-critique into group critique. Make and enforce a professionally safe environment. Focus on building trust within the team.
    2. Tame ambiguity. Help your team see and articulate constraints to frame the problem of what you're trying to solve.
    3. Let your team go crazy on a design and the design process - to work outside the rules of what seems possible. Allow the team to create their own most creative environment - the best environment that will work for them.
    4. Drive a vision. Create a vision that makes the story of what you're trying to do seem perfect. Even when the business and design situation is total chaos, making the story seem perfect will help you move forward in a productive way and inspire the team to move along with you.

A few other great talks:

  • "The Design Management Office: Delivering the value of design at scale" - Meaghan Nishiyama and John Devanny from Moment discussed a blueprint for how design leaders can be effective when working in a large, complex organizations. Key takeaway: reduce the "magic" of design into actual metrics that people will get behind.
  • "Designing to Combat Misinformation" by Design Director at Planned Parenthood Chelsey Delaney - this is the most memorable talk for me. Delaney outlined Planned Parenthood's strategy for combating misinformation about health by communicating in ways that people will be receptive to. It's not enough to simply expose a myth - that myth must be replaced with an alternative narrative (the truth).
  • "Convenient Friction: Observations on Chinese UX in Practice"  - Ethnographer Christina Xu discussed the gap in understanding what convenience means in the US as to what it means in China. In China, friction is important because it builds trust and accountability, while in the US friction is, for the most part, a nuisance.

I have a lot more to say about this amazing conference. Please DM me if you want to know more.


July 18, 2016No Comments

Creating new stories, charting new paths


“Stop telling yourself a story, there’s no grand narrative” is one of the points on Ryan Holiday’s list of twenty five ways to kill the toxic ego. I think this is impossible. Humans are by nature storytellers. I think what Holiday's alluding to is, don’t tell yourself a story along a default, ladder-like path that ultimately will lead to happiness. That highest point on the mountain where you can shout: “I did it, I made it!” can lead you only back down.

This reminds me of David of Rapture’s “Most Lives are Lived by Default”. And it’s true. Most people go along the path they feel most comfortable, and accept the stories that are given to them. Because if people think they work hard enough trying to impress others, and do what society wants - then they will somehow “win” at life. But winning shouldn't be the goal, and we can change the story we're repeatedly telling ourselves.

Philippa Perry writes in her book “How to Stay Sane” that we need to keep changing our inner narrative to create new pathways and to live healthier lives. She writes: “I can forge new paths over uncharted territory, paths that serve me, the people around me, possibly the world, more advantageously.” But to change the story we have to accept what it currently “is” (or is purporting to be), and understand where we want to go.

I think the key word in Holiday’s "no grand narrative" point is grand. It’s true - believing in some big, overarching story can harm us. Because there is none. There are rather multiple stories within us, and our job should be on selecting ones to believe in that better ourselves, and those around us. And to keep changing them, to keep evolving.

As designers, both our work and our personal growth must evolve. It’s not about winning awards, earning more money, or collecting different titles, it’s truly about being surrounded by problems that excite you. That can change you. That will allow you to forge new pathways, to formulate new narratives for your next journey. To keep life fresh, new, and exciting.

This is why, beginning in September, I will be joining the central creative studio at EF - Education First. They’re one of the global leaders in study abroad and cultural exchanges, and I couldn’t be more excited. Introducing people to new experiences and cultures is one of my passions, and I’m excited to approach it through the lens of digital design.

Leaving Novartis is difficult. Mostly because I will miss the people. I’ve been lucky to have some great co-workers, and a great manager who is open, friendly, and truly passionate about helping people. So, this is not a goodbye to them - it’s a “see you later”. Until our storied paths intersect again.

July 1, 2016No Comments

ch-ch-ch-changes, but first

So, I've been traveling like crazy and some other big events have happened in my life, which I will talk about soon 🙂 . But for now, please take a look at some links I've sent to my team lately:

  1. “How to be More Organized While Designing UI” - Object-oriented approach to UI design. Sketch focused, but can be mapped onto Photoshop or Illustrator
  2. "The Design Scientist" - Amber Cartwright from AirBnb. One of my favorite talks from IXDA 2016, how AirBnB uses data in design
  3. "Pre-touch sensing for mobile interaction from Microsoft" - this is brilliant! Thinking of possibilities for our work
  4. "Designing better chatbots with greater design principles” - A great refresher on design principles… and what about bots in our work?
  5. Dann Petty, a [former] creative director at UENO, is one of the most hardworking, passionate designers out there. He has a great vlog. Start here.
  6. Cuberto - design agency in London. Notice how they use motion.

April 26, 2016No Comments

The outside world

Every other Friday for the past two years I've been sending my UX team a list of interesting links related to design, with the purpose to both inspire and provide updates on what's happening outside of the pharmaceutical universe. Since these links don't specifically relate to our work, I think it would be nice to share them with the outside community. Also, if you have any links to share - please do.

Here's what I sent my team last week:

Last week was HUGE, where we saw the new release of Framer, the announcement of Origami Studio, the Facebook Developer ConferenceSketch Symbols update, and the release of Google Calendar Goals (and I’m sure I’m forgetting something).  But in any case, these links may interest you:

1. Design at Facebook: 20ish-minute video from F8 about the design process at Facebook – from research to prototyping. Lots of useful info.

2. The Way We Build: How AirBnB created a new design language system to better collaborate with engineers.

3. Stripe: this company focuses on designing and building payment systems, and you can clearly see a strong focus on craft in their work.

April 23, 2016No Comments

DogStay: next steps

Design is never really finished, as there's always more that can be done.  Here are a few ideas of what I'd do next for DogStay:

I. DogStay delegates; receiving updates

A common experience that dog owners have when on vacation away from their dog is: how is my dog doing? Is she getting along with the other dogs? Is she happy?

Imagine Lisa used DogStay to board her toy poodle Priscilla before leaving NYC to Barcelona. On her sixth day of vacation, she's walking along the beach, and all she can think about is her dog. She misses her.


Before leaving, Lisa named her mother Nancy as the 'delegate' in her DogStay profile.

A delegate is a person responsible for her dog while she is away, and will receive daily pictures or video of the dog's experiences during the DogStay. To decrease the amount of time the person boarding has to spend providing updates, the design of this feature should be designed in the same vein as Snapchat or Facebook Live - not focused on picture perfection, but on the honest experience the dog is having.

Although Lisa lives in NYC, her mother living in Minnesota is the best choice for a delegate because she has more time, enjoys hearing about Priscilla, and can contact Lisa at anytime in case there is an emergency. While Nancy's at the park one day with her grandchildren, she opens the DogStay app and watches a video of Priscilla rolling around in the grass.


Although Lisa misses Priscilla, she is calmed knowing her mother is receiving updates.

II. Location context

One benefit of using DogStay is that the person boarding the dog picks up and drops the dog off wherever it's convenient for the dog owner. But I'm assuming that the dog owner will still care about the location - is it near good dog parks? Is it near her dog's vet? Is it going to be safe? Some of this assumption comes from reading AirBnB's design research in location context for neighborhood search.

A feature to explore would be for the dog owner to look at a map and see how compatible each area is for her specific dog.


III. Compatibility rating research

DogStay is an app that combines both profile and search filters to find the most compatible experience for their dog. But this means that dog owners would have to provide a decent amount of information about their dog and themselves in their profile so that DogStay could provide better recommendations. Are dog owners willing to provide more information because the results they receive will be tailored? I would like to explore this further.

In addition, I imagined that the app would use intelligent algorithms to surface the best places for dogs and their owners. But how transparent should the compatibility rating and DogStay's methods for targeting specific listings be? Would dog owners care whether the app is trying to determine the best DogStay experience, or should this be just assumed as an inherent feature of the app?

April 20, 2016No Comments

Appropriate design

Walking home from the gym the other day I received a notification I’d never seen before:


Google Calendar wanted to know whether I had just completed my 10am to 12pm workout session, which I had made one of my Goals. I tapped “Done” and smiled at the thoughtfulness.

In the past week I’ve been using Goals to accomplish working out regularly, organising my wardrobe, and becoming better at coding. Whilst using the app I’ve been providing Google with data. And this is okay, because as long as Google keeps providing me services and options to improve my life, I will continue using the app.

In essence, appropriate design means that the product or service cares (or tries to care) about you. But let’s be clear: this is nothing new, and a central part of a designer’s job is to see opportunities to improve a service. This is one of the most fun aspects of being a designer. To sketch out user journeys, brainstorm a bunch of ideas, and narrow down to target end user and business goals.

Yet appropriate design is more than just meeting user expectations. I remember the first time receiving this notification:


DuoLingo was telling me: “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.” The hesitation and concern for learning a new language vanished, because I had an immediate indication that the app would assist me. This feeling goes beyond simply “meeting user expectations” and is calming the language learner.

But DuoLingo is not merely trying to calm me: appropriate design affects the bottom line. Think: Ads on Facebook or Twitter. How wonderful it is to find an awesome (!) pair of shoes on my Facebook Newsfeed, and have the option to buy them.

But we have to be careful. The data have to be right, otherwise the user is lost, disengaged. Google Calendar Goals cannot simply expect everyone to have the same type of goals, and they can’t be generic. Working out itself might seem generic yes, but when you combine it with machine learning and useful notifications - it becomes more personal, and thus more powerful.

As a designer at Novartis, my primary focus is making scientists more efficient so that some of the world’s deadliest diseases are cured. But because I am designing for people - not robots (yet 😉 ), I often think about how I can carve moments of “supposed serendipity” into the scientists’ everyday work lives. Such as streaming an interesting conference paper to a specific scientist based on previous interests and other data, and this paper eventually sparking a new idea for a new project, or way of using an instrument.

Appropriate design keeps people engaged, and can inspire them to become better in how they create, learn, and live their lives.

December 16, 20151 Comment

Learning German in Switzerland


I spent the 2001-2002 school year as an exchange student in Lippstadt, Germany. Before my trip, I had not taken any German courses and barely knew how to say "Wie geht's?" ("How are you?"). But through being thrust into a normal high school and speaking German from morning to night, by the end of the year I could speak comfortably with anyone.

Fast forward to eleven years later, and I'm back in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. I honestly thought learning German again would be a breeze, that I would be fluent in no time. But the German spoken in Switzerland is different. It's Swiss-German, and almost impossible to comprehend if you're not a native or fluent German speaker. On the trams or in restaurants, it's not High German, but a strong dialect that's spoken. Which can make it very difficult to learn German here.

But all Swiss Germans speak High German, right? Yes, they are taught in High German in school and the newspapers and magazines are all in High German. But when you are not a native German speaker, and a Swiss person recognizes that, they generally change to English.

So, how does one learn High German in Switzerland? Should you? Absolutely. Swiss-German is rooted in Swiss High German, so if you want to learn Swiss-German it's easier to first learn High German, then learn the differences. But you're essentially learning a language that is not used regularly in conversations on the street. And there seems to be a "barrier" that the Swiss have against foreigners, especially Germans, to learn Swiss-German.

When I see my Swiss friends speak to each other, there seems to be an intimacy that they have between each other, even between people living in different cantons with different dialects. A camaraderie that says: "We are Swiss, we share a culture and history". Someone who moves to Switzerland doesn't have that, so learning Swiss-German is a bit weird, or perhaps sounds funny to native Swiss speakers.

After living in Switzerland for three years, I've found it very difficult to integrate. My project teams at work are American and many English or American expats are living here. Last month I started taking a German course. But why learn German at all? Why try when you natively speak English, one of the most popular languages in the world?

Because I want to connect better with the Swiss. Although generally reserved, they are sweet and kind people who enjoy laughing. I also began learning German many years ago, and I don't want to lose it. And most of all, because I just don't want to simply exist in Switzerland - hang out only with expats, look forward to my next vacation out of the country - but I genuinely want to live here. To exist in the moment here. No amount of expat friends or airline miles can make up for the fact that your home address is in a country with its own strong culture and values.

When you begin to learn another language, your mind changes. You understand cultural ways and attitudes much better. There's a particular magic with learning a language; it changes you, makes you somehow into another person.

I'll never truly be Swiss, but as long as I live here I'll never stop trying.

November 25, 2015No Comments

Podcast city


I’m a regular dog walker, and when I travel to Basel for work I spend about four hours on my commute. So, I have a lot of time to listen to podcasts, and I wanted to share some of my favorites with you:

1. Design Details - conversations with product designers, product managers, and design leaders. I have to say, I’ve never learned more from a podcast than this one. Some of my favorite episodes so far are: 63: More Nougat (feat. Jon Lax), 37: Crisper Articulation (feat. Julie Zhuo), and 52: Save the Prototype (feat. Malthe Sigurdsson).

2. The Web Ahead - my manager recently asked me how I stay current with web technologies. I told him through books, Twitter, friends, and The Web Ahead. This podcast is great. Episode topics include: progressive enhancement, responsive design, and the latest in CSS.

3. Developer Tea - Awesome, short episode podcast on technologies and how to develop your career. More focused on developers (of course), but I think designers can learn a lot from it too. This podcast has short but great episodes covering work life balance and front end development.

4. ShopTalk - I’ve been listening to this podcast longer than the others; tons you can learn including SVG, working as a freelance illustrator, content strategy, et cetera...

If you have any favorite podcasts, please let me know! I’m always on the look out for podcasts to subscribe to.