Facing a career crossroad after nearly 10 years of chugging along in the print and publishing sector, Huang Weiming, a SkillsFuture Study Award for Design recipient, was re-inspired when he attended a course on user experience. He shares his story with Wong Sher Maine.
Sometime in 2017, Huang Weiming, 34, seriously considered what many of his designer friends from LASALLE College of the Arts had already done: Drop out of the profession altogether.
Since graduating from the polytechnic in 2004, he had worked at a plethora of graphic design jobs in the publishing industry, both full-time and as a freelancer, but his heart was never quite in it.
“I worked for publishers because I love books. But all I was doing was sitting in front of the computer to beautify things, make pages look pretty with typefaces and graphics. I was more interested in making design useful for specific purposes,” said Weiming, who read up voraciously on subjects like way-finding – where design is used to help people navigate spaces – in his spare time.
I was so very tired by the whole graphic design industry, I was literally saved by this course.
At the same time, he saw how the publishing firms he was working for shrink over the months as the book industry contracted. In one instance he was not paid his salary. He had also tried without success to get out of the rut by applying to overseas design firms including those in Netherlands, as he was fascinated by its traffic system.
As he pondered his options, Weiming, who had just married his then girlfriend (also a designer) and was getting a new flat, considered becoming a bus driver.
With a salary of over $3,000 a month, his bus driver father was earning more than he was. Weiming, who also possessed a Masters Degree in Art and a First Class (Honours) in Graphic Design from LASALLE, did apply to SBS Transit and was given an interview slot.
The moment of serendipity came when, before the interview, his friend who was similarly disenfranchised in the advertising industry told him to try signing up for a course in user experience. The 10-week course in user experience or UX – one of the biggest buzzwords in the design world today – proved to be transformative.
A Turning Point
“I was so very tired by the whole graphic design industry, I was literally saved by this course,” he said.
During the User Experience Design course with training provider General Assembly, Weiming learnt the methodologies and techniques to ensure that his designs provide meaningful and relevant experiences to users – which comes down to understanding users to make sure that products are useful, useable and desirable.
Weiming managed to cover his course fee with the SkillsFuture Study Award for Design Sector by DesignSingapore Council and Tech Immersion and Placement Programme grant by the Info-communications Media Development Authority.
He worked on a range of projects that involved the use of new software and research methods to design websites and mobile apps.
The course was intensive. Typically, he and his 17 classmates would go through a process of how to understand problems before coming up with solutions. For instance, if he were to design a transport app for a fellow classmate, Weiming would first interview his classmate in-depth to understand his or her pain points, before even thinking about what to create.
“We had to develop empathy for our users,” said Weiming. Soon after graduation, he managed to score a job at OCBC, after five rounds of interviews, as an Experience Designer.
While what he learnt during the General Assembly course focused on digital design, Weiming’s greater takeaway was that when it comes to overall design, users come first.
At OCBC, he is involved in not just digital design like apps and websites, but also has a finger in designing spaces, icons and re-designing forms.
“How do we simplify a 20-page form to eight pages? Can we do it in a simpler way? I am more empowered at OCBC. Yes, I do beautify things, but I find that my work now makes sense because my focus is on making things useable rather than beautiful,” said Weiming, who is now earning a more comfortable salary.
Putting Users First
Reflecting on his career journey, he feels that designers today should not expect to take on a job where they sit in isolation, solely relying on their own creativity to come up with pretty designs to meet client briefs.
They have to get out to understand their users, design solutions, test, reiterate and expand their own knowledge horizon.
“Some designers may be introverted, but they have to get out of their comfort zone to talk to end-users. Ultimately we are designing for their usage, shouldn’t we design by first understanding our users? Even the sales people who are the middlemen, observe how people use things,” he said.
For instance, designing spaces for those who are wheelchair-bound, or type setting for those who are dyslexic, require a great deal of groundwork.
He reads a lot because design is fundamentally cross-disciplinary. He said, “From psychology to technology which is always changing, reading also helps me to think and question. The most important thing for designers is to be curious, keep asking why and keep on learning so they can meet evolving needs.”