Alumna Minjun Chen on Her Journey to UX Designer
Minjun Chen, MHCI+D Cohort 5 alumna, is currently a UX designer with the Global Prime Experience team at Amazon, where she uses her background in e-commerce, supply chain, and growth design to help millions of Prime members explore Amazon’s offerings.
Day to day her work consists of jumping between multiple projects and various stakeholders.Teams are typically made up of one dedicated product manager and six to 10 engineers, while larger projects might also include other stakeholders such as a marketing manager, a visual designer and brand designer, as well as someone from the legal team and a PR partner.
Asked what she thought was the most challenging part of her job Minjun said, “I think the top thing coming to my mind is driving alignment across multiple teams and a variety of stakeholders. Because in this situation, there are a lot of things that involve communication. How do you present your design? How do you craft the story? How best to justify your design decision based on the user research data? And how do you make sure you schedule the meetings ahead of time and make sure to invite the right people?”
Minjun also shared that “developing both the hard skills like interaction design, visual design, as well as your product thinking,” is key. She added, “But I think a lot of students don’t realize it’s the soft skills, like communication, collaboration, and storytelling, that are also really critical for you to not only be successful in a job in a company as a UX or product designer, but these will also help you lead a design project in the company.”
So what does Minjun enjoy most about her job? “I think there are two parts of the job I enjoy the most. One is about crafting the design. I really enjoy throwing my ideas on the table, and pushing pixels with a purpose to solve the specific problem space. I really enjoy such heads down time on my own. And then after I have this creative freedom to explore different directions, I group all the different ideas into a topic and try to synthesize them into a framework. Based on this framework, I can better present my design to the stakeholders, who typically are not a designer. And the second part of what I really enjoy is doing the research, user research. When I was working at Wayfair’s warehousing team, most of our users were the warehouse people. I had the chance to fly to the warehouse and do a contextual inquiry, and usability testing and user interviews. And I worked as a warehouse associate. I was doing the picker job and trying to look for the inventory from the customer order and find the shelf and pick up the items. So I think having such user research really builds a lot of empathy on the designer’s side. I can really understand what their workflow is, what their challenge is, and what the specific design consideration is based on their physical environment. You have a lot of aha moments, surprises coming out after doing the research. I might find that assumptions are not correct, because I observed something while doing the research. So yeah, I just really enjoy both designing and doing the research.”
But before completing the MHCI+D program, Minjun says that, while she had a graphic design background, she had no knowledge or background in UX design research. “MHCI+D helped me build a foundation in UX design and research, so, this was a very good starting point for me. By leveraging the foundation I built up at MHCI+D I continue honing my skills — I know about the materials I can look for, what kind of results I can look for when I’m doing this kind of self learning process at work.”
Minjun also learned a lot about communication and collaboration during the program, saying “a lot of our school projects are based on group projects. So, you have a lot of chances to team up with the students in your cohort. It’s also a great opportunity for you to facilitate the discussion and also present your designs, to have a conversation to figure out what direction you want to go next.” She also gained experience with “receiving and giving feedback during design critiques. How you respond to a critique and how you give feedback to other students, that is a huge part of communication. I continue to leverage that growth in my current job.”
Out of class, the MHCI+D alumni network also provides opportunities for professional growth. Minjun says, “I had an alumni mentor when I was in MHCI+D. She was a product designer at Facebook. We had bimonthly check-ins. Usually I would prepare some questions about job searching, the job interview process, as well as getting her feedback on my Capstone project and side projects. So I definitely learned a lot from this alumni mentoring. It is really easy for you to build up and expand your connections through this network.”
Minjun has experienced the benefits of creating community and believes it’s important to give back. The best way to lift up new designers is “by helping them understand what’s important.”