Product design 101 with Sophie Taylor and Julie Jeon

6 min read David Renwick

Welcome to another UX New Zealand 2019 speaker interview. In the lead up to the conference (which is just around the corner!), we’re catching up with the people who’ll be sharing their stories with you in October.

Today, we chat to product design managers Sophie Taylor (ST) and Julie Jeon (JJ).

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me Sophie and Julie. Let’s start off with your history. How did you get started? What originally got you into product design?

JJ: It was a surprise! Throughout my time at university, I was gearing up to become a book/publication designer. After a sequence of unanticipated events, I found myself working at Trade Me on the mobile apps. I had a pretty solid plan around what I’d do after my studies at the time but it was the first unplanned decision I made, probably in my whole life, and I’m really glad I took this path. In hindsight, a lot of things I’d think about when designing a book (like how a reader would interact and navigate through the book and presenting the information clearly) were all very relevant to product design. I was also a big stats nerd during school, and I was happy I could revive that through the measure and learn approach you’d take working in product.

ST: My pathway to design was via some pretty nasty homemade cards. You know the ones; all three primary colors and too much glitter? As a kid, I couldn’t get enough of the stuff, and despite the questionable taste of my creations, I was captivated by the process of making things. As I grew up this stuck with me. When I landed at university I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and it was in the design department where I found I could learn about an endless range of topics while solving problems and making things. That in combination with a computer science paper landed me squarely in the digital world and that is where I have been ever since.

Can you speak to product design at Xero? How has it evolved in the time that you’ve been there? How do you see it changing?

ST and JJ: As the company has grown, so has the size and number of teams we are working with. Going from collaborating with a few people to a whole room of people has changed our approach. We’ve adapted and made new ways to share knowledge and work together as a bigger team, from plain old documentation, to sessions that focus on improving the design process and how to best work with development teams as designers.

Julie – You say you aspire to be a good coach to others. How does this manifest in your day-to-day?

JJ: For me, it’s been about spending time with people to encourage but mainly to listen. It goes for the talented and smart designers I’ve had the pleasure of working with, but also with the development teams and product people. I don’t think I approach people with an intent to ‘coach’ them, it’s more about working and getting better together as a team or discipline.

Julie – What are you passionate about outside of your day-to-day in product design?

JJ: In my spare time I exchange letters to my pen pals who are scattered all around the world from Tokyo, San Francisco to Toronto and more. It’s a privilege to be able to be a part of and get a glimpse into the various life stages that my friends are at. I’m also very much obsessed with my small indoor garden and making sure my kitten doesn’t eat any of it.

Sophie – Working at both TradeMe and Xero you’ve worked in two of the biggest tech companies in Wellington. How do they differ?

ST: I think the main thing is the subject matter, both were fascinating dives into domains with very different users. It was such an amazing opportunity at Trade Me to work on a local product that so many of our family and friends use and care about. At Xero it has been a real treat getting work on a global product and all of the challenges that come along with that.

Sophie – You’re a self-described tinkerer. What do you like to tinker with?

ST: I like a good project, anything from our vege garden, house renovations through to a fiber optic light dress my friend Lisa and I made for the LUX light festival a few years back.

What do you think is the single biggest challenge for multidisciplinary teams?

ST and JJ: Finding productive ways to solve problems together from start to finish is a big challenge which requires a lot of thinking ahead and preparation. But when it happens, it’s well worth the effort. Coming to agreement around what’s most valuable to solve first, making sure everyone is getting the opportunity to be part of the process to define the solution, deciding what to ship and evaluating if it actually solves the problem are some of the things that benefit from teams working together on. All of these steps need to be done in a way that’s right for the team to get the best outcome.

What do you think is the biggest mistake that organizations make when assembling multidisciplinary teams?

ST and JJ: It can be really difficult for a team if they don’t have a shared purpose. When a team is clear on the problem they are faced with, they can figure out a way to solve it that makes the best use of the strengths of the team, as well as the individuals within it. If a shared purpose is the foundation, a team with diverse perspectives ensures there are a wide range of ideas, approaches and risks identified during the process. This is more than just different disciplines too – this could be things like personality and working style as well as gender, age, and ethnicity.

Favorite thing about living in Wellington?

JJ: The easy access to nature is my favourite thing about Wellington. There’s always a hilly walk nearby, whether you’re in the city or out in the suburbs. I live near Wrights Hill out in Karori, so we’re always in the company of tūī and kākā out in our garden.

ST: Mine too! We are so lucky to live in a city where just down the road there are a number of beautiful walks to choose from. I am also a big fan of food and here in Wellington we are spoilt for choice.

Thanks for your time both, and see you at UXNZ!

UX New Zealand is just around the corner. Whether you’re new to UX or a seasoned professional, you’ll gain valuable insights and inspiration – and have fun along the way! Learn more on the UXNZ website.

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David Renwick

David is Optimal Workshop's web writer. You can usually find him alongside Bowie, the office dog. Connect with him on LinkedIn.