Winnie Chong - Finding Your Passion

Winnie is an award winning UX Designer currently working as an Experience Consultant for APAC, based in Singapore. She has spent the last 15 years working in agencies, focusing on Design and Advertising, and almost five years with SPH, one of Singapore's largest media companies.


Winnie, thank you for joining us! Maybe you could tell us a bit more about you, the work that you do, and what your passions are?


I'm currently working as a design consultant in a digital ad agency, and basically my day to day job is advising clients on CX strategy. There are also days when I get hands on with doing a lot of wireframing, prototyping, talking to users and finding customer insights for our companies.


For me, one of my passions is in the path of design. Building human connections, really doing a lot of collaboration within the office, even with colleagues out of Singapore - this is something that I really enjoy doing, getting to know a lot of people. Even when I'm travelling I meet new people, so I constantly have a lot of conversations with people on the ground.


Something about me - I'm an animal lover, so I'm a big advocate of wildlife. And because I'm an animal lover, I dream of living in a place where I have all sorts of animals living together under one roof, sort of like a Winnie's Ark.


That's awesome! And how did you first get started in design as a career?


I have always loved drawing since I was young. That passion has led me to enrolling into a design course and it wasn't without any opposition from my parents. Because my parents are very conservative. In fact, my mom is a fashion designer, my dad is a photographer, but they are both against me from going into the creative industry because, to them, the creative industry doesn't make you feel full, you know?


I self- sponsored for my own diploma course, and I went to study and also took up part time jobs on the side. Although I have studied multimedia design, I started my career as a print designer because print was very popular in those days. I then evolved into becoming a web designer, and I went into the gaming industry, so I dabbled in AI as well. And fast forward today, my design career evolved into what we call, UX.


Tell us a bit more about working while studying. And, what advice do you have for students who are balancing self-sponsoring their education and building their career?.


As kids in school, teachers always asked us - what our ambition is, right? Then we grow up with aspirations, but later on, due to life circumstances, our priorities changed. We kinda forgot about that ambition, that goal we always wanted to be when we are young.


For me, if we can continue to keep dreaming, keeping in mind about that goal and take actionable steps towards it. It doesn't have to be a huge step that changes your life overnight, but it could be things like, if I'm interested in design, I could actually start by picking out some books. I can start off with understanding how design came about, or that there might be something that I love to do like drawing or animation, things like that, whatever it could be.


Start by connecting with people, especially, we are all very well-connected on LinkedIn and Facebook, we can always approach people that are already in that industry. Go to them, talk to them, get some inspirations, or think about what are the steps that you need to make, before you actually reach that goal. Having that in mind, it could actually be a very powerful motivator.


And what is your biggest inspiration? Or who is your biggest inspiration?


My friends and family are my source of strength - they are very supportive of me, in putting myself out there, for my creative work. I tend to be very friendly with even strangers on the road. Even when I travel in overseas, I will come back wit at least having one or two friends added on Facebook. Conversations with friends are my source of inspiration as well.


I also make a trip or two over the weekend to art museums sometimes, just to get myself immersed in the creative space. I think that's important too.


And what would you say is the best part of your job and and what's the biggest challenge?


So, the best part is that I get to meet a lot of people - I get to look at different perspectives. I think that also trains me as a designer to have more empathy for others. Whenever I’m having conversations, I get to become very open minded, which I also learn the skill of active listening. There is a difference between hearing and listening. And listening means that you actually focus on being fully present with someone in that conversation and understand their perspective. That’s something that I love about my work, and I get to do a lot of that.


The biggest challenge is that with all these conversations discussions going on, especially when there are times where I need to meet people of different backgrounds and cultures, from other time zones, it's challenging to find that alignment and agreement, how do we actually arrive at a place of agreement, reaching consensus, so I think that is a big challenge. But it can be a growing process as a designer, you need to speak to people of different cultures, you need to have the empathy so that you are able to build better products for your customers.


And what would you say with especially the COVID situation, and how is that changing work? And what what are the challenges that brings, and is anything better because of this situation?


One thing I really love about this current situation is that we get to work from home. I save a lot of time on transport, and I have more time to plan my day. However, one thing I missed the most, hanging out with colleagues, and water cooler conversations. I realised that, the type of communal discussion by walking over to someone’s desk, becomes a scheduled meeting of at least 30 minutes.


There were a lot of teething issues when I started working from home. However, because of the situation, it has forced every one of us to really look at collaboration online on with a more serious note, by thinking about how you present yourself on the screen, how you talk to someone.


I know sometimes it might even feel very awkward - even while we're having this conversation. In order to make eye contact with you, I have to look into the camera on my laptop which feels really weird, like nobody's responding to me. But I found that this situation has taught us to become more self-aware on how we actually manage our time, how to be more productive and to be more efficient.


Another thing we are seeing as a huge global issue is diversity and inclusion. Of course, here in Singapore, in many ways a model for how ethnic diversity can be achieved. In in the US and Europe, we've seen the Black Lives Matter movement and there are a lot of issues that need to be addressed, also in terms of the gender balance in the workplace, especially in tech. What's your philosophy around improving diversity and inclusion in tech?


So I think no matter which race or background that we are from, we're all humans, we all have emotions. With our different cultural upbringing, there will be a different perspectives on how we perceive things. In order to include everybody into the tech environment, I think we have to take a more deliberate action.


With our upbringing, it is somehow subconscious that we also tend to like people and want to work with people who are like us. And I think we have to take that deliberate step especially when we are thinking about designing products, that could potentially be used by different races, different backgrounds. And that deliberate action is to include more of a diverse group of people or colleagues into a project, and let people have a very safe and conducive environment for them to speak up, to voice their opinion.


At the end of the day, it's also about how do we actually encourage more of these conversations, someone will have to start the ball rolling and that’s us. And I think one of the things to do is to get people more involved, make them feel valued. And continue to embrace people with an open heart.



That's great, thank you. And what would your advice be for people who are just starting a career in UX. Or maybe just anyone who's starting their career more broadly?

I think the important thing is to find your passion. When you're younger, you have the luxury of time to look at what are the things that you really want to do. Explore, ask questions, talk to people from different industries. It's okay if you don't find something that you like, just proceed next to find something that you really like.

When you actually find your passion, you are in this process of self-discovery. Put in all the effort and put in 110% in whatever that is given to you. It could be a very small project, but when you put in your heart and soul to it, and people start to notice your passion, the effort you have put into a project.


Another thing, something that I have learned the hard way - learn to say “No” to things that doesn't matter to you. Early in my career, I said yes to a lot of things. I ran into problems on how to prioritise my time, and confused about things that are important to me. So I think one of the steps is to learn to say “No”, especially if there are things not in your interests, then you're wasting time. When you say no, it means that you are actually giving yourself the opportunity to be able to say “Yes” when good opportunities arise, something that you really love to do. And that's when you start to put in all your effort into it.


That's awesome advice, thank you. What were some books or websites or software tools that you have read or visited or discovered recently that you would recommend?


The first one I'll recommend is a book I picked up when I was nine. And it is still very relevant today. It is a book called The Six Thinking Hats by Dr. Edward DeBono. When I was nine, that book actually let me thinking on how to approach problem solving, understanding different perspectives. So that is a really good book. Dr. Edward de Bono came up with another book called “Lateral Thinking”, for people who actually want to build the creative side of their brain. So that’s a really cool book.


The second book that I highly recommend is “Be more Pirate” by Sam Conniff. The book talks about innovation - how to embrace innovation, how to come up with new ideas, how to be braver. By the end of the book, I actually came up with 10 lessons for myself, on how to be more innovative.

Third book is called “The iceberg is melting” by John Kotter. It is really a very fun read, with a lot of illustrations of penguins. So it's really fun. So That's actually a story about a penguin, how he stood out from the crowd and led the whole herd of penguins away from danger. So that's quite a fun book to read about innovation.

Very cool. How about your daily inspiration, or websites that are your go-to?


One of my favourite website is Awwwards.com. That’s a place where I seek out inspiration from other designers who have won many awards from designing websites. So that is pretty cool.


In terms of UX, there is a tool that I'm always use is called Otter.ai. This app helps you to transcribe your interview notes, for me to say that you're able to focus on talking to, the other party, without scrambling to write notes and the transcribing are pretty accurate. There is actually a free trial where they actually give you the first 600 minutes for free. It's really helpful when you need to interview someone.


Super helpful, thank you for sharing! And what are your rules to live by? What is your number one?


For me, try to see the best in everyone that you meet, by talking to people with an open mind. I also think it’s important to be honest. Especially in design, building trust with your users is very important. So being honest in your conversations, with the relationships you have with people, that's important. The number one would be, follow your passion.


That's great, thanks Winnie. And finally, what would you do if money was no object?


I would love to travel around the world. Live like a nomad for a while. My dream is to live in a Greek cave house in Santorini, because that's where I went for my honeymoon. If I were to do it all over again, I would live for a year in a greek cave house in Santorini.


Sounds like a great goal, Winnie. Thank you for sharing your insights and advice, and for joining us for this interview.