On creativity, mentorship, and remote work with Julie Kim, product designer at WorkdayFeatured

I spoke with @juliedkim, product designer at Workday, building a data visualization tool for data analysts to create charts and visualizations on high volume HR and financial data. Last summer, she founded Womxn Leading in Design, which brings together women and non-binary folk who are leaders or aspiring leaders in design through intimate monthly dinners capped at eight people. She also founded and co-leads a creative maker club at work. In previous roles, she was a UX researcher and a data analyst. What is the biggest thing you have learned about building communities?I learned that people really need community. Like really need it, and for some reason, the right one is hard to find. As I built my design leader community up from scratch, I heard time and again that this group fulfilled an unmet need and that it was exactly what had been missing in their lives—a small group of women design managers and leaders supporting each other. It was a specific community they hadn’t been able to find because a lot of community-building efforts today focus on increasing their membership as quickly as possible. I built mine by prioritizing the opposite—I kept it deliberately tiny, only very carefully expanding to new recruits that had strong connections with existing members. And I also learned that my specific needs for a community weren’t unique—though at the start, I feared that they were. I was trying to create something that I wanted for myself, a set of deep connections that focused much more on the strength of those connections rather than the number of people I could make those connections with. I had gone to tech event after tech event, introducing myself to hundreds of people who would end up barely becoming weak connections. By tapping into my own need that I didn’t feel was being met by all of the enormous tech meetups, I was able to create a space for others who also shared that same need as me.Where do you find inspiration for creativity? Almost anything can be inspiration. I notice how plants grow and how they both repeat patterns and display unique features. I am constantly immersed in new tech and love examining how other products or tools are designed and how people use them for their unique use cases (and think about how I would make them perfectly fit my own use case). I also observe people and how they behave, and wonder which situational factors are influencing their behavior at that moment and what would change that behavior. And finally, other people and their work. These can be designers but don’t always have to be, and expanding the breadth of my sources of inspiration from individuals of all walks helps me create inclusive and thoughtful work of my own.How do you find mentorship in large organizations?I put it out there—everywhere. I let my manager know that I’m seeking mentorship in specific areas and she makes connections with colleagues; in meetings I mention the topics and skills I’m interested in learning more about or acquiring and people point me to others that they know about; and I also take note of colleagues who are especially skilled and experienced at certain things and go seek them out. And honestly, 100% of people I’ve reached out to, even the ones I’ve cold messaged on LinkedIn, are willing to help and at the very least do an informational interview. People enjoy giving back and being helpful, and you should never feel like you’re too “junior” or you’re afraid of taking up their time.What is your advice for your younger self? I used to think that if I didn’t start something at an early age, it was way way too late to ever do it, and it was pointless to even start. I just never wanted to be “behind” in relation to someone else. I’d want to tell that self that there’s never a perfect starting point for anything, and everyone’s doing things at their own life’s pace. It doesn’t make any sense to compare your life to others’ when their circumstances, their preferences, their skills are all so different and make up a completely unique life tapestry. In order to “catch up” or not feel behind, I’d also be involved in ten activities at once, projects and initiatives and sports and classes filling up my time until I had no space to take a breath. I’d tell that younger self that it’s not slowing down to stop and really think about what you’re doing. I’d say, “Listen to yourself. If you feel like you’re frantically doing things without really knowing why, maybe it’s a sign to stop.” What are you most looking forward to in 2020?Finishing up a personal project that I’ve been putting off since last year. I have a hard time continuing and finishing projects if I feel like I can’t get them perfect but I’ve been trying to eliminate that mindset because it’s been a huge obstacle .My manager told me recently “something done is better than something perfect and never done.” It’s not poetic in any way but it helped me think of completing projects in a different way. What tips do you have for synchronous collaboration in a remote world?Overcommunicate. Communicate 3x more than you think you should, repeat yourself in different ways, ask others to clarify, reiterate what you think you heard to them to make sure that you understand exactly what the other person is trying to convey, even if you think you understood exactly what they were saying. Make sure you have concise, clear agendas for meetings. Everyone should know exactly why they are in that meeting and what they should be contributing. Document the decisions made in these meetings, and put that information in a place where everyone can see, even non-attendees. When so much is uncertain right now, and remote work means so much communication happens over Slack or email, you want to reduce ambiguity as much as possible.How do you manage data overload in your work?Organize and create an external brain. Figure out your mental model for thinking about content and information, and use tools to replicate that mental model for your external information retrieval system. For example, I use Mindnode, a mind mapping tool, to flesh out hierarchical relationships between ideas I’m trying to understand better and next steps for projects so I can clearly see what I should be focusing on next. I then use Notion, a notetaking tool, because I can create child pages upon child pages for my projects and to-dos, which replicate what I’ve fleshed out in Mindnode and allow me to add a variety of different content such as images, databases, and tags. And then, of course, I use a calendar app, so that I don’t hold anything related to scheduling or deadlines in my head—Fantastical has a great way of integrating with Reminders (iOS App), so I never have to remember when to do things anymore as long as I create a Reminder for it.What advice do you have for aspiring product designers?It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and have no idea where to start. Start with understanding what product design is—talk to other designers to figure out what it means to them, and you’ll start to form an idea in your head about the depth and breadth of experiences that can be part of the experience of being a product designer. Then figure out what perspectives the product designer uniquely brings to the product development process, and you’ll start to get a sense of the skills and attributes required to become a great designer. A product designer never works alone, but with product managers, software engineers, QA, technical writers, and UX researchers. Learn what the role of a product designer looks like in relation to and in collaboration with these roles. Out of the skills and attributes you identify as being most crucial to the role of a product designer, identify the skills that you need to develop more (information architecture, visual design, interaction design, content strategy, etc.), and find projects that will help you cultivate those skills. The best way to be a designer is to design. Find projects, create projects for yourself, talk to other designers about projects that they’ve done. I’ve found that reading books and articles doesn’t really get me very far, but designing does. Try to find problems to think about, come up with two or three different solutions for them, and think about every way they might fail. And then keep designing.
I loved reading this and found the piece on communication and how you seek mentorship really insightful. I never thought of reaching out to my boss for help with connections! Totally going to give it a shot. Also, I love that you focus on making your communities small. There's a place for large communities but we also need small ones. I personally love small communities. I feel safer, also like I'd be heard and I don't have to strive to shout above the rest to get noticed when I'm a part of smaller communities. It's also usually more intimate and I like that. Thank you @juliedkim and @jessicali
So grateful that you found this helpful! And yep, I really love smaller communities because I'm an introvert, and it's rather disadvantageous for introverts to constantly try to adjust to environments that we don't feel comfortable in! Also smaller groups make for deeper and more intimate conversations. :)
Thank you so much for the read and kind words! Definitely awesome insights from Julie :)