Meet the EchoUsers: Laura Chang

As you all saw, we recently announced that we’re opening our first outpost in Washington, D.C. We couldn’t be more excited to expand our presence across the country. What better way to celebrate our new locale than by getting to know Laura Chang, EchoUser East’s captain, a little better. Without further ado, we give you this month’s Meet the EchoUsers:

1. How did you know you wanted to work in design?

Entering Stanford as a freshman, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. Looking back at it now, I think that’s a common story among designers. We straddle the line between the left and right brain, being creative but also very practical and analytical. When you have to pick one area to focus on, like a college major, it becomes really tough. As I looked into majors that might fit my interests, I heard about a program in the engineering school called Product Design, which blended mechanical engineering and art. I started taking a few classes and fell in love with the design process. I loved the idea of creating objects and experiences with purpose. I also loved the idea that this process could be applied to almost any industry. I graduated knowing how to think about the world and its challenges, instead of just knowing some subset of facts about it.

2. After college, how did you take your new found love of design to the real world?

When I graduated, I knew I liked design, but I didn’t see myself working on physical products. The digital world felt more accessible and pervasive, and moved at a faster pace. After an internship with T-Mobile in Berlin, I came back to the States and joined Google as member of their Google Apps for Business support operations team. Right away, I found it really easy to see value in the business products Google was developing, and was amazed by how quickly they were transforming the enterprise. My goal was to improve the customer support side of Google Apps for Business, which included streamlining help platforms like the online help center and email support channels, reducing the number of issues reported, and optimizing internal workflows to deliver fast and high quality support. I had to look at the system as a whole in order to improve the customer experience - an excellent design exercise. I soon found that the best way to improve the customer experience was to start with the user; I analyzed and funneled user feedback to the support and product teams so that it became clear how the product experience was affecting its users. For example, because we regularly received so many questions about setting up accounts, I focused on helping product managers and engineers improve the setup experience altogether, and prevent issues from happening in the first place.

3. What brought you to EchoUser then?

Working on an operations team allowed me to improve one system within the larger Google environment. But, what made the most sense to me was trying to improve the product itself, and not just the operation surrounding it. I wanted to improve things upstream, where the customer was interacting with the product, instead of downstream, when they needed to contact support. That’s when I started exploring the more traditional UX side of development at Google. I found incredible mentors on the design team who let me take on design projects of my own, and I ultimately decided that I wanted to work full time in the UX design industry. I had a dream of working at design agency, and now, here I am.

4. You’ve had the experience of working in-house at large companies and now within a consulting agency, what do you see as the main difference?

Working in-house, you get very attached to the product you’re working on. At Google, I worked on one product for years, seeing it evolve and improve, and got to know it inside and out. I also got to see how all of the internal stakeholders worked together to develop and launch a product from beginning to end, and experience all of the joys and pains that went along with it. But working at an agency, you get to focus on honing your design skills, and apply them to all sorts of scenarios. You have the opportunity to work on multiple products and see many different approaches from so many people - a really good learning tool at this stage of my career. I’m lucky to have had both experiences.

5. Where do you see the future of design going?

We have some pretty incredible technology platforms on our hands. But the real need is to take a step back and understand the broader context of our environment and goals before slapping together another gadget we may or may not need. Designers will need to think more about systems than single interfaces. For example, a hot topic is the Internet of Things - making physical objects more intelligent and interconnected. Does this mean we should go and wire up everything in the house, just because we can? We will have to think on a broader scale, not just about what people do on a screen, but how people and objects move and interact within a system - on the road, in a field, at the mall, in a hospital.

6. What advice do you have for people just entering the industry?

It’s an industry where you can’t replace experience. It’s not enough to just read a book - you have to learn by doing. The best way to get started is to do your own design projects in your free time - make your own website, redesign an app, rethink an everyday user experience- and get feedback. When I started out, I redesigned websites for my friends, and offered to make mocks for my coworkers - all for free! Another valuable thing I did was talk to designers I admired, and asked them to teach me their ways. I would not have gotten anywhere without them.

7. If you could re-design any experience, what would you pick and why?

I come from a family of physicians, so over the years I’ve heard a lot about healthcare’s inefficiencies and opportunities for improvement. Especially given all of the recent healthcare system changes, it’s become very confusing for people to navigate coverage and treatment options. I’d love to design a more patient-focused healthcare experience that’s more transparent about what you’re signing up for, what it’ll probably cost, and what caveats you need to be aware of. While I realize it’s a very complex system, I still think there’s a lot we can do to demystify it.

8. You brought up the new office and moving across country. What are you most excited about in D.C and what are you going to miss most about San Francisco?

I’m going to miss a lot about SF - my co-workers especially. I think of SF as the Hollywood for technology, where everyone has big dreams and wants to make it big, so there’s of course a lot of energy and excitement in a place like that. But, with that, I’m really excited about the new adventure here in DC. On a personal level, I’m from the area, so it’s great to come home after being away for 9 years. It’s kind of a rediscovery for me - I get to revisit those museums I used to love as a kid, and reconnect with old friends, but also explore the growing tech industry, new neighborhoods, and new companies. There’s a lot that’s unfamiliar to me in the challenges of opening a new office and exploring the many different industries out here, but I couldn’t be more excited to have this very unique opportunity.