Another Trip Around the Sun

CW: death, mortality

2020 has been a roller coaster thus far, and I still hope it takes a chill pill because I don’t know if I can handle this much devastation and pain in one year. I celebrated my birthday this year at home while wildfire smoke fills the air and a pandemic continues ravaging the world.

This year might not seem so different as I often quietly celebrate my birthdays at home—eating dinner with my mom, and splurging on boba or small cakes/pastries. Since reaching some milestones like 21 and 25, I stopped counting my age too. My birthdays became like any other day, but with the added perk of stuffing my face with cake. 

Though maybe with all the events that have happened this year, I am reminded of our mortality. That one day we may be present, breathing, living, and the next moment, we reached the end/the period and we’re gone. I know death is inevitable; it’s part of the circle of life.

I guess that’s why I used to see birthdays as a reminder that my time is limited, that I am one step closer to my mortality. I know, such pessimism.

However, this year, I saw my birthday a little differently, and I have my friends and family to thank. Despite being stuck at home, I felt such immense love from them, and heck, even from my Animal Crossing neighbors. This outpour of love subdued the loneliness that I sometimes felt due to shelter-in-place, and I am so thankful. I wish I could properly express in words my gratitude, but I’ll share this gif that encapsulates my feelings right now:

My birthday this year became a moment of celebration for I have my health, my family, and friends. As some of my Animal Crossing villagers would say, I’ve made another trip around the sun. What a blessing that is!


Don’t ever let someone tell you that you can’t do something. Not even me. You got a dream, you gotta protect it. When people can’t do something themselves, they’re gonna tell you that you can’t do it. You want something, go get it. Period.

Pursuit of Happyness

Growing up I had always wanted to be an artist. Unlike most immigrant parents, my mom supported my passion, and never pressured me to become a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. She firmly believed that there was no point in forcing your child to do something they have no passion in.

Fast forward to the present, and I am a UX designer in the tech industry. I’m still trying to teach her the difference between an “artist” and a “designer,” and what it means to be a “user experience designer.” I confide in my mom about work and my doubts as a designer. My mom, well intentioned, often questions my occupation.

“Why are you doing this to yourself?”
“What’s the point in all this if you aren’t happy?”
“[Your job/occupation] sounds too difficult. Why don’t you look for something easier?”

She always follows it up with a “All I want for you is to be happy… it hurts me to see you miserable.” I’m paraphrasing and loosely translating, but the sentiment is still there. Like I said, she’s well-intentioned, but at the same time it disappoints me that she wants me to hold myself back and not take a risk. When she started questioning my profession, I immediately recalled the scene from Pursuit of Happyness where Chris Gardner, played by Will Smith, tells his son who is attempting to shoot hoops that he should give up. Dejected, his son, played by Jaden Smith, throws the ball aside and slumps to his father’s side. Chris encourages his son to always pursue his dream even if everybody else tells him he can’t.

“Don’t ever let someone tell you that you can’t do something. Not even me.”

Although those closest to you can unintentionally—or worse, intentionally—degrade your worth and confidence, remember that what they say shouldn’t consume you, and leave you doubting your abilities.

It’s sometimes difficult for me because these external voices feed into my biggest adversary of all: myself, particularly that voice in my head that spews doubts or lies about my “flaws.”

I’m still working on overcoming and conquering this opponent, but whenever I feel insecure and begin doubting whether I’m good enough, I blast a song called NEVER MIND by International KPOP sensation sunshine rainbow traditional transfer USB hub shrimp BTS (if you didn’t get that reference, I recommend watching Bon Voyage Season 2). Min Yoongi, aka SUGA, proclaims in NEVER MIND to continue pushing forward through your mistakes and to never give up on your dreams. As Yoongi says, engrave NEVER MIND on your chest.

This is gonna sound preachy, but if you’re struggling with people questioning you or even if you’re doubting yourself, continue to push forward and go achieve whatever goals or dreams you have. “NEVER MIND” the doubts, the haters, and the fears that may hold you back. You have the capability and power to be to the best you. You can do it 👊

How to Respond to Excuses for not Doing User Research

post-it notes with responses to "Research takes too long" and "We already know our customers" excuses

The other day I attended a meetup hosted at SAP about responding to the most common excuses for not doing user research. For those who don’t know, user research aims to understand user behavior, needs, and motivation. You can read more about user research at Interaction Design Foundation or UX Planet.

Going into the meetup, I was expecting the host, Sally Lawler Kennedy, to talk about her experience and how she responds to excuses. However, I was pleasantly surprised that this meetup was more hands-on and collaborative. We divided into groups and discussed what excuses we heard and wrote them on post-it notes.

“We don’t have the time or budget.”

“We are so far along the process… NO TURNING BACK.”

“We don’t know how to run user research.”

“We don’t have millions of users, [so] we don’t need [user research].”

And many more… 😬

Sally clustered similar excuses and asked us to vote what are the most common. We voted for “We don’t have time,” “We don’t have money,” “I don’t see the value in doing research upfront,” and “We already know our users.” She then asked us, within our groups, to come up with responses on how to counter these excuses.

Whiteboard with post-its of excuses for not doing user research

Here’s what we came up with:

“We don’t have time.” / “We don’t have money.”

These two excuses somewhat go hand in hand and the responses we came up with were similar, so I grouped them together. If you ever run into these situations, respond with: “Compare how long it would talk to redo/fix the feature/product if it’s unsuccessful,” or “What is the cost of fixing it later versus addressing the problem now?”

To give you an example of the cost for fixing a problem later, there’s a design process model called double diamond that breaks the design process into 4 phases: discover, define, design, deliver. According to Sally, fixing a problem costs $1 in the discover phase, $10 in the design, and $100 in the deliver phase. Cue record scratch. Yes, you read that right, fixing a problem costs 10x more over the course of process. Read more at Agile Modeling.

a line chart displaying a line moving towards the upper right, cost on the y-axis, and time on the x-axis.
the cost of fixing a problem over time

If you’re working in an agile environment, not only may you be short on budget but maybe on time. Figure out your timeline and offer a schedule that is compressed to workaround a time crunch. Instead of spending weeks interviewing users, maybe spend a day interviewing. If you’re short on time or money, you can find your customers/users by leveraging your friends and family network. In my experience, the UX researchers I’ve worked with talk to 6–8 users generated a decent amount of insights.

“I don’t see the value in doing research upfront.”

Unfortunately for this one, we couldn’t come up with a good response to counter this excuse; however, a group suggested finding allies. Sally recommended getting a team to do a project pilot that utilizes a design-led approach to persuade leadership buy-in. Leadership gets to participate in the problem solving, and hopefully will see the value. Even if they don’t immediately change their views, at least you planted a seed 🌱

“We already know our users.”

One suggestion my group came up with is bringing in users to validate what they—product managers, leadership, other stakeholders—know.

Sally suggested asking them to share because this response acknowledges what they know, and is a starting point in understanding the users. Often times, product managers and other stakeholders may know things only on a surface level, so you’ll need to figure out the gaps and show them that they’re missing behavioral understanding (e.g. How does the user actually use the product/feature?).

I should emphasize that these are not the only responses to handling the most common excuses (see additional readings for more suggestions). It may take time to persuade leadership to see the value of user research, but don’t get discouraged!

If you’re a UX Researcher, what are the most common excuses you’ve heard for not doing user research? How do you respond to them? Please share in the comments 😊

Additional Readings

The Last Black Unicorn

I finished reading Tiffany Haddish’s The Last Black Unicorn a month ago, and recently finished listening to the audiobook. I don’t usually listen to audiobooks because the narrators don’t keep me entertained, but when my friend mentioned she narrated the audiobook, I quickly downloaded a copy from my library.

For those who don’t know, Tiffany Haddish is a comedian and actress. You may know her from the film Girls Trip, but I found out about her through her interview on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. I had tears in my eyes from laughing so much. HI-LA-RIOUS. Her personality shines like the sun.

I wasn’t aware she published a memoir until she went on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah where she discusses some of the wild stories in her book. Again, I had tears in my eyes from laughing so much.

I knew a little bit about her history from various interviews I watched on YouTube, but to read her experiences left me with immense admiration for her tenacity. She went through so many obstacles and I’m so happy to see her where she’s at now. I definitely recommend listening to the audiobook version because it includes a song at the end sung by none other than Ms. Haddish. Most importantly, Tiffany brings such raw authenticity while telling her stories. Her narration made it feel like we were having a girls’ night, drinking wine (except I don’t drink), chatting away, LOLing, and maybe shedding a few tears.

One of my favorite sections in the book is about her long road to comedy because she discusses how she deals with the sexism in the industry. I find it empowering to read that Tiffany didn’t resort to any shortcuts, but rather, used her own skills to claw her way through the industry. Her experience shows that you can get further in your career if you devote the time to grow your skills and make it.

Moreover, The Last Black Unicorn is a reminder that hardships are temporary. We experience a lot of obstacles throughout our lives—maybe not as extreme as what Tiffany gone through—but I think if you have hope and you continue to work towards your dreams, you can overcome any adversity life throws at you. The key is to remain determined, and never be afraid to tell your story.

So I leave you with one of my favorite quotes:

“…I’m willing to talk about my stuff. Whether it’s onstage, or with friends, or in this book. I think that’s why I came back to comedy, after being out of it for a while in my teens and early twenties. So I had a place to talk about my painful stuff, to share it, and to do it in a way that worked, and helped out other people, too.”

Duarte Presentation Training



Last Monday, the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) invited Duarte, a design firm in the Bay Area, to train us on how to make better presentations. The training session took an entire workday, but it was an eye-opening experience to learn brainstorming techniques, visualizing techniques, and how to help the audience understand your thoughts and messages.


  1. Take the risk, lose the fear
    Watch Sir Ken Robinson’s TEDTalk on creativity
  2. Avoid teleprompter slides
    I tend to create “teleprompter” slides, which is a slide that has about 50 words. A long bulleted list slide can be considered a “teleprompter” slide. They’re easy to make, but these slides are more for you, the presenter, rather than the audience.
  3. Presentations are glance media
    Since the audience looks at slides rapidly and process them immediately, the presenter needs to ensure that the slides don’t have a lot of noise—too many images, excessive animation, and random transitions—and have a clear signal or focus point.
  4. Be audience empathetic
    Understand your audience’s problem, spend more time on how you can help your audience. Focus on the WHY (why should your audience care?).

Powerpoint tip: If you are using Microsoft’s Powerpoint, you can use the selection pane to reorder the layers in your slide. This feature is similar to the layers panel in Photoshop.

Experience Working as a Remote Design Contractor

screenshot of Book Riot store with Halloween ad (this was before their store redesign)

For the past year, I was a design contractor at Book Riot, an independent book review company. I was fortunate enough to be referred to by a friend, and I gained a new perspective being a remote designer.

My primary responsibility was to create marketing creatives to boost audience outreach, which was mostly creating graphics for various social media platforms. I also had the opportunity to design t-shirts, which allowed me to flex my illustration skills.

Continue reading “Experience Working as a Remote Design Contractor”



Uh, h-hello. Aside from my post about the documentary Whose Streets?, it has been more than a year since I have properly written on this blog.

I just woke up one day not knowing what to write anymore. Mind-numbing activities took precedence because they didn’t involve a lot of brain power and they felt good in the moment, like eating a candy bar you know will make you feel sick the minute you gulp down the last bite. Whenever I came home from work, I wanted to shut off my brain. I was mindlessly browsing the Internet with no real destination or purpose; it was like a drug. It’s funny how we have so much information within our reach, but it sometimes blinds you from what’s really important.

I wanted to find a sweet escape from reality and avoid the looming burden of adulthood. Unfortunately adulthood is unavoidable, and I’m still barely waddling along the currents. It is difficult to prioritize my goals—which to be honest, I don’t even know anymore—and figure out how to reach them as obstacles slam into me in waves. I guess you can say I can’t find the North Star, and I’ve been struggling with this for the past year.

I have countless drafts and ideas, but no motivation to move them forward. I want to say it is fear that’s stopping me from pursuing these ideas. Not because I’m afraid of what others will think, but rather afraid of how am I going to sustain whatever it is I’m doing once the task is completed. It’s a silly fear, I know, but I guess I would rather have a filled to-do list rather than an empty one. I know, I know, ideas are just ideas, and there isn’t THE PERFECT ONE, and new ones will come along, but I think it’s that waiting period between a completion/following-through on an idea and acting upon a new idea that frightens me. It’s irrational, I know.

So that is what’s been going on with me in a nutshell. That and life events that occupied my time and made me put my career and relationships on hold. The past year I focused on buying a house with my family. This one major life event is a blessing and a curse. It made me feel so numb at one point, the feeling still haunts me today. I may write about it to reflect on the whole experience in a future post. Recently, my family has been blessed with a new family member: a cute 3-year-old cairn terrier mix named Waffles. I spam my friends on twitter with his photos.

I also reflected back on my previous posts and drafts, and started to wonder what I’m trying to say. I started out this blog just for kicks in reviewing what I’ve watched, read, or eaten. However, I came to realize I wasn’t writing anything meaningful and even I, myself, found myself wondering why were the things I saying of any value. So what? It hit me that I “say” rather than “explain,” and so I decided that I want to focus on developing my analytical skills in future posts, and bring a more meaningful conversation to the table.

I also want to sprinkle a bit of what’s been going on in my life and the garble of thoughts running through my mind… but part of me is hesitant because I keep asking myself how personal is too personal. TMI, you know? At the same time, I want to be as authentic as possible because I want you, fellow stranger whom I never met, to know the person behind the words you’re reading on your screen, and I hope my stories of my personal struggles resonate with you in some way.

For those who’ve stuck around, thank you. If you’re just passing through, please say hello or give a 👋

photo credit: Hoyin Chan. He always makes me look fabulous with his amazing photography skills. Check out his instagram.

Whose Streets?


Hello friends,

Even a fews days after watching Whose Streets? (, I am still struggling to articulate how unsettled I am by the brutality peaceful protesters faced during the Ferguson uprising, especially with the recent events that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia. The documentary is emotionally charged and is an important story to watch and listen. I cannot begin to comprehend the emotions that coursed through the Ferguson protestors as their cries were met with tanks and military grade weapons. I was, and still am, overwhelmed by their love for their community, which fueled their courage to fight for justice. Their action is helpful a reminder that progressive and positive change happens with us.

I urge you to watch it. Find out when and where you can watch it here:

Adventure is out there


I am the type of person who prefers to stay indoors. The comfort of a book, tv drama, or the Internet can satisfy me. However, reality often slaps me in the face and begs for attention. I often forget that in my twenty+ years living in this beautiful state called California, I have yet to explore many parts of Northern California. I don’t think it’s FOMO, fear of missing out, but rather everyday is a missed opportunity to take advantage what is right around the neighborhood.

So once you’re done reading this post, I urge you to hit up a friend (or not because sometimes the best company is your thoughts), turn off your laptop, and go on an adventure. It can be to the park or to the closest cafe. My point is you don’t need to go somewhere fancy to have fun and you should try to go somewhere you’ve never been.

Think of going out as if you’re exploring the city for the first time. Possibly there may not be much but I think you can find beauty in the mundane.

eBay and StubHub: Marketplace Panel


One of the last events of #SFDW was eBay and StubHub’s Marketplace Panel (and After Party). On Thursday, I left work around 2:15 to catch the 2:55 Caltrain in Sunnyvale. I arrived at SF Caltrain station around 4, met up with my friend, and we walked to StubHub’s HQ.

Left to right: Bradford Shellhammer (moderator), Christine Fernandez, Dave Lippman, Katie Dill, Karlyn Neel
Left to right: Bradford Shellhammer (moderator), Christine Fernandez, Dave Lippman, Katie Dill, Karlyn Neel

The panel featured Katie Dill, Head of Experience Design at Airbnb; Christine Fernandez, Sr. Design Manager for Global Expansion Products at Uber; Dave Lippman, VP / Executive Creative Director at eBay; and Karlyn Neel, Director of UX Design at StubHub.

The topics they covered included how their companies build trust, diversity, what they look for in designers, and leading a design team.

Some key takeaways:

  1. Transparency builds trust. Have a reputation system and a way for people to communicate who/where they are to set expectations before transactions. People tend to embrace those who are like themselves.
  2. Diversity optimizes design because it brings many different perspectives.
  3. Selling an experience vs. selling a product: selling an experience takes in consideration human-centered problems and the end to end experience (i.e. everything is interconnected and happens at multiple touchpoints)