UX Designer at YouTube, Ethelia Lung, Talks About Working at YouTube, Portfolio Advice, and Pursuing a Career in Design

"Hi! I'm Ethelia, a New Media Design graduate from Rochester Institute of Technology, and an interaction designer at YouTube!

I hail from Hong Kong, where I lived until age 18, and where I interned at a small web design agency my first two summers of college.

I've always been a logic girl, building websites from an early age and studying computer science in high school before going into design. Ask me if you're interested in changing career courses not once but twice before age 19!

I'm passionate about naps and good food, but also about using design as a means to reach people and for social good! I love being able to make an impact on people through thoughtful and empathetic products."

Meet Ethelia Lung
Why did you choose to work at YouTube and what is the New Media Design major like at the Rochester Institute of Technology?

"Let me start with New Media Design. New Media Design is a major that encompasses a lot - the goal is to teach students a skillset that they can use for a variety of projects concerning media spaces such as web, app, AR, VR, installation, and more. It's a super hands-on and technical experience, and a typical New Media Design student's toolbox includes motion, graphic design, 3D design, simple coding (HTML/CSS/JS/C#/Java). My favourite part has to be the tight-knit community too!

I chose to work at YouTube because as a prominent user (aren't we all though), I love being able to contribute to one of the largest media platforms in the world. I'm passionate about the meaningful spread of information, and Google and YouTube's missions to do that is inspiring. We don't always get it right, but that's why we need people behind the work who are dedicated to the cause!"

What advice do you have for building your portfolio as a busy college student?

"My advice is to break it down into manageable pieces. For example, my process was:

Make a doc that outlines which projects I want to include, what category they're in, which order they're in.

Gather assets and write the case study copy for all of the projects I want to showcase.

November-December: Decide on what platform to build my portfolio on, and from there sketch out how I want to present my case studies. It's helpful at this point to also learn the ins and outs of whatever you're building your portfolio in.

December (all of winter break): Populate portfolio! this is the time to hustle since you have a break from classes.

January: Throw portfolio out into the world!

It's also super useful to have a spreadsheet or at least know a timeline of where you want to be. I made my timeline January because that's when a lot of hiring typically starts. Depending on which companies you're looking into though, take note of their application dates!"

What's your design process like? Also, what was it like learning UX with a technical background? Did you have to do a lot of self-studying?

"My process varies heavily based on project but the basic structure is:

1. Understanding: Setting context for the project, which can include reading papers on the topic, or researching the competitive landscape, or doing a user survey surrounding a problem etc. This is where I also set my project goals.

2. Design: This is when I dig into how to address the project goals, and I also do some basic research here to but it's more along the lines of UI patterns, on what the best way to address certain user behaviors is, etc. This also includes visual design, so I make mood-boards and style-boards. The initial sketching and wireframing happens here.

3. Development: This is what I refer to as the iteration, and final mocks. Depending on what I want to communicate, I also choose how I want to prototype or deliver the work. "Development" as a stage could also just mean literally prototyping or creating/building! It depends on what the project needs.

School projects were awesome as starting points but I did have to do a lot of self-studying. The research I was doing became a huge part of that, but pushing myself to try new things - both for visuals and for code - was all from me!"

I was wondering what the work culture is like at YouTube? And a follow up to that, since you're a designer, do you work on teams with a lot of creative people and what is that like?

"Just to set a little bit of context, YouTube is what is referred to as a product company, versus an agency. While I won't delineate all the differences here, I'll talk about the structure of product! Product is a little more bureaucratic because of the nature of what's being made: something that's constantly being iterated on. What this means is that in terms of the design process, it's more stringent in certain rules like brand guidelines, a lineup of reviews to make sure all of the vertical teams are aligned and aware of what you're doing, and what the hand-off needs to be to the engineers you're working with.

That's the case at YouTube still, and I've found that the culture itself is very supportive. I never find myself in a situation where I'm not impressed by the work that the people around me are doing with the constraints that we're given, and the conversations that happen are all constructive.

I do work on teams with a lot of creative people! Our teams consist of project managers, designers, and engineers - different numbers depending on the project.

Working with other creatives (doesn't mean just designers - PMs and engineers are just as vital in the creative process) means that you always have to communicate efficiently, and stay humble with your work and be able to see from all perspectives."

I have two questions for you: How do you create a portfolio that makes you stand out from other candidates? What is the interview process like for design jobs?

"These are great questions. I'll start with the typical interview process:

1. Send portfolio/resume/cover letter (as required by whichever company) to the company either through LinkedIn/their job posting/etc.

2. (Hopefully) hear a positive reply, wherein they'll likely schedule a phone interview and/or a design challenge. The phone interview at this stage is more so of a screener interview to make sure you're who you say you are, and that you're applying for the right thing, or that the position you're looking for is suitable.

3. Do the design challenge and present it back to the recruiter and/or interviewers.

4. Probably more phone interviews if you pass the design challenge stage, to help you get to know the people you could potentially be working with, or to match you up!

With that in mind, a portfolio that stands out in my opinion is one that captures your personality, captures the work you want to do, and shows the quality of work you are able to achieve. The key is also to make sure your content is awesome and the way you're presenting your work doesn't detract from the work itself!

Can you talk about the difference between working at a small web design agency and at a big company like YouTube? I've heard people say that sometimes you can make a bigger impact at a smaller company, do you think that's true?

Great question. I don't think it's true, but it's purely because it depends on what you define as impact.

Agencies (I was at one with 7 people) mean you know everyone intimately, get a larger diversity of projects because that's the nature of agency work - you work on something until a deadline, then it's passed off to the client, and also probably get to do more within your role depending on the company. For example, at grayscale.com.hk, I was a UX designer and got to do a lot in the research, wireframing, and visual phases.

Product companies are much more stringent with their process but the benefits range from the resources they have for user research, the reach they have in terms of user base, and because the work isn't passed off externally you'll be able to keep iterating and seeing it grow!

So back to your question, it depends on what impact you want to have. If you're at a smaller company you'll probably have less avenues to go down when you want your voice heard, because there simply aren't as many people. If you're at an agency, you'll have your toes in more projects and with a larger variety. If you're at a product company, you'll likely get to own a feature and see it through its growth through the years, and depending on the size of the user base your work could be reaching more people.

What is your favorite thing about your current position and what do you find most challenging about it?

"My favorite thing is also the most challenging thing, which is how much responsibility I'm given on my project. Given how many stakeholders it touches, it's almost unreal that I have so much say."

What is the best way a student interested in design/UX differentiate themselves from other candidates during the application and interview process for an internship/job?

"The best way to differentiate I think is to show themselves and their passion in their work. I know that sounds vague and obvious, but that could be measured in the simplest things, like "does my portfolio look like literally everyone else's and say something super generic to every student seeking an internship?", or "am I telling my work as a compelling story and showing that I care about it?" It's a never-ending attempt to stand out and it's difficult!"

What were your favorite design trends/re-designs/new product designs that came out this past year?

"Oof, let me see. I've honestly been liking the classier and more careful approach to skeuomorphism. I loved the skeuomorphism from what, like a decade ago, but I like that it's making a cleaner comeback. Illustrations are also great because they show off so much personality!"
DECEMBER, 10 / 2018