Hey Joseph, tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hi, I'm Joseph. I'm a Singapore-based designer, educator, entrepreneur, mentor and coach, is passionate about impacting lives for a better future. I help individuals (like students and young designers) & organizations (from startups to MNC & government agencies) to simplify complexities & facilitate transformation to unlock their latent potentials to serve more. Outside work, I enjoy spending quality time with my family and friends - just chilling and talking, as well bing watching sumo, space and Among Us gameplay videos on Youtube to listening podcasts about design, career development, entrepreneurship and finance.
Can you tell us what you do as a Experience Design Manager?
Currently I'm working as an Experience Design Manager at NTUC Income Digital Transformation Office (a Singapore insurance co-operative) and helping them to reimagine the future of digital insurance by building a culture of design thinking and innovation throughout the organization and beyond.
Everyday is slightly different from the other. One day I could be interviewing customers to gather their feedback about a new insurance product, to conducting a design thinking workshop for over 200 university students, to be down in the trenches designing user flows, wireframe and UI screens for a new data visualization and analytics platform for our colleagues to help raise awareness of data literacy and improve data-driven decision making.
How did you decide to pursue your specific career? What pivotal moments pushed you to where you are now?
Looking back, my career has taken up multiple different turns and U-turns along the way - from studying industrial design to teaching it as a lecturer, from starting up my own design studio (and failing it) to working at an agency to a school to a bank. The journey thus far has been nothing short of exciting and fun, as well as unpredictable and an adventure.
Since a young age, I have always loved drawing and making things with my hands. It was in secondary school where I discovered that I had a real natural talent and inclination for design and creativity. Thus when I had to decide on what I want to do for my further studies, I chose industrial design and have never looked back since. Even now as I'm doing UX & UI design, I still find that there is much relevance and similarity to what I have studied and done before as an industrial designer.
On becoming an educator, it was a stroke of luck and nativity. It all started back during my final year graduation design exhibition when a school director saw my portfolio and offered me a teaching job on the spot. And I just said yes without much thought into it. That was one of the best career decision in my life, as the road it has led me on has been incredibly fulfilling and meaningful. From every single interaction I had with students, to the engaging and humbling conversations that I had with my fellow educators, there were all precious moments for me. My principal once shared this with me during my job interview. He said that there are only 2 industries in the world that are truly meaningful and fulfilling - the first is healthcare being as a doctor or nurse, and the other is education being as a teacher. And I would have to agree with him. :)
What made you interested in design?
My love for design (and also teaching) really first started from my family background. Both of my parents are physically disabled and are wheelchair users. So from a young age, my siblings and I had to be independent and self-reliant. At the same time, we learnt to be empathetic and compassionate to others given how we didn't have much to start off with. For my siblings and myself, we all want to serve the community in our own ways using our strengths and skills. For my sister, she became a leadership instructor for an outdoor school helping the next generation of leaders. For my brother, he became a nurse helping to care for patients at a local hospital so that they can get better. For myself, I became a designer and educator - both designing better solutions to answer the needs of others to teaching about design thinking and sharing my passions and experiences to my students, hoping that they will be inspired and empowered to take ownership of their own lives to reach their full potentials.
Any advice on how to stand out and get hired for those starting off?
Intention leads to attention.
Here's what I mean. From my experience of hiring designers to coaching designers to get a job, what I have observed is that many designers will share their portfolios based on their schools' assignments and group projects, without much thought and care into curating them into a well-structured portfolio. Copying and pasting past works and putting them all into a PDF or website to send out for application. Also for many of these group projects, as an employer, I have difficulties in assessing the individual contribution of the designer in terms of their skill sets and strengths. Thus, the intention of such designers (be it right or wrong in the eyes of the designers) are perceived by hiring managers are not favorable, which will not attract their attention and move the designer up the next stage of the hiring process.
What if the designer uses their empathy skills and puts themselves in the shoes of a hiring manager? What would attract a hiring manager's attention? How can we help the hiring manager to quickly narrow down and select the top candidates for a role?
One approach is by designing for relevancy. Study the company of the role you are applying for. Study their products and services. What are the gaps that you can find? How might you help to improve it? Treat this as a design project/challenge and go about solving it. Document the process and share with the hiring manager once you are done. Ask them for feedback on how to improve. Include this piece of work into your portfolio. Now, when the hiring manager is reviewing different applications from potential candidates, which profile and portfolio will truly stand out now? One that has generic projects or one that has projects related to the hiring manager's company - and best yet if the project directly relates to the product or services that the team is working or has worked on.
This is why by having the right intention at the start by creating something of relevance will eventually lead the getting the right attention of the hiring manager, enabling you to stand out and get hired.
3 Character traits that would make someone excel in your field
I would say these 3 Cs - Curiosity, Creativity and Compassion.
1. Curiosity - I feel that as designers, it is important for us to be curious. And more than just being curious about the world around us. But also to have the right mindset to be curious. Having a growth mindset - one where you are open to honest feedback and changes, to be always asking the right questions to seek the right answers, to be able to accept failure and setbacks positively, and grow from it.
2. Creativity - This is a core trait that all designers should have - it is one of the key reasons why we are employed to do. To create new ideas, new opportunities, new solutions and new possibilities. This is why businesses and clients seek us for help. If we are not able to be creative and only able to think of and stick to that 1 idea, then being a designer may not be the path for you.
3. Compassion - Ultimately why we design is to make lives better for others. Be it for people, animals, environment, society, businesses and organizations. In order for us to fully serve and be of service to these benefactors, we need to empathize and have the compassion in want to learn about the challenges and pain points they are facing, so that we can think of solutions to help them. Starting with the right heart will lead us to creating the right art.
What fuels you to continue to do what you do?
People - from families, to friends to students to peers to strangers. Seeing that I have the skills, passion and abilities to help someone, I will be there and try my best to make it happen. Seeing that their lives are then transformed for the better with the small part I have contributed, makes me feel fulfilled in what I do. Knowing that I have helped to create a small ripple of positivity and possibility into the world's ocean, and hopefully create more ripples thereafter.
Most difficult thing about your job?
People as well haha... It is truly difficult to change someone despite having the best intentions. You may have the right solutions or advice, but if the person is not ready or open to receive it, no transformation will occur. As the saying goes, "To change the world, change yourself first". Indeed, we as designers need to both emotionally attached and detached in this whole process. Not feeling upset or at fault if things don't go our ways. But trying to see how we can help others by starting from where they are at first, and not by what we stand. Along this whole process, it requires a lot of patience and determination for us as designers in wanting to see real impact and change happen. Stay strong!
What would you like to say to your younger self?
To stick to your own path and believe in yourself. You will only truly know how and why you got here when you look back and connect the dots. Some will make sense, some may not. And to accept that it is alright as that is how amazing life is. Life will be boring if it was just a straight path, and worse if we were following along someone's else path/ definition of success.
Best advice you've received/heard?
Be kind to yourself.
Sometimes in the journey of wanting the best for ourselves and our loved ones, we can be hard on ourselves. Being stressed out with work, blaming ourselves when things don't go our way, feeling sad and depressed when we compare ourselves to others etc. These actions will not do us any good in the long run, and will not hurt us and ourselves. At times, we feel that by feeling a certain way, other people around us notice and join us to sorrow in our negativity. but honestly, everyone else is too busy with their own lives to care about others. Thus, it is up to us to save ourselves from being in the pits. And to be kind to ourselves in their journey called life so that we can experience its wonders and joys for many more years to come.
Any last thoughts, advice, or recommendations for someone who wants to learn more about Design?
As Alvin Toffler once puts it, "The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn."
The world is changing and evolving faster and faster. Change is the only constant. Be flexible to adapt to new changes. Be humble to keep changing. And be resourceful in finding new ways to change.