Hello my name is...

Ying Yao

Senior UX Designer @ Honeywell by day ☀️
Community leader, global mentor, & apocalypse planner by night 🌙

Years of Experience:
6 years
Favorite Emoji:
On the Playlist:
Vitamin String Quartet
Go-to Food:
Soup dumplings 🥟

Hi Ying, tell us a little bit about yourself!

Well, hello there! I'm Ying, an Atlanta-based UX and product designer at Honeywell where I'm designing commercial security software for a post-Covid world. In my off-hours, I'm the co-organizer of Ladies that UX Atlanta, an inclusive design community for women and non-binary folks. I'm also a dynamic speaker and have spoken at BuzzFeed, Interaction Design Association, and Students of UXD, and also a mentor at Amazing Design People List where I get to meet, mentor, and learn from talented people around the world!

In my past life I was a radio DJ and broadcasted jazz and Miyazaki film scores across Atlanta's airwaves, as well as a music event host for Sofar Sounds where we organized monthly pop-up live shows in intimate venues to support local musicians.

In my downtime, I enjoy looking up product reviews and personal finance tips on Reddit, watching horror game playthroughs on Youtube, and reading my way through an unhealthy amount of romance novels.

Can you tell us what you do as a Senior UX Designer at Honeywell for those who are unfamiliar?

As a Senior UX Designer, I am establishing design processes and growing the value of UX within my organization. That means executing on and actively driving key design discussions and decisions that ultimately impact our customers and users.

Depending on which day you pop in on me, I may either be defining problem statements with my partners, iteratively sketching within a time-box, building and maintaining a clickable prototype that I use in usability tests and voice-of-customer sessions, leading design reviews, or synthesizing and communicating research insights for my leadership team.

As part of Honeywell's Building Technology team, I'm currently designing an identity management software for a post-Covid world, which means answering complex questions like "How do we establish safe and secure visitor experiences" and "How can we ensure the right people are in the right places at the right time?"

How did you decide to pursue design?

My career was a unique storm of growing up as a code-switching first-generation Asian-American immigrant kid, being exposed to nerdy interests by my brother, and curiosity toward human behavior (as if I was an alien trying to assimilate on Earth). I started out in university as an Architecture major because I thought wanted to design the experience of physical spaces for people, but as I started taking digital design courses, I realized creating digital experiences spoke to me very strongly. It involves problem-solving, collaboration, technical mastery, and an eye toward the future of emergent technology.

When I neared graduation, I struggled with low self-esteem and a strong case of imposter syndrome. I thought my design skills compared to my peers were lacking and I went through my job search with a drive of wanting to learn as much as possible, as quickly as possible. I satisfied that drive by working in a digital marketing agency after graduating. I learned how UX design was strategized, valued, and executed across different consumer clients and industries. Working on different projects (often at the same time) helped sharpen my technical execution as well as push me out of my introverted shell, and for that, I am very grateful.

However, I eventually felt stagnant. I realized I wanted to be more directly involved in the lifecycle development of products, and so I joined Honeywell to grow and test myself within the world of enterprise UX. This transition gave me the opportunity to tackle a different level of design complexity that can be both frustrating and immensely satisfying. I've grown so much as a design leader during my time here, and am now spearheading the UX direction of a multi-million dollar commercial suite of products and also mentoring my growing design team and establishing effective design processes.

What programs & tools do you use everyday for work? What do you like/dislike about these programs?

I always have Sketch, Miro, and Invision open and am constantly jumping back and forth between them (to the detriment of my laptop's processing power 😅).

Currently, Miro is winning out as my favorite tool. Using it with my team makes collaboration, prioritization, and decision-making so much easier. I use it to flow out my entire planned design process and loop in my partners so they can provide feedback from their perspectives and priorities. It tends to be a living "document" as it facilitates necessary discussions about our priorities or any new information that requires us to pivot, etc.

My personal favorite scenario to use it is if my meetings start to "swirl", I open a fresh Miro board, share my screen, and start writing, flowing out, or diagraming what I'm hearing. It quickly gets everyone to focus on talking on one discussion topic at a time which is key when you are trying to work effectively while remote.

Any advice on how to stand out and get hired for those starting off?

Define your personal brand presence beyond just your portfolio case studies. Having a clear, distinctive "voice" that communicates who you are, your key skills, and your unique perspective will differentiate you from others.

One way you can do this is by creating and sharing content online about your personal career journey, tips that have been helpful to you, what you would tell your younger self, etc in whatever medium or platform that works well for YOU. It could be a Medium article, Twitter thread, LinkedIn Post, or Youtube video.

Why do this? Having a strong personal brand, actively engaging with the design community, and sharing your growth and journey gives recruiters and hiring managers easy opportunities to learn about you and how passionate you are about design before they even read a single case study. If you don't believe me, a close friend recently skipped 2-3 interview steps in the hiring process because her online presence is so robust that the company already understood her design process, driving values, and collaboration style before getting her on a call and talking with her directly.

If you feel lost on how to get started on this, here's a list of 87 unique LinkedIn post ideas and a podcast episode on the power of personal branding from Stephen Gates.

Shout out to my friend and personal mentor Havana Nguyen for teaching me this.

What are some must-have resources (books, tools, podcasts, etc.) you would recommend for your industry?

The Crazy 1
New Layer
Dear HBR

Articulating Design Decisions
Questions Are the Answers
Value Proposition Design

What are 3 character traits that would make someone excel in your field?

Self-awareness- Building a strong sense of self-awareness is key in deeply understanding who you now, where you want to go, and what you need to do to get there. I practice this by journaling daily and pouring my obsessive thoughts, worries, and wins onto physical paper and looking back at it with an objective eye.

Adaptability - As someone who's a super planner and struggles with the stress of perfectionism (which is an unhealthy mindset), learning to "let go" and embrace a bit of life's chaos has given me a lot of peace of mind and confidence in my professional and personal life. Meeting that chaos face-first and then learning to think on the spot is an invaluable skill in not only UX, but in ANY career.

Effective communication - I will argue that being a good designer means being a better communicator. What I mean is that good, effective designs are not created in a vacuum. It requires consistent collaboration, honest discussions, and the ability to clearly explain your thought process vocally in meetings or written down in emails, docs, etc. You can create the best designs in the world, but if you can't clearly articulate your rationale, you'll find it will be difficult to progress far.

Most satisfying & difficult thing about your job?

Most satisfying- Driving design directions that actually solve user needs
Most difficult- Separating my self-worth from the success or failure of my work

What would you like to say to your younger self?

Buy Gamestop stock. Also, make some mistakes. You'll grow and be better for it.

Best advice you've received/heard?

Amateurs wait for innovation, professionals work on it.

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