Reflecting on 2018

With teammates at the annual Zillow Group conference in Seattle

With teammates at the annual Zillow Group conference in Seattle

This was a big year for me! This time last year, I was packing my bags for a one week trip to Costa Rica just before I started a new job as a UX designer at Zillow. I had decided to leave the startup life behind at Varsity Tutors after a tumultuous year and was cautiously optimistic about the stability that a larger and more established business and design team at Zillow would offer.

Looking back now, I’m so glad about the decision I made! I’ve grown a lot as a designer this past year in three areas: amplifying my voice, building community, and strengthening my soft skills. There’s also all the great new friends I’ve made in the Zillow Experience Design team by getting involved—I volunteered to be the morale committee treasurer, and helped coordinate a whole years worth of fun team activities from BBQ at the beach to an intense game of White Elephant.

Amplifying my voice: literally and figuratively

Public speaking and speaking up are both things I’ve known I need to work on for my whole life. If only I could telepathically communicate with other humans! Since telepathy isn’t going to be a viable communication method anytime soon, all I’ve got are my voice and words. Thankfully at Zillow, there is a public speaking class taught by a fantastic instructor and also a public speaking club that meets weekly during lunchtime. I tapped into both those resources this year and learned that my filler word of choice is “um”, and that I have a tendency to make the same waving motion with my hands when I speak. Otherwise, it was a pleasant surprise to learn that I’m able to project my voice loudly enough to be heard in a large conference room.

This year has been a lull in my writing for my Medium blog and my blog here in my portfolio, but I’ve gotten some writing done on the Zillow design blog: https://www.zillow.com/design/blog/. I decided to experiment with a different approach than my usual posts and interviewed my mentor Tanya and the new design VP Jeremy. The results are shared in a Q&A format, and from what I hear, have been very informative to prospective design team recruits!

Building community: caring about causes

As my length of time in the tech industry continues to grow, I’ve become increasingly aware of conversations around women and diversity in tech. When I first graduated from design school and entered the workforce, I had heard about these topics but didn’t think too much about them. Even though I was a female minority in the workforce, I was ignorant and optimistic (as in, “it’ll get figured out eventually!”) about workplace equality and diversity. Now that I’ve seen more of the data about these workplace statistics and heard several thought leaders from these causes give talks at Zillow, my motivation to have an impact has greatly increased.

I joined a women in UX mentorship group and participated in several excellent monthly meetings around how to communicate and lead as a woman in UX, as well as practical conversations around breaking the glass ceiling. I’m still thinking about how to have even more of an impact in my organization and local community next year, though I keep on going back to “be the change you want to see in the world”. Which means for me: become a leader who is a female minority. Scary, but I really should do it.

Strengthening soft skills: design is easy, people are hard

Recently, someone asked me what my favorite part of the design process was. I gave the answer I’ve been giving for the past few years: I really enjoy ideating a bunch of different directions, then whittling down the options through constraints, hard-won trade-offs, and testing. The final result is so rewarding, even though it may have little resemblance to the original “dream” version of the product or feature. After that conversation, I mulled things over, and realized that ideation and refinement was no longer my favorite part of the process, stakeholder alignment was! It sounds pretty boring, but I noticed that some of the greatest triumphs I’ve had as a designer have been getting everyone on the same page. If stakeholders aren’t on the same page, I would go through ideation and refinement of design solutions for all of eternity and still not ship a finished a finished product.

As the problems I work on get more and more complex, the challenges have shifted from having enough viable design solutions to understanding and agreeing on: “Why are we doing this?”, “Who is doing this?”, and “What does success look like?”. The questions are straightforward, but the answers are often multifaceted and complex. Especially in a larger organization like Zillow, the “Who?” can start adding up to a surprisingly long list when you include all the product managers and designers who have a dependency on the feature you are trying to redesign. It’s been an eye-opening experience and I’m looking forward to digging into more of these bigger challenges next year.

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Overall, it’s been a challenging but satisfying year, and I’m looking forward to all that 2019 will hold!

Frances TungReflection