I’m moving to another country to find something I really enjoy doing.
While that’s a line we hear often, not many people live out this dream. But hey, we found someone who has; meet Ling Lim, architect-turned-UX-designer in San Francisco. We chat with Ling to find out why she took the plunge and for some nuggets of advice about life that involved packing and leaving.
About what you do:
Tell us more about your job. What’s unique about what you’re doing now?
I lead User Experience Design in a growing startup called myWebRoom in San Francisco. Coming from an architectural background, I’ve seen many parallels between the two professions. It’s particularly interesting and challenging as I’ve to bridge our typical 2D interfaces with digital 3D rooms. When I was designing buildings, I had to think spatially. Thinking about digital environments spatially has been very effective in helping me come up with friendly and engaging designs.
How did you land this job?
I was browsing internships.com one day and came across myWebRoom. I was really excited when I learnt about the product, mainly because I was looking to get into tech but also wanted to be part of a great product where my architectural background could be leveraged. I sent in an application, walked in for an interview and the rest, as you would say, is history.
What’s your design philosophy? Where and how do you get your ideas?
I practice a great deal of empathy. I strongly believe that as a designer, this is one of greatest soft skills that you can have. I love people and I love meeting people from everywhere in the world. In every city I visit, I prefer to either couch-surf or stay in a backpacker’s hostel.
In the conversations and interactions I’ve had with people who are culturally different, I’ve learnt that what is common practice for me may not be the same for everyone else. Seems like a simple concept, but one that is so easily forgotten.
I have to say that I get my ideas mostly from being open to what everyone has to say to me, about anything. I allow people to help me.
How do you guys go about marketing the business?
We’re active on social media and love talking to our users! Nothing makes us more excited than hearing from people who love using our product.
Personally as a designer, I maintain my brand by being active in the design communities here in the Bay Area. I discuss ideas with other designers on Twitter, Slack and Facebook as well as during meet-ups. I write on Medium about design and other topics, and sometimes contribute to other design publications. I also enjoy giving back by giving talks or mentoring junior designers. In my opinion, that is the best way to keep learning and growing.
What would you say is most important for a business or startup to succeed?
Having a great product idea is pointless without great execution by a group of people who believe in it. So I would say that a great team with an aligned vision is the most important for a startup to succeed.
On leaving for better opportunities:
What were you doing in Singapore before you left?
I was practicing as an architectural designer in a reputable architectural corporation for over two years before I left for the U.S. I worked in a small design team alongside a few other designers. We worked on everything from large-scale commercial buildings, residential houses to temporary urban installations.
So what’s a typical day like for you over there?
I start a typical day in San Francisco by taking a 30-minute walk from my place downtown to my office near the Pier. At work, depending on the phase of the project we are at, I’m usually standing (yes, standing) behind my desk designing or researching intensely. I often have conversations and short design meetings with the co-founders to make sure that our vision is aligned.
I like to sit in the sun at the park or by the pier at lunchtime. After work, I’m could be powerlifting in my gym, attending a design event, hitting a restaurant or bar I’ve never been before in the city, or getting ready to leave the city for a weekend trip if it’s a Friday!
Many entrepreneurs often say this: I was afraid but I took the plunge anyway. What was it that tipped the scale to taking this route, was it something you knew you had in you or was it a blind move?
You could say that it was both. I’ve always had an defiant overzealous personality and I believe in taking risks in life. I had my doubts and I truly was afraid before making this move. I had no idea how things would turn out and what I would find.
But I was unhappy at my previous job and life. I knew that I could either stay in it and things probably would not change, or take a huge risk and hope that I could find something more fulfilling. There was a chance that things wouldn’t have panned out but I believe in making mistakes and learning from them. So in my mind, failing was not the worst thing that could’ve happened. The worst move is not moving at all when you are unhappy with your life.
Settling into a different culture and starting your career at the same time couldn’t have been a walk in the park: what would you say was the biggest challenge at the time? How did you get past it?
My biggest challenge had to be “giving up” what I’d thought would be my original linear path in life. Settling into San Francisco, although challenging, was lots of fun at the same time.
I found a close group of friends in the hostel I was living in when I first moved here. We’re vastly different but we love and support one another. That has been priceless in helping me settle down here, even though many of them were transient. But aren’t we all in life?
As I mentioned, I allow people to help me. I stay humble and ask for help whenever I need it. I believe that people are inherently kind and will often go out of their way to help you if you are authentic and sincere in your requests.
If there was anything you could change since you started on your career, what would that be and why?
Nothing comes to mind. It’s cliché but I tend to not have regrets in life. I believe that every decision, good and bad, you have ever made mould you into the person you are today. It’s never too late to realise something I could have done and do it now. After all, we all realise things at our own pace and it’s the best anyone can do.
Your take on life:
What are some of your biggest fears especially in relation to your work? How do you manage fear?
I do miss architecture a lot. Truthfully, one of my biggest fears is still that this was a wrong move. No matter how much more satisfying my current job is compared to the previous one, it’s hard to shake the preconception I’d developed as a teenager that architecture was going to be my life. I tell myself that that is just a story I made up at 15 and then stay present in what I enjoy doing right now.
Sometimes, when I let my insecurities get the better of me, I fear that perhaps I’m not as competent as someone who majored in UX design in college and had all his work experience in this field. But I know that what I bring to the table is a unique blend of my past experiences and what I’ve learnt since, and that I should be proud of it.
What motivates you?
Making my parents proud motivates me. I may be far away from my family now but the values they’ve imparted are here with me. My parents have always believed in me and supported me even when what I want seems to deviate from what they want for me. At the end of the day, I know that it doesn’t matter to them what I do as long as I enjoy it and it’s good for me. Having a competitive and ambitious spirit does not hurt.
What are some of the sacrifices that you’ve had to make?
Living halfway across the world from my family has to be the biggest one. Since I enjoy what I’m doing, I wouldn’t say that anything else has been a sacrifice.
How do you define success and to what do you attribute your success?
In UX design, I define success as when users enjoy using the products I have designed. In life, I define success as having a good run with anything you once strongly believe in. To both, I attribute my success to courage to be wrong and vulnerable.
Describe your two years overseas in three words.
Unpredictable, priceless, life-changing.
What is one advice you would give to someone hoping to take the path you took?
You’re scared because you are about to do something that is so important to you and completely worthwhile. This is good fear. Feel it and do it anyway. Be open to everything that comes your way, life will never be the same again.
Photos from Ling. Header image from mywebroom.