Meet the EchoUsers: Yalu Ye

Learn more about our designer, Yalu Ye, on how she got to EchoUser, how she started the “Hello Toilet” project, and how she hiked the John Muir Trail alone for 26 days!

Could you share with us your career journey and what brought you to EchoUser?

Growing up in China, I was always fascinated with what people could do on computers. Before I entered college, I thought Software Engineering would be a good fit for me. However, after exploring in many other areas throughout my college years, I realized that in addition to technology, I also enjoyed doing a lot of other creative activities such as designing posters, writing drama scripts and playing in a band. In the search of my potential future path that involves both technology and creativity, I came across Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). As I learned more about it through online research and book reading, I felt more passionate about it and decided to apply for grad school in the US since there are more HCI-related education and career opportunities here.

After all sorts of ups and downs throughout the application process, I made it to the HCI/design program in Indiana University Bloomington. The program was totally a life-changing experience. I felt fulfilled and grateful everyday to have had the chance to learn from and to collaborate with inspiring professors and cohort. Carrying on that passion, I interned at Autodesk for a summer, coming out with more self-confidence and design competence, as well as a love for San Francisco. Right after graduation, I joined EchoUser as a full-time experience designer, and this is where I am now.

What’s special about EchoUser that caught your eyes back then?

First of all, EchoUser’s focus on “Any Experience” really resonated with me. I believe that UX design is a problem-solving process that can be applied to any field and beyond just screens. It’s about an experience. And I love to explore a variety of things. Therefore, seeing how EchoUser has tackled a wide range of projects, I saw a lot of potential for myself by contributing my skills and growing as a multidisciplinary designer. In addition, EchoUser is full of people with diverse backgrounds and passions for outdoor activities and adventures, which really speaks to my heart!

What’s your favorite type of project?

I’m more drawn to projects with broader scopes where I can design for the whole experience from end to end rather than just focus on designing solutions for a particular screen. For example, Hello Toilet is one of my favorite projects I did at EchoUser. It was a self-initiated project, which goal was to improve people’s public restroom experiences. It’s such a universal topic that I collected a lot of interesting stories from interviews and surveys. A common theme emerged from the research - anxiety. From there, I decided to focus on mitigating people’s anxiety throughout the whole process of searching, waiting, and using public toilets. I then started brainstorming design ideas and I’m now in the process of prototyping and bringing some ideas to life!

Thanks to your initiative, EchoUser just started a brand new mentorship program, where we paired mentors and mentees together based on their skills and interests. What made you decide to take the lead on this?

As a designer who just started out, I’m lucky to have a few senior designers addressing my concerns and self-doubts, as well as providing feedback and encouragement. However, I noticed that company-wise, people don’t always have the opportunity or the right context for a natural mentor/mentee relationship to happen. Initiating the mentorship program made me fulfilled by knowing that people can make use of this opportunity in many ways. No matter what topics the pairs ended up discussing, as long as they get something out of it, I feel great seeing them empowered.

Do you have any advice for people who just or want to enter the UX industry?

Be open-minded and proactive. The UX industry changes really fast and there are new technologies and challenges coming out every day. It’s important for a designer to feel comfortable stepping out of his/her comfort zone and to embrace change as well as to contribute new change to the industry.

Be reflective. This would help a designer level up faster. There are always some lessons learned in every project, and being reflective is the best way to capture the growth along the career path.

Where do you see the future of UX going?

In terms of design media and techniques, I see the future will still be in a flux for a little while. As technology advances, designers have more and more opportunities to inject new forms and objects into many aspects of people’s lives. New design methods, such as user journey maps, and system maps, were also introduced to improve end-to-end user experiences.

On the other hand, I think the basic nature of design will still remain the same for a long time. I’m really inspired by the “principles for good design”, introduced by Dieter Rams in the 1970s, which focus on both minimalism and usefulness. If you look at the development of the design industry in recent years, those principles still apply. Thus, at a high level, I see the future of design still being built upon the same principles, but with different forms and methods.

We all know that you’re into outdoor activities and always up to the next challenge. What’s your biggest adventure so far?

Without much experience, I hiked John Muir Trail alone for 26 days, 240 miles total. Inspired by a lot of other EchoUsers, I wanted to challenge myself and gave myself a chance to reflect about my past year in the middle of the beauty of nature.

Lesson learned: First, go with the flow. In the middle of the trip, I encountered serious mountain fire smoke from nearby area. I was indecisive about whether I should keep going or quit until I met another hiker at the resupply point. He told me, “Be the river, not the rock.” Let it play out its own way. Looking back, I’m glad that I did and finished the trail. I also became more grateful about civilization. There were no showers, toilets, or trash cans along most of the trail. Learning how to take care of all those basic human needs was the first thing I had to overcome. Coming back to the city life, I no longer take all the infrastructures for granted and am more mindful of making decisions that help sustainability of the earth.
yalu-2-JMT
(Photo Credit: Matthias Ciprian. Camped after a snowstorm on JMT trip. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”)

What would you do if you’re not a UX designer?

I am always fascinated with learning about different people’s stories and discovering unknown things. Also, I see sharing rarely told stories as a way to empower and inspire even more people. So if I were not a designer, I would probably film documentaries or write stories, especially for underrepresented groups major media usually chooses to ignore.