What led you into design?
My parents are really supportive of my brother and I when it comes to expressing ourselves through art (I’m now in design and my brother is a brilliant pastry chef). I was always drawing because there were always art supplies around the house. But like with a lot of Vietnamese kids, my first foray into art and design was probably with comics. I grew up with Japanese manga and later on became hooked on Vietnamese homegrown comics as well. I started drawing comics and playing around with Photoshop to add textures to them, and when our family got our first digital camera, I got into photography and digital manipulation. In high school, I volunteered to design the school’s zine and knew then I wanted to just make things for the rest of my life.
I went to college for a degree in Fine Arts in Singapore. After that, I got a freelancing gig as a graphic designer while working as an art teacher right out of school. I realised I enjoyed making things for other people too. So when the team that hired me for the gig asked me to join as a full-timer, I said yes and learned web and software design from them, because they were a software development firm. It so happened that product design allows me to dip my toes in multiple different things which (as you can tell) I really love. I’ve stuck to it ever since.
What does a typical day look like?
The pandemic has changed everything, and luckily for me, it’s for the better. I typically work from home these days and can now take a mid-day walk, snack break or check in with my friends on Telegram to talk about their dog (shout-out to Jups), discuss our dream of a peaceful gardening life and bother my husband.
I start the week by looking at my to do list and time blocking so the most important stuff gets done. Most days are a mix of 1-1 and meetings to clarify and align on priorities, scope, implementation. When the stars align, I get an uninterrupted block of 2-3 hours to work on operational tasks or get down to designing.
I end my workday strictly at 6:30PM - 7:00PM to have dinner with my partner. I need about 4-5 hours of me time after that to feel sane for the next day.
I used to use Notion to track my entire life but lately I've been taking a less rigid approach and switched to Things. So far it's allowed me to be on top of everything while leaving space for spontaneity. That's how I want my days to flow.
What's your workstation setup?
Upgraded my workspace at home during the pandemic. My colleagues often joke that they know when I'm not at my desk because the sound quality degrades.
Notifications give me anxiety y'all.
Where do you go to get inspired?
My friends are amazing people, many are craftspeople and not strictly designers. They inspire me everyday in our conversations, through their thoughtfulness, empathy, drive to pursue their dreams, and their exceptional standards for high quality craft.
Books are endless source of inspiration too. I owe so much to my parents and second year art theory teacher for instilling in me the love of reading. I also follow my favorite peeps and stalk what they read heh.
When I feel really uninspired, taking a walk always helps. Whether it’s a short walk around the pond in our neighborhood, a hike in the outdoor or a trip elsewhere, I find being away from the screen and being alone in it to take in things as they happen helps calm my nerves and lets me finish my thoughts.
What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?
I love multifunctional gears or all condition gears, well-made, for-life durable things that you can wear or use for work, going out and then on outdoor adventures. I think good design can do all of these things without sacrificing form. In my wish list is the Evergoods’ Civic Panel Loader 24. It satisfies all of my needs in a bag.
Software-wise, i'd have to say YNAB is top of my favorite list at the moment. It's such an opinionated product and really taught me how to be a better functioning adult. The Four Rules changed the way I thought about money, budgetting and expenses.
During my sabbatical in 2021 I got into audio processing and discovered a whole range of utterly beautiful tools. Fabfilter Pro-Q 3 is one of them, it has a huge and whimsical looking EQ display and is extremely intuitive/ergonomic where the controller moves with you as you move the EQ bands.
What pieces of work are you most proud of?
It’s a difficult question because for me, the design and product work that I do just never felt… done. Maybe I'll feel differently about this one day.
Beyond that, I’m most proud of the work that we’ve done to contribute to the design communities in Singapore. We organise events and run a Discord server as part of the Friends of Figma chapter in Singapore and it’s been a privilege working with folks who care about free and accessible knowledge, thoughtful gatherings, kind, down-to-earth and honest discourse. It’s like a small village lifting each other up. I’m very grateful.
Personally, getting over a multi-year slump of not touching a pencil felt pretty great to me. During the pandemic I got over my fear of sucking and started drawing again. First, portraits for friends, then some still life.
What design challenges do you face at your company?
At my current company, the challenge lies in the complexity of a big company and navigating the org structure to ship meaningful and holistic experiences. Everyone has good intention to make changes. But to diagnose a problem, propose and align on the changes necessary, then ensure that the changes are rolled out properly is to me an exceptionally difficult process. Coming from mostly a start-up background, I’d say this is my personal challenge. Because it is unfamiliar, it is partly exhausting, but also a great learning experience.
I’m currently transitioning from an IC role into management too. That’s a whole other thing altogether. It’s like starting from scratch and I’m trying to grow quickly into the role so I’m not a hindrance to my team. I’m trying to be kinder to myself in the process too as my mentors and therapist often remind me.
What music do you listen to whilst designing?
Any advice for ambitious designers?
Everyone’s experience is different and I can only speak from my own.
Try many things; I learned a lot about what I like/don’t like by just jumping in and doing the work
Take care of yourself, things get rough in your 30s, so take good care of your health and work sustainably
Have fun, and be kind to yourself it’s not that serious ☺️
Anything you want to promote or plug?
Yes! My brother teaches peeps to make yummy and intricate vegan pastries in Hanoi, sign up for a class: https://www.facebook.com/ForetNoiree
Collective Sonson is my best friend’s. Her collective creates beautiful quintessential Vietnamese homeware that's environmentally conscious: https://www.collectivesonson.com/
My other best friend is a full time Vietnamese fusion chef, he hosts private dining experiences in Sai Gon, so when you visit my beautiful country, book him! https://www.instagram.com/toi_ten_la_/