Cheong Yian Ling
Cheong Yian Ling graduated in 2008 and is a User Experience Designer at ThoughtWorks

What are you currently doing?
I am a user experience designer in a software development company called ThoughtWorks.
You did your Master’s in Carnegie Mellon University and it was in Interaction Design. Why did you choose to specialise in that?
After graduating from NUS, I went to the NUS Design Incubation Centre (DIC). It was there that I was involved in projects that were interaction and technology based. We did projects like Experience Kaleidoscope and TouchHear. At DIC I found that I enjoyed designing products with technology in them. Thereafter I went to A*STAR, where they concentrate solely on technological products like augmented reality, multi-touch surfaces, robotics, medical dispensers, etc.
Did you pick up the relevant skills on the spot?
Yeah. They needed someone who knew human-centred design with an industrial design background. It was there where I confirmed my interest in technology, but I also realised that I was not adequately equipped with technological skills.
That was when you decided to enroll in Carnegie Mellon? Your interest in this actually began in DIC. How did you find your two years working there?
I think it was a really blessed time. The work culture in DIC was based very much on trust. Each of us was entrusted with a domain which we showed potential or expertise in. For example, I took care of design research, using design workshops as a form of inquiry. Facilitating such design sessions with people does not come too naturally for me but the experience forced me to grow. It made me understand how good designs could be collaboratively conceived instead of counting on an individual's talent or effort. There were always chances for us to dabble in our projects within DIC to learn from one another as well. Everyone was good at a specific thing which made it a perfect place to grow and yet kickstart my design career.
In A*STAR you were in Infocomms for two years, what were your takeaways from it?
My main takeaway was that I could play the role between a researcher and a designer. Academic researchers in the field of human computer interaction, computer science, sociology and cognitive psychology have done excellent work with rigour and depth, especially compared to design research. Their findings can become fantastic inspiration for designers if we bother to read more extensively. I felt compelled to play this role in between, to facilitate this transfer of knowledge.
In a word, DID to you was “foundation”. Why would you say so?
In DID, the foundation that we built does not only include day-to-day hard skills, but also soft skills: handling multiple projects at one time, interacting with users face-to-face, dealing with team dynamics and varied opinions, etc. In industry, I realised hard skills are the expected minimum and soft skills differentiate you. Being good at your work and being great to work with are equally important. Foundation was also built in terms of exposure. We work on a variety of mediums such as space, technology, big objects, small accessories, etc., and also on diverse topics such as ageing, children, healthcare, mobility… This divergent exposure sets us in a curious and experimental mindset which again is an important soft skill as a designer.
Since graduation, what are the most exciting projects that you’ve done, and is there a project that you’ve had a close affinity with?
It might be this dashboard interface project for parking enforcement agencies in the United States. We always preach that a design process should be empathetic, inclusive, multi-disciplinary, iterative, etc. This project stayed truest to these qualities. We collected data from every parking ticket issued by officers on the streets and designed a map interface that plots the tickets using their variables. So you can see real-time what the city’s parking situation is. This system isn’t used to catch errant drivers, but rather to ensure that parking is well-designed in the city. Overlaying weather and events data also offers new perspectives on the parking situation. Right now it is merely data visualisation, but we are planning to progress towards predictive and prescriptive data. There was another project I enjoyed. It was a competition I did with a roommate for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The brief was to redesign children’s healthcare records for developing countries. The current problem was that parents were unaware of the importance of those slips of paper. We redesigned it, and naturally as interaction designers, we came up with some technological interventions as well. Besides winning a generous cash reward, it was particularly insightful when they brought our designs to developing countries such as Uganda and Indonesia to carry out rigorous testing. From the reports, we learnt that what we thought was universal was completely not! For example, we designed a logo of a doctor with a coat and a stethoscope around his neck, thinking it is highly stereotypical and thus comprehensible. However, the users did not understand it at all. It was really humbling to be reminded of how assumptive we could be.
How about when you were in DIC?
Experience Kaleidoscope and TouchHear were instrumental. They got me places. When I was still studying, I joined one of the workshops held in DIC. Priscilla from Studio Juju was one of the facilitators and we were in the same group. We came up with these two ideas within the workshop which proceeded to win awards and were featured in exhibitions and publications.
Do you have any fun facts about your time in DID?
Our batch was quite united, proactive and vocal, I’m not sure if it’s the tradition now but every year we would send a representative to give feedback about DID. We voiced our needs when staying over in the studio and the school shifted the water cooler nearer to the studio and included a water heater in the bathroom!
Do you remember anything from a tutor?
I feel that Patrick taught me a lot, I can’t remember what he said but I can remember watching what he did. One of the things he always did was to break his penknife blade to reveal a fresh sharp edge before he made a cut. These habits are proper work etiquette commonly overlooked, but when picked up, they can help our work tremendously. Patrick always calculated the way he approached his processes in his work, to reduce his margin of error. Just like a meticulous sushi chef! I think it influenced the way I work now. It was certainly more seen than taught, more caught than taught.