Day in the Life: Vivian Zhang on Designing Experiences
Pixlee product designer Vivian Zhang is an alum of the University of Pennsylvania and was a corps member of Teach for America in Arkansas before joining Pixlee in 2014.
Where do you call home?
I was born in China and came to the US with my parents when I was seven. Growing up, I moved around a lot-- everywhere from Atlanta to Arkansas! That being said, since I moved to San Francisco a couple years ago, I fell in love with the Bay Area and consider this my home.Y
You studied History and International Relations at UPenn. How did you first get into Design?
I never formally studied design as a discipline, but I’ve always dabbled in the arts. My grandma and my mom are amazing artists, and growing up I took extensive art classes. In college, I was the design editor of my school newspaper, and that was my introduction to computer art.
But design isn’t just about making things pretty. It’s about creating a certain experience, and that takes empathy. I’ve always liked interacting with people but I especially like analyzing how they think. Before coming to Pixlee I was a teacher at KIPP King Collegiate High. Everyday, I designed worksheets, activities, and power points. If you think about it, those are all interfaces that kids had to interact with to learn. In fact, I designed the whole experience that kids had in the classroom every single day. All the interactions I designed needed to be purposeful. And that’s what designers do. They have to understand people, be able to empathize with them, and design an experience that alleviates their pain points.
How did you decide to join Pixlee?
I wanted to work at a company with a viable market for its product, a clear company vision, a strong cultural fit, and an environment where I could be mentored.
And Pixlee is all of the above. I completely believe that everyday consumers are the best brand advocates. I see friends post pictures on Facebook or Instagram wearing Nike or Lululemon, and that widens my horizons and influences my purchasing decisions.
My teammates at Pixlee are hardworking, want to excel on their teams, and help each other grow. It’s a very inspiring environment. So when Pixlee gave me an offer, it was a no brainer.
What are some of the projects you've worked on?
I’ve been at Pixlee for a year and have already worked on so many projects. The cool thing about designing for Pixlee is that I get to design for both brands and consumers alike. We have the Control Panel side that big companies like Kenneth Cole use to collect, curate, measure, and analyze customer photos. Then we have the widgets of published customer photos that brands display to the general public- at ball games, concerts, and even Times Square! Working on both aspects means my work impacts everyone.
What do you think makes for a great mentor?
First and foremost, a good mentor has to excel in their craft to be considered a mentor! But aside from that, he or she needs to understand where you are now, what you want to become, and what steps you need to take to grow into your goals. To understand all of that, he or she needs to be empathetic, listen to your concerns, and give advice along the way. I’ve been super lucky in that our head designer is all of the above. I came to him as very junior, but he was able to see my potential and mentor me in raw skills (such as coding) and thinking processes (such as scoping out products). Product and skills aside, he periodically asks me where I see myself in five years and helps me map out how to get there. On the flipside, he takes it upon himself to make sure that he’s meeting my needs-- including improving himself as a manager to make sure that I’m learning and reaching my full potential.
What have been some of the highlights of your time working at Pixlee?
I love the impact my work has on brands and customers around the world. But in addition, the friendships that I’ve built here cannot be supplanted. Pixlee is a family and we always have a great time hanging out together after work hours and on the weekends. We’ve taken trips together to Seattle and LA and have built a lot of fun memories as a team.
What are you most looking forward to next?
Every day is quite exciting! We have quite a lot of interesting features in the pipeline that I’m really looking forward to working on, and we’ll see many of them come to fruition in the next few months. I’m excited to see how our clients and customers will interact with these new features and see how these new interactions will shape the visual marketing industry as a whole.