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The Value of Design with Jacalin Ding

Jacalin Ding

She launched a successful fashion brand startup. Her fluency in the language of business creates a super power that brings out the true value of design. She’s currently the  Principle Product Designer at Service NSW a government design agency to scale Desgin Operations.

My name is Jacaline, you can call me Jack and, of course, I would love to connect with all of you guys on LinkedIn. It's my favorite social channel.

I've been a designer for maybe 15 years. My journey started as a graphic designer and then I went on to become a brand designer, which turned into a brand strategist. This meant I did a whole lot of media design.

Then, about 10 years ago, the second iPhone generation came out. That's when every company basically wanted an app. So we I ended up having to make an app for every single one of our clients. And that was the design route that I leaned into.

I've watched design evolve over the years, I'm just so happy, that I've chosen the right profession for myself and I’ve stuck around with the same passion as before.

Now I'm a principal product lead at a government agency called Service New South Wales. it's incredible to be working with people that are there for the purpose of making other people's life better in general.

So it was quite refreshing. I'm there leading, building products and just making sure that design operations are at a scalable level as well.

You can't be an (insanely hireable) designer without being able to speak business language, without being able to do storytelling. All of that comes with it, so that is my passion.

You were working in brand strategy and marketing … why did you choose to make the jump into design after all that?

I have ADHD so maybe that’s why.

But, really, because I'm always curious about every single area and how they all connect together.

If there’s any area that has the word design in, I'm made more curious about how that fits into the larger puzzle of creating products.

But I wasn’t always like that, I was that designer back in the day thinking:

“design’s everything, it’s so important, why don't you guys understand?”

When I was in my 20s, jumping around allowed me to dig my feet into a particular industry and understand how design fits into the puzzle.

Only when I moved into marketing roles, did I started to see how the role of design is completely different than anything that I had worked in before.

This shift started about seven years ago I quit my job, I didn't like the fact that it was just delivering outputs.

I had really wanted to try running my own business to see what would happen. So I quit my job and I started a fashion label.

I designed the clothing. I was the production person, I was the sales person, I was the website designer, brand designer, copywriter, you name it.

I was changing heads all day every day, and I think that experience completely changed the way I tell stories about design.

I never saw design the same way ever again.

So after a few years, I jumped back into a design role and ever since then I realized that I think and prioritize things is very different to before.

I now lean towards the business side of things rather than just a design centric focus on outputs or the design process.

This more business outcome focussed way of thinking has become a superpower in terms of communicating with stakeholders and working with different teams. It’s been a real differentiator to deliver the real power of design at scale AND stand out from other designers.

What is the value of design from your perspective now?

My answer would cover a lot, and I think it has changed over time as well.

Design is not everything.

We need to stop thinking we're privileged to be a designer, especially when we think we are the center of our users world.

Becuase, I think that's not really true.

That's controversial, but hear me out:

Which designers have you worked with that actually talk to users every single day?

I'm talking at least 50% of the time they are actually talking to users.

If I'm looking around the room, even if I talk to 100 designers, I bet no one put their hand up because they don't talk to the users every day.

“But the people in the business who actually talk to users every single day are the customer service people, sales people and the like.”

So we can't just sit there and say: ‘We are a user-centered team, we are doing everything user-centred, we're listening to user.’ because in most place we’re really not.

Instead, why don't we go chat to the sales area and make good relationships with them? Or why don't we go and have a conversation with our customer service teams every day?

The power and value of design is actually in connecting the dots  and  I think every single company is eager to find those kind of designers who know what the dots are in order to connect them, because the power to design -across teams- is so underrated.

How do you become one of those rare designers who speaks both languages fluently, that can connect across a whole organisation**?**

The first thing is mindset.

You've got to have the space for curiosity and the space to just kick-start the conversation even though it feels uncomfortable.

For example Junior people, they tend to to follow the lead from their principal designers or lead designers; But, if the lead designers doesn’t create the opportunity for you to connect with different teams, you’re going to need to be the one that says: ‘hey, maybe next time we should  have a meeting with the sales ? can you make an introduction?’

Or just introduce yourself on slack: ‘hey, I'm working in the design team and I would love to have a chat with you.’

Or just make an introduction and start to make relationships like that in the company that you're working with.

How do you measure success of design? Which metrics are important to tell that value driven story ?

The first thing I would always do when I get into any company is spend the first couple of months just vibing out the connections and vibing up networking.

Then the second thing I'm gonna do is just figuring out exactly what is the biggest value that we can add in the individual team.

So my team will be making sure that we have the value proposition all clearly defined. Without that there is no design happening.

And then, the second thing that I'm doing is going to talk to all of the engineers and product managers.

I want to figure out exactly what kind of metrics we are measuring, what kind of tools we have, whether it's Google analytics, Tableau, full story, amplitude… I want to see every single product that they have implemented into the success measure.

“Until I can get success measures I'm not doing anything.“

So if someone comes to me with a brief telling me we need to add a landing page, I'm not doing it until we can see some sort of metrics that are telling me:

  • Why this landing page design is important,
  • how is that connecting to a vital business success metric,
  • how does that fit into the roadmap, and how is that going to benefit our users.

And they talk to me all the time about why a piece of work is important, but I'm like ‘cool, what kind of data do we have existing on this, what are you observing, why do you think this is important?’

So I would ask so many questions and if they have all the answers for me, that's great news, that means you're actually in a quite High maturity design team. I think if they can answer those questions, then I would look at the existing data.

That is how I measure my own success. I don't want to do any design until I have some sort of metric and even if the company doesn't have tools in place, there is a way to get some sort of metrics.

That's generally what's happening when I'm measuring success.

Where can people find you?

I love to provide value to uplift others. I facilitate UX and Design Thinking workshops, mentor designers and coach design teams. So far I've mentored and coached 350+ designers on an individual and team capacity.

I talk about all things design on Youtube 👉🏼

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