Sunday, January 10, 2016

1 - Starting small

I like to say that I like languages, writing and hark similar to that, but I always have trouble trying to keep a logbook. I attribute this to my OCD tendencies as a child, since I could never write a diary beyond a day or two, because I never liked it when my handwriting messed up on coloured paper - and that is any paper that makes the correction liquid stand out. Even travel diaries get dropped off after a day or two because of the same reason. It appears I never have a drive to keep a written journal, electronically or otherwise, but I want to take small steps to get there, somehow. So here's the 2016 new and improved version - a post a week, one step at a time! 

My first week of the new year saw my final week of internship at the digital agency, where I was the UX baby. It was mostly all about wireframing a mobile site for an already established desktop site, which very honestly could be improved upon. When I did my sketches for the mobile site, I took away several components which I found irrelevant to the on-the-go user, but eventually all the components surfaced back when I went through them with the team. It was frustrating to me that mobile-wise unnecessary elements were kept - they led to much more scrolling and more consumption of data. Unfortunately I don't have enough time to continue on the project since my final semester at the uni is about to start, but if I had to say what my takeaway from the week was, it is this - UX is not only about user needs, but also business goals.

On my last day, the team brought me out for lunch and halfway through, they got out a present wrapped with printed wireframes I had done weeks before. And I got a bluetooth keyboard!!!! I can say with 90% confidence that this is my favourite present ever, which sits close behind whatever my parents have given me and the Snoopy hamper I got for Christmas that one time. Shortly before my internship ended my keyboard keys of O and 9 had given out, and with still a semester to go it was going to be an extreme pain to continue writing essays with an on-screen keyboard, so I was really really pleased with the gift.

I remember writing in a post weeks ago that I want to quit my narrative style and to adopt a more structured and organized way of writing a blog, but it looks like it's not working out. Frankly, I don't know how this blog is going to play out this year - I'm no longer in CS3216 but back in my Arts Faculty and I don't think I'm going to be writing about design or marketing anytime soon, but it'll be interesting to see how the year unwraps - much like my gift I'm very carefully unwrapping. Also, by keeping on track with writing, it helps with my writing as well. One other thing I should stop doing is going off to somewhere irrelevant and try to pull it back to relevance - like the unwrapping of gifts and years.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Telling stories

First off - haha at me going all "I'll be backtracking on my posts for the module to really consolidate my thoughts". A few days later, I did go through with trying to log my first week at my internship and all the learning I've had. In the same post I wrote about how I was appalled at my lack of organisation in my writing, and I tried to put headers and group points under the same headers, then I sort of just gave up.

Over lunch today, my colleague told me a story which really pleased the pedagogical linguistic nerd in me. When she was in school, she had a Chinese (language) teacher who gave a backstory whenever teaching a new Chinese character. One of it stuck with her through all these years - the tale of 爽.

Here's how the story goes (more or less, with edits from me) -
Getting home after a long day at school, Tommy went straight to his bed and flopped down, back first. He spread himself wide across the bed, sprawling his limbs out just like a star. His moment of utter relaxation was suspended when a wild thought popped up in his head - are there assignments due tomorrow?  No, he thought, crossing the item off his mental list. Another thought rang up soon enough - is there school tomorrow? Nope. Is Mom home and ready to nag? No. Does anyone at all expect him to be anywhere at this time? Not today. With a deep intake of breath and a small smile creeping up his face, he sank further into the mattress into the position of maximum comfort.

For the uninformed, 爽 is very similar to the shiok that we are familiar with. If I may do the definition myself, it means to be greatly satisfied, and even that is an understatement. The moral of the post? Storytelling is memorable, storytelling is enjoyable, storytelling is key to learning.

Memorability, enjoyability and learnability. Also the basic principles in UX. I've been at my internship for about 4 weeks now, and whenever my ma asks me what I'm doing I don't know what to say. Eventually I spit out a string of words - something like "er to make websites easier to use so that more people will use and business will be better". At this point, this is what I do believe UX is in a one-liner layman synthesis, but storytelling is what makes this happen. Tell a story that is easy to understand and delights the user. Tell a story that helps them learn and complete their tasks faster. Tell a story that they would want to tell their friends.

At the end of this lengthy piece - I hope if there's anything anyone (like me in a few weeks time when I come back and try to focus my eyes on lines after lines of my own writing) can take away - it's this: storytelling helps to make learning easier, more memorable, and a lot more fun. Now run along children and go be great storytellers!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


I don't quite know how to feel now that the semester is over. I've taken so long to do my weekly reflections because I didn't want to log my feelings since discipline>feelings (Tan, 2015), but the other part is really just that the module makes me want to huddle in a corner and cry. Looking back, it feels nice, actually, to have been part of this wholesome experience.

If you asked me at any point of my life prior to May, I would never have seen myself in a computing module. Honestly, even if I were asked now, it still feels weird to think that I've been in a computing module. Clearly I don't fit in - it must be because I don't look intelligent enough; you can tell from the "ah"s when I explain that I'm actually a FASS student who's in the course as a designer/marketer.

The decision to apply for 3216 came with the decision to drop what I liked to do the most - learn (human) languages. I think I've said it only a million times - I'm sorry for the trait that comes from my mom's side of the family - but I spent the early half of the year having way too much fun in America, and the extension of the holiday made me miss out on a summer internship. With the possibility of an internship out of the way, I was going to devote my summer to sweep up on the French and revise my German, since I've already made plans to take German 2 for the semester. Then I'd spend my final semester hammering out a thesis, along with a life science mod on animal behaviour.

Clearly that never transpired. I ended up seeing Colin's Call for Registration on Facebook, and with some unprecedented and completely random interest in Illustrator, I wound up playing with Illustrator for most of my summer days. I finally applied for 3216 about a day or two prior to the deadline for registration. Then this came:

(Leong, 2015)

So I softly laughed/cried to myself and watched tv for the next few days. 

And then came the acceptance email.

And I ended up giving up German 2.

The end.

Of how I came to 3216. And then in the middle of 3216 there's a lot of "IT'S A TRAP" and crying, but that's besides the point. At the end of it now, this is what I have - a celebration of knowledge, as what one of my favourite professors loves to say.

I have:
- More than noted that when the module called for a designer, they meant a UI/UX designer mostly
- Realized that said designer roles come best with developer knowledge 
- Felt thankful that it was this way; I really enjoy doing UI/UX & HTML/CSS
- Thoroughly enjoyed weekly lectures and Saturday workshops
- Worked with 4 separate but equally as great teams 
- Worked with individuals/teams very different from myself and came out of it without any conflict
- Learnt to communicate in a team
- Realized that not all ideas can succeed; ideas are not about you but about your users
- Learnt that success is when you help others to achieve it too
- Gotten a lot of help from friends in the module - THANK YOU!
- Learnt that people tell you different things; but your path is your own
- Learnt that your feelings are shit 
- Realized that networking is a thing and a pretty fun thing at that
- Learnt a lot about myself
          More specifically:   - I learn pretty quickly
                                        - I always think I'm doing a bad job but it wasn't always the case
                                        - I can actually last till 3am in the morning on certain days
                                        - I actually really like UI/UX design
                                        - I enjoy talking to people!
- Gotten an internship!!!
- Made friends
- Gained interest in properly sitting down and learning a new (computer!) language
- Not regretted giving German 2 up for 3216 - who cares about the totally hot German dudes, right?

Frankly, I'm sad the module/semester is over. There's a lot more I can learn, there's a lot more people I can meet/get to know. Nevertheless, I'll be backtracking on my posts for the module to really consolidate my thoughts, then I'll continue to use this handle for relevant dialogic learning. Also my blog is really hard to read, so I'll magically apply my mixture of old+new HTML & CSS to make it user-friendly /magical sounds *tingtingtingting*/

Friday, September 25, 2015

All hail your newest solution for all your supper woes!

The idea of Orderlyst came as a surprise to me. My group had spent our first meeting discussing about some ideas we had had, but after an email to Yang Shun we found that none of the proposed ideas were a good fit for the assignment. A weekend later, we met up again - but I was late because of a linguistics class that involved equations for interactional discourse (my brain almost died), and the guys introduced the idea. Having had experience staying on campus, I could understand the problem sans problem and voilà - we set forth with Orderlyst. 

If we have any pun seekers out there - don't smile to yourself. That's weird. If we have any confused friends - let me explain. Orderlyst is a order collation tool that aims to facilitate quick and painless food ordering in a group setting. Orderlyst is an order list; we want you to place orders on an order list orderly. If anyone is struggling with the induced pain, please remember why you are on my blog in the first place; at least I'm still yivolving (bad smile)

I always have the most suitable teammates for each project, and that's totally cool. I loved working with my mates (Hi Nathan, Louis & Sam!) for this assignment. I don't know how or what the other designers do, but I always feel bad because I find that I don't contribute as much as my teammates. While they sustain coffee and food, they have minimal sleep. Meanwhile, I'm either staring into space or knocked out on my bed while they tirelessly code into the night.

I do put in a lot of effort and time for what I do - the branding, the UI/UX and the graphics mostly - but I have a slightly unnerving expectation of myself and end up overthinking and expending much more time than what I think I should be affording. Wireframing this time was less stressful since we had discussed the flow of the app, but I spent most of the time in Penang (over the election weekend, hehehe) brainstorming and researching on logos. It was always on my mind and I always quickly sketched my ideas out, but there were so many and there were branching out towards all directions.

Eventually, as the vacation ended, I came up with something I thought was nice and handy (hahaha because it was literally hands on the logo). I liked it and settled for that because of what I would like it to symbolize - helping each other out both ways. About 3 days before the submission date, I decided to pull it out and we implemented a new logo. The new one is very in-your-face; it is a list. If you have great imagination (like Nathan!) you can also see 3 people - a group! Plus it looks great with our text logo. I'm very satisfied with the whole look and colour of our brand (big smile)

Our UI/UX is not my work; it is the effort of the team. I'm very thankful for all the feedback and suggestions, which are really helpful for me to see the app from a different perspective instead of my usual slant. Sometimes to test the app as a user myself gets muddy because I already have expectations on certain aspects. Elements that I envision may not come out as imagined as well. With the help of my teammates, we've come up with the cool feature of creating actions with simple touches - like adding an existing order item of your friend to your own user order just with a swipe and a tap. It's one of my favourite things about the app.

Ok so - what exactly is Orderlyst? 

As students staying on campus, we found out that there was a persisting problem when it came to ordering supper. User orders from friends flew to the heroic orderer - the one who is willing to shoulder all user orders to make the supper order - from everywhere and from all avenues. We have friends who message, friends who call, friends who verbally let you know of what they want. As the orderer, can you remember these easily and make the order without missing out or making mistakes on any item? 

With Orderlyst you can forget those troubles, because all your friends will be on our platform, where we'll help you keep them in the loop and collate everything neatly. Now you can have supper painlessly and cheaply (if you're into counting how much lower your additional surcharges go as more friends join the order). Hounding your friends for payment is so much easier as well, because with all the item prices input into the system, the individual costs for each user will be shown for them. No more excuses for being poor in calculations!

So the next time you find yourself in a situation where your group wants to make a quick takeout order - or anything you see fit, really - start using Orderlyst. Be it your colleagues, your friends, or your family, we're sure that they would love Orderlyst (biggest non-creepy smile)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Mid Term

It is so awful to take half a year off in an American school doing MCQs for finals, then come back to go on honours year and take CS3216. They weren't kidding about the course. Even for my relatively more relaxed role as a designer, I've been putting in a lot of time and effort into making the products. Sustaining at 4 am after 2 naps in the day and a Salon Pas on my back, I'm half doing work for Assignment 3 and half writing this post.

I really like what I do here; it makes me question the past 3 years of an irrelevant degree in languages... ha. Being so new to design, there's so many things to learn and to first discover. Honestly, not knowing much on how to code is a big obstacle; I can't reposition elements to perfection and I can't dictate sudden changes without bringing major headaches to my front-end guys. There is a clear gap between what can be designed and what can be technologically implemented - it's not the most efficient to have to come up with a design and then revise it only after learning about tech restrictions. Plus I don't know what's the coolest way I could go about implementing something, unless I've seen it before.

Working on A3, I have to say that I prefer A3 than A1, because it is easier to not have to completely conceptualize a product from scratch.. One of the first things to do as a designer is to do research, and while I would have to say that there aren't a lot of very similar products out there (the most similar being food delivery apps), it was a lot less nerve-wrecking to come up with the general UI for the product. In A1 we did a Facebook canvas app which I still think is really cool and a product of great effort from the entire team, but I had a lot of difficulties prototyping and always worked late into the night. For A3, there were a lot less drastic changes as I have only one main prototype this time, and Invision proved to be very effective in getting the prototype out. I had a lot more sleep, so that's nice.

One problem I constantly face is the birthing of ideas. We're almost done with most of the UI, with some minor changes to be made here and there, so for the majority of my time now I put my brain into doing the graphics for our app. When I say graphics, I mean visuals to tell a quick story. I actually had a lot of fun doing our graphics and coming up with the copywriting - for once those sociology classes and hot air about symbols and stories come in handy. Our graphics are intentionally simple - who wants to overload the user amirite - and the icons are a piece of cake, but piecing the story together was a horrible (though enjoyable) time because of the conceptualisation.

Anchor Shiba telling the story of my life

P.S.: On recommendation, I've changed the font size for my posts, but while the font itself still isn't quite the invitation to read... this is my strategy to put people off reading

Just kidding I just don't want to spare time to go change it

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

External Pitchin'

It is Wednesday and I'm 2 posts, many sleeps and 2 meals behind time. 

I've never been to a pitching session, so the external pitch was a great one for me to start with. It's a week and a half after that particular session and memory escapes me, but I'll try recapping on what interested me nevertheless.

PicktoLearn aims to be the next AirBnB that allows individuals to tap on connections to learn new skills - or so they write in the pitch. The idea is that you can connect yourself to an expert in a particular field, and likewise, someone can pick you to learn something from you. For example, if I very earnestly want to learn how to make Peranakan beadwork, I can easily pick someone skilled in that to learn from, on a 1-to-1 basis. The overall idea is cool as it tries to fix individuals with suitable and customizable courses, at more flexible prices too, but I don't think the planned execution would work. One thing is that the expertise of these people aren't certified (I could claim that I'm a pro in Peranakan cooking but who are you to know really), and another problem is that security is an issue - it could very well be a probable site for creeps and bad people to do bad stuff.

Planit was pitched by a teenager who has almost already polished his idea of an event platform app. Out of all the pitches, I felt that his idea was the most well thought of and had the most potential. The app is a platform for users to share events - either those that are private and between friends, or publicly published ones (like the USS Halloween Horror nights). In the internal pitching session, Prof Ben brought up a great point -  that it is easy to problem solve, but it is not easy to identify a great problem. This was exactly what I felt - that he had identified a problem in that it is difficult to consolidate events, and then came up with a solution.

Nom Affair is another student led initiative that aims to connect private food organisations with Instagrammers. I've always thought that Instagram was a great platform that has been largely tapped into by organisations and I do find it so - in fact we're in a time where I find organisations too domineering on Instagram, and that Instagram is losing its original flavour of being a photo sharing site. Nom Affair tries to find influencers who aren't just food bloggers, but those who delve into lifestyle, and then try to pair them up with the food companies. This is a great idea to use more related influencers to bring exposure to smaller and more organic entreprises, but I thought that in a world where marketing is borderline unethical (pay for likes/followers), and where food blogging is almost always unethical (ladyironchef's posts are almost always encouraging you to try something out because it's so delicious ), the idea might not be that feasible? Yet, despite these odds stacked against them, it seems that the idea has been validated by many, so I'd love to see how it goes.

Helphelp is a cool social idea, but I highly doubt its usability. I've spent the last few weeks doubting humanity in general, so given that past apps have failed even when they promised monetary benefits to users who help out, I really don't believe that people would be willing to go out of their ways to help others out of the goodness of their hearts.

For a more general takeaway - having a great idea is great, but having a useful idea is greater. Ideas are great, but practicality (or practicality from the execution of the idea) is better. Coming up with something new is great, but tweaking existing solutions to better fit current problems may be better. 

I've also been catching up on the other blogs and I like Anand's for having captured the essence and the art of pitching. I also like Vicky's for her argument on how only idealism isn't going to carry us far. It seems that the writers on Medium are doing very well!

(+ changed my font size due to recommendations + can't stop being distracted by the gif - it's beautiful and totally how I feel like right now)

Saturday, September 5, 2015

La fin de la début

There goes the completion of the first and second assignments! Lil Poo is mad ecstatic. For those not in the know - Lil Poo is our little mascot for our first assignment. He's a cute chap, so if you want to see more of him - contact the team and we'll let you in onto our app (please come join us, we are cool I promise)!

So as the title says - albeit in French because show off while I can, right - it's the end of the beginning. As we move onto our 3rd assignment, I just want to consolidate some thoughts and lessons from the former 2.

1. Teamwork is the key of all
Like Wenxiang said in the Zopim session - he pushed on through all the challenges because of his wonderful team. I'm happy to say that I've gotten great teammates for both assignments! My teammates are all very nice lil people and are all chill as hell.

Assignment 2 was one of the smoothest sailing project groups I've ever had after 3 years in the uni. Assignment 1 started out rough because we were all over the place, but I'm glad we worked the communication thing out and after a week of meetings, discussions and all-day commitment, we worked through all the disagreements very calmly and we've created a product all of us are pretty proud of.

2. When you're not proud of your product, nobody else will be
Let me preface this by saying sorry to my team members, haha. I actually had no intentions to download Telegram because I really don't need yet another communication app. I downloaded it rather reluctantly for the presentation, but I now use it to send lots of rubbish to my friends, migrating some chats from Whatsapp to Telegram. I had thought that I would be deleting it right after the presentation, but as it turns out there are great features that I found out while preparing for the presentation. Even while Telegram isn't our product per se, we loved it and I think that was very obvious in our presentation.

For Taaag, I became very unsure of it as we developed it. Some questions crossed my mind multiple times - Would I use it? Would I recommend my friends to use it? Would I come back to it? As it seems, nobody believes much in an entertainment app in the class. I want to now grab your shoulders and shake you violently - just like how there would be people who tune in to the Kardashians', there would be users for your entertainment app - you just need to know how to market it correctly to the correct target group.

Eventually, I sent some friends some invites and my perspectives changed. I love it - after I got my friends on board, I found tags on my wall that I never thought would appear. A friend actually thought through everything very seriously, and another tagged very random shit like "poop" and "giraffe" - only that they aren't that random, because they are inside jokes. The very nature of our friendships shows from the tags, and if you don't like anything you can just trash 'em. I haven't been in close contact with my friends because we're all in different countries, and tagging me with those tags would have been crazy random elsewhere. I'm very fond of Taaag now - and I think my friends can tell from how I go around explaining and (humble)bragging about the app to them.

"Taaag is great, guys! Come join me or this friendship is over"

Greetings to Assignment 3, I slept in and napped for close to the entirety of Saturday (I had to - felt like I was internally rotting) and I'm ready! I'm hoping I'll get more takeaways from the technical side - for the first 2 assignments my brain was ???????ing whenever the developers talked programming haha oops