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Women in UX: Minjun Chen about Designing for Spotify

"Working on a project that can solve real challenges for real people who rely on their job as their main source of income is incredibly empowering." - Minjun

UXtweak has recently had a chance to talk design and research with Minjun Chen, a Product Designer at Spotify!🤩

And let us tell you, this one is a must read!

With a handful of experience in both small startups and large corporations, Minjun shared her opinions on UX maturity of organizations she worked in, differences in their approach to design and shared tips for those who are feeling stuck in their design career. 

She opened up about her experience in Spotify, how she got there, and gave us a little inside look into their UX research processes. And the cherry on top: Minjun is sharing a list of her top 8 favorite podcasts to tune in to at the end of the article!🎧

Let’s dive right into it.

Hi Minjun, tell us a bit about yourself!

I’m a product designer based in Seattle and originally from China. Currently, I’m working at Spotify, where I design advertising platforms. Throughout my career, I’ve had the chance to work with a variety of companies in both the US and Canada — from small, messy startups to big tech giants like Wayfair, Amazon, and Microsoft.

My work has spanned across different product areas, from consumer and enterprise products, to fintech, supply chain, advertising, and internal tools.

I really enjoy the diversity of my experiences and the challenge that comes with working on different problem spaces. Before I entered the tech industry, I studied Human-Computer Interaction and Design at the University of Washington, where I gained a strong foundation in UX design and research methodology.  

Product Design

women in ux Minjun Chen Product designer at spotify

Can you tell us a bit more about your current role? What are the main things you’re working on daily?

As a product designer at Spotify, I primarily focus on designing tools and frameworks for Spotify’s advertising platforms. My day-to-day is generally divided into two parts: meetings with my team and stakeholders, and my own design work. We have weekly or bi-weekly large product team meetings that cover project updates, as well as internal design team meetings for design critiques.

In addition, I host a weekly design review for the projects I’m working on, where I present my latest designs, ask questions, and receive feedback from key stakeholders such as product managers and engineers

Do you have a design philosophy you always stand by?

That’s a great question! My design philosophy is “less is more”. This applies not just to digital product design, but to all areas of aesthetics, including interior design and fashion. 

You’ve worked at some of the largest tech companies out there such as Amazon, Microsoft, Spotify, what are some of the main differences between working for such large enterprises and small startups when it comes to product design?

There are a few key differences I’ve noticed, including:

  1. Impact: When working for large corporations, I’ve had the opportunity to design and launch features or products that have a huge impact on millions, or even billions, of users. Even small design updates on high-volume customer apps can have a significant influence on people’s day-to-day lives. In contrast, the impact of my work at early-stage startups was not as substantial.
  2. Design projects: At small startups, I often had to wear many different hats and work on a variety of projects, not just UX design. This included marketing design work, and I even had the chance to design and launch a brand new product from scratch. However, when working for larger companies, I tend to focus on one or two product domains and really dive deep into designing specific features.
  3. Scale of the design team: At startups, I was often one of only one or two designers on the team, making it difficult to gain mentorship from more senior designers. In contrast, large companies provide a diverse and supportive design community for junior and mid-level designers to seek mentorship and career support from design managers. 

Do you notice a change in the level of UX maturity from company to company? How do you approach it?

Yes, every company and team has a different level of UX maturity. When I join a new team or company, I approach it with flexibility and curiosity. I ask questions and schedule one-on-one meetings with my colleagues to help me understand how the team approaches UX design.

I try to learn about their design process, the challenges they face in terms of collaboration and product domain, and what their goals are. This helps me understand how to best fit into the team and contribute my skills to their design efforts.   

As a person who is constantly growing professionally, do you have any advice for people who are feeling stuck in their design journey and want to level up their career?

Absolutely! Here are a few things I would suggest: 

  1. Identify areas where you need to improve and take steps to address them. It’s essential to be a well-rounded designer if you want to advance in your career. If you struggle with soft skills like presenting your work, challenge yourself to present in front of different audiences. It might feel daunting at first, but the experience will ultimately help you in your career.
  2. Find mentors who can offer you honest and constructive feedback. Mentors don’t have to be limited to UX and product design professionals, as you can learn from product managers or engineers as well. Seek out mentors who can provide support and guidance in areas where you want to improve.
  3. It’s okay to feel stuck or lost at times. It’s a common experience. If you’re feeling burnt out or stuck, take a break. Step away from your work and digital devices, and focus on being present in the moment. Take a walk, breathe, and let yourself recharge.
  4. Finally, celebrate small wins in your life. Be grateful for everything that happens to you. Every accomplishment, no matter how small, is a step forward in your journey. 

women in ux Minjun Chen Product designer at spotify

Minjun drawing, long before starting her design career.

Have you ever had to convince stakeholders about the value of UX or is it not ever a problem in such large companies?

It’s very common to work with stakeholders who don’t know about UX design or who don’t understand its value.

There are a few tactics we can use to convince them:

  1. Educating them about UX design: we can do this through presentations and workshops that cover the UX design process and principles.
  2. Bringing them into user interviews: when we invite stakeholders to the user interview sessions, they can also feel pain points and understand what our users are struggling with.
  3. Leveraging data: we can use quantitative and qualitative data to justify our design decisions with stakeholders and show how our designs can improve business metrics.
  4. Making things visible: as designers, we have a superpower in design and craft. Instead of just talking to our stakeholders, we can create mockups and prototypes and share these design artifacts to convince them. 

Learn more about Convincing Stakeholders about the Value of UX Research.

What are some of the design trends you’re most excited about and what do you feel is going to change in our industry in the future?

ChatGPT!!! I’m excited to see, or even design, the integration of AI-powered features into our apps.  

What is the project you’re most proud of in your design career?

I would have to say the project I did at Wayfair called the “Packout Tool” is my proudest achievement so far. The brand-new Packout Tool I designed streamlined the packing workflows and made packers’ jobs much easier.

This project had a positive impact not only on the packers but also on the company’s bottom line, generating significant business revenue. In fact, the Wayfair CEO even called out the project in a company-wide email. Working on a project that can solve real challenges for real people who rely on their job as their main source of income is incredibly empowering. 

women in ux Minjun Chen Product designer at spotify

Spotify

How did you get into Spotify and how would you describe your experience so far?

I actually got my job at Spotify through a referral. A few weeks after I applied, I received an email from their recruiter inviting me to interview. The interview process was similar to what you’d expect from other large tech companies, with multiple rounds of interviews, from a call with the hiring manager to a final on-site interview.

That last one was particularly intense, with a one-hour portfolio review with the entire design team, two hours of challenging design sessions with senior designers, and one-on-one meetings with a product manager, a researcher, and an engineer.

Spotify has been my dream company since I was a new grad, and I feel very fortunate to be working here now. I’ve been with the company for a few months, and I’m constantly learning new things and working on challenging yet exciting initiatives every day. I’m also surrounded by incredibly talented and experienced designers who always bring new ideas to the table and encourage me to keep growing in my journey at Spotify. 

Spotify is known for its features, do you have a favorite one? Or the one you’re constantly using yourself?

I really enjoy a lot of Spotify’s features, so it’s hard for me to choose just one favorite. However, I’ve been really impressed with a brand-new feature called “DJ”. It’s a personalized AI guide that knows my music taste so well that it can choose what to play for me, including the latest music as well as some of my old favorites.

We just announced a big redesign of our app in March, so there are many exciting new features to look forward to. I can’t wait to try them out for myself!

What is your favorite thing about being a Product Designer at Spotify? How is designing for them different from your experience of designing for other companies?

My favorite thing about being a Product Designer at Spotify is the company’s design culture. We have a group of creative, talented, and supportive designers, and we have access to many internal design resources, such as Figma templates, internal design learning workshops, conferences, and more. 

Could you tell us more about the value of research at Spotify? Is it a big part of the design process, how do you approach it and what are the key things Spotify focuses on?

At Spotify, we place a lot of importance on user research and data, and I work closely with UX researchers and data scientists throughout the design process. There are several types of research we conduct during our design process.

First, we conduct discovery research during the initial phase to understand our users and narrow down our problem spaces. Second, we conduct usability testing during the iteration phase to identify specific design problems. Lastly, we use quantitative data during A/B testing and product launches to gather customer insights. 

women in ux Minjun Chen Product designer at spotify, work from home setup

Minjun’s WFH setup.

Tell us about your favorite Spotify podcast and why you like it.

That’s a tough one! I’m an avid podcast listener and use Spotify to listen to them every day, whether I’m at home or on the go.

Here are some of my favorite podcasts that I listen to regularly:

  1. Everything Goes with Emma Chamberlain
  2. Design Life
  3. Lenny’s Podcast
  4. After Hours
  5. Design Details
  6. On Purpose
  7. Feel Better, Live More
  8. Financial Feminist

Women in UX

What do you think is the best part of being a woman in the UX/tech industry?

As a woman designer in the tech industry, I draw on my empathy, positivity, and people-centric approach. I care about both my users and my teams, and I’m able to put myself in other people’s shoes. This is what makes me unique and helps me stand out in my field.  

Do you feel like there is a lack of women representation in the tech/design industry? And if so, how do you think we can combat it?

Although there have been improvements, there’s still a gender gap in our industry. I do see more women design leaders emerging, but we need to build a more supportive and inclusive environment for women to grow in tech.

Communities and networking opportunities for women UX designers are essential, as are initiatives by large tech companies to promote diversity and inclusion during the hiring process and provide education opportunities for girls and young women to pursue careers in tech and UX design. 

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What is your message to other people in the UX industry?

I have a few pieces of advice:

First, focus on yourself and your ultimate goal of becoming a better product/UX designer. If you keep working on improving yourself, everything else will fall into place.

Second, get really good at one or two product design skills. If you excel in your strengths, you’ll stand out from other candidates and be able to deliver great work for your company.

Third, identify your weaknesses and take steps to address them. This will help you become a more well-rounded designer and improve your overall work.

Finally, be confident and speak up for yourself. You’re the only one who can take responsibility for your career growth, so don’t be afraid to ask for what you want and need to succeed.

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