“Design is a marriage of empathy, curiosity, logic, and creativity. For those interested in design, my advice would be to keep asking questions and always try to think about ways to improve products or experiences that you have.”

Meet Shuang Wu – a Designer with experience at IBM, SapientRazorfish, McKinsey, and now Electronic Arts (EA). Shuang chats with us about how she fell in love with Design, her advice on how to get into the field, and how she ensures her teams produce their best work.

Tell us a bit about how you grew up.

I was born and raised in Beijing, China. My family immigrated to the Michigan area when I was in middle school because they felt that I would have better opportunities in the US. Due to the language and cultural barriers, they were unable to continue their professions as engineer and nurse, and instead worked odd jobs. I grew up with little supervision since they were working so much, and thus I didn’t take school seriously, nor thought much about my future. It wasn’t until junior year of high school when I realized the importance of education and how much my parents sacrificed for me that I started to apply myself.

I majored in Supply Chain Management in college, not because I was interested in it, but rather it was the most practical major that would get me a job out of college. I started my career at IBM Global Business Services as a strategy & transformation consultant mainly working on ERP systems and supply chain strategy. It was at IBM that I discovered the world of UX (User Experience) and never looked back. After IBM, and before joining EA, I was an Experience Design Director for McKinsey & Company.

Can you explain to our readers what design is?

Design is like building a house. At first, we must understand why we need to build a house, who we are building it for, and what their needs are. This process is called User Research. Once we’ve discovered the user’s needs and desires, we outline the house. How should we lay it out? What kinds of materials are best to use? Questions like this help us to create a solid foundation– this part is called User Experience (UX) design. Then come the finishing touches, such as selecting the paint colors or buying the furniture to make it appealing to the buyer – this part is called Visual Design.

At the core, designers distill the unmet user needs and translate them into a product or experience that will make things easier and pleasant for them. I really like the quote by Steve Jobs, “Design is not about how it looks, it’s about how it works.”

What is your day-to-day like?

I manage a team of designers and design managers. My day-to-day consists of helping the team move forward by removing roadblocks, providing design guidance, and setting strategic direction and design approaches. I work closely with product directors and engineering directors to make sure the team is in sync cross-functionally in order to ensure efficiency of the design team.

How did you decide to go into design? For our readers thinking about pursuing a career in design, what advice would you have?

I’ve always been creative. I started publishing cartoons when I was 5 years old in the local art magazine. Even though I was not interested in supply chain, I think that also played a major role in my decision to go into design. Supply chain is about optimizing a process to be as efficient as possible and user experience design is similar although with a sprinkle of empathy and creativity.

Design is a marriage of empathy, curiosity, logic, and creativity. For those interested in design, my advice would be to keep asking questions and always try to think about ways to improve products or experiences that you have.

In addition, look into side-projects you can do to help beef up your portfolio as that’s a major determining factor when applying to a design job.

You are now, ”Director of Experience Design” at EA where you work across different portfolios such as Player Experience, Employee Experience, Game Creation, and so on.  What inspired you to take this role?

I saw this role as an opportunity to push myself in new ways. EA IT, my org, is in the early stages of a massive transformation in the way we think about products. I decided to join the team at the start of this transformation to help make it a success and create a rockstar design team from the ground up. Also, experience design is still a bit misunderstood within the organization and I felt this role would be a challenging and rewarding opportunity to help the organization understand the value of design.

It seems like your job has transitioned from more creative to more quantitative. How do you stay engaged creatively?  

Unfortunately, it’s hard to stay super close to the creative side of things because I am overseeing so many products and most of my time is spent trying to build and scale the team. However, I try to stay up to date on my craft by taking on pro-bono design work, having weekly design showcases and critique sessions with my team, and being involved in professional organizations and design forums where I stay up-to-date on the latest design trends.

Where do you see the future of gaming? How do female gamers play into this?

In terms of the future of gaming, I think mobile games will be increasingly popular and, although AR/VR in gaming is relatively nascent, that technology holds a lot of promise. Female gamers are also increasingly more prominent in the gaming world. In the past, they were often an overlooked demographic but gaming companies are starting to see the importance of their female consumers and are increasingly producing games that appeal to women.

Can you talk to us about your view of leadership? What from your background informs your style of leadership?

If I could use three words to describe my leadership style, they would be: responsive, collaborative, and pragmatic. I try to get to know everyone on a personal level and feel this makes them more open and willing to voice their opinions or concerns with me. I try to embody this mentality as a leader as I have found working under intimidating or distant bosses makes it hard to do my best work. I’ve done my best work for previous bosses when they empowered me to voice my own opinion and feel engaged in the process.  

Fire Round

What is an Industry trend that you’re most excited about?

See the future of gaming question above.

What is a favorite or most interesting article you have read from the past few months?

I recently read, “The Business Value of Design” in the McKinsey Quarterly. The article explains why good design is so important and why leaders have to prioritize design-thinking to drive product development.

Who is a female entrepreneur or investor you'd most like to meet and chat with?

Sheryl Sandberg – I would love to hear about her life experiences and her advice on being a leader.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

“Work hard and work smart” – knowing what to prioritize and what will make the biggest impact will help you stay focused on doing the best work.

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Madeline Keulen