Designer Gaee Kim has received a master’s degree from UNIST Design in 2019. After graduation, she worked for different companies as a product designer and UX researcher. Today, she is working as a product manager (PM) at a B2B platform company, serving as a designer and a planner at the same time. This interview was carried out by Junghyun who played a central role in preparing the recent graduation show, and getting ready for the job market upon finishing his bachelor’s study.
Jonghyun(JH) Hello, nice to meet you. Thank you for the seminar in our department last time, and I really appreciate that you made time for this interview as well. First of all, would you please introduce yourself briefly?
Gaee (GE) My pleasure! I’m Gaee Kim, now working for a company called Tmax Enterprise as a product manager. I design digital products for companies like ERP(Enterprise Resource Planning) or CRM (Customer Relationship Management).
JH It sounds unfamiliart for me because I have no idea about the B2B field. Could you explain a bit more about it?
GE Of course, I know it can be not so familiar to many. ERP stands for Enterprise Resource Planning, tools for managing the internal and external processes in a company. Just as we use KakaoTalk for communication and accounting app for logging our savings and expenditures, companies need to use various tools for each purpose like human resources or finance. My job at Tmax Enterprise is to make software (ERPs) that links all the tools together. UNIST portal system or GOV24 are readily available examples of ERP that are perhaps familiar to you.
JH Since students are not as commonly exposed to B2B businesses as we are to B2C ones, I think it could have been difficult for you to take the first step into the B2B industry. Is there any special reason that made you interested?
GE Actually, I wasn’t so interested initially, but I gained a lot of interest while working at my previous workplace. It was the company that developed a service that applied A.I. technology to OCR (Optical Character Recognition; technology that extracts text data from image data). I was in charge of service planning, UX design, GUI design, etc. and I could see how start-ups are creating new products to meet the needs of various kinds of organizations. I could feel a different kind of attraction than from B2C while seeing them compete with each other.
Above all, the nature of crystal clear target users in the B2B market, for me, came with a big joy capturing their needs sharply. Furthermore, planning and designing UX to streamline the overall system by considering stakeholders comprehensively, and reducing the gap between people about the knowledge in technology is beyond just handling the visual interface and that was intriguing for me.
JH I briefly looked at your resume and saw that you have worked at two other companies already before your previous job. I want to hear about some projects that have been the most meaningful among the others so far.
GE The most meaningful project to me is the one at my first job. It was a project defining the user segments for IoT home planters. The project was carried out as an extension of my master’s graduation research. While conducting interviews and surveys with about 100 potential users, I discovered that the reasons for purchasing and using a home planter are largely divided into two, ‘simply just planting or nurturing for eating’. From there, I derived a product concept for differentiation.
It was tough defining the purpose and usage for a home appliance which was a newcomer in the category, however, I learned a lot in terms of conducting UX research.
JH Since you have been working in the data-driven technology field, I assume you have experienced conflicts of opinions among your teammates, especially with developers because we might inherently have different points of view. When it comes to these situations, how do you deal with them?
GE As you know, conflicts always happen because every team or department has its own objectives and interests. I think the solution lies in empathy. Putting myself in different shoes and trying to learn things that bridge others and me. In this way, I can communicate from their side, making the conversations smoother and easier. I found studying coding at UNIST helpful. Sometimes I ask others where I should look when I have no idea what to study. Since everyone works with the responsibility, people often share useful websites, keywords, or their wikis as references.
JH Is there any tool that you mostly use for communication?
GE We are communicating through online documents more than ever. So, delivering messages appropriately in a document is the matter. In that sense, showing well-structured ideas is significant. Those tools such as affinity diagrams, journey maps, service blueprints and so on that I have learned in the school are really helpful.
JH It looks like visualizing the documents is useful and important. Are there any other difficulties in communicating?
GE I sometimes feel that we all use words from a different world. There are words unfamiliar to others and it is common for designers. It was hard at first, but I am trying to change designerly words into frequently used words in our daily lives. Sometimes it’s helpful to spend time among the team to define specific terms. Lately, teammates and I spent about two hours discussing how ‘sales’ and ‘marketing’ are different.
JH So interesting. I also would like to hear your school life story. Was there any special experience that you could never forget?
GE The last year of my UNIST life is the most memorable for me. During that one year, I could finish my life as a student while working on my graduation project which was the start of the IoT planter that I mentioned earlier. In the project, I did both research and making the product.
Talking about the research first, I imagined what if there is a system in which plants grow autonomously just like self-driving technology. When the level of technology maturity for autonomous planting is divided similarly to that of autonomous driving, I questioned how people’s preferences and attachment to the planting will differ from each level. The product that I designed for the research, Linnea Pot, was a hydroponic planting pottery kit. I made 40 pots by fundraising. I also exhibited them at an exhibition and submitted it to a design award after designing packages and branding with them. Although it was really busy and hard, it was a very meaningful time.
I got funding from UNIST Startup Center to develop Linnea Pot to be commercialized in the market, exhibited in a design festival, and even submitted to design awards and conferences. Everything was the first time for me. I got the most out of UNIST in my last year. Plus, this project gave me the chance to get my first job.
JH That is really impressive. Lastly, could you give a piece of advice to younger people studying design?
GE At UNIST, we can experience the process from initial research to the final design, which I think is a little closer to what a product manager (PM) usually does. However, since companies do not prefer hiring a junior PM with prior experience, for me, finding the right field for yourself by trying various experiences is the important thing. I’m talking about product design, UX research, and so on. If you can find your domain early enough and start building your strength, I think it’s the best.
One more thing. Don’t be afraid of working at a start-up. It’s a good opportunity to start your career as a baby-PM and at the same time delve into the field that fits you.
Lastly, don’t hesitate to share your difficulties with others. We have closer relationships between students and professors than any other school. So, talk with professors about your worries. If that’s uncomfortable with you, contact seniors, we are always open for you.
JH Thank you for the great pieces of advice. Also for your time and great stories today!
GE My pleasure, see you next time!