Service/interaction designer Wondo Jeong has received a master’s degree from UNIST Design in 2019. After graduation, he has moved to Singapore to work for FJORD, a global digital design consultancy. The following interview provides a peek into Wondo’s journey from UNIST Design to Fjord Singapore studio.
Seongbeom (SB) Hi, Wondo! It was great to listen to your experience last time in our seminar. Thank you for that! I asked for an additional interview because many of us wanted to learn more about your journey. Can you please tell us a bit more about FJORD?
Wondo (WD) Of course, it’s my pleasure! As you may already know, FJORD is currently the largest digital design consultancy in the world and a part of Accenture, which is one of the largest IT and business consultancy globally. We focus on human-centered design and digital products, and the outcomes range from service design and interaction design to business design. Accenture also boasts other design groups, but we at FJORD have more edge on research, and we provide our clients with more strategic solutions from higher level, like IDEO or frog.
SB How did you make the jump from Ulsan to the largest design consultancy in the world?
WD I did not actually do much more extra preparation to get a job outside Korea. Not that I did not needed to, but because most teaching and project works are done in English in UNIST, so I did not have to make additional effort in terms of my work, except honing my portfolio. But what I cared about during my study at UNIST was, for at least for one or two key projects, that I did not get satisfied by just the completion of a school project, but I made extra effort to lead them into a more objective achievements, like design awards and academic articles. My goal was to create a storyline that would tell people, ‘I have made this much effort and this many people appreciated my work. Although I now think these achievements themselves do not guarantee getting a job but the quality of the work itself, but nonetheless I tried to create the story that I am a person who strive for excellence. Oh, also I made efforts to make a consistent storytelling in my portfolio. Those two, I believe.
SB Thanks for sharing your tips! Shall we now move to your work life in FJORD? What’s different there? Some episode you want to share with students in UNIST Design?
WD I started in FJORD in January 2020, right before the COVID-19 pandemic. So I did not actually enjoy much of my work life with my colleague in the physical FJORD office. It’s a shame because this particular studio is known for its vibrant culture, and my colleagues also often mention that. But when I first landed here, one day one of my colleagues would just go to a corner, turn on Nintendo Switch and start playing? I asked why he suddenly was playing game at work, and his answer was it’s about the digital interaction in the game and told me go away (laugh). We spend time freely like this in the office, and sometimes play board games together. We call this ‘Automation’ here, which means we work freely and we get evaluated for our results. We expect one another to respect other people’s time and space.
SB My first time to hear such a term, ‘automation’. Interesting! I guess that much freedom comes with corresponding level of responsibility?
WD Absolutely. Also, we ask each other what we dislike, like certain way of working or communicating. For intance, someone could say, ‘I do not like to be approached for work by late evenings.’ We start projects by sharing such things, which help reduce conflicts and respect one another. It’s good to have this discussion in the beginning.
SB That’s a good idea, I could apply these to our kick off in our lab projects.
WD We also share what we want to learn. In am doing service and interaction design work, but if I share my desire to learn specific new skills, a colleague of mine who has good experience in that area could invite me to work on that part together. I think that it’s a good to clarify what I can learn and achieve from each project. Also, it helps to depict what the success of this project would be like together to create a consensus on the big picture. There are lots I can share about tips for a fruitful kick-off meetings we use here.
SB That seems to be a great culture. Hopefully we could invite you for another seminar for that! I’m curious, what new did you decide to learn in a recent and/or ongoing project?
WD There was a discussion about social listening in a kick-off meeting where we were exploring the project direction. This method is becoming increasingly more important for us to read internet reviews because people are getting smarter day by day, and our user study methods are being severely restricted by the pandemic. Previously we’ve been focusing a lot more on qualitative research, and therefore this type of date-driven research has been relatively rare. Social listening is a hybrid method that combines qualitative and quantitative methods, and I expressed my interest to try it and I am participating in that process more actively.
SB That is so nice. I am curious, what is the must-have capability and/or attitude for a good service/interaction designer?
WD This is from something I read. Empathy is a basic, but the ability to ‘zoom in and out’ is a key capability for a good designer. As a service designer, you are required to overlook the whole service, and at the same time to focus on the smallest touchpoint. Maybe not pixel-to-pixel, but buttons on an interface, and UX-writing. It was not easy for me either when I first joined FJORD. My perspectives got too narrow at times, and it was difficult to see the big picture goal. I focused on interaction design because I was able to perform better, but I am getting the hang of it, as I am trying little by little.
SB Thank you for sharing your honest thoughts. Now I’d like to go back to your UNIST time. I’ve heard that you once worked in Italy, but you can to UNIST to study. What was the motivation?
WD I came back to Korea for personal reasons. And I heard from one of my friends that a professor I really admired was at UNIST Design while I was wondering what my next step should be. So I applied. Also, I thought I could be a hybrid between designer and developer if I study engineering for two years, which turned out to be a very difficult thing to do (laugh).
SB What was your key project during your master’s study?
WD I guess I have a couple. The one I like more is the one called, ‘Money Planet.’ Everyone seems to like it when I go into a job interview. Once I got curious and asked why they do, and one told me that it was very fresh and something that s/he has never seen elsewhere. So I thought about it why that would be the case, and in fact, I tried to create something new and unusual while I was working on the project. And redesign it when I find any resemblance of others’ work in it.
The goal of Money Planet was to create a stress-free finance app for college students. I analyzed actual receipts and realized that they remind us of the time the money was spent. A medium that works as stimulus for our memory. That helped the interviewees to talk about their way of spending money, and gave me good insights.
And I was trying to come up with an abstract and easier way to visualize the amount of saved money for college students. I got an insight from my research that many start saving money when they plan for traveling. So when one saves certain amount of money, the city I can travel to with that amount of money would turn into other color, which motivate the users to have more.
In terms of the visual design, I borrowed the visual idea of Pac-Man from an episode called ‘Retro Game’ from then my favourite Netflix show, Black Mirror. Today we see retro designs everywhere, but then this was not trending. So these three aspects were the drives of Money Planet and it worked well in my job interviews, which makes it a key project of mine from my UNIST time.
↗ Learn more about Money Planet here.
SB Any episode you wanna share from your UNIST time?
WD Oh, so much fun stories, as I spent so much time with my friends. One of them involves my marriage, because I got married during a semester. I was sanding and spray-painting in the 905 workshop until two days before my wedding, and my friends threw a surprise party for me and so my sands were all dirty with dusts and paints when I received the cake! Everyone was so busy because it was in the middle of the semester, but all of them came to Seoul to celebrate and went back to Ulsan and work overnight to finish their projects. I knew they were not sleeping much, but they looked all fabulous in the wedding, which was so funny to me. I owe them so much, and I try to return the favor whenever I can. I talk to them from time to time until today. Each one of them is precious to me.
SB Sounds like really hard but also fun school time! Any advice you’d like to give to the current students of UNIST Design?
WD I think things have changed, and perhaps I can say something about master’s study and getting a job.
First is to broaden your perspectives. I got to know FJORD kind of naturally because some of my past colleagues back in Milan work in FJORD Milan, but also one of the professors also told me that he considered design consulting as his career path. Before that I only thought about IT companies like Kakao and Naver, or electronics manufacturers. But when the professor mentioned design consulting as a possible career path, I recalled, ‘oh, some of my friends work at Accenture!’, and that completed my puzzle. You guys have so much potential and can explore many different opportunities if you just broaden your perspective a bit.
Second is that networking is really important. It’s not easy for those Singaporeans with diploma from known institutions to get a good job. In the end, getting into a company to gain experiences often comes from people you know. I mentioned this in the seminar also. Nowadays there are good tools like LinkedIn that shows your peers from school and alumni, so you might as well approach them and ask if there’s any chance. Of course, your work should be good.
SB Thanks for the great tips! And your time today!
WD My pleasure, and do not hesitate to contact me again if you have something to ask!