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Tech Tales - Women's Edition

Winter Wei

Principal Designer, Kira Systems

Tell us how your story begins.

I was born in Tianjin, China, and moved to Canada right before I turned 16. Growing up I’ve always been the kid that knew how to draw, and I was sure that I’d one day become a comic book artist. Somehow I got in to a math-focused program in middle school, where I was trained intensely to participate in math contests. Although I hated it during those years, it did shape my way of thinking, and my approach to solving problems.

... we come up with design solutions to make the technology “invisible” and intuitive, so that users can focus on doing their job instead of the tool.

What did you do before your current career or role?

I graduated from University of Toronto with an Actuarial Science degree. I didn’t love it, so didn’t bother pursuing a career in the field. Ironically, all the math and statistics I’ve learnt in university became really handy in my current job when I need to understand machine learning concepts. As a designer, I think that’s really valuable. I came across the concept of UX design when I was managing the web content of a multi-lingual, multi-division website, and was immediately convinced that it was something I wanted to do, as it’s a perfect combination of creativity and problem-solving to make people’s experiences better.

Describe your current job.

The job of the product design team is to create a product that helps our users manage the complexity of their jobs and be more efficient. The design must allow people to focus on doing what they’re good at (and hopefully getting better at it as they go) without having to worry about the tool or the technology. As the principal designer, I lead the effort in achieving this. As the team and the product grow, I also work with my team on establishing our process. and collaborate with other teams to develop a design system to scale our design within and beyond the product.

How did you get started as ?

I joined Kira Systems when it only had a four person team. I was the first designer. This meant that I worked on the Kira branding, designed and developed the marketing site, wrote a lot of css code, did some marketing, did some product management…you get the idea. When there are less than ten people, everyone did everything. Having worn different hats in a fast-growing company, and having grown the design team (it’s still growing), I finally shifted my focus to the design of the product, the system, and the process.

What’s your favorite thing about your work?

Our users are experts in their domains and their jobs are complex. One of the challenge of designing an enterprise product is how to enable users to manage complexity rather than over-complicating or over-simplifying things. We have a long way to go to get this right.

Kira is known for its ML capabilities, but ironically it’s not easy to design features with this underlying technology, because you want the interaction to be trustworthy and not require much cognitive load. So we have to put a lot of time into understanding our users’ mental models and their workflows. Only then can we come up with design solutions to make the technology “invisible” and intuitive, so that users can focus on doing their job instead of the tool. Another aspect that I really enjoy about my job is to work with really excellent designers, developers, and research scientists. I learn from them everyday.

Describe a moment you are proudest of in your career.

Just one moment? OK. The most recent one is that a short paper that I co-wrote with our ML researcher Adam Roegiest got accepted by The ACM Conference on Human Information Interaction & Retrieval (CHIIR). The paper was about the document viewer redesign work I did (developed by an amazing developer, Jean-Philippe Gauthier). The design and implementation took many months, and there are still lots of improvements to be made. To see something I created being used and appreciated by so many people is very humbling for me. It makes me feel the gravity of responsibility to be a designer. The paper is important to me because it shows that the work we’re doing here is recognized and interesting to research organizations as well as our users.