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From UW student to UX designer: how the MSTI program prepared Tianke Li to work at Amazon

Date: December 01, 2020

“I come from a background of industrial design from when I did my undergrad in China. I tried many kinds of design like digital user experience but also art and physical installation. I was interested in developing physical products, but when I learned about the Internet of Things, I became more interested in digital and user experience (UX) design.  

When I joined the University of Washington’s MSTI program, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do for a career, other than knowing that I didn’t want to be an industrial designer. I thought that UX would be a great place to start, and I would be able to translate those skills into other forms of design. I could move into jobs like product manager, program manager, or front-end designer; it’s very flexible.  

In China, there are two types of designers: those who focus on art, and those who use art in conjunction with technology. I’m much more into the technical side, so the MSTI fit me well. I can code, and I have some basic hardware experience.  

My Launch Project in the MSTI involved working alongside Microsoft to develop a small, cheap solution that would enable non-expert users to take high-quality images of the eye to diagnose medical abnormalities. Our team had four members who each focused on specific things: a project manager, a hardware engineer, a software engineer, and me, the industrial and UX designer.  

We did lots of user researchlike interviewing experts, conducting user-surveys, and doing field research. I compiled the results, and those ultimately led to design requirements and features. Before the project, I hadn’t done much actual user research, and I don’t think I realized how important it was. Now, I know that research helps us to understand what users need. For us on our project, it was crucial.  

I felt like the Launch Project experience was very strong and competitive; it’s great for your portfolio. In my interviews after graduating, the interviewees were amazed with how I walked them through the process of what we did. I feel like they really wanted to hear about my design process and how I improved based on the feedback we received from users and stakeholders. 

Right now, I’m a UX designer at Amazon, working on the experience of the Amazon Echo devices and making them more user friendly. Day-to-day, I do my own work and have it reviewed by managers and take their feedback. Iteration is very important. Looking back, the Launch Project experience really taught me how to work with large companies, how to take feedback, and how to justify design choices. I worked with Alycia Goodthe assistant director of academic and career services, for career advice, and she was very helpful. I didn’t know what exactly I wanted to do for a careerbut Alycia helped me figure out the type of role I would do well in and how to get it, very early on.  

I think the MSTI program is great for designers who want to get a taste of both technology and business. You need to do a lot of actual work and refine many iterations. I think it’s very experimental; we’re doing something very interesting here. If you want to do something totally self-made, then this is a very good place to be.”

Learn more about MSTI Launch Projects

Learn more about the UW MS in Technology Innovation program