Musings of a millenial techie in China

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Last week, I went back to China for the first time in 8 years. 

What I realized when I got there is that all Google products including Gmail and Google Maps, Facebook products including Instagram and Messenger, Twitter products, Tumblr, Flickr, Medium, Reddit, SoundCloud and more don’t load in China. You need a VPN to access these sites, which I didn’t use on this trip. 

I connected physically and digitally through WeChat with my Chinese family, but I simultaneously disconnected with my Western friends. 

I lost access to alternative perspectives. I wanted to get updates from friends who have family in France and Turkey, which have been in the news this week, but I couldn’t get that info passively. 

I lost the ability to use local apps for search (Baidu), directions (Baidu Maps) and ride-sharing (Didi Kuaidi). I could make calls on the the Nexus 5X with a local sim card, but I couldn’t install new apps because Google’s play store won’t ever load. (It’s not an AOSP device.)

I lost access to lots of apps that are integrated with Google products. My cousin tried to play Pokemon Go (the latest craze), but it doesn’t work in China because it uses Google Maps. 

More importantly, I lost the ability to communicate with a few core email and messaging apps. (Though I did use WhatsApp and WeChat for calls.)

If your whole life exists in China, then you don’t feel it. You have domestic services that fulfill all the things that those companies do with added censorship. But if you can see clearly from both inside and outside the firewall, you can’t ignore its effects. 

A new language (off-topic post of the year)

 شما چطور هستین 

“Farsi? That’s some complicated script language that’s kind of similar to Arabic, right?”

Those were my thoughts a year ago. I didn’t even know that it was the language of Iran. But I was curious about it from my daily interactions with Persians in the bay area, so I decided to study it at the ABC Language School in SF.

I’m not sure what I expected. But Farsi isn’t that hard to learn.

It has an alphabet, just like English, except that the letters look different. F is ف, L is ل, N is ن and so forth.

It’s verbs conjugate differently for past and present like the romance languages.

And it has a vocabulary that is initially hard to pick up, but gets easier the more words you know. (E.g. if you know “rain,” the word “raincoat” becomes easy to remember.)

Even the fact that it’s written backwards isn’t that weird anymore. It’s not groundbreaking, it’s just how it is.

That unintelligible world? It makes a little more sense now. Not to mention, whenever I speak even a word of it, I get this reaction from native speakers:

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What UX designers do

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I’ve been asked what a UX designer does for the past 4 years, so I decided to list out the answer to “but what does that mean?”

  • we work with project managers, researchers and engineers to figure out what users need and why
  • we figure out what how and where users can access what they need by sketching, wireframing, listening
  • we drink a lot of coffee
  • we design interaction patterns that work with the target platform, product, branding, etc
  • we prototype these patterns and test them for usability issues
  • we iterate and fix problems
  • we drink some tea
  • we work with engineers to implement designs through assets, style guides
  • if we work at a large org, we work with lawyers, writers, visual designers, directors, designers on other teams, ux engineers, production designers, translators, accessibility-experts and program managers to make sure our work is aligned with everything else
  • if we work at a startup, (mostly likely) we are the researcher, the designer, the prototyper, the project manager and, occasionally, even the engineer
  • we look at everything for inspiration – design blogs, architecture, mechanical objects, fashion, app stores and bookmark what we find in our brains or in a folder somewhere
  • we occasionally can’t think of good blog post topics and end up blogging about this