Interview with Ji Su Hiatt, Experience Designer at Capital One

Jun 15, 2016


Ji Su Hiatt is a UX Designer and graduate of the Jet Cohort. Joining us from Richmond, VA, Ji Su returned home shortly after graduating, landing a job as an Experience Designer at Capital One.

  Where are you now working, and what is your job title? I’m an Experience Designer at Capital One.


Tell us a little bit about your new job! I’m doing user experience and interaction design for Capital One’s commercial bank. The project I’m working on right now is an online channel we’re going to offer to our commercial clients. Commercial bank has not had a digital presence, so there is a lot of work to be done! I’ve been really impressed with both Capital One’s overall culture and their design culture. We have many different design teams with around 250 designers total across Capital One (including the Adaptive Path designers in SF). Every Thursday we have an event called “What’s Up Thursday (aka WUT!?)” and hold a massive video conference with all 250 designers, where we share our latest projects or design inspiration. It’s pretty cool!


How would you describe the Designation experience? I’d say it was challenging, but personally it was also exhausting (physically and mentally)! On top of the 12-13 hour days every day, I was also pregnant with my son, which probably didn’t help with the exhaustion. A lot of people ask me how I did that while being pregnant, and in retrospect I wonder the same thing, but I think this actually made me more determined for many different reasons. But also because of how hard it was, it made it so much more rewarding later every time I got a freelance gig or a job offer.


What was the most interesting or useful thing you learned during the cohort? The most interesting thing I learned was that even though there is a design process that we all generally follow, you have to be comfortable with the fact that there will always be some ambiguity. Which research and ideation methods you should use depends on the situation, and there is no same set list of steps that you always follow or a “perfect” answer. This was probably one of the more uncomfortable parts for me, because my formal background is in biomedical science and when I’m doing experiments, there are usually protocols I could look up with step by step instructions, what exact results to look for, and I could quantify my results more straightforwardly. It was hard to deal with that ambiguity when we were first in the project phase of the program, but like any other skill you learn in life, it gets much better with practice and as you learn about yourself as a designer. You eventually develop your own unique process that works for you and for how you best come up with insights.


What are the people at Designation like (including staff, instructor and fellow students)? The staff and instructors are great— they are approachable, knowledgeable, and want to see you succeed. I still reach out to Mike all the time regarding my job search journey and ask him for wisdom. There is a good mix of different personalities between the students, but it’s cool to see the camaraderie form over the course of the several weeks you are there, because you’re all doing this hard thing together.


What were you doing before you came to Designation? I worked in a neurobiology lab— we studied several molecular pathways and neuronal networks involved in appetite and satiety. If you’ve ever wondered why you feel so sleepy after eating a huge Thanksgiving meal, that’s what we were trying to find out.


How did you hear about Designation, and why did you decide to come? Originally I was researching physical product design or industrial design programs given my background in science and interest in engineering. As I was researching these programs, I learned more about user experience design and interaction design. I loved that this field is a combination of psychology, business strategy, and anthropology all in addition to visual design, making it a truly multidisciplinary field. UX and interaction design are relevant to a broad spectrum of products, from physical to digital. I always thought it’d be so cool to go into tech and launch innovative startups, plus this industry is the place to be for jobs because of how fast technology is growing right now. I decided I would focus on digital products first.

So deciding on a digital path led me to look into bootcamps. A bootcamp was more affordable for me than a full-on master’s program, and much shorter, which made it a safer way to try out a whole new industry for me. Most of the bootcamps I found were coding focused, but I wanted to find one that was focused more on design while still letting me get some exposure to code. When I found Designation in a Google search and it seemed to hit those criteria, I applied and interviewed with Will. It sounded like it was worth a shot. Also, Chicago is awesome!

“There is a good mix of different personalities between the students, but it’s cool to see the camaraderie form over the course of the several weeks you are there, because you’re all doing this hard thing together.”

How did Designation help prepare you for your new role? Anyone can learn about the fundamentals of design in other settings. But at Designation we were given a chance to actually apply these principles in projects, which helped us learn to speak intelligently about design. Being here also provided me experience with working on a team and having critiques and design reviews, which are all important to have when you go into a design role.


What was your favorite part of the Designation experience? I think my favorite part were the design critiques (formal or informal)— probably kind of a weird thing to like, but it’s true. I learn best by doing and then reviewing my work with others. I receive constructive feedback but it also forces me to learn how to back up my design decisions. I also loved hearing my peers’ presentations and learning from them.


What advice would you give to someone who was trying to break into the industry? 1. If you’re coming from another industry, you can always leverage your past experience and transitional skills if you practice articulating how they’re useful. Don’t think you have nothing to offer as a newbie.

  1. Your portfolio is important— it is what initiates those first conversations with hiring managers. Don’t slack off on this and get it done.

  2. If you’re a woman and/or you’re family-oriented, don’t be afraid to go into tech!

  3. Adopt a growth mindset. You can learn these skills (and anything you want) if you give it enough time and practice.

Also, I’m happy to talk to anyone about my experiences in more detail if they have any more questions. Just reach out!

Take the leap

Join an upcoming cohort and make the best change of your career.