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Kathleen Namgung, Product Designer

September 2020

Article

Spotify Design Team

To showcase our band members, every now and then we put a Spotifier in the limelight. Today's headliner is Kathleen Namgung, Product Designer for the Marketplace team in New York. Put on your headphones, hit play, and read along!

Questions & Answers

Why are you a designer?

I started off pursuing dental school - two years into undergrad assisting at a laboratory and shadowing dentists, I realized it wasn’t what I was passionate about and set off to find a craft that would bring me excitement. 

I love that design motivates me to stay curious - I get the opportunity every day to think about how I can make a difference, even on the smallest scale, through creative problem-solving. What initially drew me to design was how robust and multi-dimensional the process was, and that’s still the one thing that excites me today.

Describe your job at Spotify without using the words "design" or "designer."

Our team strives to create an experience that helps the creators of our platform put their best foot forward. My role is to listen and advocate for our users, using empathy and creativity to make sure that we’re supporting our creators in a meaningful way.

Show us a picture of your desk, and explain why it looks how it does.

1. Notebook and paper:  It is a literal mess in here - I do everything from doodling, to taking notes, to my grocery list. I don’t know what it is about using pen and paper but I just always have to have a notebook nearby. The one that I’m currently using is from 7115 by Szeki.

2. Double-walled mug: This one is made by Troy Yoshimoto, a Brooklyn-based ceramicist. My favorite tea is Puer tea.

3. Pineapple light: Because it’s summer. I’ll replace this with a Christmas tree after Halloween.

4. iPad:  I mainly use this for illustrations. I’m trying to get back into drawing more this year, but I’ve also been using it to play Among Us (find it in the app store) with my friends lately. If you haven’t already, definitely check it out - it’s a great quarantine game.

5. Fan: It’s been hot, but excited for fall!

6. Books and magazine: Things I’m currently reading. I would highly highly recommend Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez, it’s a book bringing awareness to how data bias can result in a world designed for men.

7. Earbuds with cord: I can never get Bluetooth earbuds to connect in a reasonable amount of time before meetings so dug these out of the bottom of my drawers to use.

Tell us about a time you beat an intimidating design challenge.

Changing the expectations of clients or teams who didn’t have experience working with product designers was a big challenge in my previous job. The lack of understanding would often lead to limited resourcing, which meant I wasn’t given the time required to support thoughtful design solutions for their projects. So a big part of my role as a designer was steering the client towards understanding my role and their own needs. 

Having them participate in my process by inviting them to brainstorms and having open conversations, such as stakeholder interviews, went a long way in giving me the clarity that initial briefs often lacked, and a deeper understanding of design for the client.

Communicating and educating stakeholders and partners as a designer is an important skill as it builds trust and gives design a seat at the table. It’s something I continue to work on at Spotify.

Name three non-designers you feel inspired by when designing.

Eva Chen

I’ve been a huge fan of hers for years. As someone who also identifies as an Asian American woman, it’s really inspiring to have figures like her in positions that need more representation. 

Yuna Kim

Her nickname isn’t Queen Yuna without reason - as a former figure skater, her performances always motivated me to practice harder. But more importantly, it’s hard not to be inspired by her determination and passion in her skating that won Korea’s first Olympic gold medal in women's figure skating.

Phoebe Philo

She’s made a huge impact in the fashion industry during the span of her career with her “back-to-reality”, user-centric approach to fashion. I love that her empathy is clear in her products - by bringing functionality to the forefront, her designs are not only beautiful but designed to empower women to dress for themselves.

What would your self-portrait look like?

Any final shout-outs or things you'd like to share?

Andrew Kung (@andrew_kung)

A Brooklyn-based photographer, who recently released a new photo series called To be Seen — a project that challenges the stereotype that Asian Americans are a monolith by showcasing the different types of beauty and individuality of AAs. This topic is especially near and dear to me so please check it out!

Also really want to shout out Tamara Hilmes, my current manager for being an amazing mentor and partner during my time here at Spotify.  

You can find me @namgung.yoon on Instagram, I mostly post about my rabbits.

Credits

Spotify Design Team

We're a cross-disciplinary team of people who love to create great experiences and make meaningful connections between listeners and creators.

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