From Essential UX Resources to SaaS Design: Kun's Journey as a UX Designer

William Brodlo
Marketing & Design Associate
Read Time
10 min read
Published On
March 14, 2024

Today, we're delighted to present an interview with Kun Yang-Tolkachev, a talented and dedicated UX Designer on our team. Kun's expertise in complex problem-solving consistently makes a lasting impact on the products she contributes to. Her journey in UX Design is inspiring, and we're thrilled to share her insights and experiences with our readers.

Background and Career

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got started in your career?

Hello, I’m Kun, a UX Designer at Perpetual. I joined Perpetual in December of 2021, so I’ve been with the team for almost two and a half years!

I got a Bachelor of Science in Urban Planning and then decided to pursue my Master of Science in Urban Planning at Columbia University in the City of New York.

My passion for User Experience Design comes from my interest in human psychology. When I was studying Urban Planning, I was always researching how a built environment can affect one’s mood and behavior, like how a well-designed park can promote feelings of happiness. Similarly, UX utilizes many of the same considerations but channels them through how a virtual environment can affect its users. UX aligns well with my interest in the relationship between space and psychology.

Once I realized I had a passion for UX Design, I started exploring how to learn more about it. I initially got to know about UX from my friends, some of whom work in this field, and my husband, who is a full-stack engineer. We would sometimes talk about problems they are trying to solve through system design or a particular workflow, and I found those really fascinating.

Before I took a bootcamp that helped me transition into the field, I talked to many people who work in this industry and tried to gather as much information as I could. I wanted to understand the full scope of the field, what it entails, and what kind of effort it takes to become a full-fledged UX Designer. I found it to be a good fit for me because of the systematic thinking and problem-solving skills I gained back from my urban planning years, so I decided to give it a try. In the bootcamp, I was able to work on a few projects with real-world clients, but I would say most of my education before Perpetual in the world of UX was gathered through trusted thought leaders in the design industry.

These learnings helped me work with New York Women in Business, a non-profit, where I was hired as a freelance user experience consultant. There I got to work on different aspects of the UX and digital ecosystem, with projects like site audits, SEO solutions, and recommendations on how to gain more users.

Then I came to Perpetual! After finding a job listing on their website, I was really impressed with Perpetual and their case studies and I found their approach to UX Research and Design well-rounded. From the case studies, I found that the designers at Perpetual seek out users' major pain points and apply human-centered solutions to them. I also always wanted to work in a fast-paced start-up environment and get exposed to projects from different industries, so I found Perpetual a desirable place to work.

Q: What is your main focus area as a designer?

In regard to my skills and expertise, my main product focus has been on designing SaaS products. I’ve primarily been able to work with building these types of products at Perpetual. For my specialization in the UX Field, I have been fascinated with design systems, Information Architecture, and workflow optimizations.

Q: What is a fun fact about yourself?

A fun fact about me is that I really enjoy rock climbing! I’ve been told that people do not assume that I am adventurous and sporty, but that is not the case!

The type of rock climbing I practice is called “bouldering”, it is when you do not have any of the typical gear like a harness but you are not very high off from the ground so it is safe! I like it because it involves a lot of problem-solving, like UX!

In UX, designers have to think about technology constraints or limited project resources and find solutions that work for the client and users. Bouldering is limited in the sense that there are not many spots for your feet and hands to hold onto, but you need to be creative in the moves you make. There is a level of risk-taking to bouldering that I enjoy, it teaches me that sometimes you just have to give something a try!

Q: What challenges did you face along the way, and how did you overcome them?

I’d say the biggest challenge I faced breaking into the industry was not having a formal education in Human Computer Interaction. There were a lot of bootcamp graduates at the time and the market was very saturated, leaving fewer opportunities.

My solution to this was taking all the experiences I could find. I was taking the time to hone and develop my skills. I also knew it was important to keep up with industry changes through podcasts and books. It is important to be self-motivated and diligent about your learning.

Q: Can you tell us about your favorite projects or experiences as a UX Designer at Perpetual?

I believe my favorite project that I’ve worked on at Perpetual as a UX Designer was an assessment platform for organizational cultural maturity. What I liked specifically about this project was that it was hyper-specific to its industry. As a UX Designer, you can go into a field that you have no experience or background knowledge in, but as you do user research you learn more about the users and enter a whole new world. It keeps your mind sharp.

With projects like this, you are not applying the same template over and over, you are being pragmatic and using your knowledge in case-by-case situations.

Another aspect of this project I enjoyed was optimizing the efficiency of the user’s work. They are employees rather than customers, so we are not trying to keep the customer on the site for as long as possible, but rather trying to speed up the employee’s workflow. For this, a designer needs to provide the most intuitive solution to the employees through the interface.

In general, I’d say I have a passion for optimization. Solving complex use cases and dissecting a problem is really interesting to me.

Current Work

Q: What does the collaboration process look like with other team members including developers, product managers, and other designers?

The collaboration process more or less follows the lifecycle of design.

First, we have the discovery phase. It is mostly a collaboration between the Product Manager and the other UX Designers assigned to the project. We do a lot of user research, get insights from user interviews, and think of data-driven solutions.

Then in the design phase, there are mostly brainstorming sessions and working with the client on user needs, goals, and challenges. Working with other designers and the Product Manager, we take all these insights and findings to come up with solutions.

Finally, we have the implementation phase where there is a lot of engagement with developers. The designer’s role here is to provide good documentation of the design that communicates their ideas and their perspective to the development team. This can include Figma screens, Notion manuals, guidelines, feature walkthrough recordings, etc. Separately, Quality Assurance (QA) is so important, we are taking what the developer has built and verifying the consistency with the approved designs. This collaboration is important because we need to make sure visual and functional deviations are corrected.

Q: What part of a typical project do you find the most exciting?

The part of a typical project that I find the most exciting would be the brainstorming of solutions; I enjoy the collaborative aspect of the work here with other designers and Product Managers. Usually, we will do timed exercises for these brainstorming sessions. This is the time when the creative juices are flowing and the ideas start to pour out!

It is helpful to walk into a brainstorming session with a good understanding of user needs so that the ideas you come up with are pragmatic and helpful. We take what we learned in the research phase, the interview data points, pain points, current product restraints, and feature requirements and figure out how to make the solution better considering these different factors. It is important to think about the whole Information Architecture of the product, specific features, or different workflows during these sessions.

Q: What are some typical responsibilities of a UX Designer that often get overlooked?

Something that seems to be missing or underrepresented as a part of UX Design for new designers is the QA process. A UX Designer must ensure both visual and functional consistency. We need to make sure that the process is end-to-end, designers should be working throughout the whole project not just handing off their designs to developers. This helps guarantee quality in the products you are working on.

Industry Insights

Q: As a UX Designer, how do you stay informed about industry developments and best practices? Are there any resources or communities you find particularly valuable for professional growth?

Like I mentioned above most of my learning came from different sources like UDemy courses, the Figma community, and Adobe XD when it was still the leading tool. I used to go to their office hours and watch videos to stay up-to-date. Our team is great at sharing cutting-edge resources in our different Slack channels dedicated to industry-relevant technology updates. We also have internal Design Catch-ups for our team to share information and learning as well! I’ve learned a lot in these Design Catch-ups, I’ve probably attended well over 100 at this point!

My manager, Matthew Kast, has also been an invaluable wealth of information during my time at Perpetual. His experience and knowledge have helped me strengthen my design skills and ask the right questions. All of the mentors I’ve had at Perpetual have really helped me cultivate my craft and taught me so much over the past 2.5 years!

Also, I cannot recommend the NN/g website and podcast enough! They are leaders in the industry and all designers should go to their website to keep up with what they are putting out!

Some other UX-related podcasts I’ve listened to are:

What I like about podcasts is that our time might be too fragmented to sit down with a book, so you can listen to a podcast or audiobook and still get great insights!

Q: What new trends or changes in UX Design do you think will have a big impact in the near future?

These days, I’ve been thinking a lot about designing for Artificial Intelligence. AI is everywhere, but I’ve noticed 3 major patterns I want to point out.

1. Generative AI

We have generative AI that is based on the idea that a user provides and the system provides an output. The relationship to UX here is more about how the system understands the user or the input. Do we need to have more guided experiences? For example, with image generators there is often a text prompt, but by incorporating predetermined options like mood, style, etc. we can guide the user to a more specialized result.

2. Task Augmentation

We have AI that helps you complete tasks quicker or gives you more details on tasks that may seem tedious to do. Notion and Grammarly both have recently come out with AI integrations that help you write. You are also able to change the tone of your writing. We want to make sure that these experiences are more user-friendly.

3. Behind-the-scenes

AI is being used to gather behavioral information on apps and platforms. Major companies like YouTube and Spotify are leading this practice. Spotify specifically has a new feature called “DJ” that takes your listening history and recommended songs that you would enjoy listening to, the recommendations are made based on machine learning. How does a UX Designer design for this experience?

Q: In your opinion, what are some current challenges or opportunities within the UX Design industry?

A challenge that I’ve noticed within the industry is the balance between novelty and usability. We have physical tools like Apple’s Vision Pro that involve augmented/virtual reality spaces. While it is innovative in many ways, VR is not something people haven’t seen before. Do we design with a mindset toward revolution or familiarity? Figuring out this balance will help keep users able to navigate tech as it continues to evolve.

I’d also say generally that the tech industry needs more ethical design processes. A personalized experience usually means gathering more data from users, but we to figure out how much data collection is too far and find a sweet spot. Users can feel like an app is designed just for them which is great, but the other side of that can become malicious.

Advice and Tips

Q: What advice or tips do you have for aspiring UX Designers?

In today’s environment, it can be seen as a winter for tech. There are large company layoffs going on and a lot of these people who have great experience are still getting laid off and having trouble finding work.

That being said, be diligent! Keep persevering. Try to improve your skills and do not give up, through educating yourself and looking for different resources you can become a self-starter.

Q: In your experience, what are some common pitfalls that UX Designers should avoid in their projects?

A pitfall I’ve seen happen is that some designers can forget about the research they’ve done when it gets to the design phase. It is important to let the research inform the design, you already did the work so do not let it take a back seat. We do not do research for the sake of doing it, we do it because it needs to be used for the decision-making in the design. It is crucial to reference the discovery research throughout your design process.

Another pitfall that is easy to run into is overcomplicating the product. As NN/g always says in their podcast “Keep it simple!”, we need to consider whether or not a feature actually needs to be a part of the product. We have to contemplate if it is providing benefit to the user or if it is side-tracking them for their main task.

The final pitfall I’ll mention is when designers design in isolation. It is important to always be in sync with your internal team and external clients. You may make more work for yourself if you try to do it all alone! Do not base your designs on assumptions, always verify before rolling out your designs!

We'd like to thank Kun Yang-Tolkachev for sharing her valuable insights, experiences, and passion for UX Design with us. Kun's breadth of knowledge, determination, and generosity with her curated resources are inspiring, and we look forward to seeing her continued contributions to the world of UX Design. Thank you, Kun, for sharing your insights and experience with us!