We had the good fortune of connecting with Jihae Lee and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jihae, have there been any changes in how you think about work-life balance?
When I was young I rarely cared about work and life balance. I was in a very competitive atmosphere during school days and students rarely slept. Most students kept pushing up the quality of their work and I was one of them. After a few terms, however, my body started to break. My skin from head to toe became so itchy and I kept dropping white tear drops from my left eye, and I had to take medicine. This lifestyle finally caught up to my immune system. I had to stop my studying and go back home. It took me 6 months to get better. I was frustrated at that time, but it gave me time to think about what my priorities were. I was passionate about design, but it wasn’t okay to allow myself to get to the point that it disrupted my life and left me unable to function. If I didn’t care about the balance then no one would. I started to care about both physical and mental wellness. I tried to walk 15 mins during lunch time and make it a priority to have healthy food. I don’t open my laptop during the weekend and use time to just chill out, meet people, and watch Netflix. I haven’t achieved the perfect balance I want, but I’m a lot closer to it than when I was in school.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I think what sets me apart from others is that I actively seek out challenges. I’m a visual experience designer based in San Francisco, and I’ve been working remotely for nearly a year. Visual designers design the interface of screens; mobiles, tablets, laptops and inside vehicle interfaces. I never thought I’d become a visual designer. I majored in product design, and started my career as an industrial designer in South Korea. During my career as an industrial designer, I began to lose my passion for the work. I wanted to find something that I enjoyed and also wanted to push myself into a disciplined environment. This would motivate me to improve and remind me to not be complacent with the status quo. And so, I came to the US and started my journey at ArtCenter College of Design.
My college life in the US was harsh. Most of the classes I had to take had heavy workloads, like they were the only class. Language was also an enormous barrier, so I had to do my best, and take it day by day. During my 6th term, I gained such an interest for UI that I considered changing majors. I had 3 terms left to graduate at that time, and since I was an international student, it was safer for me to stay with the major I had chosen previously and find a job than change my degree. I would have to find an internship after graduation, which was risky as an international student due to the limited time we have to find a job. The rule states that we get sixty days to find a job or leave the country. I weighed my options, but came to the conclusion that I didn’t want to end up in another passionless position. I decided to change my focus of study. From there, all I could do was work hard. Thankfully, I got an internship before graduating.
What I learned from my experience is that it is better to just do it rather than trying to find an easy way out. Failure is not something to be afraid of, but a good opportunity to learn something. You will find the right growth by failing. You will meet someone to help you to achieve your goal. In addition, every experience I had became important ingredients to turning me into the person I am today.
What I want the world to know about UI design is that it’s not just decorating a screen. It can help people with congenital disorders (check project “Hoo”), help reduce environmental impact (check “Airo”), and restore coral marine ecosystems (check project “Glofi”). I’d like to introduce one of my personal projects “Hoo” which is an app for parents who have asthmatic children. Hoo connects with IoT products which help them manage and track their kid’s symptoms easily as well as make it easier to communicate with doctors. The reason why I designed Hoo is because I believe that technology should be equally beneficial for people who have disabilities and my desire is to change the way they interact with technology. The most valuable experience in the process was meeting asthma patients. I could listen to their feedback and learn more about asthma. It was exciting to have the opportunity to help them with my design skills.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
The first place I would take my friend would be Venice Beach. Venice is a beautiful beach. Sometimes the wet sand reflects the sky and clouds so you can take amazing photos. I really enjoy taking pictures of my friends. Before taking a picture, I usually ask my friends to jump and take a moment when their feet are off the ground, so it looks like they are floating in the sky. I would also like to bring my friend to the Art District. To me, the Art District feels like a cozy walkable area. There’s a good vibe and you can find a lot of cool graffiti on the walls. I would recommend visiting Wurstkuche, which has a huge selection of exotic sausages and beers. I won’t forget to take my friend to try truffle potato fries. Those fries are so thick and crunchy and are by far, the best fries I’ve ever had in LA. If they like ice cream, I would take them to Salt & Straw.
On the last day of the trip, I would bring my friend to the Griffith Observatory, right before sunset. It has a nice view of LA and the sky starts to get dyed into a pink and orange tone, during the sunset, which is breathtaking. I think the Observatory is the perfect place to finish the trip.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I wouldn’t be who I am today if it weren’t for the people surrounding me. First, I’d love to shout out to my family, who has supported me in every step of my life, even when it seemed like a risky decision. They are my paddies that nourish me to grow up and encourage me to stay strong when I am by myself. My friends are the cheerleaders of my life. They always encourage me no matter what and tell me everything will be fine. I also want to add my mentors to this list who have given me incredible career and life advice. Thanks all!