Designers, Interviews

Balancing the Grind With Sarah Tan, Visual Designer at ustwo

September 5, 2019

Sarah Tan is a Visual Designer at ustwo, a global digital product studio, with locations based in New York, Malmö, London and Sydney.

She is also the Founder of Happy Ever Alter, a startup which aims to spread happiness and positive thinking through design.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your background and career?

I was born and raised in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Growing up, I really enjoy drawing with colour pencils and crayons.

When I was 13 years old, my sister showed me how to use Adobe Photoshop, it blew my mind and I have been graphic designing ever since!

After college, I moved to Melbourne to study Communication Design. After graduating, I got a job at Google as a Designer through the Creative Lab 5 program in Sydney.

I spent a year at Google Creative Lab innovating and experimenting with new technologies, figuring out how we can highlight Google’s technologies creatively in the arts space, it was a pretty crazy experience for a first job out of university!

Through that experience, I learned how to work with the ambiguity of emerging technologies and creating immersive experiences.

During my year at Google, I worked mostly on Augmented Reality (AR) projects and I fell in love with the technology because I am intrigued at how you can reveal or augment things in the real world with just your phone.

After Google, I got a job as a Visual Designer at ustwo, a global digital product studio.

At the moment, I consider myself as a multidisciplinary designer with skills in illustration, graphic design and developing AR/VR experiences as seen from my portfolio. I am interested to move into the Creative Technology space in the future!

Recently, I did a side project using an Opal card (Sydney’s transport card) to bring up Sydney’s train map with AR, inspired by times when I needed to see a train map to check where I am going but there’s none around.

It went viral on LinkedIn and it was featured in Australian News on TV. It was a career defining moment for me.

2) What is your current role and what does it entail on a day to day basis?

My current role is a Visual Designer at ustwo. My day to day consist of designing visual materials, working on some clients’ projects, developing and designing AR prototypes, experimenting and doing research on immersive technologies.

On top of work, I try my best to upskill in other skills like coding and 3D modelling to help with my role.

3) What does a typical day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

Firstly, I would start off by making a good cup of coffee to power me through the day.

If I have a project going on, I would have a stand up in the morning with my team to align our daily goals and work on them for the rest of the day.

For most days, I would design visual materials or help develop AR experiences for the studio. On the side, I would keep up to date with recent news in the immersive space and study the latest design trends to expand my knowledge.

4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you manage your workload and schedule?

For big workloads, I would break them down further into smaller tasks and make them as actionable as possible. To aid with that, I create Trello boards to organise my priorities and Google Calendar to manage my time and remind me of deadlines.

Testing and prototyping an AR experience at ustwo.

5) In between your job, life and all your other responsibilities, how do you ensure you find some sort of balance in your life?

I make sure to find balance by taking the time to spend with people I love and doing physical crafts I am passionate about like crochet and watercolour.

I also like to travel and do things outside my comfort zone like skateboarding and signing up for random classes to learn new things.

When I feel overwhelmed with work and life, I would carve out some time for myself to step back and reflect, I do that by journaling in a cafe or reading a book with a good cup of coffee!

On the side, I run a business called Happy Ever Alter where I aim to spread happiness through products I designed featuring encouraging puns. Doing this allows me to explore my style freely and create without restrictions.

6) What does work life balance mean to you?

Work life balance is important to me as a creative, because I find it difficult to come up with creative ideas when I’m burnt out or overworked. I find that I am most productive when I have a good work life balance.

Other than that, work life balance is also important to remind myself of the bigger things in life like cultivating relationships with people.

Work life balance is still something I hope to improve on as I admit that I am a workaholic! I always remind myself that career is but not a race but a marathon and learning is a continuous journey.

7) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?

One of the best habits I’ve developed is to have more focus towards a few specific goals I want to achieve. Previously, I would have a lot of things I want to do that I spread myself too thinly.

As a result, I would be burnt out really quickly and get sick often. From that experience, I’ve learned that it is important to have a balance and trust your gut feeling before committing to certain opportunities.

I also learned that it is important to have a clear and executable plan for your goals to achieve the success you want. It is great to have a clear plan so it’ll be easier to follow through with it.

I find that it is also important to set realistic goals so that you won’t feel overwhelmed about it.

8) Are there any books on work life balance that have helped you over the years?

A book that helped me was Barking Up the Wrong Tree by Eric Baker, it is not a book about work life balance but it is about the science of success. It has helped me by showing how I should divert my energy and develop a positive mindset towards success.

I also like a book called The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman, it has helped me understand the bigger picture in life to keep me grounded, stay true to my values, and not get carried away with chasing success.

9) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

I would start off my day by making a list of things I need to do each day and tick them off after I completed them, it gives a structure to my day and keeps me on track.

10) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

  • Never lose sight of what is important in life and things that brings you joy amidst the stresses of work and life. Enjoy the ride!
  • Don’t confuse motion with progress.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself as we are all humans trying our best to learn and navigate around this big world filled with infinite possibilities. It is important to always be grateful and celebrate your wins!

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