MATRIX Employee Spotlight: Julianna Chin
Written by: Jennifer Bradley
Julianna Chin is a Senior UX/UI Architect who came to MATRIX after an 18-year career with Disney. Read her fascinating story of how she worked hard to become an accomplished designer after initially going to school for two business degrees.
What’s your story?
I was born and raised in Malaysia. Growing up, I wanted to be an accountant or lawyer or psychologist since my whole family was in business, so I went to university in London to get my Bachelor of Business Administration. Once I graduated, I moved to the United States and decided to get another degree in business. It was a different experience than going to school in London because in England, education cuts to the chase and there are no general education classes the first two years like there are in America. Because of this requirement, I had to sign up for an art class for my program at California State University: Los Angeles. This was really my first attempt at art but my teacher pulled me out of class to ask if I had ever thought about a career in design. Of course I hadn’t, because I was raised with the expectation that I would work in business. After my teacher convinced me that this was something I had a natural talent for, I started taking advanced art classes and really enjoyed it. It became clear to me that art was in my blood so I changed my degree program to Fine Arts with a major in Illustrator. I also attended classes at ArtCenter College of Design to build my portfolio. My mom didn’t want me to pursue art but I decided to do it anyways without telling her since she was paying for my school. She actually didn’t find out until she came in for my graduation and I handed her my yearbook that listed my degree. Fortunately, I had a good job lined up, so she was excited for me.
How did you start your career in design?
Before I graduated, I was lucky to get a job at Disney as a junior designer. I started out as an illustrator designing characters and background design in the international department. I produced educational games and my content was sent to 36 countries to be translated into their languages. A couple years later, I was transferred to the mobile department working on the first generation of Disney mobile apps. I drew Mickey Mouse and other characters by pixel – back then there was no color phone, it was all black and white (my drawings pictured below).
I also worked on web browser applications, and later I worked on product design for Disney which is what you see on shelves at retail stores.
What career decision made you the accomplished designer you are today?
When I started working for Disney, I was very fresh, new to art, and still in school. There were so many experienced people in my department. Keeping up with them was really hard so I would go to work at 5 a.m. and stay until 12 a.m. just trying to learn, learn, learn. I did this schedule for three years. It was the hardest time but it was also the best time because there were so many people willing to teach me and I learned so much. I feel really grateful for this period in my career. I worked with so many talented people and I didn’t want to be better than them, but I wanted to improve myself and be at the same caliber quality. Eventually, I got there.
What do you do outside of work?
You know…eat, sleep. My first priority is my family – my husband and I have an 8-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son. My husband is the principal environment artist at Insomniac Games, so we share a passion for art and creativity. Outside of work and spending time with my family, I love to read books about user behavior and psychology. I also enjoy watching TV, especially forensic crime shows. Whenever I start to get burnt out or my brain cannot function, my creative outlet at home is to create new character designs. So even though design is my job, it’s also what I love to do outside of work, which makes it a very enjoyable career. While some people listen to music to unwind, I like to put my hands down on paper and draw out happy cartoons.
What do you enjoy most about your career?
Problem solving is my favorite part of my career. Growing up, I wanted to be a psychologist because I like human behavior. But when you think about it, design also deals with human behavior. As a designer, I get to help people understand what design is really about. I also enjoy getting to see the final products of what I do; it feels very gratifying.
After working full-time for 12 years, my family moved to Durham, NC and I was a stay-at-home mom for six years doing freelance mobile work for Disney. I wanted to see if there were similar jobs to what I was doing in my area so I posted my resume online. So many recruiters called me and I didn’t call any of them back except for MATRIX. There was something about the MATRIX recruiter who called me – her tone and attitude was very encouraging and it felt like talking to family. After we spoke, I started at MATRIX as a UI/UX Designer working for clients in the Raleigh-Durham area.
What’s your proudest accomplishment?
Working for Disney and creating a lot of content for them. Most of the content I created was on mobile, but when I freelanced for them, I did packaging design. So when I walk into a store and see my design on the shelves, I feel very proud. I am also honored to be the first artist to work on the original Disney mobile apps.
What’s your greatest piece of advice?
As a designer, I would advise other designers to come in a package; meaning, always keep learning and look for criticism, not just praise. Keep learning and sharing, don’t give up. The most important thing for doing design is you have to have the heart for it. You have to feel your work – if you don’t feel your work, no one will feel it, especially the user. Follow your heart and instinct and you will succeed.