Design Leader Insights - Risa Hiyama

January 16, 2023

Alex Smith: Hi Risa thanks so much for joining the show today. To get started, can you tell the audience a little bit about your background and history in UX design?

Risa Hiyama: Hi, I'm Risa, I'm Japanese. And now I'm based in LA. In terms of design background, I didn't graduate design school, so I learned how to product design through internships. So while in school, since I was freshmen, I think, I took a lot of internship opportunities. And the first company I joined was Yahoo, Japan. As I mentioned, I'm Japanese. I came to America two years ago. So my experience in tech is mostly in Japan. After Yahoo I joined several startups. So I'm deep in the startup world. Most recently I joined Netflix. So it's a little bit different in terms of size and scale, but  I've been doing this more than six years now, and I'm in love with this industry and the world of product design. 

Alex Smith: Nice love to hear that. I think something that's interesting. You mentioned startups and then you mentioned Netflix, which was a startup a long time ago, but now as a giant company. What's the difference for designers working maybe in mindset of working out like, you know, I don't know how big the startups you were at are, but going from a startup to an enterprise company. How do you think about that? 

Risa Hiyama: I think the biggest difference between big company versus startup is the, the amount of variety of work you need to do. So when I joined Yahoo, I thought I was doing like product design, but actually I was only doing UI design. And I didn't really realize that until I left Yahoo Japan, because after Yahoo Japan, I joined a company of five people and I was the only designer there. So I, I had to do everything. So not just UI, but UX and user research, marketing, branding, just even coming up with a product. When I joined, we didn't have a product. So I had to partner up with the CEO to really bring his vision to life.  So it was a lot of the things that I didn't do at a big company, because there was someone else doing it for me.

Alex Smith: How has collaboration driven between what I imagined to be a pretty large design team?

Risa Hiyama: Yeah. So I think the first, the first thing we need to do to understand each other is like, what is our role? So this is my first time collaborating with design ops. For me, I didn't know when to include them. Because I'm used to, you know, setting workshops and thinking about collaboration as a designer. I always thought that's like a part of designers role it's designing partnership is a part of designers role. Improving design process is a designer's role, but Netflix on design opps will help us through that initiative. So, one of the things I love, what they did for me was that they set up a one-on-one with me and they literally like showed me their job description. And they're like, okay, this is why I'm here. These are the things I've done in the past. And I was like, oh, okay. So I'm not alone. I can like depend on them when I'm doing these, going through these struggles. So first of all like, understanding why we're here and how it can help each other, I think is the number one thing. Same for content designers. I've never worked with them before, but they have like a whole deck talking about,  we're just, we're not copywriters. We're here to design the voice of the product. So that was really interesting. 

Alex Smith: Risa, one of the things that's interesting cause you're at Netflix, which is something that I think is a great product at telling stories, but you're also interested in becoming a better storyteller yourself and taking that to an effective medium for designers. Tell me about that. How should designers use storytelling effectively? 

Risa Hiyama: I think one of the things I've struggled a lot with was I have great, well I think I have great ideas, but sometimes I struggle to convince the room to listen to me, or at least I felt that way. And so I was like, well, why aren't people listening to me? There was so many situations where I would like, say something, right? And then the conversation just goes on. And then the next meeting, the week after that, somebody says in my mind, the exact same thing. And then people listen, that was like, what is happening here? So I think, I think there's some research done where like, what you say is 20%, how you say is 80%. So I think as a designer to become truly impactful, you need to be a good storyteller. And one of the things I noticed right off the bat after joining Netflix is how great everybody is at storytelling. I think because of  the nature of Netflix, like everybody really values storytelling. And so, yeah, I've been learning a lot. Like for example, I've hosted a workshop around team gratitude because we found out that some folks were burnt out. So we were like, okay, let's set this team gratitude workshop. And if it was me before I would've just done, you know, started that and then like make people awkwardly post it to one another. But what I did differently was I set up the stage I spent like five minutes talking about why it's important  for us to thank each other. What's the emotional impact we have through gratitude and also like showed some like roadmap and our initiative in terms of like how we want to continue to work on team collaboration and gratitude. 

Alex Smith: You're also getting into mentorship, which I think is awesome, right? There's, there's tons of resources for that. And obviously, you know, a lot of designers I see, want to want to help out new entrances in the field.Can you tell us a little bit about that? 

Risa Hiyama: Yeah. So I started to mentor about two years ago and the reason why I started it was because, a couple of reasons. One was because I was at a startup and I didn't have anybody to mentor within the company. So I wanted to grow that part of skill, right?. Like mentoring and coaching. So I signed up for ADP List where I get to mentor people from all over the world. So that was one reason. And then the second reason is because when I was in Japan and I had a dream of working in the United States, I didn't really have a role model. So I wanted to be more proactive in the design community so that folks who are struggling with the same challenges can get some guidance. So I started a YouTube channel where I could share, you know, contents around whiteboard challenge and actually share my screen and walk through how I approached whiteboard challenges. And if you want to check out my

YouTube channel, it's RisaPizza and I talk about product and tech.

Alex Smith: Awesome. Yeah, I think that's a great way of sharing the knowledge beyond just one-on-ones and yeah, a lot of those questions are going to be the same for new entrance in the field. So that's a great idea. So Risa, I know you moved from Japan to the U.S how has Japanese design, which I think a lot of us look up to, kind of different or inspiring how you're designing these days?

Risa Hiyama: I think Japan is interesting because when you think of like historical culture, it's very like focused on minimalism right? So in Japan there's a culture of, I don't trust this product if it doesn't have information. Like they associate trust with the amount of information. So when I was designing a Yahoo transit app, which is the equivalent of Google Map, in Japan it looked like a dictionary. Overwhelming text. But as I did some user interviews, they were like, oh no, like this is okay. I want to see everything in one screen. And they were like, I need to know the time I need to know the, the crowdedness, like I need to know everything. So that's why it ended up being like a, such a dense, dense screen. And you could say the same thing for landscape too. If you go to Shibuya, the center of Tokyo. If you look at the city, you see all these ads, like overwhelming ads on the building like windows and it's very different culture. And I think there's two reasons. One is that Japan is dense. Like there's a lot of people living in such a small place, so they're used to the density. And then the second thing I think is that they associate density with trust. So it's really interesting to know how culture affects UI and products.  And especially when you are designing for a global audience like Netflix it's really important to be considerate of that, because you know, when you're onboarding a user to the product and making them log in, like maybe the amount of information we need to show differs from us audience and Japanese audience.

Alex Smith: I love that. That's fascinating and Risa, thanks so much for being on the show today. 

Risa Hiyama: Thank you so much for having me. I love talking to people in our industry and sharing whatever that might be interesting to folks.

Alex Smith: Absolutely, thanks for coming on.