Elsie Ng

Elsie Ng — Ripple

Product Designer from Toronto, working at Ripple in San Francisco. Loves bouldering and collecting old, obscure, retro video games.

What led you into design?

It was a complete accident. I was interested in animation and cartoons when I was a child. I drew on my parents' walls and made little flipbook animations in all my school notebooks. I was lucky enough to have Internet access and spent an inordinate amount of time looking at the source code of the websites I visited which eventually lead me to create my own websites in order to share my cartoons.

After years of creating sites for myself and friends, my mom showed me a "new media" design program at York University in Toronto that looked interesting so I applied. At the time I had a very backward idea of what "design" was. I thought it was all about the art so I showed up with some really awful mock posters and advertising campaigns. Somehow I was accepted but I suspect it was all of those websites I had created.

After being accepted, I signed up for my classes a little late (like every responsible adult) and all that was left was interactivity design courses. This turned out to be the best mistake I ever made because it allowed me to discover UX and product design which helped me land a job immediately after graduating.

What does a typical day look like?

Typically I wake up at 6am and go to the bouldering gym or out for a run. Once I am done I shower, brush my teeth, feed the cat, then head out for my 30-minute walk to work. I really value my commute walk because it allows me to slow down and digest things that are not work-related. Maybe there is a problem I am having trouble solving that I need to take a step back and think about.

Once I've gotten to the office, I'll grab breakfast which is typically a coffee and two hard-boiled eggs. Then I start by checking my emails for anything urgent that came up overnight that I need to address. Using my Hobonichi day planner, I create a list of tasks that I want to complete by the end of the day.

Generally, I am at my desk working on the latest feature to come down the pipeline, with the inevitable meetings interspersed throughout the day. A trip to the nearby Blue Bottle with the team breaks up the afternoon before I leave work typically around 5 or 6 pm. After walking home I quickly feed the cat then myself and settle down for the day.

My evenings are usually spent watching TV with my partner, drawing on my iPad, or playing and making video games. After playing with the cat to drain her of her demon energy, I’ll head to bed around 10 pm and read on my Kindle until lights out. I am currently reading Matchmakers: The New Economics of Multisided Platforms which I would highly recommend.

What’s your workstation setup?

Where do you go to get inspired?

As I mentioned earlier, I really value my walk to work because it forces me to be introspective. I often get stuck moving too fast, so allowing myself to take that time to slow down and become lost in my own thoughts is very valuable.

I try to take walks around the neighborhood, go to bookstores, or really try anything other than doing design work. Inspiration always comes to me when I am not actively looking for it. I particularly enjoy looking at interior design, architecture, and the design of physical objects. There is a lot to learn from our reality that can be applied to the digital one.

I also haven’t forgotten my animation roots and look towards animated films and shorts for inspiration, in particular anything from Pixar. Somehow they are able to get an audience emotionally invested in a story in under 10 minutes without any words.

What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?

The Xbox Adaptive Controller is one product that really exemplifies what I value in design. On the surface, it is just a white slab with track pads and a bunch of jacks and ports. But upon closer inspection, the jacks are all inputs mapped to individual button controls you might find on a standard controller. That means that impaired gamers are able to fully customize their control scheme with whatever assistive devices they need.

The designers have clearly asked members of the community about their needs before designing something that requires a great deal of nuance. It's adaptable, accessible, extensible, and ultimately usable by the people who really need it. Even the packaging is designed with accessibility in mind!

I have also been obsessed with the design of Nike's Adapt BB shoe. I love the silhouette of it and adore what Nike is trying to do with its self-lacing technology. It is quite something that Nike was able to fit a self-lacing motor in the shoe and ensure it does not break under significant wear. To think that the idea from Back To The Future is now viable in today's sneakers is amazing.

What pieces of work are you most proud of?

My favorite project ever has got to be the time I worked on Twitch's digital currency: Bits. The goal of the project was to create a super easy way for viewers of a stream to show their support with a monetary gift while keeping up with the busy activity in the chatroom. It was very fun to conceptualize different ideas for how to make payments easy within the context of Twitch.

I landed on the idea of a chat widget that gets invoked upon typing a keyword like "giveBits" or "cheer" followed by the amount to send. The widget would update the visualization in real time as you typed a number and it would also tell you if you were trying to send more Bits than you had in your wallet. This way the experience was contained and you never missed a chat message. I was definitely able to flex my prototyping skills for this project as the interactions were very nuanced and it was important to get a feel for how it actually worked.

I have always been an advocate for Design Systems and documentation. One of the biggest ongoing design projects at Ripple is the Component Library used for all of Ripple's products. As we scale it is becoming important for us to keep a well documented single source of truth so that we can ensure consistency across our products. It has also helped to create a shared language between product design and front-end engineering. Every day I look forward to building it out even further.

What design challenges do you face at your company?

As John Oliver once said, cryptocurrency is "everything you don't understand about money combined with everything you don't understand about computers". One of the biggest hurdles at Ripple is the technicality and ambiguity of the underlying technology being used on top of the industry expertise required to understand how best to serve our customers. People are often confused or misinformed about what blockchain is, how it works, what it can do, and how it can be beneficial. We are lucky enough to be in such a nascent space that allows us to explore the boundaries of what the technology can do and it's exciting to have a real use case for it. As such it is our job to communicate what blockchain and cryptocurrency can do by showing the value of it as a real product, and that is not easy.

What music do you listen to whilst designing?

Any advice for ambitious designers?

Stay humble! We're all at different parts of our careers but there is always something to learn or improve. Learn how to give and receive feedback in a constructive manner. Try not to get caught up in the toxicity that can sometimes arise from design feedback. We're all just trying to build the best products possible and it's important to always check our assumptions about the world and our work.

Also, don't stop learning anything and everything! Learn to code or don't learn to code, it's up to you! But if you do decide to learn because you think it’s fun and not because someone said you should. Learning topics outside of design and technology can also potentially be beneficial to you. Maybe you read something about ants and now suddenly you have a passion for designing ant farms or they inspire you to design a neat visualization. You never really know what you'll get inspired by.

Anything you want to promote or plug?

Ripple is probably hiring. The most reliable way to find me is at my little slice of the internet at elsie.ng. I also stream video games and game development on Twitch if you're into that sort of thing.

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