Jenny Lam is a co-founder of Jackson Fish Market, a small software startup focused on making beautiful software experiences. The company has shipped over 20 software products in the past 5 years. Their latest product is A Story Before Bed - the first (and only) service that lets parents, grandparents, and children record video of themselves reading children’s books and play it back as often as they like on the Mac, PC, or iPad.
Before Jackson Fish Market, Jenny worked at Microsoft from 2001–2007 as Creative Director of the Windows User Experience team. When she isn’t running her startup, she serves on the board as Experience Director of the AIGA Seattle chapter (the professional association for design) and works with national and local organizations to foster the next generation of creative design talent headed for the tech industry. She was named one of the Top 100 Most Influential Women in Technology by the Puget Sound Business Journal and was awarded Seattle 2.0 Best Startup Designer in 2010. You can follow Jenny on Twitter (@helveticagirl).
In this piece, Jenny answers our questions about her work, how she wound up doing what she does so well and her thoughts about women in tech.
You are a co-founder of Jackson Fish Market. What does your company do?
We are a user experience design consultancy helping companies large and small create beautiful, emotional, usable, and distinctive user experiences. We are also makers of A Story Before Bed which lets parents/grandparents record audio and video of themselves reading a children’s book into their webcam. Kids can play back the recording as often as they like on iPad, iPhone, Mac or PC.
At what point did you first think about working in tech as a career?
Honestly, I had never thought of working in tech until Microsoft came to my design school to conduct interviews at the end of my graduate quarter. I hit a crossroads when I had to decide between two offers: to work for Martha Stewart or Microsoft. I always assumed that I’d be working in NYC in a design firm but when I did my loop at Microsoft, I realized that the future of design was really in tech. In terms of distribution, scale, and form factor, designing for software had way bigger impact than anything I had ever dreamed of. Software is the new canvas for Design. It was a huge epiphany for me.
What did you study in school?
I studied Communications and Business in undergrad and Design in graduate school.
Was your formal education important to get into your field? Or did you learn more on the job?
Both. My Design education gave me the fundamentals of visual and communications design to get into the field but I knew almost nothing about interface and user experience design (UX Design) before working at Microsoft. I was REALLY lucky to be on a team of brilliant designers who trained/mentored me on processes and tools.
Best advice anyone ever gave you about design?
Someone once told me, “The best designers draw from personal experiences. So live life outside design, experience new things, explore. You’ll be a better designer.”
Anything you miss from working at very large tech companies?
At a startup, everyone wears many hats. And it’s something I truly love. But I do miss the access to super specialized people. For example, being able to easily call up the guy who invented ClearType and schedule a meeting with him. Most of all, I miss working with all the excellent people who became such great friends.
You’ve started a Kickstarter campaign. What is that project and what are you hoping to do?
My co-founder and I are huge fans of the Kickstarter platform. We both do a bunch of our gift shopping on the site and it feels really good to be part of a v1 project. The idea that small, creative endeavors can be brought to life by the support of other creative, like-minded people is exciting.
We started a Kickstarter campaign to write a book on creating stand out user experiences. It’s a collection of lessons and inspiration for anyone fighting to make great experiences. We hope the book will arm people with the right arguments and ideas to raise the bar on making things special.
Do you have any suggestions about recruiting/retaining more women working in technology careers?
When I hear discussions about getting more women into Tech, the conversation usually centers around getting more women engineers (which is a great thing!). That said, I think we often overlook that Design plays such a huge role in the products that we build. Of course I am biased J But I think UI/UX design can be a great way to get more women into tech. Women naturally excel at having great empathy for the user and that’s really at the heart of what UX designers do. So how about getting more women UX designers into Tech. And while you’re at it, make them your CEO or Co-Founder.