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Lisa Yong is research director and cofounder of Y Studios, a San Francisco-based industrial design and research firm known for creating groundbreaking, user-friendly tech products. Her expertise lies in working with the most cutting-edge technology of today, harnessing human-robot interaction, artificial intelligence, the internet of things, virtual reality, and augmented reality. Y Studios has innovated products from TiVo to craft coffee brewing, and Little Fish (China’s version of Amazon Echo) to footwear. They reimagined home audio with Sonos Sub speakers, which are now housed in the Henry Ford Museum’s permanent collection.
With over 20 years of experience designing in Asia, Europe, and America, Yong says she draws on her multicultural background to help clients understand how emerging cultural movements affect consumer passions. Y Studios uses a “Culture-Driven Intelligence” approach to tap into innovation, which involves engaging first-hand in immersive cultural excursions. For example, they made a recent San Francisco field trip to help clients understand connecting with Millennials, visiting retail experiences and eclectic neighborhoods, observing trends and tasting foods.
“In a nutshell, we flip design research on its head ,” Yong states. “We take our clients outside their comfort zones to thoroughly understand the new business landscape. This deep-dive research inspires groundbreaking ideas, informs creative development, helps identify new audiences and markets, and ultimately gives our clients a competitive edge.
Yong grew up in multi-ethnic, multi-cultural Singapore, hence she always has had a curiosity for understanding people, cultures, and the world. “I have a deep desire to connect with the why’s of human emotions in order to create useful, beautiful, meaningful products that better fit people’s lives. At Y Studios, I am the idea generator, the sense-maker. I raise the tough questions like, ‘Do people really want this technology? Is this innovation needed? Who exactly is the target market?’” she says.
Having come of age in the company of strong older women—her siblings were decades older, her mother was a businesswoman, and she was taken care of by powerful grandmothers and nannies—Yong enjoys the challenge of overcoming gender stereotypes and breaking through the glass ceiling in a male-dominated field. “As a child, I was immersed in all these women’s stories of hardship, resilience, and overcoming life obstacles,” she says. “The experience helped fortify my empathy, curiosity, and self-awareness. These are the qualities that I treasure most in life, that drive my design research work and have helped give me strength as a woman in tech and design.”
Yong offers these words of advice to other young women looking to succeed in traditionally male-dominated fields.
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER.
Empower yourself to be well informed and knowledgeable on a wide variety of topics. Read more, ask more questions, and form an educated opinion that differentiates you from your peers.
LEARN TO BE SELF-RELIANT AND KNOW YOUR SELF-WORTH.
Level the playing field by working smart, being efficient, and knowing when to negotiate for what you deserve to have: a fulfilling career. True confidence comes with strength balanced with humility.
ALWAYS BE OPEN-MINDED AND STAY CURIOUS ABOUT EVERYTHING.
Have multiple points of reference; avoid the echo chamber of peer opinions. Be open to differing and diverse points of view.
DON’T ACT OR BEHAVE LIKE ‘ONE OF THE BOYS’ JUST TO BE ACCEPTED.
Be your own person, have your own thoughts, be mindful and thoughtful of others. That’s what sets you apart from ‘the old boy network’ or being ‘one of the guys.’ This is what makes you unique. Being different is more than OK – it is beneficial.
TAKE YOURSELF SERIOUSLY.
Learn to listen to your intuition and trust your instincts as a woman. Be the voice of reason and calm in a male-dominated work environment.