Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Close Up Interview with Designer Erica Young from Intuitive Automata

Tell us a little about yourself and what you do.
For the last four years I have been living and working in Hong Kong as the Chief Design Officer of Intuitive Automata, a healthcare robotics startup. We are developing robots that help people manage their health, focusing our efforts on conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and elderly care. Our first coach, Autom™, will be out later this year. I'm also a part-time lecturer in the School of Design at Hong Kong Polytechnic University and an active Airbnb host.

Who (or what) inspires you to do what you love?
The possibility of finding the ideal balance of visual language, technology, cost and impact in a design (be it a product, service, environment, or process) keeps me curious and motivated. It is extremely inspiring to see successful results of that pursuit.

Where do you get your inspiration from when you design?
First and foremost I gather inspiration from users. While they might not be able to articulate what they need and want, they can give you so many useful clues through interaction and observation.

Hello my name is Autom

What are the five words that people who know you would use to describe you?
When surveyed, creative, upbeat, optimistic, fun, and caring were some of the words my friends used to describe me.

Tell us about your very first job and what path have you taken since then?
My first industrial design job was in athletic and technical shoes, which taught me the importance of understanding manufacturing techniques and being precise. I gradually transitioned into the world of fashion, where I learned why a design needs to jump off the shelf and connect emotionally with a customer. Handling product development from concept to production over the years gave me an appreciation for process and introduced me to Asia. The opportunity to design Autom™ allowed me to apply these skills to a completely different industry, gain an understanding of user research and help build a company from scratch. As a part time lecturer, I now share what I've learned about the value of design research and how it can impact all aspects of a business.

Describe a typical day in at work?
There is really no such thing. In our company, like most startups, we wear many hats and things are constantly changing. Today I am charged with keeping our social media up to date. Last week I lead the creation of a marketing video. Before that I visited an electronics manufacturer across the border in Shenzhen. While most activities involve me glued to my laptop for long hours, the work itself varies a great deal.

As a Designer, what is your biggest frustration?
As a creative problem solver, one of my biggest frustrations is hearing the words can't, never, and won't. Those words don't foster a sense of collaboration and can derail the product development process.

Tell us about how you prioritise your work.
At a startup, it's always hard to balance the "important but not urgent" with the "urgent but not important" to ensure that you allocate enough time for the former and don't spend too much time on the latter. I find that being organized and clear about goals helps to put these issues into perspective. We put together a list of design priorities for projects both big and small and make sure everyone is clear about which details are most important to the success of the design.

Can you please tell us about how do you connect with other designers, and your customers (i.e. how do you network)?
For me, interacting with other designers is extremely important to keep my design skills sharpened, share best practices and learn about the latest trends. Luckily, Hong Kong is an extremely social city and it is easy to connect with other creative professionals locally. I try to support as many design conferences, workshops and events that are hosted here and stay active within the university community. In order to stay connected with my peers throughout the world, I use various forms of social media. It's hard to imagine life without it!

What advice can you offer other creative people who are just starting out and following their passions?
While I feel like I'm constantly learning and by no means an expert, I would say that any creative professional needs to understand their value and learn how to articulate their value to others effectively.

What is your proudest moment so far?
This is a tough one. One of my proudest moments recently was when our company won Technopreneur of the Year at the Wall Street Journal Asian Innovation Awards in October 2010. It was very gratifying to be recognized for the hard work we had put in to build the company and Autom™.

Who do you most want to meet and why?
My father passed away when I was almost 7 years old and it would be fascinating to have a conversation with him now as an adult.

What is the most important lesson in life that you have learned?
It's important to trust your gut. Only you know what is truly best for you.

What book are you reading right now, and do you have a book you would like to recommend?
Right now I am reading "Exploring Happiness: From Aristotle to Brain Science" but Sissela Bok. She does a fantastic job of sharing a wide range of opinions and theories on the topic in a very approachable way.

Where do we find you and your creative services?
You can find videos and additional information about Autom™ and Intuitive Automata at:

You can find me at:

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