Product Design
  • Ji Lee, Creative Director, Facebook, Menlo Park

    If you missed yesterday’s post, take a look at some of Ji Lee’s work.

    WS: What do you look for in a student book? And what impresses you?

    JL: I receive lots of emails with students’ portfolios. From both students
    and recruiters. So, for me, the first thing I look at in a portfolio is how a
    student organizes his or her work. Good navigation and ease of use are
    very important. No matter how great their work is, if I am lost in their
    website, if I have to take a few extra seconds to find something, then the
    person already lost me. This is also an indication of how well the person
    knows how to communicate his or her message. So, if I’m lost in the
    navigation, that tells me this person doesn’t know how to use the web to
    communicate his own message. Lots of people these days use Cargo or
    Index Exhibit and they work well.

    WS: Can you explain “Cargo” and “Index Exhibit”?

    JL: They are portfolio website templates. They’re probably the most
    widely used templates for designers and people in advertising. The great
    thing about them is that people can customize the way they want their
    sites to look and they don’t have to know PHP or coding. It’s a really easy
    way of showing your work.

    WS: Okay.

    JL: And then, once I am navigating the website easily, obviously I’ll be
    looking for the quality of the work. And the work has to be well presented.
    Is it well photographed? Is it well designed? Is it well written? Is it concise
    and does it communicate the idea quickly? So there are a few steps even
    before the work; packaging an idea is as important, if not even more
    important, than the idea itself.

    And while I’m looking at the work, I’m looking for the kind of work that is
    non-formulaic. I see lots of students’ portfolios that are formulaic. Many
    students, for instance, do environmental work, like doing things on the
    escalator or revolving doors or on the sidewalk and appropriating objects
    and transforming them into some kind of brand message, which I think
    is fun but that’s what everybody does. So I think it’s fine to have a few
    environmental installation pieces but if the book is filled with those things
    then it feels that the person is not really exploring something beyond.
    Same thing with the print ad: some kind of an intriguing image in the
    center and then a tiny logo at the bottom-right. That’s the formula that
    I’ve been seeing over and over again over the years. So I’m not really
    interested in those kinds of formulas, I’m interested in big thinking.
    I’m interested in “idea people” who are really thinking about media. So
    there’s a problem and there’s a solution. How do you spread that solution
    creatively throughout different media? Do you know how social networking
    works and how you create a gadget that lives in Facebook and how you
    would really spread that idea?

    WS: And what do you think about print ads? Is that still important
    because it’s a way to judge someone that’s very standard among different
    books, rather than if someone just comes in with all new media?

    JL: Well, I think what a lot of people are looking for these days is
    360-degree thinking. So I’m looking for someone who is not bound by
    medium but bound by the idea, and media is there to support that idea. If
    print is what works for solving that particular problem, that is good. But
    if the person is doing print because that’s just the way things are done,
    then I think the person is still in the old school of thinking. So maybe
    the solution for that particular product or brand is creating a chair or
    creating an in-flight magazine or creating an event in Times Square,
    and maybe the print ad is not appropriate for that particular product. So
    I don’t think that print is an absolutely necessary thing to have in your

    I think ten years ago, because media was limited, you did print, you did
    TV and radio and outdoor. But nowadays, it’s really wide open. There’s
    gadgets, there are social networking aspects, rich media ads, and
    there is print and there is outdoor. But I think when we’re creating these
    messages, we’re creating it mindful that a consumer will experience this
    in many different layers of their lives. So when they wake up, they may
    listen to the radio ad, and then on the way to work, they may receive a
    three-word message about this new particular initiative of a brand, and
    then when they go to work, they may turn on the computer and they may
    find a Facebook post from another friend, and so on and on. So you know,
    it’s a wide range of sensorial and media blips that we get. And so the
    person would have to really think about the whole thing. And the more
    360-degree thinking that’s in the book, the better.

    WS: And how have you seen people present these things, either good or
    bad? Because when you do a 360-degree campaign, it can be so many
    different things that it can be overwhelming for someone to look through
    and get the idea.

    JL: True. Well, I think it has to be self-explanatory, with very little text,
    living in your website. So the person never needs to be sitting next to me
    saying, “This is how I did it.” I think what lots of students end up doing is
    that they are so used to presenting the work to their teacher in college,
    they automatically assume that is the format. And that is not true. You
    know, most of the time you’re just sending the link in and you have to
    let the viewer figure it out on their own in a really easy way. I teach at
    SVA [School of Visual Arts] and that’s one thing that I stress the most.
    Obviously, the packaging and then how do you explain this idea visually
    so that it stands on its own? And if there is a complex project, then I
    think I would first introduce the brand or the product, and then set up
    the problem or the challenge, and then the solution. So, in one or two
    slides, you learn about this product, you learn about the challenge, and
    maybe you have to write that in very small, short sentences, and then you
    learn about the solution. And then you go on: “In this solution, there is an
    outdoor element, there is a print element, there’s a TV spot,” and so on.

    WS: You mentioned that the presentation is very important in terms of
    clarity and that it looks good. Is the craft also important? For an art
    director, do you want to see evidence of amazing design, and for writers,
    do you want to see copy?

    JL: Absolutely. And I think this idea of writer versus or director versus
    designer is becoming blurry and blurrier. So I expect any presentation
    to have all that stuff and still look beautiful. It doesn’t matter if it comes
    from a copywriter or art director. If it comes from a copywriter who
    cannot design, then I think it’s the copywriter’s job to find the right
    designer or a partner to make that look beautiful. Because we end up
    doing lots of presentations internally and presentation is, again, as
    important as the work itself. So we’re looking for someone who can
    generate ideas and also present that idea in a really beautiful, simple
    way. So presentation, design skills, all that stuff is really important.

    WS: What do you think about including stuff in a book that is not
    advertising? Things like personal projects and art or photography or
    journal writing or things like that?

    JL: I think for me, personally, it’s a huge plus. My personal vision is that
    personal projects are extremely important both for personal growth and
    also end up helping you professionally. I’ve done lots of personal projects
    like “The Bubble Project” or “3D Alphabets” or the “World Trade Center
    Logo Preservation Project” or “Goollery”…these are personal projects.
    And because of those personal projects, I was able to find good jobs in
    good places. You know, it’s not because of my ad/design portfolio. If I only
    did professional projects, I wouldn’t be in such a place that I would like to
    work for. So I definitely look for personal projects and I encourage young
    designers and art directors and copywriters to include their personal
    projects. Because that’s where the real personality comes out and the
    passion and quirkiness, and that’s where you can really see what kind of
    interests this person has. I’ve seen so many books with Doritos ads or
    some bowling-alley ads or condom ads. Those could be fun but I think the
    level of interest is very low. But then, if you found a personal project that
    comes from their own voice and their own passion, it’s always unique and
    it’s always interesting.

    WS: Do you have any more advice for someone who is just starting out?

    JL: The other advice that I have is to make it as personal as possible.
    So you can enclose your photograph, or tell your stories about where you
    come from, or if you have a rich ethnic background or special interests
    or if you’re a climber or you’re a collector of something, that is a plus. All
    those little quirks make me feel connected to that person because I have
    learned a little more about them.

    And being open so that you can share…maybe creating platforms, open
    projects where you invite other people to participate in making things.
    Those little details I think makes me get a sense that, “Okay, this person
    gets the web.” And by making a lot of the contents creative commons.
    The fact that he put, “So and so, 2010 copyright,” makes me realize the person is still thinking old media. But the person who puts “CC,” creative
    commons, makes me think, “Okay, this person understands open source”
    and the power of spreading ideas and all that. So that may be a very
    small detail but those things matter.

    And there are other small things: Coming up with the URL of your
    website. If you have a long, complicated name with lots of consonants,
    then I would encourage you to think about another name. Like, in
    my case, ”“ was already taken and so I had to think about
    another name and I came up with “” So when I talk
    about ““ in a cocktail party, people are probably more
    likely to remember that than Ji Lee. You’re building your own brand, so
    I’d treat your website and your business card, the way you dress, the
    way you present yourself, everything as if you’re building a brand in a
    professional context. Would you like to be known as John Doe or would
    you like to be known as a unique brand name? There’s no good or bad,
    but it’s something that you should be thinking about.

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