Like many young adults, Jaclyn Phillips felt an urge a few years ago to make a career change because she wasn’t feeling enough creative satisfaction.
She was working as a flight attendant, which had its share of advantages. She was meeting people, solving problems in the air, and travelling to different cities. But after five years, she decided to take the plunge and go back to school.
Phillips chose Emily Carr University of Art + Design because she had an urge to create things.
“I applied thinking I would take some arts classes,” she told the Straight by phone. “Luckily, in the first year, they let you try out different disciplines.”
She discovered a love of interaction design, so she chose this as her major.
This discipline has been defined by author Jon Kolko as “the creation of a dialogue between a person and a product, system, or service”, which can be physical and emotional.
Historically, it’s been humans and computers, Phillips said, but with the development of different interfaces, interaction design is no longer confined to screens. Hence, the emergence of terms like UI (user interface) and UX (user experience) design.
For her grad project, Phillips and another student created an online system for B.C. Children’s Hospital to enable patients or their family members to input medical information.
“Previously, they had been sent out hours’ worth of forms to fill out,” Phillips explained. “It was a very, very heavy burden, especially if you were a parent with a sick child or you were a teenager who yourself was experiencing mental-health or health complications. So just digitizing it to something that cut down on the volume of questions made it clear and easier to understand.”
After graduating in 2018, Phillips was hired by Microsoft as a UX designer and moved to the Seattle area.
“I’m working on two new products right now,” she revealed. “They’re both enterprise products. One is a virtual agent designer, so it helps companies build chatbots using AI [artificial intelligence] technology. So it’s trying to make it easier for people that don’t know how to code but want to provide good customer service by allowing them to create chatbots.”
She’s also doing some work on a framework for AI and ethics, which is a subject that keenly interests her.
“I’m really lucky to be in a part of Microsoft where that kind of exploration and personal growth is absolutely encouraged.”
She enjoyed her time at Emily Carr University because in addition to learning about different technologies and tools for executing design, she also had a chance to spend a lot of time discussing the ethical impact of design. Phillips described Caylee Raber, director of the school’s health design lab, as an “amazing mentor and guide”.
Phillips also praised Celeste Martin, now the undergraduate dean of the Ian Gillespie Faculty of Design + Dynamic Media, as a teacher who offered “incredible advice” during her first year.
And the school’s director of career and professional development, Shannon McKinnon, helped Phillips secure internships and co-op placements, including with Microsoft. That’s what led to an interview for a full-time position.
“Because Emily Carr isn’t as big as UBC or other larger universities, you really get to know everyone in your year,” Phillips said. “You know the faculty pretty intimately, not only at the end of your first year but especially by the end of your fourth year.”
When asked about the difference between being a UX designer and working as a flight attendant, Phillips revealed that the shift isn’t as great as some people might think.
“Both are people-oriented jobs,” she said. “You have to be empathetic. You have to be willing to problem-solve with other people at the core of your decision-making process.
"It’s amazing how that time in my life of working with the general public and getting to meet hundreds of people a day has created this foundation for user-experience design.”