Seeing a Future in Systematic and Human-centric Solutions

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Alumni Series: Women in Engineering – meet Isabel Siheng Ji

Seeing a Future in Systematic and Human-centric Solutions

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Industrial engineering alumna Isabel Siheng Ji found her passion in design thinking during her undergraduate years at HKUST. She furthered her studies in this area with a master’s degree and is currently developing her career in the digital marketing industry in the US. She shares what she finds interesting about design thinking and how she applies this in her role to design digital strategy for The Coca-Cola Company.
Industrial engineering alumna Isabel Siheng Ji found her passion in design thinking during her undergraduate years at HKUST. She furthered her studies in this area with a master’s degree and is currently developing her career in the digital marketing industry in the US. She shares what she finds interesting about design thinking and how she applies this in her role to design digital strategy for The Coca-Cola Company. [Download Photo]

Alumna Isabel Siheng JI attained her BEng in Logistics Management and Engineering from HKUST in 2013 and also her Master's degree in Integrated Product Design from the University of Pennsylvania in 2015. She is currently an Information Architecture/User Experience Designer at The Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta, the United States.

1. Why did you choose industrial engineering as your undergraduate major? And why HKUST?
As the world is getting more complicated and interconnected, being systematic, human-centered, and the ability to use resources effectively and increase productivity in a creative way have all become a significant part of the society. This is exactly what industrial engineering is about – it’s where I think the value is and what I hope to study.

I come from Beijing, China. Hong Kong is a fascinating city with a rich blend of cultures and different lifestyles. And HKUST, locating in this dynamic city, however has a steadfast research spirit. I like this contrast very much. I hope I can get solid knowledge and at the same time expand my horizons in my college time. So HKUST, with its vibrant campus culture and world-class faculty, is definitely the first choice for me.

2. Was your interest in industrial engineering stimulated by someone?
My elder sister teaches operations research in a Mainland university and my father has some work-related knowledge of logistics. So I realize the importance and great future of industrial engineering at an early stage.

3. You are among the first batch of students taking the IELM 4320 Design Thinking course in summer 2013, a course collaborated by the Department of Industrial Engineering & Logistics Management (IELM) and the China Academy of Art. Can you share about your learning experience in this course?
This is absolutely a highly educational and inspiring course. The China Academy of Art (CAA) is one of the best art universities in Mainland China. As an engineering student with no prior professional art training, taking this course definitely opened up my horizons and stimulated my new ways of thinking. In this course, we were at CAA for two weeks (and the other two weeks at HKUST) where art professionals gave us lectures and discussed with us the new trends and state-of-the-art practices in design. We also worked with CAA students on group projects and brainstormed new concepts with them, enabling me to learn to think like an artist. This interaction inspired me a lot as an engineering student – it opened a new world to me and gave me deeper understanding of the integration of design and technology.

I also took other design courses at HKUST such as IELM 3130 Ergonomics and Safety Management and IELM 4170 Product Design and Lifecycle Management. They are both very educational and provided a solid foundation for my postgraduate studies.

4. What other memorable learning experiences do you have at HKUST?
My greatest achievement in undergraduate years would be winning the Champion Award of the Manufacturing and Industrial Division of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE-MI) Student Project Competition 2012/13. It’s my final year project supervised by Prof Ravindra Goonetilleke. My team and I designed an interesting hi-tech ball for toddlers and pets. We discussed with Toys‘R’Us and started from market niche exploration. After many rounds of ideation and discussion with our professor, we finally settled on the concept of this uncatchable ball. It looks like an ordinary ball but it rolls away when you try to approach it. By this, we hope it can attract toddlers’ attention and free up some leisure time for moms. The development process was difficult and we spent a lot of time on the technology, but we are glad that all our efforts are paid off. We beat students from other universities in Hong Kong and won this award.

5. What do you like about studying at HKUST?
It’s a great place which integrates science, creativity, and social consciousness so perfectly. Not many universities have this capability. I enjoyed the academic atmosphere in the library and classes, and I was impressed by the faculty’s foresight of edge-cutting trends in industry and society. This integrated culture inspires and benefits me a lot in my future study.

HKUST and my department IELM helped my development a lot. I’m always indebted to all the professors who taught me. They are just so great. As an alumna, I hope I can share my experience and contribute as return.

6. Why did you want to further your studies in integrated product design after graduating from HKUST?
The IELM Department has the foresight to push forward design thinking in engineering, and it passes this value to me through various courses. I was led into the world of product design by taking the ergonomics course and other courses. I like the combination of an art mind and an engineering mind – which is design thinking – and I feel this would play a very important role in future technology and engineering, making engineering more human-centered. This interest grew stronger during my final year project and the summer course collaborated with CAA, so I decided to further my studies in product design.

7. Can you tell us more about your current job?
My current job is the User Experience/Information Architecture Designer at The Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta, US. My team works on the Coca-Cola brand sites. Make it simple, when you open, that’s what we created, and we are responsible for 400+ such sites of Coca-Cola in different parts of the world.

I enjoy the international culture of working in a global company. We have meetings with markets all over the world, and you can learn so much both culturally and technically by working on projects of diverse cultural backgrounds.

The challenge is that website, as an important part of digital strategy, is more than just webpages. It’s about content strategy and design. For a company with many brands in every corner of the world, it’s hard to localize and make sure the content and the strategy work in local markets. It is a challenging task to design a website so that it is informative to consumers of a variety of backgrounds and with different ways of thinking.

8. How does your current job relate to engineering?
I’m working in digital industry, which is essentially engineering and programming based. Website, as a visual and interactive virtual product, involves a lot of design thinking. That is how to make it human-centered, how to make your brand message clear and get the return on investment (ROI) in a creative way.

9. What is your career aspiration?
Design thinking definitely will be a tool changing the next generation of product and engineering, especially in the digital and virtual world. I hope I could dive deeper in digital marketing and product strategy using design thinking, and give a high ROI of digital products.

10. What will be your short-term and long-term goals?
Short-term goal: my current job is a great opportunity for me to learn about the world better, so I hope to get better understanding of the practices in digital design strategy for global market through my job. Long-term goal: to use design thinking to make digital/virtual products more valuable, hopefully in an innovative way.

11. Advice to prospective students who are interested in engineering?
It’s engineers who change the world. The theories and knowledge you learned are the things that created the world as it is today. It’s amazing, but don’t just stick to what you learned. Be creative and think from the perspectives of others and the society. Make the world more amazing with what you learned.

12. As a female undergraduate student in the past, how do you see the gender balance at SENG?
I’m glad to see more female students study engineering and actually do pretty well in academics. Females have their born advantage. They are more conscious of society’s needs, more creative, more empathetic and more sensitive to hidden trends and changes. With that, I believe females will take an increasingly important role in engineering.

13. What are the essential qualities that engineering students should possess? Your tips of success in studying engineering?
Down-to-earth, inquisitive and diligent, conscious of human needs (human-centered), and have a great vision.

There is no short cut to success. If you like engineering and want to make a change, study every course, every theory, and every formula seriously.