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Career development and the impact of AI

Fail Faster

Episode 427


27 minutes

Meet Sabrina Wong, the Head of UX at Tapestry and a dedicated university instructor.

With a wide-ranging expertise that encompasses product design, research, and digital strategy, Sabrina has collaborated with a diverse array of organizations, from startups to Fortune 500 companies, to elevate their products and services to new heights. Beyond her professional pursuits, Sabrina also imparts her knowledge as a UX/UI design instructor at the prestigious University of Miami and several other esteemed universities.

Podcast transcript

Khushboo: Hey, Sabrina, welcome to the fail faster podcast and happy Friday. How are you doing today?

Sabrina: I’m doing so well. I’m so excited to chat with you today and just very fortunate to be part of your podcast. 

Khushboo: Yeah, likewise, I’m super excited to get into your world and get some insights on the work you’re doing. But before we do that, can you share some details about your early life such as your place of birth and upbringing, your childhood experiences, and your family dynamics would be great to start. 

Sabrina: Yeah, and I’ll start with introducing myself as well. So I’m the head of UX at tapestry, the fashion house behind coach Kate Spade and stereo Weissman. A lot of my work involves developing data driven solutions using AI and data analytics across the value chain. And before joining tapestry, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a diverse range of organizations like from startups all the way to fortune 500 companies to enhancer products and services. And side of my regular job, I also teach UX UI design at universities across the United States. 

And to your question about my background, um, it’s really a blend of my immigrant roots and my artistic upbringing. So I was born and raised in the multicultural city of Toronto, shout out to the Canadians. My parents had immigrated from Hong Kong, and they had a dream for a better life. My parents had a remarkable work ethic and just a genuine love for art and fashion. So I grew up with an appreciation for both Eastern and Western art styles. And I moved into adulthood, I got accepted. 

Very fortunately, I got accepted into OCAD University, a prestigious university know for its art and design programs across Canada. And that’s where I really started to like dive into like different art styles, different areas of design and fashion. And it was through this diverse training that helped me become a multidisciplinary designer. And now, today, standing where I am, I, I truly believe that I represent the culture and creativity that supported my journey. 

Khushboo: Awesome. I love that. And, you know, you mentioned about your role, and you are, you know, heading the UX at Tapestry. And then you also added, like, a part of your role is, you know, getting into like, doing all the things with Gen AI, which is very exciting. And also data and analytics. So tell me more, like, what does your day to day look like as a head of UX and the kind of different things that you’re doing within that space? 

Sabrina: Hmm, that’s such a good question. Um, so many things. And especially since like AI is, is an emerging tech, I feel like it’s given us so many more opportunities to create new ideas, new platforms, it really kind of ushered us into this new era of working. And being a designer at this moment, working in tech, it’s like the most exciting thing. And I think, because of AI, it has changed my industry, it will change everybody’s industry, it’ll change everybody’s jobs. 

It’s been a remarkable thing to kind of experience and witness, like just based on like, my day to day, like the type of work that I do has already incorporated so much AI into it, I get to play with AI and kind of blend that together with data analytics to improve tapestry to kind of usher them into this transformation, this AI transformation so that they can expect just more efficient workflows, more efficient data. And it just kind of, yeah, it just kind of, I guess, brings everyone along on this AI journey. 

Khushboo: Yeah, yeah. And then you also mentioned like, you know, like how you had experience and like, you know, coming from that diverse background of the Eastern culture and Western culture, and your parents, and you growing up in Hong Kong. So now, at what point when you were growing up in your life, did you develop a strong interest in technology and innovation? And also, if you can tell us a little bit about that journey that led you to your current passion and expertise in this field of UX and design? 

Sabrina: I grew up in Toronto, I have spent a few summer vacations in Hong Kong, but I feel like I’m more of a Canadian Toronto girl, for sure. But in terms of like my journey to UX, UI, I mean, that’s a great question. Like, when I first started in my career, I started as a designer. And now, and let me tell you, like, choosing a art or design career in an immigrant family is like the first hurdle that you have to get through, because my parents did not want me to get into this. They wanted me to either become a lawyer or a doctor, an accountant. And then when I told them, Mom, I want to be a designer, and she’s just like, what is that? What does that mean? 

So absolutely, the first hurdle is getting through that. And then, you know, it’s a great question to kind of think through how designers fit into the tech industry. And when I was a designer, what I saw was a uprising of technology. And it was like, everybody wanted to create more mobile apps, everyone wanted to, like brick and mortar companies started to look at design, having a digital identity, having a website, you know, having a digital experience. And that’s like the pivot, I feel like that was the first pivot that I saw as a designer. And when I started to experience that, I was like,

Okay, I think this is the next thing. So I started to also pivot my career towards that. And it honestly worked out like I now have worked with many, many digital companies in this UX UI space, I got to work now at Tapestry doing data analytics. So it was really just first observing that first trend or change or transformation, and really adapting to it. And I feel like we’re seeing the same thing. Now, we have an AI trend that’s emerging, and we’re seeing people adapting to it. 

Khushboo: Awesome. I love that. And talking about experience, and you know, from there, like building your career for yourself. And I see that you started as a UX UI designer in 2013. Fast forward to, you know, head of UX at Tapestry currently. So if you have to tell me one or two stories that are very remarkable in your career, and something that you really feel very proud of, and you would like to bring up on the show today? 

Sabrina: That’s such a big question. I think what I would like to share is like this position of where I landed, it’s in the intersection of technology and fashion. And I feel like both of these industries are so hard to penetrate, especially fashion, it’s so exclusive. And, you know, as a kid, I’ve always been drawn to fashion from a very young age, but just fashion was like this furthest thing away. And I just never thought I could even touch it. Same for tech. I wasn’t a programmer. I wasn’t an engineer, I was a designer. So I think what was remarkable was when I started working in the design field, and it was through my love for design that opened the first door. And the first door was the tech industry. 

And then when I started working in tech, I was like, sharing my design ideas, and, you know, just exploring, like working in design in this digital space. And it was these ideas that I brought to the table, that allowed me the opportunity to sit down with some of my fashion heroes now. And that’s the second door that really opened up for me. 

And then now I’m working alongside people who are established in the tech field and the fashion field, and I get to listen and learn so much from them. It’s honestly my favorite part of my job is just meeting people. So I guess like to sum up, like, a remarkable experience is, is honestly, when all of this started to kick off, and I never want to take that for granted. There’s just something thrilling about being part of technology and fashion and the intersection of this field that’s just always moving and growing, just throwing new challenges your way. 

Khushboo: Got it. And while talking about that, and also the gen AI significance in the technology today. So how did or how has artificial intelligence transformed the landscape of various industries, including fashion, as you mentioned? And also what implications does this have on individuals’ career paths? 

Sabrina: Great question. So first off, AI is basically applied statistics that has taken off at this particular time, because of three things that have happened all at the same time. So number one, statistics requires data. And because of the web, you now have machines that can read everything. So that’s number one. Number two, statistics need amazing computing power. And because of things like NVIDIA GPU, we begin to have amazing computing power. And third, it requires different models. And as time has gone on, we have figured out better algorithms. So you’ve combined better algorithms with better GPU with better data, which brings us to 2023, this age of AI transformation. 

And I think the key here is to stay curious, stay adaptable, and embrace change. As a person that’s just working in these industries, my advice to you is broaden your skill set beyond your comfort zone, because the future belongs to those who can blend technology with creativity and ethics. So to your question, fashion, for example, AI has provide so many opportunities from managing supply chain and inventory, and also AI driven recommendation systems are also shaping customer experiences. In a different sector, we have healthcare, medical imaging, disease diagnosis, and drug discovery have all been enhanced by AI algorithms. And the impact is just far reaching. Designers aren’t left out of the action either. AI isn’t here to steal the spotlight from designers. It’s here to be your sidekick, your creative ally, if you will. Because if you can imagine a world where, you know, routine tasks aren’t weighing you down, like that’s the power of AI. 

Think of AI more of like your right hand assistant, it’s helping you with things like research or layouts or color suggestions or typography ideas, like with the time saved, designers can honestly dig into the fun parts of their craft. 

Khushboo: Yeah, absolutely. And I, you know, I loved it. And maybe I will call it a quote by Sabrina, stay curious, stay adaptable, and be ready for the change. Amazing. And I think something I wanted to hear today. Now that we’ve, you know, you and thank you for sharing all the statistics. But if I have to also ask you to add the key skills and competencies that professionals need to develop in order to thrive in this AI driven work environment? What are the key skills that key skills that you think professional needs to develop in order to thrive in this gen AI, AI driven work environment specifically? 

Sabrina: Great question. So what does this mean for assist individuals, I would recommend upskilling and reskilling are crucial to staying relevant in AI driven industries. I think having the goal of lifelong learning has become more of a necessity in this landscape. So, you know, referring back to designers, I think the first step is to really familiarize yourself with AI tools that complement your design work. Think about those that can generate quick mockups, quick, you know, color palettes, or even assist you in 3d modeling and innovation. These tools aren’t here to replace your artistic vision, but to enhance your efficiency. 

There’s also many online tutorials and courses and workshops that can teach you how to use AI tools effectively, like platforms like Coursera, Udemy and LinkedIn Learning offer a plethora of resources tailored to your needs. I think for other professionals, maybe learning data analysis, or machine learning or a little bit of programming are, you know, always useful for future proofing your career, and definitely collaboration, like collaborate with more people outside of your field, like data scientists or developers in your organization, you know, just learning from people that have different perspectives on AI can really, really spark innovative ideas. Yeah, absolutely. 

Like, I think you’ve got a very good point on how important it is to, you know, keep keep growing and learning and also being close knitted with the community to see how you can do better and you utilize these tools better to be more efficient. But I’ve also often heard and in today’s time and age, and there is this fear of, you know, losing their jobs or job displacement due to AI. So what do you have to say on that? Like what strategies can people or employers or employees, I mean, take to ensure long term employment? So something I heard at a AI fashion conference that I attended recently was, you are not going to lose your job to AI, you’re going to lose your job to somebody who uses AI. With that said, adaptability, again, is your secret weapon, you know, embrace continuous learning, focus on those skills that are transferable across industries, being human, like focusing on your soft skills, that’s like being creative, being a good communicator and having a dash of emotional intelligence, like that’s just stuff that AI can’t just copy and paste, you know. 

So, you know, equally, it’s not just about skills, it’s also about your mindset. I think a lot of it is number one, like certain jobs will be impacted before new jobs are created in this age of AI. And secondly, and more importantly, not a single job will remain unchanged. So I don’t think it’s a question of job displacement due to AI. I believe anybody who believes their job is going to be unchanged a year and a half from now will need to just broaden their mindset, because every job is going to basically change. And sometimes a pivot is the path forward and change often as a stepping stone, not a stumbling block. 

Khushboo: Yeah, yeah, I totally agree. Now, great. I mean, good that we talked about AI and I think this could benefit so many people listening to this episode. And I think going back, we were talking about your stories, which you are very proud of. Now I also because we were talking about your successes, but I also want to ask if there are any epic failures that you’ve gone through in your career, because we all fail and we’ve all failed at some point. But we also know what not to do. So if I have to ask you what would be your most epic failures that you want to share today on this episode? And also, how did you bounce back from those failures? 

Sabrina: I love this question. I love it so much. During the COVID-19 pandemic, that obviously caught us off guard. And man, like during that time, like that period just hit me really, really hard. Like I had a job that I thought was pretty stable and, and I was, you know, doing okay for myself. And then out of nowhere, I got laid off. And it was like, it was like a punch to the gut. It really left me feeling knocked down. 

And I just felt crushed, like losing my job during a time when everything felt uncertain was just overwhelming. You know, the job, it was a mess, my bills were piling up. And I was wondering what the heck am I going to do next. And it was a it was like this dark cloud hanging over my head. And it made it made it really hard to see any silver lining at this point in my life. I couldn’t let that situation define me. You know, like I had a choice, either let this setback take me down, or turn it into a chance to bounce back even stronger. So what I did was, I decided to just focus on what I could control. 

So I went into like full on learning mode, I learned tools, I polished my skills and did everything I could to level up. And then when I least expected it, I got a new job, a better job, you can back I came back stronger. Landing it honestly felt like winning the lottery. And like, not just in terms of my career, but like for my morale, too. I think the most important thing was this experience taught me that setbacks don’t define us, they refine us. And failures aren’t something to be ashamed of. There’s something to celebrate because they’re stepping stones to growth. 

Khushboo: Absolutely. Yes. Great. I mean, it’s been I mean, yeah, I know it was such a hard time at COVID and a lot of layoffs people would have never thought but this is what I hear from so many leaders because once that happened, they thought everything just ended but I think everybody kind of came back very stronger in some way or the other. 

Sabrina: So I think that time, if used right, I think that helped a lot of people. 

Khushboo: Absolutely. Definitely. Yeah. Okay, now talking about design a little bit, you know, let’s get into that. So from a design perspective, and again, adding emerging trends and technology to it. So in a design perspective, what emerging trends do you see shaping the future of, again, fashion, advertising, and also creator experiences? Also, if you can share how is your team preparing to embrace these trends? 

Sabrina: Very good question. Um, so I think in terms of emerging tech and how it’s being leveraged in the design world, I think in a marketing sense, um, AR VR is definitely a standout trend that I’m that I’m seeing. It’s kind of giving many people the opportunity to virtually try on clothes or virtually, you know, be part of like a space and that I’ve seen being utilized in a lot of like marketing strategies, even like the company that I work for coach has done some AR VR marketing things. So I think that’s going to be a standout trend, where designers can definitely build their skills on when it comes to like 3d modeling, animation, and just kind of utilizing those tools like you like Unity, or Unreal Engine and things like that. 

That’s a good smart space to kind of check out. There’s also personalization, or that’s definitely a game changer. I think AI thrives on data and so does effective UX UI design. So it’s sort of marrying like the best of both worlds together. Thanks to like super smart data analytics, the design teams are whipping up products that are tailor made for our customers. And it’s, it’s really having like a one on one conversation like your favorite brand. So that’s also really standout and that I’m seeing. 

There’s a lot more sustainability and ethics that are front and center. So brands are embracing eco friendly practices, and designers are making sure ads and products resonate with your values. So it’s not just about pushing products, it’s about what they stand for. And I guess like to your question about like how how I’m incorporating like AI in my day to day, it’s more of using those smart data models to kind of synthesize insights, provide insights back to our business, provide insights back to our fashion designers, it’s helping them make safe and bigger bets. It’s giving them like, instead of looking back, we’re looking forward. 

And it’s really exciting to kind of be part of this journey where again, like fashion intersecting with technology and how we’re leveraging the power of AI and data to just to make a difference to make a more sustainable difference, more ethical difference. So that’s extremely exciting to be part of. 

Khushboo: Amazing. And what would be like one advice if you want to give to aspiring experienced designers who are interested in specializing in let’s say the advertising and creative experience domain? 

Sabrina: That’s a great question. I think one thing I would say is for designers, you know, picture yourself not just as a designer, but as a strategic thinker who uses insights to drive business goals, because what I’ve realized is that you’re the bridge between design, tech and strategy. And even with AI around, I think being human is your superpower. There’s nothing that can match that human intuition. And absolutely there’s nothing like human creativity like that is originality, you know, and I think the future really belongs to designers who lend AI with their own unique artistic style and artistic flair. 

Khushboo: Awesome. Love that. So Sabrina, like now talking about your experience at Tapestry. So first off, how did you get started with Tapestry? Like how did you land this job? And also, how is it like working there? I think you’ve spent about two years with them. So how is it working there? What’s the culture like? 

Sabrina: Yeah, so working at Tapestry has honestly been has honestly been a dream come true. I would say how I got started here was honestly just working kind of like I was just staying in my own lane. You know, being a designer, being a product designer, working in tech, working on enterprise tools, working in the data analytics space. And then I got this brilliant opportunity to make a difference at Tapestry. Because Tapestry at the time when I joined, it was also trying to break out and make a impact, a digital impact. 

And so I guess they were looking for individuals that had that energy, had that drive and had that experience in that field. And so I joined this incredible, incredible product team, who are honestly, it’s a dream come true to work with so many incredibly smart, nice, empathetic, creative people. And it’s just been a joy. Honestly, every day, it’s been a joy to just work for Tapestry, work at Tapestry. I will say like, this is the first company that I’ve worked at that really embraces everybody that really made me feel so welcomed. Prior to working at Tapestry, I worked in Canada. So I actually moved to New York for this job. And it’s been a spectacular, special moment. 

Khushboo: Awesome. So Sabrina, thank you so much. This has been an amazing conversation. Before I let you go, if people want to reach out to you after this, and they want to know more, more about the exciting work that you’re doing, or want to reach out to you for mentorship, where can they find you online? 

Sabrina: Yeah, they can definitely find me online on LinkedIn. My name is Sabrina Wong. If you’re having a hard time finding me, you can always just write Tapestry next to my name, and you’ll definitely see me show up. And I’m also looking forward to connecting with anyone that wants to. 

Khushboo: Awesome. Thank you so much. And I’m sure your insights and all the nuggets that you shared today around UX, AI, will definitely help people and leaders like yourself to think through. And it was a great conversation. I wish you nothing but the best, Sabrina. 

Sabrina: Thank you so much, Khushi. This was so much fun and hope to talk to you again soon.

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