Inspired by the How I Work series at LifeHacker, I hope to show to give you a glimpse on how it’s like to work at Repro as a designer. I’m part of the first generation members at Repro and have seen the company gone through many phases through the years, so maybe I am in the best position to share with you how it’s really like to work in Repro.

Location: Tokyo, Japan
Current Gig: UX Lead at Repro
One word that best describes how you work: Efficiently
Current mobile device: iPhone XS Max
Current computer: 2018 Macbook Pro

First of all, tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.

I was doing advertising in Singapore for about 6 years, before deciding I needed to get out. I worked on some pretty exciting accounts like Corona beer, Nike and Okamoto Condoms but there was something about advertising that didn’t sit well with me. I think it was in my personality that I didn’t want to help sell things to people that didn’t need it.

Towards the end of the advertising part of my career, I was moving towards UI/UX design. Since resources are usually spread thin throughout multiple projects, you are often not allowed to continually improve on a product through iterative design. More often than not, you design based on what will sell to the client, as opposed to what is best for the user.

It was also at that time that I decided I wanted to change my life drastically. Singapore is a really comfortable place to live in, but being in your comfort zone means that you lose the motivation to try new things or challenges. After 26 years in a country three time smaller than the size of Tokyo, I decided it was time to move on. At that time, I visited Japan spontaneously and instantly fell in the love with the place. There was something appealing to me about a place where the language and culture was totally foreign to me. 4 years later, I’m in a venture called Repro, working on their products.

Take us through a recent workday.

Everyday is completely different, since flexibility is one of the biggest perks of a startup like Repro. I haven’t worked in many companies in Japan, but from what I hear, the level of flexibility in Repro is perhaps one of the highest they’ve seen.

  • 8-10am I wake up about this time and get up to date with things that went on. Since I try not to look at work after 8pm, the updates includes things like messages on Slack/Github/Trello. I would also take some time to read about latest news in the design world, in all mediums like fashion, architecture etc.
  • 11am-12am I usually dedicate a bit of time before lunch to clear up any non-work errands I have. I don’t like being distracted by unrelated things I have to do throughout the day. This include things like working out and cleaning.
  • 12am-1pm I am a fan of meal replacement powders so I hardly spend time for lunch. This lets me finish work earlier when I want to. The only exception I make is when we go for lunches to get to know the new people joining the company. We have a perk at Repro that pays for lunch when you ask a newly-joined employee for lunch. While it’s not possible for us to have home-cooked meals together each night like we used to when we were much smaller, such policies hep a growing company like Repro keep the small-startup vibe.
  • 1pm-6pm These are the core hours that I spent in front of the computer and just churn through a bunch of tasks. This includes writing specifications, designing interfaces and communicating with the PM or Engineers about specific tasks. Most of the week, I do this remotely. Since I live about 10 minutes walk to the office, I try to go to the office at least twice a week and for meetings when I am not away.
    Some teams in Repro can’t or choose not to work remotely, but the product team members are pretty strong advocates of the remote working style. I’ve seen some companies fail at remote work and simply abandon the idea altogether, but in Repro’s product team at least, maintaining a high level of presence and response online is key.

My desk for the day in Seoul

  • 6pm~ I usually try not to plan for any work after this time. I would stay online and respond or support the engineers if they have a question about the tasks. Since we are currently recruiting for a UI designer, some nights I would spend meeting designers or attending events.

We also try to avoid scheduled meetings by communicating proactively and being responsive on platforms like Trello or Github. Whenever something comes to mind, we simply speak our mind on Slack. Doing so helps you maintain a high level of communication with too many unnecessary meetings.

What apps, gadgets, or tools can’t you live without?

I honestly can’t remember the last time I used email for work. Slack is an integral part of our working culture. Recently, I became a fan of Dropbox Paper. We use esa as a company-wide note taking tool, but I have been secretly pushing for Dropbox Paper to replace it. It’s just so much better. Unlike those creative types that still enjoy using the pen and paper, I have an acute allergy to anything analog.

What’s your workspace setup like?

Repro is a completely open office environment. We are also big on transparency so every conversation and document, with the exception of certain sensitive topics like salary negotiation, are accessible to every single employee, even things like our profit and loss. I remembered getting lectured a few times trying to use DM to discuss work matters. Unlike most Japanese companies (I think), we don’t use formal Japanese in the company. With the exception of when meeting clients, you are free to dress or speak in any way you feel most comfortable in.

I like to be pretty minimal when I work remotely, since I am usually traveling when I do so. So my Macbook Pro and a Magic Mouse is all I need. In office, I have a monitor and a HHKB keyboard and a Razer Mouse. I try to keep my table clear of anything else, since I am often working remotely I try not to create attachment to any particular spot.

What’s your best shortcut or life hack (no matter how small or niche)?

I am extremely anti-distraction, which is why I have a completely empty black desktop and phone wallpaper and my table is most of the time empty. I also manage my notifications obsessively and unsubscribe to unneeded emails or unfollow people who I lose interest or unsubscribe to threads I don’t need to be involved in immediately.

I also wear black 99% of the time so I don’t have to choose what to wear to prevent decision fatigue, similar to what Mark Zuckerberg or Barrack Obama does.

I wear black almost all the time to prevent decision fatigue.

How do you keep track of what you have to do?

I rely heavily on Trello. We also have OKR (Objectives and Key Results) that keeps you in check with your goals. These are tangible action items that allows you to work the way you want, as long as you can produce the results.

How do you recharge or take a break?

I simply travel while I work, sometimes in another part of Japan or the world. I spent about 2 and a half month abroad this year across 9 cities. Being in a different environment and culture keeps me energized.

I also organize a monthly bouldering session in Repro.

Take us through an interesting, unusual, or finicky process you have in place at work.

We have some meetings in the office where even though all the members are in the office, we use headsets to attend meeting from our desks. This helps elevate the problem of meeting room shortage/space constraints and help us get used to remote working processes.

Who are the people who help you get things done, and how do you rely on them?

The product team obviously plays a big part in setting the stage for good usability. The front-end team that turns the vision into reality. Working closely with this two teams is pretty standard for most product designer. In Repro, we have a Customer Success team (consulting), Customer Reliability Engineers (technical support) and CRM  team (they run the tool on the customer’s behalf), which I like to think of as the holy trinity of user feedback. I rely on them heavily to connect with our users to get feature requests, direct feedback on designs or provide user insights.

What’s your least favorite thing to do, and how do you deal with it?

Public speaking. Adding to the fact I have to do it in a language that I haven’t completely mastered, I just get nervous when having to present in general. I must have developed an aversion of it from my years of advertising where presentations are most of the work.

What’s your favorite side project?

I have been running a personal blog for the past 7 years. I use it as a playground to learn things about affiliate marketing, conversion optimization and content creation.

What are you currently reading, or what’s something you’d recommend?

The last one that left a strong impression was “Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism”, which is about living a more meaningful life with less.

Fill in the blank: I’d love to see _________ answer these same questions.

I’d like to see what Dieter Rams (when he was at Braun) has to say.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

When I was still in advertising, I asked a photographer once how it’s like to work with agencies. He said that once you are aware of everyone’s agenda, it’s easier to communicate on those terms. For example, a client wants to make money, a creative wants to win awards and a suit just wants keep everyone happy. Everyone has different goals, but have to work on the same project. Knowing everyone’s agenda and coming up with ideas to make sure everyone gets what they want, will help you achieve your goals easier.

Is there anything else you’d like to add that might be interesting to readers and fans?

If you think this is how you’d like to work, Repro is hiring a UI designer right now.

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About the Author
Alex Kwa

UX Designer, Repro
Alex has been designing for Repro since the company begun. He worships his design heroes, Dieter Rams, Tokujin Yoshioka and Naoto Fukasawa. He's an occasional digital nomad and is obsessed with the streetwear brand, Supreme.
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