In the third installment of our "Who is Valon" series we explored the incredible experience and ambitions of our head designer, Ting-ai Marin. Learn all about her story!
So, tell me a little bit about yourself and what you do here at Valon!
I grew up in Taiwan, and I eventually moved to New York to study at Parsons School of Design. I never left, and that’s how I started my life working in this city.
My passion has been in digital design since day one. I started as a visual designer at a couple of interactive agencies. Then, I moved to a company called The Knot Inc, a life-stage media company. There, I met their co-founder, Carley—my boss then and lifetime mentor now. With Carley's support, I did all sorts of things, from building out a multi-talented design team, to turning that team into a profitable internal creative agency. I also had the opportunity to help launch The Knot China. I got first-hand exposure to building a company from the ground up, using Mandarin, my primary language. It felt like a perfect use of my skill sets; I was creating a brand, bridging the east and the west through design.
Eventually, I wanted to expand beyond visual design. Through an old connection, I went back to my previous agency, Digitas, this time in a group that did product design. I learned human-centric design, practiced UX fundamentals, and built complex digital products. I was there for nine years, and I worked with a lot of different clients, including Amex, Goldman Sachs, BlackRock, Nissan, and others.
I joined Valon about eight months ago to roll up my sleeves and grow our design practice.
How did you find Valon?
After nine years, I felt confident in my skill set in digital product design. I had this unique combination of branding and product design experience, and I wanted to utilize both of my skill sets for a company that really needed it.
And, in becoming a mom throughout the process, I really wanted to index a bit heavier on building a team and teaching them to grow. Having a toddler really changed the way I think about teamwork and culture within that team. My main intention is to create a safe space where my coworkers feel that I’ll be here to catch them when they fall, and that I’ll give them a nudge when they haven’t reached their full potential. I also want to take on a guiding role, helping my team when they need advice.
Check out the Design Team! Back row, from left to right: Andrea, Ting, Jubilee, and Ilana. Front row, from left to right: Katy and Frankie (our year-round design intern).
What is a project from your time at Valon that you’re proud of?
I remember the first project I worked on very fondly. We called it “CLIP (Critical Loan Information Panel).”
When I first joined Valon, our servicing console was essentially a direct remake of our consumer experience focused on simplicity. This was not the most optimal experience for the servicing team member who needs quick access to more information while problem solving on a call with a homeowner. So, we flipped the model, and we created a new paradigm for the servicing console: a dedicated space where all of the key data an agent needs on a call appears in a persistent area. It now saves a ton of time that was being spent hunting down information.
What do you think makes a good designer?
I believe skill sets can be taught and learned. So, I think it’s really about understanding people, understanding what people need, and being able to hear what’s not being said. At the end of the day, it’s about anticipating needs and making it easy for users to fluidly move through a space.
What design tools do you mostly use?
Here at Valon, the main tool we use is Figma.
What’s your favorite thing about Valon overall?
Valon is a young, ambitious, and promising company with intentions to do good.
I agree that the current approach by the mortgage servicing industry is very dated—this applies to both the consumer-facing experience and the customer experience agent toolings. Unfortunately, both areas have not been improved to meet today's standards. As a result, homeowners find it difficult to self-serve. On top of this, the experience of talking to customer service over the phone is often frustratingly subpar.
It's not fair to homeowners who have no choice in suffering through that experience. So it feels good to be a part of changing that.
I like that, at Valon, we’re collaborative and transparent. There are no secrets here. You understand everything about the company. I really like the “owner takes out the trash” mentality, you know, everyone rolls up their sleeves, gets things done, and helps each other out.
What advice do you have for young designers interested in getting into the startup space?
Go to any startup with an open heart. The benefit of joining a startup is that you have the ability to wear many hats; you have the opportunity to learn, and the sky is your limit. Anything you want to learn is within your reach. But you need to come in with a bit of grit, strength, and be unafraid to step into the unknown and learn from it, because that is the greatest reward you’ll get from working at a startup.
What do you see in the future of design at Valon?
I honestly think we've only just scratched the surface. Knowing that mortgage servicing is very complex, it's essential to figure out the fundamentals and get the nuts and bolts correct.
Once we get there, the next question is: how do we turn the system on its head in a way that serves our homeowners?
At that point, a superb user experience becomes a linchpin to our success. It is a fun challenge to distill complex mortgage processes into intuitive experiences. However, it requires perspective and expertise to do it successfully. First, we need to understand the pain points and meet our users where they are. We need to create seamless flows and modern interfaces that exceed today's standards. Finally, we need to break away from the alienating legal jargon and talk to our homeowners in a way that resonates.
This is why we are building a multi-disciplinary design team. Content strategy, product design, user research, and brand design all working together to solve the problem as a team—and work together with the larger organization to bring it to life.
Have you taught your son anything about design?
Well, he's carving his own path… As a junior photographer, maybe! Conor surprised us with his photo-taking skills at a recent Valon design outing. Not too bad for a 4-year-old!
Candid shots of the team dining in NYC!
What TV shows are you watching now?
I started watching In Treatment. If I had a chance to pick a second job, it would be therapist, really understanding and helping people.
It was great to get to speak with Ting. Valon’s design team is growing, and we're hiring product designers, user researchers, and content strategists. Learn more and apply here.