Posted 16 June 2022
Mention Yan Shum
Interview by Lyla Johnston

UX designer Yan Shum on how she bagged her BBC job and what it’s like working there

For Yan Shum, joining the BBC’s UX design trainee scheme couldn’t have been a better post-grad opportunity. In her one-year placement, Yan hopped from sector to sector, eventually finding her footing within the World Service, where she works to this day. Though it took her a while to adjust to the Beeb’s large-scale environment, Yan tells us how she finally found her way. Here, she talks about the ins and outs of being a UX designer for a global service, the benefits of working in-house and why UX design is a lifelong learning process.

Yan Shum

Yan Shum

Job Title

Junior UX Designer, BBC



Previous Employment

Trainee, BBC UX Design (2019–2020)
Branding Trainee, United by Design (2016)
Product Design Trainee, Fang Studio (2015)

Place of Study

MA Multidisciplinary Innovation, Northumbria University (2017–2018)
BA Design for Industry, Northumbria University (2013–2017)

What I do

How would you describe what you do? And specifically what you do at the BBC?
I’m a UX designer who designs digital experiences for different screens. At the BBC, I work in the World Service News UX team, which looks after 41 services around the world. As a UX designer, I introduce new designs and features to a product to improve its users’ experience. It requires skills in creating visuals – both on paper and digital – to create solutions. This role requires me to balance user needs, business objectives and technical restraint, through meetings with stakeholders as well as design iteration.

My responsibilities include working with designers and a multidisciplinary team to deliver products that would enhance users’ experience. After receiving my brief, I work on research, design and prototyping, while sharing my designs for feedback throughout the process.

It's also my responsibility to make sure that users’ experiences are consistent across various BBC platforms, by speaking to other services, and applying Global Experience Language guidelines.

Topic Tags for BBC World Service News

How would you explain what user research and user testing is to someone who doesn't know anything about it?
User research is reaching out to end users to understand their needs, pain points and goals. User testing allows you to test out whether your design really addresses these things.

What recent project at the BBC are you most proud of?
(Above) I’m really proud of my Topic Tag design, to enhance the onward journey experience for users, which you can find on World Service News article sites. I know that it looks really simple, but it took me a lot of effort and time.

You would be surprised at how many iterations I created. I was fighting for design changes, jumping through accessibility barriers and stress testing with different languages, before finally seeing this feature being built and going live.

“The BBC’s service is international, and covers every corner of the earth.”

What kind of skills are needed to do your role? And would you say you need any specific training to do what you do?
User research and user testing skills are important as they are needed for understanding users’ needs, pain points and goals. A diverse set of visual skills are essential to developing ideas, as they allow me to readily sketch wireframes digitally or on paper. Good communication skills are also useful since I need to share ideas and explain my design decisions to fellow designers and stakeholders.

You can choose to go to university or sign up for a short course. But I think you can also teach yourself by creating digital visuals on Sketch or Figma. You can also run your own briefs to practice going through a project and to build up a portfolio. There are plenty of resources online that can help you - for example, the UX design challenge.

If you could pick one emoji to describe what it’s like to work at the BBC, what would it be and why?
I would choose 🌍. Not just because I work in the World Service News team, but because I think that the BBC’s service is international, and covers every corner of the earth.

In the UX&D department alone, I feel that there is still a lot for me to learn, even after having been here for two years. I’m looking forward to my next placement rotation, to see the BBC from another perspective.

Yan’s desk

How I got here

How did you land the job?
I became a junior UX designer after finishing the UX trainee scheme. At the time, I had just finished my masters in Multidisciplinary Innovation at Northumbria University, and was looking for a full-time design job when I came across the BBC UX trainee scheme.

The trainee scheme is a great way to kickstart your UX career. I was able to rotate between four placements in the year, during which I worked within Global Experience Language, iPlayer, System and Service Design, and World Service News. I took part in user research and testing sessions, picked up software skills and worked with different stakeholders.

What was your journey like when you were first starting out? Did you find your feet quickly?
I think I settled into the role quickly. I had a soft start with a two-week induction, along with other trainees in London and Salford, where we got to know different products and meet colleagues in person at different offices. When I joined, I immersed myself in projects with ease, as the design process isn’t that different from university.

I also learned how to conduct user research through attending and running my own user testing sessions. I have learned how to carefully craft my questions to allow participants to express their honest thoughts. Through different projects, I have picked up skills in designing for an array of platforms, picking up software that is needed to create hi-fi mockups.

Some of Yan’s portfolio sketches, which got her onto the BBC UX trainee scheme

What design skills did you pick up and what does it mean to work with different stakeholders?
I have learned how to use Sketch, Origami Studio and to create hi-fi wireframes and prototypes. In order to bring these designs to life, it is important to work with stakeholders to understand the goal and any restrictions. A stakeholder is someone [or a team] who can either affect or be affected by the project that I’m working on. This includes the product management team, software developers, and the accessibility team.

Before a project begins, the product management team sets out the goal of the project. Throughout the project, I will present my work to product managers, developers and the accessibility team for feedback to help improve my design, so that it is technically feasible and accessible for audiences with different degrees of ability.

The 2020 BBC UX&D trainee class

If you could pick three things that you’ve found useful or inspiring to your work or career, what would they be and why?
Firstly, my colleagues at the BBC; everyone I have met has been so nice. Through working and talking to them, I have learnt so much from their experience. If I have any work queries or if I’m just feeling a bit lost as to the next step of my career, I feel comfortable reaching out to them for help.

Secondly, the GEL guidelines. They are what I refer to when I work on any project for the BBC. The GEL website is public-facing and features design guidelines as well as articles and a ‘What is UX&D?’ page.

Finally, LinkedIn. I’ve tried bookmarking websites to read more about UX design, but it didn’t become a habit for me. Instead, I follow designers and design consultancies on LinkedIn and read their posts and articles for inspiration.

What has been your biggest challenge along the way?
The most difficult part of joining the BBC has been getting used to the scale of the company. There are many stakeholders and meetings, which can be overwhelming, and I am still not completely used to it yet.

“One of the perks of being an in-house designer is that I don’t need to support myself as a creative and I get a stable monthly income.”

What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
One of the perks of being an in-house designer is that I get a stable monthly income and don’t need to support myself as a creative. The BBC provides me with a Mac and the software needed to do my job. There are also internal courses to sign up for, and a LinkedIn learning account, which I utilise. Time is provided to learn and improve as a designer.

My advice

What advice would you give someone looking to get into a similar role?
For anyone interested in the scheme, I would encourage you to apply. Learn more about the trainee scheme by reading Starting out in design? Our doors are still open... and Meet the UX Design Trainees, class of 2019 on BBC GEL.

Make sure that your personal statement covers the criteria for the trainee scheme and prepare a portfolio that is easy to follow, showing your research and idea development process, as well as a polished final design. Share photos of your interviews, hand-drawn sketches and user journeys in order to tell a story about your user-centred process and engage the reviewers.

Mention Yan Shum
Interview by Lyla Johnston