Finding My Flow in Singapore

Every morning for the past three weeks I have stood and swayed with the tightly packed crowd of commuters on the MRT train from Queenstown to Outram Park, where I change my train to Harborfront Centre and go to work. Every morning I stare at this map and watch the glowing red dot (my train) move from one station to another and think about my life with my family here in Singapore for three months.

At this point I should let you know that I'm a UX Architect and I spend a good portion of my life drawing images like this. I also spend another good portion of my life telling people that they should pay attention to images like this. It's a great way to pinpoint current and potential actions. A user flow. And in the industry I am in, a good flow typically shows users easily and simply gliding through the solution you have come up with for a client.

Back to the train. As opposed to Seattle, morning commutes are pure silence. Thousands of people. Most with earbuds, staring at screens in solitude. And in the stations, the only thing you hear are the click-clack of shoes and the soft "excuse me" before a person squeezes by you. This silence has caused me to stop listening to music and pay attention to the stillness.  It's a more relaxing way to travel, and a nice morning flow I have developed.

Back home, I spend a lot of my time learning more about traditional cultural foods and eating them. Whether it's North Carolina BBQ, French poached chicken or Thai Khao Soi I dive deep into it and avoid any recipe that uses the term fusion. Therefore, Singapore is a sort of mecca for me. I've been fascinated with not just the amazing things I'm eating, but the culture around food that is unprecedented. You can't escape food, it is everywhere, everyone has an opinion about where to go and you can have the best meal of your life for $3, $30, or $300.

As I've explored the Chinese, Indian and Malaysian fare at the local hawker stalls (our primary source of food), I have found myself coming back to favorite places over and over. I'm finding my Singapore culinary flow. However, last week on a whim I walked behind a local food court 4 blocks from our house and found a second food center with over 30 new places I have never seen. My jaw dropped. I very well could have never found out about this place with the incredibly spicy fish ball soup, charcoal roasted pork and 24 hour curry puff stall.  In this case, my flow should always include a sharp turn to the left with a question mark. It should account for what I'm not used to and encourage me to embrace it.  I want to stay curious and eat the strange dish I am unsure of. Speaking of that, I haven't eaten durian yet.

It's pretty amazing to be part of a global company now and have the opportunity to come here and see it in action while working in our APAC hub. When I asked around what the dress code is at the office, many people said "An agency is an agency wherever you go. Jeans." and in many ways they were right. I still hate logging my time, everyone I work with is incredibly supportive, there is beer in the fridge and my job is still to find answers to ambiguous questions. However, the problems that are posed here are opening my eyes to user experience needs that have never occurred to me. It's making me question my flow.

Back to the train. In Seattle, 95% of those people would be holding iPhones. I can't count the various shapes and sizes of devices being used and I watch as people interact with each other using social media platforms we've never heard of, but have hundreds of millions of users here. Speaking of that, the Google, Facebook, Twitter API and sharing solutions that are standard fare in the states  don't mean anything when 800 million people you're trying to market to can't and don't use them. And the integration of platforms makes the service design wheels in my head spin. My train pass can be used to check out library books, pay my cell phone bill and get me into the public pool. And those location aware cab hailing apps in the states are about as common in Singapore as craft beer is in Seattle (damn, I really really miss that beer).

And this is the best part. Experiencing the challenges and being a part of the elegant solutions coming out of our Singapore office is posing new questions I have never asked myself before. And like finding that good, unexpected lunch this is forcing me to keep taking that new left turn. It's widening my concept of The User and is going to force me to redraw all those flows when I get back home.

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