Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 🇲🇾

'Afif A. Arsad

UX/UI Designer

Welcome aboard! I'm 'Afif, a UX/UI Designer. I'm a grateful single-dad of 3, Metallica fan 🎧, and I enjoy dramatising keynotes. Oh, I'm also an international Airline Captain.
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Where are you from? Where are you based as a UX/UI Designer?

I'm currently based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (hometown!). If it wasn't for the pandemic, I would be based in Dubai, UAE flying around the world as a pilot. Fun fact about me: I've actually had to manage an emergency during takeoff once!

Here's a view from a huge park near my house that my kids and I would go for a little nature time.

Another view from my balcony in Dubai... if it wasn't for the pandemic.

What led you into UX/UI design?

In 2012, when my airline first introduced the A380 behemoth to our fleet, there was a period of time where I didn't fly a lot. The times I actually got to fly, it was a relief as a pilot while my other colleagues were trained. It was at this time that I observed a deficiency in training methods, material quality, and delivery medium.

I spent the next few months making deeper observations, bothered a lot of pilots with questions, and studied about design on the side (turns out this was UX Research)!

I was new to UI Design, needed to prototype quickly, and had no idea where to start. So I played around with iBooks authors and created a redesigned pilots' training manual. This allowed me to quickly design, prototype, and launch an interactive digital book. I'm glad that the lessons I learned playing with iBooks Authors, Keynotes, and pitching to potential clients helped me get familiar quickly with today's tools including Miro and Figma; which, was introduced to me via the Memorisely UX/UI Design Bootcamp.

What inspired you to pursue UX/UI and become a Designer?

The COVID pandemic forced me to change careers 😆

My training manual prototype sped up knowledge acquisition while injecting joy in the studying process.

When I tested it with my colleagues, they loved it and they all were ready to throw money at me for the product to be completed. It was at this moment that I found the joy of purpose: to create something that brings a smile and relief to people.

Sometimes life throws a curveball at you, but as pilots, you still need to constantly revise, train, and get tortured in the simulator multiple times a year. So when unexpected challenges come into your life, you just want to get the revision and training done quick and effective.

These were some fond memories from before the pandemic.

What does a typical day look like for you?

It depends on when I sleep and if it's an in-person school day or not (high COVID cases shut down schools).

Sleep early + Physical School Day

I would wake up at around 6am, and after morning prayers, it's go time! I wake up my troops, beat the morning traffic jam and get them to school. I'm usually back home by 8am and it's go time, Part 2!

I start with the usual daily chores (3 kids generates 3 tonnes of laundry a week!), a quick Monkii workout, then breakfast, and finally a shower and I plan to start any work before 11am.

Here a photo showcasing getting Monkii Wild in the morning!

With coffee on the desk I start by completing any design challenges, going through emails and Slack messages, then resume my freelancing hustle.

I start prep work for lunch/early dinner for the returning troops around 1pm and get them home by 4pm. This is followed by game time and hanging out with the kids until dinner is done. Once they're in bed, I continue with design work, resume dad stuff (folding laundry, learning how to sew/cook/craft etc), revise my flight manuals (on some days), play a bit of PlayStation, then off to bed (24 hours done in a flash).

Sleep late + Online School Day

I sleep late or sleep at the break of dawn. Make sure the troops wake up for online school and I sleep in until about 11am (brunch it is!) and repeat the routine above with minor logistic changes.

On the days I make lasagna 👇

On the days I make my Vietnamese Pho 👇

What is your current desk setup?

I have an old MacBook Pro (15-inch, Early 2013) connected to an Apple Thunderbolt Display. I complement this with my iPad Pro + Magic Keyboard + Apple Pencil and various music equipment.

On the analogue front, I finally get to use the fancy pens I've been collecting over the years (when flying, a cheap Pilot G-2 is just magic). So I alternate between my Mont Blanc pens, and an array of pens from stilform. Oh, and Sharpies!

And your work station setup across devices?


I have Figma, Slack, and Notion at the ready in my Dock, on top of the standard Photos and Safari + Chrome combo.

Tablet & Mobile

Here, I have Notion and Slack while I use PDF Expert & GoodNotes a lot as well. Currently I like using Paper for sketching on iPad (wishing for a FigJam iPad app!) I use Spotify on iPad more than iPhone during designing because the buttons are bigger!

The desktop background was taken just before I flew a brand new plane from the Airbus factory in Toulouse to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

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What challenges do you face as a UX/UI Designer?

  1. Young Industry — The industry is very new where I am, so the general awareness and value appreciation is not where I had hoped for. Transitioning full-time from a very technical field of aviation to product design would be made much easier if there were plenty of job opportunities for me to grow better and faster.
  2. Contextual Impostor Syndrome Understanding the difference in Impostor Syndrome between the technical and creative brain was a huge challenge. As a pilot, any mistakes you make (small, easily correctable ones!) are just slips and errors that you manage. But creative design is your identity and personality under the microscope! So I manage this by recalling the lessons I picked up when reading Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull.
  3. Stamina One good thing about the pandemic is that it highlights the feasibility and value of working remotely. With the pandemic decimating the aviation industry, I had to reorganize my life on a huge scale. Working remotely as a designer full-time allows me to be hands-on with my kids as we navigate life together as a family of 4. But, it also means I'm switched on 24/7, and it can deplete me on some days. So, exercise and playtime is my reset procedure!

What's the most exciting part of being a UX/UI Designer?

Being a UX/UI Designer puts you in an environment to be comfortable with iteration, improvements, and failures. I bring my kids along through my design journey and those lessons are tangible as a foundation for their growth.

Also, to see people have a better day because of something you made or improved... it's like a giant hug 🤗.

What work or project are you most proud of?

Although it looks incredibly dated now and doesn't have most of the best practices in UI Design, I'm still most proud of the work on my pilot's training manual. There are a lot of other concepts on improving pilot training but they're either trying to do too much, or when they try to specialise in focus, they miss the optimum mark.

There's also an element I designed that could be unfamiliar (especially back in 2013), so I mixed in a flat skeuomorphism button design (an actual cockpit push button design) for familiarity as this new product is introduced with the hopes of modernising it in later versions. I'm grateful I understood the importance of the MAYA principle early on in my design journey.

What (digital or physical) product recently blew your socks off?

I was going to say any Dyson vacuum cleaner because it's like a bazooka in my war against house dust. But, if I had to choose one because it's magical, it HAS to be the BioLite FirePit+. Barbecue without billowing smoke but all the goodness of barbecue? Yes, please!

What tunes do you listen to while designing/working?

If I'm on a reading task or researching, I need something not too catchy and maybe instrumental like Classical or Smooth Jazz.

When I'm on UI work, I need things either LOUD or upbeat Jazz/Funk. So, for this purpose I'd go loud with a mix of Metallica & 80s-90s rock bands (somehow Tool & A Perfect Circle kind of puts me in a design trance). This gets mixed with the occasional Snarky Puppy or even Ella Fitzgerald!

(Currently in my Tool zone.)

Share three suggestions for budding designers?

  1. Fall fast, get up faster — Be vulnerable in getting feedback and take the hits as they come. Do defend your design decisions that sit warm and fuzzy in your belly; but, the feedback hits you take — that's growth.
  2. Have an outlet When flying got repetitive, I used design to refresh my mood and brain. This rejuvenation allowed me to have better situational awareness in my flying and generally have joy. When I'm in a design rut, I exercise the technical side of my being and find inspiration from the world and the people who populate it. It's like a switch you flip and let one side rest for a moment.
  3. ASK for help, guidance, and feedback... sleep on it, then keep asking.

Thanks for reading my story!

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 🇲🇾

'Afif A. Arsad

UX/UI Designer

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