2 Minutes With ... Gene Lee, CX and Design Chief at Mailchimp

His creative journey from PlayStation to the Mailchimp customer experience

Gene Lee is svp of CX and design at Mailchimp, where he leads a team of customer experience experts and designers responsible for Mailchimp's customer experience.

Gene and his team work across the organization to advocate for the customer and solve problems centered on their experiences, design systems that empower them, and deliver a holistic, seamless experience across the entire customer journey and at every touchpoint with the brand.

Previously, Gene served as head of UX design at Sony PlayStation, leading a global, multidisciplinary team responsible for PlayStation's products and services across console, web, mobile and VR. He also held various creative and design roles at Razorfish, Young & Rubicam, Landor Associates, Scholastic and Nickelodeon.

We spent two minutes with Gene to learn more about his background, his creative inspirations, and recent work he's admired.

Gene, tell us...

Where you were born, and where you live now.

Born in Seoul, Korea. Now living in Atlanta.

What you wanted to be when you grew up.


How you discovered you were creative.

I always had a knack for illustrating, and a curiosity of how things were designed. I guess I discovered I was creative when kids offered to buy my BMX bike illustrations.

A person you idolized creatively growing up.

Walt Disney.

A moment from high school or college that changed your life.

During high school, I was that kid in the back of the classroom lampooning illustrations of the teacher. One day my teacher caught me, and I thought I was in big, big trouble. Instead, I was asked to be the editorial cartoonist for the school newspaper. This was the defining moment in my life where I realized I could use my creativity for good, and eventually as a career.

The first concert you saw, and your favorite band or musician today.

For my first concert, I saw Counting Crows open up for R.E.M. in Athens, Georgia, in 1994. I don't think I have a single favorite band or musician that I listen to today. I enjoy listening to a range of music—rap, classic rock, modern pop, K-pop, alternative—anything but country. 

Your favorite visual artist.

Ah, this one's tough! I've always loved Leonardo Da Vinci, as I think he was the original medical illustrator. I also like Chuck Close, Takashi Murakami and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Your favorite fictional character.

Bruce Wayne.

The best book you've read lately.

Sneakers: The Complete Collectors' Guide, followed by The Messy Middle by Scott Belsky.

Your favorite movie.

Ah, another tough one! I would say The Pianist is up there, but closely followed by Good Will Hunting, Toy Story, Dead Poets Society ... OK, let me stop there.

Your favorite Instagram follow.

@cj_hendry, an Australian artist known for her super-realistic illustrations (she's also famous for selling Kanye to Kanye), and @mimles, a creative illusion makeup artist.

How the Covid-19 crisis has changed your life, personally or professionally.

Personally, I've gotten to spend more time with my family—taking walks, building cardboard trains—which I'm so grateful for. I've also had more time to work out. 

Professionally, I'm learning to become a better communicator and virtual leader.  It's really hard to make connections with team members and peers, and foster strong cross-functional relationships, without being physically in the office. 

Your favorite creative project you've ever worked on.

Another tough question. I'm going to name a couple:

Designing for Sony PlayStation 5. This was a challenging effort concepting the next-generation PS5 experience. It involved both the software and hardware global teams working together to improve upon the already successful PS4 platform—while also ensuring the heritage and brand integrity for PlayStation. It was tremendously fun and stressful at the same time. I left for my role at Mailchimp in the middle of the project.

Designing the Mailchimp Customer Experience. This isn't exactly a project involving a feature or campaign launch, but more of a creative cultural project of connecting and breaking down fragmented experiences. I've learned so much from my various experiences throughout my career, and am well positioned to put it all into use at Mailchimp, where I lead customer experience, and the marketing, brand and product design teams. The challenges of partnering with various functions across the organization to connect the dots across the customer journey isn't easy, but seeing the results for our customers is very rewarding. Here's a link to a recent fall campaign as an example. 

Your favorite creative project from the past year.

We created a physical Small Mall during the 2019 holiday season to sell and market goods from some of our small business customers. We designed the Small Mall as a 1980s mall-themed pop-up shop inside of a marketplace at our Ponce City Market headquarters in Atlanta. I loved it because not only was it a fun and beautiful experience, but it also expanded our empathy for our small business customers and allowed us to support their businesses.

Someone else's creative project that inspired you years ago.

There's a clever board game called DESIGN EYE that teaches young kids about the six main disciplines of graphic design as well as a few design fundamentals. The game was created by Deon Mixon as a way to help increase diversity in the design industry, especially in urban communities, and inspire people to engage with each other creatively and learn the skills needed to bring their ideas to life. I supported Deon's game via Kickstarter and can't wait to play it with my kids once it arrives. It's especially cool to see a focus on exposing young kids to the world of design as a way to bring more diversity into the field of the future.

Someone else's creative project that you've been impressed by lately.

I don't know the name of the designer, but my brother recently had a baby and showed me his foldable car seat and stroller combo called Doona. I was really impressed by both the functionality and overall design!

Your main strength as a creative person.

I would say setting the vision, building a talented team, and empowering them to succeed.

Your biggest weakness. 

Finding the experience balance between business and customer value—e.g., the Minimal Viable Product, or MVP, sweet spot is still a challenge, even through iterations.

One thing that always makes you happy.

Professionally, seeing people succeed and customers delighted. Personally, a good slice of NYC pizza, and building things with my kids.

One thing that always makes you sad.


What you'd be doing if you weren't in advertising and/or design.

I can't imagine doing anything outside of the creative field, but beyond traditional advertising and design, I would be a cake decorator ... OK, there I said it.

2 Minutes With is our weekly interview series where we chat with creatives about their backgrounds, creative inspirations, work they admire and more. For more about 2 Minutes With, or to be considered for the series, please get in touch.

Ashley Epping
Ashley Epping is art director of Muse by Clio and program lead at the Clio Awards.

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