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Tips for starting or growing your career as a UX Designer

Cinthya Urasaki

This post is also on Medium (October 13, 2017)

As a UX Manager at Google and organizer of XX+UX events in NYC, I often talk to people who are interested in starting or growing their careers in UX Design. It’s an exciting time as the UX discipline has evolved over the years and expanded as new technologies evolve. As a UX Designer who has been working in the tech industry for over 13 years, I wanted to share some of the most common questions I received which hopefully will be useful for more people.

I want to get into UX Design but have little or no experience. How do I get a job without portfolio samples?

The best way to do this is to create your own case studies. Think of problems you would like to solve, maybe it’s something that bugs you in your everyday life, or something you’re passionate about but you never have time to work on. The goal of having a portfolio with case studies is not only to show the work you can do, but to give potential employers a view into who you are as a professional: What is your design process? What kind of things do you consider when working on a project? What is your approach? What is your work style?

Employers want to know who they’re hiring not because you launched product X, but because you would be an invaluable addition to their team.

I have work I can showcase, what is the best way to build a portfolio?

Building a portfolio can get pretty overwhelming so here are some simple steps to help structuring it:

Have one single location to showcase your work. A website, a deck, a PDF, you name it. But please do not share multiple links, folders, or documents. Treat your portfolio as a product that represents “you” as a brand. A good product should be easy to use (i.e. not needing to chase down folders and links to understand what this “product” does) and should be easy to understand, meaning people should know who you are as a professional in the first minute or so.

Present projects as case studies. A case study is a a great way to walk through your thinking and design process.

  1. Set the stage: What is the problem you’re trying to solve? What are the user needs and the opportunity space?

  2. Clearly state your role in the project: What was your contribution? Who did you work with on the project and on each phase of the project?

  3. Walk through your process: This is where you want to showcase your approach to solving a problem. What was that process like? Explain each step of the process, from understanding the problem space to the assumptions you made and why.

  4. Design execution and rationale: It’s important to show quality of the craft (design execution) but it’s also as important to show how you arrived to that solution. Describe the rationale for decisions made which lead you to the final artifact.

  5. Call out lessons learned throughout the process. If it shipped, what would you do as next steps?

Be concise, check your grammar. There’s no need to write at length about every single thing that happened. Write it as if you’re explaining it to your parents. Simple, clear and easy to understand.

Finally, remember that it’s not about the final solution but who are you as a UXer, what kind of professional you are: what is your approach? are you a team player? a good collaborator? Do you have good presentation & communication skills?

Startup, Design Consultancy, Agency, Big company? Where to go?

The good news is UX has become such a strong asset for companies that more industries want to have UX talent within their teams, thus creating many opportunities for UX Designers. When people ask me this I normally respond by asking them what kind of skills and expertise do they want to learn. I’m also interested in learning about their experience to date. By thinking about these things you’ll have a good indication of what type of company and industry would be the best fit for you.

Working at a smaller company (i.e. startup) will help you learn a variety of skills. When working with a smaller team you’ll have to wear many hats and do a bit of everything. This is a great way to see which area you’re most passionate about.

Agencies and Consultancies are great if you are looking to work on a variety of projects. You will learn how to adapt your UX skills and process to a range of industries and user segments.

When working in house at a (bigger) company your role will be more defined. Roles are focused on a specific area of contribution (i.e. UX Design, UX Research, Motion Designer, Visual Designer, etc) mainly because of scale. As a UX Designer working on a product used by millions of people you’re not only designing the UI for one language but for many many languages, you have to ensure it’s accessible, etc. There are many aspects of the product you have to think about therefore the need to have more specific roles.

Seeking advice, Mentoring.

Whether you’re getting started with your career or you are an experienced professional; it’s always useful to seek advice and mentoring as you grow your career. We’re constantly learning new things, from being a strong individual contributor to learning new types of contributions. As your scope expands, you’ll want to learn how to be an effective leader, how to build good team culture, drive for success, etc. All of those were new to me, and I keep learning everyday by seeking advice from peers and mentors.

I like how Ana Roca Castro (@AnaRC) said it at a panel where we met. Find a mentor who is right above you in terms of experience, someone whose steps you can follow. And you should also find a mentor who is much higher level than you. Someone who you aspire to be someday in the future. The types of questions you will have for these mentors are different and are both invaluable. You’ll be surprised how open people are to giving advice and mentoring. Don’t be afraid of asking, you won’t lose anything.

Let go of the “Designer ego”

The first thing I tell people new to the discipline is that we, as Designers need to learn one thing: design is not art. When you work on an artifact that will be used by thousands, millions or billions of people then it’s clearly not art. This artifact (a product, a device, an app, a website, etc) has to be useful, easy to use, work flawlessly and be delightful.


As Steve Jobs said, “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works”. It requires multiple people and disciplines to achieve these goals. As a Designer, you have to let go of the idea that you can go away to “your cave” and come back with a showstopper solution. I’ve seen this many times and I’ve learnt this the hard way myself. The best way to come up with a strong solution is to work closely with a multidisciplinary team. A team that brings different perspectives, different expertise and skills. Don’t get upset when someone gives you feedback or a critique, it’s not personal. They are also invested in making that artifact great and want to work with you on achieving that. Focus on building strong relationships with your team members because the success of the product relies on all of you collaborating as team.

Junior vs Senior Designers

A popular topic within conversations. What is the difference between a junior and a senior Designer? Is it years of experience?

I think the answer is not just about years of experience. The main difference I see between junior and senior Designers (or professionals in general) is that a junior person will come to their manager with a problem and ask for help to solve it. A senior person will come with a problem and propose a solution for it. This solution may not be the best or the final one, but the fact that this person is proactive at thinking of solving the problem is what sets this person apart and shows seniority and leadership.

Final thoughts..

Have self awareness of who you are as a professional. Think about your strengths and areas for growth. Visualize where you want to see yourself in 6 months. What are the things you need to do in order to realize that vision? Having a shorter term vision helps track and achieve those goals more efficiently. They’re steps towards your longer term vision.

Always be humble and be willing to do the work needed. Being part of a team of talented and humble people is the best part of working at Google. The incredible talent that surrounds you is humbling. No one is too good to do something. It doesn’t matter what it is. Everyone rolls up their sleeves and do it. To me, that’s the fun part. When you get to do all sorts of things for the success of a project.

Finally, stay focused on the user. It doesn’t matter how much experience you gain as a UX Designer, our main job is to solve user needs.

Hope this helps!

UX talks in Peru

Cinthya Urasaki

Thanks to the US Embassy in Lima I was able to travel back home and share my experiences as UX Designer working at Google. I walked them through the UX process and how we applied it on products like Google Classroom, Expeditions and Blocks.

It was an honor to give this talk to students in high school and universities, and hopefully inspire them to pursue careers in STEAM. In the end, i shared a lot of the things I learned throughout my career  and told them to follow their passion, because that is what opens up opportunities to learn more.

Here are the talks (in spanish)

And the video from Cibertec on Facebook live

Talking about UX with "El Comercio"

Cinthya Urasaki

"El reto más grande para un diseñador es crear algo simple"

(The biggest challenge for a designer is to create something simple)

I had the pleasure to talk with El Comercio,  the main newspaper in Peru about User Experience Design and Research.  I've been living and working in the US for more than 10 years now, witnessing and participating in the evolution of the UX discipline. 

It's great to see how UX is now top of mind not only within Design companies but in any type of company, and in so many countries. I'm excited to see how UX will help shape the next generation of products made in Peru.

Take a look at the online interview

First birthday decor for the lil one

Cinthya Urasaki

We celebrated our daughter's first birthday in Hamburg with my husband's family. We wanted to do something simple and intimate with family and close friends but also wanted to make it a special event for Mila.

I did some visual research on decoration ideas and thanks to Papersource I was able to find many cute things. I was looking forward to decorating with my mother in law and her husband, they're both very creative and detailed oriented people. They have a beautiful home and gorgeous dinnerware for the treats and food.

I wanted something romantic, but still fun and baby appropriate. The color theme I liked was pale pink, gold and white. We used light blue for the boys gifts and some other touches of different toned down colors for the table. We wanted to give our friends' kids something to take away to remember Mila by, especially because we don't live there and hanging out with them was so special.

We wanted something representative of who Mila is, so we thought bringing NY caps for the little guests could be cool. You can see them wrapped with tissue paper in pale pink or light blue.

I loved how everything turned out! 

UX I love doing

Cinthya Urasaki

I've been working in the tech industry doing UX Design for about 10 years now, it's really crazy how time flies by. Back then, doing “UX” was still relatively new. A big part of our jobs was educating people about what we do: How UX could help uncover user pain points as well as unmet user needs. UX can help address these by partnering with other disciplines to create easy-to-use, simple and delightful experiences. But in order to provide a proper a solution like this, there needs to be an equal partnership among the disciplines you work with, mainly with Product Management and Engineering. The path to get there has taken a few years, but the result has been a variety of great and innovative products you can choose from today. A great example is communication. There are so many new ways to connect with people now, you can talk to the world using social media or video chat from your phone with anyone in the world, at very little cost. It's awesome! I recently connected with the host family I stayed with when I was an exchange student in high school (yes, that was a long time ago!). And that’s all because technology is being used to enhance people’s lives.

I've worked with many teams at Microsoft and now at Google. I've learned so much from each team and the product(s) we built. I wouldn't change anything I've experienced so far because it led me to where I am today. And today I am so proud and happy to be part of the Education team at Google. It’s always been my goal to work on a project where technology ‘improves peoples lives", and this is my chance to do so.

The main product I work on, Classroom, was entirely designed based on user needs. A team of people passionate about education got together to understand the issues teachers and students are experiencing today. It’s an area where technology really hasn't put a lot of effort in. Unlike other areas like communication or social media, education really hasn't experienced the explosion of amazing solutions.

We did a lot of research and found out that teachers are spending a lot of time hacking technology in order to use it in their classrooms. How is it possible that we can facetime with anyone in the world, but teachers still have to spend hours in front of a copy machine? In this age of technology, this doesn't make sense at all.

We started thinking of ways we could address this and other existing pain points. What if we started by creating a space where they could do everything they do today, just more efficiently? This way teachers could focus on the important part, teaching...and not tech-ing.

It's been a humbling experience to design hand-in-hand with teachers and students, learning directly from their experiences using the product. We had an amazing set of "testers" who piloted our work since the beginning. We are their biggest fans. It's such a rewarding feeling when you demo the product and a teacher gives you a hug because they're so happy about it. That’s when you know the user-centered design process really nailed it. It’s great for our users because companies are creating more and more products based on their needs. I am excited to see what technology will do for Education in the next few years.

If you are a Google Apps for Education school you can use Google Classroom right away and it's all for free! No ads either. Check it out here: Google Classroom

Meet the team

Here's an overview demo of Google Classroom:

Our wedding

Cinthya Urasaki

We celebrated our wedding in Lima, Peru, my beloved home country. We were very thankful to have so many friends from all over the world come join us on this day. We live in NYC and know the effort it takes to travel to far away places, so this was truly a special occasion for us.

I wanted to post about our wedding to help other brides and grooms get some tips and inspiration as we did when planning our wedding. Here you'll find all the details of the amazing people who helped us make this happen. 

Both of us are designers working on crafting user experiences for technology products. But we were trained as graphic and print designers as well, making this a super exciting opportunity since we don't get to do print and interior design that often.

We went a bit crazy with all the elements, colors and experience we wanted to create. We definitely spent a lot of time designing every single detail from the save the date, the wedding site, invitations, place cards, favors, decor, etc. We created a "brand" with our initials y+a which we used throughout all web and print materials, as well as part of the interior design at the reception.  My next post will be about all the design elements we created and "the making of", but for now let me go into the wedding details.

It was an evening wedding, starting with a church ceremony (very traditional in Peru) followed by a wedding reception which lasted until the very early hours in the morning (also very common in Peru).  There were lots of food, drinks and dancing! 

Scroll down to take a peek at our wedding experience and the details of the people, artists and services we worked with. 


wed blog1 sm.png

Here are all the details, hope it helps!

  • Wedding site: Designed and created by us
  • Wedding dress:  Vera Wang, NYC
  • Sash and hair piece: Roxana Pardo 445 4894
  • Makeup and Hairstylist: Besso Salon Artistas y genios Juan y Miguel Barbaran
  • Flower girls dresses: Etsy Olive and Fern
  • Flowers church, reception, bouquet & boutonnieres: The Flower shop  Fiorenza Bragganini y Larissa Porraro
  • Church: Virgen del PIlar - Ana del Carmen 440 2230
  • Father: Mateo Garr
  • Choir: Arpegio  Marieli (directora) 999 234 200
  • Car: Jet set limousine
  • Reception: Jockey Club del Peru 610 3000
  • Catering, decoration: Andrea Sambra  242 4690
  • SushiHanzo
  • Hora loca (Crazy hour):  Naricitas 784 4336
  • Photographer: Esteban Nakano  999 177 761
  • DJ: Igor Carrillo 994 015 608
  • Security:  Pancho Seguridad  348 7601
  • Favors: Handmade by my amazing sister
  • Invitations, place cards, table signs, bar decor: Handmade by bride and groom