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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

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:

Why I love working at Google

Cinthya Urasaki

Great video by Robert Wong, who heads the Creative Lab team at Google. As a UX Designer working at Google, this video captures a lot of the reasons why I love working in this company. In his work at the Google Creative Lab, Robert Wong never imagined he would be influencing the future of scientific development-and yet he does just that, breaking down the boundary between art and science by creating stories that inspire engineers and the technology they build.

Beautiful flower arrangements at MoMa's The Modern

Cinthya Urasaki

We went to have dinner at MoMa's restaurant "The Modern" in Midtown last week. Like the name suggests it as a modern decor, but the best thing for me were the gorgeous flower arrangements. I took a few pics with my iphone so I could share them.  Maybe it will help with wedding or special occasion's decor. When we were planning our wedding I used to take pics of beautiful flower arrangements anywhere I saw them: stores (Bloomingdales on 59th has nice arrangements), flower shops, restaurants, etc.

Hope this helps you get inspired!

Jony Ive’s iOS 7 Flat Design Overhaul Reportedly Features A Lot Of Black And White | TechCrunch

Cinthya Urasaki

Finally, Apple moving towards a flat UI design. It was about time to ditch the “mimic reality” trend.

Cinthya Urasaki

Short video with a strong message: How to use one paper towel when drying our hands. I’ve been applying his “Shake and Fold” method every day now!

Cinthya Urasaki

I’m getting married in November (yay!).. It’s been super exciting to plan and design the whole experience. Right now we’re exploring ideas for our wedding invitations, we want something fun and since we’re both designers, we wanted to make things ourselves whenever possible. My fiance handmade a stamp of a pattern he created with pictures of leaves. I think it’s super cool!! and now, i think we’re going to try getting custom made stamps for everything!..  Here are a few pics of the the first stamp design he made..  
     Here are a couple of places we found who make custom stamps:

I’m getting married in November (yay!).. It’s been super exciting to plan and design the whole experience. Right now we’re exploring ideas for our wedding invitations, we want something fun and since we’re both designers, we wanted to make things ourselves whenever possible. My fiance handmade a stamp of a pattern he created with pictures of leaves. I think it’s super cool!! and now, i think we’re going to try getting custom made stamps for everything!..  Here are a few pics of the the first stamp design he made..

Here are a couple of places we found who make custom stamps:

Cinthya Urasaki

Snail Mail my email is a one month project to help revive the creativity and personal touch of receiving handwritten letters. The one above is one of my favorites. Check the project and submit your own letter!

Snail Mail my email is a one month project to help revive the creativity and personal touch of receiving handwritten letters. The one above is one of my favorites. Check the project and submit your own letter!