An interview full of insights with Jairo, our MID student who worked as a freelance designer before transitioning to Product Design.
In this conversation, Jairo shares about his professional journey, how he decided to switch fields, and also how he utilized the studies and learnings from Aela to boost his freelance career and increase his rates due to the quality of his deliverables.
Tell us a bit about your background, who is Jairo, and what have you done?
Hi Felipe, it's a great pleasure to talk with you. We spend so much time following you and learning so much. It's always a great pleasure for the disciple to be near the mentor.
Well, my name is Jairo, I'm 44 years old and I've been working as a designer for about 15 years, give or take.
I'm married to a psychologist who uses me as a guinea pig (laughs), I'm the father of a son and a daughter, and recently I've been studying a lot and moved into the field of UX in the last year. One of the outcomes of the pandemic.
And I'm here to talk about everything that might help other people.
E tô aqui para conversar sobre tudo que possa ajudar outras pessoas.
You had been working in Design for a while. Why did you decide to dive more into UX and Product Design? What was the "trigger" for you?
I was quite fond of the area of advertising creation when it was in vogue, right at the beginning of the digital era. I did a lot of work in that field, and it was by chance that I discovered the area of strategy.
I was reading a magazine, aimlessly, just flipping through it, and there was an article about it. I thought: "Wow, business strategy, that's a cool area."
And what does this have to do with advertising?
That's when I started to delve deeper. I found it interesting, but I hadn't worked on any projects with it yet.
But then it pursued me. I went to college, started studying advertising and marketing. I liked the advertising area much more and I always tried to enter the market in this creative area, through planning and always accompanied by design.
This was the beginning of digital design, when social networks didn't exist, it was still very much about corporate websites with a strong visual appeal.
I worked a lot in this area and later realized that there was a significant space behind the scenes in web development. It was very interesting. I started working with it and sailed for a long time in this field, acting as a true web designer.
I had the characteristics of a web developer, the person who managed the site, the whole infrastructure. But I ended up focusing on design. I don't know if many people know, but I'm from the Flash era.
I saw Flash being born and I saw Flash dying; and I tell everyone: "Look, I managed to make quite a bit of money with Flash, I managed to develop a lot."
And I always stayed with that creative bias of strategic creation. Of course, always with a background in strategy and there came a point in my professional life when I thought: "I believe I can take a course, I want to sell an internet course."
I started to study a little, and my strategy was: "I need to have a good theoretical foundation, but I need to show that I have this theoretical foundation and because of that, I'm going to revisit all the great design authors."
Then, amazingly, I stumbled upon Aela's podcast. It was the first time I heard about user experience. I binged all the episodes and thought: "I can't believe there's an area like this, that involves strategy and planning at this level and that supports design as a whole."
When I finished the last episode, I enrolled in the MID and thought: "Well, now there's no turning back."
And that's when I began to act as a more strategic designer. I didn't take a direct opportunity because I worked a lot as a freelancer. So, much of what I learned from Aela, I deposited into my projects, which made my work raise in quality and consequently I charged more, earning more revenue from it.
And then there came a time when I no longer wanted to be a freelancer. I wanted an opportunity, to be inside a company, to understand how the business works and not just take on a part of Design, and not have access to the entire planning of it.
I got an opportunity at a company as a UX designer itself. Today, I command the whole apparatus, the design and strategy planning tools.
This is just a small bio, there's a lot of gray hair, a lot of worn-out sneakers on this journey.
For those who didn't know, Aela started as a podcast. And then it grew as a company and unfortunately, we had to stop the podcast. But soon we will have new episodes – it's not for no reason that I'm here with a new microphone.
It was a learning experience because I knew nothing about experiences. I had heard something about accessibility, but I didn't have depth in it.
Something very curious even happened, these days I saw a person who is a product director, and when the subject of "accessibility" was trending, Flash was heavily criticized. I was one of the defenders of Flash in the community and I remember that I used to argue with this person.
We had each other's MSN (RIP MSN – The Microsoft Network), and we really debated, each defending our own side. And then I meet this person, and I see that he is a product director and has followed a very good trajectory. We were totally opposite, and today we are in the same boat.
I found it very interesting. The Aelacast gave me this meeting. I thought: "Wow, this here is a world of opportunity." I remember the Aelacast very fondly. I bookmarked all the episodes.
And tell more about how it was to work with the issue of applying the knowledge from the course to your freelance work. How was it to increase your price because of this?
I discovered WordPress on the blogging platform, and I discovered those builders. I thought the possibility of dragging and creating layouts was very cool.
So I started to develop some websites, me and Diego, but when you sell a website, you sell the whole site. The dream of the designer is just to work on the visuals. At that time, there was no Figma, there was no XD in a well-established and widespread form.
I saw that with the learnings from Aela I could start implementing this; I didn't need to be inside a company, I could apply a good part of the concept and scope of the design within these products.
And then I did a test. I was in a marketing community here in Brazil and someone said they needed a designer who also had a notion of business.
And I asked him to explain more about what this business sense would be. We talked about numbers, conversion, about best practices. And I said: "look, I can do it. If you give me guidance and a good briefing, I can navigate this and we can do a test."
I charged very cheap because it was a test. I made a One Page, it wasn't a Landing Page yet, for the tourism sector. And it went very well. The person loved the result, told me that the business needed that. My part, which was the intermediary of development and traffic management, advertising, also fit.
And then he started to pass more. I remember that on the third or fourth project, which I was already designing, the whole site, the whole editing structure, all that lead to the action, whether for sales or for service. I was already projecting with this and then I started raising the value in the deliveries.
The funny thing is, every time I said: "look, the price for this kind of project will be a little higher." The person already said there was no need to negotiate with me, just for me to pass my value. And it's not any kind of arrogance, far from it, but within reason. I have to charge so much for this. And I'm still with the client to this day.
To this day the person asks me. Today I'm a full-time employee, but when a more robust project comes up, he contacts me, asking if I have time. If it's something I can do over the weekend, we always close something. Today itself I'm serving his project.
Some people don't want to make products, some people like to make websites or Landing Pages and it's a great market. Nowadays everything is possible, it's up to the person to choose what they want
t's very possible. I remember that the last agency I was at was a marketing one and I was introducing some user experience stuff there. And I made a super simple presentation, showing basically that the value of design wasn't just visual. I showed everything that happened before that. I put everything into a presentation.
On the day of the presentation, there was a development supplier at the agency and this person was very interested, asked me several questions, because they knew nothing about it.
I remember I showed the design of Nespresso, a prototype of the MID that I was doing, which was the old N1 (level 1 of Aela training). I opened the Academy (Aela's teaching platform) and showed my initial idea, what I implemented, and how the mentor returned it to me, and how I arrived at the project result after four approvals.
Then, after work hours, the person called me asking if I wanted to work with them. I didn't accept, because he was a supplier for the agency, but I thought it was really cool how it piqued his interest.
Very cool. It's a way of evangelizing, of showing people what we can offer, how it works, and that it generates results
Enriching the proposal of the level even more (level 1 of the MID), we had a dashboard in those versions, and I also got a freelance job because of that dashboard that I made.
I showed the implementations and the person liked it so much that they said they had a similar project, with the same characteristics, and I also closed that job because of the N1.
We are always making updates, you caught two different versions of our training. How did you organize yourself to study at these various times, while working as a freelancer?
I'm not a model person when it comes to planning. I can't say that I have everything extremely well scheduled out in terms of daily tasks, social life, and work.
But there came a time when I needed to. I don't know if you will remember. It's the point of courage. You have to be bold and take the risk and make the step.
This happened when you guys made the switch in Aela's version because before we had those levels of cases. At that time, N1 had four proposals, you had to do two and I did four because I wanted to do them all.
When it turned to the new version of Aela, where level 1 came more enhanced, I had a chat with you about doing N1 again or going to level 2, and you left me very open in the decision. And then I decided to do N1 from scratch, do it all over again.
But I decided to do it differently, to delve deeper, to doodle more, to do good research. What I don't know, I ask, and what I do know I'm going to do in the best way possible. And then I did the N1, which is even in my portfolio.
A lot of people look at it and say: "Jairo, I want to do the same." And I always say, you are doing the beautiful part here. But it takes a bit of courage and audacity, I spent some sleepless nights precisely to have a good case.
And I think that was the turning point. I said to myself, I need to dedicate myself and be bold, knowing all the risks.
It was a nice turnaround. I saw the benefit of an effort. I think that was the turning point, when I decided to really immerse myself, to study in fact. And with that, I ended up realizing what a lot of people overlook: that very basic beans and rice, but well done, yields a lot of results.
When I reaped the first result, I said, this is the way I'm going.
Fantastic. Dedication always pays off; want to get into this field? Want to become a good product designer? There’s a magic formula for you: sit down and study.
People see my case, I made the website so it's online. And they think it's really cool, they ask how I got to that point.
I ask, did you see how many hours were dedicated, the 60 hours that are there? You have to dedicate yourself. And you have to do it, if you really want to stand out, and extract value.
And we've already mapped out those 60 hours, theory and practice, that's the average, because there are mentors following along, the back and forth of the projects. There's no other way for you to learn design in a cool way, other than this
Anxiety control as well. And there's no deceiving, we do get anxious indeed. If you don't take care of it, it's harmful. You have to control it, it's part of the process.
Anxiety brings several pitfalls. For example, if you go for a job interview and the person makes you an offer, sometimes you don't even reflect properly to see if all that makes sense for you
And you have to go through it. If you don't go through this, you won't learn to deal with it. It's part of the process.
You could have stayed as a freelancer, but you decided you wanted a formal employment contract. The question is: how did that happen?
It's not ruled out to go back. But it was a strategic decision, aimed at learning. Today I have a comfortable situation that allows me to do this.
Everything, of course, was built up. But I had to make this decision to elevate my delivery. If I want to, perhaps in the future, become a consultant or achieve a deeper level of seniority, I need to understand the business more.
I realized that the fast learning of this would be to go for a formal employment contract because I would be inside a business indeed, seeing how it works.
Today I had a call with my team and I explained to them that we are not always going to be designing. Not always is our product, the design, something visual, and this kind of thing we only learn by being inside the business, seeing how the dynamics work.
A company wants to sell services, but along with that, there are various problems to manage. And these various problems often need resources for you to solve. And if you're going to spend, how do you spend? In what way? And the deadline? What will be the impact of this?
So I realized that I could have this learning shortened and optimized within a business.
I don't know if I was lucky, but I don't think that's the case. But I had a good approach, I caught a vacancy that provided me with this. So it was a difficult decision, it's not a reality that everyone is in a position to do.
But my learning would only be better utilized if I were in a formal employment position.
So, it's a strategic matter. For a while, I prefer to be inside a business to have my skills enhanced, amplified. And it's possible that I'll return to freelancing because it's still a very attractive market. So everything will depend on how the performance will be, in how much time I will achieve my goal.
If I had to "metricize" where my level is, it's to be someone who can understand a business well with the minimum possible, to the point of being able to develop solutions that really solve market problems. I think as a freelancer I could achieve this. Could conquer. But with this strategy, I believe I reach it in half the time. You know? Or even a little sooner.
Yesterday we had a coffee time in the community, did you watch the recording? We talked exactly about this, about these strategic decisions
So, there's a colleague from the field who told me he was in a slightly different position, and that he would earn a bit more, something like two, three thousand reais more, and he asked me why I didn't do the same.
I said it was a strategic vision because I know what I want. Some time passed and I asked him about the Instagram I had seen from his company, if it was him who had done it. And he said yes, because the company had asked for it. So there are decisions and decisions. He really might be earning more, but there are jobs that you will do sometimes, that have another vibe, it's a different segment.
So, today I'm extremely focused on Product Design. I could earn more, including social media in the mix. But today I am extremely focused on Product Design and my opportunity allows for that.
Probably by the time you choose to go back to freelancing, you will see yourself more as a consultant and the levels of earnings compared to salaries are quite amazing
It's a matter of stopping to think a little. It makes a lot of difference to separate, even if it's just five minutes. For someone who doesn't run even a kilometer, walking 100 meters is a lot. So it's kind of that approach.
And how was the process for you after the decision to be more strategic? What was the process like to search for a position and secure an offer?
Look, if you don't have a case study in your portfolio, you have nothing. You could have the best resume. You could be the best visual designer. But if you want to get into this business side, without a case study, it's going to be difficult.
Everyone says to have two, but one well-done case study already makes a big difference. And I remember once you said in a mentorship: "Look, have two well-done [case studies]."
So, I decided to do one well. My level one, which is that conversion Landing Page, I took a theme I like, which is games, I did one for a mouse and I thought: Man, I'm going to dedicate myself. I'm going to make this a case study, which after I deliver, I will turn it into a page, so that people can understand what my process was.
And then I did it, I started. Look, it's not easy, but I had to outline it. I went on the internet, I took one, it's not really a script and it's not a template either. But it's a documentation, which a senior designer said he used on his websites. You guys can go there and see that it yields results.
I think it's 13 Word pages and he outlined: here you're going to deal with the problem and here you're going to talk about your discovery, and here about how you extracted your insights. I used this documentation to make a pre-project of my case study.
Now I'm going to set up the project, put all my information, I separated images, gathered information. I redid it several times because it was long. I tried to make it as optimized as possible for someone to read. It has to be quick, they have to understand very quickly what my project is.
And then, not satisfied with that, I made a presentation of it, as if I were in an elevator pitch. Explaining how I arrived at the result, and the learnings during the process.
When a position that I was interested in came up, I sent that project. And they soon got back to me, saying they liked my profile and we scheduled an interview.
We had a talk, I presented my case study, explained everything. And the next day I already received the offer. They said it would take a week, but the next day I already received the offer and then I accepted.
And, surprisingly, I received a "virtual promotion", because I was going to take care of the client's institutional site and after a month, I moved to the client's product. So I managed to lay out everything I had learned, my convictions, my process. And today I'm directly involved in the client's product.
Reading Tip: Career Plan In UX: Revealing Your Way To Success
Congratulations again on your success. What are your plans? What's your strategy for your career and your growth?
When I was at the agency, for a year and a half straight, I studied about innovation in startups. From Monday to Friday, always from 9:00 AM to 9:30 AM, I would study something, whether it was an article or a book.
And I've always liked the startup theme. I always thought it was cool. I remember in an interview we did I said that one day I wanted to have a startup. Not yet today.
But a very macro goal: I want to have focus, I want to be part of a very relevant product. Look at having had a role in such a product, which did, which made certain progress in the market.
So today I have no personal ambitions. I don't want to have a studio, I don't want to be a mega consultant, but I really want to apply what I know: to transform businesses. And, consequently, transforming business changes the user.
Being part of something that really has relevance to society in general.
Just yesterday I listened to a podcast about the social responsibility of design. This is very interesting. It's not about doing things to make money. Money ends up being a consequence. So being part of something relevant is a goal that I have.
If you had a time machine and could go back to last year when you first heard about User Experience, what would you tell the Jairo of the past?
Don't be afraid or ashamed of mistakes. It took me a long time to understand that mistakes were learning experiences. If you handle mistakes well, they become a great learning opportunity.
So if I could go back, I would say, don't be ashamed of the mistakes you made, of the things that didn't work out.
If it's more about skills, I would tell myself to focus on English because it makes a big difference. I also learned that late.
But if there are two things I could say, it's: be careful with your mistakes. I really like that phrase from Thomas Edison, which is, I found 300 ways how not to make a light bulb.
Failure will happen even if you don't like it. Even if you protect yourself, it will happen. So, take advantage of that, it's the best thing you can do.