Continuing our series of interviews with Mastering Interface Design students, today we had the opportunity to speak with Thiago Alvarenga.
During our conversation, he shared his experience of transitioning from Art Direction to Product Design, his strategies for establishing a study routine, insights into the recruitment process for his current role, and how patience was crucial to his evolution.
Thiago, please tell us a bit about your professional background
I am from Campinas, a city in the countryside of São Paulo, and I have a degree in Advertising from a local university. Although my education is in advertising, my career started in graphic design.
My first job was at a small Graphic Design agency where I worked on projects such as menus and folders. As the agency evolved and started to focus more on digital, I transitioned into web design. This is where I learned a lot about WordPress and thought it would be the path I wanted to take.
Then, in 2015, you (Felipe, Aela’s founder) launched the Photoshop Zero to Hero course, which piqued my interest, and I decided to take it. This course improved my technical skills, and I eventually became Art Director at the agency. I was responsible for developing landing pages and advertising campaigns.
When and how was your first contact with UX and Product Design?
As I mentioned, the agency I worked for was evolving and becoming more and more digital.
At a certain point, we discovered UI Design and decided we should invest in it. However, the truth is that we didn’t know much about it.
By that time, I was closer to the agency’s owner, and we managed to create a UX/UI Design area, and I was in charge of it.
When we got the first UI project, we did all the interface, and… it was horrible! We did not understand anything about usability and focused only on the aesthetics of the project’s interface.
So, we created a beautiful interface, but with no usability!
At this moment, I had my first contact with UI’s and discovered that I needed to understand more about the subject!
Was that the moment you realized UX Design was the way to go? Or was there another moment?
Not really. When I finished college, I considered leaving Brazil and living in Europe. It was a very strong desire I had.
So I started working and saving money to be able to travel. I worked for about a year to be able to support myself for about three months in Europe. My goal was to get a job while I was there.
At the end of 2018, I was able to travel to Europe, made a backpacking trip, and then went to Dublin, Ireland, where some friends of mine live.
During the time I stayed in Dublin, I got a freelance job for an agency there. The position was especially for UI Design, and I worked with a person who became my mentor.
She mentored me in terms of usability and experience. It was a great opportunity, I loved it.
Unfortunately, my visa expired, so I had to return to Brazil.
When I returned, I decided that I should study more and specialize. But I was not sure where to start. I felt lost. Although I had worked with UI Design in Ireland, I was not sure if this was my path.
Around this time, two crucial things happened: I started following Aela and had Burnout Syndrome.
Because of this syndrome, I realized that I hated being an Art Director and that there was no point in being in a job that didn’t add value to the product. At the end of the day, I felt like a machine doing just what I was told.
Also, because of Aela and the MID program, I realized that UX/UI Design was the path I wanted to follow.
And when did you join the MID program? Did you take other courses?
I enrolled in the MID program at the beginning of 2019.
Yes, I took an IDF course – Interaction Design Foundation – some Udemy courses and the MID. All at the same time!
What was it during your studies that particularly caught your attention and sparked your interest in UX/UI design?
The big thing that made me jump into UX/UI studies was the feeling that I knew absolutely nothing about human beings! (chuckles)
I had worked for a long time just responding to requests from stakeholders. My brain was conditioned that way, they asked, and I obeyed.
But that didn’t mean I knew what the user really wanted and needed!
Throughout the process, I realized I had been looking at the wrong person for too long.
This change of mindset was crucial for me to become even more interested in UX Design.
What was your study routine like?
When I started out with the courses, I set myself the goal to study every day for 1.5 hours.
Since I was enrolled in several courses, I established that out of my total study time, I would dedicate 1 hour to the MID and 30 minutes to the others.
Also, I tried not to push myself or stay up late at night studying. I felt that this would overload me and would hinder my studies instead of helping me.
In the end, I got used to it, and now this routine is a habit. I study every day.
Did it take time for this routine to become a habit?
Yes, it did take a while.
I’ve spent more than a month pushing myself to study.
At the time, I would come home from work and didn’t want to sit down to study. But I kept pushing myself to do it.
What motivated me was always to remember that I was working in a field that I didn’t like. That way, I always thought:
“I need to study if I want to change!”
Besides that, I used the Pomodoro methodology a lot to help my productivity and Trello to organize my studies.
And after starting the MID, how long did it take to get an opportunity in UX Design?
It was pretty fast!
After about 3three months of studies, I got an opportunity at a startup here in Campinas.
Actually, even at the beginning, I was very confused. I didn’t know if I wanted to pursue UX Design, UI Design, or Product Design.
But soon, I realized my path was to be a Product Designer. Working with products is what I like to do.
So I kept n studying for another nine9 months and even redid some MID exercises that helped me improve and progress even more.
Was there a moment when you felt ready to apply for Product Design roles? Were you looking on LinkedIn?
I always had my eye on the market and always looked on LinkedIn.
However, I used LinkedIn as a study object at first. I learned about the functionalities, the features, and how recruiters use it.
I did not apply for any jobs because I felt I was not ready yet.
However, I started to change my mind about it after doing the zero-level project of the Mastering Interface Design program. Also, I did a project for the American football team I was part of here in Campinas.
But it was not because of my supposed skills and knowledge. It was because of a change of perspective regarding feedback.
When I presented the work, I received a lot of feedback, some good and some to improve the project. And I finally understood that just because I had to improve something didn’t mean I wasn’t ready.
This allowed me to see feedback not as criticism but as an opportunity for growth and improvement in my field. With that, I felt I overcame one of the great problems of Art Directors, criticism.
At this moment, I felt ready to apply myself for opportunities in UX Design; it was when I got the position in the startup I mentioned.
Today you are working in another company. How was the recruitment process for this Product Design role?
Yes, today I am working at CI&T, a multinational company with operations in Brazil, USA, Europe, and Japan.
The process was really cool because they used their own methodology. In the interview, they want to get to know you, and they want you to get to know them as well.
I found it interesting because, many times, companies do not give this vision about themselves during an interview.
After the interview, I did a specific case study for Product Designers. In this case, I dedicated myself a lot to the research part. Out of the five days I had to do the exercise, 3 of them were focused on research.
When I presented the case, they liked it a lot!
I have always thought that design and accessibility should go together, and I made sure to put these concepts into my project.
CI&T is a very inclusive company, so I believe this is why they liked my project so much.
However, the feedback I received was both positive and for improvement. Another point that I found really cool about the whole process.
Whether I got the job or not, the feedback was very thorough. That is, even if I wasn’t the guy for the job, they were helping me to improve my knowledge. And I thought this was great!
About two weeks after the case was presented, they invited me to be part of the team!
You joined the company just before the pandemic. What are the challenges of working remotely with Product Design?
I joined CI&T at a particularly sensitive moment – just as the quarantine and pandemic began, forcing us to transition to remote work.
Surprisingly, I didn’t feel much of a difference with this change in work method, except for the fact that I was now working from home.
One of the things that stood out to me was the maturity of the design team at CI&T. With four designers, each working alongside their own team of developers and POs, the design processes were well-structured and organized.
Communication was also a major asset, with a lot of transparency maintained across teams.
I believe the career coaching initiative in the company has contributed significantly to the team’s success. This program has helped us express ourselves better, both with clients and peers, and has added to the overall effectiveness of our design processes.
Have you worked remotely before? Or is this the first time?
I have already worked remotely while I was in Ireland. Before getting the freelance job I mentioned, I continued working for the agency here in Brazil.
But the dynamics were quite different. This agency was much smaller, and we could exchange information more easily.
At CI&T, it is different. The company is bigger, and I interact with many people: designers, developers, analytics, and clients.
So, even though I had already worked remotely, I had to adapt to other processes.
What was the biggest lesson you learned during this transition period for Product Design?
For sure, one of the things I learned was not to give up!
But the greatest learning of all was: to be patient.
Many people in this transition process get anxious. They want to learn everything overnight and get a job opportunity the next week.
I had to develop my patience and understand that this process takes time. You can’t get experience and knowledge like this overnight.
I remember that before I joined CI&T, Rodrigo Lemos posted a video about patience on his Youtube channel.
It was after this video that it hit me: I need to have patience.
Of course, many people can get a job very quickly. They can study less and create a not-so-great portfolio, and apply for several jobs.
The unfortunate reality is that many individuals who are less prepared will end up with the same kind of jobs that I had before starting my design journey.
Typically, these jobs will be in companies with poorly structured workflows and undefined design processes. In these jobs, you are expected to produce work like a machine without much consideration for creativity or problem-solving skills.
The emphasis will be on delivering work quickly rather than producing quality design solutions.
So my big tip is to be patient and go after your goals and objectives.
A short update
The above interview was granted in mid-2020. Shortly after, Thiago received a new proposal and left for a new professional challenge as Product Designer at C6 Bank. Success in this new endeavor, Thiago!