Principal & Founder at Plume Design
About this series —
Impostores is a series that explores the perspectives of diverse folks — outsiders, immigrants, and minorities — who reclaim the word from the Imposter Syndrome and wield it with pride every day.
What’s your immigration story?
I was born in Uruguay; a small, progressive country in the lower eastern coast of South America. Uruguay is swept by beautiful beaches on the southern coast, and gently rolling hills inland. Montevideo is the capital city — as densely populated as Buenos Aires and just as passionate about soccer, tango, and asado, but more intimately condensed. My family immigrated from Spain and Portugal long ago to parts of Brazil and Uruguay, where I see them every year for the holidays. Sometime in the late 90s, when I was a rather awkward 11-year-old tween, my dad came across a job opportunity in the US. My dad was a successful Engineer in Montevideo, where my mom, a Psychologist, had her own thriving private practice. As surprising as the news seemed to my older brother and I, my parents saw the move as an opportunity for our family to experience living abroad for just one year, and decided to go for it. We put our furniture in storage, packed our bags, and set off to the suburbs of South Florida (quite the culture shock for a city kid). Fast forward two decades later, my brother moved back to Uruguay while my parents and I’ve made the US our permanent home.
I’ve always been motivated by purpose and curiosity. Following on the the footsteps of both my parents (who raised me on early Windows PCs, deep conversation and asking a-few-too-many questions), it wasn’t long before I became intrigued by technology and how it is used by people. I went to college in Florida and decided to study a hybrid form of Software Engineering and fine arts. At that time I didn’t know that User Experience existed, but was becoming more and more interested in Human Computer Interaction, software development, and anthropology courses. After graduating and interviewing for many engineering jobs, I became inspired by a group at Intel Labs called the Interaction & Experience Lab (started by Genevieve Bell, an anthropologist). I decided to join Intel, moved to Arizona and started my career as a Software Engineer. Shortly after, I transferred to California to work with the IXR Lab. It was then that I became officially introduced to Design, where I finally found all my interests aligning. Who knew UX was a thing!
Looking to work beyond the boundaries of a lab, I went to Shazam to focus on music and content discovery, building mobile experiences for over 500M users. I then joined Designer Fund as a Bridge fellow, and through that program was connected to Fitbit. It was the first time I had worked on hardware products (and very tiny screens!). As part of the wearables team, I worked on embodied interaction, product and platform strategy, and designing for health and behavior change. Early that same year my partner and I started a consulting & photography business, Plume Design. Now as a Design Lead and consultant in NYC, I’m focusing on design leadership and ways of refining design process and best practices.
What does a day in your life look like?
I often wake up to peel our very sleepy Yorkie out of the bed and take him for a walk. I have breakfast with my partner and go to the gym before heading out. Taking the subway into Manhattan, I walk through the cobblestone Soho streets to my office, an old, sunny walkup near the garment district. I usually settle in with a hot cup of coffee, catch up on e-mail, and plan my day. Depending on the project I’m working on, I might be planning design, checking in with my team, pairing on feature design or development, or being heads down in sketch, prototyping or user research. After work, my nights are usually about making dinner at home, hanging out with friends, or playing music.
Tell us about a time when you used your background to your advantage.
I’ll always be grateful to my parents for having instilled in me a sense of openness and empathy. Even if we had only spent one year in the US, the experience of living in more than one culture taught me that there are many different, equally valuable perspectives and ideas. There’s a lot we can learn from each other. This idea is one that I carry into my work everyday, whether in thinking through diverse perspectives and needs, or thinking about impact for different communities. The old saying that “you’re not your user” is true, but our privilege and responsibility doesn’t stop there — we can also help others’ voices be heard.
What is something you wish designers focused more on?
The number one area is purpose. As designers, we are very close to our users and their needs. In that position, there is a lot of value to be uncovered in taking the time to ask “why” early and often. By understanding business goals and user needs, we can be much stronger advocates of our users and create more valuable, positive experiences. Not only does this lead to responsible impact, it also creates better business outcomes.
Another area that could probably use more love is design systems. It’s a tough one with a steep learning curve. It takes effort and time to be able to understand how developers think about and implement design, and to find a middle-ground for how we build systems. It’s ultimately an effort of improving processes and communication of what we create as teams, and doing so leads to much better collaboration, happier teams, and better design.
Who are the people that inspire you?
Makers, entrepreneurs and leaders who persevere. People like Kelli Anderson, an artist and designer whose work challenges what we expect of the world. Mike Monteiro, who voices issues of ethics and responsibility in a unique voice. Yvon Chouinard, who started Patagonia on absolute passion and has set a strong example for environmental protection in the industry. Ed Catmull and Steve Jobs. The folks from Pod Save America who are opening up political discourse that’s felt obscure and unreachable to so many for so long.
I could probably go on for far too long in this writeup. I’m inspired by those who seek to bring value to the world despite how out of place or unreachable it may feel, and the work they do to persevere through the challenges to get there.
What’s your favorite slang word in Spanish and why?
I don’t think I have a favorite slang word, but I do tend to curse a bit in Spanish (you can blame my Uruguayan upbringing). One of my favorite phrases is one that my mom saved for special occasions, in a refined blend of eloquent language and cursing that always made me laugh: “La requinta esencia de la mierda en polvo.”
Not that I can explain exactly what that means!