The Startup
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The Startup

Designer Portraits: Design + Illustration

A story about how a lab researcher with a passion for illustration became a UX Designer

For this post, I like to share stories from Marielle Palatino, a designer from the San Francisco Bay Area. This post will feature a set of interview-like questions with responses from Marielle.

First off, can you share a little bit about yourself?

An illustration of a woman figure, drawn by Marielle Palatino
Illustration made by Marielle

I was born and raised in Stockton and am a first-generation Filipino-American! I graduated from UC Davis with a biochemistry degree and minor in studio art, which seems like an unconventional mix. But I’ve always had a life-long passion for illustration, and at the time, I didn’t know there were creative career paths besides fine art and graphic design. I spent almost 5 years working as a lab researcher in the biotech industry before finally transitioning into UX Design.

Can you elaborate more on your passion for illustration?

Oh man, I have to go way back. I was always a homebody kid that poured my time into arts and crafts. Illustrating was my escape from everyday schoolwork, but it wasn’t until I started watching anime and playing video games that I developed a serious interest in it. Growing up, I was inspired by Death Note, Kingdom Hearts, and Yoji Shinkawa’s work from the Metal Gear series. Fun fact: I recently met Yoji Shinkawa and Hideo Kojima at a signing event and have an autographed copy of Death Stranding! It was a surreal, unforgettable moment to see one of my childhood art heroes in real life.

You mentioned that you have a biochemistry background; how did you go from biochemistry to user experience Design?

I studied biochemistry in college because I liked learning about the super granular details in biology. But I think that love of detail translates into a lot of different fields. After working in the lab for a few years, I realized my motivation for being a scientist wasn’t for passion. I wanted to challenge myself in a more creative field, like what I had originally wanted when I was younger.

I actually stumbled onto UX after training new hires how to use automation but was instantly lured in by its mix of human-centered research and design. For me, UX was a whole new realm of invisible details, and I was eager to know more. I resigned from my job and enrolled in a full-time, online curriculum for a more structured learning experience. Initially, I was only focused on the visual design aspect, but that’s only one element of the entire process. I found that the role of a UX designer is to be the unique bridge between the customer, business, and technical goals, as well as to be an endless advocate for the user.

An illustration of San Francisco created by Marielle Palatino
Illustration created by Marielle

What are you currently working on?

At the moment, I’m working with a medical device startup on branding and web design! I’m super excited to help the science community in a way that better aligns with my new long term goals. Other than that, I’ve been working on expanding some of my illustrations into 3D art and recently completed my first design hackathon with three fellow UX designers!

Can you share more about that Hackathon experience?

I participated in the UX Result’s 2020 Design Hackathon, which was a 48hr event to solve one of several design challenges. The event was completely remote, which meant endless hours on Zoom, but also the opportunity to work and compete with over 130 teams of amazing designers all over the country!

It was such a humbling experience to see the strengths and dedication of my teammates come out, along with all of the other participants. I learned so much, but my biggest takeaways were: prepare as a team a lot more than you think you should before the event, it’s okay to over-communicate (especially when working remotely), and always remember the bigger story behind your design decisions. But most importantly, have fun! I truly believe my team’s hard work and our fun dynamic translated into the final product, and we were awarded second place in our challenge!

A screenshot of a zoom meeting with four people cheering
A celebratory cheer of Marielle’s Hackathon group

Ask someone who made a leap from a different into UX. Do you have any advice for someone who may be in a similar process?

Everyone’s design journey is different. It’s so easy to be self-critical and compare yourself to others when you have no context of their situation. Hard work, tenacity, and resilience are so essential during a career transition, but it’s also important to be patient and remember that luck and chance play huge roles in the journey, as well.

Also, surround yourself with people (both in and outside of the design field) that will support you and aren’t afraid to push you out of your comfort zone! For me, my family and close friends never second-guessed my decision to become a designer and always believed in me (more than I did myself, at times). I also met many designer friends along the way that kept me motivated and accountable throughout my journey.

Let’s end on a more casual note. What are you interested in outside of design?

Outside of design, I’ve been getting my science fix through baking! I’m always hunting for the next best local bakery and trying their cookies to up my own game. I’m also making my way through Persona 5 Royal and FF8 Remastered!

A portrait of Marielle Palatino
A photo of Marielle Palatino

Thank you for reading this Designer Portrait with Marielle. To learn more about Marielle and her work, please visit her website at or her Linkedin profile.

Just to end with a bit more context about this article series. I had the great fortune to meet and work with so many talented people and hear about their stories for the past several years throughout my mentoring experience. Everyone has fascinating stories, and I’ve wanted to surface these stories to a broader audience. Eventually, I came up with the idea to start a new series of articles called Designer Portrait, which is an article series that tells stories from user experience designers. Each “portrait” aims to uncover unique stories behind a designer’s background, projects, process, and more.



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Poyi Chen

Poyi Chen

Designer. Career Coach. Productivity Nerd. See more content on