Interview with Mary Brown, UX strategist at Eight Bit Studios

Designation Team 1 week ago Designers, Interviews


Mary Brown came to Designation from a New York-based career in e-commerce. She graduated with the Yucca cohort in 2017 and today works as a UX strategist at Eight Bit Studios in Chicago.

Tell us briefly about your job today.


I’m a UX strategist at Eight Bit Studios, a talented and rambunctious design and development agency in downtown Chicago. We help organizations of all shapes, sizes, and industries create mobile and web applications to meet the evolving needs of their users. Our team consists of designers, UXers, developers, project managers and QA analysts who all ensure we launch the best products possible for our partners.

On any given day I might be:

  • Conducting client workshops to understand their needs and vision.
  • Collaborate with a product designer to define the flow, layout, and visuals of an experience—we sketch a lot together!
  • Communicating functionality and design specs to our dev team.
  • Using research insights to plan and iterate on the long-term roadmap across projects.
  • Championing intuitive and simple designs; we constantly ask why.

What did you do professionally before you started at Designation?


I worked in a few different roles in the tech and e-commerce space. 2.5 years ago I started what I thought was my dream job leading e-commerce strategy for baby brands at a global CPG company, but after several months I realized I wanted to have a more direct impact on the customer experience. After quite a bit of reflection and research, I decided the best next step for me was pursuing a career in UX.

How did you hear about Designation, and why did you decide to attend?

I did a ton of online research on UX bootcamps and HCI grad programs and came across Designation during my search. I was drawn to Designation for a few reasons. First, it was based in Chicago; I was living in New Jersey and working in New York at the time, and I was itching for a change. I also thought Designation was the best ROI opportunity; it was the most robust in terms of resources and length compared to other programs but it was significantly cheaper and shorter than a 2-year grad program.

Looking back at your Designation experience, how do you describe its impact, now that some time has passed?

It’s very hard to put into words the impact Designation had on my career. I’m doing exactly what I set out to do before starting Designation and I would never have been able to get here if I hadn’t completed the program.



What were your favorite parts of life at Designation?

I didn’t know what to expect in terms of building relationships within my cohort but I made lifelong friends through Designation. Another cohort grad and I recently traveled to London to visit one of our other cohortmates and I think that speaks volumes about the type of relationships a person can create through this experience. 

Another cohort grad and I recently traveled to London to visit one of our other cohort-mates; I think that speaks volumes about the type of relationships a person can create through this experience.


What’s the staff like at Designation?

The staff is incredible. They truly care about every designer’s success in the program and it shows every day. Everyone has a specific set of skills they bring to the table and I learned a valuable lesson from every creative director at Designation.

What advice or recommendations do you have for people considering applying to Designation, or for those already in the program?

Always be on the lookout for new resources and read constantly; don’t rely solely on the curriculum to make you an expert designer. Designation provides a ton of great material but you have to take responsibility for educating yourself beyond that during and after Designation. Find inspiring people and companies to follow on Medium. Listen to a podcast every day. Start building a collection of UX/UI books. These are just a few things you can do to continue learning along the way.


Don’t rely solely on the curriculum to make you an expert designer. Designation provides a ton of great material but you have to take responsibility for educating yourself beyond that during and after Designation.


What was your job interview process like?

My interview process was pretty seamless. I learned about Eight Bit and met the team through a studio tour that Designation organized. On the tour, I knew I wanted to work here so I made a point to introduce myself to the UX director and see if they were in need of any UXers. Fortunately, it was perfect timing and they were looking for immediate help.

I came in for an in-person interview and met with 4-5 people from the team. Most of the interview was going through my background and interest in UX. I walked through one of my Designation projects but it wasn’t a hardcore portfolio review. I felt very prepared to speak to my work and my process because of my Designation experience. I think this is one of the most critical ways Designation grads stand apart from other candidates newer in the field—we receive great training on how to present our work.

What were the most useful skills, tools, or experiences at Designation that have been the most useful for you in your job?

There are a few things that come to mind, but the most impactful was the Client Phase. This part of Designation was instrumental for me because we execute design sprints and present to clients at Eight Bit very similarly to how we did it during the Client Phase—we met with the client to understand their product and their needs, prioritized the areas of focus for each sprint, then presented our findings or solutions to the client at the end of the week. We follow that model almost to a T at Eight Bit during our design sprints so I felt very prepared when I started.

The most impactful was the Client Phase. This part of Designation was instrumental for me because we execute design sprints and present to clients at Eight Bit very similarly to how we did it during the Client Phase—we met with the client to understand their product and their needs, prioritized the areas of focus for each sprint, then presented our findings or solutions to the client at the end of the week. We follow that model almost to a T at Eight Bit during our design sprints so I felt very prepared when I started.




What are your favorite parts of being a professional designer today?

I can physically see the fruits of my labor I accomplished with my team. One of my recent projects is hitting the App Store next week for the very first time and it’s really gratifying to be able to say, “Hey, I helped build that product and people are actually going to use it!”

What’s next for you, professionally speaking?

There’s so much I still want to learn and accomplish. It’s hard work stay up to speed on the latest trends, technologies and best practices in this space. Personally, I want to immerse myself in emerging technologies like machine learning and VR—I want to know how we can adapt and evolve current UX best practices to these fields that go beyond screen experiences or physical products altogether.

I also want to become more of a service design practitioner. Ultimately, I want to use the skills I’m continuing to develop to help uncover innovative solutions to the countless social and environmental issues we’re confronted with today.

Staying focused on growing one or two skills at a time will help you become a better and more well-rounded designer in the long run.


What advice do you have for people looking to get their start in the design field?

Have focus and perspective throughout your journey. This field is constantly evolving and there’s always something to learn. It can be overwhelming, even intimidating at times, but I think it helps if you remind yourself why you’re choosing this path and prioritize what you need to do to get you there. You won’t learn everything overnight and that’s okay. And if you're really interested in research, don’t spend the majority of time learning about coding or how to make cool microinteractions; focus on the skills you need to be a solid researcher—interviewing techniques, conducting workshops, turning insights into solutions. Staying focused on growing one or two skills at a time will help you become a better and more well-rounded designer in the long run. 

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