Taking Paulina to Coffee

Meet Paulina Fonseca, Lead Designer at Emergn! Paulina is an essential part of our Product Design Practice. She joined us in 2020 as the company’s first Portugal-based employee. She’s passionate about global projects, UX design, and mentorship. Her motto is to always look for opportunities and learnings even in the most challenging projects – and she loves to share her knowledge with the team. In this coffee chat, you’ll learn about the most significant challenges Paulina faces as a Lead Designer, the opportunities that arose from those challenges and her advice for adopting better ways of working.

What’s your role at Emergn, and how long have you been with the company?

I am a Lead Designer for the Product Design Practice at Emergn. On October 5th, 2020, I became the first Portugal-based employee to join the Emergn team! Even though we worked remotely, everyone was very welcoming. Throughout the following months, I saw the team grow and had the opportunity to better understand the values and culture of the company. By then, I felt I had made the right choice by joining the Emergn team.

Currently, I’m working as a Product Designer on a project with our client, bp, while supporting all the designers involved in the project. We usually have bi-weekly catch-up sessions, to discuss challenges and roadblocks we may face along the way or where a team member may need support.

At the same time, I’m supporting some activities of our Practice – such as interviewing candidates for new job openings, developing the team’s job framework, and from time to time guiding our team that is working on the Design System. I’ve also been working on a baseline for the team’s work.

Tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started

I actually didn’t begin my professional career in UX design; it was a growing path. In 2014, I finished my Bachelor’s of Design and Multimedia, which was mostly focused on Graphic Design. I started to study for my Master’s, but I ended up not finishing because I was offered an internship at an IT company – the same company I worked for before joining Emergn. This was a great choice because it gave me the opportunity to learn about UX design and grow my interest in the topic, which wasn’t well known at the time. I also had a great team and mentorship.

When my internship ended, the company offered me a job in Porto. I was working for a long time with a client based in Chile and actually went there to work for six months before the pandemic. During that time, I worked on a truly life-changing project, from start to finish, that allowed me to work directly with the client, talk to them about their challenges and give them my perspective on how they could improve.

In 2020 I felt that I needed new challenges and I decided to pursue something new. I wanted a new path and to work on projects that would challenge me and help me grow. I crossed paths with Emergn through LinkedIn. Everything related to Agile, work methodologies, and improving the way people work excites me beyond design, and it’s one of the reasons I accepted the challenge. Another reason was Emergn’s transparent culture and healthy communication. Everyone is open and encouraged to discuss the things we struggle with and how we can improve.

What’s the biggest challenge for you as a Lead Designer?

One common challenge I find when working with clients along the projects I’ve been involved in is that a lot of people don’t know what a Product Designer is and how we can help them. They usually think we only do design, but our work goes far beyond that. And, without replacing anyone’s work, we can complement it and help them take that work to the next level.

This is one of the reasons I’m developing a work baseline for the team. It consists of a journey for the Product Designer – from the moment he integrates the project, to the stages he must go through, and some best practices he can apply to his day-to-day tasks. This is a recent project, but I’m hoping one day it can help product designers, and the whole organization to understand truly the role of the product designer.

What advice would you give to a Product Designer working with clients?

For me, the most important parts are having resilience and building relationships with the team you are working with. For example, during past projects, there have been people who were more resistant to change. Many times, people feel comfortable using their own methodologies and processes and might not be very open to changes in how they do things. In those cases, I have tried to build a stronger relationship with them, by showing them my work and its results and asking for their opinions. This way, I can show, little by little, that the changes we are proposing actually work and bring positive results. So, my advice to Product Designers is to be calm and empathetic, communicate, build a connection and get close with your clients, stakeholders, and teams. That way, they will be more open to hearing you out, seeing the value you bring to the table, and start collaborating.

What’s something you do as a Lead Designer that makes you proud?

I love my work as a designer with clients and teams, learning and improving with them. I also really like helping others. Just as I create methods and strategies to improve my own work, I like to do the same for those around me. I love helping my team improve their ways of working and giving feedback and input on how their work can flow better. I have received great feedback from my teammates that my tips and advice bring positive results to their processes. I really like this. Being able to help the team to be better and do better is what moves me.

I received a lot of help on my mentorship path from Margarida, our Design Practice Lead. She taught me about mentorship and how to pass on my values and learning in a way it can be helpful to them.

Outside of work, what’s one thing people should know about you?

Something a lot of people don’t know about me is that I was born in Mexico. My mother and grandparents are Portuguese, so I’ve always listened to the Portuguese language growing up, and in 2000, we ended up moving to Portugal. There are some Mexican traditions that I enjoy celebrating here such as Día de Los Muertos – I usually go with my family to a Mexican restaurant and have lovely celebrations. My grandmother also cooks really well!

In my free time, I also like swimming, taking my dog for a walk, reading, and doing macramé. It was a passion I developed during the pandemic, and it relaxes me. Now I really like to do home decorations in macramé.