Melanie Araujo – Visual and Interaction Designer

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A Boston-native and freelance UX designer, Melanie Araujo is the Founder of Front & Center, a company that helps underprivileged people break into tech through design. Prior to design, Melanie has a professional background in neuroscience, which she leveraged to position herself as a unique designer. Investing a few thousands to learn design at General Assembly, what she got in return was 10x as she is now making six figures. Melanie believes that if you have your heart and mind set on something, there is absolutely nothing that will get in your way to get into your goal.


Years in Tech 5
Grew Up Boston, MA
Current Job Designer
Date Recorded 6/16/2016

Key Points:

  • If you’re truly committed to your passion, you would do what it takes to make that a reality. Do it now, do it faster.
  • Scientists can be designers too. There is so much free resource out there that’s not taken advantage of. Join meetups and research about your favorite designers and work on getting those skills.
  • Having a strong online presence is very important for designers. Know where to be online and what to show online and build yourself as an expert in your field.
  • Make sure you set clear expectations with your boss and define them around communication and your roles. Invest in skills outside work. Take advantage of classes in a community college
  • You are the average of 5 people you surround yourself with because you’re able to see best practices and get great advice.
  • Know why you want to break into tech and who you want to be in tech: A company’s mission statement must align with your core value

Show Notes (focus on the Stepping Stones):

[00:52] Growing up in a multiracial community of working class immigrants with her parents urging her to pursue “safe and stable” careers (ex. medical, bank-related, law) to be able to pay the bills and put food on the table

[03:15] Learning how to stand up for herself at an early age: Her dad getting sick losing all cognitive and motor abilities. Melanie’s decision to attend college to full fill her parents dreams

[07:01] The impetus for taking science as her major: Discovering her dad’s medical records

[07:57] Experiencing cool internships, graduating valedictorian in her class, and getting full college scholarship at Northeastern University in Boston

[15:47] Melanie’s transition from chemical engineering to behavioral neuroscience

[19:00] Career + Creatives: Realizing that she can’t keep her creative side and what she does for work separately, she took on a part-time job at a lifestyle brand company, Karmaloop and lived the “double life”

[21:30] Getting an opportunity at the child development cognitive development lab for children Harvard’s Boston Children’s Hospital where she collected participant research data on how social-economic status impacts cognitive development and academic achievement

[22:38] Melanie’s move to San Francisco:  Taking a gap year to really figure out what she wanted to do and flying out to San Francisco the day after Christmas 2009

[25:26] What she learned from her mom on finance: Spend a quarter of the amount that you make

[26:44] Her first startup experience: Landing a job as a design researcher collecting subconscious information from users, tracking brain activity in data, and identifying points of engagement.

[30:51] Transition to design: Getting inspiration from John Metta and volunteering at the Children’s Creativity Museum in 2013 which had design studio labs which she found to be so cool!

[35:05] Leveraging resources – Joining for networking (and the food!) and following up other designer stories through research and working hard to get those skills.

[36:28] Six months later, Melanie enrolled in General Assembly’s part-time UX Design class with the intention of having a portfolio piece that she can use for her graduate school application.

[37:10] Eat, sleep, breathe design: Melanie payed for her bootcamp experience through tapping into her 401K and she committed herself to the coursework while working at the same time

[38:32] The UX Design curriculum at General Assembly – User research + Information architecture + Interaction design + Competitive analysis + Prototyping + Usability studies + Presenting and pitching design solutions

[41:01] Things she learned from her class on how to get hired as a UX designer – Strong online presence + online portfolio (

[43:36] Her job search experience: Getting discovered by a recruiter through her online portfolio and caught their attention by using a prototype tool called Flinto which she linked to her portfolio

[45:22] Why online presence is key for designers: Capture your work in way that makes sense to who you’re designing for.  Melanie’s favorite design tools: Pen + Paper

[49:05] The power of asking questions – Melanie leveraged her existing professional experience in neuroscience to position herself as a unique designer. She invested $4,000 in learning design but what she got in return was 10x as she was making six figures.

[52:20] Setting clear expectations, investing in your skills outside work taking classes at a community college, and learning Sketch which is an amazing design tool

[57:47] You are the average of 5 people you surround yourself with – Getting best practices and great advice from people around you

[59:46] How Melanie started Front & Center with the mission to help people from underprivileged background to break into tech through design

[01:00:13] Learn about Melanie’s 3 pieces of advice: Advocate for yourself + Online presence + Product design basics

[01:02:24] Know why you want to break into tech and who you want to be in tech: A company’s mission statement must align with your core value

[01:05:19] Melanie’s advice to people who are afraid to take a leap of faith: Communication skills + Mastering design tools + Curiosity

[01:06:50] – STEPPING STONE: The Lightning Round

Imagine that you were dropped in a brand new city and only had $100 and had to start all over again, what would you do and how would you spend it?

  • Attend all free meetups and send inbound emails to companies to request for an office tour.

Was there a specific song or movie that helped you hustle through?

  • Robin dancing on her own
  • Book: It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be by Paul Arden

What is the one piece of advice you want listeners to know?

  • Set clear expectations with your manager about what it is you want to do, how you want to grow, and what you can offer.

Throughout this process, what is one thing that you fundamentally believed and changed your mind on?

  • There is more than one way to solve the same problem.

Articles Mentioned & Resources:

Learning Resources

Front & Center
General Assembly
Hack Reactor
Children’s Creativity Museum
100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People by Susan Weinschenk
Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug

Personal Projects/Partnerships:
Front & Center

Contact Information:

Twitter: @melarauj0
Front & Center

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