#13 - Martín Refi - Biology, Leading With Expectations & His Beginnings in Design

Nov 4, 2022Dianne Eberhardt

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify,  Stitcher, Amazon Music, Google Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform. You can watch the interview on YouTube here.




Dianne: Hello everyone. Welcome to the Pixelated Perfect podcast. Super excited. Today we have Martin he is a designer and he's kind of gonna walk us through his career from start to where he is today. The fun thing is I also don't know much about his background. He was recommended to us, so I'm super, super excited to kind of dive in and on the spot with you guys, learn, learn a little bit more about Martin. So thank you so much for being here.

Martín: Hi. Thank you for having me. Really excited too.

Dianne: Yay. I'm excited as well. So, let's hop in. Can you kinda kind of start from, from the beginning, like where was design born for you? When did you start getting into design?

Martín: That's really funny. I started getting into design, I will say like from 12 years old when I started designing web pages from my home at, at first I got my first internet connection ever, but that didn't grow into a career until my, the mid of my twenties, I would say My early twenties, I end up a school and I studied biology, so that's a little different. I, I, yeah, It's it is. I studied biology because I was confused. I was a teenager. I was 16 years old when I had two, two second. I have no idea what I wanted to do with my life. So I study biology and I did four years of that here. I study in La Plata a public university, national public university here in Argentina. We have like a great system of public universities.

But careers tend to be a little bit longer that maybe a bachelor like, it's not like going to college, it's kind of college and a master. It's weird. There are like six years a career one, so yeah. No Yeah, and it's, we call it this, but then if you kind of do an exchange within US university, it counts as a bachelor, but it's more years. So, yeah. And I did the, I didn't end that career because I did just four years, but I did learn that I didn't want to be a B, so I, I definitely didn't want to be a biologist. That was, What was it about from the career?

Dianne: What was it about going to school for biology where you were like, This is not for me?

Martín: So I was really tired. I was really tired of exams and finance and going to the field and sleeping in tents and catching animals. So I was basically tired of the called concert.

Dianne: That's fair. I, things that I like, I guess it makes sense that you're like there, right? Like in on site, but I didn't think about it.

Martín: Well, my, my friends really like it. Like they keep going to the field and, and catches snakes, and they love doing that with their lives. But it, I, that was definitely not for me. And I knew it. I was hoping to just get to a show in a lab where I didn't need to go to the field So I start thinking about that. And at first I, it was a big decision to, to left the career because I spent a lot of years and I had a lot of expectations and I, I was working in lab with a team that was like hoping to meet to do that. Like, I will do my PhD there. And it was like, well, expectation. Yeah. And, and I decided I didn't want to start a career again from, from zero, at least not in a university. So I did an illustration course. I, I was doing some scientific illustration before that is more accurate and, and more specific. So I study more for the love of art yeah, some illustration course in, in an art school here in Buenos Airs that is called Vinci. And then I moved here. So I now live in Buenos Airs. I'm from a city that it's called La Plata, that it's not tiny, It's just tiny

Dianne: There you go.

Martín: Because if someone from La Plata hears this, they're going fight with me. So not as big. Yes.

Dianne: So question. So it sounds like, like when you were 12 years old, you, when you got your first internet connection designing, so there was a part of you that was designing and then you literally went the complete opposite, not complete. I mean sci I guess science is kind of the opposite from art. But then when you were deciding, hey, biology isn't for me, you went back to art. So like, was that something that had always like, been there for you? Like art was just something really important? Mm,

Martín: Yeah, totally. And it was always part of me. I always draw, I, during university I used to have a Facebook page of big on recipes that were all illustrated. I'm not even big on anymore, but I was, when I was 18 I mean like, it was always like my side show. We was always throwing and illustrating. And I always was the person that had to design the flyer for an event or a party Okay. Or whatever we were doing. So it was always there and, and I started getting into graphic design. I didn't really know what options, what career options there were out there mm-hmm. . And so I did this illustration course and I was doing some online courses, more on graphic design and thinking about maybe studying like multimedia design, wasn't really sure what I wanted. And I met girl on Twitter and she was doing, she was a study front and in a school that it doesn't exist anymore, like what is was called a here also here in Argentina. So I, I went through the page and I started looking what they had, and I had her about UX U I, because I, I met some graphic designers that working in a tech company and the companies made them do a course of UX u I design. And we are talking like four or five years ago, so it wasn't really common, especially here

And it was like the first course that that wasn't on the, on the country. So I you you had to do like a, a prelisting and they called you later. And they called me and they had, we had like kind of an interview because they were filtering how and, and kind of making different courses with different people that have similar experiences. And it was so expensive. Like I didn't knew the price until they called me. Of course, they didn't say the price.

Dianne: They knew what they were doing. Yes. They wanted to tell you first for sure.

Martín: And they did. So I, I made a WhatsApp group with my mom, my dad and my grandmother. They, my mom and dad have been divorced for like 15 years. So this was a weird group. And I told them like, I need this money. I will return it to you as soon as I have a shop and I will have a shop. So I convinced them, I don't know how I did that , but they did pay the course. We did pay it in like a lot. A lot of like

Dianne: Installments. Yeah,

Martín: Yeah. But after the mo, the course was eight or nine months long, and after that classic structure, like you owe over a project and you make it and you have like a project for your portfolio, and I did some other things. I use Daily UI and those kind of things that help you with that. And two months later of finishing the course, I had my first show as junior UX u a designer. That was extremely exciting, especially for my family, was to have the money back. Right. but yeah, we were all really surprised. I mean, that, that was, that was incredible. And my first job was actually, my first boss was Franco Cheese. So, For all you're gonna go to

Dianne: Here, out here, we got a little circle going, You gotta go listen then

Martín: Yeah. And he, he really saw the value in, in me doing another career, like me having the background in science, it was, it was always something curious and people like that. I, I kind of made a speech where I used that kind of us a background, a way to, to shoot tify more of my experience in investigation, improving hypothesis and all that. Yeah. But Franco really did saw their, like, the value of that and gave me my, my first opportunity of, of a first official show. And it was an office that didn't have real windows. We were all working in, in a big table with no sunlight, but the team was so nice. And we had coffee on, on the coffee shop of the, that was a culture It was, it was really nice. It was a really nice first team to have. And I didn't work there really long. I started there on, I would say it was April. And in January of the next year, I had a different shop. It was a great place to start. I usually, when someone likes starting, ask me some recommendations, I usually say like, try to get the first job. You can get, take some experience.

Dianne: Yeah. So I actually, that's a great segue, a question. So like, this course that your lovely family helped you pay for, was it worth it? Do you feel like that's what got you that first job? Do you feel like without that, like say you were to learn on your own, do you think you still would've been able to get that first job?

Martín: It gave me I would, I then it gave me the knowledge, but the knowledge was out there. Mm-Hmm. I think it gave me a contact with an IT community I didn't have, knowing what actually the shop was and not being kind of on my own more blind without knowing what exactly what's going on. Right. That's usually when people also ask me if they should do a course. I usually recommend that like, maybe if you don't know anything of this, you need someone to take you by the hand a a little, little path and then you can make your own career.

Dianne: Yeah. No, I think that's really great. You know, like in the past in pod in my podcast, like I, we've had boot campers, we've had people that have gone to school, majored went to like masters in design and all that, and or being self-taught. And I think it's always really interesting to hear that. And I personally always kind of go to the self-taught route. I think that's just who I am. But I think the key here is like building that community of people and having that structure is also really valuable. Like, a lot of people go to college just to get those connections and that community. So I think that's a really important thing to note about taking like a course in a boot camp. And I think that's really, really impactful to get

Martín: These jobs. Yeah, totally. You also intro introduced me into a lot of communities that I got to go to talks and, and be part of online communities that, that really, really help. Also the sign talks there were really, really cool because before pandemic we had like beer, potato chips. They were really fun to go. Totally. and I went to a lot of them to know people and I added them on link in. I was like, stock talking or designer,

Dianne: Like, What's your name? Okay. When you get home, you're gonna have a connection from me. Get ready. Yeah. So when you got this first job, like what was it from going from your course to getting a job? Like how different was it?

Martín: It was really different. It was also my first job with outside of the university system, so I've been working since I was 17, but always inside the university structure either as a person, I don't know how you say it, and

Dianne: Not a cousin, I don't think that's the Yeah,

Martín: No, I think I'm thinking about like a queen, like a Jacque queen. Yeah. No, no, that's the other one.

Dianne: Like as a student

Martín: I would say, I will say veca and people who talk Spanish are gonna understand what is going on.

Dianne: Perfect. Perfect.

Martín: You, you can Google it now. So yeah, it was basically being a student and getting paid a little bit and working like two days a week.

Dianne: Oh, I, okay. Yes. Like a student job. I guess, to be honest, I don't know if there's like a name. Like, I don't know if it has, I don't know. But I think we all, we all get it now. ,

Martín: I was thinking in past and I just translate in my, in my brain But yeah, I, I started doing some of those things and then I had more responsibilities and more work, but it was always inside the same university, so Right. It's, it's really different. The, the working in a public space. I work in a private space and it was my first job in a big city in in a tiny office that didn't have like a big bark and everything. So it was weird. And the tasks weren't that I didn't feel that complicated. Everything was learning all the time, but it didn't felt like it was, I was really afraid because of course the first month I was like, they are really confused. Like, these guys don't know what they are doing. And they, for by mistake hired me, but they are gonna notice they, they didn't notice I'm still, And

Dianne: It's, you're still a designer. You've worked your way up. You're just an imposter the whole time. Is that what you're saying? ?

Martín: It's fake until you make it, you know? No, I, I, that's, that's also something I usually say to people. Like you, you have the opportunity to be a junior and show it and exploit it like you are learning. And that's cool. That's your, your show. As a senior, I was so rushed into getting already newing and already being semi senior designer that knows things and it's in charge of everything. I think it's really viable to get to learn and, and show that process as, as a learning process. I, I got to learn a lot from different designers and especially from working with developers like working with, with devs and having to match your design expectations with the possibilities of the technology and learning to ask first and create solutions. Having that in mind, I think that was the deep most different thing. And also the interaction with clients. So they, their desire and what they want being really different than what maybe one thing is the best thing and having to respect that. Mm-Hmm. one thing of juniors, I think they're usually really proud. So it's the most difficult thing is actually not the making mistakes, but thinking they have the perfect solution and no one else is seeing it.

Dianne: Yes. It's like the ego.

Martín: So, and, and I did it. I know it because I was like

Dianne: At this. Me too. Definitely. It's, it's so interesting. Like, I think I've said this in another podcast, the older I get and the more experienced I get, the less I feel like I know. I feel like I know nothing now.

Martín: Yeah.

Dianne: It's so interesting how that works.

Martín: And yeah, I think that were like the, the biggest differences between that and that was a, a software factory. So we work with projects from other people and from there I went to work in products inside what it was called , that was for renting houses, but we work in like a tiny part of that product that was for Morash. So you basically, it was kind of an intermediate between banks and people that was really interesting point to be really human interaction that needed a website that went with that mm-hmm. . So we work over that product and I was really excited because that was a shop that was going to bring me a lot of traveling to make user interviews and that was real exciting. But then the pandemic start, so I never got to travel

Dianne: That's so sad. Did, so did you still have to conduct the interviews, but like online?

Martín: Yeah, and it was really less exciting that going to other countries, of course. Yeah. Also because the other half of the good things of that company were office related, like was really nice neighbor and they had good coffee and avocados and , like fresh with sos it was really exciting. But yeah. Pandemic. But I think the pandemic opened like not re door of, of remote working from all of us and changed the perspective of kind of how we work. We were privileged, privileged on technology because we had like one or two home office a week, and now it's the most common thing going one day to the office if you have to go like completely they Right. But yeah, the pandemic bring a lot of changes. I now, I went different shops and now work in, in a company where I'm design lead. So I lead an area that includes ux, ui, but also gay artist. That's really, really cool. I had some experience as an illustrator, but of course I'm learning constantly from the game that are really, really great artists that have a lot of experience that I don't. And I also work as a pro designer in inside the same company. I, I, when I got offer the that was, that was fun. I kind of convinced my boss to gimme the offer, but when I got offered to be the leader of, of design, I say like, I don't wanna stop designing. I, I'm young and I don't have that much experience to say I don't wanna design anymore. Like I wanna show the how. So I'm always in at least one project working into something and then doing the young administrative management work.

Dianne: Got

Martín: It. And I work in a game that's, I I really like it, it's really fun. It's for s and like pretty Nas and it's kind of a social game mobile, and it's so different to assign a user experience when they find like the goal is having fun

Dianne: That's super interesting. What do you think is the biggest difference there for, okay, so say in your last company or the company that you talked about for like renting houses and mortgages, Like what is that, what is different about that versus like a game?

Martín: Well, that one had like something special because you were kind of helping people to get you a goal. It's still even better than some other things that I have done that are more of like we need to order this amount of pallets. This company is how you think them. I mean, but it was, it's really different to, to think how you are, you're showing like money and things that are really stressful and you're thinking a lot of pain points than thinking like, Oh, are they gonna show this Christmas outfit? Oh yeah, we should put like a cute thing around that. Of, of course there is like a lot of serious design and we need to think about the mind of, of the, of the users. And there it's really similar. It's, it's you design at the end. It's probably design at the end, right? We have like decisions of the business and decisions of the experience and decisions of the ui. But it's, I, at least for me, it's more fun

Dianne: Yeah. I, I think that, like, something I say to our team is like, at the end of the day we're, we're designing, we're not like saving lives. Like I feel like sometimes people take it so seriously and it's like, Hey, like let's just have fun with what we're building. And not to say like, sometimes we do work on products at the design project that are like fun, but I just feel like there's always such seriousness around like, the industry. So is that, is that also still kind of in your industry? I mean, imagine gaming is still like, people take that pretty seriously.

Martín: Yeah. Yeah, they do. Especially with more, I divide games in two big, big sectors. One is like more mainly that games where I usually see a lot more of pride and like people is, had a lot of feelings and, and emotions and comments around that. And these more silly games that people don't expect much from them. And there are colorful and kind of literally, and I like more that games do, designing them and playing them

Dianne: I, I've never designed for a game. I'm not a big gamer and I feel like I would go in that direction as well. for sure. So question four. Oh, great. Go ahead. Go ahead. No, no.

Martín: Yeah, no, I didn't have anything to say. I was,

Dianne: I was gonna ask well, so from your first job to your second job and kind of as you've evolved, we talked a lot about what it was like going from a junior design, like getting a junior designer, like owning, being a junior designer, like learning from it. I really loved it. You said there. How did that evolution go from like junior designer to mid level and now to lead? Like, what was that progression like for you? And I don't know, how, how were you able to kind of make those distinguishable differences?

Martín: Of course in every step I felt like an imposter that's that think that happened to everyone. But the first biggest step I, I felt was when I had some client meetings alone, I always had inside er was this, this, this first show I had with Frank mm-hmm. , where I, I love naming him like a celebrity, like I'm I name shopping Franco. We, I, I started having some client meetings by my own and working a product almost by my own with less and less feedback cycles. Mm-Hmm. . So that started giving me a little bit more of yeah, I feeling a bit more comfortable around that mm-hmm. . And when I started going into inter in another kind of interviews with other companies and try to measure myself, I when I start end up in this show and proprie I was telling you about and there, because this was a tiny product. I was the only designer. It was one designer, one product management, one product manager, one full stack developer and one economist that knew the economy part. And of course a lot of sales, sales person that talk on the phone, but their shop was not in product as much. The company itself had a bigger design system and a design leader. So I, I did have someone to refer to and someone to learn from and some structure, but also had, was the only designer in the program. So I feel that was the biggest step for me. Yeah. getting higher for that was the biggest step, but also doing that show I, I felt like that product was kind of like my, my first design baby. Oh, okay. It, it was something I worked from the beginning to the end because also it, it it pandemic wasn't a good time for me touches. So it yes. It wasn't a good time for the product, but Got it. It wasn't a fault of the product, it was fault of the economy.

Dianne: It was not you Definitely not definitely

Martín: I don't have the fault of the pandemic. I, I, I know that for now

Dianne: You've thought long and hard and you, you've come up to the conclusion that it's not you.

Martín: Yeah. It took a lot of therapy But that, that felt like it kind of this step to meet designer, semi senior, however you want to call it. And I had then I started doing some mentoring. I, the first thing I did when I was still at the shop was give kind of a work design U S U I design workshop along with Franco. We did that. It was really cool. It was a free workshop for, for the trans community. So it was basically to help trans people to get into the business and, and get opportunities. This, this field is really open to, to people, but a lot of times what it's missing is not like the openness of the companies, but the steps necessary to get there when you are in a marginalized community is way more difficult to get there. Maybe the company then is they don't care if you're trans or CI or wherever, but it's really more difficult to get there. Right. so we did that and it was my first experience kind of teaching this. I, I did teach biology things, but it, yeah, it was a teaching experience. It wasn't on the area. Right. And that's like a good way to re reprocess and re understand the concepts, you know. So I went to the place I study and I say like, I wanna be, I wanna do something like put, put me do something, teach me how to teach. And they were excited, but they also didn't have kind of a teacher thing or system. And some months later I send a CV to a new online school and they like it. I had some interviews and they like it.

So I gave like two courses there. They were chaotic, messy, like not the courses, the, the place, the company, the school, but the courses were really cool and I really like it and the students really like it. And they had like a really good feedback with me and, and they like my classes. So I felt like it was also a step, It's different. It's not about like the work you do, but the understanding you have. And also that put me through the, the opportunity of answering questions that people naturally have and having the experience to say, Oh, one that happens to me one time. Or even say like, I don't know that, and I will look for it. I would came up with that information. I felt that that was kind of a good part of me going into this more seniority process. Yeah.The last year and a half I've been here in, in Optic Power. That's a company where I work now. And I start here. I had, there was a sign lead that it's really cool guide Pablo High name job. I hope he's listening. And I, I got there as a semi senior, as a mid seniority pro designer. And at the end of the year I got like a brace and I was starting to have more and more and more work. So we eventually took with Pablo, it was a really new company, so we were kind of designing the, the, the career. And he sent me like the proposal. He was like, Okay, I wrote this and this is my career proposal. And I was like, he was like, Okay, like I wanna see if you like it, what you, what you think about it.And I sent some notes and was like, This is really good. I really like it. I feel like this says I'm a senior. Like I'm reading this senior category and I feel this is my work. And he was like, Yes it is. And that's the other thing I wanted to talk with you. So I was like officially named senior there and okay, he got like a really cool offer from a really cool company, a lot, a lot of money. So he went to that. And I talk with, I talked a lot about that and I talk with him and I was like, I don't want, I talk with the team, my teammates, and we're like, I, we don't want a new person coming. The team knows, we know ourself. We have like this nice, we have like great, great relationship and, and good team energy.And it could go really bad. It could go really well too, but we didn't knew what was going to happen. Right. So I, I told him like, I want, I wanna your, I want your show. And he was like, I was waiting for you to sell. Say that to me. I wasn't going to say to you because I didn't wanna pressure you. Yeah. So and I'm, I'm 27 years old, so I was 26 at that moment because it was some months ago, this was like April this year, so May, May. And I started the process of kind of start taking his tasks. I talk with everyone in the company and I was like, I can prove myself. I can't do this. I'm young, I have like serious experience as a leader, but I know the team, I know the project.I, I want to learn and this time I'm open to learn. Like it is, I feel like being a junior in a different way and in a different stage. And I feel the comfortable enough with my work to say like, Hey, I don't know how to do this, or I don't understand this, or Yeah, I need help with this. And I've been doing that since May I think this year. And it's been really cool. It's a pretty different work. And, and I really like it. I, I like people, I working with people and helping other designers get to their goals and, and improve and helping them be happy in the projects they have. I really happier version they can be, Yeah. No one really wants to be working on labor, but

Dianne: Yeah, I, no, I think that's great. I think it's like, I think it's interesting. I guess my question to you there is, I think it's interesting that you went from like mid to senior to lead within the same company. And like how was that transition working with your coworkers, like as a designer and then like do you manage some of them as a lead and what's that dynamic or how are you able to like, I don't know.

Martín: That's, I, I talk with them. Like I have conversations with them like, Hey, I, I wanted to do this. I have talk with blah blah this and how do you feel? And what my team said was like, Yeah, I want him. We don't want any person.

Dianne: That's amazing.

Martín: Yeah. That was really important to me. Cause of course, if they didn't want it, I, I didn't want another show either. It was very important for me and, and it was one of the biggest thing that helped me insisting to that and kind of convince everyone to have that show. Yeah. It was yeah, it was really cool. And all my teammates are also older than me, so I was kind of afraid on that. But it went really great.

Dianne: Yeah. So like where do you see yourself going from here? Is it like, are you enjoying this leadership role? Do you see yourself like continuing to grow in that leadership? Because one thing you did say was like, you wanna be a designer and you still see room to grow as a designer. So like, do you know what's next? Or how are you feeling?

Martín: I don't really know. I'm liking this and I like the, the energy I'm really comfortable with the show I have now and the energy I have with the team. I don't know if after this I wanna go and take another lead shop in another company with another team. I think this was really organic. Yes. And I like it and I like mentoring and I like the things I'm doing on that. But I don't know if it applies to any, any team. I don't, I don't know. I like to design in any kind of project. I don't know if it applies to a leadership.

Dianne: Yeah. I mean, I don't know. I think like leadership is whatever you make it, right? So like something I, that really spoke to me when you said that, so like, I'm a founder, right? Like I'm a designer's, my background and basically almost until this point is like, I was like, I'm a designer at heart. Like that's what makes me happy. That's when I'm like, in my space, I'm designing in like 10 hours past and I have no idea. Right? Like that's always gonna be a huge part of me. And so I was always holding onto design projects. Like even as a founder, I was like, I'm gonna be your designer cuz I think what you're doing is cool. I'm gonna take that on. And that was always really important to me. And slowly I've been doing less and less of it. So maybe that's just, I don't know, maybe I'm changing, I don't know. But I think it's like totally up to you. Like there's no reason why you couldn't do both and be great at leadership as well as designing. Cuz I think as, as long as you're designing, you're also like, you're, you're able to empathize with who you're leading and you really understand the process and what you're, you're like practicing what you preach. And I think that's really powerful.

Martín: Yeah, Yeah. Totally. And it's, I think it's also really good to not lost that trenches energy you have when you are in the front of a project working with a client, working with the Debs.

Dianne: Yes. A thousand percent. So you're, you can go wherever you want. The, the world is your oyster.

Martín: Oh, I hope so. I, I I legally can't go wherever I want with Yeah.

Dianne: Okay. So sp like mind wise, career wise,

Martín: Yeah. That's

Dianne: It. Yeah. Maybe not physically wise, I don't know. I dunno, who

Martín: Knows Online. Yeah. I, I can

Dianne: Well awesome. Thank you so much for joining me and chatting about your career. I mean seeing, like you coming from graduating with a, or I don't know if you, did you graduate with a degree in biology? Okay. Going to school for biology and making this transition and like how far you've come and how you pushed for and thoughtfully understood like the level of design you were at and like understood the surroundings as you moved up. I think that's really, really inspiring and I think a lot of people will really love hearing more of your story. So thank you so much for joining me.

Martín: Oh, thank you. Thank you for inviting me. That was really fun.

Dianne: It was awesome. Well, we will, we will definitely stay in touch and I wanna keep updated on where your career takes you from here.

Martín: Okay, great. I will, I will tell you everything indeed say.

Dianne: Perfect. Perfect. Awesome. Okay, that soon.

Dianne Eberhardt

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