My 10-Year-UX-Evolution Journey

From no-job to Google UX

Leecy Li
6 min readMar 14, 2021

It was 2011 when I started in UX. Overtime, I rebuilt my UX view with countless “aha” moments, through the prism of my work on mobile, space and enterprise UX.

Where did I go and what did I learn?

Disclaimer: 10 is just a number. I’m very much just a learner. I hope by revealing these “behind-the-scenes”, it makes you feel “she did it, so can I” !

Mobile -> Museum -> Enterprise tools. See detail in my portfolio:

Stage 1: UI or UX, it’s a question (2011–2013)

I got my first full-time job in 2011 as the youngest designer in Motorola design center. I self-taught AdobeSuite and had an itch to explore designing in the real world.

Motorola Consumer Design Center, Beijing

Creating pretty graphics made my heart sing. Helping friends with websites were my absolute honors. Yet, I had no idea what was UX design.

So my #1 learning as a 21–year-old-fresh-out-of-schooler: fear none, and let your passion drive!

That was how I nailed my first job, and eventually became who I am today.

I became a “media designer” responsible for Android visual language guidelines! I was at the frontline witnessing and designing a transition from feature phone with hard keys to uniformed black glass squares.

Some classic moto-stalgia
Android Jellybean visual explorations

Lucky was I, Motorola was one of few companies that equipped UX designers back then! I was intrigued by UX concept from Day 1 during my collaboration with UXers on creating mobile apps. My shallow observation was UX designers were “rational creatives that can’t draw”?

My opinion was quickly challenged by my first major project called “shop4apps”; Motorola’s official Appstore in mainland China.

Do you remember your first year in a company? All the excitement and confusion incited me that I became quiet. I naively sat with “rational UX folks” being fed with wireframes, turning them into interfaces.

my UX peers work(top) vs. my work(bottom) in 2011

Despite my UX peer was super collaborative and always valued my opinion, I felt I was put on the backseat. Nope, I want to be the pilot!

How come UX designers make the call and UI designers just color?

I let my intense curiosity drive and made a risky decision: I quit my well-paid job and applied to a design school in NYC and got accepted. It was 2013!

Stage 2: designing an “experience” for “users”! (2013–2016)

During this time, Parsons opened my door to the entire world of HCI, aka Human Centered Interaction method. (I Don the heck out of Norman.)

Me at Parsons (2013–2015)

I had the prime time to taste in full favors of UX design from problem definition to execution. I toddled into conducting research, doodled storyboards, hacked prototypes, created goofy designs for myself, my classmates, my cousin, even my cat!

I created a drone that takes pictures with cats

2015. I graduated instantly unemployed. That NYC winter was ruthless.

I fell in major self-doubt: were I qualified as a UX designer? I mean, I knew about UX process now, but my execution was still UI work right? UI &UX, was it just a perception difference?

My anxiety became an escape trip to Disney Parks then turned into a life-changing gift: my UX view was entirely fulfilled when I was there!

“Aha! The design process actually manifested in the rides! No UI necessary — UX can be in everything.”

Below is an example I hacked a ride flow — where designers deployed user insights, fully anticipated an emotional arc and designed all the pieces out. Bravo!

Key insight: engage users with the narrative to be heroes!
Visitors’ emotional arc: beyond just the thrill

Soon after that, I started working at Gallagher & Associates, a boutique agency in NYC midtown designing experiences in spaces such as Spy Museum, Guggenheim and more.

Johnson & Johnson Museum, where I designed touchable tables and interactive timelines

I’m forever grateful about the UX practice I had there! Namely, design for visitors: a mixture of the young, the elderly, the group, the single…everyone!

Should it be a group experience? First-time vs. returning experience? Accessibility needs (wheel chair access, voice voice for visual impairment)? Should it be a guided tour from point A to B? How can visitors join in different times? What if they speak different language?

I was like a UX ninja, challenging myself with every possible interaction!

Learning #2: UX started with a process, initializing in asking what problem are we solving for who. There is always a user journey (physically, or digitally).

Stage 3: Everyone “is” a UX designer! (2016-now)

In 2016, I got a recruiter’s email from Google. 6 months after, I started as an interaction designer at Google AdManager team, designing for reporting tools for large ads publishers such as Wallstreet Journal, NYTimes and Forbes.

2016 Fall

Enterprise user needs are so convoluted and interdependent. Business also influences design decisions. Besides, as a designer, you are NOT your users! There is a gap between your anticipation and reality!

Consumer products are more relatable and less scaled

A secret ingredient that got me promoted and landed several launches: educate your peers. Make them UX designers in thinking! Regardless of what they do, everyone has information about users they can take into product development.

Make that mindset shifts to teammates so they can ask themselves: “what do users need?” before jumping into decisions!

I started to educate about UX: for non-UXers, students and even kids!

Learning #3: the team needs to take users at heart to build great products. Plus, interview your“the internal users”: the PMs and engineers . What are their pain points and needs?

Understand peers and make ourselves understood. I can’t over-communicate enough the power of UX education! Advocate for building data dashboard so the team can watch CTR dive with just a button color change. Invite engineers to research sessions to hear users counterintuitive feedback. Like that.


In the past 10 years, I toddled into mobile apps, went back to school, then pivoted to space UX, took a skydive into enterprise tools. Understanding each stage in fascinating and englighting to me. The path is full of twists and turns. See details in my portfolio: (And my tips to get your portfolio featured.)

it was actually 2013 on the left but you get the point

Onward! I look forward to meeting my “Stage 4”, hope then I can share that with y’all! :)

What was your design evolution? Share down below, I’d like to learn!

Hello, I’m Leecy Li, a UX designer working and living in NYC for 7 years. Planning to write more this year, and eager to share the learnings of my past UX career. Stay tuned for my next article about Enterprise Product Excellence. Cheers!



Leecy Li

UX@Google. I share about design and career growth. I’m made in 🇨🇳 living in🗽, Brooklyn🦊