Design Without Borders - Akiko Sakamoto's Success Story
September 21, 2022
7 min read
When I first joined Mento, I remember she was one of the first people to greet me in the community. Apart from UX, we had a lot of things in common, one of which was our love for art. During the time we spent in Mento, we were each others’ support system, and we also got together at times to discuss our work with other students.
She was one of Mento’s stellar students who managed to get a job before graduation. Even if her schedule is packed, she is still an active community member, supporting new students and sharing her experience. I am proud to have been a colleague with Akiko and can’t wait to see where her Design career takes her. But for now, let me share her story.
Hey Akiko, can you tell us something about yourself?
“I am originally from Tokyo and studied in the Netherlands for a year. That’s when I found my interest in Design and entered an international community. I studied art history at university and enjoyed going to art galleries and museums. I love going hiking. I am not necessarily a sports person, I don’t do anything competitive, but I love being in nature.”
How did you get interested in UX Design?
“When I was in high school, I read a book by Bruno Munari, an Italian designer, which got me interested in Design. At that moment, Steve Jobs was also quite popular because he passed away at that moment. I read them both, so I simultaneously became interested in technology and humanity. However, I didn’t know how to combine them.
Even though I was studying Art History, I knew I was interested in Design, so I went to various events. I did some volunteer work at some design studios. I loved it a lot, but still, the uncertainty remained. I still didn’t know how to get into the field.
When I returned to Japan, I tried to find internships at Japanese start-ups, and I did. It was fun, but I realized that working at Japanese start-ups would make me forget all my English.
This is how I got to jump into the corporate world, worked in international communities, and traveled a lot. Even though it was fun, I wasn’t really interested in managing people; I wanted to create something.
After this, covid happened, so I tried to find other opportunities. I joined another company, but it didn’t feel like I was on the right path. I had more time for research and reflection and realized it could be a good time for me to study Design, which always sparked my interest.”
Why did you decide to join a Bootcamp?
“I was trying to study by myself and did many online courses, but I realized: that this doesn’t make me a Designer. I knew the concepts and keywords but not how to do Design properly.
I knew how much I needed to commit to this, how much I needed a structure. I don’t know what I don’t know, so I decided to find a school in Japan. I actually applied to one school based on my friend’s recommendation. At orientation, I found out what they were teaching was lagging, so I looked into other options, this time in English.
There were tons of options in English compared to t e Japanese market. You never know what the best way to do it is. Some courses were really cheap, but you didn’t know if they were good. Same for expensive ones. I enrolled in some courses, and even though they offered me a free trial, they charged me. I got more confused than I was before.
I started leveraging Design communities, asking for guidance in finding the right place for me. Many people replied to me, and this is how I found out about Mento.”
Why did you decide to go with Mento?
To be honest, in the beginning, I was pretty skeptical because I was among the first ones; there were no graduates. However, they had a similar way of thinking about education; they had a more boutique approach and wanted to focus on small groups to ensure each student had enough support.
I asked them, why do you want to start a new school? They set up to change some problems in the UX education industry, which I resonated with. It was not about profits but making a difference. After a lot of thinking, I realized Mento was the best option for me.
What did you enjoy the most?
“First, I enjoyed having my 1:1s. I could always ask questions and got a lot of encouragement. I learned how to keep my motivation and practice positive thinking, which I couldn’t learn by reading a book or watching a video. This made me work even harder.
I think this was the power of Mento Design Academy: not just sharing the knowledge but trusting students, helping them find their superpower, and empowering them.
I also found the community was friendly, supportive, and diverse. We were all in the middle of the pandemic; even so, we could learn together and share struggles. It’s a challenging journey to study alone, and Mento Design Academy helped me through this, making it effortless.”
Is there anything you would have done differently?
“I think I could be more efficient. I am not sure how, but in the beginning, I focused on doing everything perfectly and learning absolutely everything. After all of this, I realized no matter how much time I spend on something, I still need to revise or go back sometimes. That took me a lot of time, not necessarily through the amount of work but the overwhelming feeling that I could do things better. I needed to let go of perfectionism.
Initially, I hesitated to ask questions, but then I realized how powerful they were. Take the time, move forward, and don’t focus on doing things perfectly.
What would you recommend to someone transitioning to UX?
“Learning Design is like visiting a country; no matter how many books you read about it, you don’t understand it well enough until you get here, talk to locals, and taste the local food.”
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions or talk to people in the industry. Reading doesn’t always help you. Learning Design is like visiting a country; no matter how many books you read about it, you don’t understand it well enough until you get here, talk to locals, and taste the local food.
I would also encourage students to try to do extra things by themselves. Leverage Youtube and books, explore what’s there and what a Designer does. And to confirm these things, reach out to other Designers. We live in blessed times, where you can reach thousands of Designers and ask questions. I do recommend utilizing those tools and reaching out to people.
I found the power of networking and the power of the community. However, just belonging to the community doesn’t give you as much as committing to the group. These things paid out for me in getting a job, making friends, and feeling empowered.
The more you interact with other Designers, the more recognition you get that you are a Designer. You realize you still have much to learn and grow, and communities can facilitate this knowledge exchange.
Tell us a little bit about your job
Initially, I did a travel app for one of Japan’s tourist places. Before graduation, someone in my network asked me if I was interested in a UI/UX position. I only had an imperfect case study then, but it got me the job. I presented some slides which I created for a team meeting. During the interview, they really loved the way I made design decisions. I still have that job now, and I am really happy.
I have a senior designer by my side, which is an ideal situation. I have someone to learn from; it is a fantastic feeling to see how an actual design works. I felt pleased when my design decisions were understood and appreciated. At that moment, I saw how much I’ve learned during the past year, and I was other students to have this feeling as well.