February 4, 2022

Katrina Liu

Leadership Programs: Next Step for Mid-Level Designers

February 4, 2022

Having questions about your career path is good and healthy at any stage of your career. Whether you’ve been working in the industry for a year, ten years, or a couple of decades, sometimes you might need external support when planning your next move. There are numerous Mentorship programs for people who are starting to work as designers and those who want to help them. Today, with our guest, Katrina Liu, Senior UX Designer at Microsoft and a UX community leader, we will discuss Leadership programs for mid-senior level design specialists to help them build successful careers.

Katrina Liu, Senior UX Designer at Microsoft

Katrina is a UX leader with 15+ years of experience in the field. She is a Senior UX Designer at Microsoft by day and a UX community leader by night. As the North America Director for Ladies that UX, she provides guidance and support for over 20 chapters in the North American region to put together events and connect talented UX professionals across different levels.

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Katrina, please tell us a bit about yourself and your experience in UX design

I am a Senior Designer at Microsoft by day and UX community leader by night with 14+ years of experience in the field. My career started as a web/graphic designer. I worked my way up and eventually pivoted into user experience design. I was always interested in UX before I even knew it was UX. Even in my early career, I was interested in learning about the psychological aspect of how people think and interact with products. My passion for UX led me to become involved in the UX community.

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I volunteer my time for Ladies that UX to support women in the UX industry because I believe in ‘pay it forward’
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How did you get involved in Leadership programs?

I first started attending meetups to get out of my comfort zone and learn. I became a regular at a few meetup groups after a while. When an opportunity came up for leading the Seattle Ladies that UX chapter, I jumped right on it. Leading a UX group has been a fantastic experience. I get to organize events and learn from industry leaders while providing a space for like-minded people to connect and build a network of support systems.


In 2021, I started a new role as the North America Director at Ladies that UX. I work with the global leadership team to bring alignment and provide guidance for the chapters in the North American region. I volunteer my time for Ladies that UX to support women in the UX industry because I believe in ‘pay it forward.’ I am grateful to all of my mentors who selflessly provided career advice, and I want to help others when I can.

Katrina's top-3 tools for productive work:

Microsoft OneNote
Microsoft OneNote

I like that I can put meeting notes, references, and a to-do list all in one place

Microsoft Teams
Microsoft Teams

A great tool to collaborate, with additional apps that you can add on


It's a great tool to track tasks and share them with others

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What types of events have you put together for Ladies that UX?

Under my leadership, Ladies that UX Seattle has partnered with companies such as Microsoft, Google, Amazon, BestBuy, Adobe and Airbnb to host events covering UX design, UX research, XR and leadership-related topics. In addition, we successfully ran the Leadership Series, a mentorship program and a book club.


Thanks to the fantastic work of the planning committees, the Seattle meetup group grew from about 1000 to over 3500 members over the past few years! A shout out to everyone who volunteered their time for the Ladies that UX community. You know who you are ;)

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Could you explain the main difference between Leadership Series and the Mentorship Programs?

In the Leadership Series, UX leaders shared their experiences and leadership methodologies through a panel discussion or a one-on-one interview. It is a live event where attendees will also get a chance to ask questions at the end. 


See the Seattle Chapter's Youtube channel for recorded sessions from the Leadership Series.


In the Mentorship Program, mentors and mentees met one-on-one once every other week, creating a space for junior UXers to get advice and guidance from an experienced UXer. The program is 12 weeks long. Mentees get to ask questions on how to build a career, and mentors get to develop their leadership skills and confidence.


See this Medium post to learn more about the program. 


The key difference is that the mentorship program is more personal and creates a space to build long-lasting friendships. A few people told me that they are still in touch with their mentors even long after the program has ended, which makes all my time and efforts worth it!

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Through building the Leadership Series and the Mentorship program, I want to encourage and inspire the competent women I see in my network to take the leap onto the next level
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What, in your opinion, is stopping designers from getting promoted from mid-level positions to senior roles and higher?

I don't have an answer for this. There can be many different factors. However, I believe opportunities are for those who are well-prepared. That's why I advocate UXers to be involved in community programs that help them better prepare themselves for new challenges and adventures.

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How can mid-level designers benefit from leadership programs?

The main goal for these programs is to provide a space for the community to connect with UX leaders, ask questions and share experiences. And also to encourage mid-senior level UXers to build the leadership skills and confidence needed to take the next step in their career. 


Over the years, the Leadership Series has


  • Hosted four events from 2020 to 2021
  • Welcomed over 300 attendees
  • Introduced six speakers


And here are some numbers on our Mentorship program:


  • 60+ pairs of mentor/mentee were matched, which is 200% over our initial goal
  • Both mentors and mentees rated the quality of their experience at an average of 4.48 (out of 5)
  • 84% of mentors said they would recommend the program
  • 90% of mentees said they would recommend the program
  • 8% of participants reported that the mentoring relationship didn't work out based on a mismatch of interest
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Do you have similar initiatives at your current job in Microsoft?

Yes, there are similar initiatives. I am grateful for the training resources and opportunities I have access to through Microsoft.

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If you are looking to become a mentor, no matter what level you are at, there is always someone who could learn from your experience
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Please recommend several leadership programs for women, not necessarily working in tech 

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What first moves a mid-level designer can do to prepare for a higher-level position?

Here are a few things that I’d recommend:


  1. Talk to people who are in that higher-level position already and learn from them. Hearing from people you look up to will help identify skills you need to develop for the next step.
  2. Join groups and organizations such as Ladies that UX to build a network of support systems.
  3. Mentor and share your experience with junior designers. I learned a lot by answering questions from my mentees, and it feels great to be able to support others.

Kartina recommends these books for designers:

'100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People' by Susan Weinschenk


'Validating Product Ideas: Through Lean User Research' by Sharon Tomer

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We are approaching the end of this interview. How do you think the design industry will evolve in the next 10 years?

I foresee a higher demand for designers across all disciplines, more opportunities in the XR sector and UX writing. The future is bright for the UX and design industry.

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Any final tips for people who are unsure about a mentorship?

If you are looking for a mentor, don't be afraid to reach out to people in your network. You may get some No's, but all you need is one Yes.


If you are looking to become a mentor, no matter what level you are at, there is always someone who could learn from your experience.



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