UX in Latin America: Fast Growth, But Challenges Remain
Summary: What's driving UX in Latin America? This article illuminates the region’s UX trajectory, focusing on Brazil, industry maturity, job markets, and educational and language gaps.
Brazil recently reached the status of the country with the second-largest number of subscribers to my email newsletter. Several other Latin American countries, notably Argentina, Chile, Mexico, and Colombia, boast substantial subscriber numbers.
To celebrate the growth of UX in Brazil and Latin America, I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Anna Erbetta, a Senior Product Designer at Vinta Software in Brazil. Her previous jobs include serving as the LATAM Product Design Lead for Accenture and being a UX Designer, Front-End Developer, and Web Designer for several Brazilian companies. She is a popular mentor on ADPList and creates UX and career-related content on TikTok.
Anna Erbetta is a Senior Product Designer from Brazil. She discussed the state of UX in Latin America with Jakob Nielsen.
From Neopets to UX: Anna Erbetta's Origin Story
Jakob: First, please tell me about yourself, how you got into UX, and what inspired you to become a UX designer?
Anna: I started designing because of Neopets’ pet page. I was 11 years old, playing Neopets online, a pet simulator website, and they had those pet pages where you could customize your pet. I got into the customizer, and I screamed for my Mom. I was like, “Help, I put a virus in our computer,” because seeing an HTML editor on the screen, with code on it, scared me when I was a child. Then I got into searching for web design on Google and started to learn this by myself. And then I decided that's what I would do for life! I really enjoyed it and decided to study design in college. So that's how my journey began.
Jakob: Great, so you started designing when you were 11 years old?
Anna: Yes, and later, I learned the terms UX design, UI design, and product design. But it was web design at first.
The Evolution of a UX Leader
Jakob: I have heard of a few other people starting in design as children, but it's not that common. So a great story. Let’s fast-forward to the current date. Tell us about your current job and what you're doing so readers can understand where you're coming from.
Anna: I am a senior product designer at Vinta Software, a company here in Brazil. I work remotely for them. And actually, our customers are from the United States. Currently, I am working for a customer in New York. I'm acting like a product designer, so I try to balance some business requirements with UX design and deliver UI interfaces. So basically, that whole product flow. I really enjoy it. I like coming up with new ideas, testing them, and solving problems.
Previously, I worked for ServiceNow Portals for Latin America in Accenture, leading a team of four people. I started as the only designer there, and it was a little less mature originally. I began to go step by step, showing them the importance of UX design. First, let's do a benchmark. It's cheap, it's going to give you results, and then they saw the impact of UX. With some UX work and redoing the interface, we decreased the time for users to find stuff, and users could solve problems independently. So we reduced support costs. This was a big win for UX design, and that's where they started to see the impact it had on business and the money. They began to request more and more, and I was getting a little bit overwhelmed by the number of projects. So I raised my hand and said we need more designers.
Why Brazil is Climbing the UX Ladder
Jakob: Brazil has now become the second largest country for subscribing to my email newsletter, whereas years ago, I would have to say that I did not have a lot of subscribers from Brazil. What do you think has happened to make UX so much more prominent in Brazil in recent years?
Anna: I'm seeing much growth because people are discovering UX more. There's a lack of tech professionals here in Brazil. Universities don’t make enough graduates to work in technology in general: programming, UX, UI. We don't have a lot of formal education, but it's starting to get better now. Colleges are noticing UX, especially the paid ones. The government universities are strong in research but not in educating UX graduates to get their first job; they focus more on academics. Private schools are more focused on the markets and teaching the entire delivery process of a digital product, for example. They are gearing up because they started to see that UX professionals were needed. Many people say, “I like technology, but I don't like the programming part of it.” And I say, haven't you heard about UX design? They tend to love it.
Here in Brazil, a formal [university] education is hard to get. But you don't need a degree to work in UX. So, people learn about UX informally. Companies offer many UX courses, and plenty of people post their experiences. We have UX mentoring. I also post about UX on TikTok and LinkedIn and meet many interested people. Some are like 17 years old. They are asking about UX. They are interested in UX. It’s gaining a lot of visibility here in Brazil.
UX is gaining visibility in the landscape in Brazil. (Image by Ideogram.)
UX Maturity in Brazil: A Mixed Bag
Jakob: How would you describe the general state of user experience? I mean the UX maturity level, or how thoroughly companies run projects.
Anna: It’s not the most mature thing ever. It depends a lot on the company. I've seen small companies adopting UX 100% on all levels. And I've seen bigger companies starting to adopt a little UX. But in big companies, stakeholders often say, “Why am I spending money on research? You should just deliver the interface.” And now they are starting to get a little bit informed. For example, I heard from stakeholders from a bank here in Brazil. People you imagine saying, “I don't want to spend my money.” But they were requesting UX research, and I thought, wow, what progress?
We have some ways to grow with UX, but I feel that progress is coming, and for industries that do utilize some UX methodologies, we have medium maturity. We also have some stakeholders that believe UX only delivers “pretty screens” and doesn't touch strategy, therefore being a superfluous cost. The whole maturity of having UX in the executive layer of the company is not happening yet, at least in the companies that I have worked with or heard of. I heard of a few with executive-level support for UX, but it's rare.
Jakob: Are there any industries you think are more advanced than others — that have a higher level of UX maturity?
Anna: Yeah, startups often have higher UX maturity than old companies, especially the “unicorn” startups. I feel that they have a higher level. Some banks and fintech companies also have increasing UX maturity. For UX design, they have bigger teams and more people with specialized roles like UX researchers. You won't find that in most companies in Brazil. Generally, they look for a product designer or UX/UI designer.
Jakob: When you compare Latin America with, let's say, the United States or Europe, is there anything you think is different or the same in terms of UX challenges?
Anna: Overall, from what I have worked with here in Brazil, Latin America, and what I'm working on now with customers in the United States, and what I hear from my mentees, is that the challenges are pretty similar. New stuff like AI happens first in the United States, but Brazil tends to catch up quickly.
Brazil is the most advanced in Latin America regarding UX culture and community. We have a lot of UX events. I was at an on-site UX conference here in São Paulo just two weeks ago. And we have this pretty strong community. A lot of events and people helping each other. It's really nice, and I feel that Argentina also has this level of UX community. Most other countries in Latin America have maybe a lower maturity level. But not that much lower.
There are also cultural aspects. Something that struck me at first when working with people from the US is the way we communicate. In Brazil, we tend to take a lot of turns explaining something, and we step on eggs before giving any bad news. When I started to work for US companies, the Americans were like, “No, I don't like this design,” right in my face! I was like, “Ohh, I’m not used to that.” Those cultural differences for Latin America, we are more circumspect people, you know.
Jakob: How competitive is the job market? Is it easy to get a job, or is it hard to get a job in user experience?
Anna: It depends. In 2020, it was way easier to get a job. Even at the start of 2022, it was easy. By taking only a couple of informal courses or learning on YouTube videos, you could get your first job. It was undoubtedly easy compared to all non-technology jobs, and even compared to some tech-related ones. But now, after we saw the United States recession, it also started to hit us. Layoffs are happening here also in Brazil; some prominent startups that were strong in UX started doing layoffs. And now my mentees are having more of a hard time finding jobs. Companies are requesting professionals to be more holistic, like product designers, UX/UI designers, and less specialized.
Jakob: You mentioned before that Brazil is catching up pretty quickly with AI. Can you give me some examples of that?
Anna: When ChatGPT launched, it was everywhere. Everyone was talking about it. Some people were worried about losing their jobs, and some people thought it would save their job and it's going to make it faster. A big fuss initially, but now we are getting used to AI tools. At first, AI was almost a sci-fi thing, and now it's getting more integrated into our daily lives. For example, ChatGPT is often used for writing user stories. I use it for writing tickets for developers. And I heard some people using ChatGPT to run user interviews. Then, later, they learned that it was not the best way to run an interview. But at the start, it was like a big fuss. People are trying to use AI in every part of the process. And now we are like, OK, we have ChatGPT, we have AI, let's use it in our favor.
Overcoming Language Barriers in Brazil's UX Community
Jakob: Do you think ChatGPT is working well in Portuguese?
Anna: ChatGPT is working better in Portuguese, but we have a language barrier. When mentoring people from Brazil, someone always asks where I can get UX or/and UI content in Portuguese. How can I use those tools in Portuguese? This language barrier is a big thing for the country. English dominates the Internet and social media. But most Brazilian people, the majority, they don't speak English. It is a barrier for UX, but many people are creating content in Portuguese, like UX influencers. I'm trying to bring content to people in Portuguese. We also use simple tools like Figma. Not that Figma is simple, but it's more visual. We don't need to read big chunks of text to use it.
Jakob: For UX upskilling in Brazil and Latin America, what are the main gaps where more Spanish and Portuguese information needs to be available?
Anna: The more advanced things about UX. I feel that for entry-level people, there are plenty of courses. Many providers are selling a lot of entry-level courses. But as far as they go. When people are at medium to senior levels and want more advanced or specific UX information, it’s all in English. You rarely find advanced UX materials in Portuguese.
Jakob: What are the trends in UX education in Brazil? Are universities starting to offer it, or are there only entry-level courses?
Anna: For the last few years, I have seen those changes. When I graduated, my bachelor’s degree was actually in graphic design. We had product design, but it was mostly for chairs and cars. So, not digital products. I graduated in graphic design, and they talked a lot about market research but not UX research. My university was one of the government schools. They were solid academically for research and papers. But preparing you for getting your first job wasn't quite there. Now, I see the graduating students talking much more about UX, and the teachers are catching on. And the private schools are going for the market because they see the need for it. They see the opportunity to sell UX courses, so they are going for it. After the pandemic, I feel that UX education has grown.
Jakob: I also want to ask you about UX events. Are there any you would highlight as being important?
Anna: There was an event for the whole of Latin America, and it was a dream to give a talk there. It’s happening again later this year: Interaction Latin América 2023. I also really liked the Brazilian DEX Conference (Design Experience), which I participated in 2 weeks ago.
A Democratic Future for UX
Jakob: As a closing note, what is your vision for the UX community in Brazil, and how do you see yourself contributing to it?
Anna: It's definitely going to grow. I see more and more people entering UX in Brazil. I hope it continues to be a very democratic profession. People with no formal degree can get into UX. Not everyone has access to colleges. University education is not a reality for most people here in Brazil; attending college is a privilege. That's why I started writing content in Portuguese and producing videos because it allows people to change their social status. Someone with no college degree can go from earning a little to earning way more with UX. That was also the case for me: I got to grow my career, and now I can have a lovely apartment and help my family. I've been privileged to go to a college. But I really want to see other people succeed. I see UX as a very democratic profession that allows people with no college degree to learn by themselves and buy cheaper courses to learn this profession.
So, I see UX growing, and I hope it grows. I don't see AI replacing us. I see UX growth and maturity in education and companies for the next five years. Five years ago, if I mentioned UX design, people would wonder, what’s that? And now, some stakeholders that you would never imagine, from companies not in the tech business, mention it. They don’t always spend the money, but they at least say it.
Jakob: Thank you, Anna. For those readers who understand Portuguese, check out Anna’s TikTok channel!