“You can't just copy something that looks good into your product”
We sat down with Koji Pereira to learn about UX overlaps between the physical and digital world, how to use volunteer work to build your portfolio, and why you can't just copy something you saw into your product.
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Koji Pereira
Head of Design, Lyft Business; (ex-Google); Host of “Cells and Pixels”
Apple & Banana
How did you get into UX design?
Koji Pereira

I was always very interested in the overlap between engineering and visual arts. In 1997, I was living in Brazil where the Internet was starting to pick up.

I started building websites for local bands and I remember thinking:

“This is so interesting because this is not static. This is motion, this is interactive. So it's a new form of design.”

I got my Masters, worked at an agency, worked at a startup (that was acquired!), all before I joined the team at Google on the Orkut team!

What did you work on at Orkut/Google?

Orkut was the 4th biggest social network with 100M+ users and  was a fantastic learning experience on the challenges of scaling UX. While there, I developed storyboards, mockups, and prototypes to communicate interaction and design ideas.

This was my first experience at Google and I took part in the big product redesign and the migration strategy to Google+.

After building my own agency, which still exists today, I went back to Google+ where I spent nine years leading UX design there.

While there, I worked in a couple of new experiments including the “Next Billion Users” project, which was building new products for emerging marketing like Brazil and India.

“I was very excited to explore the overlap between the physical world and digital world.”

Google was and is a tremendous company but I started to think about what’s next. I did the small company thing, I did the big company thing but I wanted something different.

I looked at the landscape and realized that I was very excited to explore the overlap between the physical world and digital world.

That’s how I ended up at Lyft!

Apple & Banana
What’s UX life like at Lyft?
Koji Pereira

I work within the “Lyft Business” unit which builds products for the B2B side of the company.

At Lyft, we're always thinking about “What are the things that are around you when you get your car ride? What happens when you are inside the car?”

All of those things that are outside the app are taken into account when we're designing the digital and vice versa. We have service designers who are dedicated to that, but as product designers, we work together with service designers to think about the end to end experience.

What are you working on these days at Lyft?

2020 was a challenging year, but we were able to launch Lyft Pass, a powerful tool that allows companies to cover the cost of rides for their people. This product was highlighted in our earnings call in Q2 and Q3 in 2020 and it's definitely one of our bigger bets for our team.

Apple & Banana
What are some common UX myths you’d like to debunk?
Koji Pereira

Translating UX design to product design (and vice versa) is not simple as people make it seem.

“Just because [something] looks good doesn’t mean you can just copy/paste it to your product, team, and company.”

If you just look at design from a deliverable or outcome perspective, you miss how it got there, which is the crucial part.

Just because it looks good doesn’t mean you can just copy/paste it to your product, team, and company; you have to build within a framework or a library that your company already has. Or inside a design system that maybe is not perfect for you.

“In school or bootcamps, you can design in a ‘perfect vacuum.’ All of that changes when you enter the workforce.”

Another is understanding what UX design looks like in the real world. In school, you’re redesigning whole apps and websites which is fun.

But in the workplace, the outcome of your design might be small; sometimes it'll be just a screen or a button depending on the size of your company.

In school or bootcamps, you can design in a “perfect vacuum.” Everything's perfect. You have all the time in the world. Your budget is unlimited. And you don’t have any cross-functional partners to work with.

All of that changes when you enter the workforce. It soon becomes “I gotta get it done like next week, and it's not perfect. But we have to ship it out. It is what it is.” Reality is different from what you read about in books, learned in class or what you did in a bootcamp. You got to be in it to understand.

What advice would you give for people that have yet to enter the “real world of design?”

It can depend on the stage of the company: at very big companies, they’ll say “Oh, we have a framework, let’s just use that.” And at small companies, they’ll say “Oh no, this is too hard. We don't have resources for this.”

You always will face these limitations so I recommend folks to get some exposure to group collaboration, especially with people who are not designers (which is hard to get in bootcamps and design schools).

One way to do that is through volunteer work with local nonprofits. You can also secure contract work with startups that need initial design support. Try contacting local (or national) startup accelerators and incubators; they’re always looking for designers to help them out.

Apple & Banana
What was the most impactful UX experience you’ve had?
Koji Pereira

One of the last things I worked on at Google was Files by Google.” We started that from scratch, like paper sketches. And today, the product has crossed 500 million active users which is crazy.

As we started the work, we did research across the world to better understand our users, which led us to two major insights.

Which were?

1) Every single person said some version of “Hey, my phone is running out of space. There's nothing I can do with this old phone.” This was a key insight that we had to overcome, especially in an emerging market like India with over a billion people.

2) Most of our target users had very crappy Android phones.

As the research suggested, if we were able to free up space, optimized for Android phones, then we could make a big difference for all of the people.

But it turns out, there was something else we never considered...

We took to the streets, doing research trips all over and I remember we were in Brazil, in a subway.

We were talking to this one participant who was clicking on things very quickly. And we're like, “Well, what's happening here? Why is he not reading anything?

Eventually we realized that he couldn’t read and he just picked any button that had a color on it!

This participant actually represented lots of Android users, the ones we were targeting.

That experience has always stuck with me because we’re never taught to design for people who are illiterate, at least in school.

Apple & Banana
Koji Pereira
Apple & Banana
Koji Pereira
Resources & recommendations
connect with
Koji Pereira
Head of Design, Lyft Business; (ex-Google); Host of “Cells and Pixels”
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