Mona Patel: Founder of Motivate Design


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Imagine, for a minute, that you’re a patient lyng in a hospital bed. Post-surgery all you want to do is sleep, but it doesn’t come easy. When you finally are able to close your eyes, the last thing you’d want is a nurse coming in and waking you up while checking your vitals, right?

What if the vitals monitor could be redesigned so that nurses would be able to check on you, without turning the lights on and waking you up? If you’ve ever been drawn to redesiging a product to make it work better or in a more functional way, or if you’ve ever wanted to dive deeper into the “why” behind how something is designed for a customer, then it’s very likely you’ll want to know more about Mona Patel and the amazing company she’s built.

As the passionate founder of Motivate Design – a user experience research, design and staffing firm – Mona works with large organizations to help them understand how users are interacting with their brand, product or service. Overall, Mona and her team tackle a big question: How do you understand how people work and think, and then how does that apply to the design of products? Her team will heavily research, work intentionally across industries, apply different perspectives, and even shadow actual users, to find insights that can then help improve the experience a customer has with certain service or product.

When she’s not leading her team of 25 at Motivate Design, which also happens to be an Inc. 5000 company, Mona is an instructor at Parsons The New School for Design. Her passion for encouraging others to think about design problems creatively has expanded to writing a book, Reframe: Shift The Way You Work, Innovate and Think; hosting workshops, launching design camps for kids and even a children’s design book. Mona also is a though leader on user-centered design and innovation, experience strategies, usability, lean startups and business management who writes for Fast Company and TIME Business.

In episode 19 of I Want Her Job: The Podcast, Mona shares her technique for triggering design ideas, advice for those considering a startup life and her favorite resources for reading up and getting ahead.


  • On Getting A UX Job: If you’re interested in exploring UX as a career path, the New York Code and Design Academy has an 8-week bootcamp to get you started. But, if you want to land the job, Mona says, start building a portfolio that shows the “Before” and “After” of design work you have implemented to solve a user experience problem. (Even if you offer to do the work for free for someone!) “It’s almost impossible to get a job in this space without a portfolio,” she says, “So really make sure you can showcase the way you think and the value you can provide.”
  • The Secret Sauce: What makes a good UX designer? Empathy, the ability to hear the truth, objectivity, and a process-oriented (yet creative) brain are vital, Mona says.
  • Mona’s Technique To Trigger Design Ideas: It’s called problempathy, and it’s where you try seeing the perspective of an object you are designing for. For example, you could ask, “What would an app think?” Perhaps it would ask what color it needs to be or where it should live for its distracted owner to see it.
  • On Optimizing The Employee And Customer Experience: Motivate Design is a firm that helps companies with both UX (user experience) and EX (employee experience) design. By optimizing both the employee and customer experience, it enables them to create a greater impact for their clients with their work. After all, Mona says, if employees have tools and training with better design, then it’s more likely they’ll be able to offer enhanced services for their clients.
  • Finding A Fit: Mona shares how her love of psychology, while also choosing a field that would please her parents, led her to a degree in engineering psychology from Tufts University.
  • On Teaching Kids The Design Process: After running a workshop for kids and hearing the vast majority say they “couldn’t draw” because they weren’t creative, Mona got pissed. And oh how we love that Mona is the type of woman who translates anger into action, because Mona has since worked to launch two day camps for high school kids. In the camps, Motivate Design’s employees will walk kids through the process of solving a real-world business problem. While the camps will give kids confidence and problem solving tools, it also will help give organizations the opportunity to learn from high school students. Anger can become a win-win!
  • On Hiring For A Startup: “Invest in people who can do the jobs you are not good at doing,” Mona says. Although the cost may seem high, she continues, consider, “By getting this person, who much more can I make for the organization … Your job is to make sure the people who work for you have the best career they can possibly have.”
  • Kids As A Motivator: “I actually think kids are the best driver for doing work,” Mona says. “After I had kids, I am at a whole other level … What I do for the rest of the day has to be so great [that] it is worth leaving my kids.”
  • Seeking Inspiration: Mona is a member of a monthly peer advisory group with seven CEOs, and she also attends design meetups for women in design and tech groups to get inspired. She says that in addition to business, the groups will talk about daily struggles with kids, salary and equity.
  • On Getting Involved: Mona loves to donate her time to causes close to her heart, which include inspiring excitement among kids for creative design work. Mona’s father arrived in the United States from India with his family, with only $8 to his name. This has stuck with Mona who believes in promoting opportunities for minority women and in rewarding hard work.
  • Spreading Ideas: You can read some of Mona’s writing in these articles from Fast Company, Forbes and on LinkedIn.
  • On The Topic: You can’t miss Mona’s TEDx talk.
  • Connect: You can follow Motivate Design and Mona on Twitter.

Mona’s UX Resource List:

  • Reframe by Mona Patel: “Why not? What if? If those questions give you pause, it might be because you’ve been carrying around the wrong frame. In this personal book, Mona Patel wants to outfit you with a new way of seeing and working.”
  • The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman: Best For – Design professionals looking to further understand the relationship between people, things and design.
  • Don’t Make Me Think Revisited by Steve Krug: “Don’t Make Me Think so essential to Web designers and developers around the world. This is a longstanding classic in the UX Design field.”
  • Badass: Making Users Awesome by Kathy Sierra: “A smart, fast read on helping users become badass not just at using your product, but at whatever it is your product can help them do and be.”
  • About Face: The Essentials of Interaction Design by Cooper, Reimann, Cronin, Noessel: “About Face 3 is a great intro to UX Design and will show you how to design the best possible digital products and services.”
  • 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People by Susan Weinschenk: “This book combines real science and research with practical examples to deliver a guide every designer needs.”
  • The Elements of User Experience by Jesse James Garrett: “This book cuts through the complexity of user-centered design for the Web with clear explanations and vivid illustrations.”
  • The UX Book by Rex Hartson And Pardha Pyla: “This book will be useful to anyone interested in learning more about creating interaction designs to ensure a quality user experience.”
  • Evil By Design by Chris Nodder: “Approaching persuasive design from the dark side, this book melds psychology, marketing and design concepts to show why we’re susceptible to certain persuasive techniques.”
  • A Project Guide to UX Design by Russ Unger and Carolyn Chandler: “If you are a young designer entering or contemplating entering the UX field this is a canonical book.”
  • Seductive Interaction Design by Stephen P. Anderson: “In Seductive Interaction Design, speaker and author Stephen P. Anderson takes a fresh approach to designing sites and interactions based on the stages of seduction.”
  • The User Experience Team of One by Leah Buley: “This Design Survival Guide presents a very structured and stylized approach to web design with an entire focus on the user experience.”

Mona’s Course Resource List:

Mona’s Resource List for Podcasts and Webinars: