Interview with Maryna Karpenko, award-winning designer from Ukraine

Maryna Karpenko is an award-winning product designer and a recognized digital product leader whose work has been used by millions of people worldwide. She has won numerous awards, including the MUSE Creative Award, Vega Digital Awards and Davey Awards. Karpenko also leads the mobile messaging experience at Mattermost, a secure, open source platform for communication, collaboration, and workflow orchestration, and YC's largest-ever series B investment.

Karpenko initially made a name for herself as Lead Product Designer for "Hily", a leading dating app, where she scaled up the live stream functionality to allow singles to connect on a deeper level and get rewarded for their interactions. When she joined, the company was just making a name for themselves through ML-powered quality matches. In just under a year, her work allowed the app to grow into the new market of live-streaming ahead of the explosion of the genre, and to leverage the authentic conversations users are having on live streams as a differentiation in a crowded dating app market.

She was also the Lead Product Designer at Wavechat, where she designed the mobile app's user experience and interface from the ground up. Because of her leadership, the app won the Snapchat Edition of Product Hunt Maker Festival and was featured in an Apple App Store Feature.

How it started

Karpenko's fascination for creative design started at an early age. She spent a lot of her time on the computer, and she split her free time between competitive gymnastics and exploring the online world. She learned Photoshop with YouTube tutorials and started freelancing in website design as a hobby.

"One day, a friend brought a first-generation iPod to school, and as I interacted with it with ease, I realized there was a superior class of devices out there, carefully built for people's problems. At that moment, I realized my calling as a creative person," says Karpenko.

"However, product design was not a professional path at the time. I was gifted in math, so I studied math and engineering while continuously improving my creative skills."

Her creative pursuits led her to realize that she was more interested in learning about the human mind. She went on to study psychology, and by the time she graduated, the field of product design had evolved enough with role models like Julie Zhuo and Luke Wroblewski. This sparked her curiosity in pursuing a career in product design.

"While it was a challenge to convince my parents to support me in going to design school after completing two degrees, in hindsight, the experience gave me the perfect blend of skills to grow into the designer I am today," says Karpenko.

Operating at the intersection of disciplines

Steve Jobs is famous for lauding the value of marrying adjacent disciplines to create the best products. At the launch of the iPad 2, he shared the secret to Apple's success:

"It's in Apple's DNA that technology alone is not enough -- it's technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing."

Karpenko, an assiduous student of the Apple design culture, similarly reflects on how her cross-disciplinary background has contributed to her success:

"My psychology background helps me get into people's minds - their context, motivations and incentives. Applied math gave me the systematic thinking to align with software engineers' rigor, and design school taught me to leverage these two to create products that solve people's problems."

Giving back to the community

Karpenko adds, "I've been very fortunate over the years for people to take a chance on me. Now it's my turn to help new talent get discovered."

As an accomplished and recognized product design leader, Karpenko is an active member of the Academy of Interactive and Visual Arts (AIVA) and sits on the Jury Panel for the Communicator Awards, where she judges the work of up-and-coming designers.


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