Meet Laura: Entrepreneur, UX Designer, and Mentor

Laura Szumylo combines entrepreneurship with UX design in her freelance career and passionately mentors aspiring UX designers at Designlab.

Emilyann Gachko
Emilyann Gachko
Mar 25, 2024
Min Read

We recently caught up with one of our Designlab mentors, Laura Szumylo, to learn more about her background in arts and entrepreneurship, and how she took her previous skillsets to her current career as a freelance UX designer. Laura shares how she found her way into UX design, why her work constantly excites and surprises her, and how she supports students at as a mentor.

Embracing Change and Discovering UX

Even before getting into a freelance design career, Laura wasn’t a stranger to running a business. Before making her pivot into UX, she first had a career as a photographer and then ran her own retail scrapbooking store. When economic changes prompted her to close her shop, she moved into working in the healthcare field.

Image of a photography studio setup.
Laure’s photo setup during her days as a studio owner

She stumbled into UX accidentally: she was watching a segment on Good Morning America, and realized she checked many of the boxes of what makes a good UX/UI Designer. 

"I decided to take a two day workshop. The woman running it said my final project was one of the best she'd ever seen. So I listened to the advice of someone I met 48 hours prior and decided I was going to embark on this new adventure! I went to a UX bootcamp, and then decided that I was going to try freelancing. Part of me thought ‘I don't know if I can do this’, but at the same time, I also had three different career changes. So I was like, ‘Why is this any different?"

Screens from a UX design project.
Screens from the first project Laura ever put together at a UX workshop

Navigating the Freelance Landscape

Drawing on her entrepreneurial background, Laura found UX freelancing to be a natural fit. Emphasizing the importance of client satisfaction and reputation, she values the flexibility freelancing offers while acknowledging the responsibility it entails.

“There's nobody here telling me I can't take a five hour lunch break if I want to, but then there's nobody on the other side saying go back to work. So for me, it's always been that I hate to disappoint. At the end of the day, it's me and my reputation.” 

Laura has a strong background in networking from her prior career in photography and business entrepreneurship. She also prefers making in-person connections, attending meet-ups, conferences, and other events to get to know other small business owners. She also stresses the importance of making people understand her role and expertise. But that’s part of the fun of getting to meet people and showcase what UX/UI has the power to do. 

“A little while ago I worked on an app for disc golf. I met them at a conference that I was at, and he was promoting his app. I thought it was cool, and asked if I could check it out. And as he was scrolling through, I saw a couple things that needed a little bit of a touch up. I told him I could test it and give some feedback. So I just gave him a quick little consult on what I saw and he wrote back and said the feedback was amazing. He really appreciated it, and it felt good to be able to help somebody to get something done.”

A logo for disc golf app Pure'd.
The logo for Pure’d, the disc golf app that Laura provided UX design feedback for

A Peek Into Daily Life

Laura balances her days between her freelance clients and the mentorship work that she does with Designlab. She starts her mornings catching up on administrative tasks and student needs, providing feedback on projects or holding sessions with learners. She spends more time on focused freelance work in the afternoon and evening, while often meeting with students at night as well. 

Laura underlines the significance of a thorough discovery call to understand client needs whenever she’s starting a new project, and also thorough research to understand problems and solutions. And as a freelancer, she often operates independently, using sign-offs and milestones to keep projects on track. 

“I normally don't jump into a team because it's usually just a one-off business person, but I'm happy with that! I like to know exactly where things are going, and what they're doing. And research makes me really happy because I'm allowing myself to know that I'm solving for the right problem.”

The Fun in Shifting Focus

Laura shares her enthusiasm for learning and continuing to grow as a designer, both in her own practice and with her students. 

“I tell my students you don't have to be in a pigeonhole of one thing, but also you don't want to have such a broad range where nothing goes together. You can pick an area, and then pivot points outside of there. And then now you have different directions that you can go in.” 

While initially focusing on work more geared toward wellness, she’s looking to broaden her scope moving forward into environmental protection and education. Acknowledging the importance of variety in her work to foster continuous learning, she advocates for designers to avoid complacency.

Screenshot of screens of UX design for a sushi restaurant.
Screens Laura designed several years ago for a sushi app—she notes it’s interesting to see how design trends shift and change over the years

“I like the variety because it keeps me learning. I felt that being in the bubble of health and fitness, I was getting to the mentality of ‘I know this and I know that’. And that's the worst thing that you can do as a designer, is already say you know how something works. Because you don't know anything! And so I had to shift and say, you know what? I need to go somewhere where I don't know a thing, so that I can reset myself.”

Laura also cites how meeting new people and focusing on new projects keeps her engaged in her work. When asked if she had a favorite project she was brought onto, she said the more exciting part about her constantly changing work is the ability to always do something different. 

Responsive UX design for a scuba website.
A passion project of Laura’s centered around scuba diving, one of her many interests outside of UX

“They're all fun, but at the end of the day, I want the next one. I don't want to keep working on the same thing because I kind of get bored! They’re all different.”

Advice for Aspiring UX Designers

Addressing imposter syndrome, Laura encourages aspiring UX designers to believe in themselves and confidently announce their professional identity. 

“I tell my students: You now live in this world. You are a UX designer. You're a student, but you're still a UX designer. Really psych yourself up for this new career, because the hardest thing is convincing yourself. I can convince anybody of anything, but if I don't have that confidence in myself, everybody could be pouring projects at me and it doesn’t matter. But once being a UX Designer is in your head, then everything opens up.” 

Emphasizing continuous learning, she also suggests exploring different industries to find personal satisfaction in projects. 

“Learn about different industries, learn about what makes you happy, learn about where you want to go—because at the end of the day, if you're not happy with the project that you're working on, you're not going to get it done. As a freelancer, you are your own reputation. So you've got to make sure that you're going to be happy.”

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Launch a career in ux design with our top-rated program

Top Designers Use Data.

Gain confidence using product data to design better, justify design decisions, and win stakeholders. 6-week course for experienced UX designers.