Although Silicon Valley has a reputation for being somewhat homogenous—populated largely by white males—CU Denver graduate Kansinee Adsanatham shatters the stereotype. She is a mother, a Thai immigrant, and even her degree is unique for the field: She holds a BFA from the College of Arts and Media (CAM).
Adsanatham may not fit the tech stereotype, but nothing has stopped her from working on top-secret, high-profile projects at Google.
Adsanatham credits her professional success to the strong foundation in art that her BFA gave her, along with a commitment to staying on the cutting edge of design trends.“CU Denver gave me my foundation as a designer,” she said. “Because of those skills and my love of art, I was able to pursue graphic and web design as a career.”
Senior Designer for Team Unicorn
As a Senior UX (User Experience) Designer for Team Unicorn, Adsanatham creates the end-to-end experience on Google websites. Her job is to ensure that visitors are able to achieve the goals that drove them to a site, and that a webpage delivers on its promises.
Like many high-tech jobs, Adsanatham’s current projects are shrouded in mystery because of the proprietary information involved in launching new products and websites. She can only say she is designing products for families and children.
But, with over a decade of web design under her belt, she can list an impressive array of past accomplishments, which include designing the user interfaces for Google Maps for iOS, the social network Google Plus, the business network Google My Business, the Chrome Web Store and YouTube for smart TVs.
Early struggles to succeed
Adsanatham’s success, however, was not always assured. After emigrating to the United States from Thailand in 1991, she attended high school in Aurora, Colo. She struggled to improve her English skills and adjust to her new environment. “High school was rough,” she said. “I wasn’t able to communicate well. But I made it to CU Denver, and that’s when things changed for the better.”
‘I made it to CU Denver, and that’s when things changed for the better.’
Although her verbal skills enabled her to graduate from high school, Adsanatham began to improve her writing and grammar in college. “The Writing Center and the Learning Resources Center gave me much-needed assistance.” she said. “I could not have made it through college without their help.”
Additionally, the design skills that she gained at CAM — in composition, color theory, the use of negative space—as well as the practical tools of being an artist—the ability to communicate about and present her work, to accept and use criticism, to analyze the work of others—set Adsanatham on her career path.
“I remember my first art history class when I first learned the basic visual-design concepts,” she said. “That was the first step towards working as a designer.”
A circuitous route to Google
A Silicon Valley tech job was not on Adsanatham’s radar when she began her freshman year at CU Denver. As an undergrad in CAM, her focus was on painting with oils and drawing, and she volunteered as an art interpreter for the Denver Art Museum. “Museum work appealed to me, but I knew it would be a long road to independence,” she said. “I was eager to live on my own.”
After graduating, Adsanatham researched the job market, and discovered that the field of graphic design offered immediate work and would allow her to use her degree. She took some graphic design classes and joined the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA). Through that professional organization, she educated herself on design trends, including an exciting new specialty that was emerging in the design world: web design.
After working for a few years as a graphic designer, Adsanatham moved to the Bay Area during the dot-com boom and found work with a start-up company doing web design. “It was a case of the right place at the right time,” she said. “Web design was still new. I was designing platforms for e-commerce and online games, and then the web went big.”
Continuing education and collaboration
While her education at CU Denver gave her the foundation she needed to achieve professional success, it also taught her the value of continued education. As a senior designer, Adsanatham views education as a lifelong process. She stays current on the latest design trends by taking classes and collaborating with her co-workers at Google.
In fact, while design remains one of Adsanatham’s passions, she has discovered that her favorite part of her job are the people with whom she works. The collaborative process of learning and designing makes her job enjoyable. “Every day I feel fortunate to work for a company that cares about its employees,” she said. “From CU Denver to Google, I have always been lucky to learn from smart, strong people.”