Product Designer at Vercel


MarianaCastilho (Product Designer at Vercel)

Mariana is a product designer that loves building things for the web. She's currently a Senior Product Designer at Vercel.

She/Her • Rio de Janeiro, Brazil • June 6, 2024

What led you into design?

My relationship with design started very early in my life. I've always been a very curious and visual person, so as a kid, activities like drawing and painting were my favorite ways to spend my time.

I got my first computer when I was around seven years old. At the time, many websites about cartoons, like Dragon Ball Z, which I really enjoyed, started to become popular on the web. I spent hours each day browsing these sites, and was obsessed with the idea of creating something on my own and publishing it for others to see. I vividly remember, very young and naive, "designing" a website in MS Paint. I consider that to be the first website I ever designed.

After I grew older, I started to nurture a fascination with taste and craft in art and design. This sense of visual excellence is something that has always intrigued me and is a visceral part of my design process.

What does a typical day look like?

I wake up around 7am, and most days I go to the beach for an open water swimming session. I was born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which is a city surrounded by amazing beaches, and I've always had an intimate relationship with the sea.

I've lived in Paris for almost 2 years and while I was living there I missed the sea almost every day. Then, coming back to Brazil, I joined an open water swimming group, which I meet 4/5 times a week for a ~1h long swimming session. This ritual of going outside in the morning and swimming does wonders for my creativity.

Then I go back, take a shower and jump straight into work. Usually, I work until around 7 pm almost non-stop, and then I spend an extra hour or so doing some free explorations. I have a personal project called uilabs, where I share some components explorations I designed and coded. I love having free time to explore random ideas and exercise my craft.

To wrap up the day sometimes I go play some tennis or just watch a good movie and read a book before going to bed.

What's your workstation setup?

Although I love sketching things with paper and pen, I try to keep my office as organized as possible. I love having candles and plants around me, warm lights and everything that makes me feel cozy.

Where do you go to get inspired?

I try to get my creative energy flowing daily by swimming, appreciating art, watching good movies, reading, or eating at nice restaurants (I'm definitely inspired by my stomach). But traveling is certainly an unique source of inspiration to me. Getting to know new cultures and experimenting with the world is something that never ceases to amaze me.

Most recently I went to Cusco, Peru, and got to know some insanely beautiful and inspiring places. Apart from that, I'd say that art really inspires me, so I love going to museums and meditating about why great art is actually great.

What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?

It's definitely not a product, but I came back from Peru 2 months ago and I can't stop thinking about Machu Picchu. I was astonished to see how the Incas had an incredibly high level of taste and craft - being intentional when building incredibly advanced constructions for their time using unique symmetry, balance, form, and repetition.

The shape of the stones used, and the angles. Absolutely everything was meticulously thought to ensure safe, long-lasting and well-designed structures. It was super inspiring to be able to witness in real life how much science and craft were put into it.

What pieces of work are you most proud of?

I've been working on a few projects at Vercel that I'm really proud of, but they're not shipped yet. Of those that are currently out there in the wild, AI Integrations holds a special place in my heart.

We released it in February and it's the first AI-focused initiative we've incorporated into our dashboard. I designed everything from scratch and it was brought to life thanks to a teamwork effort, and I had the chance to collaborate with so many talented people.

In parallel, I'm also proud of my personal, experimental project, uilabs. It's essentially a gallery that showcases a bunch of React components I've designed and coded myself, trying to exercise less obvious interactions and animations but keeping these component full with purpose.

I've been dedicating a lot of time and energy to crafting and coding my own work, and seeing them come to life has been incredibly rewarding.

What design challenges do you face at your company?

I'm the lead and only designer for all AI-related projects at Vercel, and it's both super energizing and challenging. We have bold ambitions, our projects move really fast, and we strive to set a high bar regarding craft, performance, and overall design. Therefore, the team needs me to be really fast and consistent with the quality of the work I deliver.

What music do you listen to while designing?

Any advice for ambitious designers?

Practice. Really. I feel the only way to improve at design is by designing. I try to keep almost as a meditative practice to design and code daily outside my working hours to exercise my craft, and it's tangible how my skills improve day by day.

Think about how you can improve your taste and expose yourself to great art and design, and ask yourself why extraordinary work feels extraordinary.

Anything you want to promote or plug?

Feel free to say hi on X! Also, Derek Briggs and I are creating a course called UI Engineering 101 for Designers, and our intention is to create an unique course structure for designers interested in learning how to build polished components from scratch, and for engineers that want to learn some design tricks. If you're intrigued by this, you can join the waitlist here: