Krizia Duenas is a first-generation student who grew up in a nucleus of creativity and hard work. Her polymath father worked full-time for a 3D printing company and encouraged new hobbies and curious tinkering for his three daughters. Naturally, Krizia dabbled in arts of all kinds—drawing, painting, and especially music. The steady beat of a drum kit, the confident notes of a saxophone, or the gentle strum of a guitar announced Krizia wherever she went. But music was not what she was destined to pursue professionally. Instead, she gravitated toward the video games that she and her father would play together in the evenings. That early interest in gaming ultimately led Krizia to discover she had a passion for product design and user experience.
“Growing up, I had all these different hobbies, but I was drawn to design,” Krizia says. “I took a gap year after high school to think about it more, and then went to the U of M, where my older sister was majoring in architecture. I went a different way.”
Given her eclectic and colorful upbringing where creativity was fostered, the individualized nature of the Inter-College Program (ICP) appealed to Krizia. When she learned that she could design her own major, pulling from focus areas from across the entire University landscape, she was all in.
Designing a Degree
Krizia met with her ICP advisor, Karen Moon, and together they mapped out a plan for her degree over the next three years. She selected three areas of focus: product design, marketing, and psychology. Krizia’s vision was to braid the focus areas together into a user-experience design specialization that would give her room to pursue any number of creative directions while still rooting her with a practical degree that could promise a career. “User experience” is a buzzword in today’s tech-focused job market, as most companies cannot afford to have lousy digital experiences for their customers. This is where young professionals like Krizia step in to ensure that product design, digital spaces, and physical spaces are optimized for ease of use and enjoyment.
“If you study user experience, it looks at how people think and how to make things easier for people,” Krizia explains. “With that, it’s important to understand the psychological aspects.”
That’s where her focus on psychology comes in. Those classes, along with her product design classes, have been the most eye-opening, Krizia says. It was through her computer-aided design course that she really got to know her professor, Ehsan Naderi, who later invited her to conduct user experience research as part of a larger research project he was working on.
“Our work was titled ‘Investigating the Influence of 2D Presentation Versus 3D Rotation Presentation on Users’ Behavior,’” Krizia says. “We presented our research, which involved surveys and eye tracking, in August. The results were surprising; we found that users preferred 2D over 3D presentations.”
Krizia’s excitement about the research is transparent as she explains the details of the research. It’s clear that she found a subject that will keep her enthralled for a lifetime.
For now, though, she continues to advance through her classes while working as a lab assistant in the U of M’s Usability Lab. And confident though she is in her professional pursuits, she still makes time to set up informational interviews. It was through a recent interview in California that Krizia was able to pick the brain of an actual video game designer. That interview framed a new post-graduation goal: to land a job designing video games like the ones she’d grown up playing with her dad.
“I think it’s really important to show you care about what you’re studying and what you’re doing professionally,” Krizia says. “Designing my own major, I was able to do that. So far I’ve found that people really respect and admire my decision.”
Krizia credits her parents with showing her what hard work ethic can accomplish. She looks up to both of them and has pursued her academic interests as a result of their influence. In Krizia's own words:
"Growing up as a first-generation Mexican-American in Minnesota greatly shaped who I am today. My parents worked hard to get to where they are, and have accomplished so much. Neither of them went to college and my mom didn’t finish high school, though she received her GED years later. They both went through hardships growing up in poor families in America, but they powered through. My dad now works at a 3D printing company called Stratysus as a Product Support Manager. My mom works as a bank teller. They both taught me to persevere and work hard."