Alumni profile: Paola Mariselli, S.M. '15
Laying the foundation for Bumble’s product design
A successful digital product must address users needs, help the company’s business goals, and have a technically sound, well-engineered design.
Paola Mariselli, S.M. '15, learned the first two elements through her undergraduate studies at New York University’s Stern School of Business. She went on to work as a project manager and user experience designer for Credit Suisse on Wall Street, where she began to take more interest in the technical side of design.
“I found myself interacting a lot with engineers and traders, figuring out the logic behind what we were building, mocking up specs, assessing technical feasibility, and even running usability tests,” Mariselli said. “I didn’t have all that terminology back then, but I knew I really enjoyed those aspects of my job. They were a little more multidisciplinary, and they challenged me in different ways.”
Mariselli loves taking on new challenges, so she decided to learn the technical skills to complement her business experience. That brought her to Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), where she studied computer science, and applied her skills as a user experience designer for the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society.
“I think very fondly about my time at Harvard, both academically and what it enabled career-wise, and also as a personally fulfilling experience,” Mariselli said. “It made sense to go to Harvard and get the computer science degree. I also wanted a taste of human-computer interaction, so I cross-registered at MIT and took classes at their media lab. Being on a historic campus and having such a rich educational experience transcends the professional benefits.”
While at SEAS, Mariselli worked as a user experience designer for Groupon. After completing her degree, she went on to design products for Meta, the parent company of Facebook, and then in 2022 become Director and Head of Product Design for the online dating website Bumble.
“Being able to shape the design function from really early on, to set a bar for quality and set up the processes to make that happen, leading and inspiring a team, those are experiences you get to have when you’re building an organization from the ground up,” she said. “Here, being able to put your stamp on what design should be and how it should operate, you only get those opportunities every so often.”
Mariselli oversaw the launch of several of Meta’s signature products during her seven years there, including Facebook Live and Songs on Profile. She worked on several design teams, always looking for new organizational or product challenges. As her department continued to grow, she moved from its building in Menlo Park to a new office in London, where she still lives.
“I got the opportunity to work on products that would be seen by two-plus – and later three-plus – billion people, which is almost hard to comprehend,” she said.
She also co-founded Women of Facebook Design, an organization dedicated to forming and strengthening communities for women in design disciplines. By the time she left Meta, the group had grown from a few people in the Bay Area office to chapters throughout the company.
“Throughout all my years in tech, only once have I had another Latina as my manager, and that was very, very recently,” said Mariselli, who was born in Peru. “I did public speaking to increase representation, because you can’t be what you can’t see. I noticed there wasn’t a place to talk about these things at Meta, and there was a need for a community for women in design, whether that was product design, content design or user research, to share learnings and talk about issues affecting us as a group.”
Many of the Bumble products Mariselli now oversees are still in development, so she can’t talk about her specific day-to-day activities. But as a design director for a relatively new company, she knows whatever she builds will become part of the foundation for her team in the coming years. Thanks to Harvard, that foundation will always have a firm grounding in that intersection of technical engineering, user focus and business needs.
“Even though I don’t code in my everyday life, it was a really important piece to become a better product designer, to be able to understand how to go about building a design,” she said. “It also allows me to be a better partner with my engineering peers.”
Matt Goisman | email@example.com