One Year at Pluralsight: A Retrospective

Wow. I can’t believe it has been a year to the day that I started working with the best product team I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. There isn’t a single person that I haven’t learned from. To me, they are more than just my coworkers, they are my friends. I have learned so much from all of them. If I could sum up everything I have learned at Pluralsight it is that I have learned how to learn.

Learning From The Best

Where to begin… I remember hearing that an old friend, Nate Walkingshaw had joined Pluralsight as the CPO. I was really excited for him and thought it was really cool that a tech company in Utah even had that role in their leadership team. At the time I was working for Qualtrics in a very engineering-centric environment, but enjoying it nonetheless. There were a lot of really talented people there and I was always excited to go to work. I would probably still be there if Nate hadn’t asked me to grab some lunch with Gilbert Lee one day. The way Gil spoke about the user-centric culture of Pluralsight was really interesting to me. After kicking the tires a bit it seemed like the right place for me. Turns out it was the best place for me to learn and grow.

Nate and Gil are just a couple of examples of the people I get to work with that are the best at what they do. I am blown away at the talent that has been brought together on this team. I realize more and more every day that I am out of my league here. But rather than be intimidated, I try to learn from the smart people that I am surrounded by.

Arriving at Pluralsight I was immediately thrown in to the world of Directed Discovery, possibly the best method for building products that people actually want. I can’t imagine going back to any other method now. I don’t have nightmares anymore about building the wrong thing. Learning this process has changed the way I approach life. I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s true.

Learning From Users

One of the best things about the way we build product experiences at Pluralsight is how much we interact with our users. Each team is with a user in some form of user test at least five times a week. All of this interaction with users adds up and creates a level of empathy that I have never felt before for a group of users. We know who are users are, what they want, what they need. This is a powerful tool when it comes to building a product for a specific group.

Learning From Mistakes

Some of my favorite moments in the discovery process is when users point out something we designed that is just plain stupid or wrong. For me it is so definitive and powerful. It actually makes me happy when our users help us realize we were wrong. From there, we can start to move in the right direction by knowing what the wrong direction is.

All in all this year has been amazing. I have grown so much as a designer, but more than anything I feel like I have grown as a person. And it is all thanks to the amazing team that I get to work with. They teach me more than I think they will ever know.

06

Our UX Brings all the Boys to the Yard

It's been a while since I had a minute to sit down and do some brain-dumping here. For me, that's what this "blog" is; a place to put it all out there. A place to be vulnerable. A place to... well... write. 

My wife just hopped in a car headed for Vegas for a few days and the kids are watching some cartoons as they are exhausted from playing outside in the summer heat. So I thought this would be a great time to sit down and put my fingers to the keyboard and see what comes out.

A couple of weeks ago we attended a Product Design conference here in Utah called Front that Nate and Gil had the opportunity to present at. It was amazing seeing the response from the product community here in Utah as multiple people came up to me and the rest of the team after they spoke to see how they could be a part of what we are doing. For me it was huge validation for my decision to leave Qualtrics. I knew the team was amazing (that's why I initially made the decision to leave) but this response has helped me realize that our process is very uncommon in most product organizations. 

So what are we doing?

Research Research Research! We're scientists, bro! From the very beginning, we are researching. Then we research some more. Every product decision begins with an extremely detailed knowledge of the personas that will be interacting with our product. Those personas direct us towards actual humans that we sit down and chat with in what we call VoC calls to see what it is they are looking for in a product. The secret here is that we aren't listening for specific recommendations from people about what we should build. We are reading between the lines to find out what they REALLY want. These calls are what inform our first round of wireframes and design exploration. From here we are, yet again, getting on calls with real people and watching them react to our wireframes so we can iterate again and again. After we have the chance to go through multiple rounds of these CPT's (Customer Preference Tests) we are generally VERY confident about what we should be building. Hold on... you may be asking, "who is WE?" At Pluralsight, something we believe that this WE is a critical element in the process of building a kick-ass product. WE = UX+PM+ENG. Every team is comprised of a UX Designer, a Product Manager, and a team of Engineers. No product decision is made by the UX/PM team and handed down from on high to the engineering team. I have never worked in an environment quite like this, and I must say it is refreshing.

Admittedly, this is a half assed description of what our team's process is, but it gets the idea across. The thing that is surprising to me is how many teams/people feel that they could never implement this process in their organization. But I get it, getting buy in from the executive team is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome when it comes to building a healthy product team. That is why I feel so fortunate to be a part of the team that I am on now. Big things are coming from our team and I feel honored to be a part of it. My wish for the rest of the UX world is that you all can be a part of a team as amazing as mine.

 

Image provided by New Old Stock

 

05

There's no I in team, but there is ux!

Being part of a product team that is focused on creating the best possible product for the user is an experience that is unlike anything I have ever experienced. It is amazing how the UX team can inspire the rest of the company to be UX minded as well. To me, this is the secret to a successful product. The product team can't achieve this goal on their own. Beyond coming up with sexy mockups, styleguides and user flows, Product Teams have to be the catalyst to creating sea change within the culture of a company and helping everyone become advocates for the user. Companies that take a user-centered approach to business are much more likely to endure the test of time and market.

There are Two Types of Organizations

As a Designer I have had the opportunity to work with two different types of companies... the ones that say they value UX and the ones that ACTUALLY value UX. Don't get me wrong, I have enjoyed working in both ecosystems, but it is much less frustrating to work for the second type. The main difference between the two is that the company that pays lip service to UX will just take a little bit longer to get to a point where the whole organization is aiming at a common North Star. They will have to go through the pain of making some decisions that put their own business needs before the user. This may be to quell the storm known as "The Board" but I am here to say, "let us do the job we were hired to do." 


Header image provided by New Old Stock

 

04

When I Grow Up…

I used to think that I wanted to be an Astronaut, or a Firefighter, or a Ski Racer or maybe even a Construction Worker when I grew up. What other options were there for a kid in the 80s? Those were the dream jobs. To me, any one of those jobs would have made me happy when I got older. Today, I am none of those things and I enjoy what I do more than I ever could have imagined. It is still crazy for me to think that the job I am doing now didn't exist when I was born. There is no chance that I ever said, "I want to be a User Experience Designer when I grow up." It makes me wonder what yet to exist jobs my kids will have when they grow up. 

How Did I get Here?

I began my education thinking I would be an Architect. I loved all of my classes. Architecture school exposes you to some pretty amazing design thinking. We would build models and design buildings that were super conceptual and creative. It was fun. I loved it. Then I got an internship with an Architect. Things were all fine and dandy until he told me that if I really wanted to design, architecture was a bad choice. He told me, "Architecture is 10% design, 90% building codes and permits." This was also in the middle of the recession and jobs were drying up. So I took his advice and switched my major to Graphic Design at the University of Utah. The program was amazing and it helped me build a good base. But I always thought like an architect. I feel like this is what led me to User Experience Design.

We are all User Experience Designers

The connections between Architecture and UX Design are undeniable in my mind. In the end, the success of any project whether it is architectural or digital, depends on one thing… the user. If a user doesn't enjoy my product, I have failed as a Designer. This applies to everything we create. In this light, I believe that as creators we are all User Experience Designers. This connection is what makes us designers. We must act as advocates for the people. 

 


Header image provided by New Old Stock

02

THE BEST UI…

A couple of years ago i had a conversation with some smart dudes i was working with at a startup called cycleface. We were talking about user interfaces like a bunch of nerds, and at one point during the conversation someone said "the best ui is no ui." this idea has haunted me from that day. 

…IS NO UI

Now this is the part that gets a little scary. As a ui designer, the best thing i could ever design would be totally invisible to everyone that uses it? How can this be? As designers, we generally want to be recognized for what we do. This is a hard concept to wrap my head around.  

SO WHAT'S NEXT?

There is always talk about design trends and what we should expect next. This is where words like skeuomorphism, flat and semi-flat design are tossed around. The commom thought seems to be that skeuomorphism will be back in the next few years, but there is little talk about the no-ui trend. I am probably way off base here, but my money is on invisible design over skeuo. I guess we'll just have to wait and see. Or make it happen...

 


Header image provided by New Old Stock

01

Intro

I have always been against having a blog of any kind, but I feel like my writing skills could use some practice. So this is an attempt to force myself to develop a voice and writing style as I put some of my thoughts on UX, UI, product design, and working as an in-house designer at Qualtrics out into the void of the interwebs. 

Who Am I?

I am a UI Designer living in the heart of Happy Valley, Utah. I believe design makes the world a better place. I like watching cartoons with my kids, riding bikes, skiing, and designing things... not necessarily in that order. Currently, I am working at a tech company in Provo, Utah called Qualtrics. We are an enterprise insight software company that focuses on customer, market and employee insights. I know... it may sound a little boring at first. But it isn't. At all. To be given the keys to drive the design of a billion-dollar tech company is exciting and terrifying at the same time. Currently, we are in the middle of a massive UI design overhaul and it has been an amazing experience. As we prepare to release a new experience to customers, we are hoping it will be embraced with open arms. But I am sure some of our users will hate it. Change is always hard for people. I get it.

In Conclusion

I hope the new user experience we are about to launch makes our product more delightful for our customers to use. For every ten people that hate the redesign, I hope there is one that absolutely LOVES it. The other nine will get used to it eventually :)

 


Header image provided by New Old Stock