Makers
I’m Matthew, Product Designer at InVision—AMA 🙃
I’ve worked on enterprise software and design systems at IBM, prototyped apps for people at work with Apple, and now I build tools for Designers and Engineers at InVision. Along the way, I’ve designed integrations for whole-team tools like Slack, GitHub, Jira, and Trello. Non-professionally, I’m into indoor climbing, slacklining, tattoos, plants, old Land Cruisers, Dragon Ball, films, and my cat. You can ask me about any of the topics above, including collaborating with different stakeholders, pitching to executives, working at a huge company vs a startup, design research, making decisions, public speaking, interviewing for peers and leaders, my product design approach and process, or my POV on design tooling. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.
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Where do you think a business moves from being classed as a startup to more corporate? and what changes?
@jackmallon I actually haven’t *really* worked at a place that’s gone through the transition from a small startup to a large corporation. It’s probably different for every business, although there are certainly some shared characteristics that come into play— personnel growth, ARR, pressures from investors, the need to restlessly reinvent product strategy based on customers needs (and that list could go on). Or, some startups get acquired either for their IP or talent. Shout out to Brian Lovin and team. Two other examples come to mind: Lyft and Stark; let’s start with the former. One of my good friends was one of (if not the) first design hire(s) at Lyft—Vicki Tan. She had a front row seat to watching this budding company with a clear vision grow from nothing to a word that might as well be in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (it’s not... yet). Over the early years, and through some of the more recent ones since Katie Dill joined, I’ve watched them closely. I even interviewed there at one point. They had to think very critically about how they were going to grow their company culture and Product Design team. I remember them showing me around their new idea of creating a ”design studio” at one end of the office where they could let loose, conduct critiques, and make world-changing decisions. I believe the High Resolution Podcast folks did a video series on Katie’s thoughts on the matter: https://www.highresolution.desig.... They also did a thorough episode on the IBM Austin Studio, where I used to work: https://www.highresolution.desig.... If those peaked your interest, InVision even did a full-feature film on IBM Design Thinking, called ”The Loop“: https://www.invisionapp.com/ente.... Let’s get back to the latter—my homie Cat Noone. She has a track record of starting inspiring companies, but the one we need to talk about is Stark. Stark’s tagline is ”The suite of integrated accessibility compliance tools for product development teams.“ Without getting to into the intricacies of her business plan, because that’s for her to share when she’s ready, she started a business with one other partner to advocate for responsible and accessible software for everyone. You could call her a startup right now, but who’s to say that something like that needs to grow into a corporate business to have honest impact in this world? But, at the end of the day, Stark is an enterprise play with their product/service and *has* to grow. But they’ll do it in a way according to the demand of their customers, not for growth’s sake. What changes? Sometimes, a lot. Other times, hopefully nothing (other than operational necessities).
I love predictions. So... What does the role of a product designer look like in 10 years? Curious how you see it changing and if you have any advice for other designers going into that future.
@rrhoover Me too. The role of a Product Designer (software; hardware; or both, which is fascinating to me) in 10 years will be like executing at Hyperspace—an alternate dimension that requires Designers to work at Lightspeed or faster. When I say that I’m not at all glorifying over-working. I’m a huge advocate and ambassador for mental health and believe that even the self-proclaimed “woke” companies aren’t educated or equipped enough to properly take care of the breadth of their employees’ conditions. What I mean to get at is that the the thinking and tooling from the likes of Jon Gold, Adam Morse, and company will bring us to a place where we can launch products that make meaningful change at the speed of our thought. Jon’s article from 2016 comes to mind: https://jon.gold/2016/06/declara.... There’s this big “no code” movement, which is great in it‘s own merit—allowing millions of people to build products without the sometimes ridiculous baggage of code—but I’m a bit of a traditionalist that believes we can teach a whole new generation of Product Designers to code, or close the gap between drawing pictures and building the real thing. Writing code is the purest form of creating products, and with the advances of machine learning and artificial intelligence I can only imagine the possibilities. A recent article from SAS (https://www.sas.com/en_us/insigh...) discusses machine learning, neural networks, deep learning, computer vision, and natural language processing, ending with saying “While machine learning is based on the idea that machines should be able to learn and adapt through experience, AI refers to a broader idea where machines can execute tasks ’smartly.‘ Artificial Intelligence applies machine learning, deep learning and other techniques to solve actual problems.” As far as advice for other Designers embarking into this future, I would look into a few things, and much, much more: - Designing ethically: https://uxdesign.cc/designing-et... - AR/VR: https://www.normalvr.com/blog/ (not working at Facebook) - Responsible, accessible, well-executed software that will put the dinosaurs to rest: https://linear.app/
As a designer, what do you look for when you interview non-designers?
@jean_luc_martin Hey Jean-Luc! In my experience of interviewing and hiring over the years, I helped grow IBM’s Product Design team from ~60 to 1,600 all over the world (obviously with the help of many, many others), and have had the chance to interview and hire Designers, PMs, Design Directors, and Software Engineers at InVision. One common thread that I look for when interviewing non-Designers (or non-IC Designers), is “would I want to show up every day and work with this person?” Most of the time at this stage in the interview process of non-Designers, the candidates are already technically vetted, so my role is to make sure they would be a good fit for the company and team they’d be joining. For example, if I’m interviewing a Software Engineer, I want to get to know how that person has worked with continuous delivery teams in the past, and how they like to collaborate with Designers—do they like to be involved in early ideation? Have they even done that before? Are they comfortable with me reviewing their front-end work with the utmost rigor? Have they worked with designers that code and submit PRs, and do they like it? The list goes on, but I think you’ll get the general idea. When it comes to interviewing someone like a PM or Design Director, it’s a whole different ball game. What I tend to look for in these interviews is if they can really tell a story about how their leadership and contributions led to the success (or failure, that’s okay too) of a project. PMs need to demonstrate that they understand how to lead, conceive appropriate OKRs and hold themselves accountable for meeting them and changing them quarter-to quarter based on the needs of the business, genuinely collaborate with the Customer Facing Team to listen and bring insights back to the team, and work with Data Scientists to run experiments. Design Directors or Managers should showcase their point of view on design leadership, and share case studies of how they led a team of Designers (and whole teams) to successful delivery, or how they helped facilitate the growth of a Designer’s career. Don’t come with a deck of design projects you worked on as an IC and expect to make it past the interview. All that said, I return to my original sentiment. I look for growth and potential, not just what you’ve done in the past. The fish gets bigger every time you tell the story anyway, right? I like to treat these types of interviews (with non-Designers) as a casual conversation where I can get to know you and what your interests are. From there, it’s pretty easy to tell if the person is going to be a good fit or not.
Hy Matthew! Do you think a product designer should have engineering background or is it approachable for other people as well? I'm currently doing marketing but was trying to figure out if (and HOW) I could transition to product design.
@jo_h_anna2 You absolutely don’t have to have an Engineering background. Heck, my background is in Graphic Design and Printmaking—I went to an art school. I’m not really sure what they’re teaching or what skills you’ve acquired when it comes to marketing, but that typically doesn’t translate super well to Product Design. Assuming you haven’t done these things already, I would go learn the basics of typography, color theory, gestalt principles, layout design, hierarchy, and composition. From there, if you want to work in software, teach yourself how to code (html, css, javascript, Swift UI). There are so many great courses online that can get you up and running fairly quickly. Lastly, really think about what you’re interested in. The worst Product Designers out there are the ones that are just interested in Product Design (you can find them on Dribbble or taking photos of their Apple products or arguing over using 40px gutters because it “looks better”). The best part about this profession is that there are so many industries to work in that desperately need our help. Find something that matches your true interests, and you’ll do just fine. You got this!
How do you think about the recent #nocode movement, especially as someone who helps design a product largely geared toward collaboration between designers and developers? Do you see the value of developers diminishing over time as more complex and robust solutions are built to support web design, or will there always be a need for competent developers in the web design space?
@plasticmind Always a need. Whether they’ll be human or called developers in the future is questionable, though. Some humans were once called calculators. I talked a little bit about the “no code” movement in my answer to Ryan’s question ☝🏻, and I stand by that opinion for now. But, we’ll see. There’s so much (arguably unnecessary) complexity when it comes to the code (and more importantly the development environments) of the products and services we rely on every day. In the next 10 years, a “no code” tool won’t be able to create these types or this caliber of products and services. It could build a pretty website today, but that’s chump change. Maybe in a year or two, it could build a more sophisticated web app. That’s progress. The cool thing about it, which Vlad talks about a lot, is that it opens up opportunities for so many people that otherwise wouldn’t have the know-how. I still fall into the camp of making it more accessible and achievable for the next generation to learn how to code though (which will look very different than the way we code today). But you can always change my mind :) The tools I’m interested in building give creators the ability to bring to life (not a picture or prototype of it) whatever it is in their minds without all of the ugly abstraction of design or “no code” tooling today. Abstraction is always necessary, and can be very powerful, but it can also confuse and get in the way.
Hey Matthew, I am Sabba from VEED.IO - I have been thinking a lot about tooling in creative products recently. As adding new tools and features can help unlock more use cases and therefore growth, How do you use for prioritizing new features and tooling. Also how important is stability and reliability? Thanks for this :)
@sab8a There are many ways to prioritize new features or the exploring of new ideas. I like to fall back on my training in Design Thinking, and pull tools from that like empathy maps, as-is scenario maps, divergent ideation, to-be scenario maps, experienced-based roadmaps, etc. It's important to have the right people in the room while facilitating these exercises (see: Design Sprint, the book), because there will come a time when you need to narrow in on what is the best problem to solve or thing to build now. Ultimately, listen to the customers, watch the market, and decide with a team of people you trust. As far as stability and reliability, I can't think of anything more important for a software product. Trust goes a long way, and can be lost quickly.
It would be great to hear similarities and differences around pitching executives at big companies vs startups. Thanks!
@kmckiern The common thread is storytelling. Figure out which story you need to tell, and design a presentation that will take your audience on that ride while you hit all of your salient points. I have pitched to SVPs at an 800,000 person public company and to the CEO of 600 person startup, and it's always the same. Have your desired outcome in mind, and make them believe that is the best option. Oh, and it's also okay to say no too. If you don't have an answer for something, let them know you will go find out.
As a junior to intermediate product designer myself, I am wondering what are some key things you are looking for when hiring a product designer.
@ryan_yao Each company will have their own little special list of criteria, but I'll tell you what I look for (in no particular order): - Confidence - Humility - No ego - A solid Research foundation - Great UX and Product Thinking - Impeccable UI abilities - Ability to receive constructive feedback - Experience working with a Squad model team - Coding experience (HTML, CSS, and Javascript) - A desire to learn & teach others - Someone who isn't afraid to ask for help - Track record of designing, building, shipping software, and learnings from the process
Hi Matthew, Looks like you have quite an extensive experience and background. For people who are just entering the design world, I was wondering how you went about learning things quickly and efficiently, whether it be a new tool or just a completely new technology you had no prior knowledge about. Thank you,
@jessie_amga The best skill you can acquire is the ability to learn. I didn't even know what a Software Product Designer was when I was hired for my first job and flew across the country to help start the IBM Design Studio in Austin, TX. I had a background in Graphic Design, Web Design, and I taught myself how to code while at University. These skills translated well to the hard skills needed to be a Product Designer, but it has been a long, tough road learning all the rest that comes with the job. Just show up, soak in everything like a sponge, do your work well, and have regular conversations with your manager about how you're doing, what you want to learn/do next, what other responsibilities you could take on to show that you can work at the next level.
Hi Matthew What is one product you wish existed that could help you during your work. Thanks for doing the AMA.
@srkiranraj A declarative design tool, which didn't require a keyboard or mouse, could test prototypes of hardware or software in a VR environment, and were built at the same time as being designed.
Hi! What are the biggest challenges a product designer faces when launching a new service/app?
1. How do you start your design process when you're designing an interface and digital experience? What do you usually start with once you have understood the problem — is it a low-fidelity sketch, a text editor, or do you jump into a design software following the idea in thought? If it varies, can you write approx. percentage or share in your own words how you push through the blank canvas? Wondering is there such thing as a correct or perfect creative process when it comes to digital design. 2. What books do you think are closest to the field of digital product design? Most of the book recommendations for design are more related to graphic design, industrial design, human ergonomics etc. and sure those principles can be applied to UX/UI design, but do you know of any great books that are written exclusively for the field of digital product design?
How do you approach detailed UX problem and hypothesis statements before being able to prototype? A broad answer would help, across different industries and product categories.
Hey Matt. 🙌 From where I stand, product design is the direction most designers go these days. What other design areas do you think are a good bet for young and talented upstarts if you had to pick a few? 🙏
Hi Matthew, As a Product Designer, what are your everyday works?
What are the best ways to learn Prototyping in order to become a Product Designer? What are you best recommendation in terms of Books, Videos, Tutorials, Courses etc.
Hi Matthew! I'd be interested to know: how are your experiences with convincing other stakeholders (e.g. product management, software engineers) to do things which might not seem important at first glance (e.g. accessibility, consistent design language)?
Would love to have your thoughts on any/all 10 points of this article I wrote: https://uxdesign.cc/my-top-10-pe...
@tian_zhao Hey Tian. This isn’t really a question, and I don’t have the time to read through every Medium article sent my way. Sorry 😐
As a product designer, what do you look for in a mid-senior level engineers when considering adding a new member to your team?
@osariemen Thank you for the question. I actually answered a really similar question from Jean-Luc above ☝🏻 Go give that a read!