How we build empathy for our customers at Automattic

This is an excerpt from a post I wrote for the Automattic Product Design blog:

Support Rotation¬†ūüí¨

It starts from our first day on the job. Everyone that joins Automattic spends three weeks doing what’s called a support rotation. We learn about our products by reading support documentation and running through exercises. Once we’ve completed our training, we get to business and start offering support to our customers with our Happiness team. We start by answering inquiries by email and then upgrade to doing live chat.

After we complete our rotation we are released into our new roles with a wealth of knowledge about our company and our customers. That’s not the end though, once a year we return back to the Happiness for a week to offer more customer support. It’s a great way for us to keep in touch with the challenges our customers are facing.

Read the full post

Designing with words

Reading Storytelling for User Experience by Whitney Quesenbery and Kevin Brooks got me thinking about different ways of exploring ideas in my design process. It inspired me to try something new on a recent project. I found that both the end result and the journey were very rewarding.

Starting with words

For most projects I start with¬†sketches, flow diagrams, or wireframes. The end result is always some sort of visual output. I have my¬†graphic design¬†background¬†to thank for that. With this project, I changed things up a little and¬†described my¬†user journey¬†in writing rather than illustrating it. The end result was like a story about¬†our customer’s journey through our signup process.

I broke each step into a series of bullets¬†that¬†were short and concise. It was important for me to make them easy to read. My¬†self imposed constraint forced me to keep¬†things at a¬†high level. This made it better for collecting feedback and moving onto the next stage of the project because¬†people didn’t¬†get caught up in small¬†details.

Words are cheap

I¬†don’t even need to think when I¬†type because of how¬†long I’ve been using a¬†computer. It’s like I look at a screen and words appear right out my brain. Working on this project in this way made me¬†realize that I can¬†type quicker than I can sketch. I was able to¬†cover lots of¬†ground in less time and generated more¬†ideas than I normally would.

I worked in waves by¬†documenting¬†my thoughts and then¬†editing them. The ideas got¬†better¬†with each edit¬†and sometimes they’d even spark¬†new ones. I had to be diligent to capture them¬†before they¬†escaped. My¬†keyboard skills came in hand as I copy¬†and pasted¬†new¬†phrases, finished them off, and then got back to the original thought. After a while, the content began to mature. and I started to think about the implementation.

Structure brings Freedom

I remember¬†my visual brain going wild¬†while writing these flows. The descriptions painted such vivid pictures. I couldn’t wait to get to the visual part of the¬†project. Once I did, I found it really easy to get going. Working within the constraints of the written text was very fun for me.¬†With the high level details all figured out, I was able to¬†focus on the details and get creative.

Conclusion

With this experience behind me, I can easily say I’d do it again. Heck, I’d like to see if there are other ways I can incorporate words into my design process.¬†I’m going to continue exploring¬†and writing about¬†it here so check back soon. If you have any suggestions let me know, I’d love to hear about them.

Product and marketing: two sides of the same coin

Colin Bentley and Brian Donohue are product managers at Intercom ‚ÄĒ a product first company. They were interviewed on the company’s podcast about their experiences since they joined the company of 30. Today, there are 300 people working at Intercom and their product services over 100,000 active customers.

As a product first company it was normal for them to think if you built a great product, everything else would follow. People were cynical when Intercom started making their first marketing hires.

Over time, the product folks began to see they weren’t very different than the marketers. They realized they both focus on the needs of their customers. While the product managers build features, the marketers position them to their customer‚Äôs so they’re desirable and useful. As an example, Twitter’s tweet button could have been easily labeled submit. Instead, a lot of work¬†went into positioning it as a¬†Tweet button so that Tweeting could become a thing.

Today, Colin and Brian explain how important it is for their team to collaborate. It’s essential for them to fuse both the marketing and product¬†perspectives. This allows them not only to build the most important things for their customers but also gives their product a unique place in the market.

Listen to the full podcast on Intercom’s site.

7 tools to help you get started on your next design project for your product

Getting started on a new project can be intimidating. Thankfully as designers we have these tools to help us get the ol’ juices flowing.

User flows

Experience your product as the people using it would. Take screenshots, write notes, and press every single button you find. Document your journey in steps as you go and take notes.

Stakeholder interviews

Learn from your peers and customers. Find anyone that’s worked on your project before you, speak with your peers, and interview the decision makers on the project. Most importantly, get in touch with the people using your final product.

Competitor analysis

See how your product measures up and find some inspiration along the way. Start by identifying your direct competitors. Then expand search to similar products. Finally look for companies in completely different fields. Make a list of the defining features of your product. As you review each competitor: document the features they have, take notes, and add new features to your list that you find interesting.

Sales safari

Gain a unique perspective about your customer. Find people using your product without influencing them in any way. The best way to do this is to look up things they’ve said in the past by checking your forums, customer support requests, old surveys, and social media accounts. Look out for how they speak, what they think about your product, and what challenges they’re running into.

Inspiration boards

Capture your favourite pieces to inspire you throughout your project. Visit your favourite inspiration sites or use screenshots from your competitor analysis. Save images and arrange them in a way that makes sense to you. Make it really visual and physical. Print it out if you have to and stick it somewhere where you can see it from time to time.

Data analysis

Find out how your product is performing. Get familiar with tools like Google Analytics, mySQL data bases, and what ever reporting software your company uses. Understand your business performance metrics so you can figure out how you can make a real difference both for your customers and your business.

Communication

Keep everyone up to date with your progress. Share your findings as frequently as you can to spur discussion and gather ideas. It easier to get buy in when people are involved in the process. Get people excited by posting your diagrams, notes, and sketches for everyone to see.

Conclusion

What does your design process look like? Is there anything on my list that’s missing? Want to learn more about one of these in more depth. Reach out on Twitter and let me know.

The first mile: the key to long term success for your product

I just listened to Scott Bellsky explain the importance of a product’s¬†first mile on¬†Intercom’s¬†podcast. The first mile comes right after someone signs up for your product.¬†It is often referred to as an onboarding experience. This is where you orient your users within your product and give them a sense of what they’re going to do next. Careful attention is paid to the type of copy you write, how your tour looks, and what defaults you set for your users.

According to Scott, the key is to have someone do a few key things that shows them the value of your product over the long term.

Here are some of the notes I took from the podcast:

  • The first mile is usually the last mile a team focuses on. Teams often spend lots of time building their products and only think about the onboarding experience as an after thought or when they see their users aren’t sticking around.
  • Scott believes¬†that in the first 15-30 seconds of every new customers experience, they are lazy, vein, and selfish. Lazy because¬†they don’t want to read or do any work. Vein because¬†they want to know how the product will make them better. Selfish because they want the product to make them look good. These are important characteristics to keep in mind when crafting this experience.
  • He suggests that maybe we shouldn’t tell them or show them, but rather¬†we should just do it for them with the defaults completed.
  • It’s important to remember¬†we can’t believe people will have a relationship with us if they can’t get through those first interactions. They can’t buy into our vision or to recommend us to other people. It just needs to serve them now!
  • The first mile is successful when users reach the “zone”. When they experience that sense of accomplishment and see how the product will serve them in the future.
  • Messaging apps like Telegram¬†and Slack have really¬†smooth onboarding. They even think about the small things like the magic link to log you in because when users come back the second time, they don’t usually remember their passwords.
  • The first mile isn’t something that can be done once and forgotten about. It’s important to continually optimize the first mile by understanding your users and being empathetic to their needs and circumstances.

You can listen to the full podcast on¬†Intercom’s blog¬†or your can learn more about the first mile by reading Scott’s blog post¬†on Medium.