Role Models: Una Kravets, Direct of Product Design at Bustle Digital Group

Una Kravets, Director of Product Design at Bustle

Today’s Role Model is Una Kravets. Una is an international public speaker, technical writer, and the Director of Product Design at Bustle Digital Group, where she oversees UI/UX of Bustle, Elite Daily, Romper, and The Zoe Report. Una has written for various online publications such as A List Apart, 24 Ways, Smashing Magazine, and SitePoint, and started both the DC and Austin Sass Meetup groups. She also co-hosts the Toolsday developer podcast and has a Youtube video series which features videos about about life, fashion and tech.

What’s your official title and how long have you been in this role?

I’m the Director of Product Design at Bustle Digital Group, and I’ve been here for 9 months (having started January 2018)

What attracted you to this role?

I was really interested in taking a more involved and overarching approach to product design in my next role (which led me here). I also loved that I get to work on the Engineering team and get to use my multidisciplinary background (in both design and web engineering) every day.

Walk me through a typical day in your role. What activities do you engage in? What types of meetings do you join? When’s lunch?

I’m mostly designing via writing code during the day. I work on both large and small projects. Larger projects include redesigns, the visual aspects of product migrations, or ideating and building new products that will be used by designers and editors across properties. So when I’m doing this kind of work, I’m checking in with product management and stakeholders intermittently.

Some days though, I’m just fixing UI bugs, resolving support tickets, and making sure everything is in place. I don’t have a lot of meetings, but the meetings I do have, I try to keep short, concise, and end with an action item. Lunch is usually in the office, with the engineers getting together to chat and work in the same space for a little while.

What skills/technologies help you succeed?

Having a background in computer science and graphic design (I went to college for both) certainly helps. Continuing to learn web development as its evolved over the last couple of years has been important in keeping up with technologies and trends. Learning new interaction patterns and design trends is critical, as well as having a foundation of web accessibility and the render tree.

What’s the most fun or creative part of your role?

I feel like my role is generally very creative. Designing new features is just as creative as coming up with resolutions for bugs.

What are the biggest challenges you face in this role?

Some of the projects I work on can involve complex visual systems. For example, a part of what I do is make sure every type of component works in every type of containing element, on every type of page, without breaking anywhere. With growing codebases, this becomes increasingly challenging.

What’s an area where you’re trying to grow in your role?

I’m always working on improving my technical skills to make me a more effective developer across the stack. I think in today’s world, having the ability to code gives a designer a lot of power.

Aside from technical skills, what personality traits/characteristics make for an ideal candidate in your role?

The ability to creatively solve problems and be organized is important. I use to-do lists to keep my life in order.

In your role, what metrics define success?

That really depends on the goal of the project! And the metrics that determine meeting the project goals are probably the most important. Time management and shipping on time play a key role as well.

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Role Models: Trucy Phan, Senior Product Designer at Yello

Trucy Phan, Senior Product Designer at Yello

Today’s Role Model is Trucy Phan. Trucy is a self-taught designer and developer with Mechanical and Civil Systems engineering roots. She was born and raised in Iowa to Vietnamese immigrants, lived and worked in the Bay Area in California for 10 years, and just moved to Chicago last year. Some of her favorite things include: grocery shopping when traveling in other countries, handwritten cards, and koalas. Currently, Trucy a Senior Product Designer for Yello, a talent acquisition CRM.

Give me a quick summary of your career thus far. Where did you get your start? How do the dots connect to where you are today?

It’s hard to do a quick summary of 9 years but here we go:

  • After a year and a half doing odd jobs during the recession that hit in 2008, I finally got a job at a government research lab (LBL) doing energy efficiency analyses.
  • After that, I ran a company with a business partner for 4 years in San Francisco designing and building websites, apps and data visualizations for city planning and transit agencies. At that company, I was a designer, developer, and project manager.
  • In the last 5 years, I’ve worked for a handful of seed stage startups as their only full stack designer and front end developer, and working as a full-time product designer at larger startups.

If you want to hear more about each of these bullet points, I spent a lot of time detailing how I got into tech for The Techies Project!

What’s your official title and how long have you been in this role?

I’m a Senior Product Designer at Yello and have been here for 7 months.

What attracted you to this role?

Yello had most of the things I was looking for when I was interviewing! Some of those were:

  • A data-heavy application with an abundance of design problems to solve
  • An existing design team (i.e. I wouldn’t be the only designer in-house)
  • A company without a robust design system (so I could help create and maintain one)
  • An existing product (i.e. not something with 0 users) that could be improved, since I had previously worked places that only had new features and few users to get feedback from

Walk me through a typical day in your role. What activities do you engage in? What types of meetings do you join? When’s lunch?

Here is a sample of things I might do in a given day:

  • Sync up with engineers, my PM, and other designers as needed
  • Heads-down design time during which I might sketch, explore medium and high fidelity prototypes, or modify something in our pattern library
  • Participate in phone screens and onsite interviews for front end engineering, product manager, and product design candidates
  • Pair with another designer for an hour on a design problem
  • Give feedback to other designers on their work, and go through feedback left on mine
  • Chat with clients and summarize client feedback
  • Write surveys to send to clients

What skills/technologies help you succeed?

Technologies: Outside of the normal suite of tools our company uses (Slack, Confluence, Jira, G Suite, Zoom, etc.) I love Figma. I use it for everything from designing, illustrating, prototyping, and dev handoff to maintaining a shared pattern library across our team and using their commenting and sharing features to collaborate with PMs, engineers, and other designers. If you’re a designer and haven’t used it, I highly recommend checking it out. It’s free, works in the browser and as a native app on any Mac or Windows computer.

Skills: Since designers at Yello are responsible for doing so many things: recruiting, user research, and full stack design (wireframing, info architecture, visual, interaction design/prototyping), time management and prioritization is crucial.

Work is fun if you’re curious and are also learning (not just in execution mode) so I try to investigate new tools and more exploratory designs when I can. A good designer can understand when to focus on the details and when to zoom out to get perspective, so I’m practicing that, too.

When it comes to people, being a nice person goes a long way, as well as being patient and having empathy for both your team members and the people who use the software.

What’s the most fun or creative part of your role?

I love talking to clients and getting feedback! I also love meeting other product designers over coffee, talking to them about what drives them, and seeing how I can help them in their career. When I’m designing, I love the exploration phase early on, and creating a functional, high fidelity prototype at the end. The middle stuff for me is like a bunch of crap and terrible ideas I’m embarrassed to show.

What are the biggest challenges you face in this role?

I used to be the one who implemented my own designs, so if I changed my mind it was very quick and easy to change the code and push it to prod. The traditional designer/dev handoff happened in my head, so nothing was lost in translation. Now, I have to be a little more sure of a design before I give it to a developer to be built and iterated on, and be sure of what’s an exploration vs. more final.

I used to work in much smaller companies, where I would sit just a few feet away from the CEO, CTO, VP of Product, VP of Engineering, and customer support. At one particularly scrappy place, I literally shared a desk with the CTO. As a result, at those companies I usually felt like I always knew what was happening, and if I didn’t know, I was a quick conversation away from knowing.

Now, one of the challenges I’m facing is getting all the context and information I need across different departments from people who all have busy schedules and still feeling like I can move forward and make the right decisions without having all the information all the time.

What teams/individuals do you work with cross-functionally? Can you give an example of a time when you collaborated with another group/individual?

I work cross functionally with engineers and my PM on a daily basis. At least once a week I might touch base with PMs on other teams, and people who work in our customer support group and sales.

Recruiting is a good example. Since designers help interview for front-end engineers, product managers and product designers, I’ll also chat accordingly with other engineers, other PMs, other designers, and our in-house recruiter to discuss each interview and align on interview guides, on-site questions, and post-interview discussions.

What’s an area where you’re trying to grow in your role?

I want to become better at coming up with more design explorations in the beginning stages of a new feature, and better at interaction design. I want to spend more time exploring beyond what low hanging fruit is, or an MVP, and actually thinking about what an ideal user experience would be, starting with understanding a user’s journey and pain points instead of jumping right into nitty gritty high fidelity work. I’ve always had a more technical approach to design, so I think I could be better at stepping back to understand where a user is coming from a bit more.

Aside from technical skills, what personality traits/characteristics make for an ideal candidate in your role?

An ideal product design candidate is able to take information — both quantitative and qualitative — and solve a user problem related to a company’s goals. Each design choice should be intentional, and always link back to the user.

It’s an overused term, but the ability to work in a cross functional team goes a long way. Knowing what strengths people bring to the table, understanding where someone is coming from when they disagree, and having fun are all important to me.

An ideal candidate also should be self-aware. How do your decisions impact your team? What about others at the company? How do your choices impact users?

What skills (tech/non-tech) have you improved as a result of working in this role?

Hands down, recruiting. I’ve interviewed so many candidates for Yello since I started, I’m getting better at assessing hard and soft skills of product designers in a way that’s fair to them (and more useful for us), which include coming up with better interview exercises that allow them to shine.

Hiring my own manager is something I never thought I would do either, but we definitely wrote a job req and created on-site interview exercises for that role. (P.S., if you want to be my manager you should apply!)

Lastly, I think I’m always going to be a huge advocate of changing ineffective tools and processes at each company I’m at, so I’m currently learning how to balance making others feel included in the process with also getting things done. What you don’t want, is too much change too fast, which could backfire because someone perceives it as a threat. But at the end of the day, we should all be working together because we’re all on the same team!

In your role, what metrics define success?

That depends. If it’s a new feature, is it being delivered on time? Is it sellable by the sales team? Do a greater number of prospects become customers after the launch of the feature, or do people fail to renew their contracts despite being given the new feature?

In terms of the recruiting we do, does a candidate accept the offer? How did they view their interview and on-boarding experience?

Yello was, and is, going through a lot of change, so it’s really exciting to be a part of that but also hard to measure success when all the variables and constraints are changing.

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Role Models: Sam Provenza, Product Designer

samprovenza

Sam Provenza began her career in graphic design, but today she builds intuitive and beautiful user interfaces for digital products. She’s currently a Product Designer for Tailwind, a SaaS start-up producing Pinterest and Instagram marketing tools. In spite of her busy schedule, she is also the NYC chapter lead of Girl Develop It, a group that organizes coding classes and career workshops for women.

What’s your official title and how long have you been in this role?

Product Designer. I’ve been in this role at my current company for a little over a year and a half, but I’ve been in this role for other companies since 2014.

What attracted you to this role?

My background is in design. I started out in graphic design but was always really interested in designing for the web. When I started working as a web designer at a SaaS product company back in 2013, I was instantly drawn to the product side of things because of how much it involved working directly with users. I started out with small projects on the product side and eventually switched full time to the product side. I have been doing that ever since.

Walk me through a typical day in your role. What activities do you engage in? What types of meetings do you join? When’s lunch?

I work for a small SaaS start-up, so my day to day varies greatly depending what we are focusing on that sprint. Because of the small size of our team, my day is part Design, part Coder and part Project Manager. I spend a lot of my focus scoping out new features or user flows for our web application and then I work with the engineering team to implement them. I am also involved with some of the UX research and spend time conducting user interviews with our users on video calls. I work with users to discover the root of the problem we are trying to solve so I can help craft a user experience that will solve their frustrations. I’m often an advocate for the user and I need to ensure that the products we are making are understandable and accessible for our user base.

What skills/technologies help you succeed?

Some of the skills that are helpful is knowing how to use design tools like Sketch, Photoshop, Figma, Invision, Adobe XD, Illustrator (there are so many now!) to create mock-ups and prototypes of web and mobile applications. I also know HTML/CSS and JavaScript, which isn’t necessarily required but it’s been really helpful for my success. I can design experiences that I know can be built and I can just jump into a project and make changes if needed without relying on the engineering team.

What’s the most fun or creative part of your role?

Brainstorming is one of my favorite parts of the process. When we are kicking off new projects or features, the product team will collaborate to define the problem we are trying to solve, brainstorm solutions that we can implement, and figure out how to measure if they are successful or not. I love getting in front of a whiteboard, tossing around ideas and sketching solutions.

What are the biggest challenges you face in this role?

In my current company, I am the sole Product Designer on the team. It’s often challenging for me to be juggling multiple projects across different parts of the product.

What teams/individuals do you work with cross-functionally? Can you give an example of a time when you collaborated with another group/individual?

I work with our Product Managers and Engineers on a day-to-day basis. The PMs and I will often collaborate on the initial kick-off of new projects. We work together to define requirements needed, brainstorm ideas, and I’ll present designs to them for feedback along the way. They are also really helpful to figure out how to measure the success of the designs and defining what metrics we are trying to move with any new experience.

What’s an area where you’re trying to grow in your role?

I really want to become more informed about the Product side of my role. I would like to learn more about collecting data to measure and track design decisions as well as use the data to define requirements for new features and requests.

In your role, what metrics define success?

The most important measure of success comes from customer feedback and the overall user experience you are crafting. It can be difficult to figure how to measure this, so making sure you are making data-driven decisions in your design choices really helps you measure how successful your output is.

What skills (tech/non-tech) have you improved as a result of working in this role?

100% my communication skills. Being able to present designs and educate the team on the “why” behind them has helped me better articulate my design-thinking skills. Also talking with users has significantly helped me from an interviewee standpoint.

Aside from technical skills, what personality traits/characteristics make for an ideal candidate in your role?

Problem solving and empathy are probably the two most important skills. There are often complex features that we need to build, and it’s my job to find a solution that will resonate with our users and present the most important information in the simplest way possible. You need to be empathetic, be eager to talk and listen to users, and be able to figure out what makes them tick.

 

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