AMA: Aarron Walter, Started UX at MailChimp, Author of Designing for Emotion, VP of Design Education at InVision

2 years ago from , VP of Design Education at InVision

Howdy, folks.

I'm Aarron Walter, VP of Design Education at InVision.

In 2008 I joined MailChimp as the first design hire. I founded the the UX team there and revamped the product many times. We grew from a few thousand customers when I started to more than 10 million when I left in February of this year. Along the way I wrote a little book called Designing for Emotion from A Book Apart exploring the connections between design and psychology in product design.

I recently joined InVision to share design best practices with our customers both big and small. I've been a long time customer before joining the team and have been fascinated to see how the product has been changing the way designers work.

I love to talk about building design teams, hiring the right people, doing design research, and designing with personality.

I'm happy to answer questions about any of these topics and more from 10:30AM-5PM ET Wed April 20.

32 comments

  • Ruzanna Rozman, 2 years ago
    1. What's your best advice on finding the right people to work with, not just from a hiring standpoint, but also from a job hunter's standpoint? How can we find out if we're the right fit (especially during the interview process, where both the recruiting company and the candidate are highlighting only their good points)?

    2. As a young designer, I often find myself in conflicting stances with my team, who are older and more experienced. I promise I don't try to be rebellious, but sometimes I feel huge resistance from the team when I want to try something new, or when I want to approach a design problem in a different way. Most of the time, I get the response "don't overthink it" and "we don't have time" as well as "that's just how it is." What would be the appropriate next steps? How do I know when to back down and when to push back?

    Thank you!

    4 points
    • Aarron Walter, 2 years ago

      Hi, Ruzanna.

      Before you start applying for jobs make a list of the things you want for yourself (environment, opportunities for growth, type of work, etc), and identify deal breakers. If you already have some experience reflect on the places where you thrived and where you were unhappy. That list will help you ask the right questions in interviews to identify the jobs that will be best for you.

      Learning to work with others is one of the most important skills you'll need in your career, so make sure your mind and ears are open when talking about your designs with others.

      Hone your communication skills to change the creative dialogue and reduce conflict. When you present your work are you clear about the problems you're trying to solve for the client? Are your designs practical as well as attractive? How will it help end users satisfy their Job to Be Done? Is your idea something your team can actually build within the given time and budget? If you think and talk about your work in terms of the problems you're trying to solve you'll find you don't have engage in conflicts with others nearly as much.

      Make lots of designs, don't invest your heart in one. You won't get it right the first time.

      4 points
      • Ruzanna Rozman, 2 years ago

        Thanks for your insight Aarron, I really appreciate it! I agree that clear communication is important when presenting work, and focusing the conversation on what problems we'd be solving is a really good tip. Have you had experience working in a team where its members disagree with which problems are most important to solve? What would you recommend to a team to establish a workflow so that everyone is on the same page?

        On a slightly different topic, do you have any thoughts on presenting to a client X number of concepts vs. a more constant collaboration with them in coming up with one concept (that can have multiple iterations)? Do you feel one method is better/more recommended than the other?

        2 points
        • Aarron Walter, 2 years ago

          Although I've certainly been in situations where team members disagree on an approach to a design, it always gets sorted out through discussion. Chances are there's a decider who can make the final call. If you're trying to figure out what to prioritize in your roadmap, consider create a RICE score.

          Working with a client along the way shortens the feedback loop and can help you get closer to the right design solution faster.

          1 point
  • Mauricio UeharaMauricio Uehara, 2 years ago

    Hi Aarron!! Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us. I lead a small design team in a agency and we do a lot of client work, mostly mobile apps. I've been strugling recently with design reviews. I try to review and critique all the designs but that's very time consuming and I am afraid that could remove the sense of ownership from the designers because they know that I'll eventually spot the mistakes. I don't even know if this model of design review is right. Do you have any advices for me? Thank you :)

    3 points
    • , 2 years ago

      Design reviews are very important. Definitely don't stop. All designers need feedback. It's a great way to raise the skills of the entire team as they will learn from peers and get in the habit of talking about their work.

      However, if you're the only one providing feedback, there's a problem. Design reviews are an opportunity for all to contribute. Set some guidelines for critique then step back and let your team do the talking. Teach them to help each other instead of always relying on you.

      If you want your designers to be independent thinkers you need to give them the freedom to solve problems on their own.

      5 points
  • Phil RauPhil Rau, 2 years ago

    Mail... Kimp?

    2 points
  • Bryce HowitsonBryce Howitson, 2 years ago

    Aaron, You're now in a role with the potential to influence the way "design" is done and how it's perceived. In a climate where design is beginning to lead business, can you share your vision for the industry in the next few years? I would also be curious what's missing as we train designers into that vision?

    Thanks for taking the time to do an AMA. We all know how time & focus consuming they can be.

    2 points
    • Aarron Walter, 2 years ago

      Hey, Bryce.

      I don't have a grand vision of what design will look like in the future, but I do see a challenge we face. Agile development is the common wisdom of our time, helping us move faster, but it's a very developer-centric process. Designers often struggle to find their place in the process and can feel like an add-on rather than an equal. We'll need to find a way for design to fit into the process as a peer if we want to continue to do satisfying work.

      5 points
  • Jay Tyagi, 2 years ago

    Hello there Aarron

    I deal with corporate clients. And generally they don't understand design that much.

    Take this question for the example, "How is Proxima Nova better than Roboto? How will it affect traffic?" And there are many questions like that, why minimize the effort, why lesser form fields, why black-on-white instead of white-on-black.

    Any advice for me?

    1 point
    • , 2 years ago

      Hi, Jay.

      Avoid getting into the weeds when presenting to the client. If they're not type nerds, then don't even bring it up. Focus on how you're helping them solve a problem. For example, instead of focusing on the feel of the design—"We used a 4 column grid and big Franklin Gothic headers to give the page a modern feel"—try focusing on the function of the design—"It's important for visitors to see your products and start shopping right away."

      Jot down notes as you design so you can present your design decisions well.

      9 points
  • Josh McGrath, 2 years ago (edited 2 years ago )

    Hi Aarron,

    You mentioned Jobs To Be Done in a response to someone else’s question. Is JTBD an idea you use in your work? If so, can you talk more about how your integrate it into your process, both in design and design education? Have you written about it elsewhere?

    Thanks, Josh

    1 point
  • Lisbeth Davies, 2 years ago

    If you were creating client briefs for new designers to practice their skills, what sort of challenges would you set them?

    1 point
    • , 2 years ago

      Make new designers talk to customers and clients to learn about the problems their designing for before they put a single pixel on canvas. Make then sketch 20 ideas first. Keep them from getting invested in a single solution. Force them to iterate and talk about their work with other. Give them regular feedback, and tight deadlines for they don't get lost on the wrong path.

      3 points
  • Monish Kumar, 2 years ago

    Hi Aarron,

    Thank you for doing this AMA. I am currently a graduate student in the USA and looking for UX and Product Design opportunities. I am very new the field and I want to find a mentor. I have tried contacting various senior UX designers, but I cannot get a single reply. I am applying only for job roles where I think I will fit in. However, I haven't got a single response. I have no clue about what I have to do. Can you please give me any tips or pointers on how to get mentors? I have a portfolio of my own - http://www.monishkumar.com

    Thanks and Regards, Monish

    0 points
    • Aarron Walter, 2 years ago

      Make it easy for people to view your work. Right now all of your work is wrapped in detailed articles. Your asking a lot of people by making them read multiple articles to see what you can do. Show more than tell.

      1 point
  • Amanda Pinsker, 2 years ago

    Hi Aarron! I'm about to start as the next Design Director of a student-run design studio at Northeastern University (called Scout!). We've already grown a lot in the ~3 years since we started, but we're still trying to figure out our process, in terms of hiring a team, choosing our clients, and how we do our work. We have some constraints in that our members are doing work while in classes, our projects can only really go for 4 months, and we work with a lot of early stage ventures. Considering this, I'm interested in trying out an agile process and introducing a more formalized strategy phase, but we have some concerns about implementing this with a part-time team.

    I'd love to hear any thoughts or advice you might have! Thanks!

    0 points
    • , 2 years ago

      Agile is tough if your teams are mostly part-time, but it's not impossible. You can structure a lot of the work to be remote if schedules are hard to align. You'll need to make sure teams can find time for regular stand-ups to talk about what they've completed and what they'll be working on next. These don't have to be daily, but the intervals should be regular. They should schedule design reviews in-person if possible. There are so many good tools that make remote collaboration easy: google Hangouts, Basecamp, Slack, InVision.

      Choose clients that are committed to being available to students and providing the feedback they'll need to succeed. Choose clients that have meaningful problems to solve (non-profits, interesting new businesses, etc) to help students build a good portfolio. Choose clients that will give students access to the end user where possible so students get the opportunity to research the problem before designing.

      1 point
  • Kenny Chen, 2 years ago (edited 2 years ago )

    Hi Aarron,

    Love the work you did with MailChimp. I have a few questions:

    1) Any recommended books or articles about managing a design team?

    2) When starting a new design department, what are some of the key tasks that should be done in the first few months?

    3) How do you manage internal and external design request from different departments?

    Thanks ahead of time!

    0 points
    • , 2 years ago

      Hey, Kenny.

      1. Julie Zhou at Facebook has recently written some great articles about managing design teams.

      2. Before you start to build your team, take some time to identify the core values that will guide you. Here's an example of a team values doc. This will help you hire the right folks and guide your team. Hiring will be the most important thing you do. Make sure you put in the time to find the right people and don't hire in a hurry. It's easy to hire, hard to fire.

      3. Design requests from other departments should flow through the team lead to protect the productivity of the team and make communication efficient. Be realistic about what your team can deliver. It's okay to tell colleagues you can't get to a project right now. If it's important they'll get back in touch later. If it's not the project will disappear.

      4 points
  • eryk orłowski, 2 years ago

    How soon is soon @ InVision, considering 7 month old coming soon promise not being delivered (Motion)? How soon is gonna be prototyping feature implemented into Craft (also coming soon after Silver acquisition)?

    :P

    0 points
    • , 2 years ago

      We don't have a release date for Motion, but I can tell you we're working very hard on it. I've played with the beta, and it's impressive. We're excited to release it! Thanks for your patience.

      1 point
  • John AnzelcJohn Anzelc, 2 years ago (edited 2 years ago )

    I'm interested in hearing more about what you're doing at InVision. "Design Education" is a pretty broad category (and I'm sure that is on purpose :) ). Does your role consist of doing content marketing, acting as a consultant for InVision's clients, or something else? Will you be helping the product itself encourage best practices somehow?

    0 points
    • , 2 years ago

      I'll be writing and speaking about design best practices that'll help teams do better work and help companies use design to grow. I'll run workshops for some of our customers, I'll continue to speak at conferences around the world, and I'll publish plenty of articles to guide designers. It's not content marketing, I'm not trying to sell InVision. I wan to help our industry see the value of design.

      1 point
      • John AnzelcJohn Anzelc, 2 years ago

        Nice. Helping the industry see the value of design is a lofty goal, but it certainly sounds like you're up to the task! Best of luck to you and thanks for doing the AMA.

        0 points
  • Sally Carson, 2 years ago (edited 2 years ago )

    Hi Aarron! I'm Sally Carson, Product Design Manager here at Duo Security. I was brought on at Duo to build this entirely new team / competency within the Org. We're about 6 months in. We've re-engineered how teams collaborate. We now have small, cross-functional feature teams comprised of a Product Manager, Product Designer, an Engineering Lead along with some additional Engineerings. But the atomic unit is the PM/PD/Eng triad.

    It's going extremely well, but I'm finding that resourcing projects is a confusing multi-dimensional Jenga tree / Tetris puzzle. Any tips on resourcing design? I asked Peter Merholz the same question if you're interested in his take:

    http://www.peterme.com/2016/04/19/you-probably-dont-have-enough-designers/

    Bonus question: Have you found a virtual "community" of other design leaders?

    0 points
    • , 2 years ago

      I agree without just need to hire more designers. Developing your own pattern library/design system can help your current designers work more efficiently.

      0 points
  • Edgar VargasEdgar Vargas, 2 years ago

    Hello Aarron and thank you for your time,

    I know someone who wants to break into UX Research, she has a background in cultural anthropology and a certificate on product design so it was a great career fit for her. She is currently trying to build a portfolio and posts her but without the right mentor, isn't entirely sure what she needs to show as work in order to get into the interview process aside from her Medium writings (https://medium.com/@allyyrv).

    What would you recommend she shows as her portfolio?

    0 points
    • , 2 years ago

      Writing about your research process and findings are a great way to show your skills. If you can, write about how your research affected the product and use experience.

      0 points