How to Build An Amazing In-House Product Design Team

 Schoolwires Product Design Team

While conversing with some of my UX pro peers recently, I discovered that in-house design teams at software companies are extremely varied in make up. Some places have great team dynamics and others really don’t. At my company Schoolwires, we have a completely awesome Design & Innovation team with members that work incredibly well together, not only from a personality stance, but from a combined powerhouse of skills stance. So today, I’m going to focus on answering  the question:

What does it take to create a killer in-house Design and Innovation team?

1.      An Incredibly Innovative Vice President

At my company we have a VP of Product Design and Innovation who is one of the most contagiously creative, innovative people I have ever met. You go into what should be a mundane meeting with him, and come out feeling inspired every single time. He also has a vision of the future of technology that reaches out decades. He’s always thinking about the next next, with his finger on the pulse of the latest and greatest apps and software and technology trends.

2.      A UX Manager Who Thinks in Wireframes and Dreams Code

Our Manager of User Experience literally thinks in wireframes and dreams code. She hears a concept and immediately starts brainstorming the wireframes in her mind. She is incredibly talented, and has a background in code, so she not only pictures design in her mind, she knows how to MAKE the things she envisions. She’s also a mobile developing/designing genius. Cap that off with being a phenomenal, supportive manager and you’ve got Sara.

3.     Three Creative UX Architects Who Love to Design

We have three fantastic architects on our team who really enjoy designing. Our architects do the data layer/api/business layer work for all of our projects, but they also lead designs and create wireframes at times.They are able to tell us at a glance if what we hope can happen is actually feasible. If we had to wait until our designs were passed off to development to find that information out, we’d end up with hours and hours of additional rework time. Don, Heather and Craig are the key to keeping us agile.

4.     Two Extremely Talented UX Designers 

Our UX designers are fantastic.

Danelle makes our CMS interface and our mobile apps look like works of art, and can kick out gorgeous high res mockups on a dime! She is constantly looking for the latest and greatest design tricks and tips, and brings fresh ideas and concepts to our products on a regular basis to ensure positive user experiences.

Kelly is an epic interaction designer. She comes up with new innovative ways to make our products even more interesting and user friendly! She focuses on a user centered design approach to ensure that our latest features and product enhancements will positively impact the lives of our clients.

5.      A Content Strategist With A Background in Psychology

Our Content Strategist & UX Editor Jennifer loves conducting user research & usability testing regularly, writing user friendly microcopy to ensure consistent voice and tone,  reviewing and collaborating on designs to ensure usability, analyzing product statistics to identify trends, and discovering all the ways we can make our clients lives easier through design.

The 8 of us work together exceptionally well because we work in an environment that supports open sharing of ideas. We all have the utmost respect for one another, and our leadership team has made it clear that every member of the team is valued, as are their opinions.

It’s also accepted team wide that no one is perfect, nor are they expected to be. Sometimes we’re right, and sometimes we’re wrong but the safe environment for sharing both good and bad ideas leads to incredible collaboration and ultimately stronger, more innovative, user friendly products.

You don’t have to go freelance to love your job! Our department is living proof that in-house design team utopia does exist.

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Google Analytics Free: Your Data Is Fake (But It’s OK)


I recently discovered that users of Google Analytics Free don’t always fully understand what they’re seeing when they log into their dashboards. They think they’re looking at their actual, honest to goodness data. So let’s clear some things up:

1. Your data is fake.
“What are you talking about! It’s not fake, there are graphs!” Your data is sampled. In some situations it’s still statistically significant. In fact, in most cases it is, so don’t panic yet.

2. Want access to your real unsampled data? Fork over $150,000.
For major corporations it’s pocket change. For the average person with a small site, your sampled data is still statistically significant, so it’s no big deal. If you’re a start up company who is still poor but is experiencing rapid growth, you’re out of luck. Break out your wallet.

3. If your company is expecting/experiencing rapid growth & has set up a bunch of custom events, of the four leading analytics companies, Google Analytics Premium is by FAR the cheapest.
If you hit 5 billion events per month, Google Analytics Premium bumps up to a flat rate of $220k. Adobe Analytics jumps up around $7.4 MILLION dollars per year. That is not a typo, it’s a legit quote. If you’re scaling crazy fast and need quality data, Google Analytics Premium is your friend from a financial perspective.

4. Unsampled, pure data is freaking expensive.
It just is. If you really need it, surrounded by a UI that isn’t terrible, be prepared to shell out some serious cash.

5. I previously mentioned that sampled data is statistically significant for most companies, so who cares about whether data is sampled or not?
CMS companies in particular need to care. Let’s say a company has global analytics tracking. They may have 4 huge clients (3 million events, 2.5, 2, and 1 million events per month) a handful of 100k – 250k events-per-month clients and so on into tiny client land.

Google samples the daylights out of your data. The higher the number of monthly events, the worse your sampling rate becomes.

From a global tracking perspective looking at high level metrics, sampling is no big deal. However, if a 100k events-per-month client calls and requests a report about mobile device traffic to their primary domain, you’re statistically SOL. You can pull the report, but the drill down data will be garbage due to the crazy sampling rate.

The worst sampling rate I’ve come across in Google Analytics Free was .02%, but you get what you pay for.

The moral of this story:
For small sites and small businesses Google Analytics Free is a viable option. Your data is “fake”, but still statistically significant.

If you’re a rapidly growing business with a pile of domains being tracked under one account, eat the cost and upgrade to Google Analytics Premium. From a scalability perspective it’s the cheapest option, and you can pull unsampled reports to obtain accurate data all day long if you want to.

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Don’t Throw an Error When You Can Just Remove The Problem Instead


This morning I had a great discussion with a couple of peers around an issue that came up with a new feature we’re developing. The issue was that clients could attempt to delete something that was in process, midstream. 

The initial idea to negate the problem was to throw up an error message telling the user that it was too late to delete the job. From a UX perspective, we decided this could cause our users frustration, and a feeling of lack of control. 

After tossing around some other ideas we settled on just removing the delete button from the screen entirely during processing, rather than throwing an error message. 

When you have the opportunity, rather than throwing error messages, think outside the box and look for solutions that will keep users from being able to trigger the errors in the first place. Small UI tweaks can make a huge difference in UX. 

Even small negative interactions with your product can have a big impact on customer satisfaction. By negating errors your UX will rock, and your users won’t associate using your product with feelings of frustration. It’s a win/win situation. 


How much money is your life actually worth?


Yesterday I had the opportunity to video chat with a friend who I haven’t seen in years, we just recently reconnected. 

When I met him he loved his line of work and the company he worked for. He worked as a designer at a startup with an awesome culture and amazing management. He was healthy mentally and physically and his eyes sparkled when he talked about his job, which he found very fulfilling.  He had a great work/life balance. His love for his job and the work he was doing directly affected every aspect of his life in a positive way.

When I video chatted with him yesterday I hardly recognized him. His company had experienced rapid growth, which you’d expect to be a good thing. He was making much more money than he had been 5 years ago when we met, but during the course of the rapid expansion, new management had been put into place. The new management had removed the flexibility & work life balance and had sucked all of the joy out of the workplace culture. As an added bonus the new management was verbally and emotionally abusive to employees. 

The company was doing great financially, and paid extremely well, but nearly every employee in my friend’s department had grown to hate their jobs and going into the office. The employees had started to leave the department in a steady stream. Rather than identifying the source of the problem (management), even when people leaving directly pointed it out, the HR department took the stance that the people leaving just “couldn’t adapt to rapid growth.”

My friend’s eyes have lost their sparkle, they’re dull and empty now. His health is failing due to high blood pressure induced by extreme stress. His doctor basically told him that if he can’t get his levels of stress under control that he’s at great risk for a heart attack. 

I was stunned. I asked him why in the world he still works at the company. He said that he’s looked for other jobs but can’t find anywhere that he can make as much money as he’s making now in his area, and that he hates to leave a place he’s invested so much time in. 

My next question was, “How much money is your life worth?”

I then followed with, “This job is literally killing you. Could you take a pay cut and do a less stressful job at a company with a better work life balance and still live comfortably? If not, could you downsize your home and trade your car in for a cheaper model and live comfortably making less money? If so, then what is the point of staying where you are in that horribly toxic work environment that is destroying your life? Is cutting your life shorter by 10, 20 or 30 years worth an extra 5-10k a year while you’re still alive? Is dying in your early 50’s really worth staying at this place?”

He emailed me this morning to let me know that he had started applying for other jobs when we ended our chat session. 

Are you feeling trapped in a toxic work environment? Get out of it. You’re never actually as trapped as you feel. Evaluate your priorities. Bump health and quality of life above money. If you’re having trouble moving money lower on your list of priorities, look in the mirror and ask yourself: “How much money is my life actually worth?” 


2 Simple Ways Facebook Could Have Improved the Messenger App Forced Download Response

I wrote a post expressing my utter frustration around the new Facebook Messenger App forced download a few days ago. I realized this morning that during my rant, I didn’t include constructive thoughts on how the release could have been handled in a more positive way.

URL schemes can be really fantastic when they’re integrated into the user experience in a non obtrusive way. The ability to navigate seamlessly between 2 apps is fantastic. Launching the Twitter app when a person wants to share a blog post is great. Being able to tap an icon from a photo gallery to launch a specific photo app to begin editing immediately is great. Tapping a phone number on a page and being given the opportunity to dial the number instantly is great. Tapping an address and launching the maps app to get directions instantly is great.

What’s not great is tapping the messages icon in your Facebook app and having an awkward transition to the Facebook messenger app with an ugly bar at the top of the screen serving as the only way to navigate back to the main app. By the way, in the US version of the iPhone Messenger app, that navigation bar gets covered up by by every single iPhone native notification.

If I’m in the Facebook Messenger app, and I want to return to the Facebook App but I get a text message, I’m stuck there waiting for the notification to go away. Those are seconds of my life that I’ll never get back, and let’s face it, these days time is money and waiting even a few seconds for an alert to go away in order to have the opportunity to navigate is just not acceptable. People notice millisecond changes in load time, full seconds feel like an eternity these days.

So how could Facebook have eased the messenger pain points?

1. They could have given a better explanation in app of WHY the change was being made.

Instead of, “We’ve moved to Facebook Messenger, download it now to view your messages.” Which read: Do what we say right now because we’re forcing you to for no reason, and you have no choice but to obey,” they could have gone with something like, “We’ve added so many great new features to Messages, that we had to create a whole new app to support them all. You can download it now to view your messages and check out the fab new functionality.”

A message that demonstrated value, rather than a command to obey would have likely made a big difference in reception within the tech community.

2. They could have traded the top bar nav for  an icon in the base bar nav.

The second fatal flaw in the app design was the garbage top bar navigation to move to and from the app. When I’m in Facebook, I click back and forth between home and notifications and messages in rapid fire succession. They could have improved the experience by giving a base bar tab navigation option of “Home” to go back to the regular FB app home screen, rather than the annoying top bar that gets covered in notifications.

I know these are small changes, but in my opinion they would have made a big impact.

Facebook Messenger: Forced App Download Is A Big No


In all the years that I’ve used Facebook, I’ve never once complained about their UI changes. Even when they seemed bizarre at first, I embraced them and adapted, because no one was forcing me to use the app, and I grew to love the changes over time.

For the first time since 2005 when I started using Facebook, they have royally ticked me off.

I went to check my messages on my phone yesterday, and was denied access to my messages area. There was just an overly cheery looking screen that said, we’ve moved to Facebook Messenger, download the app. There was no way to close the message, there was no option to decline.

I have purposely NOT downloaded the Facebook Messenger app since its launch. I do not use push notifications on my phone. I do not want my day to be interrupted by messages flashing up on my screen. I have the badge icons turned off for a majority of my apps because I like to control my experience. When I feel I have time to check my messages, I open the app of choice, and I check my messages and respond. When I need a mental break from whatever project I’m working on during lunch break, I whip out my phone and check Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

The messenger app added absolutely zero value to my Facebook experience because of my usage habits, hence my avoidance of downloading the thing.

Yesterday when I realized I was going to be FORCED to download the app in order to view my messages on my phone, I was furious. The I read the app’s privacy policy and was absolutely appalled. For anyone who downloaded the app without viewing it, glance through it today.

I had an extremely negative user experience for the first time in 9 years. I will not be installing the messenger app, I’ll be checking my messages from my desktop, which is an enormous inconvenience.

My phone is my personal device. I control every aspect of it. The experience felt like a forced invasion of my personal space.

Forcing end users to download an app, or lose access to a heavily used feature, is a horrible business practice in general, but the awful UI is even worse. Having to flip back and forth between the 2 apps gives the experience a VERY Windows 8 feel. It’s like having 2 interfaces smashed together in an extremely awkward way.

I’m extremely disappointed in Facebook’s decision to force the app download. Obviously, I’m one person in billions of users, it’s not going to bother them in any way from a corporate stance, but my brand trust, and trust in their design decisions in general just tanked. It makes me sad.

An Introvert’s Guide To Pitching Ideas


So we’ve all been there right? You come up with an idea, want to share it with a stakeholder, whether it be a teammate, a boss, a VP or a CEO.

Your idea is brilliant and could greatly benefit the company, but when you step in front of your audience, you freeze. You mumble, people are underwhelmed and your awesome idea never gets a chance to take root.

Then you see a presentation another teammate gives to pitch a mediocre idea. Their presentation has flare. They’re engaging, they have graphs and charts and info graphics. They’re excited and it’s contagious. Their idea sails though approval.

As an introvert, how do you move from pitch A to pitch B?

1. Start by getting in the zone, and remembering that what you have to say is important and that it could benefit not only you, but the whole company.

2. Before you even schedule time to discuss your concept, do the leg work. Do your research. Look at competitors. Get some cold hard data. Make some visuals. Fancy looking charts and graphs and info graphics can be made really quickly and easily with tools like Lucidchart. It doesn’t take a graphic design degree to figure out how to use it either. Use a template (they have tons) or click and drag to make your own.

3. Practice your pitch out loud. Pitch it to your significant other, or your kid or your dog. Find your stutter points and smooth them out. Integrate your visual elements and practice with those also.

4. Schedule your meeting and give the concept the level of excitement it deserves even while you’re just scheduling.

5. Walk in to that meeting with confidence knowing that you’re mega prepared and ready to rock your pitch. Make eye contact. Smile. Inject excitement. Toss out statistics. Do it up.

6. Sincerely listen to the feedback you receive, both positive and negative. Internalize it and use it to shape your next pitch. Don’t argue, don’t get offended, your audience is telling you exactly what they want/expect. It’s like a “how to get your next pitch approved” guide.

7. Afterward give yourself a pat on the back, take an Ativan, stop at the liquor store, take a nap or do whatever else it is that you do to recover from stressful situations.

You owned that presentation and now it’s up to your stakeholders to take the reins.

Titanic Workflow Mentality: How To Lose Talent & Sink Your Company


Today I had a sad conversation with another UX pro who is battling a really tough workplace culture problem. I have now dubbed it “Titanic Workflow Mentality”.

Sometimes you come across a person in an organization, or a band of people who slam on the brakes when new workflow ideas come through. Rather than constructively reviewing pros and cons, or keeping the positive aspects and tossing the negatives, they shut the door in your face, lock it and throw away the key.

Change is scary. Very few people on earth like the idea of change. Some changes are bad. Some are great. But if you stay stagnant, especially if your company is experiencing rapid growth,and keep doing things the way you always have for old times sake, your talent will leave and your competitors will zoom past you and laugh when you choke on their dust.

I’m fortunate to work for a company that is packed full of extremely talented people who are visionaries in the fields of software and mobile design, development and architecture. I legitimately feel pity for people who are trapped in team cultures like the one I described in the first paragraph.

If you’re starting to sense a “Titanic Workflow Mentality” coming from above (God himself could not make our old school work flows more perfect!), then it may be time to jump in a life raft and row like crazy toward a new company. Otherwise, you’ll wind up going down with the rest of the ship. And likely, the sinking experience will be full of stress, anger, extreme levels of frustration and lots of finger pointing, before it finally goes under.

If you do choose to stay and wait it out, or really feel that things could improve, get with other folks with positive attitudes in your organization and protect your positive small team culture like your company’s success depends on it (because it may). Even in the worst situations, a pocket of positive energy can go a long way in turning things around.

If you are full of anxiety and dread, are grinding your teeth to powdery nubs and have lost the will to get out of bed to go into work in the morning, start applying elsewhere though. Life is too short to work long term in a place that makes you miserable.

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