A Day in the Life of a Product Designer at Pivotal Labs
PRODUCT DESIGNER, PIVOTAL LABS, NEW YORK
I found Pivotal Labs… through my colleague Jon, who heads up design in NYC and who I knew previously. I worked at an agency in Vermont and wanted to move to NYC. I had recently started participating in hackathons and learning about software development. I hit up Jon to hear what was going on with design in NYC, and he suggested I come in to Pivotal Labs.
I decided to join Pivotal Labs because… I liked the opportunity to bounce between professions while being a designer. You get to wear a bunch of different hats here. Right now I’m working on a social networking app. Before that, I worked on an app for a non-profit. Before that, I worked on an enterprise app. I also liked that there are all sorts of balanced teams. As designers, we don’t just sit in our own design ivory tower, we’re integrated with the rest of the team. I get to pair with developers. I get to learn a lot of new things. I’ve learned so much about front end web development since being here.
I am currently working on… A social networking app. Users can create events and the events last only as long as the event itself.
DESIGN PARITY TWEAKS
I’m creating new assets for our iOS app so that we have better parity on design between our iOS app and our Android app. We started to work on the Android app after we had started to work on the iOS app. I want to make sure that the design decisions we have made on Android are carried back through to the iOS app.
I’m simultaneously prepping for a work session in the next hour where I’ll walk the developers through a set of adjustments to our new user onboarding flow. I’ve found that it’s really valuable to involve all the perspectives on a team when working on a new chunk of work. Anyone can have great ideas that will make the product better, not just designers.
NEW USER FLOW WALKTHROUGH
I’m walking a developer pair on the team through a new user flow. We previously used Facebook to log users in and to help users find people to connect with in the app. We are switching to using users’ own contacts instead. We made this decision because we want to be less reliant on another social platform. Today you have to already be friends on another platform before you can become friends on ours.
I want to get the developers familiar with the new design so that when we get to next week’s Iteration Planning Meeting and look at the new user stories, it won’t be the first time that they see this stuff. It’s generally a good idea to get some buy-in and help everyone understand the rationale behind your design decisions before you throw new work at them to estimate. I like to share ahead of the Iteration Planning Meeting as much as possible. Typcially, I’ll grab one pair of developers. This time, I grabbed just the iOS pair.
The work session went well. The devs had some notes about the complexity of certain pieces of the onboarding flow where we show notifications.
Now, I’m working with my client Product Manager on the copy for in-app notifications. The app is very location and notification specific so we are trying to figure out how to get users to grant the app the permissions it needs. We want to make sure that people grant the app the permissions it’s asking for before they sign in so that they have a great experience using it.
Normally our team does standup at noon, but today I’m running a usability testing session with a group of college students.
I’m testing whether users find the new onboarding flow too complex. Because we’re replacing Facebook with contacts to help users find friends in the app, there’s now a bunch of new permissions that an iOS user has to accept. I want to understand whether users are ok with how we’ve designed for this.
PRODUCT OFFICE HOURS
Every other week we do something called Product Office Hours at the NYC office. One startup team joins us for lunch and we help them work through a product-related challenge. A couple of Product Managers and designers will typically be in the room to help.
Today we had Thursday Finest come in. They offer customizable neck ties. We did a design critique on their new ecommerce site.
This is the first design critique we have done for an outside company, and it was pretty awesome. We are often asked to opinionate on existing design solutions, but the Thursday Finest team gave us problems to solve instead. The techniques we have developed internally for working through design problems transferred really well to this session.
The Thursday Finest team got a lot out of our session together. They’re excited about taking some of these practices back to their company. They want to figure out how to best utilize Agile and Lean practices in their own product development and design process.
DESIGN BACKLOG GROOMING
Because we’re developing the app for two platforms simultaneously, iOS and Android, we have two backlogs. I’m going through both of them to see which stories still need design assets so I can make sure that we have covered our bases by the end of the week and feel good about this week’s progress.
We thought a lot about whether we wanted to keep the backlogs separate or combined. In the end we decided to keep them separate. The iOS work has been progressing slower than the Android work and with separate backlogs we avoid getting blocked. I can still work on design stories across both backlogs simultaneously so that the design stays consistent across platforms.
ONBOARDING FLOW TWEAKS
I’m making adjustments to the onboarding flow. Because we are creating our own social graph rather than using Facebook’s, we need to handle edge cases where you pull in people into the app who you are not already friends with. It’s similar to Snapchat. They’ll have the app installed, you’re not friends, you search for them and then you add them. I just went over the step of adding users by searching for their phone number.
PING PONG BREAK
Usually I like to take a ping pong break maybe two or three times a day. If I am solo:ing that day, as opposed to pairing with someone, I’ll grab another designer or a developer from my team who is also solo:ing.
It’s just nice to step away for a bit. Some things click when you come back to the computer. You either go “It all makes sense now!” or “This doesn’t make sense at all, what was I thinking?”
WEEKLY TEAM RETROSPECTIVE
At 5 PM it’s time for our weekly retrospective, or retro in short. The team gets together to talk about what went during the week, what did not go so well and what there’s confusion or uncertainty about. We end the retro by capturing action items and assigning an owner to each one. We also make sure to follow up on last week’s action items. It’s a a nice way to end the week.
I’m going to bring up that we need to do more feature validation and usability testing before diving into big chunks of development work. I think several people will bring up how great it is that we’ve had more client developers join the team this week. We’re about even now between Pivots and client developers which is great.
It’s 6 pm so I’m packing up for the week.
I’m heading out to get dinner with some friends and then it’s the weekend. My girlfriend and I are planning to look at apartments. I’m pretty excited about that.
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This profile of Josh Franklin was edited by Joanna Beltowska.
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A Day In The Life of a Product Designer at Pivotal Labs was originally published in Built to Adapt on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
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