The Global VC

Q&A with Etsy Designer, Jessica Harllee

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500 Global Team

500 Global Team






Warm Gun Design Conference is THIS WEEK (December 4th) and 500 caught up with speaker and Etsy Designer, Jessica Harllee, to talk about experimentation, tools and tips for aspiring and veteran designers alike.

Can you give us a sneak preview on your talk: “How data can focus design decisions & anchor a well-designed experience”? 

Earlier this year we wanted to release a fresh new design of our Etsy seller onboarding, but when we tested the design in an experiment it wasn’t performing well enough to replace the original version. We looked at the data we got back and used that to inform a handful of design tweaks. Come to my talk to hear what the outcome was!

Who/what inspires your thinking around design?

I’ve found that the places I work in and the unique people I work with really influence how I design and the process I go through. I worked at an agency and at Kickstarter before coming to Etsy, and each experience has had a profound impact on the way I think about designing, building, and maintaining products on the web. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some incredibly smart, talented people.

The other thing I’ve realized is that, more often than not, the people who influence my thinking about design aren’t other designers. The product managers and engineers that I work with or the normal, non-internet savvy people who use the sites that I work on can make you see design in a totally different way.

What’s your work style?

When I first start a project, I like to think through things on my own for a bit and try to wrap my head around everything. This usually means I’m parked at my desk, blasting music on my headphones. I try and get feedback as early and often as possible; it can be hard to show unfinished work but the project ends up better because of it. Then I bounce back and forth between focusing really hard and getting feedback from the rest of my team. Similarly, I like bouncing around between wireframing and prototyping; I don’t usually make elaborate mockups and my design process isn’t really linear like that.

Can you walk me through a typical day?

I usually get into the office around 9:30. I’ll spend about an hour having coffee and getting settled before my day really starts. We have a team standup every morning, which consists of all the designers, product managers, and engineers working on Etsy shop management tools for sellers. The standup helps us touch base and focus on what we’re going to work towards for the remainder of the day.

Most of my time throughout the day is spent hopping between a handful of projects, which could mean doing anything from wireframing to development to bug fixes. I also spend a good amount of time giving feedback to other designers and responding to feedback, whether that’s through Basecamp posts or pull requests.

The number of meetings I have is usually pretty minimal. I have about three critiques a week; this could be with other designers on the shop management tools, or other product designers from across Etsy, or engineers or product managers on my projects.

I usually leave work sometime between 6–7. There’s no mandate for how long you should stay, as long as you get your work done. There’s almost always a group of people grabbing a beer or having some kind of event after work, too!

How much experimentation is allowed at Etsy? Any constraints? 

Well, my first interpretation of “experimentation” was testing designs and flows against each other, which we do all the time. Most new features are launched as an experiment before we release them to everyone. The only real constraint is that we try not to experiment on the seller side; our sellers have very established workflows and we try to respect that as much as possible.

As far as experimental design and straying from established design patterns goes, we have a style guide team at Etsy made up of a handful of designers throughout the company that discusses adding new design patterns and deprecating old ones. As much as experimentation is encouraged, I think we’re all ultimately interested in creating a consistent, seamless experience.

What is a recent problem you were given and how did you approach solving it? 

Recently I was working on a tool that we were beta testing with a lot of Etsy sellers. We had suspicions that part of it was going to be confusing, but we wanted to get as much feedback as possible so we released it to the testers anyway.

The beta testers were extremely vocal about their confusion around the tool in the forums, and we let them use it for a few weeks then asked for some more specific feedback. We devised a few approaches to address their confusion, which ranged from minimal copy changes to a complete rewrite of the interface; ultimately we were interested if a smaller change could have the desired impact.

We made a handful of small copy changes, changed the locations in the interface in which we were linking to the tool, and released the update to the beta testers. We haven’t gotten much negative feedback around it since.

It can be easy to respond to negative feedback in a panic and think that everything needs to change for the product to work, but allowing yourself to get to the root of the problem goes a long way.

What are some useful tools you use in your everyday work?

Earlier in the year my team invested a lot of time in building a style guide, which I rely on constantly. It minimizes the amount of time I spend writing CSS or making visual design decisions and allows me more time to think about meatier design problems. The other tools I rely on are centered around communication; I’m constantly on IRC talking to my coworkers, posting or receiving feedback on Basecamp, or discussing implementation via pull requests on Github.

Any tips for up-and-coming designers? 

Make as much work as you possibly can. Learn how to write well; design is as much about writing and storytelling as it is about visuals. Have hobbies outside of design; you’ll be a much more well-rounded person because of it.

– FIN – 

Want to dive deeper? Get your last minute tickets to Warm Gun HERE.  (Use “500Family” code for $100 discount).

Warm Gun is a one-day design conference featuring speakers who know how to turn products into experiences, increase acquisition & conversion, and transform users into die-hard fanatics.

500 Global Team

500 Global Team