My first real job was customer support for people who were dipping their feet in the nascent visual internet using a PPP connection on a 4800 baud modem and firing up NCSA Mosaic which could be installed from a single floppy disk.
I became interested in design because I needed a better way to communicate to the customers I was supporting, which tended to be workarounds… for software that was behaving badly because it was designed poorly. Sitting on the phone all day was boring, and plain text just didn’t cover it. I downloaded a hypercard html editor and got to work writing nicely formatted help instructions with friendly image mapped click-throughs and uploading them in places where it made people’s lives a little less awful. I liked this work. It made people’s lives better, though the problems weren’t that hard.
Then it was the late 90s and early 2000s and I did jumped around a bit, expanding my storytelling chops sitting side-by-side with startup founders desperately trying to come up with The Next Killer App while their cars were repossessed and they hid eviction notices from us. The enterprise lust went away as I got caught up in fat stock options, fancy drop shadows and sexy but useless interfaces that didn’t help people. These were generally fun, small problems to solve for a few months, then… wash, rinse, repeat. I liked this, but I didn’t love it.
I spent a some time ironing out dating and social networking at Planetout/Gay.com. Anything social tends to have big fun problems to solve, and because there were only two of us designing, we got to work across the entire system. How do free and premium features live in the same UI construct? How do we gracefully take away your premium features and ask you to buy them back? What if you’re using our service not as an adult, but as a scared teenager who is using our service as support network to stay alive? How do we enable smart customer support tools to foster growth and slay trolls? This had big problems and wonderful people to help. I loved this.
After the bubble burst, I learned how to communicate with a wide variety of clients and internal stakeholders with magical titles such as VP/AD and Client Partner, and Creative Director, and “WHATEVER YOU DO, NEVER CROSS THAT GUY IN STRATEGY.” I learned how to pitch projects, and gently but authoritatively give Fortune 500 CEOs the news that requiring users to sign in before sampling their site was what was killing adoption, not their logo. There were a handful of interesting problems here, but again, they tended to be small, even targeted bits of advertising with a smidgen of interaction. I didn’t love the challenges, but I loved learning how to have meaningful dialogs with radically different people to solve problems.
Then I went to YAHOO! — I lived and breathed the largest living ecosystem with the largest number of users seen anywhere ever. I worked on the incomparably brilliant platform design team tackling big, huge, problems with implications on dozens of sites impacting hundreds of millions of active users every single day. If you logged in, saw the header, searched, interacted in a geo-aware way, rated any object on any YAHOO! site, we touched it. And the list truly goes on. Led by a visionary director, we created and managed a design pattern library which is still upheld as the best of its kind. The problems were big and the audience opportunities were enormous. I managed a small and wonderful team of designers working on personalization and vertical search, and we all drank the purple koolaid as a stylish little family. I loved working on enterprise UX of this scale. I loved mentoring and clearing roadblocks for my team. I loved supporting and being supported by a network of other designers and design managers.
My last product gig was creating UI and social constructs for a big network of video product: prerecorded and live; available on desktop and mobile; free, purchased, and subscription; in house and affiliate network sales, which meant it had a house brand, or could be whitelabeled to look just like someone else’s site with a slightly different set of features. I learned that you can’t make CTAs too obvious, and continued to learn that I love to manage smart people while making people’s lives better.
For the past few years I have been consulting for a variety of clients, often enterprise, intranet, or tools. I even got back to my roots designing a communication interface used by customers of the Big Streaming Video Company to chat with and get help from famously smart and snarky customer support reps. I’ve created dashboards to help QA engineers manage thousands of compliance tests. I’ve built rich search interfaces that enable student advisors find and assist students at risk of quitting school. I’ve prototyped iPad apps that help busy parents take a sip of goodness from a firehose of YouTube videos. I’ve retooled an intranet for tens of thousands that help folks get what they want and get back to work. I love seeing my work come full circle to help the folks that started out the same way I did.
I finally get to admit today, that I truly love designing for enterprise software.