Lauren Langley is a Senior Product Designer with SalesLoft, where she leads the Product Design team. She has 15 years of design experience across industries and business sectors, in the disciplines of user experience, interaction design, user interface design, and graphic design. She is a civic design enthusiast and is involved in community hackathons and design projects in Atlanta.

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Episode Transcript

J Cornelius: There are a lot of tools out there for B2B Marketers. Some are good. Some not so much. SalesLoft is one of the good ones and one of the fastest growing start-ups around. Today we'll hear about how they stay focused on helping marketers do their job and how that fuels their growth.

Intro: This is Design Driven. A podcast about using design thinking to build great products and lasting companies. Whether you're running a start-up or trying something new inside a Fortune 1000, the tools, methods and insights we talk about will help you create things people love. And now, your host, J Cornelius.

J: Hey everybody, we're here today with Lauren Langley. She is the senior product designer at SalesLoft. How are you doing Lauren?

Lauren Langley: Doing great. How are you today?

J: Fantastic. It's a beautiful day here in Atlanta. The sun is out, there's not much to complain about.

Lauren: No, not at all, it's beautiful over here too.

J: So, let's just jump right in. SalesLoft is growing quite rapidly. I see lots of news about the company and all the startup rags around the town. I see some national press; it must be an exciting time over there?

Lauren: Yes, it is definitely an exciting time for us. We're growing in every way we can imagine and definitely getting some good press too, which is always exciting and positive. We'll also be moving office locations this summer to make room for more people and more innovations, so that's good.

J: That's fantastic. It's always exciting to see something come from nothing and turn into something that's really powerful. Tell us a little bit about what you're doing over there and what are you working on today that's exciting you?

Lauren: So, I am the Senior Product Designer over here. I started about seven months ago and came in, actually, as the first full-time design hire for products. I came in to try to help lead the way for product design and UX as a practice within the company in terms of the actual product. So, I have been leading the charge by just focusing on initiatives to bring consistency throughout the app in terms of visual design. Also, introducing the company and stakeholders to what UX research is and kind of having a game plan there.

We're building our team out. We have three designers, actually four designers starting next week, so the team is definitely growing. We’ve been looking for a UX researcher to help lead those initiatives. So, that's kind of where we are now.

But, in terms of what we're doing today, just bringing the app from its kind of teen age years now. It was at its infancy for the first year, year and a half and there has been one UI refresh on it but now we're really digging into creating an entire design pattern library. Also, innovating our features as we go. A lot of exciting stuff.

J: Yeah, it sounds like it. So, can you talk a little bit about how you're making design decisions. You're talking about building a pattern library and a design system. What kind of fuels that and how do you communicate the importance of those design tools in the process across the organization? Especially how do you communicate that with your users and with the key stakeholders within the company?

Lauren: I have a background in visual design and front end development UX, so, kind of all of those worlds to help inform me and bring my experience here to SalesLoft to kind of understand the importance of design. I think it's definitely a process, being the first one in and kind of explaining the importance and also creating a common language with developers and across functional teams but also up to the stakeholders. The great thing about SalesLoft is there is buy-in and understanding at least a level of importance from stakeholders, and they have decided to invest in design and research and that's why we're here and we're building the team. That's great.

The challenge every day is creating those processes and getting buy-in and creating day-to-day tasks around design. The more you talk about design, the more it's understood as well.

J: So, when you say when you talk about design, are you talking about it as a design or specific outputs or what is the end goal and how does the company align around the purpose and desired outcome from using design systems? Where do they see the value?

Lauren: A lot of the conversations are with stakeholders to explain, first, the importance of... Step one is creating a design that is usable and consistent, and explaining why that is necessary in terms of if there's a system that everybody is designing and developing for, then it's more efficient in terms of time and then also, moving past usability and consistency into a delightful, comfortable experience. So, just having those conversations with stakeholders and teams alike to...

It kind of refers to the design success ladder. I'm not sure if you're familiar with it but starting a product may be functional, then moving that to a usable state.  Then comfortable, delightful and then meaningful. Hitting those points and at Sales Loft, particularly, we are in the usable/comfortable state. So, our design system comes into play here where we have standards and then we can move into more delightful experiences with more animations and just having the user want to use our product every day and enjoy using it and tell their friends about it.

J: Yeah, sure. So, what kind of metrics are you tracking to know whether people are getting to that desirable level? Where they're really getting to the point where they really enjoy the product rather than they're simply using it as a task tool.

Lauren: So, as you know, I think any designer probably knows, those kinds of metrics are hard to define. How do you determine if something is useful and meaningful in somebody's life? That is bringing value to them, but is that in terms of what tasks they can perform quickly with your product? So, there are some metrics around that in terms of usability testing and testing how long certain tasks take is kind of like one metric we can identify. But, also, listening to our customers in any way possible. So, with our different customer forums and asking for feedback within the UI and trying to just listen to them and what they need.

J: What kind of gains have you seen? You've been doing this some period of time and I imagine that you've rolled out some changes that you expected to have an impact on people's usage of the product. What kind of changes have you seen and where do those things come from? Is that directly related to a specific design or specific process? What's happening with the app?

Lauren: So, I would say that probably the biggest project for metrics that we've done is with the UI refresh that came. It was delivered about a month or so before I got here and so this is just a new UI, a new theme on top of everything. It really didn't address any UX issues but UI issues. So, we had a feedback mechanism to ask for feedback and we tracked that for a couple months, and started to hear a lot about things they like and disliked.

One of the dislikes was around finding certain elements on the page, the spacing was too large or too wide, too narrow, things like that. So, just creating themes based around those and addressing them with our new UI 2.0 and release that and we're pretty happy with that because there's not the same negative feedback we hear. So, that's one way you can manage that.

Then, I would say, in terms of the feeling of things, we have a workflow product for sales representatives and account executives. So, the workload itself, we've been listening out about what people like and dislike about that and that's harder to get metrics on. What exactly they like and don't like about it so we're going to do a design sprint around that particular problem and proposed that a few months ago and I am getting buy-in from stakeholders to invest in that.

J: So, you mentioned sprints. Are you working in typical design sprints? Or how do you go about deciding what you're going to work on and how you're going to measure its impact when you're done? How do you know when you're done?

Lauren: I don't think anything's ever done. You listen, of course, to see if you addressed the problem and solved it the best you can by listening to the feedback your users give you. And if you're obviously hearing less of it, then you're probably on target and can move to the next thing.

In terms of design sprints, this one will be our first official design sprint that we're going to conduct. Our typical day to day, we work in cross-functional teams so a designer is dedicated to a team. We work in a kind of combine or agile-lite methodology to kind of integrate within those product development sprints.

J: Yeah, I've heard that described as agile with a lower-case a. Not super strict –  agile-ish or something similar.

Lauren: Exactly. Yeah, so I think it kind of really depends on your company and what works best for you and the personalities on your team as well and how you like to work.

J: Yeah. Sure. You're a subscription based product so there's a monthly recurring element to what drives revenue for the business.

Lauren: Yes.

J: Have you seen or what have you seen that the design team or the UX team has presented that's actually driven an increase in that revenue?

Lauren: I would say a lot of the features that are requested by our customers kind of drive our road map a bit because we're always listening out and want them to stay customers. A lot of requests that we're hearing frequently from our customers will be put at the top of the road map and as soon as the design team can, we'll work with product manager, product owner to stay as close as we can to the requirement stage and start wide frames or comps as soon as possible.

J: Right. So can you walk through that process a little bit? Like when you get a request from a client or a customer. It might be unique, it might not. How do you go through fielding those requests and then deciding what to work on? What's that lifecycle from that beginning request to it actually being released.

Lauren: It really varies on obviously what their request is. How much we're hearing from other customers, if that is a request. And then obviously the more noise, the more attention we pay to it and there are ... I can't even tell you how many items there are kind of on our back log. So we address, obviously, the noisiest ones and the ones that will provide the most value.

We also have competitors, so we want to innovate and be ahead of the curve as much as possible and try to release features that our competitors haven't. So it's just kind of a hard balance all of those things. So, is it an innovative feature, something our customers, is it a pain point that we can solve there? It's just a lot of discussions and seeing what the value is for our business and also our customer.

J: Yeah, it's always an interesting thing to balance. Customer feedback versus what you see your competitors doing. We think about human driven design or customer centered design as being something where you listen to your customers but obviously you have to see what else is happening in the marketplace. So how much do you pay attention to what your people are requesting versus what you see other people doing? How does that play out?

Lauren: I would say it is probably majority focused on the customer feedback first. And a lot of times they go hand in hand with what our customers' prospects are seeing out in the space anyway. So, they may see something being developed somewhere else and have an eye on that and ask us for it. So a lot of times they go hand in hand.

J: Yeah. Sure. So, the typical day at SalesLoft on the design team, what does that look like? What kind of activities are you doing? What kind of tools are you using? Tell us a little bit about what you do day to day.

Lauren: Sure. We have companywide stand ups and so then I will meet with the design...

J: And you do that every day?

Lauren: Every single day, yes. And that's a quick, less than ten minute stand up, so we are on the same page of what we have completed the day before, what we're doing today and if there are any blockers. So, that's where we start.

We also have team stand ups as well, so each designer will meet with their team just to warm up. The work that everybody is doing is surfaced. That's kind of where we start.

Then, in terms of what we do day to day, it's a lot of feature-based work. So working with the team on what their needs are in terms of comps or thinking through features or user experience issues or recommendations. We also are constantly reviewing designs that our UI engineers are producing. So, we have a part in the process where there is an official design review before it goes to QA. That's been great for us to establish that so there's checks and balances on creating the best quality product that we're releasing.

J: Sure, so, the process, is it a rapid iteration within those sprints? Is that something where you're trying to evolve something every day, you present that at your stand up, and it's a constant evolution? What's the psychology or the approach behind that?

Lauren: Sure. Ideally and mostly, we stick to this as trying to have the comps designed when the requirements are being created so that we can stay ahead of development and that typically works for us. The product manager will provide the requirements and we can drop our comps in our Jira stories or whatever system that your company uses, so that they're ready for the developers to pick up and we're available if there are any questions as we go along.

Always keep things up to date by keeping InVision comps and prototypes. We integrate those comps into our Jira tickets and then in terms of the tools that we use as designers, we use Sketch. We also have been using the Craft plug in for Sketch to sync very closely with InVision. So, that's been a great part of our process. Another thing we use for Sketch is the Sketch Measure Plugin, which exports code. It'll export an HDML file that we also include for our developers so that they can stay very close to the actual code of what we're designing. So, that's helpful.

J: Right. When you talk about comps, what level of fidelity are these comps? Are they wire frames? Are they full color? How closely what you're doing on a day to day basis look like the finished product?

Lauren: Typically, we are high fidelity comps. Wire frames are needed to prototype something out, we will definitely use those if needed. But, yeah, typically it is high fidelity comps. Pixel Perfect and the design system really come into play here. We're going through an exercise here to kind of componentize our elements so that it is easier, also, for us as designers to create those comps quickly.

J: Right, and I guess that takes some time to set up on the front end before you actually have all those things in place and it makes it easy to set up those comps if you're just picking out a new feature to get the right symbols in place and get something that resembles the actual application.

Lauren: Yes, absolutely and the components that we're creating are in step with what the UI engineers are doing too to help with their process. They’re componentizing all the elements within the code as well so that's helpful.

J: How have you seen having a common design language across both the people who are building the UI and the interaction patterns and the developers on the backend that actually have to make it work? How have you seen the design systems and the pattern libraries helping communicate across those two teams and keeping people aligned?

Lauren: Well we are creating the design system now and hopefully we'll begin to see the fruits of our labor, but the intent behind it is to create a common language that a designer and a UI engineer and the developer can speak in terms of components. So, if we're all talking about a sub-map, we know what that looks like, we know how that behaves, we know how that acts and we know the value of that to our user.

J: Are you going into super fine grain detail with all of these system elements? Like going into the atomic design systems where it goes down literally to the atomic level and then building up from there? Or how are you approaching building out this system?

Lauren: Yes, we are. We are adjusting from the atomic design system and creating the smallest elements like our icon fonts, and our buttons, and our padding and spacing, and building up from there. So, from the micro level to the macro level, I think, is the approach we're taking and I think it's helpful for us as well. So, from those smaller elements all the way up to components could be the form system, tables responsive, navigation, all the way up to page level design.

J: And then all of the interactions and the various workflows and all of that, how are you prototyping what someone is going to do when they're trying to accomplish a task? What are you using to document that or to help people understand that better? And then talk us through the process of getting from that initial idea to getting something that you feel is going to actually solve the problem.

Lauren: Well, I think in terms of the interaction and behavior system, we're still exploring how to document that on kind of a global design system level. But, for right now, in our deliverables, we are creating notes and comments within our InVision prototypes. We're also working extremely closely with our developers, and just conversation goes a long way as well. We document as much as possible within our feature requirements in Jira or Confluence.

J: Right, so what's the big challenge? You've got all these systems in place and you've got a team you're building out, so what's the thing? If you could solve one thing within the work you are doing, what would that be and what kind of impact would that make?

Lauren: That is a fantastic question. I think establishing these processes and systems, I think that there's definitely buy in. I'm not sure that we're all the way there in terms of all the engineers and stakeholders understanding exactly what design can bring to the table. So, I think maybe having more conversations about how design can provide more value to the user, I think that's still something we're working on.

We talked about metrics earlier, it's the hardest thing to define as well in terms of metrics. Definitely still exploring that and open to any suggestions there as well.

J: Who are you having that conversation with? Is that the C-suite? Is that a product owner? Who's still maybe the hold out in the organization for really buying into this method of thinking?

Lauren: Well, I think there's definitely buy-in. I think it goes both ways. Down from product owners to engineers, they definitely bought into the system and accepting design. And in terms of C-suite, having those conversations as well. I think there's definitely buy-in. I think it's up to me and the designers to show how design can provide that value. I think it's especially up to us.

J: Yeah, and that's all about finding a metric you can use to communicate that value to the right person.

Lauren: Yes, absolutely, and I think with the design sprint we just got approval to do, that's definitely positive to know that our executives really do value design and what to prove out what design can do. So hopefully that goes well and we can get some metrics from that as well.

J: So, Lauren, what would you say is the most exciting thing you're working on right now? What's really getting you up and out of bed in the morning and ready to go into SalesLoft and do good work?

Lauren: Well, I think that as a product design team we're at an ideal place where our product development, where our platform is beyond its infancy, it's really growing up in terms of it kind of has a face, it has a behavior but we really want to push the envelope and innovate. We're creating our design system now and kind of see where that can lead us in terms of bringing us more delight and meaningful actions to our customers and providing value to them to accomplish their goals but also enjoying their experience of opening up SalesLoft every single day.

J: Well thanks for coming on the show today. If someone wants to get in touch with you and maybe hear more about SalesLoft or maybe they’re interested in joining the team over there, what's the best way to connect?

Lauren: Sure, yeah. Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. I'm Lauren Langley. And on twitter as @artninja79 and you can follow SalesLoft on social media and find us at salesloft.com.

J: Well, again, thanks for coming on the show. We really appreciate you taking the time out and chatting with us today and we'll look forward to having you back on the show at some point in the future.

Lauren: All right. Thank you so much J.

Outro: That's it for today. Thanks for listening to Design Driven. We're glad you enjoy the show. Have comments, questions, or an idea that you'd like us to cover? Point your browser to designdriven.biz and click Contact Us at the top of your screen. We'd love to hear from you. Tell your friends and colleagues about the Design Driven pod, post on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or send them an email and tell them to go to designdriven.biz, or wherever they find the podcast. Until next time, remember what Thomas Watson, founder of IBM said, "Good design is good business."