– Hi, I’m Joe Welinske and I’m the program manager for ConveyUX, and that is Seattle’s annual user experience conference and we’re coming up on our eighth annual event, March 3rd, 4th, and 5th in downtown Seattle. ConveyUX is produced by Blink and I get the fun task of talking to our many speakers, and so today I am chatting with Kiley Meehan. Hi Kiley, how are you?
– Hey Joe, how are you?
– It’s pretty good, I’m talking remotely today rather than my usual at Blink’s Seattle headquarters office. Where are you talking to us from?
– Toronto, Canada.
– Well good place to start is always with a little bit of information about your background and the types of things that you’re doing for work.
– Sure. So, I’m a design lead at FreshBooks. And we’re cloud accounting software for small business owners and freelancers. Now, we’ve been around since about 2003, so one of the more established startups in Toronto and in Canada in fact. And now we’re in a period of some pretty interesting growth and it’s quite exciting. I’ve been in the company for five years, just over five years now. And started at FreshBooks as a product designer on a variety of different teams. So worked across everything from rebuilding our mobile app, through to payments initiatives, and designing the new platform and now I’m leading a team of just under 10 designers and working strategically across a couple of different teams as well, and like I mentioned we’re in a period of some interesting growth, and so, it’s an exciting time to be a designer here at FreshBooks.
– Well, I’m familiar with the product. Proud of you, a lot of small business owners are. There’s a lot of information available about your product and there has been for a long time. Are there any things that you can talk about related to your product work in terms of types of things that you do, or how your team is structured, or what makes up some of the typical things that your group is charged with at FreshBooks.
– Absolutely. So, our teams are in our product development organization are all operating around particular business mandates. So, for instance we might have a team that is working in our payment space and with particular payments metrics that we’re trying to hit and a market segment that would benefit from such a product. And then we have, you know, a team focusing on accounting and kind of the core back end for small business owners to be able to manage and get insight in to their business financials. And so for each of these teams, and we have a series of them, there’ll be a designer working on those teams really closely with an agile scrum team and in very close partnership with a project manager in order to drive those initiatives forward. I think what makes FreshBooks unique is that the designer and the PM have that kind of relationship where there’s really a blurring of the functions and so designers here are responsible for basically the whole stack of skills required to put a product out on market so everything from helping out with the business case study or improving the business case rather through to refining or defining a market or a problem that we want to address, deciding on a metrics that we want to get, actually executing on the solution through rapid, intricate lead cycles and then testing it in market. So, it’s actually a very full spectrum of responsibility that we give each of our designers here. I can say from my own experience that I’ve always thought of my experience in five years here as almost like a design bootcamp, in the sense that I’ve been able to really leverage my generalist mindset and dig in to each of these skill sets in a unique way. So, that’s kind of in a nutshell how we operate and kind of the ethos of the team here being one of a very much of a learning mindset and of a true partner to those in engineering and the product business side of the org.
– Well, let’s talk a little bit about the session that you’ll be involved in and we have a number of sessions where there’re going to be specifically designed around a lot of audience participation for discussion with topic ideas brought forward by the main presenter and the title of yours is “A UX Career is a Business Career.” So, talk a little bit about how you came around to that title and that theme.
– Mm-hmm. It’s interesting actually, a couple of years ago I published an article on a medium that got picked up by a publication of that very title, “A UX Career is a Business Career,” and it was really on my reflection around how historically through my experience, or the experience of other designers that I know that there’s always a fear that designs are gonna become commoditized in a way and that, you know, we’re a separate function, a bunch of creatives, you know, wearing their funky clothes and serve a certain purpose, but often don’t necessarily get the right insight, or even believe they should get insight into the financial and business ramifications of what they’re actually designing. So, it dawned on me, before I wrote this article that really everything a designer does at a company has investment involved, and is, you know, does have financial effects, and we’re able to, through our discipline, uniquely be able to affect how a business performs and so, we as designers are uniquely attune to customer needs and have built careers based on that ability to uncover problems, and apply empathy, and it’s doing us a disservice to think that it stops there, and in fact there is a direct connection between that and what’s keeping the lights on, what market segments we’re trying to hit, and will anybody pay for this product. So, the article, and then subsequently my talk, is to look at that bridge between our discipline and how a business operates and those roles that are, you know, objectively very crucial to it, and that we are indeed just as crucial. The article hit a bit of a vein I guess, so to speak in that it’s still consistently getting multiple views, even two years on, you know. It’s many thousands of views at this point and so I think it’s something that many designers, especially those early on in their career are aware they should be more business savvy, or that they should really understand the connection but maybe don’t know where to start, or feel like, I don’t have an MBA, I’m going to leave it to the pros. But there’s actually quite a few fundamental concepts that are easy for anybody to pick up and actually start applying as a designer at their jobs if they have the space and opportunity to do so and in many smaller startups, that space is often there. So, I wanted to bring that thinking to this talk and discussion because I feel like it’s one of those topics that is kind of in the back of every designer’s mind and I think there’s a bit of insecurity there but a lot of latent potential as well.
– Yeah, I think you’re right about that. I talk to people all the time that are very interested being able to get their message upstream or in whatever manner fits their particular organization. So I think it’s gonna be a great discussion and I wanted to thank you for also taking the time to chat with me a little bit about this and we’ll see you when you make your journey to Seattle from Toronto in March.
– Absolutely, very excited.