Inside Design

A Look Inside Design at eBay

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We're tracking down InVision users inside the world's most amazing companies to discover their favorite tools, books, methods, and the philosophy behind what makes them so awesome. This week we interviewed Akshay Krishnaiah, an Innovator at eBay in San Jose, CA.

What are the top 3 essentials in your workspace?

  1. Privacy: A lot of times I am working on a project on my own so I don't want someone to opine before I'm complete.
  2. Space: I like to have my thinking space.
  3. Good View: A good view helps my creative juices flow.

How important is your workspace to your creativity?

I think my workspace is very important. At eBay I technically have a desk because everyone does, but I'm never there. I do most of my design work in conference rooms (with a good view) because I can have personal space, move around, and use the whiteboard. I'm lucky to have good leaders that let me do that.

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Do you do any sketching on paper?

Yes, a lot of times I carry a notepad and some PDF stencils with me because I sketch ideas for mobile and iPad apps to get the flow right. Sketching always helps me move faster.

When I show [end users] my designs in InVision, they ask, "Is this really possible?" And I tell them, "Yes it is. You're looking at it!"

How do you know when you've achieved an understanding of what the client really wants?

I go straight to the end user; not his manager. There is often a stark difference between the problem statement and what the end user is feeling, so I go in there without a lot of bias so they can be open and honest talking to me. I try to make them feel very comfortable and write down all their pain points in a really informal way. I ask them to show me the application, how they use it, what is causing them pain, what they don't like about it, and so on. In corporate settings, people hesitate to speak because they're worried about what someone else in the room is going to think or say. One-on-one meetings allow me to really hear what they think and allow them to talk their heart out.

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How do you present your work to your clients?

There are different end clients for every project. There is the end user who is feeling the pain and then there is the person who is going to fund solving the pain. Two completely different people. So I try to understand what each of them is looking for so that I can blow them away, both in terms of creating a solution as well as making a case for developing it. I want to make it very easy for the the solution to flow up the chain as each person presents his case to his boss.

I entered a couple innovation contests here at eBay and found it became very easy to break that chain because I could just create a video demonstrating my design and blast it out to the entire organization. I can very comfortably say what I want to say and everyone is seeing the same video and can give their opinions. What's come out of that is true user experience always triumphs.

Tell us about some of your favorite tools for the creative process.

  • Photoshop: That is the reason for my inclination toward InVision over other apps. My comfort zone is Photoshop. I've been using it since 2000. I didn't go to design school (I'm an engineering grad) but I've always used Photoshop. If I go longer than a week without touching Photoshop I feel uncomfortable. I have to use it, even if it's not for a project I'm currently working on. I'll do t-shirt designs or a new profile pic just to use it. It's like my canvas. I've been painting since I was three years old, and Photoshop allowed me to quickly move me from pencil, paper, and paint into the digital realm.
  • PowToon: Once I have the flow in InVision, I can use PowToon to make videos of myself using the app I've designed in Photoshop and linked together in InVision.
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In design, there's always a customer you're trying to please.

Tell us about the equipment you're using.

  • iPad Mini: I love it. They call me "The Mini Guy" here because everywhere I go I take my Mini. I use it to take notes and even to present designs. If I don't do that I'm going to be left behind. One day this is going to become the standard.
  • Dell Laptop: A lot of people use Macs, but I use a Dell. I used to run my own start up and I burned a lot of cash. This was the best computer I could buy for under $1,000. It's got an i7 processor, 1080p display, and I bought a 27" LG LED display for it as well. I love this computer, but I'm planning on buying an iMac soon.

What music do you listen to when you’re designing?

Torches by Foster the People
–Columbia

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What is your ritual to "get in the zone" when you're working on a project?

  1. Write down all the pain points.
  2. Rephrase the problem statement in my own words.
  3. Send it back to the end user to ask if it makes sense.
  4. Go off on my own looking for inspiration (album art, other applications, Forrrst, Dribbble, Unmatched Style, Pattern Tap, Béhance) just to see what other people are doing.
  5. I try to normalize the process of the end user to figure out what else the problem statement is related to. I've found that a lot of the problems I am trying to solve are similar to a customer service function: In design, there's always a customer you're trying to please. So I look to see what other people out there are doing to solve customer service problems, and to see what's working or what people love about it.

How important is collaborating with other designers?

I think it's very important. When I was doing stuff on my own, I didn't have anyone to show my designs to. I experienced a learning curve when I first came to eBay because I was put in a position where I had to collaborate and couldn't do it in a silo anymore. I had to start showing people my designs, and over time I started seeing the value in getting feedback from other people. You learn who the true collaborators are because they get your design, and without discounting it, can give opinions that will actually improve your design and UX thinking. One head cannot think of all things.

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A user doesn't care if you wrote the world's greatest algorithm if he cannot visually experience it.

How does InVision help you in your design process?

I'm a huge proponent of doing things online. InVision allows me to give everyone access to my designs so they can leave comments on the screen. That way I'm not the one copying down sticky notes on the whiteboard at the end of the meeting. Even when people prefer to use paper, I print everything out but take notes in InVision myself.

I love InVision because I can present my iOS app designs on any device. The VP of my department is huge on things being device and browser agnostic so he loves clicking and touching and seeing how it's changing on his own screen, while also seeing it on the big screen through Apple TV.

InVision is a product marketing hero. I personally believe that mobile is first, even if I am designing a web site. I'm always thinking about how it's going to look on an iPad or iPhone and InVision helps me sell that better. I could go in with a wireframe, and people can make a decision and say, "Okay we get it, we understand the flow. Now go design it." but they have not gotten to a point where they're feeling like they want to write a check. They are not blown away yet. InVision allows me to take it to the next step.

InVision has also helped me win 3 eBay/Paypal Global Innovation Contests back to back. Everybody else is focusing on coding and thinking to themselves,"I'm going to write the best JavaScript ever," or, "I'm going to use this brand new technology," or, "I'm going to use this homegrown stack." But that's not what the end user is seeing. A user doesn't care if you wrote the world's greatest algorithm if he cannot visually experience it.

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So I took a completely different route: I talked to the end user, wrote down some notes, and then came up with a design in less than 30 hours. Once I came up with the design, I went back to the end user to talk about what I came up with to make sure it's what they wanted. When I showed them the design they said, "YEAH! That's just what I wanted!" I would have never been able to do that without InVision because it would have just been Photoshop screens. Even if I told them what happened when you click on a screen, they are not going to get it. With InVision, I'm just giving them an app so they can get on it and start clicking through it. It's really helpful because once they get their hands on it, new stuff comes up that we hadn't talked about before.

I also used InVision to recruit an entire team for a side project I'm working on called CRVE. It's not easy to get people on board with an idea (even if it's your friends) because they're not going to work on a project until or unless they are sold. InVision allowed me to even sell it to my wife! Just telling her about the idea does not get the point across, but if I can give her something she can touch and play with, it's a different story. My team and I entered CRVE into a competition at AngelHack and were received with raving reviews, especially for our UX. And of course, to win their hearts we used InVision.

My goal is always to blow the end user away with my design.

Where does your inspiration come from?

  • First I try to come up with a design on my own.
  • I use a lot of applications on my iPad and iPhone and am always installing new ones to see how other designers are solving UX issues.
  • A lot of times I am inspired by the artwork on a music album. I may notice that certain colors look great, and so I start thinking about whether I can use those colors and whether it makes sense for the application I'm working on.
  • I take something that is not in a particular space and completely remix it for a different solution. I'll come up with 2-3 versions of the experience to see which one sticks and then go from there.
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Who do you look up to as a designer?

  • Dribbble: Dribbble has been a really great experience, especially with their new feature which allows you to view designs by color. If have a color palette I'm working with, Dribbble allows me to see what other designers are doing with that color palette.
  • Kerem Suer: I like the way he brings things about. He blends his personal life with his design, and his blog is really great.
  • Jony Ive: Of course he doesn't do a lot of application design, but I have all of these iOS devices and look at them thinking, "I need to get to that level." I want to design a Rolex, not a Timex watch.

What is your favorite part of the design process?

My favorite part of the design process is talking to the end user to figure out their pain points and then letting them wonder what I'm going to come up with. As an Innovator here at eBay, it's my job to come up with a solution to the problem statement. Sometimes the solution is a process improvement, a brand new design, a brand new application, or a mobile application, so I have to be creative in how I solve problems. My goal is always to blow the end user away with my design. It's easy for people to think that because we are a large organization all of our applications have to be really "enterprise-y." When I show them my designs in InVision they ask, "Is this really possible?" And I tell them, "Yes it is. You're looking at it!"

What is the most frustrating aspect of design?

There is often a clear distinction between enterprise and consumer applications. However, for me there isn't really. A good design simply meets or solves the end user's needs in a very gracious way, but people don't always understand that. I've been very lucky at eBay to not have this kind of push back here. I've been building a lot of mobile apps for internal purposes that have a really consumer feel, but they are actually enterprise apps and people are okay with that here.

About Akshay

Akshay is an Innovator at eBay. You can connect with him on LinkedIn, Twitter, Dribbble, as well as sign up for his latest side project CRVE.

About eBay

With more than 100 million active users globally (as of Q4 2011), eBay is the world's largest online marketplace, where practically anyone can buy and sell practically anything. Founded in 1995, eBay connects a diverse and passionate community of individual buyers and sellers, as well as small businesses.

Author

Andy Orsow
Designer and product marketer at InVision, resident GIF-ologist and video maker.

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