Founded in 2003, LinkedIn connects the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful. With more than 500 million members worldwide, including executives from every Fortune 500 company, LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional network on the Internet. We couldn’t be more excited to have them in the InVision community.
We sat down with Drew Bridewell, Lead User Experience Designer at LinkedIn, to discuss user research, undervalued skills, and the key to giving good feedback.
What’s the design culture like at LinkedIn?
We have over 100 designers. The culture goes back to the company’s mission, which is creating economic value for all the members of the global workforce.
I was previously at Lynda.com, and I came over with my design team when LinkedIn acquired the company. We’ve kept Lynda.com going, but we’re driving into a new initiative: LinkedIn Learning.
But as far as the holistic view of the design culture, our designers and researchers build exceptional experiences that create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce. We do this by creating high-quality, cohesive designs for our employees, members, and customers that are:
- Approachable. Easily understood, clear, and transparent.
- Inclusive. Supportive of diverse cultures, demographics, capabilities, and platforms.
- Focused. Simple, intuitive and consistent across the ecosystem.
- Valuable. Discoverable, personalized, and actionable paths that connect people to opportunity.
- Engaging. Beautiful and smart; exceeding expectations.
We operate like we’re playing a team sport. When you have over 100 designers, you have to have exceptional leaders and great managers, and you have to have teams that are willing to go to bat for each other.
How are the designers distributed throughout the organization?
We have both centralized / horizontal design teams like our design systems team that support design across the entire business; and we also have embedded, product-specific design teams that sit with their cross-functional partners, including engineering and product management.
Our user experience team includes designers, user researchers, and design program managers.
I’m considered a lead user experience designer, which is part people manager/part contributor. We have roughly 8 user experience designers working on LinkedIn Learning Solutions. This includes all apps in Linkedin Learning and Lynda.com.“InVision has made our lives easier and our company stronger.”
Designers at LinkedIn will typically rotate to different parts of the company in order to bring unique perspectives from past teams and to solve new, interesting problems.
However, designers aren’t required to rotate, but given the nature of some designers wanting to solve new problems, this makes LinkedIn a great place to be a designer.
We also have a user research department, and that team is dispersed throughout the organization and is utilized based on the priority of the project. They help us define the level of research we’ll need for any given problem.
It sounds like user research is a huge part of your design process.
Absolutely. Before we start any project, the first question is always: Do we have any existing research that would help inform the project direction?
Then we ask:
- Have we tried this before?
- Is there any data to support why we’re doing this?
- Do we have any data around this specific feature?
- Are we redesigning it or are we creating something brand new?
Our researchers are essential to have present at the start of any major project. There are many more questions that we typically ask before any given project.
To learn more about kickstarting your next project, check out Drew Bridewell’s new weekly series called Practical UX Weekly on Linkedin Learning. Drew discusses his daily workflow, shares tips and tricks for presenting your work and collaborating with others, and walks you through a day in the life of a product designer. Drew’s lessons are also available on Lynda.com.
What’s the most common type of research you do if you’re looking at building out a new feature?
We have user research labs in San Francisco and in Sunnyvale. We have a 2-pane mirror, and depending on what the study is and what we’re trying to learn, we’ll have a group of designers, product managers, and engineers listen in and see what our members think of a product.
We’ll have Post-its, computers, and our sketchbooks to take notes and capture insights throughout the sessions. We also look at the member’s body language, reactions, use of words, and other details to reflect on how the session is going.“With InVision, we can share ideas, sketches, or wireframes from day 1.”
But really, the type of research we do depends on the problem the designer is trying to solve. We’ll work with our research teammate to determine the best possible research technique for any given problem, then we work with the researcher to articulate and facilitate the session in the most meaningful way possible. This is so our team isn’t wasting time and energy asking the wrong questions to get to the root of the problem.
Have you found a way to phrase questions that helps you wind up with more honest responses?
Yes. The first step is to avoid asking leading questions.
In user experience design, we regularly conduct usability testing to discover holes in our flows and to find where we need to iterate in the design. We’ll question everything and challenge our solutions while asking ourselves the following questions:
- Do these flows work?
- Is there another way we could accomplish these tasks?
- Could theses tasks be completed with fewer steps?
- Are our solutions solving the right problems?
I love seeing researchers and designers who think on their toes in their user sessions. What I mean by this is that it’s incredible to see an experienced researcher or designer know how to pivot from one question to another based on the how the user is responding, while maintaining focus on the goal of the research.“Avoid asking leading questions during usability testing.”
It can sometimes be challenging for new designers to pull that off, but an excellent user researcher/designer can take an answer and spin it off into another non-leading question that can help the team learn more about the problem.
So we might ask a participant, “What do you think of this design? What do you see first?” And they might say, “I see this blaring image in my face, but I don’t know what to do.”
“Well, what were you expecting to see? Why were you expecting to see that?” It’s great to follow up because you can dig deeper and get to the core of the user’s thought.
The more researchers and designers practice and participate in these sessions, the better they’ll get at intuitive questioning.
How does your team make design decisions?
When we kick off a project, we first need to define the problem we’re trying to solve and determine the core business objectives and key metrics for success for this project.
It’s important for us to know these basic questions before we can make any design decisions. By having these questions answered up front, it makes it a lot easier to be able to tie our design choices back to the problems we’re trying to solve. It also gives us a chance to make sure we’re solving the right problem.“To make sure you’re building and designing the right thing, question everything.”
We’ll rationalize our designs to make sure they align with our mission of the company, and to make sure it’s aligned with our members-first core value.
If it doesn’t, then we’re not there yet—we’re not ready. So we’ll iterate and get to that point. When it comes to iterating on existing features, we need to ask if it’s worth it, and whether it’s going to increase our key metrics of success. We question everything and make sure that we’re building and designing the right thing.
It helps to understand the key metrics of success, the vision of your product, and the UX strategy of where you want to get to. Having these answers can help align a team, and it can help support the overall company to push new innovation faster.
How do designers and developers work together at LinkedIn?
Our designers and developers use InVision to share work from the start. Literally, on day one we can generate ideas, sketches, or wireframes that we upload to InVision to share immediately.
I’m one of the admins of our InVision account, so I’ll assist with getting developers through the door, and then as a team, we’re off to the races. We encourage our developers to log into InVision to collaborate with us.“Our designers and developers use InVision to share work from the start.”
We used InVision at Lynda.com before the LinkedIn acquisition, and when we came to LinkedIn, we immediately merged both companies to one enterprise account. Right now we have over 700 people reviewing, collaborating, and sharing in InVision.
In the last 30 days we have:
- 150 new prototypes
- 3000+ new screens added
- 7000+ stakeholder visits
- 1000+ comments
All this was made possible by InVision. InVision has made our lives easier and our company stronger.
When you’re hiring new designers, what makes a candidate stand out?
This answer will vary depending on who you talk to, but for me it starts with a designer who has a unique perspective. I like knowing that they’re an original thinker who questions the status quo and loves to fall in love with the problem they’re trying to solve.
I look for a wide variety of work. I like seeing the variety of problems solved. Each different line of business in today’s world welcomes new unique problems, and I love seeing how a designer approaches those problems in different creative ways.
I like a designer who’s seen a lot, who has different perspectives of how to solve things. Doesn’t mean it’s always the best way to solve things, but I like different perspectives, and that diversity can really help a design team.
The conversations with a designer who vocalizes his/her perspective end up being my favorite interviews. I enjoy the flow of those conversations because you get to know the designer in an authentic way. The diverse projects that a designer works on in their past roles can seamlessly be transferrable into their next role. So I like to be mindful of these possibilities because it opens my mind into new ideas I wasn’t consciously thinking about.
For designers, do you think there’s a single skill that’s undervalued?
In my series Practical UX Weekly, I have one episode that talks about my top skills that I think any UX designer should know. But if I were going to target in on one skill I would want every designer to master, it’d be communication.
Communication is at the core of everything we do every day at work to make our visions come to life. We collaborate with all of our stakeholders, sell our ideas, and interview our users so we can perform and design a world-class solution.“Every designer should master communication.”
I would pair this skill with a designer’s ability to learn. It’s something nobody talks about as a skill, but you’re going to need to learn something new every day. So, mastering the ability to learn new things and be comfortable feeling the feeling of being a novice over and over as you solve new problems is essential.
You’ll continually learn about new products and how they solved people’s problems, why they were sticky, and what made them a success. These key insights are what helps our design community grow—and overall it’s what makes this a better-designed world.
Having that open mindset and ability to consume information on a daily basis and reflect on the lessons learned is an important skill for every designer.
But, again, my number-one skill for a designer is communication. We need to be able to talk successfully with our peers while having difficult conversations and respectful debates with our teams.
We all aren’t cut from the same cloth, but when we all come together, you’ll have a higher opportunity to design a magical experience.
Where do you see design headed and how do you think designers can prepare for where it’s going?
I feel like design is headed to where everyone in the organization will be responsible for the user experience, and the designer will be the connective tissue that brings it all together. Designers will be the facilitators who make the vision come to life, just like they are today, but they’ll help transform organizations to think about the user experience first. Organizations’ expectations of quality user experience will be heightened, and products won’t risk shipping poor user experiences due to the fact of backlash from broader communities.
I think that product managers and engineers will learn the skills of UX designers and teams will cross-pollinate their skill sets.“Design is headed to where everyone in the organization will be responsible for UX.”
I believe UX designers will naturally share best practices with other teams and evangelize user experience design at all levels of the business because they understand that a great user experience can magnify a company’s success in so many incredible ways.
Lastly, I think in the future everyone will question the status quo and why we do things the way we do. People are going to start realizing that they can make a difference for the better—and that they don’t have to have a title to do that. They’ll understand that they can question things and make them better.
What’s your philosophy on giving good feedback?
It starts with knowing where the designer’s at in the process. If a designer is in the final stages of their design because it needs to get shipped next week, then you might strategically give them a different response than you would if they’re early in the discovery phase or if they’re trying to learn and discover new ways of doing something. You might give them a little bit more open-ended creative critique.“Every design feedback session is a chance to learn something new.”
But if they’re at the end of the project and they want to show you for awareness, you might be giving more feedback around things like:
- Have you shared this with legal?
- Have you shared this with the entire organization?
- What kind of metrics are you looking to drive with this new design?
- When is this new design going to get shipped?
If it’s earlier in the process and they’re showing you designs in the first week of the project, you might ask:
- What problem is this design solving?
- Have you explored X?
- I noticed this mock-up is for web? Have you considered how it would look on mobile web?
- Does this solution scale when you localize the content?
At the beginning of each feedback session, my team always asks the following questions:
- Where are they in the process and to give the context of the design?
- What type of feedback they’re looking for?
- What kind of feedback would be most beneficial at this time?
- What problem are they solving?
My philosophy is to always be constructive, intentional, and respectful in design feedback sessions. I focus on treating designers with respect and as professionals. Just going in and giving them feedback on something they’re not looking for feedback on could be demoralizing and deconstructive.
When we feel a project is off the rockers, we pull the designer aside and have the conversation separately. Each and every design feedback session is a chance to learn something new. So putting your laptop down and focusing on those moments is key to the success of the team.
Can you share anything about what you’re currently working on?
I’m currently focused on Learning Solutions, which includes both consumer and enterprise solutions for our professional network and beyond. I’m also tying our learning products back into the entire ecosystem of LinkedIn and how we can have seamless integrations in the most meaningful locations throughout all of our products.
It’s an ongoing exercise and design problem to expose our network to our high-quality learning content at the right time in the right context. We strive to connect our professional network to our Lynda.com content when they need it the most.
We have learning content in business, creative, and technology. Lynda.com has been around for 20+ years, and while combining forces with LinkedIn and Microsoft we’re excited about the future of learning and what we’ll be able to accomplish.“We all need to stick together and design a better future.”
There’s a lot of magic happening when it comes to creating a culture of learning while maintaining the company’s vision. My latest project has been a new weekly series on Lynda.com and Linkedin Learning. It’s called Practical UX Weekly. In this series, I share my lessons learned working deep in the trenches, as well as my real-life project case studies. My goal is to share a unique perspective from my UX lens and deliver practical UX tips and tricks that you can jump right into practicing.
I think it’d be great if more and more designers could share their case studies and share the things that are happening in their work, and we have a platform to do that. I’m passionate about being part of a team who wants to make the world a better place and to connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful. That’s why I’m here.
People are thirsty for knowledge, but they need platforms to attain this knowledge and they need channels to share, collaborate, and communicate—even if they’re not in the same company.
Because really, we’re all in this together as far as creating better UX across the world. I truly believe that the knowledge share is so worth it because it empowers everyone.
Now more than ever, we all need to stick together and design a better future.
Photos by Peter Prato.