Media Temple’s boutique web hosting platform has gained something of a cult following in the design world due to their own focus on design. Not to mention their incredible reliability, convenient tools, fantastic customer service, and commitment to constantly improving and releasing new product offerings.
We recently sat down with Justin Barr Young, UX Architect at Media Temple, to talk about culture, design-team structure, the importance of brand, and how to he stays continually inspired to design better products.
How would you describe the company culture at Media Temple?
Media Temple is very focused on being human—for our customers and for our employees. Our HR department is called “Employee Experience,” and they definitely have a huge focus on making sure employees are happy and feel fulfilled.
What makes your culture unique?
There’s a lot of freedom to innovate on an individual level, when it comes to a product or a project.
For example, all the front-end developers have user experience chops. They know what’s good for the user and what isn’t, so they have the freedom to tweak features if they come across something that doesn’t work. I trust them to do that. Day to day, there’s a lot of freedom to do what you think is best or try something cool.
It’s not a very top-down company. There’s a lot of opportunity to do your best work, in your own way, without feeling huge amounts of managerial pressure.
The UX terms have always been kind of nebulous just because we all have a serious stake in a good user experience, and we all know what to look out for.
Talk to me about the team structure at Media Temple—how you guys are set up.
At Media Temple, the UX department isn’t that traditional, I think, compared to a lot of other companies. The UX team combines UX specialists with the creative team. We all work under Jon Setzen. He’s our manager, and he’s the creative director, and also the UX director. So, he works with our 2 designers, our content strategist, and copywriter. We have 5 front-end devs now, and then me, UX architect. The UX terms have always been kind of nebulous just because we all have a serious stake in a good user experience, and we all know what to look out for.
My role is the first time we’ve had a dedicated UX person, so that’s kind of an interesting role that’s come about in the last few months.
Do you think all teams should have UX and creative be together in one space?
It has positives and negatives. I like the fact that I work closely with the people whose disciplines are very closely related to mine. So we have a lot in common. We bounce ideas off of each other, and we’re physically together in the same space, too, which is really helpful.
But on the other hand, the engineering department, for example, is divided up into product teams. We’ll have a team working on our grid shared-hosting product. We’ll have a team working on our WordPress product. In that sense, our team is like a shared resource. So it is a little different, not having a dedicated person per product, which is the way I imagine a lot of other, larger companies work.
What kinds of tools do you guys use internally?
I use Illustrator a lot. That’s probably, out of all the Adobe programs, my favorite.
I’m relying on Dropbox more and more, so I really want to try Sketch. I might even do wireframes in Sketch now, if it just makes the process easier to prototype.
The importance of brand
How important is brand aesthetic for you guys?
Well first of all, I’ll just start out by saying brand aesthetic is how I discovered Media Temple. Early in my career, I was checking out new companies, and on many of those sites, I saw the “proudly hosted by Media Temple” bug in the side rail or the footer or something.
I hosted with Media Temple, honestly, because their website and their design was already better than any other web host I’d seen.
But to go back to your original question, we totally understand that brand is very important. We're designing for designers, so we have to do it well. We’re very conscious of the fact that we have a reputation to maintain, but we definitely know that a design sells itself, and that’s something that I really believe.
I absolutely judge books by their covers, especially because our clientele consists of designers, web pros, and creative agencies. Stuff has to look good, and we have to, in fact, make some marketing and product choices based solely on design or with design as a huge part of the strategy.
How did your acquisition by GoDaddy factor into your brand?
GoDaddy wanted Media Temple to stay independent as a company, so the acquisition really hasn’t changed the way we brand ourselves or how we work to create a great experience for customers. In January 2014, we launched our redesigned website after almost 18 months of work without any input from GoDaddy. Shortly after that, we launched our redesigned customer admin panel, the Account Center. For both of those projects, we knew that we had to hit the design out of the park. We wanted to prove through the strength of our design and user experience that Media Temple hasn't changed, that we're still the same company focused on our customers and on our products.
Based on the overwhelmingly positive feedback we got over Twitter and social media, I’d say we got the message across.
The positive feedback we got over Twitter and other social media was huge for both of those projects. So, through the power of design, we reassured a lot of people that we’re not changing, and we’re still very design-focused. We’re very focused on good brand and making good products.
We wanted to prove through the strength of our design and user experience that Media Temple hasn't changed, that we're still the same company focused on our customers and on our products.
Thoughts for future designers
Should future designers learn some form of development or coding?
Coding knowledge is a valuable tool that I think everyone, including designers, should know well. Conversely, front-end developers should definitely have an eye for design and learn design fundamentals. If a problem comes up, they need to have the confidence and the toolset to make a design choice that gets the job done.
What fundamentals of design should the developer pick up?
Well, specifically tool-wise, I think Photoshop would be useful. It’s kind of the de facto visual design tool we use at Media Temple, at least, and, actually everywhere else I’ve worked, too. But developers need to know their way around Photoshop or whatever other tool you use.
For example, if assets are the wrong size, and you need to resize an asset, that’s an actual tangible skill that I think is super valuable. Otherwise, it would be wise for front-end developers and other non-designers to learn stuff like using white space, balancing compositions, and making color choices. Those skills come from practice, taking notes, and being very observant about design that they like.
What do you do to stay inspired? What do you do to continue to grow in your craft?
To stay inspired, honestly, I just use products I like. I have three screens of apps on my phone. I didn’t collect 50 apps just for the fun of it, but I curate the apps that are going to fit my needs. I find what I like, and then I stick with them through all their changes and growth.
Those services that I do have, I take stock in what they do visually and flow-wise. Every time I onboard with a new product, I screengrab their onboarding flows and take notes on things they do well, or not so well.
I’m also on Dribbble a lot.
What are a few of your favorite design companies or methodologies right now?
Everything Dropbox does is really on point. They’re very, very good at what they do. Also, Google.
I’ve been championing Google’s Material Design for the last 2 years. All their iOS products have the Material Design look. I basically have replaced all of my Apple native apps with the Google version. I think Google is surprising a lot of people with how much of a design force they’re turning out to be.
It’s more than designing across devices—it’s designing for people in specific situations with specific needs.
Can you offer some advice to growing designers?
My advice to designers just starting out is pretty simple.
Always have a side project or two. The beautiful thing about being a designer is that you get to do your hobby for a living. So the work you do in your free time benefits your skills and your career. At best, your side projects can become portfolio pieces, and at worst, you can say you learned something. Collaborators and employers want to see that you're excited by what you do and that you're constantly practicing and producing with design thinking.
Execution matters. You might not have the largest portfolio or the most exciting projects if you're just starting out, but do all of your work thoughtfully and with a close attention to detail. Make sure you can explain and defend the design choices you make, even if they get overridden by your lead or client. Turn on "snap to pixel grid" and use those guides in Photoshop. You'll get a reputation for putting out solid work and the cooler projects will follow.
How do you see technology and design combining in the future?
It's a really exciting time to be at the intersection of design and technology. It feels like every industry from insurance to banking to healthcare is discovering the power of UX and taking advantage of platforms like mobile with things like push notifications.
We're going to see more and more examples of beautiful and thoughtful products coming from "old" industries as good design and good experiences become competitive advantages. I think the big trend will be delivering timely and relevant information to the user in an elegant way. I love using Google Now while traveling—I open the app and it gives me all the info I need for my upcoming flight in a really slick, minimally designed package."All of our front-end developers have user experience chops."