Design Chats

A Look Inside Design at Atlassian

4 min read
Andy Orsow
  •  Jan 22, 2013
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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 Jerry Gordinier, a UX Designer at Atlassian in San Francisco, CA.

What do you do at Atlassian?

I am a cross-product designer here at Atlassian. I spend a lot of my time investigating how our customers are using our tools through usability testing and contextual inquiry around San Francisco, and spreading the good word of design within the company. I spend a lot of time thinking about how to solve problems holistically across our products to make it easier for a given team to solve that problem when it comes up.

In addition, I frequently do participatory design for teams that don’t have a designer or are new to the design process. I get the right people in a room to hammer out their design challenges and determine what their goals are, what the minimum viable product we could ship to solve that problem would be, and all the pieces needed to get that done.

How did you get into design?

When I was teaching English in Taiwan, I realized there was a need for a games database for ESL teachers and so I started to develop – It started as just a database for ESL teachers to add games to, but then evolved into a language exchange social network. From there we developed another one called PenPal Roulette, which was supposed to be kind of like a chat roulette, with less questionable relationships. Shortly after that I went back to the University of Michigan for a Master’s degree in Human-Computer Interaction at the School of Information there.

What are the top three essentials for your workspace?

  1. The right people: I need people to bounce ideas off of, people with specific and broad sets of knowledge and concerns. People who are adamant about getting things done.
  2. Time: Sometimes finding time in the workspace means hiding away and other times it means just booking that time and making a mental commitment to it.
  3. Facilitation tools: Things like Post-it notes, markers, white boards, and meeting rooms that allow people to get together and get all those ideas out there are really important too.

How important is your workspace to creativity?

My workspace is essential to my creativity. To me, creativity is getting all the ideas out there that you can, which means getting lots of people together; if you’re in a closed off environment, it’s much harder to do that. If you are always working from home, it’s harder to find the right people or approach the right people to get those ideas. There is something that is very nice about having a designer that is approachable, and this space here at Atlassian facilitates that.

Do you ever work outside the office?

I occasionally work from home if I don’t have any meetings or if there’s a really big design problem I want to chew on in isolation for a little bit. But I find it easier to work in the office where I have multiple monitors, headphones, and tools that let me really sink into that world.

What do you do when you hit a creative roadblock?

Sometimes I’ll go outside and walk around to clear my head. Other times I’ll get a coffee; it’s helpful to caffeinate every once in a while. If that doesn’t work I’ll do some comparative analysis, to see what others are doing in parallel spaces, or look at what we’ve done in the past and talk to other designers in the company.

I have become a real convert to the power of a Sharpie, a Post-it note, and people in a room together. It’s amazing how people can really build out a story together using nothing more than that.

Do you ever do any sketching on paper?

Yeah, more and more these days. I think sketching is invaluable for the kind of work we do.Twitter Logo It’s less about finding the perfect design, and more about finding a great design that is well-communicated. In this sense, the “perfect design” is one that the team likes, but also that satisfies and delights users.Twitter Logo

What is your favorite part of the design process?

I think my favorite part is seeing it built. I love it when users are actually getting value out of it when it goes live. People use it and say, “Boy, this really made my life better.” That’s awesome.

What is the most frustrating aspect of design?

It’s frustrating when you are designing with ambiguities, i.e., “Who is this valuing, and who is this benefiting? Is this the right piece of work to do right now? How far do we want to go with this piece of work?” That’s why the participatory design process is so important because you can get all those answers immediately, and much more.

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

I think that the first thing you have to do is figure out what questions you want to ask.Twitter Logo This is often overlooked when you start down the road of research. You have to really sit down and think about these questions. What are the tasks that will help me answer those questions? What is information I need around this? What kind of person do I need to be talking to? And a big chunk of it is, how do I relate this to the team and get them involved, so that all of these findings just don’t fall by the wayside? It’s also clear you can’t answer all the questions. To help define some clear goals you’ll need to have usability testing, a contextual inquiry, an InVision prototype, and you’ll want to talk to customers.

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

  • Pen & Paper: I have become a real convert to the power of a Sharpie, a Post-it note, and people in a room together.Twitter Logo It’s amazing how people can really build out a story together using nothing more than that. It can be something that’s more beneficial than if you had just sat down at a computer for a while.
  • Photoshop: Photoshop is good for when you need a pixel-perfect mockup.
  • InVision: InVision is a really easy way to make a clickable image prototype.
  • Jira: When it comes time to track a piece of work for a dev nothing is better than Jira.
  • Other Atlassian Products: Bitbucket for code hosting, HipChat for chatting, and Confluence for specing and team documentation.

What are some of your favorite books?

The Secrets of Facilitation
–The S.M.A.R.T. Guide to Getting Results With Groups

  • Creating a Lean Culture: It’s about implementing lean culture in a production line and I think the take-away there for the tech environment is really interesting.
  • The Secrets of Facilitation: It gives really practical tips on how to be in a room with a bunch of people and direct it in such a way that useful things come out of it regardless of purpose or personalities. Things like managing personalities, flow, time, and different frameworks to direct individuals toward a common goal.
  • East of Eden: As a former English major I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my favorite English book. It’s is a very profound book about humanity with a really interesting depth of character development.
  • I actually have a whole list of all my favorite design books on my website.

InVision is great for taking images and making clickable image prototypes that do the job, and save me the coding time and the general hassle of hosting.

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

The Suburbs
–Arcade Fire

What’s your ritual to get into the zone?

The first thing I have to do every morning is clear out my email. I’m a zero-inbox guy and I only keep things in there that I know need to get done. I also look through a rudimentary Evernote file that I keep all of my life tasks on. Then I use Google Calendar to block out time to complete specific tasks. Towards the end of the day I listen to music to help me zone out and focus on the big problems.

How does InVision help you in your design process?

I have been using it for a number of years. I first started using it in graduate school after I spent a good deal of time trying to hand-code a clickable prototype. It didn’t work and was very time consuming. The biggest issue was that it was hard to change. InVision makes things easy to change. If you have to swap a screen out, or there needs to be a redirection, it’s just easier to do it with InVision than anything else I’ve tried.

I use InVision for usability testing. It’s great for taking images and making clickable image prototypes that do the job, and save me the coding time and the general hassle of hosting.

How important is collaborating with other people?

Collaboration is essential. In fact I wouldn’t do it any other way. You’re always collaborating, whether you know it or not.Twitter Logo It’s just that you can either be in charge of when that collaboration happens or you can find out later. For me that means getting some ideas around a design problem up front, and then immediately getting everyone in a room to talk about it because they are going to have opinions that will impact your design in the long run.

It’s human nature to want to get your stamp on something you’re working on.Twitter Logo Everyone wants that. It’s rare when someone really, truly just wants to be told what to do. Also I think that as a designer, you can miss things, so getting all those different lenses on a problem is essential for you to grow as a designerTwitter Logo and to solve a design problem in a way that you never would have thought of. The end result could be much better than what you were working on originally.

I try to get my team involved at every stage. I always include them on all the meeting invites. I try to deliver simple, short concise findings that are the most impactful. It can include things like multimedia with video of a specific user pain point or a couple of photographs to give you the context and a connection with this individual that you are building something for.

Where does your inspiration come from?

It generally starts by looking at how other people have done things. As a designer you are always standing on the shoulders of giants.Twitter Logo So I can look back to see what our products, and products outside Atlassian, have done historically. Before anything I also want to talk to users, and then I like to talk to the engineers and see what their thoughts are. I think the design really starts to take off when you get people in a roomTwitter Logo and get their perspective on things. So you have the design background element, the user experience element, but you are also really getting the on-the-ground element of, “Hey, here’s all the possibilities. Where do we want to go?” There is a wealth of knowledge out there just waiting to be tapped.

Who do you look up to as a designer?

  • Marie-Claire Dean: My advisor here at Atlassian, who has taught me a great deal about facilitative design and communication strategies.
  • Colleen Koronda: My advisor at Opower, who taught me a good deal about the basic fundamentals of UX design and working in a lean and agile environment.
  • My Father: My father taught me how to talk to people, which is probably the most important skill.Twitter Logo

Great design is simple and elegant. It’s based in user research and needs.

What makes a great designer?

A great designer has little ego and is appreciative of the smart people around them.Twitter Logo A good designer is also always trying to learn more. Maybe he is dipping his toe into lots of different waters to get an understanding of many different disciplines, but a good designer also wears many hats.Twitter Logo Sometimes you are the person concerned about user experience, sometimes you are the facilitator, sometimes you are a researcher and sometimes you are an ethnographer. A lot of times you are just a planner trying to put all the pieces together based on when they need to be executed.

How do you define great design?

Great design is simple and elegant.Twitter Logo It’s based in user research and needs. Ideally, great design is making the world a better place in some fashion.Twitter Logo

Atlassian Photo Gallery

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About Jerry

Jerry is a UX Designer at Atlassian in the San Francisco office. Check out his portfolio site, follow him on Twitter, and connect with him on LinkedIn.

About Atlassian

Software is everywhere – on our computers, our watches, our refrigerators. And the teams building software together – developers, product managers, doc writers, bug-bashers – are our heroes. Our products help teams of all sizes track and share everything, work smarter, and create better software together.


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