Design Chats

A Look Inside Design at Houzz

4 min read
Amanda Hackwith
  •  Jun 3, 2014
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We’re tracking down InVision users inside the world’s most amazing companies to discover their favorite tools, inspirations, workspace must-haves, and the philosophy behind what makes them so awesome.

This week, we chatted with David Anderson, UX Designer at Houzz, the popular home remodeling and design platform that CNN calls the “Wikipedia of interior and exterior design.” Its founders were frustrated by the lack of resources and inspiration available to help them articulate a vision for their home and to find the right professionals, so they created Houzz to help make the building, remodeling, and decorating process more fun and productive.

Today, 200 employees power Houzz’s apps, website, and online community, which cater to more than 20 million monthly unique users interested in architecture, interior design and decorating, landscape design and home improvement as well as over 400,000 home remodeling and design professionals.

Here’s what Anderson had to say:

How did you get into design and ultimately end up at Houzz?

Part of what led me to design, believe it or not, was my undergraduate degree in anthropology! At the time, of course, I had no idea that social science was such a good match with UX design, but once I started exploring the industry I quickly saw that an understanding of anthropology and UX really go together.

Studying social science helps me ask the right design questionsTwitter Logo — discovering the psychology behind how people use not only your app, but technology in general. It’s really given me an interesting way to look at users to find out what they’re looking for and what they expect.

I ended up at Houzz because I was excited by the opportunity to design for an app that’s used by millions of people who truly love it – our reviews average five stars. The talented team and the incredible content are a big part of the apps’ success and why I was attracted to working at Houzz.

What are your main responsibilities at Houzz?

I focus mostly on designing the best user experience possible for our mobile products. That means not only concerning the flows and the design of how the screens all fit together, but creating on-brand visuals that are engaging. Getting both the flow and the visuals right are essential to delivering a great product.Twitter Logo

What is your biggest pain point on the job?

Working with international team members can be a challenge given the different time zones but we use a lot of tools to help us communicate more deeply and efficiently. At the same time, it helps to bring together different perspectives to create a better user experience.

What would be the key capabilities and skills that made you successful at your job?

Having great communication skills is fundamental for designers.Twitter Logo Not only how you communicate your designs to your users, but what you’re trying to do as a designer to the rest of the company, including engineering and marketing, as well as all the other stakeholders in the process.

What do you think are the wider industry trends that are changing the nature of your role?

The “mobile first” approach has been one of the biggest design industry shifts.Twitter Logo Since I’m focused on mobile, it’s incredibly important for me to make sure the content we’re putting into the app is very strong and works really well on the smallest of devices. It’s something I push for — we need this to be a fantastic experience on your tiny phone.

InVision really helps us communicate our designs better to key stakeholders.

How do you use InVision?

One way is going back to the importance of communication — InVision really helps us communicate our designs better to key stakeholders. For example, a walk-through of images, annotated wireframes and hi-fidelity mockups are much less useful than actually being able to show interaction, even if it’s at a very basic level. It puts someone in the mindset of being able to make comments based on that level of interactivity, rather than just saying “The mock-up looks great!” but never thinking about how it might actually work.

We also use InVision for testing the designs, with people in the organization and also with users.
InVision makes it so much easier to discover problems early on in the process, so you don’t have to do as much work later to fix them. As somebody who works on all phases of the mobile products, interaction, user experience, and visuals, it’s important to solve the issues with the interaction and experience up front.Twitter Logo

InVision makes it so much easier to discover problems early on in the process, so you don’t have to do as much work later to fix them.

What are three things around you in your workspace you couldn’t live without?

I couldn’t live without a space that’s great for collaboration. So, our open floor plan is essential. But I also need a quiet space sometimes, so we also have eleven conference rooms where I can put my head down and get my work done or have a private word with someone.

Finally, having the right tools to foster free thinking and get the job done is a must. Everything from pens and paper and Post-it notes and whiteboards, to Photoshop and Omnigraffle and InVision for prototypes.

What equipment are you using in your workspace?

I’ve got the stock standard — a 27-inch monitor with cinema display, of course. It’s amazing. Without that screen real estate, it’s hard to do much. I’ve got a million browser tabs open and multiple programs, so everything fits perfectly. I also have a MacBook Pro 15-inch retina display, which is really important because I work a lot on mobile. It’s important for me to look at my designs in 2X.

I also use Skala Preview, which allows you to mirror what you’re working on in Photoshop onto your device. I get to look at what I’m working on on the actual device as I’m working on it!

Where do you get your design information?

I use Twitter a lot to keep updated — for example, I follow @UXBooth, Luke Wroblewski (@lukew), @FastCoDesign and @TechCrunch. I also visit some design blogs every once in a while, like UX Magazine and A List Apart.

In addition, I use PTTRNS a lot — it’s kind of like a library of screen shots, a tool for discovering and looking at mobile design patterns. It’s a great way for me to kind of do some quick research into certain mobile design patterns that maybe will be relevant to what we’re working on at Houzz. So, for example, if I’m designing a new way to do a search or something like that, it’ll be part of my research process to go into PTTRNS and look at a few examples just to get the ideas flowing.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give other designers who want to achieve similar accomplishments to yourself?

The key to conscious design is to know your product, know the consumer, and know your goal.Twitter Logo If you know what people want out of your product, it makes everything after it so much easier. It blazes the path for accomplishing the other steps of the project.

  • Image from Inside Design: Houzz.
  • Image from Inside Design: Houzz.

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