Design Chats

Dribbble’s Sarah Kuehnle: Community is everything

4 min read
Kristin Hillery
  •  Jul 6, 2018
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In case you haven’t noticed, we at InVision are huge Dribbble fans. The invite-only social platform for designers launched in 2009 and has since become the best place to share illustrations, animations, wireframes, photography, and other creative work.

So when we got a chance to sit down with Dribbble’s Head of Product, Sarah Kuehnle, and find out more about how her fully remote team gets things done, the importance of community, and the story behind her handle (@ursooperdooper), we were pretty stoked. Check out our Q&A with Sarah below.

“Community is everything.”

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Sarah Kuehnle, Head of Product

How is your team set up?

We have project teams set up that include product managers, designers, and engineers all focused around a particular area of Dribbble.

My current team is focused on the core product experience. We’re really excited to be working on improvements that will include—spoiler alert!—video support for Shots; new Project features to make storytelling and case studies easier; and the upcoming release of our official Android app.

What’s a typical day for your team like?

As we’re distributed, our days start at different times. But for most of us, a typical day starts with a hello in our main team Slack channel, #locker-room, to let everyone know we’re around.

Related: 50 things only remote workers understand

After that, we post a status update to our status bot: what we did yesterday, what our plan is for today, and if we have any blockers.

Then it’s off to work on projects. We’re split into teams focused on different areas, from the core product to mobile to growth efforts. Each team works in two-week sprints. We collaborate together—sometimes pairing on design or engineering tasks—and share our work on Slack throughout the day. Sprinkle in a meeting here and there, and you have a pretty typical day for us.

Sarah’s workspace

I love that a part of my day includes interacting with our community, checking out their incredible work on Dribbble, and providing likes and feedback. I’m so inspired by the designers on Dribbble and the incredible work they share. I consider myself very lucky to work with them.

How do you run meetings?

If there’s no agenda, there’s no meeting.Twitter Logo It’s easy to fall into the habit of long meetings full of status updates and no goals. We have a rule that every meeting needs an agenda. Otherwise you cancel the meeting and stay focused.

How can remote teams build and maintain a great work culture?

I’m extremely proud of the work culture we’ve built at Dribbble. We’ve worked really hard to create an environment that’s welcoming, encourages honest communication, and, maybe most importantly, is a lot of fun.

“It’s important to strive for personal connections when you work remotely.”

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We offer a lot of opportunities for people to get to know each other outside of their day-to-day role. We have a book club and monthly happy hours that allow people to get together and unwind. And there’s always time for a personal story in our weekly team meeting (especially if it’s related to children or dogs). We laugh a lot as a team and I love that. Twice a year, we bring the team together in person when we hold our Dribbble Hang Time events.

I think it’s important to strive for personal connections when you work remotely. We talk with each other throughout the day on Slack about work, but also share photos of our pets (dogs), children, adventures we’ve taken, and side projects; we also chat about music, movies, and books.

We hire carefully for culture fit as we grow our team and look for people who we think will thrive on a distributed team. We also look out for each other and make sure we reach out if someone’s feeling disconnected or needs a boost.

Any tips for remote workers?

Spend time creating a workspace for yourself that feels right.Twitter Logo For me, that’s an organized desktop free of clutter, with my favorite vinyl toys and books nearby.

And as I learned from InVision’s Stephen Olmstead, a good green screen doesn’t hurt either:

My top tips for remote work include making sure that you get up and walk around frequently, drink lots of water, and make time for exercise. Without a commute, you can literally roll out of bed and into your office. Creating a routine for yourself that includes time away from your desk is important. I start my day with a cup of coffee. Then I read the news, check email, and even try to fit in a bike ride (sort of like a pseudo-commute).

Related: Remote workers share how they manage their work-life balance

Another tip: Ensure your workspace has a second display so you can watch pro-cycling events while you work. The Tour de France is coming up!

Seriously though, I love bikes. Everything about the sport. The culture, the history, watching races, building bikes, and especially painting bikes. I love to hand-paint bike frames when I can.

“Especially for a remote team, Freehand makes pair-designing and brainstorming so easy.”

A look at how Dribbble uses Freehand

What can teams do to build trust with each other?

That’s maybe the most important thing about making a remote team successful. Everyone really cares about the design community and is passionate about our mission. We trust that everybody is here to do their best work. So trust is there right from the start.

By extending our trust to each other every day and holding each other accountable for the things we say we’re going to do, we maintain that trust. On top of that, we make sure everyone on the team knows it’s okay to ask for help, to seek advice, admit failures, and raise issues. We’re all in this together, and it’s that strong company culture that ensures trust is always there.

What three traits should leaders have?

Passion. Leaders should be passionate about what they doTwitter Logo and the mission of their team. That passion should motivate and inspire others to accomplish the team/company’s goals.

“Leaders should pay attention to the people they lead and seek to understand them.”

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Focus. Alongside passion, leaders need a laser-like focus so everyone knows where they’re headed. They can’t afford to be distracted by everything else happening around them.

Empathy. Leaders should pay attention to the people they lead and seek to understand them. We all have bad days and other things going on in our lives. It’s important for leaders to remember that and be supportive and understanding of their teams.

Is business strategy a design discipline?

I think strategy is a part of every discipline, but most especially design.

Designers should never just be asked to push pixels or make things look good. They should be engaged in the strategy behind the pixels. To truly solve a problem, build a new feature, or nurture an existing one, I think you not only need to understand the needs of the user, but how the solutions you propose will impact your goals as a business.

One of Sarah’s fantastic illustrations

What does success look like for your team?

We put the community first in everything we do. It’s one of our core values at Dribbble. For us, success is seeing that we’re supporting and helping the design community thrive.

Let’s talk about community. You’re active on Instagram and Twitter, you attend events, and obviously Dribbble is a community of designers. Why is community important? What’s your advice to designers who aren’t really giving back in any way, putting their work out there, etc.?

Community is everything.Twitter Logo In my work, I always gravitate toward products that have strong communities. I love being among people who share a common interest or passion. Meeting the design community, learning their stories and what drives them, seeing the process behind their work, and getting to know them as people—not just designers I admire—has been incredibly rewarding.

I am inspired and motivated by people who create things. It requires a person to expose themselves in a way that can sometimes be uncomfortable or intimidating, but the rewards are worth it.

In my own experience, putting my work out there, or attending an event even when my anxiety wants to shut me away in my office, has resulted in some of my most memorable experiences.

I’ve learned that everyone is on a different path on this crazy creative journey. We’re all driven by different things, struggle with imposter syndrome, and need each other for support. I’ve received real encouragement from other designers and illustrators. I’ve learned so much from them, whether it was a critique of my work, an introduction to my favorite tool tip, or a way to get more involved in the community. It just took letting my guard down and putting myself out there.

And that’s my biggest piece of advice for anyone: Put yourself out there.Twitter Logo

“We’re big InVision fans and use it throughout our design process.”

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A look at Dribbble’s InVision dashboard

How did you personally get to where you are now? What would you be doing if the internet didn’t exist?

I started my career as a designer in the early days of the web. I taught myself how to code and became a developer as well. Mostly because people said I couldn’t do it, but also because I didn’t see a lot of women in the field and wanted to change that. I love design, but I also love to make things functional.

Over time, I realized I wanted to take part in the decision-making and strategy of the work I was doing. I wanted to have more say in the why behind the things we do. That led me to product management, though I still feel like a designer/developer at heart because I love to get my hands dirty.

Now I get to blend all the things I love at Dribbble, helping lead a team who serves the design community. What could be better?

If the Internet didn’t exist, I would have studied animation and hopefully be a Disney animator today. I studied animation while I was growing up and was obsessed with Disney. I’d love to dabble more in motion today and practice animation again.

How can people give better feedback to designers? What’s actually helpful?

Actionable feedback is the best.

Trust your designer as the expertTwitter Logo and listen to the reasoning behind why they solved a problem the way they did.

It’s okay to ask questions or push back, but engage in a dialogue instead of simply relaying your feedback (“make the logo bigger,” “move that image to the left,” “center all that text,” etc.). If you don’t like something, explain why you don’t like it. Your reasoning might help expose something the designer hasn’t considered.

“Don’t be afraid to put your work out there.”

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Please tell us all about your own work. Your illustrations are extremely fun and amazing. What’s your process? Where did your handle (ursooperduper) come from?

I wish I were an illustrator. I love my job and what I do, but deep down, I’m a wannabe designer/illustrator. So I devote a large portion of my time outside of work to illustration. I spend most nights with my iPad and Apple Pencil and let my mind run wild. It’s been fun sharing that work and getting feedback from people. I’ve had requests for posters, stickers, custom shoes, toys, and T-shirts. And that’s incredibly surprising and motivating.

Illustration by Sarah (Can we please get this on a T-shirt, Sarah? ?)

Another bonus is that creating work allows me to spend a lot of time using Dribbble. I’m uploading new work almost every day, so I’m a true Dribbble user. That’s always been really important to me as a product manager. I need to be a rabid fan and power-user of the products I work on. I want to know a product inside out and really use it so I can understand more about how actual users interact with the things we build.

So my handle, ursooperduper, has been with me for a long time now. I remember struggling to come up with a username for IRC in my early internet days. Growing up, I never had a cool nickname and I wanted a handle that would stick with me. I’m a super positive and enthusiastic person most of the time, so a handle that reflected that seemed to fit, which is where super duper came along. I switched up the spelling a bit because I liked how the “oo” looked and Super Duper was already a burger chain by then. I threw the “ur” on the front because you’re sooperduper too, not just me!

How do you use InVision as part of your design process?

We’re big InVision fans and use it throughout our design process.

We create prototypes in InVision for most of the feature development we do at Dribbble. It’s a great way to share flows with the team and to receive feedback on proposed solutions for problems we’re trying to solve.

We also use Boards to collect sketches and inspiration when we’re in the initial stages of a new project. It’s so easy to collect images, text, and colors, then present them in a way that’s clean, easy to provide feedback on, and quickly accessible as we work.

I’m really excited to make Studio and DSM a bigger part of our process in the coming weeks and months. But this year, I feel like I’ve been raving non-stop about Freehand. I consider this the dark horse of the InVision product offering.

Especially for a remote team, Freehand makes pair-designing and brainstorming so easy. We’ll often start a Freehand when we need to map out a flow for a feature. Everyone fights for a particular pen color (I call dibs on pink!), and we can work together to map out flow charts, or start sketching a rough UI approach.

I love that we can all work together at the same time, make the board as big as we want, easily zoom in and out of the space, and even drag images onto the screen and mark them up. It gives you all the benefits of being in front of a physical whiteboard with your team. Except it’s better, because you’re not stuck in a stuffy conference room while you’re using it.

“InVision Boards make it easy to collect images, text, and colors, then present them in a way that’s clean, easy to provide feedback on, and quickly accessible as we work.”

How Dribbble uses Boards

What’s your best advice for young designers?

  1. Don’t be afraid to put your work out there.Twitter Logo You’ll be surprised at the feedback and support you’ll get when you do.
  2. Share your process. How did you arrive at the finished work? What decisions did you make along the way? Sometimes that information can be almost as important as the final design.
  3. Never stop learning.Twitter Logo Be curious, try new things, and experiment.
  4. Do side projects. You won’t always be super excited about projects you’ll do for work. But side projects allow you to explore your own interests, learn new things, and share a part of yourself that’s all your own.
  5. Get out in the community. Even though networking can be challenging, find some local meetups (or host your own Dribbble Meetup) or attend a design conference and get to know other people in the community. Make an effort to stay connected and build a support system for yourself to get advice, share work, and be there when you need a hand.

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