Drift’s Elyse Bogacz: Don’t be afraid to disagree

4 min read
Kristin Hillery
  •  Mar 28, 2018
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Drift is a marketing platform that makes it easy to connect with people on your website and inside of your app so you can answer questions and, ideally, turn the conversation into a conversion.

We sat down with Elyse Bogacz, Staff Product Designer at Drift, to hear her thoughts on terrible feedback, where work culture starts, and the audiobook series that always gets her into focus mode.

Drift’s Elyse Bogacz

How is your design team set up?

We only have five people on our design team, so it’s important for our us to be truly integrated within the product squads we work. This helps us keep the communication channels wide open.

A squad is typically one designer, one PM, and two development teams—each of which include a tech lead, a front-end dev, and a back end dev.

We sit with our product squad because that’s who we make all our decisions with. But just because our design team doesn’t sit together doesn’t mean we aren’t in sync. We make time to do group critiques and work out big hairy problems together.

We’re also investing in a centralized design team. This is basically a DesignOps team that helps everyone move faster. They’re in charge of setting design principles, identifying opportunities for component patterns, etc. There’s a huge investment in design here.

How do you think you create a great work culture?

The culture at Drift is totally focused around our customers. When you’re focused on the customer, your motivations are less extrinsically driven, and that brings better results all across the board.

As a team, we take every opportunity we can to show up and learn. Our goal is to always be getting better at whatever it is we do. This means product teams work fast and ship basically every day. The quicker we can get our solution out to the customer, the faster we can learn how to make it 10x better.

“Don’t be afraid to disagree.”

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My personal observation so far is that the culture starts with the founders. Companies don’t create culture, people create culture.Twitter Logo So to me, it makes sense to start by looking for founders that are aligned by the same internal mission I am.

Giving people the opportunity to learn and step up is also key. If the people on a team feel like they’re growing and being challenged, they’re going to be more invested in their work and stick around longer.

How does your team communicate with each other? And how do you communicate with people on different teams at your organization?

Sitting together means we can just tap each other on the shoulder and discuss whatever we need to. Real life conversations are the most efficient way for us to communicate.

It surprises me how few teams actually talk to each other. Slack messages and meetings have their place, but it’s so important to go back to the basics.

How do you hand off designs to the engineering team?

The engineers are part of my process, so there’s never an official handoff. They work with me all throughout the design phase and I work with them all through the development.

This is pretty key because, let’s face it, things are never perfect. Keeping the communication open helps us to continue to polish things out on the fly.

We do have a “kick-off” moment when we’re ready to start building. This means that we’ve all seen the designs, answered any open technical questions, and have a clear understanding of what needs to be done. Kick-offs only take five minutes and each person who’s going to be involved describes what their responsibilities are going to be to get whatever it is out to the customer. This helps us prevent details from slipping through the cracks.

How do you think your design process differs from other products?

It’s distinctly fast paced, and it’s hard to describe the speed at which we need to work unless you experience it for yourself.

I think the pace forces designers to actually figure out how to scale themselves. There comes a point when you just can’t get more done in a day on your own, but if you figure out how to enable others to make design choices, that allows you to have an exponential influence.

An example of this at Drift is all front-end developers are comfortable with checking styles and exporting their own assets in Sketch. This saves our designers so much documentation time that we can now use in an more impactful way.

How did you personally get to where you are now?

I showed up and worked hard. My parents have an amazing work ethic—I strive to be as motivated as they are.

I’ve also gotten a lot of help. You can learn something from whoever you’re around. I do my best to never have to ask the same question twice. If there’s something I don’t know, I ask for help or figure it out on my own. So I’m always moving forward.

It’s also worth pointing out that learning what not to do is just as valuable a lesson as what to do.I’ve gotten good at listening to my gut / picking up on the signs that something isn’t working, or when advice seems a little off base. Every day I’m practicing how to listen better and I’m reminding myself that when I make a mistake, the world won’t end. Although sometimes in the moment it feels like it will.

Do you have any advice for women in tech, or women who are trying to get their first tech job?

Raise your hand. Volunteer for tough problems.Twitter Logo Seek out more if you don’t feel challenged. This is going to give you lots of exposure to working with different types of people and lots of practice solving the real problems.

Be yourself. This is surprisingly hard. I think women are more prone to worrying about what others think about us, especially those of us who are in a male-dominated industry.

Stress + Rest = Growth. This is the big one. Be 100% present in whatever it is you’re doing.Twitter Logo If you’re working, then double down and FOCUS. If you’re home unwinding, then truly UNWIND. This one was such a big lesson for me this year.

Hard work is the only thing that will move you forward, but if you don’t take time to recharge it’s going to be difficult to keep up the momentum.

“Seek out more if you don’t feel challenged.”

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Also just to clarify, unwinding doesn’t necessarily mean a vacation. Make time to have dinner with your parents, take a day trip with your dog, or even grab a book and head to a coffee shop by yourself.

And by the way, the phrase “Stress + Rest = Growth” is courtesy of serial entrepreneur Brad Stulberg.

Worst feedback you’ve ever gotten?

The worst feedback is no feedback. We can always be better.

How do you use InVision?

Our team loves Craft Library. We use this to make sure everyone is in sync and using the most up-to-date components. One thing we’ve done at Drift that’s worked really well is to label our design components in Craft with the same variable names that exist in our code base. This has been really helpful for our front-end engineering team because all of our Sketch layers are automatically labeled with variables they recognize.

Editor’s note: We’ve upgraded our plugins, and Craft Library has been replaced. You can now manage shared libraries and design systems within InVision’s Design System Manager. For more information, check out this Help Center post.
How Drift uses Craft

We also use the prototype builder to do some lightweight testing with customers and share designs internally. This works well because I can send a customer a link, have them share their screen, and then watch them click around. I learn so much more by doing this instead of just sending static screens.

“Our design team uses Craft to make sure everyone’s in sync.”

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Do you have any creative rituals that help you get into focus mode?

I listen to audiobooks that I know really well. I’ve probably listened to the Harry Potter series like 10 times. The narrative is so familiar that it doesn’t rock my concentration and Jim Dale’s voice is almost like white noise for me at this point.

What’s your best advice for young designers?

Get comfortable working with and speaking the language of engineers. This is an invaluable skill set. Take the time to learn a little CSS—it’ll help you give clear and specific feedback to the engineers on your team.

Be scrappy about how you research and test your work. Qualitative data will give you a lot more information than you think if you ask the right questions and are honest with yourself about who your user is. Quantitative data is a luxury, especially for a small business… so when you’re just getting started never underestimate the power of conversations.

Figure out how to learn more about the business you work for. No one is going to just come out and tell you how the business works. Ask questions and be curious.Twitter Logo Figure out what the company goals are and apply them to your work. This will make you more effective.

Don’t be afraid to disagree. Sometimes it feels like an act of bravery to disagree with someone. Don’t let this deter you. At the end of the day, if your team has the right values in place… debate is healthy and typically results in a better outcome for the customer.

Design is more than just a resource. Be proactive about being involved in product decisions.Twitter Logo Too many companies treat design like a last-minute resource for making things pretty, but the design-thinking mindset is so much deeper than that. Be an advocate for empathetic thinking and figure out how to partner with your PM and tech lead to make things happen.

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