Leigh Buck: Get out of your user’s way

4 min read
Kristin Hillery
  •  Apr 25, 2016
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Hiring an interior designer is a luxury that just isn’t financially feasible for many people. So Denver-based Havenly is focused on making it a more accessible service.

We chatted with Leigh Buck, Creative Director at Havenly, about cross-team collaboration and what it’s like designing for both customers and interior designers.

How is your team set up?

We’re a small team, but we’re growing. I’ve only been here for 5 months, so I’m still building out our design team. We just got our second designer, Thomas, a couple weeks ago. Our CEO, Lee Mayer, has also created lots of assets for Havenly, including most of our print collateral and marketing emails. I think because we have such a design-focused leader, it’s resulted in the entire organization believing you can’t win without great design.Twitter Logo

Cross-team collaboration is a big thing—we welcome anybody in the company to participate in the design process and offer up ideas. We have cross-functional brainstorming sessions, share InVision projects to allow contextual commenting, and do company-wide demos to get everyone excited about what’s coming down the pipeline. You never know what you aren’t seeing until you ask someone else to look.Twitter Logo

“The best websites feel like a dynamic conversation with the user.”

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What is the culture like there?

Right now, there are 30 employees and most of us work in one big space. There isn’t any room for things to get lost in translation, and we like it that way. In the midst of all the hard work, though, there’s always a mentality of “play.” Even when we’re heads down on something big, we find time to socialize and crack jokes. It keeps us coming back energized every day.

How does your team stay on the same page?

We over-communicate. It can be easy to get caught up in individual tasks, but we do our best work when we share it early and often.Twitter Logo

How do you build trust?

We try to be as transparent as possible among our employees, customers, and designers. Being upfront about mistakes or challenges really goes a long way.

What do you do on a typical work day?

As Creative Director, I’ve been designing for both the product and marketing teams. I’m able to create a stable bridge between those 2 departments. It can be difficult to do too many things really well, though. Luckily, our new designer is taking on most of the marketing projects now. I still stay pretty involved on both teams to ensure our brand and product vision stay aligned.

My day consists of standups with those teams, strategizing or collecting criteria for new features, and hopefully some time at my desk to design. On any given day, I could be wireframing a new feature in Sketch, enhancing our style guide, creating marketing emails—the list goes on.

How did you get to where you are now?

My mom is a fine art teacher and artist. There were lots of art supplies around growing up. I was making artwork throughout my childhood—I remember making ASCII art on our MS-DOS computer and printing it on our dot-matrix printer.

In college, I chose graphic design as my major on a whim. Luckily, I opened Photoshop for the first time and discovered that I loved it.

I’ve also acquired some awesome mentors over the past few years that have helped me realize my strengths and weaknesses. There are lots of ways to find a mentor, but I found mine when I wasn’t even looking. For me, it was people I worked with who genuinely took an interest in helping me advance my skills and career. It’s a great “pay it forward” experience. I’m sure they had some people who pushed them to be better, too. In return, I’ll do that for others.

What’s the hardest part of your job?

Constantly checking myself and reprioritizing what seems most important to tackle now. It’s easy to get tied up in urgent day-to-day fires of a tech company and lose sight of what’s most important. Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism has been a great reminder of that.

What do you do when you’re having a hard time focusing?

When I’m in my “flow,” I often don’t even need breaks. But, when I’m not—which is often—I’ve had to learn to let myself step away. I used to think that if I’m displeased with a design, I should sit at my desk for as long as it takes to figure it out. In reality, just walking down the hall usually provides some insight.

Good electronic music is also pretty crucial for keeping me focused. Something about listening to that style of music and working with pixels just makes sense to me. Some of my favorites right now:

How do you explain your job to people who don’t work in the industry?

Some find it surprising that companies even need an in-house design department. I explain that as an in-house designer, I’m extremely invested in the direction and success of the business. I get to be a part of what our product actually is and how it does it. It’s a very exciting role. By the time I sit down to tackle visual design on a project, a lot of challenging work has already been done.

“Trust your instincts and then validate them.”

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What is your userbase like?

Our userbase tends to be early adopters who are stylish, yet very busy. They’re interested in having a beautiful home, but they need our help in a few ways:

  1. They don’t have time to do it themselves
  2. They have a vision for their design but need help bringing it to life
  3. Traditional interior design is perceived as a luxury service and for many, it’s just not financially feasible

Our product really hinges on the quality of our interior designers. Not only do they need to be great at what they do, but they need to be great communicators. During the design process, the customer shares a lot about their wants and needs with their designer. We put a lot of effort into making that conversation easy and fun. If our job is done well, then the customer ends up with a super personalized 3D room design, and maybe even a new friend.

“Get out of your user’s way.”

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How do you design separate experiences for the customers and the interior designers?

It’s a balancing act of keeping them both happy. We often have to prioritize one over the other.

The experiences are intertwined, though. If our interior designers have an efficient interface to work with, they produce better results for our customers. And vice-versa: if we improve the way we can collect data about our customers’ design needs, the interior designers can produce better results.

What tools do you use?

Pencil and paper, Sketch, Slack, Photoshop, InVision, JIRA, Dribbble, and Pinterest, to name a few.

InVision is pretty crucial for multiple phases of our process. We use it to share initial designs with stakeholders, collect feedback for iteration, and provide contextual notes to our developers.

What do you think is the most powerful part of your design process?

We’re good listeners. We devote a lot of time and attention to listening to our customers. Requesting internal and external feedback often allows us to be laser-focused on how to execute. It’s so important to accept feedback—even the best designers rarely nail it.Twitter Logo

“Accept feedback—even the best designers rarely nail it.”

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

We let the interior design speak for itself. Our product is dominated by engaging imagery. Our UI design has to stay out of the way and allow users to enjoy the experience. After all, good design is invisible.Twitter Logo People aren’t using Havenly because they want to use a website—what they want is to have a beautiful home.

What has your team done to create an engaging experience between customers and interior designers?

One huge aspect is actually the copywriting—the tone of voice we use is so important. We really want the customer and designer to have a meaningful relationship, even if it’s temporary. Their thoughtful yet casual tone makes the customer more comfortable with the process. We want to make sure the customer feels heard. This is their home we’re talking about—it’s kind of sacred.

Collaborate in real time on a digital whiteboard