Design Chats

A Look Inside the Design Team at Envato

4 min read
Amanda Hackwith
  •  Jul 1, 2014
Link copied to clipboard

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 Catherine Hills, Senior User Experience Designer at Envato, a “bootstrapped” Australian web company founded in 2006, which offers a popular ecosystem of digital marketplaces, including ThemeForest and GraphicRiver, that provide images, templates, projects files, and creative assets to millions of designers, creatives, and agencies.

Here, Hills shares her thoughts on the creative community in Melbourne; her favorite design-related blogs; and her team’s efforts to continue improving and integrating Envato’s user experience across products and services:

What is your role and responsibilities at Envato?

I’ve been with the company for just over a year and the company has experienced incredible growth. As the Senior UX Designer in the marketplace’s production team, my focus is to work closely with our engineering and product teams, on various feature developments specified as part of the marketplaces product roadmap. Embedded in cross-functional, agile delivery streams, my recent focus has been working with the community wins, purchase stream, and advising the finance development stream.

We’ve heavily invested in research over the last 12 months, too, with team time in UX and product dedicated to understanding our users and coming up with ideas to improve the experience for both sellers and buyers on the Marketplaces platform. For now, our focus is to improve the Envato Marketplaces experience for our users, making it the best place for buying and selling creative assets online.

The app is complex and this does come with challenges; luckily, our team is so supportive and interested in UX, there isn’t a huge need to advocate to them. Having a great team is having smart, passionate colleagues who care about the output.Twitter Logo I’ve benefited hugely from that at Envato.

How did you get your start in design, and how did you become a UX designer?

My background was in fine arts, interactive and graphic design, and I was incredibly inspired by technology. Early in my career, I headed over to the UK and freelanced for digital marketing agencies, corporates, and ISPs with agency services, particularly in Scotland. About six years ago, I returned to Melbourne and did more freelance agency-based work, along with longer-term stints in publishing and education.

These last five years have been a real transition to UX for me: visual design, as much as I love engaging with the visual, started to feel limited in a way, more of a component, and I wanted to work more on analyzing problems and understanding why people responded to things I designed in a certain way. When I worked in Edinburgh as a web designer, we thought about things like wireframing and user experience, but working on client jobs you can only go so deep, improving on a feature is really reliant on the client and their budget.

Over time, the importance of working on a product became clear: Focusing on a single product allows you to understand your users far more deeply.Twitter Logo I had greater access to those end users, and for a designer in any practice, talking to the people who are using your product is incredibly important, in fact vital. Intuition helps you create hypotheses, but you have to then test those assumptions.Twitter Logo Failing to do that is failing to serve your customers and stakeholders well. There’s a real responsibility to understand the impact of how you present information and how information is perceived.

I still look far and wide for ways to continue to learn about UX and related impacts of other disciplines: I went to UX Australia last year and attended Jeff Gothelf’s Lean UX workshops, for example, as well as the first CSSConf in Melbourne last year.

Intuition helps you create hypotheses, but you have to then test those assumptions.

You’re based in Melbourne – What inspires you about the city?

Melbourne’s really vibrant and unique. There’s a great music, cultural and creative scene here with designers and creatives who come here from all over Australia.

There’s also a pretty strong startup community in Melbourne too, the UX and Ruby community is thriving. Envato sponsors a lot of local community events including She Hacks, Melbourne Ruby, Girl Geek Dinners and Be Responsive Melbourne Meetup.

I think we used to suffer from a serious antipodean complex, but now the world seems so close it doesn’t seem to matter if you’re in the southern hemisphere or not! Many Australians travel and are exposed to other cultures, then bring that rich experience home. It’s very multicultural here, too, with a lot of people from different international and cultural backgrounds working together.

What do you think makes a good designer?

Collaboration and sharing is incredibly important to a designer’s growth.Twitter Logo Whether it’s supporting and learning from someone who’s more senior than you, or supporting and mentoring people who are less experienced, it’s really rewarding either way. Mentoring is a dialogue from which both can learn a lot.Twitter Logo

Developing solutions takes time, make sure you understand your context and users well. You need to be creatively innovative, think laterally, know your domain and understand your competitors. The best design comes from an integrity to the brand, the user, and the product.Twitter Logo

What does your typical day look like, and how does InVision fit into your workflow?

We have a stand-up meeting every day at ten, and the guys in my team and I gather around the board to talk about what we’re working on. It’s a good opportunity to talk about iteration priorities. Then there might be a stakeholder catch up or in-team meeting where we show some wireframes or decision trees. I also run a UX catch-up in my team, chatting through some of the insights we’ve gained from user research, including an interview or testing. We have a cross-company UX Research Group now too, which I organized to share information and learn from each other, whether it be demonstrating some user research techniques or sharing insights gained that might assist other members of the company.

Encouraging community discussion and collaborative user testing is a great use for InVision.

Just recently, we used InVision to test some add-to-cart confirmation prototypes of interactions with users who we recruited from our Envato community, as well as internal test participants. We created some medium-fidelity wireframes in Illustrator, did a screen share in InVision and provided the testing participants with five linear flow options to click through. It was fantastic, because we could use the in-context comments feature, which I love. What we’re essentially testing were clickable prototypes where you can simulate an interaction and still get the contextual feedback from the user about the interface.

What I also loved was that looking at these screens inspired some feedback around broader concerns and concepts of user understanding. For example, one community member showed me a whole separate flow around service requests after a buyer purchased something from him on ThemeForest. I have colleagues who were really interested in that so it was incredibly useful to be able to export the InVision report to PDF.

Another interesting element was that on the very last test we did, we started getting a bit of convergence on the results, so we allowed the last participants to see the previous test participants’ answers. That led to a whole conversation between the participants, and I think encouraging community discussion and collaborative user testing is a great use for InVision.

Stay connected to the industry: The exchange of ideas is where new things get discovered.

What do you see as the big shifts coming in the UX design industry?

Last night I was reading Twitter and saw some conversations about UX and how interactions are at risk of becoming too generic, with design patterns being chosen because they’re familiar conventions rather than because they are the best solutions for your product. Designers have to find the sweet spot between a pattern that users recognize, and one that can delight.Twitter Logo

In my team we define our stories with Kano values so we know what the MVP should be, based on the epic definition. At the end of the day, the goal is to let users do what they want to do easily, and to help them enjoy the experience too.Twitter Logo

Testing these decisions directly with users really helps and we can iterate on what we’ve learnt over time.

Is there one piece of advice you’d give to young designers who want to achieve what you have?

Never stop learning, never stop getting inspired.Twitter Logo I’m really inquisitive. I love reading blogs and output from companies such as Intercom,, 37 Signals, Thoughtworks and Adaptive Path. I recently saw Jessica Hische present at Semi-Permanent and found her output and energy amazing. Dan Saffer at UX Australia was awesome too. There’s a massive amount of writing and conversation out there, and it’s important to be exposed to it. Pay attention to the zeitgeist: Know what people are thinking, talking & worrying about.Twitter Logo Twitter is great for that. Attending conferences and chatting with your colleagues is the best thing. Stay connected to the industry: The exchange of ideas is where new things get discovered.Twitter Logo

Collaborate in real time on a digital whiteboard