Walking in someone else’s shoes has never been easier thanks to one of my favorite InVision users: GoPro. Except you probably won’t be walking—you’ll be furiously paddling to catch a 12-foot wave, speedflying between 2 buildings, or falling back to Earth from 33,000 feet. The matchbox-sized camera records high-definition video from the perspective of athletes, adventurers, and even pets.
I sat down with UX team members Hilary Nemer and David Lee to discuss designing for hardware and software, helping users tell their story, and why it’s so important to use your product on a daily basis.
How’s the UX team set up at GoPro?
Hilary: What was once strictly a hardware company is now a media-driven company that designs for both hardware and software platforms. So we have UX teams set up at GoPro that are embedded within these 2 product development divisions:
- The hardware UX design and research team
- The software and services UX design team
David and I work on the 15-person software and services UX design and research team—although a year ago, we had just a single designer. Within the team are UX leads who head up the design for a product or platform, and then there are shared services, who help support the UX leads. I’m a UX lead, and David is a shared service.
“InVision helps us quickly review draft designs and provide real-time feedback.”
David: An example of a shared service is prototyping. We also have researchers, a content strategist, and visual designers. All of those folks collaborate with the UX leads on projects to help boost speed, quality, and expertise—and to ensure overall consistency across the different experience tracks.
For example, Hilary handles the media management experience, we have someone else who focuses on storytelling, and so on.
Hilary: Our entire UX and research team is divided between San Francisco, where we do web and mobile web and TV, and San Diego, where we work on native mobile and desktop apps. We work cross-platform with each other.
Our team uses InVision in several ways. In our early review process, it helps us quickly review draft designs and provide real-time feedback. We also rely on InVision for fast turnaround with prototypes, which helps us both with user testing and with engaging internal stakeholders.
Do you use a formal agile design process?
Hilary: The software and services team is agile and our hardware team is waterfall.
Do you ever work cross-functionally with the hardware team?
Hilary: The hardware and software teams have unified design principles that we all strive to design by. It’s important we work together on behalf of the customer. We collaborate as much as we can for the sake of consistency—and for a seamless, high-quality experience between the camera, phone, and desktop for our customers.
David: We recently introduced a feature on the Hero4 camera that lets people add a HiLight tag to certain parts of a video. So the user needs to be able to access those HiLights on the software side, and the customer experience needs to be consistent on both the hardware and software.
“We rely on InVision for fast turnaround with prototypes, which helps us both with user testing and with engaging internal stakeholders.”
Is the differing design processes between hardware and software challenging?
Hilary: It’s much easier to be iterative within software. With the design of the actual camera, you can’t just change things once it’s launched. Once it’s out there, it’s out there—with or without feature issues. But we have flexibility to change the UI of the camera by making firmware updates from the software side. We’re learning how to best work together to meet each other’s processes and schedules.
What’s the mix of titles of designers on your team like?
Hilary: There are staff and senior UX designers, but it’s mostly a flat team—there’s not much hierarchy. We collaborate and make decisions together.
David: The only specialists with different titles are the designers that were hired specifically for shared services, such as content strategist, visual designers, prototypers and design researchers. Everyone else is called a UX designer. But regardless of title, everyone’s encouraged to step up and solve problems.
Regardless of title, everyone at GoPro is encouraged to step up and solve problems.
Hilary: We’re incredibly lucky in that we all get along. I learn from every single person on the team. I think we’re able to collaborate as much as we do because of our flat structure and our emphasis on building a collaborative, learning culture.
What’s the design culture like?
Hilary: One of our biggest values is to fail fast: design something, test it, learn, iterate, and repeat.
“One of our biggest values is to fail fast: design something, test it, learn, iterate, and repeat.”
David: Feature sets and strategic priorities get defined by management, but decisions about the design solutions and overall concepts evolve organically. We come up with concepts that we think are useful for customers—we don’t have much restriction in terms of design. Prototyping happens quickly, and then we do user testing and iteration constantly.
Additionally what differentiates us is that we use GoPro cameras on a daily basis. Most of our inspiration comes from there. Even better, it helps us bond with each other and increases team chemistry.
“We use GoPro cameras on a daily basis. Most of our inspiration comes from there.”
Can you describe your design process?
David: We have to build features that work with what’s out there right now on our cameras. Some features are already proven as a customer need prior to hitting our backlog, and we design solutions for them. We come up with others on our own after using the camera.
When we have inspiration for a new design, we start off analyzing the problem and brainstorming different approaches and concepts. Then we start sketching to get an idea of what’s going to work, and from there we’re able to make a prototype that we can test and iterate on.
After we test our prototype with our customers, we have the feedback we need to determine a direction, and then we can go all in and make it high fidelity. Approval and implementation come after that, and it gets into production as soon as the job is approved.
What’s a day in the life of a GoPro designer like?
Hilary: Wireframing, researching, testing—for the most part, it’s probably pretty typical for any other product designer in Silicon Valley. But one of the more unique things is Live It, Love It, Eat It—a company-wide program that especially helps the design team.
Nick Woodman, our CEO, wanted the company to live the brand and have the time to use the product so that we’re able to improve it. He instilled a mandatory 2-hour break every Thursday for employees to go out and use their GoPro.
David: So now, every Thursday from 1PM to 3PM, we can do whatever we want so long as we capture it with our camera. We use our software service to edit and use that. Every other day of the week, things look pretty similar to any other design firm.
“Every Thursday from 1PM to 3PM, we can do whatever we want so long as we capture it with our camera.”
We often visit the design team in San Diego. They do things a little differently since they’re close to the beach—I’ve seen designers take time during the day to clear their minds and go out and surf with their cameras, then go back to work.
Hilary: The most powerful part of our process is that we get to become our own users, so we understand pain points. We deal with the same things our users deal with, and then we get to help solve those problems. We get company-wide input as well.
David: Whenever we think about a design, there’s quick user testing and validation with ourselves, which saves a lot of time.
What are the most important values you try to see reflected in designs at GoPro?
David: It all depends on the area of the product we’re working on. We have a channel where you can watch GoPro videos—we want to give viewers a high-definition experience. But when someone’s editing a video, speed and simplicity are more important than how pretty or HD it looks.
Hilary: As a young team, we’re still defining our values. But the most important thing for us right now is supporting the lifestyle of our users by making the process as easy as possible. People shouldn’t have to take time out of their lifestyle to do what they want with their content.
“People shouldn’t have to take time out of their lifestyle to do what they want to do with their content.”
How do you continue to innovate the “be a hero” story?
David: Many design teams focus on how the company can tell its story, but we want to make sure our users can tell their story. Focusing on that lets us be innovative and create features like time lapse or burst mode.
How important do you think design, both UX and visual, will be to the success of your SAAS platform?
Hilary: Differentiating UX and visuals is extremely important. You can come out with a product that’s similar to another one, and one isn’t going to do as well as the other—or it might fail altogether.
Understanding your users and how to highlight certain features will set your product apart. Figure out why people use your product and what you can do to create a better experience and stay relevant.
David: We have a lot of competitors sprouting up, especially lately. The only different thing that we can make is the user experience and brand. If we don’t differentiate ourselves there, anybody can make a camera. And if they start making a cheaper one and we don’t provide a good experience, people will get the cheaper camera.
Hilary: One of our major company-wide principles is “no half-assery.”
We’re not just creating something that’s already out there. We take it seriously and want the experience to be the best it can be—that’s what’ll set it apart.
“One of our major company-wide principles is ‘no half-assery.'”
What advice do you have for new designers?
Hilary: Have empathy. Know and feel the pain points of your users, then solve those. You can build something that looks really cool, but if it’s not something the user needs, you aren’t going to be successful.
David: When a lot of people get into design, they focus on what they’re going to build and how they’re going to build it. That’s important—it’s good to have a well-rounded toolkit. But just as importantly, you should focus on why you’re building it. Once you’ve figured out why you’re designing something, the how comes easily.
Just look at GoPro: it all started with a guy who wanted a way to share his own unique experience of being out in the middle of the ocean, riding an incredible wave. So he cobbled together a prototype, slapped it on his wrist, and the images he captured opened up a totally new perspective for millions of people. Now every day, we get to enable our customers to have that same kind of transformative experience.
“Once you’ve figured out why you’re designing something, the how comes easily.”
“We use GoPro cameras on a daily basis.”
“People shouldn’t have to take time out of their lifestyle to do what they want with their content.”
“The most powerful part of our process is that we get to become our own users.”