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Dana: Did you do any testing during development to either get confirmation or adjust usability?
Mike: We certainly did. It caused a changed in our product. When we came out in September even, the process to create a re.vu really forced you to go through a set of wizard steps. And it was a pretty long set, and from a usability perspective I think was pretty awful. We didn’t think it was awful because we were so close to it, “Wow, isn’t it cool that you can do blah, blah, blah!” But as we looked at it a little bit more and did a little bit more testing, we cut it down to where it is today. We also made some change, I’ll call it an interim change in our UI. You’ll notice that there are two things today. There is a Design bit and a My Profile bit. On Design, it allows you to choose the background, the theme, the ordering of the widgets, and the overall placement of the containers. And then on My Profile, it allows you to get access to things like editing the infographic widgets, editing basic information, looking at your statistics, etc. So we simplified those. In the future, we think we can do better yet than what we have there. And then there is another one that is Share.
Dana: Do you have people on your team or that specialize in interaction design or user experience design?
Mike: A bit, and that is where Steve comes in. Steve has also helped on a number of software products actually doing that. He’s reasonably good. But in my day job I actually have interaction designers and user experience researchers. We have unfortunately not been able to tap into that talent base as much. So there is probably an opportunity to do more of that as we move a little further down the path. We probably are committing sins on that front.
Dana: Well then as a tangent question, as an interaction designer myself, you being the target audience of my resume, are there specific things you look for on the resume of a user experience or interaction designer? What might those be or what advice might you give someone like me?
Mike: For me it’s all in the proof, show me what you’ve done. And when I say show me, I want to see the before, and I want to see the after. And I really don’t want that to be (and this is me, so ignore this as anything else other than my opinion), I don’t want it to be cluttered up with commentary. I’d like to just see the before and I’d like to see the after, and the only thing I’d like to understand is what your role was. I lead this, I participated in it, I made this improvement, I made that improvement. Because to me that tells the story. That is your story. Before. After. My contribution. What I look for is a pattern. How many times did you engage, [where] we had something that sucked, and was better. And then the question is how much better was it? Was it a little bit better, was it a step change better, was it a lot better? And show that pattern. I don’t think it takes more than 2 or 3 examples to show the pattern. And again, for me, your education, your training, kind of any of the rest of it, is all secondary relative to what you’ve produced, because effectively you’ve shown that. You’ve demonstrated it, why do I care if you went to San Francisco’s Academy of Art or Stanford or wherever you went. Who cares, right? What matters is could you do it.
For me it’s all in the proof, show me what you’ve done. And when I say show me, I want to see the before, and I want to see the after.
Dana: That brings up another point, the resume leading to the portfolio. Are you planning to address that market?
Mike: Absolutely. In fact we do a bit today already, we’ve got work samples and portfolio. The data types are more limited than we’d like today. So you can look for some expansion of the data types beyond the ones that are supported today. Particularly audio and video will be added to that. And we may find ways to do other interesting little things like embed, I’ll just call it, mini-browsers or something to allow people to actually interact. “Hey, this is what it was like to interact with the old thing, here’s what it’s like to interact with the new thing.” That would allow someone like yourself to be able to demonstrate that value more clearly.
Dana: It sounds like some of your plans are exciting. I look forwarding to see what comes out in the future. What are some of the principles that you used to guide your design or that you set forth when you were doing this product? For example, I see a very clear emphasis on relating to people with the large portraits that you have on your homepage or other images. What might some of those principles be?
Mike: I think there are very few. The first is keep it simple, keep it clean, and keep it appealing. Those are the things. There are some side effects that come from that. For instance in keeping it simple, a thing we don’t do that some of our competitors do, is that they provide access to whole palette. You can pick any color you want. You can pick any font you want. You can make the ugliest piece of crap…
Mike: Exactly. We decided to restrict a little bit. Not as a way of saying our users are idiots, that’s not it. But we thought a little more constraint would lead to better looking results in the end.
Dana: Where do you draw that balance between complexity or customization, and the simplicity or walled-garden approach?
Mike: You know, we are walking that line ever day. We do some testing, we gather feedback from our users. One of the things I’m really thankful for is that are users are really participative and loud.
Dana: And how do you get feedback from them?
Mike: There is actually live feedback on the site, that’s the principle way. We certainly get a lot of commentary over twitter where people will say, “Oh, I really like this, but I wish that it would do this, this, and this.” Those things are gifts, that someone would actually take the time to share what they would like. Most of the suggestions we’ve gotten are really, really good. I would say a very small minority are noise, or irrelevant, or take us in a way we don’t want to go.
Dana: What is the process [in which] you go through this feedback or collected data?
Mike: We actually collaboratively, Steve, Bart, and myself, on a periodic basis, stack rank this stuff. We look for trends, things that align with the product plan that we had already, we look for things that might actually change our product plan. And prioritize those, and we in part look at what’s the value of implementing this to the overall plan. Does this advance [the plan] or what does it do for us? We also look at the complexity, how much does it cost to implement this. And by cost I don’t mean straight dollar cost, I mean it more in terms of implementation resource. We have a fixed capacity. Our capacity is precious. We do we want to focus that? We try to focus it on things that have broad appeal, that will move the needle for people. And that’s really the process. And we do this on a pretty routine basis. We’re an agile, lean shop so we don’t have a lot of overhead. We’re pretty closely collaborative. I think if anything Steve and Bart are really the day-to-day guys toiling in this, since I have a day. Just as a board member, my involvement is a little more spotty. I think I’m probably the voice of the customer.
Dana: Well it’s nice in some ways to have that objective perspective.
Mike: Well I’m not objective, I’m biased.
Mike: Semi-objective. I haven’t been in the weeds. There are sometimes when we look at something and there is an obvious thing to me. “Hey, why didn’t we do blah blah?” I’ll give you an example. On our first iteration, we had ‘share’ buried three menu levels deep. And one of the most important things we want people to be able to do is share their profiles. Why did we make it so hard? So that’s kinda’ an obvious improvement.
Dana: So last question, I don’t want to take too much of your time. Is there any advice then that you might give to other people, either building infographic resumes, or using your tool?
Mike: Let’s go back to the story comment. What do you want to achieve? What do you want the outcome to be? What have you overcome to get where you’re going? What proof can you offer of your value? What makes you distinct? Do that work before you ever look at a tool. Just think about that, what are the principles that make you work? Who are you? It is almost an existential kind of thing. If you can’t answer those questions, all that is going to happen is that you’re going to get into our tool, or anybody else’s tool, and maybe you even get into Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator or something as you’re trying to put things together, and you’ll have something that looks scattered. And that’s not going to helpful. So first and foremost, you have to understand what you want to convey, what’s the outcome.
Dana: It is great to hear you mention that, I think that is one of the things I’ve been toiling the most on recently. For me anyway, it has been a long process to get all that before diving into tools or diving into doing the design.
Mike: Well I think what you’ll find is (you know this already just in your daily practice), if you understand what your true north is, then the implementation is much, much easier. It is not going to take you a huge amount of time to create something that actually conveys that. Now you may tune it frequently over a very long time, but probably what you put in place will be mostly right, right out of the gate. So that’s the thing, if you’re investing in that way, I think you’ll probably get a good outcome no matter way tool you use.
… if you understand what your true north is, then the implementation is much, much easier.
Dana: Then what would you say your true north is, or the true north of your company?
Mike: I think at the end of the day there are three things that drive us. The first thing is, I really want to help people get jobs. One of the things that just weighs on me, I’m hearing the news, the economy sucks, somebody opens up one position here and there are four thousand applicants, how do you even have a chance? So I’d really like to help people have another tool. Is it the only tool? No. But if it is a tool that can actually help people find the right people for the right role, and relieve some of this pain, I think there is some goodness that can happen. Second thing is that I’d like to relieve some of the pain of the hiring manager. I think it is hard to be a hiring manager because you are overwhelmed by opportunity. “How do I find the right kind of fit?” I’d like to do that. Third thing is, I’d really like to have a sustainable business that is forthright, that’s ethical, that’s valuable, that people want, where people feel like this is warm and inviting. “I want to do business with these guys.” I’m not going to call anybody else out, but there are certain online business models right now that I think are not reflective of that. Where you have force participating in the form of sharing something via a social networking site, loss of control of your data, of your story, participation without even your knowledge. You’ve got places that are putting profiles together, and rating systems together for you where you didn’t even opt-in, they’re just build for you. That is a little bit difficult for me, really I’m old school on this, but I just tend to think of those things as being right on the edge of being unethical. That’s not who Steve is, that’s not who Bart is, that’s not who I am. What we’re trying to do is create something valuable, create something useful, and create the right kind of community where people can get it. [Provide] more value and participation with the investment that they make in time. And maybe if they become a customer and provide money, that’d be nice too, …have to make a living.
What we’re trying to do is create something valuable, create something useful, and create the right kind of community where people can get it.
Dana: Thank you. I wish you every success and thank you for taking the time to meet with me. Did you have any other questions or anything else to add?
Mike: Nope that’s it. Thanks very much, I appreciate the opportunity to chat with you.