Hello! Who are you? Tell us about yourself. What are you passionate about? What do you enjoy doing?
Hi there! My name is Jannis Hegenwald and I’m a designer from Germany, currently living in Austin, Texas. I like to work on things that make people and teams better, because I believe that together we are better than alone.
How did you get started in product design?
I originally went to school for business and engineering but never really enjoyed it. The way it was taught at my university didn’t resonate with me—it wasn’t the way I saw the world.
When I learned about design, I felt immediately at home. The ideas, the approach, the methods, everything seemed more aligned with my natural way of solving problems. So during my Master’s degree, I went to design school, took design courses, and read pretty much everything about design I could find. In addition to that, I just did a lot of design work, some for clients, most for myself.
Eventually, I landed a full-time job as a design researcher at a consultancy in the U.S.. After doing design strategy work for a while, I felt the itch to be closer to the execution again, to work on a product. So I started looking for roles in product design and luckily found a great team at Atlassian.
Where do you work today? What is your title?
I’m a designer on the Trello team at Atlassian, where I currently work on the integration between Trello and Atlassian. My title is Staff Designer.
How big is your company? How big is your design team?
The whole company is almost 4000 people. About 200 of those are part of the design org which includes designers, researchers, and writers. My direct design team is currently at 14 people, but I think we will grow a little more next year.
What types of things are you responsible for day-to-day?
I spend most of my time as the lead designer across two squads that are integrating Trello and Atlassian. Essentially, we are trying to make it easy for teams to use all of Atlassians products, whether they are software teams, a group of students, or a department at a local municipality. In practice, this means a lot of design research, conceptual mapping, and collaboration with the engineers on my team.
Aside from my active projects, I’m supporting other Trellists with their research. Trello is a constant stream of ideas and questions, so there’s always someone looking to test a concept or a hypothesis. I give advice and guidance on methods and best practices.
What do you love most about your work?
One of the things I love about working in UX is that it involves creative and analytical work. I’m either making sense of things or trying to come up with new things—or both at the same time. And the fact that this happens at the intersection of humans and technology makes it even more interesting.
The part I enjoy the most about working at Atlasssian is that I get to work with a bunch of super smart people who are excited about making quality products. It’s motivating and inspiring when your teammates are excited about ideas and want to explore them with you.
What drains you at work?
Like many people, a lot of back to back meetings can make it difficult for me to be at my best and to add value to the discussion. Over time, I’ve gotten better at managing my energy throughout the day. Aside from just getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and eating good food, I have found that meditation and walking meetings are a good way for me to keep my energy up during long days.
Can you walk us through your typical work day?
|7:45am||Get to work, grab coffee|
|8:00am||Deep work: I try to do what Cal Newport calls a “bi-modal days”, which means half the day is deep work and the other half is shallow work (e.g. meetings). As much as possible, I spend my mornings in the work. Usually this means design work, project updates, or writing. I set my status to busy and go somewhere quiet to avoid getting distracted.|
|11:00am||Team stand-up: Once a day, we check in with the whole team to discuss what we’re working on. Some of my teammates work remotely, so it’s important to get regular face time.|
|11:30pm||Break: Around 11:30 I usually grab some food and get a little break from the screen. Sometimes I just go out on the balcony or walk to the coffeeshop around the corner to get some fresh air.|
|12:00pm||Another hour of deep work: I use this time to finish up my morning work, follow up on things that came up during stand-up, or prepare for my afternoon meetings.|
|1:00pm||Afternoon meetings: I try to schedule all of my meetings back to back in the afternoon to avoid fragmenting my day. Most of my meetings fit into the following three categories: Meetings with my squad to plan or review our work. Meetings with my design team to get feedback and learn about what others are working on. And meetings with partner teams to stay up to date and plan how we work together.|
|4:00pm||Wrap-up: I try to use the last half hour of my day to wrap up anything I haven’t finished yet and to plan the next day.|
Where do you turn for inspiration?
Movies, books, and blogs are a great source of ideas for me. I’ve also learned a ton about design from playing games or reading about them. Mostly though, I get inspired by people. Whether it’s my teammates, my wife, or friends of mine that are not in the field of design—I regularly find myself being inspired by their ideas or what they’re working on.
What design or project are you most proud of? (It can be recent or older).
When I was working on Stride, Atlassian’s former chat app, I lead a project in which we developed a set of communication archetypes that we used to equalize participation in chat. It helped us develop features that would enable anyone on the team to participate in the conversation, regardless of their context, personality, and the culture of their team. That way, teams could focus the best ideas, not the loudest voices. Even though Stride was eventually shut down, I love that we took the idea of equalizing participation and made it real within the app.
Walk us through the design process you used for a recent project (you can pick any project).
I start all of my projects with some sort of kick-off activity in which we capture the goals, scope, and impetus for the project, as well as some sort of success metric. Some of the things we discuss during the kickoff are hunches, but having a baseline helps us make decisions if we want to change course later on.
Based on this, I try to understand who the users are and what their needs are. This often involves some sort of design research activity like user interviews or a competitive analysis. Whenever possible, I try to involve teammates in the research, as this builds a shared understanding and helps establish a sense of ownership across the team.
Once I feel like I’ve got a good understanding of the problem space, I explore a number of different ideas and solutions. This means sketches on paper or the whiteboard, lots of sketches. When I feel content with the concepts, I decide on a few different ones and share them with the team. Together, we decide on which ones we want to prototype and test.
I try to prototype and test at least two different concepts because the spectrum helps us get a better understanding of our users’ needs. I prefer testing in person with users, because it allows me to be more creative with the method and include participatory design activities. If time is tight, however, we might outsource the test, do guerrilla testing in the street, or run it on Usertesting.com. It’s not ideal but usually better than not testing at all.
At this point, we have a concept or solution that’s generally meeting our users’ needs. Depending on how confident we feel in our solution and how much there’s at stake, we either do another round of iteration and testing or move on to speccing and shipping.
While the team is building the feature, I will work with the date team to set up data analytics for our feature. That way, we can track how our users are using the feature once it’s live.
Generally speaking, once a feature is shipped, we track it and evaluate if it’s successful (i.e. meeting the goals we set). This could be done via analytics or through regular benchmarking. Depending on our results we will make changes or leave it as is for now. Usually, we roll features out to small cohorts first, track their behavior, and then decide if we need to iterate before scaling it up.
The last step of the project is doing a project retrospective. This helps us understand what went well, and what we can improve for the next one.
What career advice do you have for product designers just getting started?
Three things come to mind:
- Always start with the core problem you’re trying to solve. You will have a ton of ideas and there will be a lot of people asking you for things, but you need to keep the core problem front and center, and it’s usually not the interface. If you’re interested in learning more about this, check out the “Start at the epicenter” section of Jason Fried’s book Rework or Astro Teller’s blog post “Tackle the monkey first“. They’ve capture it extremely well.
- The other thing that is important when you’re starting out is don’t get too worked up if your designs aren’t that great yet. Especially in the beginning of your UX career, your designs will probably fall short of your expectations. But that’s normal and over time, your skills will catch up and your designs will be where you want them to be. So don’t worry too much if you can’t quite get it right at the start and instead just explore and spend time designing. Ira Glass has written a great little blurb about this part of the creative process.
- Look beyond the craft of design: There are a lot of technical things to learn about design but at the end of the day, design is about people and there are disciplines that have studied people for a lot longer than us designers. Sociology, psychology, anthropology, and ergonomics are some good fields to start with to deepen your understanding of why some designs work well and others don’t.
Where’s the best place for folks to learn more about you or follow you?
I love meeting other designers and talking about design, so don’t hesitate to connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn. I’m also part of a few design communities on Slack (product tribes/other slack thing) so if you’re part of them as well, let’s talk.
Also, we’re always hiring designers at Atlassian, so if you’re looking for a great job, check out our open positions here. If you have questions about a position or Atlassian, feel free to reach out to me as well.