Hello! Who are you? Tell us about yourself. What are you passionate about? What do you enjoy doing?
Hey there, I’m Jeff Golenski! I’m a UX designer (user experience designer) at Automattic. I live in New Bedford, Massachusetts. I’m a life enthusiast. I’m passionate about about helping others, human/product interaction, and learning.
I have more hobbies than I care to admit. In the spare time you can find me balancing my plugged-in time rigorously. Kayaking, camping, and astrophotography are my jam. I’m also an avid aquascaper and raise poison dart frogs (yes you read that correctly). I can thank the long-winding tunnels of the internet for acquiring some obscure, yet amazing passions.
Where I live & work. New Bedford, Massachusetts. Photo Credit: Frank Grace
How did you get started in product design?
I began tinkering on the internet at an early age. Eventually, the low bar of entry to building websites (and my curiosity for understanding how things work) led me to building marketing websites for local businesses. In high school I created a small media business building WordPress sites, which paid my way through college.
I double majored in Web Development and Design & Digital Media at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. By the time I graduated I was well versed in traditional design methodologies and web development. It wasn’t until a few years later that I began to delve into real product design. I eventually signed on as the sole designer at BruteProtect. I worked to create a cohesive experience from marketing straight through into product experience. It was here that I found my love for customer research & user interaction.
Where do you work today? What is your title?
I work at Automattic, Inc which is known for products such as WordPress.com and Jetpack. My official title is “Product Designer,” but I can be found doing anything from brand and marketing design work to customer research, flow mapping, and visual product design.
How big is your company? How big is your design team?
At the time of this writing, we’re just over 850 carbon-based lifeforms from around the world. I believe the design team itself is just under 70 now. When I first joined Automattic in late August of 2014, the company was around 300 total and design team was around 30.
What types of things are you responsible for day-to-day?
Over the past year I’ve really begun to hone my focus. I tend to spend a lot of my time looking at data and customer feedback—quantitative and qualitative research—to learn how people are interacting with what we’re building.
Aside from that, I’ve turned into the go-to person for customer/user flow analysis and audits. Everything from marketing right down to the end of the customer lifecycle.
What do you love most about your work?
I love the freedom to explore and evolve as a designer and as a creative. We have a large multi-cultural, multi-lingual, and multi-national company/customer base for me to learn from. People from around the world have different wants and needs for products. Learning to be less USA-centric and creating a product for everyone to use is a highlight for me.
What drains you at work?
I’m a massive proponent for process and the endless pursuit of productivity. However, in a distributed company there are a lot of folks using different tools, non-stop exploration of new tools, internal processes, and a continuous stream of communication. Things don’t shut down at 5pm because in a distributed company 24 timezones means 24 hours of work happening every day.
Sometimes I really have to force myself to close Slack so I can focus on accomplishing actual design work, rather than getting distracted by constant streams of communication and random pings (messages). Discipline and an established routine are paramount for maintaining creative sanity and staying ahead of the productivity curve.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve had weeks that were non-stop meetings, messages, and what I thought were incredibly productive… only to find that I didn’t create one mockup or write one line of code.
Can you walk us through your typical work day?
|7:00am||I highly value sleep in order to have a productive day. I typically sleep until 7:30 or 8. (I don’t believe“morning people” actually exist. :-P)|
|8:00am||Rise and s…slowly wake up. Time to brew some coffee, make a protein shake, feed the cats, and stare out the back window planning my day ahead. Sometimes I listen to an audiobook for a little while.|
|8:30am||Begin the work day in my home office or commute to my local coworking space.|
|9:00am||Catch up on communication / work from my colleagues in EU timezones. Respond to email / slack pings / or provide feedback to fellow designers & developers from their work while I was still in slumberland.|
|10:00am||First work block. Some days have team or project calls, others I remain hyper-focused on design work.|
|12:30pm||Lunch / screen break. First real meal of the day since intermittent fasting seems to keep me sharp.|
|1:00pm||Second work block. Sometimes calls, but mostly another “heads-down” focus block.|
|3:30pm||Gym time. Arrive before the “after work” rush and get down to business with weight training, cardio, and stretching. Also doubles as my meditation time. Audio book listening to/from gym commute.|
|6:00pm||Dinner with the family. Try and prevent cats from stealing food off my plate.|
|7:00pm||Third work block depending on the success of the earlier work blocks.|
|8:00pm||Family or hobby time.|
Where do you turn for inspiration?
This is always an interesting question I see in a lot of interviews, and I never know how to properly respond. I could list a bunch of websites, “design thought leader” twitter accounts, or design showcases… But that’s not really “true” inspiration to me.
I find my true inspiration out in the world. By talking and interacting with people, with things other people have built, and in nature. I design products that solve real problems for real people. Inspiration is reaching out to the potential customer in Japan and realizing a part of the product UI is broken due to language differences. Or it is by going to a photography conference in middle America and speaking to someone who wants to have certain features on their portfolio website and is having trouble even getting started. True inspiration is listening.
What design or project are you most proud of? (It can be recent or older).
A recent project that I’m really proud of is actually a high level internal project I lead at the end of 2018. With one of our more popular WordPress products, there was no internal map and it was missing a lot of data pieces that were needed to give us a lot of vital information about our customer base, where they were coming from, and what they were doing.
I lead the initiative to flow map the entire product, visualize its information architecture, map our acquisition channels (where people were coming from), and benchmark various levels of competition from start to finish. After the first phase of the project was completed we had a much clearer view of our customer demographics and places we could improve user experience and business advantage.
Walk us through the design process you used for a recent project (you can pick any project).
This is where things get really fun. I subscribe to a new emerging concept/discipline called “Growth Design.” Basically Growth Design adheres to the same set of processes and methodology of Growth Hacking/Marketing but places much more value on a customer-centric approach, rather than strictly a business-centric approach. Good design is good business.
I recently gave a talk about Growth Design at WordCamp Portland Maine in late 2018. Think of it as a way to drive customer and business value by way of recurring design procedures. It’s also a way to provide more cohesion between marketing design and product design—where a fault-line is often seen in many businesses.
I utilize the A3R3 Growth Funnel to target different areas of the customer lifecycle and improve upon them in a contextual way that suits the customers needs when and where they need it.
- How can we drive more awareness of our product?
- How can we drive acquisition of our product? (Emotionally invested people)
- How can we drive activation of our product? (Sign ups)
- How do we retain happy customers? (Reduce churn)
- How do we drive referrals of our product (Get people sharing it)
- How do we gain revenue with our product?
Growth Design employs a design process of Research > Ideate > Ship > Measure > Repeat. Start by looking at one of the growth funnel segments above, researching it, and then shipping an idea. Measure its success and then iterate on it. Always follow up on every idea that’s been shipped and work to optimize it with a new iteration. “Always be shipping.’”
What career advice do you have for product designers just getting started?
Get out in the world. Meet new people, learn new cultures, experience new things. You can’t be a great designer by sitting at your desk and browsing Dribbble. More on that here.
Where’s the best place for folks to learn more about you or follow you?
Glad you asked! Twitter is probably best for having a good 280-character conversation. Otherwise you can find my adventures, travels, and thoughts on design at DesignTactician.blog. I also give away some of my photography for free on Unsplash.