Name Dropping is a Q&A series that aims to elevate the stories of women and nonbinary people leading in the tech space. The idea came from Angela DeFranco, a VP of Product at HubSpot, who said one way to be better allies is to name drop more women and nonbinary people in discussions of achievement, inspiration, and disruptors in tech, instead of referencing, time and again, the same set of (often male) leaders.
When did you first decide you wanted to go into design and why?
I was incredibly young! I knew I wanted to be a designer at 10 years old. Usually, people stumble into it later. I started studying information design in magazines. Instead of being wowed by the writing or the photography, the large drop caps and headlines pulled me in. I wanted to design provocative type like that. I would literally tear the pages out and tape them on my wall. Kids usually hang band posters, which I did, but I also hung up magazine layouts so I could try to recreate them.
Later, I designed MySpace templates for friends and friends of friends. I loved crafting the layouts and creating cohesive color schemes. In high school, I joined journalism as a way to design. I didn’t want to write, I just wanted to make the newspaper look more like a magazine.
During the same time, my brother was going to school for graphic design. I talked to one of his professors to figure out what steps I needed to take in high school to become a designer. He said I needed to take art classes to get into art school (there weren’t many design programs at this time). I panicked because I had never been good at drawing or painting but I picked it up quickly. After high school, I went to art school and the rest is history.
You’re currently VP of design at Hudl. What’s one of your favorite design projects you’ve worked on with the team?
One of my favorite things about Hudl is that we ship incredibly fast. Which means I’ve been able to design a lot in the last six years here.
Hudl Assist is definitely a favorite. It’s a service that gives teams and coaches time back. Teams send us their game and our analysts will break it down, tagging objective data. It’s a huge relief for coaches, especially, because it means after the game they’ll have stats ready to digest instead of having to tag it themselves. I was on the cross-functional team creating the tagging product and interfaces for teams to submit their games. We started with basketball in 2015. Now, we provide this service for football, soccer, lacrosse, ice hockey and volleyball teams. It was humbling (and really fun!) to design a system that has scaled to so many sports and has become core to our business.
What is one quality that you think every leader should have in order to generate impact and lead effectively?
Vulnerability, hands down. I believe vulnerability is one of the fastest ways to build trust. And leaders need trust to generate impact and lead effectively.
If you could change one thing about your career so far, what would it be?
I go back and forth on this. I want to say that I’d tell myself to slow down. But if my husband or anybody else who knew me heard me say that, they’d laugh. I’m quite ambitious even if I don’t let myself see it. I hire people who found design in their second career. They didn’t necessarily go to design school or know they wanted to be a designer when they were 10 years old and it makes me wonder what would have happened if I would have slowed down a bit.
However, I am where I am today and I’m so grateful. I work with the best and I want to continue building one hell of a design team who loves serving people (customers, users, and each other).
How do you stay close to customer feedback?
I try to weave it into my daily schedule and even start my day with it. I read their opinion through NPS feedback or surveys, look at engagement, sentiment and renewal dashboards and talk to my team who talks to their users daily. But there really is nothing that beats hearing feedback from customers directly just by talking with them (either on a sales or support call or a check-in).
We have a Slack bot that shows who’s conducting interviews around specific products or features in a day. This makes it easy for me to sit in and listen.
Accessibility in design is top of mind for many of today’s users. What advice do you have for design leaders looking to improve in this space?
Become BFFs with your legal team. Accessibility is currently mandated state by state and country by country. As design leaders, it’s core to our role to understand accessibility needs. If you don’t have an in-house legal team, see if you have a lawyer on retainer. Sit down with them and ask them to explain the regulations.
Build accessibility into your design system, too. Miranda Bouck, Lead Product Designer of Uniform (Hudl’s Design System), designs components that follow WCAG guidelines so it takes some of the lift off our design team.
Who is one woman or nonbinary person in tech you would like to name drop and why?
I’m going to name two. The first is Leigh-Ann Bartsch. She’s a Design Director at Policygenius. We used to work together at Hudl. She is a fantastic design leader. I personally define design as problem solving. Leigh-Ann’s ability to distill the problem down without making a customer or user speak in our technical language is powerful. That’s a skill that develops with time and experience.
The other is Sally Carson. She’s Head of Product Design and User Research for Duo Security at Cisco. We met at Within, a design retreat for women in design leadership positions. She encouraged me to go for the VP of Design position at Hudl. I admire her leadership and grit, especially in the security industry, which is male-dominated.
Do you have a favorite sport you’re looking forward to playing, watching, or just gathering data for when everything gets back to normal?
So, spoiler alert: I’m not a huge sports fan. I started working for Hudl because I love solving problems for people. With sports, I get to serve customers and users who are diverse. They live all over the world, some who play, some who are fans, coaches or parents, young and old. However, I love the energy at games. Seeing a community come together to cheer people on is magical.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I would definitely love to plug Hudl for anybody looking for a job. Hudl is an amazing company that cares a lot about their employees. One of our values is we’re a family. It’s been really awesome to see us live that value through COVID-19.
Know another woman or nonbinary person whose name we should drop? Tweet us at @HubSpotDev with ideas.