Ann Hudspeth is the UX Design Manager at Magento Inc. She joined Magento in 2016 after spending four years at Dell where she was leading the user experience of their sales platform. Before that, Ann spent 13 years at Microsoft where she looked after the products ranging from MSN.com to Windows OS.
Ann is also a District Leader for the Humane Society of the United States. She is usually followed by a posse of small dogs and also known as the “Crazy Dog Lady.”
Cloudways: Ann Hudspeth, as the UX Design Manager at Magento, how did it all start and how did you end up at Magento? Also, please tell us a little more about your professional background and your role in Magento development?
Ann: Like many others who’ve been in the industry for a few decades, I started when there weren’t separate designers, developers, and project managers. I was a “webmaster” and first employee for a small startup just as the Internet blossomed in 1996. I shared a desk with the founder, and she helped me figure out Photoshop and Quark. There weren’t even code editors back then – I wrote HTML in Notepad! After spending a few years there, I switched to another agency. Here, roles were more distinct. I worked as a project manager but saw that the designers were My People (shout out to John McRandle and Rachel Bachman, the first Real Designers I met). I started taking design classes at the School for Visual Concepts in Seattle and then got my first design job at Microsoft just a few days after Y2K.
Spending 16 years at Microsoft and Dell taught me so much about product design, people, and getting things done. I’m lucky to have made friends at Dell who ended up at Magento, like my fellow design manager Eric Erway, and had nothing but good things to say about it. On my first day at Magento, I already knew a handful of people, and we were all so grateful to be here we practically had to pinch ourselves every day. I still see this reaction in new employees – the environment here is so good that you expect the other shoe to drop at some point, but it never does. It’s just a great place to be.
Our company leadership is stellar, people work together to accomplish unified goals, and we have a lot of fun doing it. Also, I will be speaking at Magento Imagine 2017; you can check the session details in this link.
Cloudways: You have 20 years of experience under your belt in UX and Design, and Leadership experience at large firms like Dell and Microsoft, etc. What were the biggest challenges you faced in your initial days? How did you tackle the problems and difficulties?
Ann: The biggest challenges in my initial days were dealing with ambiguity and understanding how to get things done. I had to learn to speak up and ask questions and feel confident about not knowing anything at all. Eventually, I saw that other people in the room also had the same question, or I would discover a problem that no one else had identified. I also got tired of wasting time designing things based on false assumptions!
Watching products get shipped (or not get shipped!) taught me a lot about how to get things done in a tech company or even in life. Identify the correct people to influence, speak in their terms to explain the value of your proposal in a win-win way, make your communications clear and actionable, and clear a path to success. Those things are just as necessary as creating a great design.
Cloudways: How does Magento define User Experience (UX)? Do you feel that the simple but responsive design has had an impact on the user experience and design process of Magento? From the propagation of a user-centric approach to the product’s designing and development, how do you work with the rest of the Magento team?
Ann: Most people consider User Experience to be the design and interactions that make up a product’s visual presentation, but it’s much more than that. It’s the expectations and reactions users have when using the product and the entire journey they have as your customer. We’ve focused on that user journey for Magento developers in our most recent releases, and took the time to map out their experiences through key scenarios. We performed usability research not just on our web interfaces but the entire installation process and even on how we’ve written our APIs. We will continue to improve our UX by focusing on how our different users move throughout Magento.
The Magento engineering team uses a standard agile methodology to manage our work. This allows us to prioritize our backlog and respond quickly to important issues as they come up. The UX team members own different project areas and partner with product owners and developer scrum teams to groom stories and provide design solutions. We work closely with key members of the product team (like Paul Boisvert and Elena Leonova) to ensure that we get enough runway to tackle larger UX problems. This can be hard when work is expected to be broken up into two-week sprints! The UX team typically runs three or four sprints ahead of the development teams as we sketch, create prototypes, and perform research on our solutions before they go to dev.
We talk a lot about our Design Principles here on the UX team because they are the way we remain focused and create design solutions that are appropriate for our users and our brand. Our first principle is for our product to be “Clear,” which is a little different than “simple” but definitely related. One of Magento’s biggest differentiators is the depth and power within our product to customize and scale to address just about any eCommerce problem you throw at it. That can often result in cryptic or overwhelming UX. Our goal as designers is to make clear what the interface does and to expose UI when the user needs it and not all at once.
Cloudways: What are your earliest creative memories? How have they manifested into your professional career and growth? Which project do you consider as your professional game changer and why do you think that it took your career to the next level?
Ann: Art and music have meant the world to me since I was a child. Throughout the first half of my life, I was certain; I was going to be a famous rockstar. I ended up living in Seattle after college and was a cook by day and musician by night until the Internet came along. I think all those years of performing music on stage have made me comfortable speaking in front of people. At corporations like Dell, they have improv comedians come in to teach effective communication strategies. Being a likable entertainer and quick on your feet are qualities that every successful leader must have.
While I was at Microsoft, I was the lead designer of the MSN.com home page through a major redesign. The project was much more of a business negotiation than a design exercise. Every pixel impacted the bottom line of many competing businesses within Microsoft. I became more curious about the business strategy behind the projects I was working on and decided to go to business school.
Getting my MBA took my career to the next level and helped me become a successful manager. It helped me get familiar with all the factors that go into deciding a company’s direction, and it strengthened my marketing and leadership skills. I love being a manager because I can share my experience and help solve problems in a wide variety of areas. I hold up the quality bar, make sure the team is running smoothly, and assist in creating a culture of openness and fun in the office.
Cloudways: What are your preferred methods of conducting user research?
Ann: My personal favorite is Ethnographic Research. I was an Anthropology major in undergrad and have always loved being surprised by what I find when exploring a new environment with a real person as my guide. This is the best way to try to internalize the user’s perspective, and let it inform the solutions you come up with later. You can usability test those solutions after they are created, but they have to originate with some understanding of the user, or they will be quite off the mark.
Cloudways: What does your work desk look like? Could you please share some pictures with us.
Ann: Here is the picture of my work desk. I like my space to reflect what’s important to me.
Cloudways: If someone is going to design their first application, what advice would you have for them? Any motivational words for students and newbies?
Ann: Deeply explore the problem before jumping into the solution. There are lots of great resources out there that can help you define an efficient design process. Google “Design Thinking.” It’s easy to waste time by doing the work before getting clear about what you are hoping to accomplish. Once you’ve defined the problem, it will be simpler to break the solution into chunks and prioritize the pieces so that you won’t get overwhelmed. Then just do it!
Cloudways: We have talked a lot about UX and Magento. How do you spend your free time? Would you share your hobbies and personal interests with our readers, and do you like playing games, watching movies, and hangouts with family and friends?
Ann: I’m mostly known as the local “Crazy Dog Lady!” I love dogs and currently have four, who are endlessly cute and entertaining.
I have volunteered with animal advocacy organizations for many years, and am currently a District Leader Volunteer with the Humane Society of the United States. I help get animal legislation passed and work in the community to educate the public on animal issues. To not get overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs to be done in this space, I partnered with the most powerful, well-run organization where I can work with the most capable people to make a difference on the largest level I can. That’s HSUS and my partner in crime, Texas State Director of the Humane Society of the United States, Katie Jarl.
Cloudways: We provide 1-click Magento installation with impressive speed & great cloud infrastructures embedded within the platform. Do you prefer shared hosting for Magento stores or a cloud hosting environment like Cloudways offers?
Ann: One of the most unique strengths Magento has is our vibrant ecosystem of partners, merchants, and developers. Magento is a powerful tool, and the better your setup, the better your outcome. Cloud hosting is a great way to get started and scale up quickly and securely.
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