The Emotion of Design

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  • Marissa Louie , Principal Designer, Yahoo

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About Marissa Louie

The old adage used to be “Engineers rule Silicon Valley” but that has changed dramatically over the past few years as the design-centric influence of companies like Apple has taken over. Now, designers are the darlings of the tech world, and top talent is in high demand. Marissa Louie became a poster girl for this trend through an article the LA Times wrote about her leaving Apple for Yahoo.

Marissa hopped on her soapbox and explained to us about why design is so important, why it’s so competitive and how appealing to users’ emotions can lead to engaging customer experiences.

grayscale photo of Marissa Louie

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Design’s Role in Innovation Has Become Crucial

Marissa brought out how there’s now an avalanche of startups. The easier it becomes to start companies and create products, the more important it is to differentiate a product from the competition. Designers are the shepherds of a good user experience and this involves many other areas outside of design. Marissa herself studied industrial engineering, economics and business at UC berkeley. She brought out that because of the empathy designers have for users, they know them better than anyone else. This intimate understanding of user needs and behavior enables designers to influence other areas of a company including marketing, growth hacking, biz dev, sales, customer development.

Shepherd Users’ Emotions

I'm just obsessed with creating the best user experience and that's it.

What it all boils down to, according to Marissa, is caring about the user. She pours herself into her design and endeavors to create the best experience possible because it reflects on her personally.

For Marissa, creating usable, functional design is not the end goal, but a basic building block. The ultimate destination is something that connects with the user on an emotional level.

I think the role of exceptional designers is to be the shepherd of their user's emotions, to be the guardian of how your users feel ...

Marissa then walked us through Yahoo News Digest, and her efforts to connect with users on an emotional level. Yahoo News Digest uses animation and curates a feed of stories that value the time and attention of its users. Some of the content is depicted in what she calls “cinemagraphs,” animated images that come to life on the page. This combination of surprising design and great content has led to a sticky experience that users keep coming back to, an experience Marissa called “enchantment.”

Marissa broke down emotional design into three elements: anticipation, joy and trust.

  • Anticipation is the feeling users have as they await the experience.
  • Joy is making users feel happy, positive and even ecstatic about the experience.
  • Trust involves several factors like valuing your users’ privacy.

Surprise and Delight

One element that popped into the conversation again and again was the idea of enchanting users. Marissa explained how she brought elements of her entire life and experience, her culture into her design thinking. She stressed the need for maintaining a childlike sense of wonder and enchantment. The youthful whimsy and purity that is so easy to lose later in life, is absolutely necessary for creating rich experiences.

At Yahoo, Marissa has focused on enchanting, personal experiences starting with the Yahoo Homepage and Search. Her goal is make the Yahoo Search more personal for users through not just design but also other elements like personalized updates about things like flights, package deliveries and more. In this way, she is proving that designers can influence elements outside of visuals, things like product features and functions.

Marissa had much praise for Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s CEO, who she called “a triple threat CEO.” She brought out how Marissa Mayer had experience as a designer, engineer and project manager, giving her insights and skills necessary for running such a multi-faceted company. One of the exciting new developments for Yahoo is that it will now be the default search engine in the US for Mozilla Firefox, an effort Marissa had a huge hand in.

Our discussion with Marissa ended with a question and answer session with the audience. We want to thank Marissa for coming down and sharing such incredible insights with ZURB and the ZURBsoapbox audience.

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Ryan: All right, so we're going to get started here. Everyone, please give a warm welcome to Marissa Louie. She's a Principal Designer at Yahoo, she's worked at Apple, a bunch of places. She's going to tell us all about emotional design today. Thank you, Marissa, for joining us today. So have a seat, and we'll just kind of dive right into it as soon as I turn on my fancy tablet here to see my notes.

So I kind of want to dive right in. You have this great design pedigree, right? You worked at Ness, which was acquired by OpenTable and was voted 2012 Best App in the app store. It's a pretty prestigious thing, right?

Marissa: Thank you.

Ryan: And then you worked at Apple, which, isn't really the nirvana that we all make up in our head.

Marissa: I have some friends from Apple in the audience.

Ryan: Is it really like heaven? That's what we all imagine Apple to be, right? You go in and there's like...

Marissa: It kind of is, in a way. I'll leave it at that. I can't tell anymore.

Ryan: Oh, you can't tell anymore? Okay. But after that you were hired at Yahoo, and there was an L.A. Times article that came out asking 'do designers really rule Silicon Valley' and I kind of wanted to get your point of view having this design pedigree of why is design really so hot right now and why are companies trying to just snatch up designers by the bushel?

Marissa: Yeah, definitely. Well, thank you guys. I think we have over 100 people in the audience. This is amazing. Who here is a designer? And who here is an aspiring designer? You're either one of the two. Awesome, got it. Well, first of all, thank you so much for having me. Well, first of all, the L.A. Times article was kind of embarrassing because...

Ryan: It was like Headline: Marissa Louie Snatched Up By Yahoo.

Marissa: ...and it wasn't prompted by anything. I didn't talk to any reporter. They just saw a tweet that I pushed out there when I said "Hey, I'm at Yahoo now" and it wasn't that Yahoo stole me from Apple, actually, but it almost made it seem like that so you can't trust everything you hear in the media.

Ryan: As a former reporter, I have to say shame on that guy for not actually calling you and getting a fresh quote and just using your tweet.

Marissa: I'm not that scary, you know. Talk to me. But in terms of design's role in innovation, I think it's really just become so much more crucial because we have this slew of apps and this really increasing avalanche of startups that are starting up everyday around the world and so as it becomes easier to start companies and to build products, it's so much more important to have those products differentiated and I think the role of design and designers, as the creator of design, is to really be the shepherds of a good experience for users. So if you really want your users to have a special, magical experience that they connect with and that they want to come back to you really have to have designers be the lords of that experience.

Ryan: They have to be the ownership of creating that great experience. I think even you said that your goal kind of as a designer is to make people feel good, right? So what is it that design brings to that table that companies are now realizing and why is it important to actually make people feel good?

Marissa: Yeah, well, first of all I think design is very interdisciplinary. I actually didn't study design in undergrad and I studied industrial engineering, economics, and business at UC Berkeley, which does not have an undergrad program in design so I've seen along my design journey that I have been able to apply design knowledge to so many different areas for different roles at different companies including Ness Computing, which got acquired by OpenTable. I lead branding and marketing and PR in addition to doing design.

Ryan: When did you sleep?

Marissa: Not really ever. Maybe about 4 hours per night on average. I did sleep otherwise I wouldn't be here today. The importance of design as an interdisciplinary field is such that designers can have this insight into all these auxiliary disciplines that are outside just core product creation so we're not just talking about designers having engineering skills and product management skills but also biz dev, sales, marketing, growth hacking, customer development. All of these things that designers can pick up naturally because designers have this empathy for users and they want to create the best experience and so pushed to the nth degree designers can really move into any of these spheres of influence and any of these industries that sort of touch design as well.

Ryan: Right. You bring up something interesting because I know we have some students from San Jose State here that are in the design program or the arts program and you talk about this interdisciplinary track here for designers. What would you say to those designers that are stuck in their core skill, for example, visual design. You always hear the arguments and I think we've had them all around here "Should designers code? Should they do this? Should they do that?" and they get siloed in this and they want to try to go across disciplinaries so how to designers get more involved with that? Especially because for customer development designers may not be like "Oh, I don't want to talk to customers. That scares me." So what is your advice to kind of move more towards that?

Marissa: Right, well I've picked up all of these skills that are outside of design but touch product and are core to building a tech business because I'm just obsessed with creating the best user experience and that's it. I just really care about my users. I really care about creating the best experience because that reflects upon me personally and that's the energy that I choose to put out in the world and I want that energy to be good. That's why I choose to push myself into all these different realms and I think the only thing that holds us back as designers in terms of learning things that are outside of one thing, outside of visual design or outside of UX design is fear, right? It's fear of not being good, right? So this fear of not being good is saying "Oh, well if I'm an interaction designer, if I try visual design I'm going to suck but guess what? We all suck at design for our first couple of years at least until we really start to see that, hey, I have a knack for this. I'm getting better at this. I see the light. I'm getting paid better and better for this, you know? And it's really fear that gets in the way. I think looking for opportunities to flesh out your skills outside of one core area is so important. So whether or not you do a conceptual mock-up of a product that you sort of just dreamed up or whether you actually are hired by someone, paid or unpaid, to do certain work, I think looking for those opportunities is so important. So whether you have that opportunity explicitly from someone else or whether someone else gives you that, definitely take those opportunities to challenge yourself.

Ryan: Right. It's kind of like you don't get better at it until you have those 10,000 hours of practice, right? But it starts with the first 50.

Marissa: I don't think that's true...

Ryan: Oh, how so?

Marissa: ...because I got my first job in design after working at design for two months so I think that's a bunch of baloney but, you know. I don't actually know how many hours I've actually spent on design throughout my career, but I think it's really more about the methodology that you take. The way that I learned design was starting in freshman year of undergrad I took a computer science class at UC Berkeley and fell in love with the design aspect much more than the coding aspect. The coding aspect I got done really quickly by the book, you know, very logical but design really enthralled me and I sucked. I sucked so bad. The background color of my first website was this purple-y blue that was pastel. Just really ugly. Really, really ugly.

Ryan: Is that found on the way back machine? What's the URL?

Marissa: I'm not sure but I'm not going to try to look. It was the same color as my favorite Jelly Belly jellybean and random and really bad so that would not fly today. The way that I learned design is giving myself progressively harder or different challenges, so I started out with making icons and websites. Then I started learning grid systems and typography and learning how to make e-mail designs and learning how to make iPhone apps and I just kept pushing myself along the spectrum and it ended up being the equivalent of a design undergrad education.

Ryan: Nice. And I think that's interesting because it's like, what are the other ways other than actually going to university to get that design experience?

Marissa: Oh, there's so many now.

Ryan: You could just go anywhere now, right?

Marissa: Yeah, yeah. I mean, whether you pay for a program like General Assembly or whether you just learn by looking at YouTube videos and blogs out there or whether you have a mentor showing you exactly where to go and books to read. There's just so many way to learn and I think that's so important because we all learn in different ways.

Ryan: Right, but constantly learning to get into those other disciplinary to make you a better, more rounded designer.

Marissa: Yeah.

Ryan: And you mentioned something that I kind of want to go back on because I think this kind of leads into the emotional design aspect. What for you- how do you define experience? You say you want to design good experiences. What for you defines, what is a good experience?

Marissa: I think a good experience is, I think I aim to do better than that, but I think a good, solid experience is what probably 99% of designers focus on and a good experience starts with having usable, functional, beautiful design that solves a problem. So starting with that basic building block and I think that's kind of what all of us probably think of when we think about good solid design. But I think beyond that basic building block is emotional design and it's really tapping into user's emotions. I think the role of exceptional designers is to be the shepherd of their user's emotions, to be the guardian of how your users feel and so I think the best design factors that into account and really gears a product toward making a mental, visceral connection with users that is really quite out there.

Ryan: And what would be an example for you of that where it is a product that does connect that visceral part of us that wants us to latch onto it?

Marissa: Yeah, I don't want to sound like a snob but really, not many.I sound really snobby right now, huh?

Ryan: That's okay.

Marissa: I really love Yahoo New's Digest. I'm not trying to promote that but Yahoo News Digest, it uses animation and it values your time as a user in that it curates a feed of stories that are the things you need to know for the day and so it leverages this really hardcore algorithms and back-end technology to provide atoms, what we call atoms, of information and stories to users and it's really delightful and it's just an engaging app and our users are spending so many hours on it per day, opening it up everyday on average one to two times per user. So we've got this really sticky experience and I think it really starts with not just the content but it's valuing user's time and it's put together in a way that's clear and easy to use but also has this element of mystery and enchantment in it.

Ryan: Right. So it has a little bit of surprise and delight.

Marissa: Exactly.

Ryan: So how would you say, maybe elaborating a little bit on the example you have, how does that app in itself use psychological triggers or motivations or anything like that to create that surprise, that enchantment, for the user? What are the elements there of emotional design?

Marissa: Yeah, so beyond just having photographs in this really cool visual style, some of the stories have what we call cinemagraphs where we have these animated images that come to life on the page and so they help bring that story to life and you wouldn't necessarily expect a cinemagraph to happen for a story that just broke in the news but we're on it and we're so fast and we have this technology that creates these cinemagraphs and uses those to connect with the heart of the user.

Ryan: Cool, and can you just break down, cause I've seen you talk, it's an excellent talk on emotional design...

Marissa: Thank you.

Ryan: break down what are the high level elements that go into that.

Marissa: Meaning typography and..
Ryan: The major buckets that a designer has to consider if they want to be an exceptional designer using emotional design. To create magic and enchantment.

Marissa: Got it, got it. So, breaking it down I think there's a couple of core elements that go into emotional design and I really think that three elements stand out in my mind. I would say it's these three: anticipation, joy, and trust. So those three elements, anticipation, joy, and trust. Anticipation meaning a user anticipates what they are going to experience next. There's a sense of looking forward to or even longing for something that connects your heart and your brain to an experience. Joy is making users feel happy and positive, ecstatic, even, about your experience and trust is really a couple of things. It factors in valuing the privacy of your users and not violating that and saying "Hey are we recording your every thought and trying to connect your every point in history back to when you were born? Do we know everything about you?" Or, you know...

Ryan: And now I can target you with all these ads over and over again.

Marissa: Just don't show me certain ads during certain meetings, okay? Man, I mean, it's like, okay show me the Rainbow Brite ad during my meeting with Yahoo's CEO, just please don't do that. Also with trust is, I think, is Clear Copy. I have so much respect for great copywriters. I had the opportunity to work with a couple of amazing copywriters when I was at Apple. Just getting a message so clear and succinct but also having copy represent the personality of a product so if your product is geared towards millennial it should be fun, a bit younger, and hip. If it's geared towards health insurance, it should be trustworthy and make it sound like "Hey, we professionals know about what we're doing and you should trust us..."
Ryan: Right, it's knowing your audience.

Marissa: "...because we bring all of this experience." Exactly. It's knowing your audience and tailoring it to that. So anticipation, joy, and trust really are the three factors that go into emotional design and beyond just emotional design is also engaging and retaining users as well.

Ryan: And you said in that same talk, I believe it was in that talk, you said "emotional design is beyond usability and aesthetics." Now, sometimes we can only think in those terms, right, because that's kind of what we're geared towards, right? Those are the things that are important.

Marissa: Right.

Ryan: But how can we make that leap beyond that logic? How do we wield those four elements in order to get there?

Marissa: Yeah, so beyond usability and aesthetics it's really pushing ourselves as designers to learn things beyond design. So we're not just talking about "Oh, I'm a visual designer and I'm going to learn interaction design" but it's saying "Okay, learn visual design, learn interaction design, learn product design" but push yourselves beyond that. I think each of us here in the audience has unique skills and a unique background and unique story that we've lived our whole lives and not discounting that experience and bringing in things that you know that only you know is so important. For me, I bring in things such as my love for stuffed animals and love for fashion. I designed this dress, and photography, and cooking, and so many things beyond just necessarily tech things. I have this rich life that is not just fun and whimsical but I also have this history where my family, actually, were co-founders of San Francisco Chinatown, for example. So, you know, sometimes bringing in elements of my own culture as well, sometimes, into my design. I think each of us has a really rich experience that we can leverage and we should never forget that, and so I think when we talk about going beyond usability and aesthetics in design it's really tapping into your unique super powers.

Ryan: And what are your unique super powers? Was it all of those things or stuffed animals? Because I know you brought them so I want to address the stuffed animals that are sitting here.

Marissa: Yeah, I think ultimately are not necessarily just in tech but just being a big kid. I'm just a big kid. I've never grown up. I hug stuffed animals to sleep and I talk to them and ... you guys are laughing like none of you guys do that.

Ryan: That's okay, I still collect Superman action figures so it's fine.

Marissa: We're homies. So I think just having this child-like wonder and enchantment with things and not losing that pure feeling. I think childhood very is often not logical and it's very often experience-based and it's so pure in that you wont stand for things that you don't like or things you don't want to do so I think channeling that and not losing that element of whimsy and play in what I do has been so important for emotional design and just the way that I live in that I really take the time to find that inner voice, that inner voice of that child, and let it out.

Ryan: It seems also that you're saying, and correct me if I'm wrong, bring something of yourself into that design.

Marissa: Definitely.

Ryan: Don't remove yourself.

Marissa: Definitely.

Ryan: You're talking about bringing not only the experience of you as a designer but bringing the experience of you as a person and that way you are able to connect with your audience. Can you give an example of how you've done that in your work?

Marissa: Yeah, I have a personal stamp on every single design I make. So there's something personal in everything I do. One example is at Yahoo, we released this flight tracker that looks like Yahoo Weather so it has a photograph in the background and as I mentioned earlier I love photography. I'm big on Instagram and I've won photography contests before and I was able to leverage my eye for photography and work with our photo editors at Yahoo to say "Hey, here are the guidelines for how we're going to use beautiful photos in a Yahoo Weather type of fashion and bring this software to life where if on Yahoo search you go and search for a flight you'll see your flight right there and that's an amazing experience because with Wi-Fi being on board on some planes now you can see exactly where you are in the sky. You'll see that plane animate to where you are, even and so that experience comes to life and we show you a photo of the destination that you're going to. So if you're going to JFK we'll show you a photo of the Statue of Liberty. If you're going to SFO we'll show you the Golden Gate Bridge or something in the bay area and so that really gets you excited and creates...

Ryan: That creates that anticipation, yeah.

Marissa: Exactly, you're catching on.

Ryan: I'm learning.

Marissa: Anticipation for your destination. And so users might not see that I've been in photography for over a decade but they see that experience.

Ryan: And now that you've brought it up I do want to talk a little about Yahoo because obviously there was the L.A. Times article with the big headline, right? Marissa Louie Joins Yahoo. But Marissa Meyer, she knows the value of design.

Marissa: Yes.

Ryan: You've even quoted her as saying "You can't have an entertaining, a delightful and inspiring experience unless it's well designed and thought out. That's why we're focused in terms of design." And since you've joined what has your presence had on the company and what are some of the design initiatives that they're going through now to kind of get there?

Marissa: Well, I joined Yahoo because I wanted to help turn around the brand and the design in the company and I saw a huge opportunity in that they had Tumblr, they had just acquired Tumblr, they had Yahoo Weather and I was like "Wow, there's something there but it needs to be pushed a little bit." Right, and I had a background in search and recommendations technology. I had a background in consumer media and fashion and all these things that I felt like were very relevant and found a great audience at Yahoo and that Yahoo would be receptive to that. So I had a chance to work on different design languages for the different Yahoo properties such as Yahoo Homepage and Verticals and Yahoo Search and beyond that really working on these products for Yahoo Homepage and Verticals as well as Search that I feel are really critical, not just in expanding a user base but in shaping user perception.

So for I designed the news feed, which takes up the equivalent of almost half the homepage as well as worked on social and growth and on Yahoo search. My sort of angle there is to make Yahoo Search more personal and more personalized to users where, for example, with the flight tracker, you can in the Yahoo Search page just see exactly where you are in a flight. You can also do that for an upcoming event, packages that you're receiving from Amazon and other places soon. So I've found that not only did I get to shape the brand and the design aesthetic but got to bring in my product design thinking and my background there and exert my influence in that way.

Design is so important for Yahoo that Marissa Mayer actually worked at Google as a designer and an engineer and a PM, right? So we have this triple threat CEO. She get's it. She really does. She knows the design tools, she knows how to code, she knows all of these things that are so crucial for running this company that is so multi-faceted and has so many verticals and so many properties and so in almost every conference I see her talk, she's talking about the importance of design at Yahoo and how she really wants to continue pushing Yahoo as being at the forefront of design and helping lead and shape consumer taste and preferences, not just in Yahoo but in general in terms of the online experience and also on mobile. So I think it's so crucial and I really do see that she is honest with her word and, actually, just a few days ago I hosted the design All Hands for Yahoo, meaning we have several hundred designers around the world and getting them together and showing them the latest thing from around the company and just being party of that experience just made me so proud to see work on Flickr and in Taiwan we have a sentimental news app that we released that has been tremendous and has been nominated for an IXDA award and has huge growth in the tens of millions.

So to be a part of that experience has been amazing and so when I think about my role at Yahoo I think it's definitely, I'm one piece of it, but I get to also learn from so many other talented designers around me and it starts at the top with our CEO having that appreciation for design as well.

Interview: The journalist in me does have to ask how design and how this new deal with Firefox, which you helped with, how is that going to bring the company back to the top, back to where it was years ago as the top search engine.

Marissa: Yes.

Ryan: Give us a little taste.

Marissa: For those of you in the audience who might not know, we just announced that Yahoo will be the default search engine in the US for Mozilla Firefox and my team and I worked on that effort and it was truly exciting to see that they welcomed us in and they made such a big splash out of it. Mozilla Firefox has over a hundred billion search views and clicks around the world every year and so that number is just astronomical and the US being a huge portion of that. So from a growth perspective it's been amazing but as a designer the perspective is we creates a special, unique search experience just for Firefox that is not going to be available in the other search browsers. We're giving Firefox users a dedicated experience of Yahoo Search that is streamlined and we're really going to be releasing more features in the future and it's exciting. It's exciting as a designer to see that there is a slightly different aesthetic because we have these new things that we're releasing just for Firefox.

Ryan: I look forward to my personalized Yahoo Search on Firefox with a little bit of surprise and delight and anticipation as well. And with that, I know the audience here has been anticipating asking some question so I'm going to pitch it to the audience. We have about 10 minutes per question so who'd like to start off? Michelle Dennedy, one of our former Soapbox speakers.

Michelle: Thank you for inspiring an anticipatory talk today.

Marissa: Thank you.

Michelle: My question is, and this is where wanted to . . . we're trying to get to playful and whimsical for a large multi-national company where particularly you have somebody gifted, and in your case, knows about design but also really profoundly went on and on about how long it took her to kern the exclamation point [inaudible 30:32]. So how do you balance between whimsy, fun design and yet still kind of break through the barriers of your [inaudible 30:40] for the large organization?

Marissa: Yeah, I think it starts with what the values are of that organization and that definitely starts with the leadership, as well as the designers on the ground and the people on the ground. It's not just an effort in silo, but I think designers need to have a really solid relationship and almost friendship with product management and engineering and design being that sort of trifecta of power that is the core of creating a product. So I think the more designers can make PMs and engineers look good, the more they'll be on our side. You know, beyond the hellos and greetings and grabbing a beer with them, you know, that stuff really matters. I think getting the input of PMs and engineers on design early before you just hand them off final designs is so important for that. But I think in terms of balancing whimsy and surprise and delight and all those good things with shipping and with the really crunch time schedule is, certain things are important, right? Certain things with the Yahoo logo, which I helped roll out, I didn't design it, but I was one of four designers who helped roll it out. Is that . . . the logo had not been redesigned ever, really, since the '90s and so that was an important thing to focus on that symbolizes the company and so we wanted to set it and then forget it and not have to worry about it anymore so because of that, there was a lot of thinking behind the presentation of the logo itself, which may sound a bit trivial, I think, to sort of non-creatives, but it's really that unifying identity of your brand. It's the trigger that you use to get people to think about you and your products and hopefully positive experiences and so I think it's so important to focus on the right things. I think there are certain cases where it's important to just ship and to not be so concerned about things being necessarily pixel perfect and that designers just have to be okay with certain things shipping just because of the natural pace of things.

Ryan: Next question? Yes.

Billy: Hi, I'm Billy, and you mentioned designers being afraid to move on to other kind of fields because of fear? What about the opposite of that? What happens when you find yourself interested in way too many things? So that you...

Marissa: Yeah, that's what I am.

Billy: start to feel like you can't really . . . you're not really focusing on anything, you're just kind of like spreading yourself thin.

Marissa: Yeah.

Billy: What's your advice for situations like that?

Marissa: Yeah, I don't necessarily think it's a bad thing to learn a lot of things or to be "spread too thin". I think once you get a solid handle on the core of what design is, I think, every learning beyond that is just icing on the cake, and it shapes your design, it makes your design unique, and it differentiates you from the 15,000 designers in the bay area, right? So, I always learn new things. This year, I learned how to make stuffed animals, and I got into industrial design and that I'm designing my engagement ring, and I'm pushing myself in all these different directions, but it makes me better as a software designer because I learn different nuances of different expressions on these stuffed animals and of materials and of shapes of things that I can bring as wisdom into my day-to-day as a software designer and so I aim to always continually learn throughout my whole life. I hope I never stop. It does mean that I'm going on so many directions, but I feel at some point in your career as a designer you've nailed down pretty much the basics of core product design and so where do you go if you want to grow? You either stagnate in being a good, solid designer that only knows design or you bring other learnings into that.

Billy: So how much time do you actually spend on meeting users and customers because sometimes what happens is product managers are spending so much time...

Marissa: Yeah.

Billy: ...sometimes talking to customers. So there is a sense of design that they've built up by talking to the customers and there's always the silent feeling that maybe I am, as a product manager, you understand design from the customer's perspective a lot better than a designer can actually deliver. These are so common situations all the time.

Marissa: Yeah.

Billy: That's why as designers, how much time do you spend with customers?

Marissa: Yeah, I think it's not necessarily just about the time but just making sure to do it.

Billy: Yeah, sure.

Marissa: I recently, a couple of weeks ago, did a user study on some of the products that I've been working on or have released recently at Yahoo, and I just love doing that. I just love seeing users learning from them. I love it when they bash the UI or they have recommendations for it, right? Because that's what really makes your product better and it's so important for us as designers to be able to handle feedback and we're not all perfect princesses.

Ryan: Speak for yourself.

Marissa: Right, Ryan?

Ryan: I am a perfect princess.

Marissa: You said it on record.

Ryan: It's on record. It's on tape too. It's going on Twitter. Michelle is typing it right now.

Marissa: So, it's so important to listen to that and not just listen but to incorporate that feedback and so I do every chance I can. I would probably cap it at a certain max but, you know, I'm actually grateful for being able to work with amazing user researchers at Yahoo. Today, I'm working with one right now who's from Cornell and, you know, just amazing. Before Yahoo, when I was at Ness Computing, I actually ran user research as well so in addition to design and doing PM stuff and marketing and PR also doing user research with over 100 users and I actually thought that experience was so important because we didn't have a big budget for it but yet I got to shake hands with our users. I got to have these visions of certain users in mind when I was creating new features so putting a name to the face, sort of having these user archetypes that are based on real people, was so important. So I think it is important to hear other voices so whether you test internally or with other users, it's important. I've even done guerrilla testing on the street in cafes and libraries, just walking down the sidewalk I'll try to make myself look as non-threatening as possible and as nice as possible and just walk up to strangers and see if they'll play around with whatever UI I have.

Billy: Sure. I got a final question, and especially in the products which are global in nature and you have audiences from several countries and there's one geography which is actually not picking up for you, how do you say that this is because of a design problem? So I have this product, for example, Yahoo Answers for that matter...

Marissa: Sure.

Billy: ...and this particular geography not picking up.

Marissa: Yeah.

Billy: I don't really see traffic from that geography. How do you say that this is because of design?

Marissa: Are you saying that it is because of design?

Billy: I'm not saying [inaudible 39:30] make a decision like that. How do you say that why is this really happening?

Marissa: Yeah, well I think no problem is just because of necessarily one thing.

Billy: I'm sure.

Marissa: Every team is not in a silo, at Yahoo in particular, and I think it requires looking at a problem from multiple angles and this goes back to designers being interdisciplinary and not just being art school grads but also being logicians and using math, using statistics, using common sense. Thinking about "Okay, is this a user growth problem?" Right? I actually think that designers should be the best growth hackers out there. Not just marketers because we have the tools to actually do something about it. So I don't know the particular problem you're running into but it might be a biz dev deal, it might that the language or sort of the alignment of the UI on the page needs to change or things like that. So it could be for a multitude of reasons, but I think being able to see what all of those potential reasons are is so important and it's not just the job of a PM, not just the job of a designer or engineer to do that.

Ryan: We have time for one more question so who has the final question? There we go, right there in the back.

Man: Hi. So I have a feeling that companies are going towards this more data-oriented code where [inaudible 40:47] measured on every single chain, and there's this big tension between adding more delightful features than actually using the metrics. I started working with brands, app store optimization so I'm working with these clients and I find that there's a struggle changing the brand and even when it's something that's tested how's that sort of incorporated in the process at Yahoo? What's your perspective on that tension when you push more delight and the engineers and PM's are working metrics?

Marissa: Yeah. I think, again, it starts with working working with the right people who get it and hiring the right people who get it. So I have the privilege of working with PMs and engineers who care immensely about design and they love to see me designing and just watch and provide their feedback as well and so I have a very engaged team that I work with so I think that those values are there and because those values are there we're not just operating based on A/B testing and saying "Hey, we're going to A/B test all these shades of orange or all these typefaces" but it's a matter of balancing out the analytics informing what the design is but we as designers should lead with thinking "What is the best experience for the user?" and I always think of things as a long-term game, as a long-term relationship with users, meaning if you A/B test something and it performs better but it makes users feel negative or left out in a certain way or confused, it's probably not worth it, right?

So we're constantly balancing the short term versus the long term, but what I found remarkably is that with my designs in particular when I look at the analytics and metrics and I think about the user experience is that when I aim and when I'm enabled to design for delight and emotional design, those designs perform better than the designs that are not that, right? So emotional design, in my experience, has performed better and so when you take that into account there are certain metrics that do matter. Someone recently posted a Medium blog post about metrics for designers, metrics that designers should care about. So there's certain things such as who clicks this button or what's the copy, things like that that matter for designers but the overall architecture of something cannot be A/B tested so I think it's definitely a balance.

Ryan: Very good. Well, thank you everyone for coming to ZURBsoapbox. Please give a round of applause to Ms. Louie. Thank you so much. I really appreciate you sharing your stuffed animals, your whimsy, and telling us all about emotional design.

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