Speaker spotlight: Jane Austin on building better digital products and teams

Ppbelfast18 Jane Austin

How do you build a great, performant design team?
I think hiring is my number one job. I do this by building my network so I can tap into lots of great people, by being present in the design community as a speaker, teacher and mentor, by knowing which organisations are doing good work so I can get a sense of someone’s experience before I meet them, and by developing an eye so I can ‘read’ a portfolio.

And then it's about giving people clear goals, structure, autonomy and inspiring them.

How do you bridge the gap between design and development?
If you work in squads containing product, design, research and development as we do, it's not a problem at all.

Making sure the designer goes to grooming and really explains what is to be worked on, inviting the devs to observe research and investing time in making the team gel and feel psychologically safe are all really important, too.

What do you look for when you hire people?
Apart from great work, I hire for attitude. I hire people I like to see in the morning. After all, I spend more time with them than I do with my friends and family. Soft skills and emotional intelligence are key.

What does it take to build a great digital product?
First you need product market fit. Are you actually solving a real problem that enough people have? How do you know?

You need to know your audience and their needs and use research and data rather than making assumptions. Then you need to execute really well, and continually improve and iterate, based on research and data.

What are your favourite user research approaches?
I always say there are two types of research — research that tells you you are building the right thing, and research that lets you know that you’ve built the thing right.

You need both.

How do you become a design leader, and what advice would you give to designers making that transition?
So, you are good at your job — this means you get promoted. Then you become terrible at a different job - being a leader.

Each step is a big emotional challenge — moving from maker to manager, and often then managing people who were previously peers, then leading a team, and finally to being a very senior leader such as a director. Each stage is different and brings different challenges. Try and understand what those challenges are and see how others have dealt with them — and also work on your emotional intelligence.

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in your career?
Do good work and tell people. Don’t assume that your boss or senior people know what impact you have. I’ve always tried to do great work, it took me ages to realise that I needed to tell people, and I saw other teams and people taking credit, getting promoted or bonuses or whatever. Now I’m an advocate and a publicist for me and my team.

What will people take away from your talk at Pixel Pioneers Belfast?
How not to piss off your design team!

And conversely, hear about some good practices to help make good work happen.

Apart from Jane's talk, Pixel Pioneers Belfast on 23 November features seven other talks covering ecommerce design patterns, new web technologies such as CSS Grid, Web Components, Custom Properties and the Web Animation API, how to design an intuitive navigation, and more. Smashing Magazine's Vitaly Friedman will also host a workshop on Smart Responsive UX Design Patterns on 22 November. Save £45 on a conference and workshop bundle.