credit: Dezeen

Why WeWork

I ask candidates we interview, “Why WeWork?” so I thought it might be useful for people considering designing for WeWork to hear my answer.

The most common answer from candidates, by the way, is that they want the opportunity to design across a variety of channels (especially outside of digital web or native apps) including environments, hardware, and human-to-human interactions. I think that is an exciting part of the job too! It’s important to mention, we’re looking for people that have that experience. It’s usually not enough to be interested or just have an intellectual curiosity, because we feel that the intellectual curiosity doesn’t necessarily translate to doing the job once people get into the muck of designing atoms as well as the pixels. That isn’t good or bad it just is what it is, so we look for people with past experience designing across digital, physical and service touchpoints; experience design is probably the best name for it, because we still can’t agree on what service design means.

What’s exciting to me about WeWork is also what scares me. At few other places, I’ve had the opportunity to design the same diversity of experiences for people that spend so much time in the experience.

When you look at the engagement metrics of a company like Facebook, or it’s child app Instagram, it’s shocking how much time we spend on these apps and the little slot machines we keep in our pockets. The behavioral dynamics that nudge that time to be spent on screen is frankly beyond my understanding or even awareness. I open my eyes in the morning and my finger is scrolling before I even wake up.

We inhabit an interesting time in the history of humanity, where a small number of people, numbering not more than a few hundred, but really more like a few dozen, mainly living in cities like San Francisco and New York, mainly male, and mainly between the ages of 22 and 35, are having a hugely outsized effect on the rest of our species.
Through the software they design and introduce to the world, these engineers transform the daily routines of hundreds of millions of people. Previously, this kind of mass transformation of human behavior was the sole domain of war, famine, disease, and religion, but now it happens more quietly, through the software we use every day, which affects how we spend our time, and what we do, think, and feel.

—Jonathan Harris, Farmer & Farmer

At WeWork, the average number of hours spent in the product or experience — we don’t think of it as one product, but rather as a journey members take in their relationship with WeWork — is as much time, for many people, as the amount of hours spent at the workplace—roughly 6 to 8 hours on any given workday.

Given the diversity ofphysical, digital, and human-to-human touchpoints, it’s important for us to design the journey that connects the touchpoints, features, and products.

From a business perspective, there are temptations with that kind of engagement. Digital products we use and enjoy for free, we pay for with our attention. We pay by exposing ourselves to content which was created with an agenda and therefor has an affect on our behavior. That kind of free is expensive.

I don’t say any of this to criticize Facebook (or frankly any of free app); many of the best designers I’ve ever encountered — Nicholas Felton, Russ Maschmeyer, and Tash Wong — to name a few, have put their talent toward Facebook’s mission. I just mean to point out an inherent tension between our need as people to exist in the real world, and a free app’s need to generate ad revenue through impressions that usually happen on screen.

“We’ve found out that having a price is really cool for making profits. You have customers, they pay you money for the product or service, and you get profits! It’s almost too simple to work.” —DHH, The Secret to Making Money

WeWork members pay with money. They recognize that we are delivering value in their lives and in the lives of their employees so they pay us. It’s tempting to slide from User Experience toward extracting or creating additional business value independent of consideration for user needs.

WeWork Galactic HQ

As a person practicing UX, it’s a challenge for me to maintain empathy for the business that keeps the thing running, pays for it’s operations, and importantly my salary, and to hold that sometimes seemingly contradictory force in mind, along with the needs of members. But fulfilling user needs and generating business value are not contradictions.

To make the two co-exist happily, we have to hold on to, and make visible, the golden thread of user need. Internally we’re kind of obsessed with interstellar metaphors. At the entrance to headquarters in Chelsea, we have a big poster of a WeWork flag on Mars. So we call that thread our North Star. As a UX team, we work to make that star visible to every employee in the company as we make thousands of decisions every day collectively that affect our members’ experience in the context of (what I consider) a still loosely organized organism called WeWork.

Polaris is the primary tool for WeWork employees to access qualitative research that provides answers to fundamental questions about members.

Paul Ford, who gave the graduating speech for my class at SVA’s Interaction Design program asked of designers,

“So that is my question for all of you: What is the new calendar? What are the new seasons? The new weeks and months and decades? As a class of individuals, we make the schedule. What can we do to help others understand it? If we are going to ask people, in the form of our products, in the form of the things we make, to spend their heartbeats — if we are going to ask them to spend their heartbeats on us, on our ideas, how can we be sure, far more sure than we are now, that they spend those heartbeats wisely?”

Paul Ford, Saturday, May 12, 2012. SVA Interaction Design MFA Graduation Speech

We are asking not just our users (we call them members) to spend their heartbeats on us, but also all the people that it takes to make those experiences a reality. That includes my team, because their time and lives are precious, and also the community management teams onsite running the buildings. These are the people most close to the creation of community and connections between members. It’s them and it’s the architects and builders that transform often old, sometimes historic buildings, into spaces that we can call WeWork.

The job of thinking of those heartbeats is not for the feint-hearted, but it’s work I feel is worth spending mine on.

N.B. The intention here is not to say that we are doing everything right…or nearly everything…or even half the things right. The intention is to describe what lights my fire at WeWork, which is the design challenge and my intention to have impact on it in whatever capacity I’m capable.

N.B.B We’re hiring!