I recently told my friend I need to stop chasing new shiny things. It’s exhausting.
For most of my career, I’ve sprinted straight towards the unknown. The first sprint was towards WPNI. This was the team that worked on washingtonpost.com way before Bezos was in the picture. From there, I moved to Gannett where I focused on researching, prototyping and validating new ways for consumers to get information and new ways for advertisers to connect with these consumers.
The most heartbreaking of my adventures was probably Project Thunderdome. This was a series of firsts for me; it was my first experience as a manager, my first experience hiring and firing a team and the first time I really leaned into the intersection of my two passions — storytelling and design research.
WeWork caught my attention because Tomer Sharon was doing something new. He was treating research like a product, removing friction from how we work. His work on Polaris, and research nuggets, tackled some of the design challenges I had been thinking about as a researcher. And, he was pushing the norm on how a design team should be structured. When I got to WeWork, Tomer was already gone but I was able to meet some of the people Tomer hired. Then, I watched almost every single person on his former team leave WeWork.
Over the past couple of weeks, WeWork has quietly let go some of its top talent. This isn’t the first time this has happened. There are many reasons companies do this, some reasons they disclose and others they do not, but the point of this post isn’t to get into that.
The point of this post is to celebrate another leap of faith and the amazing humans I met because of it. I wanted to tell you about a few of the designers and researchers looking for new opportunities post-WeWork life. Maybe your project is their next leap of faith.
Matt, or “Whets,” was one of the first 30 employees at WeWork, working close to seven years alongside some amazing coworkers in WeWork’s high-growth environment to push a scrappy little startup into one of the world’s most valued companies. There are now 10,000 WeWork employees.
During that time, he helped launch over a dozen full-featured products for iOS, Android, and Web. He was involved in hundreds of team-led and self-led initiatives from conception to production with human-centered design as a cornerstone of his process.
When Matt wasn’t leading design teams, Matt was leading culture initiatives such as creating the design and brand of the internal Pride of We employee resource group for LGBTQ+ employees. Everything from the logo, to numerous stickers, swag, and event promotions and more.
WeWork isn’t WeWork without Matt Whetsell. I’m truly shocked.
Kayla is a research evangelist. She’s passionate about making research visible and accessible which is why she started #why_members_leave, a Slack channel where people — for example, cofounder Miguel Mckelvey — could see why members were leaving WeWork.
During her three years at WeWork, she conducted hundreds of field interviews and observations. Once she played bartender at a WeWork event so she could observe and deeply understand how members interacted with our community team at events. Kayla also led research from discovery to validation on workplace experiences, providing insights that not only addressed major pain points but inspired design to create delightful experiences around otherwise mundane yet fundamental tasks (like meeting and printing).
Tomer Sharon, the former head of UX at WeWork and author of “Validating Product Ideas Through Lean User Research,” said this about Kayla, “Kayla is exactly what you look for in an early-career practitioner: curious, hard-working, go getter attitude combined with humility and eagerness to learn, absorb, and apply…She is passionate about design research, data science, and many other aspects of user experience. I see great things in her future as she grows her career. Any organization is lucky to have her as a team member.”
Kayla has a knack for business processes and systems as well. Her colleagues around the company excelled thanks to this. She drove the creation of Polaris at WeWork as well as the participant recruiting system the entire company used.
Keaton is a design leader with a passion for creating products that get out of the way and enhance real-world human experiences.
During his three plus years at WeWork, Keaton led a team of product designers responsible for creating WeWork’s member-facing applications, which are used by over 400,000 members and 10,000 employees. This included proprietary community-focused products for both WeWork and WeLive, as well as the tools members use to manage their space.
Keaton has more than 9 years experience in leading design teams and cares deeply about developing and maintaining team culture. At WeWork, he was instrumental in growing the team of designers from a team of four to a team of more than 40 in three years.
Daniel is a researcher with a love for architecture and design. He’s managed both social scientists and data scientists while exploring a range of topics including spatial design, user experience, social networks, people analytics, site selection, and market research.
During his three plus years at WeWork, Daniel established, hired, and managed the fundamental research team, a diverse group of researchers with backgrounds in psychology, data science, anthropology, architecture, biology, and business. His research was published in articles from Wired, Fast Company and the New York Times.
Daniel also managed the research guild, the single place where researchers across the company came together as a community to learn from each other and investigate some of WeWork’s most complex physical and digital design challenges. If it wasn’t for Daniel’s leadership during WeWork’s rapid growth, researchers scattered around the company would have zero visibility into each other’s work, or even their existence at the company. If it wasn’t for a newsletter and repository Daniel established for the research guild the company would have limited visibility into the insights gleaned across these pockets of research.
Pro tip: don’t forget to ask Daniel about his work on the Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudí’s world heritage listed basilica in Barcelona. He worked directly with the Executive Architect, Mark Burry, to develop a suite of computational design tools that followed the logic of Gaudí’s design process. The parts of the basilica he worked on are now under construction.
And Lastly, Me.
Making the world a better place through technology, storytelling and delightful experiences is where my passion lies and people are at the center of it all. I thrive in mission-driven organizations looking to build or amplify a user-centric culture.
At WeWork, I collaborated with designers, data analysts, product managers, and engineers on the development of physical spaces, digital products, and services. Through strategic and tactical research, I surfaced actionable insights for my mission about the needs, behaviors and attitudes of our real estate and development organization. This includes WeWork’s best in class interior designers, architects, deal managers, analysts, lawyers and our construction managers.
In less than a year, our mission researched, prototyped and validated two products critical to the future of WeWork, allowing the company to continue its path of rapid growth while decreasing the effort it takes to maintain high standards of its physical product. For example, the product launched for WeWork’s interior designers decreased the amount of time it takes to spec out an interior design project by more than 50 percent. I designed, managed and executed the research efforts.
Prior to me joining the team, there was no researcher on the team. I drove the adoption of design sprints, focused on rapid understanding of user needs and trained product, data and design teams on this method; in addition to establishing best practices for how the team conducts usability studies and field research.
Prior to WeWork, I did a tour of service with the United States Digital Service, a startup at the White House that pairs the country’s top technology talent with the best public servants, to improve the way services are delivered to the American people. During my tour of service, I managed the relaunch of the Global Entry application with one million new users per year projected, evaluated and validated prototyping efforts for a biometric entry/exit system at United States ports of entry, and directed field research in Southeast Asia focused on the U.S. refugee admissions experience.
Over the past 10 years, I’ve mentored and trained teams on human-centered design methods all over the U.S. and at MozFest in London.