Building the SolarCity Recruiting Website through design & video

In early 2015, art director Kyson Dana and I worked together to build a platform and video/photo campaigns to recruit 1000 people a month for SolarCity. Founded by Elon Musk, Lyndon, and Pete Rive, SolarCity is the nation’s largest solar power provider with more than 16,000 employees.

Kyson Dana used a thorough design process to build the site’s UI/UX and visual design elements as well as writing and photography. I focused on the video production and photography elements.

Demand for clean and renewable energy solutions has dramatically increased in the past few years. SolarCity solar installations have doubled year after year since 2006, and shows no sign of slowing down.

SolarCity production year over year

Because of such rapid growth, SolarCity outgrew its onboarding process and was not meeting its goal of recruiting 1000 new employees per month. It wasn’t telling a compelling story and attracting new talent. In fact, we were even losing top talent to competing solar companies.

Step 1: The Problem

Kyson met with Tanguy Serra, the President and Chief Operations Officer for SolarCity, and he shared his concerns about how installers weren’t being recognized or appreciated for their efforts. There was a lack of camaraderie that’s necessary for feeling career satisfaction and pride which reflects poorly in front of our customers and impacts the overall well–being of the company. Kyson and I put some thought into what design could do to help solve these problems. We pored over the careers pages of the website and noticed how unappealing, dispassionate, and confusing it was. It was unclear how to see available jobs in your area and didn’t highlight the benefits of working at SolarCity.

Here are examples of the old SolarCity recruiting style:

Kyson pitched Tanguy the idea of building a bold recruiting microsite with an easy-to-remember URL that would really capture the essence of what it means to work for SolarCity and why SolarCity is the best choice as a future career. He loved the concept and directed Kyson and me to work with developers and have the site shipped within 6 weeks.

Step 2: Research

We spent time with people in each role that SolarCity Operations was targeting for recruitment. That meant many very early mornings in warehouses organizing equipment, loading box trucks, interacting with the team and their customers, visiting city permitting offices, and installing on rooftops in blazing hot sun, rain, and even heavy snowfall across the United States and Mexico.

By working intimately with operations teams and having dozens of conversations about what motivated these teams to perform well with a strong culture, we could pinpoint design and video styles that would be successful in attracting top talent. We learned first-hand exactly what constraints we were dealing with, which set the boundaries of what and how we needed to communicate.

While visiting offices in various locations, we shot and edited photos and video to fill the site with content customized to fit the bold style we were looking for. The imagery was captured specifically to get into the minds of our audience, highlighting what motivates current employees to get out of bed early and work even when it’s freezing cold or burning hot outside.

Photos Kyson and I shot and edited

Step 3: Design Sprint

Kyson introduced me to Google’s Design Sprint method and we decided it would be a great structure for accommodating such a fast turnaround. We blocked 5 days and found a room with whiteboards and cut out all distractions.

Kyson started off with sticky notes, mapping out the user flows, and then on to quickly sketching out ideas. After wireframes and grey-boxing he went about defining the visual style of the homepage so that it could carry across to the other pages. The website is intended to look visually different than the consumer facing site because it is targeting a different audience than that of SolarCity’s main demographic. The visual difference was a challenge that we had a lot of discussion around because we wanted the site to speak to a different audience, yet still feel like it lived within the SolarCity ecosystem. We finished prototyping and had an outline in Tanguy’s hands by the end of the week. Over the weekend, Tanguy made suggestions and we had an approved outline by week two.

Example of Kyson’s gray box designs

Our outline mapped out the main pages of the site:

  1. Homepage
  2. Why SolarCity
  3. Meet a crew
  4. Where we are
  5. Job postings
  6. News (blog)

A design challenge Kyson faced early on was creating a navigation that could make it clear that this was SolarCity’s website, but that it was a career’s page. The user needed to be able to return back to solarcity.com, or remain in the recruiting microsite. It also was a challenge to build this site in a way that allowed it to be scalable and replicated not just for recruiting installers but also for the sales, engineering, and headquarters departments. The best solution we found was to create a secondary navigation that had a drop down with links to the other website.

Icons designed by Kyson Dana
Design by Kyson, Photography by me

Having formulated a website outline and identified our constraints, I was able to clearly define what content was needed where. Our developer was able to use our simple design system and start coding our design prototypes into an actual site. During web development I was able to take our shot-list from the design sprint, grab a camera, and build a library of content specially curated for each section of the site, being mindful that the content was about more than designing something that looked pretty — it also had to work well.

By the time I finished shooting, the site was up and ready to be filled with content. As I edited photos, and videos, along with creating some visual designs with a fellow designer, the engineer would fill the site accordingly.

It was important to us to create a site that was responsive, maintained it’s goal-oriented design, and followed a strong grid structure to keep everything tight and organized.

Layout designed by Kyson Dana
Mockup of Kyson’s design

Visual Design Application

After the user experience was mapped out, prototyped, and tested by several employees at SolarCity, Kyson explored different design options. We wanted the visuals to be bold, impactful, and carry the same amount of grit and intensity that so many of these construction-working installers displayed. We also wanted the visual design to enhance the user experience and push the user towards applying.

The homepage solved several user needs as articulated in the job stories.

  1. It provided highly visual content that emotionally captured the users attention.
  2. It clearly articulated the three main reasons why a user would want to work for SolarCity (compensation, career, and impact).
  3. It acted as a hub for news and stories that could be shareable, in order to bring new users to the site.
  4. It had a clear CTA that guided users toward applying.

Improved Searchability

One of the main user pain points was that the job search itself was cluttered, difficult to search, and unhelpful in aiding the user solve the problem he/she faced. Kyson changed that by making the job titles easily readable and the jobs could be sorted by location, type, and date posted. Users could also search by entering their zip code.

Communicating the message

When SolarCity speaks to it’s customers it focuses it’s message on saving money, how the solar panels will look on the home, etc. When SolarCity speaks to it’s employees it needs to share messages of impact, potential, and teamwork. The employees of the company feel like they are called to a higher cause and are not working to simply lower a customer’s utility bill but to instead play one of most influential roles in climate change that this planet has ever seen.

Results

Since the launch of the website, SolarCity has seen tremendous results. Not only does the website look beautiful but it has proven to be incredibly effective as well, driving 80% of its traffic into the conversion funnel. Kyson Dana and I are very happy with how it turned out.

  • First month after launch had an 80% increase in qualified applicants
  • Increased brand presence on social media from passionate employees
  • Clear difference between working at SolarCity vs competing solar companies