Design Spotlight: an interview with Jourdan Nyhof, Product Design Manager
We chat about Jourdan’s journey into Product Design Management, how she fosters team culture, and inspiration through her muse, Hank 🐶.
This interview was monitored by Austin Couillard, Sr. Brand Designer and Pavi Designs, Sr. Product Designer.
Hi Jourdan, tell us about yourself.
For starters, I’m a fair weather runner and french fry connoisseur 😊. I live in Waterloo, Ontario (where I’ve lived most of my life) with my partner Greg and little dog Hank. My hobbies revolve around Canada’s seasonal climate, so depending on the time of year you can either find me reading a book by the lake, or cross country skiing through the forest.
I currently work at Okta as a Product Design Manager for the Developer Experience (DX) product area, which is a set of related problems and experiences that the company devotes specific attention toward improving. My team designs products for the developers who are implementing and managing Auth0. In addition to our administrative dashboard, the DX domain builds our partner ecosystem, documentation site, and design system.
How did you get into product design management? Were you a designer previously?
My first job in Product Design was at a startup. Working on a small team meant wearing a lot of hats. Not only was I working as a full-stack product designer, but I also had responsibilities in project management, customer support, and sales. This experience gave me a deeper understanding of how our different teams worked together to achieve lofty business objectives. In my next role as a Design Lead with another startup, I managed a small team of designers responsible for the UX of the company’s core product offering. This was a much more strategic role, and it was also the first experience I had making forward-looking decisions.
These roles not only helped me develop technical expertise, but they also involved a variety of business units and product markets that offered critical learning experiences to becoming a design manager. Through this process, I felt the importance of prioritizing and building trusting relationships with my peers. This helped ease what can sometimes be a difficult transition to leading a team you were previously a part of. Trust, accountability, and strategic alignment are critical to any manager’s success.
What surprised you when you first became a manager in your career?
Ironically, what surprised me most about transitioning from “Designer” to “Design Manager” was how little time I spent actually designing. My priorities shifted from creating user solutions to fostering an environment where my team can add as much value as possible. Don’t get me wrong, I still love working on a solution alongside my team. However, as a manager, my first and most important responsibility is to lead, support, and advocate for my team. That being said, there are many parallels between my current role and the roles I previously held. Namely, I still view my primary job as “problem solving,” and with that follow similar methods of discovery and iteration to be successful. Further, I am still accountable to delivering great design. However, this accountability is no longer only personal; I am now accountable for the work of my team and the value it creates in the organization as well.
What’s it like working at Okta?
I love working at Okta, and I attribute that largely to my team. The design team is filled with talented, high-performing designers and managers. That means we’re always (and I mean always) looking for ways to work more effectively and contribute more strategically across the organization. Although this pursuit can be difficult to keep up with, it’s the result of a culture that cares deeply about our mission both as a company, and as a design team. As such, I’ve come to appreciate the challenges we face because it ensures constant opportunity to learn and improve. I also know that I have the support and trust from my team to fail. For every success I’ve had as a manager, there were as many missed shots and course changes along the way. At Okta, you have the freedom and autonomy to try; the value of which cannot be understated. Last, but not least, working here is fun. I truly feel like my colleagues care about me and that makes it feel less like ‘work’.
What are you currently reading or listening to?
I am part of two book clubs which demand the majority of my reading time. The first is our UX book club at Okta that many of our designers participate in. At the beginning of the quarter we vote on a book to read and then get together at the end of the quarter to discuss it. We recently read Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, and Ruined by Design written by Mike Monteiro. Next up is Laws of Simplicity by John Madea. Our conversations are light and the learnings don’t always apply directly to our work. This is intentional. The book club environment holds space for each designer to share their unique perspectives and takeaways from each book.
The second book club I’m in is with my family. We read all kinds of books, and it’s interesting to see the titles chosen by each member. We’ve recently been working our way through the A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas. It’s a fantasy fiction series about a mythical world ruled by fairies with different magical powers. If you want to get lost in a good story, I highly recommend it.
Can you show us your workspace and walk us through your typical workday?
I would consider myself a morning person so my work days usually start with an early morning workout or run. My partner owns a fitness coaching business so I try to squeeze some time in our gym when there’s space available. I also try to eat a big breakfast before work because once the workday starts, I never know when I’ll get a chance to eat lunch!
The first thing I do when I get online is catch up on anything I may have missed from the night before. Because we’re a distributed team working in multiple time zones, I’ve had to adapt to staying on top of async communication, mainly slack. I spend a lot of time on calls during the day meeting one-on-one with my team and collaborating cross-functionally on different initiatives. Most of my deep work time is spent making sure that my team has everything they need to be successful, and that our focus is aligned to the priorities of the business. As soon as work is done for the day, I get started making dinner. After dinner, my partner and I take our dog, Hank, for a long walk through the neighborhood and catch up on our days.
What are your go-to beverages throughout a work day?
My go-to drinks are coffee and sparkling water. There’s usually one of each on my desk at all times.
How do you maintain a healthy mindset or practice with work?
There are two key things that really help me deliver my best work and manage stress. The first is starting my day with exercise. By the time I start work I know that my workout is already behind me, and I’m fully focused and awake before my first meeting. The second thing is taking some time to decompress and transition out of the “work day” when it ends. When I was first adjusting to working from home, I was having a hard time detaching from work and really missed the quiet reflection that I had previously enjoyed during my commute home. I find that some planned solitude and silence is especially important as a manager because I spend so much of the day talking on calls.
Let’s say time travel exists. What’s one piece of advice you would give yourself at the start of your career?
The one piece of advice I would give myself is to take responsibility over my own growth and development right away. Early in my career, I hid from feedback and actively avoided career conversations. At the time, I thought my managers were going to just let me know whenever they decided I’d demonstrated the right skills to be promoted, or tell me if I wasn’t meeting expectations. As a result, I spent a lot of time guessing where I should focus my development and learning. Now, I have a strong appreciation for honest and constructive feedback, and I make sure that I’m aligned with my manager about key areas for my professional development.
At Okta, what are your team’s go-to methods for connecting and getting to know each other?
There really is no replacement for in-person quality time when it comes to connecting with one another. I believe that showing a genuine interest in your peers goes a very long way to building trust and fostering healthy collaboration, both of which are especially important on a design team. On my team, we start our weekly meeting with a 5-minute “About Me” presentation from someone on the team. It is up to the presenter what they want to share. It can be anything — something new that they learned, how they’ve been spending their weekends, or a trip they recently went on. These presentations usually lead to a deeper conversation and some friendly joking before we start with our meeting agenda.
What would you tell others who want to get into product design management?
Start by learning about how the product design manager role that you’re interested in is different from the role that you’re currently in. Once you’ve identified the differences, look for opportunities to demonstrate the skills needed to bridge the gap. It may be things like adjusting to longer-term thinking, building mentorship skills, or finding operational changes that can make the team more effective. If you can strengthen those skills in your current role, you’ll be better prepared when an opportunity to become a Product Design Manager comes up. Secondly, I would strongly recommend letting your manager know that product design management is a career path that interests you. Being upfront about your interests will help your manager give you better feedback, and potentially provide opportunities to develop the skills necessary for your career goals. There may be initiatives that you can partner with your manager on, or even lead yourself. If you don’t ask, you might never know!
Where can people connect with you?
I’d love to hear from you on linkedin :)