Right after I left Peixe Urbano on the first quarter of 2013 a friend that was doing some freelance work for Pond5 would have to stop and then he introduced me to Tom Bennet, the founder and CEO of the company. We’ve got to meet in person since he was in Rio at the time. I started to do some freelancing work for the company and then got hired as a full-time employee.
Understanding The Terrain
First thing I learned: Pond5 was a small company with offices in New York and Prague (by acquiring Pixmac, a Czech startup) and the product team was remotely distributed mostly in Europe. It took a while to me to familiarize myself to the different time zones between Europe, USA, and Brazil. But was a good challenge especially while meeting and working with folks from different cultures.
The company was founded in 2006 and soon I felt that was going to be a very different and slow path to start shipping stuff. But since I was the new guy I knew that I should do my best to help everyone see the importance of shipping fast, relevant and valuable features for users while helping turning the founders vision into reality.
It was the first startup I worked that was already profitable at the time I joined and also a product that helped hundreds of media artists to live by doing what they do best. If you don't know Pond5 yet, you should start by watching this video.
A few months after I started to work at Pond5, the company did the first company summit so everyone that was working remotely across the world could finally meet each other. A great opportunity to me, first to visit New York City and to finally meet and do face-to-face work with all my co-workers.
Cleaning The House
Pond5 never had a full-time designer taking care of the product so when I joined all design assets were disorganized in a huge Dropbox folder and many, many files. I deeply believe that to do good work you have to keep it organized. Otherwise, you’ll spend more time dealing with files than actually getting things done. So I started to cleaning up the folder and trying to put some sense in all those pieces.
After all, we decided to let Dropbox go and use Google Drive since the company was paying for Google accounts. I grabbed everything from Dropbox and dropped in an OLD folder inside Google Drive and then started from scratch. Took me some time to do it but It was needed. Right after that clean up, I started to make some UI stylesheets, and pieces from the upcoming redesign.
Starting With The Operator
I never had the idea of how many people were needed to be there curating media all the day so our users could see what’s best and relevant to them.
Was quite shocking to see that the UI that they had to use for 8 hours per day was that bad designed, out-dated and highly inefficient. My first project was to redesign the Curators Tools and create some relevant new features that would improve the work efficiency of these guys and girls.
I started my research based on some notes that the Curators had about the current tool. Then doing some interviews by Skype and watching some screen recording on how they were using their tools and where I could start improving.
We though that would be interesting for the company and for the curators to have a quick status of how much they were curating and what was the current status of all medias.
This helped Curator managers to have a better visibility of each Curators workflow and also helped all the Curators to better undestand the volume of their jobs.
Observing how curators were working, we knew that we should create a way to automatically organize different artists into profiles. Then we created artist badges to help curators quickly look at long tables and classify a specific artist. That made it possible for instance to assign kind curators with artists that needed more maintenence and care.
Catching Simple Things
Especially when curating images we observed that curators had to download the image, go to photoshop and zoom in at a 100% to check for sharpening, noise, etc. So we made a quick image view/zoom/drag tool to avoid all that time wasted in between downloading and switching programs.
Time to Redesign
After all the clean up and the ground work with curators, I was ready to start revamping the visual layer of the user-facing product. Redesigning and refactoring are always big decisions in a company life. But there’s a stage where you have to decide and just do it because otherwise you’ll end with a product and engineering team supporting bugs and bad UX instead of innovating and creating value to users.
I always paid attention to the Pond5 User Community, an old forum full of valuable and insightful information about how users were experiencing Pond5 and what they were wandering next, feature wise.
Based on all info I got from our community, analytics and aligned with the business objectives we decided to start with some internal pages first to create a solid foundation. Also having the time to proof and mature the new designs before revamping the entire home page and other systems like Search Engine or Users Dashboard.
We also knew that our product was outdated for a long time especially comparing with some of the old players and new players on the market. So all the redesign needed to be planned and done as soon as possible to help on retention and acquisition of new users.
Pond5 supports an extensive set of media types and aspect ratios from photos and videos to PSDs and 3D files. That make all systems quite complex because we always have to pay attention to the specifics of each media and make sure we’re approaching it the correct way for the users.
I designed skins for Audio, Video & Image players and helped Pond5 to plan the switch from a flash based player to a Html5 player.
One of the most challenge projects I did at Pond5 was the new taxonomy for media types that would populate the new drop-down menu. To re-organize all types and subtypes of medias into a new system that also had to be good and consistent for upcoming media types in the long term.
The strategy was to talk with each media owner, exaust and lock the possibilities for each media. Write all down to a spreadsheet and start playing "Lego", presenting, getting feedback and repeating until all sides were happy and then putting everything together into a usable UI.
We also added smart collections to all media types so we could have a quick way of search for seasonal or new relevant media.
To get to the most recent home page, I did a lot of concepts. Months were invested doing wireframes, mockups, and A/B testing small sections while observing users reactions to it. We concluded that the home page should always stay fresh, with new and best selling content, and be clear about what Pond5 is to an Artist and a Buyer in a short sentence.
Working on a Global Company
Working at Pond5 was for sure the biggest cultural experience in my life so far and the foundation for me to start doing remote work. With offices in New York and Prague, working and meeting people from completely different cultures and countries truly and deeply impacted the way I think, plan and execute design.
After almost two years I felt that was time to me to do something new, fresh or just work with different people and see what’s next in my career. It was a good timing because Pond5 managed to hire the amazing Dusko to do some contract work right before my exit. I could spent my weeks helping on the transition and making sure everything was smooth.
Thank you for reading.