Design at Geckoboard: Jack’s Story

It’s been just over a year since Jack Hallahan flew into the UK from Australia to join the design team at Geckoboard.

In that time Geckoboard has made big strides as a product and as a company, so I took the chance recently to sit down with Jack and learn a bit more about how the past year has gone for him and how he found himself working 10,260 miles away from his home town of Brisbane.


Nick: So Jack, could you start by telling me a little bit about yourself…

Jack: I’m Jack, and I’m a product designer here at Geckoboard. I’m from Australia and moved to London just over 12 months ago. It’s been really cool — I love living in London.

Nick: Cool. Have you got used to the weather here yet?

Jack: I’ve just survived my second winter — it does get challenging towards the end! I’m heading back to Australia for a visit in a month or two and I’m really looking forward to going to the beach and getting some sunshine!

I love summer in London though. Last summer was just amazing. Going to the park, staying out late in the sunshine was just beautiful.

Nick: What initially got you into product design in the first place?

Jack: I’d enjoyed design at high school, but I’d felt like I should pursue something more “academic” at uni. I started a few different degrees; journalism, law and politics but dropped out of them all. They were all subjects I found interesting, but I wasn’t truly passionate about them.

After dropping out of a law degree, I took a couple of months off to work out what I wanted to do. During that time I came to the realisation it was design I wanted to pursue as a career so I enrolled in a Visual Communication course — essentially graphic design. I never looked back!

The course didn’t involve much digital design, but the small amount it did I really enjoyed. When I finished uni, I started out as a graphic designer at a very small agency. A little while later I was approached by a web design agency, founded by some people who went to my high school. That was my move into web design.

It was an interesting time. I was there as the company transitioned from a digital agency to a product company. I was able to work for clients doing web design, as well as on our own product doing UX, UI, and some basic product management stuff. I was in well over my head, but I learned a lot and it was really interesting!

From there, I moved to another product company in Brisbane — an email marketing platform, before heading to London and starting at Geckoboard!

Nick: What were the biggest challenges moving from agency work to the product work?

Jack: What I loved the most about the change, was also one of the biggest challenges. With a product you get up every day and work on the same thing, making it better and better. With an agency project, you hit a deadline, hand in a piece of work, launch a website, and it’s out the door and you’re on to the next client.

It’s challenging working on the same product every day, but I also find it more rewarding. You get to know the customers and the users, and you get to make the experience better and better for them. You’re working towards something that you can really feel attached to and I love that.

Nick: So, what brought you to Geckoboard?

Jack: My wife and I got married in 2015 and straight away we started planning our move to London.

I began researching startups in London and came across Geckoboard. It seemed to fit exactly what I was looking for. It was just the right size. Past the initial, scrappy, MVP stage but still small enough to feel ownership over your work and make a significant contribution to the direction of the product.

It was also really important to me to find somewhere with a great culture. In 2015, I was chosen to go with a group of other young Australians on a tour of Silicon Valley. We visited big companies like Facebook and Twitter and Google, and small startups and incubators, and learned about the culture in Silicon Valley. It really inspired me, but there were some aspects I wanted to avoid. There’s sometimes a bit of bullshit that comes along with startups and entrepreneurism, and I don’t believe that it has to be there. Geckoboard seemed to have the good bits and not the bad!

Going through the interview process I could tell Geckoboard was a great fit. Being offered the role before even moving to London also reduced a lot of the stress of moving.

I took a week off after landing and then got started!

Nick: Well, we’re very lucky to have you! What does your average day look like working here?

Jack: I usually get in just after 9:00. At 10:00 we have standups where we all give a brief update. From there, my day can be a real mix of things depending on what stage we’re at in a project.

At the early stages of a project or feature I work very closely with our product managers. Often they’ll have done some prior research and started setting out the goals and requirements. Together we figure out the big questions we need to answer.

Once I’ve started designing and prototyping, they and the rest of the team are on hand to answer questions and give feedback. I also work very closely with our other designer Pete — it’s great to be able to bounce ideas off each other. I use a broad range of tools to create prototypes at the right fidelity level for different projects. For example, this week I’m prototyping some fairly simple workflows using Marvel, but a month ago I was building complex, detailed interactions in javascript.

When it comes to implementing a design I work very closely with our engineers. The whole team comes together on a Monday morning to plan the week’s work, and when it comes to coding up a design we tend to work out some of the finer details together by basically pair programming or pair designing. We find that more effective than handing over static mockups.

On top of all that, I spend a lot of time talking to customers — It’s something I really enjoy. We use Intercom so I get to chat with customers every day. I also set up Skype calls, usability tests, things like that.

Nick: Are you working on any particularly interesting problems at the moment?

Jack: We’ve just shipped an exciting feature that allows our customers to customize their dashboards to match their brand. It’s been a very fun project to work on because it’s a very visual thing and we’ve been able to create a bespoke interface that solves the user’s problem really well. We whittled the design down from potentially hundreds of options to a few powerful elements that make the interface flexible but still elegant and easy to use.

We’ve got some very ambitious projects planned for the next couple of months — I’m really enjoying getting stuck into them.

Nick: I’ve heard you’ve worked on some cool projects during our Innovation Wednesdays. Could you give me an example of some of the things you’ve done?

Jack: I love using Innovation Wednesdays to learn new skills. Last year, I made an effort to learn ReactJS — it’s the framework we use on our the front end. I knew a bit of HTML, CSS, jQuery, but I thought it was a great opportunity to learn something valuable — so I did!

I’ve used ReactJS to build a few little projects now. I even used React Native to build a little mobile app that would generate a sign-off for people to use at the end of standup each day. You’d press “Finish Standup” and it would go and fetch a random word starting with the same letter as the day of the week. On a Tuesday it might say something like “Have a terrific Tuesday”. It was a bit silly, but a fun little project to learn some basic React.

Nick: Cool! How are you taking your learnings from that side project forward, and is there anything else you’re levelling-up with?

Jack: I’ve now started using ReactJS to prototype some of our more complex features. It was really handy for the customization project I mentioned earlier. It allows you to do quite complex logic and have a stateful interface. When you’re using ReactJS in a prototyping way, it can be pretty quick while still being high-fidelity.

In terms of future personal development, designers here at Geckoboard own the whole design process. So each designer will do everything from user research and high-level thinking about user flows and journeys, right through to the high-fidelity prototyping and usability testing. It’s those user research skills I’m looking to refine and improve over the coming months.

I had coffee recently with a dedicated user researcher from one of the biggest startups here in London to just learn what sort of tips and techniques that they’re using that we can take and apply at Geckoboard. Especially those things that are really high-value that are gonna be the best use of our time to get the best improvement and outcome for our customers.

Nick: What’s your favourite thing about working at Geckoboard?

Jack: It’s the culture. It’s friendly, accommodating, supportive. No bullshit.

We hire the best people. There’s not a single person in the team that I don’t enjoy working with, and I think everyone’s amazing at what they do here in Geckoboard. It’s the people that make it. The people are the culture.

Nick: And if you had to send one message to someone who was thinking “Should I join Geckoboard or not?” what would that be?

Jack: You should absolutely join Geckoboard! This is the best company I’ve ever worked for. And the best product I’ve ever worked on as well. So yes, come on board. Come join us!

Nick: Thank you, Jack!

PS — We’re looking for more product designers! Learn more about what we stand for and browse our current openings here.

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