Designing for Adventures at GoPro
An Interview with Charlie Waite, Senior UI/UX Design Manager
Everybody knows GoPro. Their cameras are known for being versatile and tough enough to capture the most extreme sports, from surfing and snowboarding to mountain biking and skydiving.
In addition to their hardware offerings, GoPro provides apps for both desktop and mobile. We spoke to Charlie Waite, who works on the Software and Services team, about designing for life away from the screen.
Tell us about how you got started at GoPro?
I came to GoPro after being at Focus Lab, a design agency based out of Savannah, Georgia. I’d been thinking about making the jump from agency life to a more in-house product role and really fell in love with the team and the mission for GoPro, as well as my manager and head of experience design, Vanessa Cho.
How does design fit within GoPro’s culture?
I kind of hate the thing about “design has a seat at the table,” but it’s very much a part of everything that goes on here. That really stems from Nick Woodman, the founder and CEO, having a design background and being very upfront about making sure that design is something that runs through all parts of the company. I also think that when you have a really strong brand, like we do, design is really prevalent. It doesn’t really matter what your role is, design is something we are always thinking about and is just apart of what we do.
How many designers are on the team?
I am on the software and services team, which is basically the mobile, desktop, and web applications. So on our team we have about 15 or so designers. Overall at GoPro, when you span across the entire company, we’re probably somewhere in the 100–115 range.
Lots of people.
What does your team do differently than other design teams?
The way we are structured is a little bit unique. In part it’s because, even though GoPro has been around for a long time, the Software and Services team is almost a startup within GoPro. When the team got started, we really didn’t have the resources so that effected how we structured our team. We are made up UX leads and Shared services. The UX leads are very much focused on the UX and partnering with product early on. Within the shared services we have UI/UX designers, researchers, copywriters, and content strategists. These team members work closely with the UX leads and PM’s to help iterate and finalize. It’s a group of specialized roles (UX leads), and then generalists in the shared services working together to solve each problem.
For us, it really helps with how we are resourced and are tasked to accomplish a lot with a smaller team. Myself and a lot of the shared service team work on everything: mobile, desktop, web as well as teaming up with Hardware UX and Marketing. The UX leads are more specialized or initiative designers for a specific platform or feature.
Tell me about collaboration among the design team.
Collaboration is interesting at GoPro. It’s something that, when I started here a year and a half ago, probably wasn’t done very well.
Within the teams collaboration has always been fairly strong but we are constantly finding ways to improve. However across the company it definitely wasn’t there. It was an issue that we addressed with something called OneDesign, where we started to break down those walls and started collaborating really closely with all the design teams at GoPro. Now Software & Services works closely with Marketing, Hardware UX, and our Entertainment teams. The collaboration across teams has really opened up transparency into what other people are designing and helping us design a more holistic approach system. That’s really helped create empathy for all design teams and made us a closer-knit group of designers who have a better grasp on the entire ecosystem.
What about software?
Our biggest thing is probably Slack. I think that’s taken over the world and really helps for teams that are spread across 3 campuses.
Wake has been huge for us, especially when we are talking about transparency across the teams outside of Software. We use Wake as an insight into what people are doing, and are able to give critiques when we have time. Obviously, with having five different design teams, it’s hard to sit in a critique across the company and see everything, but Wake gives us a chronological look into what everybody’s doing, and allows people to come back and comment or add suggestions and digest what’s going on.
Other than that, we use InVision for high-level flows, Flinto or Principle for prototyping, and Zeplin to help with handoffs to engineering.
What’s the transition like from agency work into product work?
I think the biggest transition is being able to have the time to solve these user problems past a surface level. When you’re at an agency you are really being tasked to execute on assumptions and produce a first draft. Providing resources and tools that allow for those companies to iterate and improve the designs on their own. I think there are some agencies now that have changed that model, which is really cool to see, but it still has a ceiling.
Being focused on one product has been really great, it gives you a chance to be involved at a deeper level in user research, features, planning, iterations, etc. It has really given me a new perspective on design and how I think as a designer.
What non-design-related thing has been influential in your career?
Family is huge.
Family really teaches you all the soft skills that end up being learning experiences for working in big companies. If you can raise kids, you can deal with a lot of different people. Raising kids can be extremely difficult and test your patience, but can be extremely rewarding — much like working as a designer.
“If you can raise kids, you can deal with a lot of different people.”
Learning from my kids is the best — they’re so unencumbered by life. Everything is just so raw — just watching how they interact with life is amazing.
Surfing is another big part of my life. It adds balance and clarity and allows me to escape from work. But at the same time, it’s a great place to go and think away from the computer, sometimes you get out of the water and realize you’ve solved the problem you’ve been stuck on — either in work or life.
What’s the biggest challenge facing the design world today?
Just because we can do it, should we do it?
One of the reasons I chose GoPro over some other companies was the fact that we were helping enable people to tell stories and live their lives, but at the root of that was getting people outside and away from technology. The technology is there and it’s part of the experience to help capture life’s moments, but the idea is to be outside with your family, be on a surfing trip or traveling.
“Just because we can do it, should we do it?”
So I think as a design community, the more we can be enablers of getting humans away from computers or watching TV and promoting human interaction, the better. The more things we build to keep people inside and not in contact with the outside world, that scares me. I think that’s a interesting problem to solve and I can’t wait to see how we we solve it as a design community.