Life of Design: Alissa Briggs

Head of Design at PlanGrid

1. How did you begin working in the wonderful world of design?

My first experience with great design was when I was a kid. My mom owned a toy store that sold high quality educational toys. As a former artist, she thought through every detail of the customer experience, from the merchandise, to the displays, to the way that employees interacted with shoppers. Customers loved bringing their children there to shop and would repeatedly thank her for giving them an alternative to big box toy stores. This taught me how design can be both a gift to others and the key to business success.

When I was in middle school, I taught myself Photoshop and HTML to make my mom a website. That got me hooked on design and technology, and I went on to study computer science and human-computer interaction at Carnegie Mellon University. While there, I worked with several organizations applying design and technology to increase diversity in STEM, reduce carbon emissions, and assist local nonprofits. Since then I’ve made it my mission to apply design and technology to solve meaningful problems.

2. What is the purpose of design?

Great design is about solving meaningful problems. It starts with a deep understanding of the people you serve and the problems that they face, and it results in experiences that are useful, easy to use, and emotionally resonant.

At PlanGrid, the purpose of the design team is to craft frictionless, high quality experiences that transform the lives of our customers and lead to business success. We do this in several ways: we drive customer-driven innovation through user research and design thinking. We design frictionless workflows that make our customers’ jobs easier and faster. And we do this with a focus on quality craftsmanship, delivering a consistent and delightful experience at every user touchpoint.

3. How would you describe the intent (mission) behind PlanGrid’s design? What core problem are you trying to solve? What experience are you trying to create?

When I joined PlanGrid, I was surprised to learn that construction is one of the least digitized industries even behind oil, gas, mining, and more. Yet construction is critical for every one of these other industries to succeed. The few tools that do exist are difficult to use and often just digitizing an existing inefficient paper process without actually improving productivity.

PlanGrid was the first mobile app to be designed specifically to help construction teams in the field, with an emphasis on creating a world-class user experience. We’ve now been used by over 500,000 projects around the world and are top rated in the App Store. Customers are constantly telling us that PlanGrid is transforming the way that they build. They cite ease of use and innovative use of technology as top ways that we’re helping them to improve construction productivity.

4. What’s one thing you believe about design that most others don’t?

One common misconception that I’ve encountered is that design and business are somehow at odds. Designers often express frustration that their ideas are discounted and de-prioritized by decision makers. The best way I’ve found to overcome this is to more clearly articulate the business value of your work.

Keep in mind that businesses hire designers because they believe that investing in user experience will have a positive return on investment. If you can highlight the number of new user you could attract or retain through your design proposals, you will have much greater success getting others on board with your ideas.

At PlanGrid, there is a direct correlation between great design and business success. When we deliver excellent user experiences, this saves our customers time and money. That translates into revenue for us, which we can invest in the continued development of our user experience. When you and your stakeholders understand this connection, it makes it much easier to advocate for great design.

5. What key problems are often overlooked by design?

As designers, it’s crucial to consider the context in which customers are using your product. While it would be nice if users always experienced our products in perfect conditions with zero distractions, that’s very far from reality.

For example, in construction, our users are working in chaotic environments with constant interruptions, no wi-fi, and adverse weather conditions. As designers, we must create experiences that support our users’ real world experiences. For example, we’ve designed our navigation to allow for quick context switching, we’ve optimized our offline experience, and we’ve tested our color contrast in a variety of environments.

6. What is the most difficult thing about design?

Since design is a team sport, one of the biggest challenges is rallying your whole team around delivering great experiences. The best way I’ve found to accomplish this is to get everyone out in the field, engaging with real customers.

At PlanGrid, we’ve made customer empathy a huge part of our culture. Everyone at the company, from our CEO to our engineering team, spends time in the field meeting and listening to our customers. We are always exploring new technologies and processes to help us build an even deeper understanding of our customers. For example, we’ve been experimenting with ways to make it easy for customers to share feedback about PlanGrid when they’re out in the field. This helps to get the whole team rallied around solving customer problems through great design.

7. When is design done?

There is no perfect solution to a problem, which means you could always spend more time iterating on your design. The real question is, should you? If you were to spend another day working on that design, how much do you think you can improve the user experience? What if you spent that day working on something else? Design is never done, but we can be smart about how we choose to invest our time to create great experiences for our customers.

8. What does the future of design look like to you?

The future is bright. Designers are evolving from pixel pushers to leaders. I’m excited to see the next generation of designers fearlessly tackling meaningful problems.