People-Powered Design

How Dreamforce brought design face-to-face with our customers


The dust has settled on my third Dreamforce as a UX designer at Salesforce, and there’s no doubt that it was one of those moments in my career that I’ll never forget. For those unfamiliar, Dreamforce is Salesforce’s annual event where we showcase products from our five clouds, people get together to learn and network and Salesforce shares a vision for the future of technology as it relates to business. This year there were over 170,000 registered attendees.

What made this year unique is that design has been recognized as a differentiating factor and elevated to the forefront as a critical element of making customers more successful. Commitment to creating great experiences for our users resulted in the launch of two very significant design-centric projects — the Lightning Experience and the Lightning Design System. Dreamforce was our first opportunity to show our work to the world and gather first reactions from individuals who depend on our products every day.

Step Right Up

This year at Dreamforce we created the Design HQ — a place to feature our work and share the importance of design. Located in the heart of Moscone Center, it became an integral part of an attendee’s experience. Tens of thousands of customers came through the HQ interested in what we had to offer and explore the future of Salesforce.

Time-lapse of Design HQ from setup to teardown. You could say it was busy.

A lot of my time was spent here demoing. We focused on the new Lightning Experience and the Lightning Design System. The Lightning Experience is a newly reimagined user experience for our core sales product. The Design System is a living style guide for developers and designers.

As a designer, demoing required me to focus on what’s important to our customers. This is something that I expected would be really easy. After all, this was a product I’ve been intimately involved with for the last 9 months. After my first few attempts, I found myself tongue-tied and struggling to tell a coherent story. I realized that I was too focused on the details and started reframing the demo around our customer’s workflows and use cases.

Yours truly demoing to customers. You will talk — a lot. Bring water.

When I began to speak directly to customers needs, the interaction became much more engaging. I fielded all kinds of questions I never expected and the demo became a discussion. I was humbled by the deep knowledge our customers had about Salesforce and was able to better empathize with what they expect from new Lightning Experience. As a designer, it really drove home how valuable it is to have direct contact with the people that use your product. I fostered a deeper connection with our users and I was reminded of what’s really important to them.

Getting Personal

While being in the spotlight was fun and rewarding, I was curious how our work was being received in the wild. There were many places in the conference where attendees could directly interact with Lightning Experience, one of which was the Sales Cloud Expo. This area focused squarely on the customer workflows I demoed, so it was a great opportunity to do some lightweight usability testing.

The Expo had individual stations for particular tasks such as logging a call, taking notes and moving a deal forward — all common tasks for a sales rep that happen to map well to individual features. I spent some time quietly and intently observing at each station as people got their introduction to the new UI.

Looking over the shoulder of an attendee getting an introduction to Lightning.

It was exciting and nerve-wracking to watch people jump in with little more context than the task they were assigned to complete. I was anxious to jump in at times, but I had to remind myself that it was analogous to most people’s real world experience. The anticipation of watching an attendee peruse the screen practically had my stomach in knots, but that was followed by a great sense of elation when they completed the task.

At the end of the session, I took the opportunity to introduce myself as a designer and asked for their feedback. I asked participants to tell me about their job and what a successful day was like. Those conversations gave me some deep personal insights into what drives and motivates our customers.

Recognizing the impact

As I walked around the conference surrounded by thousands of people who use our products, I recognized the scale at which we work as Salesforce designers and the effect of our technology. Dreamforce gives our customers a vision for the future and focuses on the tech, yet at the end of the day I found that it’s all about the people. Meeting a variety of customers allowed me to build greater empathy for their use cases and understand how our products are used in the real world.

I realize that Dreamforce is unique as a venue to share designs and interact with users, but what I learned here can be applicable to any designer. When meeting with customers or users, step back from the details and focus on your their needs and workflows, find time to make a personal connection, and seek opportunities to observe your designs in the wild. It was exciting to see how design has taken a front seat this year at Dreamforce and I’m looking forward to seeing how this momentum brings us into the next year.


Special thanks to Ian Schoen for his help on this post.

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