Looking back at 2.5 years at Envato
On September 23rd, 2013 I joined Real Madrid. I played in the regional league until then, so this was a massive move for me.
Before joining Envato I spent four years working at a digital agency in Geelong, as well as freelancing on the side. I was giddy with joy after receiving a phone call to talk about the job application I had sent through a few days earlier.
“Working here would be like joining Real Madrid!”, I exclaimed with passion and honesty in the interview. It got a good laugh and it kinda stuck. I met the requirements for the role, gave good answers in the interview, but this was the cherry on top. I got the job: User Experience Designer at Envato.
Making my start on the search team
I made my start on the search team, helping them get a new faceted search feature off the ground. You know, all the filter options you use in a sidebar on a site like eBay or Amazon.
My first question was “why don’t we just use Google search instead of building our own?”
I was a total noob in this space. I quickly realised there was an entire world of knowledge in the design of great search experiences. The book Designing The Search Experience helped me a long way in understanding it all.
Meeting the community
The amazing thing about Envato is the incredible community of people from all over the world, who make money with the company’s platform. If I did my job well I would tangibly help people like Muhammad, Ajmal or Ivan and Irina be their own boss. If that’s not motivating I don’t know what is.
I invited the community to work closely with us on the faceted search project. The response, as I expected, was optimistic.
We’d talk to these customers on Google Hangouts and Skype to pick their brains and better understand the problem. This was also a humbling experience because these guys were domain experts. The first time I was working with customers that were tech-smarter than me.
The flip side of such a passionate community is they don’t mind bluntly telling you when something you ship doesn’t match expectations. I noticed a fear of community feedback among the team at Envato HQ. A healthy degree of fear is good. It forces you to get your shit together before you ship. But this fear inhibited creative thinking. “We can’t make significant changes because we might seriously upset the community. Take a look at what happened to Digg.com after they redesigned.”
As I saw it, what ended up happening was new features would ship in micro-iterations in order to reduce risk and possible forum outrage. This didn’t solve the problem. In fact it made it worse. The community would be frustrated that problems weren’t fixed quickly, and I’d be frustrated that we were shipping work well below my capabilities and the highly talented people working at Envato.
It would get ridiculous. Like the time we changed the background colour on Envato Market from a dull grey to white. Looking back at the old design now, it’s pretty clear it was a change for the better. Yet, at the time it caused a complete outrage on the forums.
The problem wasn’t that changes were too big, but that they were too small.
The community became understandably frustrated due to change fatigue. Not until later — with our experimentation with product design sprints — did we start shipping significant work we were proud of.
User testing new features
We’d create a Mailchimp email campaign and send it out to potential users (like people that live in Melbourne in the example below). Then we’d screen the submissions and send out another email to people we wanted to talk to based on their response. The recipients would then schedule the sessions themselves by clicking a link in the email that opened Calendly, which would automatically find free spots in my calendar and present it to participants as bookable times. It worked like charm.
Basically, I’d send out a Mailchimp email campaign and wait for new appointments to pop up in my calendar.
I’d then run the user test by taking the user through some tasks like “You’ve been hired to put a website together for Lady Gaga. Find a website theme that would get the job done.”
Finally, I’d write up a summary of all user testing sessions, my recommendations on what to do next, and at times I’d put together a 5 minute clip of the best bits and share it with the team or even everyone at Envato if the tests gave lots of insight, which they usually did.
Loving every product design sprint
Personally, I’ve learned as much in the total of about 8 weeks that I spent in design sprints as I did at the remainder of my whole time at Envato.
Sprints are great because a bunch of clever people are put in a room, the job titles left at the door, and given a problem to solve in 7 days. What follows is an explosion of ideas, learning, and inspiration. In these photos we were working on the Layers project, which was a landing page for a new type of site builder thanks to a partnership between Envato and the Obox team.
Disrupting ourselves with design sprints
In the spirit of “disrupt yourself before someone else does”, Envato decided to try a completely new spin on the idea of selling stock photography. Instead of experimenting new ideas on Envato’s own PhotoDune, we decided to instead build a completely new product and see how it competes.
We again turned to product design sprints to come up with the concept of a brand new stock photography experience, resulting in Unstock.
Working from anywhere
I’m forever grateful to Envato for letting me pioneer their new work from anywhere policy and giving me the opportunity to work for one of Australia’s hottest startups from my hometown in Bosnia.
I wrote a post on Inside Envato talking in depth about my remote work experience. In short, it was an amazing opportunity. All information workers should be able to work like this.
During my time in Europe I got the chance to meet the Eastern European Envato community face-to-face. The Envato Belgrade meetup stands out as my most I-can’t-believe-I-get-to-do-this-for-a-living moment ever.
Winning the 2014 Envato Football Cup
In a turn of events that would make even Sepp Blatter blush a bit, I co-organised and won the 2014 Envato Football Cup (We couldn’t name it Envato World Cup because a corrupt organisation in Zürich owns the rights to it, and it happens to like suing people Donald Trump style).
My colleague Stevo and I were swept up in World Cup fever and decided to get a PlayStation competition happening at Envato. Then we thought: why not invite our community along as well and we’ll play matches via Internet?
Preaching design thinking and empathy
Back to real work. I saw my role as one where I not only design, but one where I help build empathy and design thinking awareness at Envato.
Design Party was an event where designers and non-designers alike could come along to practice their problem solving skills. It was a session where participants were assigned problems to solve, and would use techniques like storyboarding and rapid prototyping to come up with a solution in the two-hours in which it ran.
Then there were a bunch of other ways I attempted to help spread the design message at Envato.
Designing the API
An example of “my kinda project” was the Envato Market API. Our old one was archaic and difficult to use. I took the API from “hey we need a better API” to requirements gathering, feedback, paper sketches, feedback, to prototype in a week. The new API is live on https://build.envato.com/.
Rolling up my sleeves and coding
During my first week at Envato I — with lots of help from developers — installed the development environment on my machine. Over the last few years I learned to use the command line, Git, SASS, Middleman, beginner Ruby and Ruby on Rails, CoffeeScript, and I wrestled a lot with Boxen updates, and most importantly I got to learn how developers deconstruct problems and the impacts that UX decisions had on their job.
And, in over 2 years I never broke the master branch once! Ha!
Overcoming my fear of the command line
I hated the command line. Why couldn’t they make a user interface for this thing instead? Then as I began to use it more and learned some of its commands I realised it wasn’t that bad. Today I’m super boastful of my new Matrix like powers, though I still have a healthy degree of fear and caution.
Thank you Envato developers for helping me overcome my paralysing fear of the command line.
Hack week fun
Along with design sprints, hack weeks made me really appreciate to work at Envato. Modelled after Silicon Valley companies, it is a time to put your regular work down, and do something completely new.
I became an Envato Market author
I made a sale of some aerial stock footage I uploaded of Jan Juc beach and became an official author on VideoHive, Envato’s stock video site.
I was greeted with a new badge! Oh the sweet joy of being surprised by something you worked on.
Thank you Envato for these great memories. Many thanks to the product managers, devs and design colleagues, I worked with. I look forward to seeing what you’ll come up with next.