Thumbtack Product Design 2019 Highlights

A story of product pivots, fire drills, controversial user feedback…and the projects we shipped along the way.

Thumbtack Design
Dec 17, 2019 · 7 min read

In 2019 Thumbtack product teams shipped numerous features and updates, making it even easier for people to connect with local professionals, and for those professionals to grow their business. Inspired by the BuzzFeed Design team, we’re excited to share a few highlights from our year — and the lessons we learned that might be applied at your company.

Projects tab

Designers: Johan Sjostrand, Kimi Chen, Joanna Chan Writer: Juliana Chang

Context: Over the past two years we’ve shifted our product experience dramatically, from letting pros quote on customer-submitted jobs to letting customers send projects to pros of their choosing. This project updated our customer IA to support the new system, helping customers compare the various interested pros within a single project ‘object.’

We expect the new IA will do a better job of guiding customers through various stages of their hiring journey, supporting repeat users managing multiple projects, and encouraging users to start projects even when they’re not ready to hire someone.

Lesson learned: Mine customer call logs and messaging threads for insights, but don’t always take the support notes as-is. We found that the features users requested weren’t always the ones they needed. Also be sure to show early designs to your product ops team — but don’t necessarily over-index on their input.

Instant Book

Designers: Allan Yu, Cody Reppert, Cory Weaver Researcher: Cordelia Hyland

Context: Instant Book allows customers to book pros for their project…instantly! We started with a pilot, allowing a single category of pros (TV Mounting) to provide their booking availability to customers. While this is an obvious win for the customer experience, we’re more excited about the impact it will have for our pros, for whom we can start to deliver not just leads, but full-fledged jobs. Building and launching this pilot within a quarter required extensive coordination between pro and customer product teams.

How research informed design: Launching the pilot to just a handful of users, we relied on qualitative feedback to direct next steps. We conducted discovery and evaluative research in the form of surveys, interviews, and diary studies to understand customers’ needs when instantly booking a service online, and to understand the pro’s needs when being booked instantly.

Lesson learned: When designing for 2-sided marketplaces like Thumbtack, monitor usage on both sides and react quickly. If we’d noticed that pros weren’t adding their booking availability, we’d focus on designing ways to make it easier for them to add bookable slots. If we were happy with pro adoption but weren’t getting customer demand to match, we would focus on designing ways to make Instant Book more enticing for customers.

Lead management

Designer: Chelsia Yu Writer: Dina Lovinsky Researcher: Cordelia Hyland

Context: The Thumbtack customer experience has been completely transformed in the last few years. Before, customers would submit a general project request and wait for quotes from pros. Now customers can search for pros and contact them directly. Of course, this completely altered how pros needed to operate on Thumbtack to be successful. Yet despite these huge shifts, the general organization of the pro experience had remained unchanged. Our new information architecture reorganized tabs within the pro app to better surface high-priority leads and help pros navigate the new customer-initiated world.

How research informed design: We knew from past research and product feedback that it wasn’t always easy to distinguish between the different types of leads on Thumbtack. It’s hard to measure something squishy like comprehension through product analytics, so we used an out-of-product survey to measure pro comprehension of different lead types both before and after the experiment.

Lessons learned: Sometimes it’s okay to prioritize a milestone over metrics — in our case, establishing a new baseline IA to improve our pros’ comprehension of the new Thumbtack experience. Not surprisingly, there was no process in place for making a strategic shift this complex. So we iterated as we went, improving how we broke down the work, kicked off milestones, tracked execution, communicated changing specs, did QA, and prioritized follow-ups. Staying nimble in our processes and shaping them to our evolving needs helped us get through to the end.

Customer demo

Designer: Wei Chen Writer: Dina Lovinsky Researcher: Cordelia Hyland

Context: Thumbtack was transitioning from our former matching model — in which customers submitted job requests and pros could send back quotes — to the new one, in which customers find pros in search results and contact whomever they like. However, many legacy pros persisted in using the old model, and found little success. The key reasons are that they are either confused about the new Thumbtack model, or they don’t see the necessity in adapting to it. This project aimed to convey the importance of adapting to the new way of using Thumbtack, and provide a shortcut to set up the right preferences.

How research informed design: Since we didn’t have much time for research, we ran a 4-day mini research sprint with the involvement of the whole team: research, PM, design, and product writing. Having the cross-functional team commit to the research sprint kept coordination costs low — the whole team was exposed to the shared pool of knowledge, allowing us to quickly identify issues and iterate.

Lessons learned: Always involve user research early on especially for comprehension-heavy projects. We used FullStory to record pros’ interaction with this feature, but we only included the tracking within the feature itself. It would have been helpful to start tracking at the entry points as well, to better understand the pros’ full journey.

Getting Customers to Native

Designers: Kimi Chen, Sophia Spitulnik, Aaron Bailey Writer: Juliana Chang

Context: Customers who use the Thumbtack app have a higher success rate for hiring pros and use Thumbtack for more projects than web customers. Additionally, customers who message pros on web often “ghost” them. To solve this problem, we created a series of “native cross sells” at various points in the customer journey to encourage customers to transition from web to app. We also improved our native activation experience to create a smooth transition for users who switch to native midway through their journey. For example, when clicking certain CTAs, customers would be prompted to download the app, then be deep-linked to their destination (a pro’s profile, their in-app Inbox, etc.)

Lesson learned: We had to walk a fine line between pushing users to transition to native while not creating too much friction or distracting from their main objective (hiring a professional). One takeaway from this project is that even though we might be adding friction for one group of users, doing so will create a better experience for the marketplace overall.

Thumbprint Native

Designer: Jon Kerwin

Context: In 2019 our company pivoted to being native (app) first. Our design system, called Thumbprint, was just starting to take shape, but all of the components were designed and developed for web platforms. So we set off to design and develop native components and patterns that allowed our design team to move faster and be more consistent. After a year of work, we now have a system that is more holistic. We still have lots of areas to improve, but have a robust set of native components.

Lesson learned: Native parity is very important to a system. Go with platform-specific patterns where you can. Build layouts to help guide designers instead of relying on old designs.


We’re proud of the progress we’ve made in 2019, and the impact made by each of our designers, researchers, and writers. We’re looking to grow the team even more in 2020, so… you know what that means.

Credit to David Zandman and Allan Yu for assembling this article.

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