Being a designer in Silicon Valley is one of the most exciting professions I can think of. We get to craft the experience that a lot of people get to interact with every day. It is fun, challenging, and rewarding at the same time. I have found a lovely and supportive community while working in VMware. Let me tell you more about it through a day in the life on the VMware Design team.
9:00 AM. Setting up the agenda for the day
I have a productivity routine in the morning. It is one of my secret weapons — the prioritized to-do list.
First, I will list all the things with the highest priority that need to get done for the day. This includes my commitments of meetings, interviews, research sessions, etc, and potentially remaining tasks from yesterday. Sometimes it’s inevitable to have tasks rolling down from previous days and you never have the time to finish them.
At a certain point, this to-do list will help me to think about delegating or reprioritizing the tasks.
It seems that I have a busy day ahead of me which means I might not be able to start some of my new tasks. Let me focus on closing some loops and moving the current stories forward.
9:30 AM. Design sync-up with the team
By 9:30 AM, my first meeting of the day starts — the design sync-up meeting. The design sync-up allows us to get to know what other designers are working on and if there’s anything we can help to unblock each other. Today Brian M Mireles told us that he has updated the Figma library and we can start leveraging it for our design creations. The Figma library provides us more efficient and standardized ways to build our design solutions. The team has moved from the previous toolset including Gitlab, Sketch, and InVision to Figma. The transition went pretty well, and we are now following our new process smoothly.
Also, Manu Dixit from our team in India mentioned that he would start working on a design story on term commitment. Knowing some background in the domain, I pointed him to some design resources we have so that we can reference the design patterns to make sure the product has consistency.
Other members of the teams also talk about their plans. Knowing that everyone now has everything they need to proceed, we ended the call and moved on with our tasks.
10:00 Heads down working time
At VMware, we use end-to-end stories as the framework to drive a better user experience for our services. A VMware End-to-End (E2E) story is a narrative of people with goals performing tasks to achieve business objectives. It focuses not only on the hands-on user story and the technology we provide to solve problems but also on the higher-level customer business goals and the VMware market objectives. If you want to know more about how to write one, you can read Kevin McBride’s article about the Multi-Layered Design Stories.
The end-to-end story method is a great tool in aligning priority and visualizing vision at the early stage of the project. I am working on a project that requires tight integration among the different services that we have right now. Showing the end-to-end stories allows the business team to understand the benefit easily and the engineering side to start coming up with the architecture design to support the experience.
12:00 PM. Lunch at the turtle pond
After two hours of iterating workflows for the end-to-end story for the Migration Solution, it comes my favorite time — Lunch Time! 🍔
The design team occupies a lovely and bright corner in the building. It is a well-decorated and lovely space that supports creative and collaborative work. It is quiet most of the time — but the first disturbance comes in at noon. Lynette Bian is broadcasting the food options in different cafes and suggests we go to our usual cafe in Building Promontory C. That sounds good to me. Plus, we get to sit near the turtle pond.
We have a turtle pond on campus that is home to over a dozen turtles, and it is where the team likes to hang out together for lunch. Turtles are VMware’s mascot, and every year, we have events celebrating the turtles going into and coming out of hibernation.
The reason that lunchtime is my favorite time of the day is not only does it provide extra energy with great food, but it also gives me a chance to get to know our fellow designers more. We have more than 40 designers onsite at the Palo Alto office (100+ globally). Sometimes it is hard to get to know a person in a professional setting. Luckily, we have quite a few venues to allow us to get to know more amazing aspects of their lives, including team outings, our annual design conference, and lunches by the turtle pond.
12:45 PM. Latte-art making
I ended my lunch early today to have another caffeine boost. In the afternoon, my routine is to make latte art with espresso. It is also my daily escape from complex issues and time to focus on something simpler. Abbey Wang is always with me for latte art. She is a coffee lover and has been witnessing my improvement over the years, but she has never thought of being a latte art fellow. She just drinks it. I respect that.
Since I make my lattes in the common break room, from time to time, I get an audience that’s delighted to see my latte art. That might be the main reason why I am doing latte art. Seeing something I do make people happy is pretty rewarding for me. However, I can only do 3 cups max per day, so I don’t give off the impression that VMware hired a new in-house barista. ;-)
1:00 PM. Cross-functional checkpoint meeting
Alright, time to come back to work after a delightful lunch and coffee break. I lead a weekly cross-functional checkpoint meeting to get Product Management, UI Development, Backend Development, and User Experience together to collaborate and share progress.
At VMware, we are building a design-led culture where we can craft our product vision with our understanding of users’ needs. The design team needs to work with the Product Management team in understanding users’ needs and how to drive usage consumption. Collaboratively, we need to come up with the vision of the future experience and get everyone on board with it. Having a common vision drives the synergy among teams for better prioritization and execution. The common vision will guide the engineering team in what kind of technology we need to build to support the experience.
In the meeting, Vijay Venkatraman and Kevin McBride showed the new iteration of the console to the team. It incorporates two of our major efforts into a consistent experience. It requires more engineering work to get to this experience, but collectively, the whole core team agrees that this is the future we think our customers would enjoy living in. We should stick to it and figure out our delivery plan.
2:00 PM. Design studio
After ending the meeting, I went to the conference room next door to prep for my design studio. Design Studio is a VMware Design-led research program. We have built up a customer database for research and send out bi-weekly newsletters to the customers for research recruitment. Designers can come up with their research protocols and design mockups to get results very quickly and easily.
I was running a study to understand how people were tracking their usage of our services. With the design studio program, I was able to get 5 participants easily, allowing me to focus on the research and results rather than recruiting and logistics. The customer that I talked to was one of our biggest customers using the service. They told us how he preferred the tracking to be done, and we showed him some of our work-in-progress design to get feedback. There are other people who joined the call with me, including product managers and engineers. With the design studio, they get to empathize better with our customers because they can hear the feedback firsthand. Sometimes they will jump in with their questions too. It seemed that the customers had some confusion around the visualization design pattern that we offered in the research. Patricia Graca, who is our customer experience lead, helped me in further understanding the customers’ asks with her insightful questions. It was good to receive negative feedback as this was the whole point of doing research — finding problems in the early stage to avoid waste at a higher cost.
3:00 PM. Design exploration and immediate feedback session
Since the visualization was not greatly received by the research participants, we needed to look into the feedback and start iterating. Knowing April Yang and Bonnie Zhang were good at solving this kind of problem, I got them to brainstorm with me in a quick impromptu brainstorming session. Thank you April and Bonnie.
One good thing about having a big team is that you can get support from different members of the team. Different members have different superpowers — for example, Nick Bewley knows a lot of motion design, Lilia Kim masters the area of visual design.
It seemed that the issue was the mismatch between the mental model of consumption and the visualization of the data. The service that I am working on offers both pre-commit discounted offerings with the unlimited on-demand offering. Customers can have either a combination of the offerings and can switch from one to another easily. We listed out different scenarios and ideate on different ways to visualize with simplicity, consistency, and clarity as our guideline principles. At the end of the session, we moved onto some new ideas and we were confident that it would make an improvement to the product. We will see how the participants react to that in our next sessions.
4:30 PM. Dessert food truck
When we were wrapping up the brainstorming, Grace Noh rushed in with excitement about the food trucks outside. Today is one of the great fun days in VMware. Every summer, we have a Dessert Food Truck event. We know that the workplace should have more things other than work. So occasionally, VMware hosts different festivals to help us recharge and relax a bit.
Other fun days include Breakfast Food Truck Day, Big Movie Screen Time, Turtle Hibernation Day, Turtle Back to the Pond Day, Halloween Concert, Diwali Festival, Lunar New Year Party, etc.
5:00 PM. 1:1 with my Manager
With my milk tea still in hand, Neeharika Gupt(a/e) and I started our bi-weekly 1:1 meeting. It is our regular check-in to make sure I have everything I need. We will also share thinking around product strategy and focus on prioritization. But today, we kickstarted our new career development planning with our new career framework.
I am currently at the Staff level and looking into making a bigger positive and effective influence in VMware. I need to work on aligning more concepts and bringing the bigger team together through consistent design patterns and end-to-end stories across different domains. That is a fun challenge.
6:30 PM. Boardgame night
By 6:00 PM, some of the members have gone home to take care of their family members. But today, we have a bit more people staying around because it was also a board game night. We have a group of board game lovers at VMware, and occasionally we will stay after work to challenge each other through some games. Tonight, it is the night for the Imhotep — Builder of Egypt game. The storyline is to have 4 players being the builders of Egypt and trying to score most points while building up our Egyptian architectures. Jose Benavides, Red Dolan, Jeeyun Lim and I are competing today. Want to know who won the game? Nah, that is not the most important thing, so I am not going to tell you. But I will be happy to teach you any games that we will be playing during board game nights once you have joined us.
I know that not every day will be as dynamic and full of fun as today, but with the right culture, the fun people, and the great process, you will find a lot of designers who enjoy being at VMware. We have teams around the globe too — in Bulgaria, Armenia, and India. And they bring in different positive vibes whenever they visit. If that sounds like something that suits you, come talk to us about working at VMware Design so we can get to know each other more. I can show you how to do latte art and teach you some tricks in boardgames. ;-)
The VMware Design team is looking for talented designers to help us continue transforming enterprise design. Check out our open positions!