When someone mentions UX Design they typically think of buzz words like design thinking, pixels, or prototypes. It’s likely you don’t imagine the words that help form the structure of any given digital product or experience. However, Ann Buechner and her Shopify team are changing the narrative on how we view words in the space of design.
A writer at heart, Ann somewhat fell into the world of design. With an MFA in Creative Writing, Ann had intentions of “becoming an academic professor and professional writer.” As life would have it she ended up at a creative agency where she was tapped by the design team to create copy. That moment started Ann on her journey and led her to where she is today as the Senior Manager of User Experience at Shopify.
All that being said, one thing that struck me about Ann was her emphasis on kindness. “At the end of the day what really matters to me is where you’re kind and compassionate to the people around you.” This philosophy of kindness (and document writing) are key components to how Ann leads her team. As we round off the month of March, Women History Month, we thought Ann Buechner would be perfect to continue the conversation around leadership and design.
Below she shares what’s keeping her hopeful, and how content strategy is changing our industry and so much more.
How Content Strategy is Changing the Game
Ann has an enthusiasm for words and how the industry should approach Content Design. One theme that was apparent in my conversation with Ann was that UI, UX, and content are inextricably connected. Ann’s approach is simple-design is everyone’s responsibility. This philosophy is one that Ann led her team at Shopify with. ”Shopify’s community-minded approach to the practice is also unique — we’ve regularly invited content design teams from other companies to join us at our meetups, for example, to discuss craft.”
Simply put, at Shopify, content is king. This forward-thinking and collaborative nature has made Shopify a stand-out leader. “Shopify has long been a content design leader, with its publicly available Polaris system and amazing content design team (lots of whom folks would have seen on stage at industry conferences and the like … not to mention at Within!).”
Even as the Content Design field is growing as a knowledge base and the definition of content continues to expand, Ann shared her experience on how much the industry has changed since she started. “ I remember being asked to please cut this copy by 17 characters — today we are so much more collaborative. I loved when my team and I could get in a room and it’s all hands on deck, I’m happy to see how much the industry has grown.”
This increased investment in content is one of the reasons Ann enjoys her work at Shopify. One of the most interesting things Ann shared is how Shopify has both Marketing UX and Product UX sitting under the UX discipline, which is what makes it unique.
“I think lots of places tend to completely separate marketing and product work, which always seems odd because it’s all part of the same continuum. That is, we’re all looking at user experience — just at different parts of the journey.”
On Purposeful Connections—and Leadership Through The Gardening Lens
March marks a year for all of us collectively experiencing our lives coming to a halt. 2020 was a year filled with fear, uncertainty, and so much grief. As Ann shared her perspective on 2020 she had a humble moment of vulnerability.
“I’ll be totally honest and say I don’t think I’ve had enough distance from 2020. However, I did lean heavily into the principle of, “ You feeling bad? Go do something nice for someone. Giving to others helped snap me out of the moment I was in but had the added benefit of brightening someone else’s day.”
In a year where we were all craving structure, Ann innately knew her team would need support and an environment that could be a small source of refuge. Her tips for leaders continuing to lead are below:
Everything that works well in person won’t always translate to a Zoom call. “In the beginning of the pandemic, we rushed to mimic everything we did in the office to an online format. In reality, happy hours via Zoom can be awkward and what’s more important, is for us to find a way to connect that is clear and purposeful. I’ve found that when the intention is clear the meeting or meetup is more fruitful.
Leadership is like a garden…and managers should tend to their gardens now more than ever.” One thing, I’ve learned over time is that being an IC ( individual contributor) means your output is usually a clear deliverable. As a manager though your output isn’t as clear or sometimes you don’t see the output immediately. Leading is like gardening in that way.”
Leaders are responsible for the environments they help create and should work to cultivate talent and pull weeds when necessary.
Designers as Compassionate Fixers and Legacy
“Leadership is generally a hard task for anyone but I’m certain that if any team was adaptable and somewhat equipped for 2020 it was my team at Shopify. We thrive on change and flexibility and I was thankful that Shopify went digital by default in those early months of the pandemic. I checked in with my team often and approached them as humans working through a very difficult time, not just working humans.”
Showing our full self can be a loaded topic but while chatting with Ann I realized it was something she felt strongly about: giving access to and supporting her team to show up authentically. “I’ve learned the delicate dance of knowing what I can fix as a leader, what I can’t fix and when to step back all together.”
Ann shared with me what I feel should be plastered on the walls of every company. Which is, designers are compassionate fixers. “We understand problem spaces, and we want to fix them.” As leaders however we should guide our teams in delivering on solving the right problems.
As Ann and I transitioned the conversation to what she wanted her legacy to be she shared with me one great tip. “My team knows if you come up with a great idea or process, I always ask them did you put that in a doc?”
One of the last questions we asked Ann in our time together was what was she most hopeful for after the pandemic and she replied “hugs.”