Twenty minutes with your customers


WooCommerce is the most popular way to run a store on WordPress. Because of the nature of WordPress, we don’t have a way to see how people are using WooCommerce like we could if we were hosting the software, but that’s the beauty of open source. We’ve found the best way to learn more about our customers and the way they use WooCommerce is to actually have a conversation with them.

Last week we held WooConf, our annual conference dedicated to everything WooCommerce. People from all over the world came to Seattle to learn, present, and discuss all things WooCommerce. Being the WooCommerce design team at Automattic, we decided to run a Product Research Lab, lead by our user research wrangler, Maria. Six of us broke up into three groups; in my group, I was the interviewer and Justin was the notetaker.

Conference attendees had the opportunity to sign up for a twenty minute session with us during the conference. Our group met with fourteen people over two days.

The structure

We structured our twenty minute session into three parts and for the most part, kept this format the same for each and every session.


When the customer walked in, we introduced ourselves and asked them to take a seat in front of the computer. We then gave them a heads up of how the session would be structured, and said, “Today we’d like to learn more about your experience with WooCommerce. We’ll then ask you to walk through the onboarding wizard, which is the first thing you encounter when activating WooCommerce on your WordPress site. We’ll then wrap up with a few last questions. Sound good?”

  • Okay, great! Before we get going, can I have your permission to record our session so we can reference after we’re done here?
  • [Start recording]
  • Okay, we’ve started recording now. We have a few questions to ask to get started.

Justin would then start the timer so we would stay on track. We then asked each of the participants the following questions:

  • First, can you tell us a little about yourself; who you are and how you work with WooCommerce?
  • Can you tell us more about your role?
  • Can you tell us more about the your favorite site you worked on? Why did you list this one as your favorite?
  • Have you worked with any other eCommerce platforms in the past, if so what was your experience?

User test

At this point we are about five minutes in and are ready to move on to the user testing portion of the session. We transition to the computer, which is still in front of the interviewee and guide them to the next steps by saying, “Okay great! We’re going to switch gears a bit now, we’d like to learn more about your experience with setting up WooCommerce for the first time on a new site.”

  • Are you familiar with the WooCommerce wizard?
  • Scenario: Today we’ve setup a new WordPress site with WooCommerce installed. We’d like to watch you complete the initial setup, which is what we call the wizard and ask that you talk out loud as you are doing that. Tell us what you’re seeing and your thoughts about each step along the way.
  • Your goal: Your goal is to complete the WooCommerce Wizard setup as if you were building [your site or the last site you built]. Let’s get started.

Once the interviewee has completed the onboarding flow we’d ask:

  • Now that you’ve completed setup, what would your next step be?
  • Okay! Thank you for walking through that. That was really helpful and we’ll be able to improve this experience in the future.

Wrap up

At this point we are anywhere from ten to fifteen minutes in. We’d lead into the end of the session by saying, “Looks like we have about a few minutes left, I want to be mindful of time so we can be sure to end on time so you can get back to the conference. We just have a few more questions for you.”

  • Overall, how would you describe your experience with WooCommerce?
  • If you could change or add one thing in WooCommerce what would it be and why
  • Is there anything else you think we should know?

“Thank you very much for taking time to talk to us today, We really appreciate it. If you’re interested we will be sending a follow up email where you can sign up for additional research opportunities with us, so be sure to keep an eye out for that.”

We would then stop the recording, shake the interviewee’s hand, and wait until they left before resetting the site in preparation for the next session!

The take away

I went into this not knowing quite what to expect. Was twenty minutes enough time? Was it too much time? What if the interviewees came into the sessions with a litany of complaints about WooCommerce? Will we learn anything?

Yes! Of course we learned something. We learned so much. Personally, I loved every minute of it and cannot wait to do it again. When we got home, we analyzed our notes for patterns and tracked each issue to be prioritized for a future project cycle. These problems felt real, because they were; we had witnessed it first hand.

There’s something about meeting with customers in real life that is incredibility enlightening. There was this one particular step that tripped almost everyone up. Okay, there was more than one, but the first time I recognized a pattern I remember just cringing after the next person was about to get to it. I just wanted to fix it right then and there! And that’s really the best part of this entire experience. We learned in twenty minute what we’d never learn sitting in our desks at home with our heads down in the code.

This was originally posted on


Little corners

“You loved September Issue? I didn’t know you were into fashion.”

I’m not. I just love hearing stories and learning about things I don’t know much about. A documentary about the making of the September issue of Vogue was fascinating to me. I’ve watched it a half dozen times.

I’ve always worked at tech companies and been surrounded by people who think that getting ahead means you have to follow all the cool thought leaders on Twitter, read all the books on how to increase productivity and be a better manager, meditate every day, share all the articles with coworkers, listen to the advice of the Tim Ferris’ of the world, and try all the apps. Keeping up with all that is too much and trying to do so won’t make you better at your job. I think that staying in our own tech little bubble is harmful and it stifles creativity.

Instead, take a look around outside the industry for inspiration. Get a glimpse into a little corner of the world you haven’t ever visited, learn about new sub cultures, or anything new or niche. This can be in the form of physical travel, a non work-related book, or my favorite source: Netflix documentaries. I have a collection of the latter below with a brief summary and how I related to each.

Some of my favorites

  • September Issue is a documentary about the making of the September issue of Vogue magazine. I love everything about it, especially Anna Wintour and learning about Grace’s job and seeing the amazing photographs she produces. I learned the importance of editing, saying no, and killing your darlings.
  • Indie Game tells the stories of a few independent video game designers. I don’t play any video games and never really have, but seeing how these people worked and what they had to go through to create and launch their games on their own was really eye opening. I can now relate better to some of my video gamer co-workers 🙂
  • First Position is a documentary about group ballet dancers from all over the world who are trying to turn their passion into a career that pays money. I learned that ballet clothing companies make clothes that cater to light skinned people and the young woman from Sierra Leone in the film has to make her own modifications. Diversity and inclusion isn’t only a tech issue.
  • Barkley marathons is this totally bonkers trail running race that takes place in Virginia. The guy that started and “runs” it is a chain smoker and changes the entry fee based on what he needs more of; for example – a white button down shirt. Also, the race is 100 miles long, not marked, the start time is random, and only 16 people have ever finished it. Brutal! But I did learn some things about people and project management, mostly what not to do.
  • Piece of Work shows a behind the scenes look of the late comedian Joan Rivers. Everyone always focuses on her face and profanity, but this documentary shows her as a real, hilarious, workaholic human. Comedians user test their jokes! 
  • Bonus: Truther Love is a super wild Longreads story about a truther online dating site. There’s someone for everyone.

Balance the thought leader blog posts with something outside the tech realm. Get out and find a new little corner of the world and you just might be surprised.


All together now

The WooCommerce design team is five people strong. At any given time, we have at least that many projects in development. As you may guess, this means that all designers aren’t working together on a single area of WooCommerce. Instead, we each lead a product or project and meet frequently as a team to discuss, share, and give feedback. This ensures we are all aware of each other’s work and that our overall customer experience is cohesive.

There’s a team outside of the WooCommerce division at Automattic working with the greater WordPress community to make a new post and page building experience called Gutenburg. The goal with Gutenburg is to make writing rich posts effortless so you don’t have to know any code at all. Progress on the new editor is moving along really fast. It’s full featured and intuitive, but there hadn’t been any work done into how this will integrate with WooCommerce.

How do you handle adding a high priority item to everyone’s already full schedule without burning your team out or lowering morale? There’s probably many ways, but here’s what we did:

Instead of discussing it separately with each member of the team, I brought it up in one of our team’s twice weekly video calls. This allowed us to discuss it openly as a team. We all ended up agreeing it was part of our responsibility, was of importance, and was worth putting our time into. Time-boxing was brought up as a great way to approach something like this. Since it was summer and there were a few vacations coming up, we decided to have the due date be in one month.

I put up a sticky post on our team’s internal blog and tagged each person on the team so they were all notified. A day before the due date, we each commented on the post with our ideas. That was yesterday 🙂 Today we all met on a video chat. We all started by sharing our experiences we had testing out Gutenburg. For many of us, it was our first time using it.

Then we took turns presenting our ideas. To do this, we simply “went around the room” and took turns sharing our screens so we could walk though our thought process behind our sketches and flows. We didn’t specify a deliverable so we saw pen and paper sketches, Mural boards, high fidelity screenshots, and clickable prototypes. We then gave feedback to each person before we moved on to the next.

At the end of the call, we remarked on how this was such a treat that we all got to work on the same thing together. It was really fun to see how my teammates approached the same problem and it made me excited to go back and iterate. My goal is make these group time-boxed design problems a more regular occurrence on our team.

This post was originally published on


Should designers API?

There’s plenty of discussions on the internet about whether or not designers should code, but what about API’s? Hear me out. I’m going to tell you about a project I’m working on and how I went from knowing almost nothing about API’s to knowing a little more than nothing and along the way, discovered how we could use the data in our design sketches.

This post was originally a talk given at AIGA West Michigan’s Design Week.


Looking forward

One year turning into the next is exciting. I feel filled with hope and reenergized. It’s not about resolutions; I don’t really make goals. If I want to do something, I’ll just do it. It’s more about the feeling of knowing there’ll be new places to explore, relationships to grow, things to make, ideas to form, and lessons to learn.

Cheers 🎊


Sketch notes from WordCamp Denver

I went to my first WordCamp this weekend in Denver. What’s a WordCamp?

WordCamps are informal, community-organized events that are put together by WordPress users. Everyone from casual users to core developers participate, share ideas, and get to know each other.

It was a great to see coworkers from far away places and talk to real live users and developers of WordPress and especially WooCommerce. I also sat in on quite a few talks and sketched some notes on my iPad.

Sonja Leix and Meg Delagrange critiqued websites that were submitted by a few brave conference-goers.


eCommerce Townhall
Caleb Burks of WooCommerce and Pippin Williamson of Easy Digital Downloads answered any and all questions the audience had about eCommerce and selling things online.


Accessibility Testing
Robert Jolly gave a great talk about accessibility and testing for WordPress development.


Marketing and Growth Townhall
Tracy Malone and Amber Hinds answered everyone’s marketing questions.


Forms that Don’t Suck
Steve Wells and Jessica Wittmier told us how to engage users with forms that aren’t terrible.


Business Townhall
And Vi Wickam, Miles Kailburn, D’nelle Dowis, and Gordon Seirup ended the first day with a great Q&A about all things business.


Thoughts Work

At Automattic, we have an online design magazine at It’s something that our Head of Design, John Maeda created and it has become a joint effort across all the designers and design lovers I work with.

Every Thursday we publish a new issue, which involves 2-3 articles from design leaders and a brand new homepage created by an Automattic designer. This week, it was my turn! I used the Paper app on the iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil to illustrate the cover. It was really fun and actually made me want to get back to my ink and watercolors doodles. cover:


Individual images:





Turn your brain off

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I turn my brain off.

I was recently explaining my strategy when mountain biking  up a seemingly endless hill. I ignore the voice in my head that says to stop the second it becomes too hard. I only stop after its nagged me a few times. This helps me get better at climbing and eventually I’ll only have to stop three times on the way to the top. And then two. And then one day I’ll make it up without stopping at all. 🙌

I do a version of this while descending. I try to only brake a little bit after my scared brain wants* to. Then I try to add a bit more time to that. And then a tiny bit more. This is my way of getting a faster and also helps me become more confident to shred the downhill sections, through rock gardens, around berms, over drops, or whatever comes my way.

Easy to say, hard to do.

*Notice it says ‘wants’ and not ‘needs’. I’m not trying to hurt myself. I’ve done that already


Apex Park

More mountain biking with coworkers! This time we parked our cars strategically so we got to bomb downhill. Michael ate some dirt, but otherwise it was a great time.


Hail on a Mountaintop in Evergreen

My coworkers Sheri and Chris were in town for a meetup and stayed a few extra days. She took some great pictures when we all went mountain biking in Evergreen at Three Sisters with Michael and Emi.