Making Work Better

Andrew interviews Ben Huggins, Head of Design at Humu. Hear about Ben's journey into user experience, using timely triggers to change behavior, and building product teams around business goals.

Presented by
Andrew Verboncouer
Partner & CEO
Ben Huggins
Head of Design, Humu

Andrew Verboncouer:  I'm excited to have Ben Huggins on the show with me today. Ben is head of design at Humu, a company focusing on behavioral change to make work better. Prior to Humu, Ben worked with companies you'll recognize like YouTube, Google, and Nest. Welcome to Seaworthy, Ben, thanks for being on the show. 

Ben Huggins:   Awesome to be here.

Andrew Verboncouer: Yeah, thanks. Appreciate it. Could you tell us a little bit more about yourself and your background?

Ben Huggins:   Yeah, totally. So I think I have that same tag line of a lot of designers that I was playing in Photoshop when I was 12. Because I thought computers were cool. making websites doing hyper card stuff in the early days. But I think the thing that really sparked creativity in me originally was that both of my parents were in TV news. So my dad was a news director and my mom was on air talent. She was an anchor. And so like when I would stay home from school sick, I wasn't chillin in bed watching prices, right. So like, making fake news casts for my parents, right. So just getting interested in that world of like being creative and making things and video in particular, I actually got pretty big into making video in high school. Like before YouTube when the media teacher would let us put videos on like the closed circuit network in the school, just to goof around, which was a lot of fun. But yeah, like, grew up outside of Boston, basically had this experience where I ended up kind of tracking towards the agency life like I, I eventually got an internship at this big ad agency in the broadcast department. I was like, Man, this is so cool. I'm gonna be near all the things I'm excited to work in near super talented people. And it was interesting because after being there for like, you know, the three months or whatever, during my internship, I started to realize that people were pretty unhappy. It actually got to the point where like, I saw a couple people like crying at their desks at the end of the day. And yeah, I was like, I might need to hit the brakes on this a little bit and think about what I really want to do here. So that was kind of the early days stuff. The the Natural Turn was when I realized I didn't want to go right into agency life, I hit the brake like you do and became a DJ. For a couple years. It was convenient because I actually had a business DJ my own, like middle school dances and stuff growing up. So I was the kid like, you know, trying to DJ a wedding when he was 15. Right, figure it all out. But I ended up joining up with this group that was touring colleges through the northeast and basically teaching these big college parties, which was pretty awesome, but definitely, definitely different than where I thought I was tracking originally.

Andrew Verboncouer: Yeah, for sure. It sounds like you know, going from your roots where your parents were, you know, involved in TV news to DJing and middle school and now kind of carrying that into you know, your first career so to speak. You know, first kind of opportunity. How did you get started? And then in design, obviously, you talked a little bit about, you know, being involved with, you know, with the anchors and news anchors and being involved kind of in the broadcasting world. But how did you really get into design? Did you go to school? Do you have a background? In business? You talk a little bit more about that?

Ben Huggins:   For sure. So that was kind of my, my turning point. Like, throughout this whole process, I'd always been the guy, you know, we need a website and working on it. You need to, you know, a lot of people talk about like making t shirts for bands or album art. I was doing that because I was like, you know, creating DVDs for live band shows, right? You know, kind of all the time, I was just the guy who would make the thing, right packaging, posters, whatever, for whatever else I happened to be doing. And eventually, I think, you know, during the DJ years, I probably drank too many red balls, like, all right, it's time to time to get a job that doesn't keep me up till 4am. And I ended up at a startup where it was back in the days when when FourSquare was like real big and the whole idea of like location and checking in. And my job was basically to say, so the product was essentially, you go to a place, you go to a coffee shop, for example, you say you're at the coffee shop, and then we actually give you activities to do. There's this company called scavenger. And the activities were to earn your points. So you talked to the artist about what your favorite drink is, you take a photo, you're accumulating points, you know. And we had this interesting challenge. So actually, what I got brought on to do was to build a product offering for all these major national brands we had signed. So we had signed the Smithsonian and Sony Pictures and the New England Patriots and like Coke and Showtime and like all these other brands, and they're like, hey, Ben, so like your job is to figure out what we're going to do for these folks. Which was super interesting. And basically, we ended up creating these essentially, ways for you to go and visit Simon Malls and play with Coke content at the Simon mall. For example.

Andrew Verboncouer: Is this gonna pre AR days?

Ben Huggins:   Totally. And it's it's about, you know, choose your buzzword but like depth of engagement. But yeah, so that was really interesting. And as a function of that I got to work really closely with the product team and product design team. And basically, I eventually found myself making wire frames for what would become the next version of the product. And I kind of had this moment was like, Whoa, like, this is something I really enjoy doing. But it's also something I think I'm decent at. But there's this interesting thing going on. This is probably like 2009, 2010, where people were kind of just deciding they were UX professionals, and sort of tacking that on to their title. And I was wary of that. I was like, I don't want to be the guy who's like, you know, so there's enough client service production style job, I don't want to just all of a sudden be a UX professional, right? So it's like, how do I go and get that deep understanding of human behavior essentially. So I can back up my design decisions with, you know, at least some science. Yeah, for sure. And so for me that was, I looked into a bunch of options, but that was grad school. And I ended up going back to get a degree and human factors and UX design. And it was an awesome experience, and actually led me to getting an internship at Nest, which was really cool. It was it was surprising, I guess, to suddenly take the turn and be like, in the room with really talented folks. And you're on the line, I think was seven of us working on mobile products at the time. Yeah. But it was like so inspiring to work with these folks that were just top of their field.

Andrew Verboncouer: Yeah. Would you recommend you mentioned, you know, get your masters in UX? Yeah, right. went back to school. Would you recommend that to designers today? You know, obviously, you're hiring here at Humu. Is that something you look for, you know, the certifications qualifications or is it more experience and results or case study driven? What would be your recommendation as a head of design?

Ben Huggins:   Yeah, that's a great question. I talked about that a lot with folks who were, you know, considering that in their, in their career path, it was really helpful for me. In terms of like, you take the hiring manager angle, there are some companies who index really heavily on like, your pedigree, essentially, where you came from, what your academic qualifications are, I tend to look less at that. For me, it's really just like, do you have the skills in terms of like processing craft? And can you prove it right through your portfolio, through your work? So whether you've, you know, done a graduate PhD level education or whether you're, you know, that you didn't finish high school, like, if you've got the chops and you've done the learning, it's awesome. For me, though, like just having that connection, my undergrad was in psychology actually, because like, the way that I approached design is through understanding how people work and kind of that human behavior piece. So adding that level of almost connection of like, okay, here's the world of UX, here's the world of human behavior. Let's combine those two worlds, and not to mention like the, you know, hours and hours of Photoshop. The hard skills. How can we pull that together? Yeah. So I think that's an awesome opportunity. If you find a grad program that works for you, it's certainly expensive. It takes time. Like, if you're working a full time job, that's a real decision. But yeah, that was a great option for me. 

Andrew Verboncouer: I appreciate the background into design there was at around the same time, we talked a little bit before the show about Highlight Hunter. Yeah. Was that around the same time as Highlight Hunter? Were those kind of running in parallel? Or was that before the whole Nest internship? For sure? Yeah. So highlight Hunter was during grad school, I did the option to actually do the grad degree full time. So my schedule is pretty free. And I also wanted to find a way to continue to practice my craft with like, a real challenge. Yeah, you know, there are plenty of, you know, projects in grad school that you can kind of anchor in real world problems from actual companies, right? But this was like, okay, it's my thing. There are real constraints. I gotta figure out how to do this.  

Ben Huggins:   And yeah, working on that up was a big part of it.

Andrew Verboncouer: Yeah, that's cool. Can you tell us a little bit about what it was like in the early days, you know, for a startup working on that? I think you only had a couple people as part of the team talk a little bit more about that experience. 

Ben Huggins:   Totally. Yeah, it was actually just me and the founder who was a buddy of mine from college. And he had taken time off of his you know, full time job to kind of pursue this thing. probably makes sense to say what it is. So highlight Hunter was this idea of, you know, at the time, GoPro is getting really big, basically, just having lots of footage on your hands wasn't becoming a really common problem, because, you know, you'd fire up the GoPro, go for a day of skiing, and five hours later, you have a five hour clip, they need to somehow figure out what to do it. So we actually took inspiration from the world of like old skateboarder VHS recordings, right? So what people used to do would be, you know, you'd go, you'd hit around and you'd do something interesting. And then after that happened, you'd cover the lens of the camera that was shooting. So that later on, you could go back and fast forward through the whole tape and just watch for the spots were right black. And you're like, Oh, yeah, that was where that that trick happened. So we kind of took that and said, Okay, what if we could automate that? And so the idea was, you take your GoPro out, same day of skiing, but after something interesting happens, you covered the lens of your hand, and then run it through our software, and we'll pull out and make those clips really easy to share. So it's a cool concept. Yeah, that's right. Yeah.

Andrew Verboncouer: Cool. So obviously, you're going at this time you're going to get your masters right. Your masters in design so a UX, human focus. 

Ben Huggins:   The program is actually called HFID, human factors and information design, so that needed a little dressing up to make sure people knew what I was doing.

Andrew Verboncouer: Yeah, definitely. So you're going to school for this. And you're kind of immersed in this world of, have to figure out how do I go from this idea that the founder has and maybe a little bit of traction to understand how do I demystify what this can do and design a product around it? And do you feel like that was a big part of your development as a designer, you know, really getting those skills, because I'm assuming you had to wear a lot of hats between research and UX and UI, and really, you know, talking with users at the end of this doing QA kind of the whole gamut of a product. A little bit more about that experience.

Ben Huggins:   Yeah, totally. I mean, I'll be totally honest, I was still pretty green through this process. So like, a big part of my learning curve was like, oh, what are red lines? Right, like, I know, the general idea what I was supposed to be doing, but like the engineer, lead developer handoff was something I'd never done before this stage. So building digital product, like had a whole bunch of things I hadn't quite realized were a thing at that point. So yeah, just working through that, you know, even one on one that relationship of like, okay, like, how do we build together? Yeah, like we both have ideas. We both kind of speak the same language in that way. But when I build up mocks, and you're going to cut him out because he had never worked in that way, you know, directly with designer before right. Like how to We figured this out. So it's a little bit of trial by fire. And then in terms of like, you know, testing with users, it was really just as geurilla as it gets, you know, asking friends and family to use the app. And it was one of those things where like, you know, the core problem with any type of app that requires a little bit investment of your time, is you don't see the payoff until the end, right. So in this case, it was like, Okay, number one, go out and like, do this weird thing where you're covering the lens of the camera all day. Yeah, so that's an investment. That's something you might not do. Get back home, install the software, load the footage up into the software, scan the software, and then eventually, you'll see the clips come out, right. And hopefully we did it. Right, right. But that's a lot of faith to put in us as a piece of software. So basically, what we had to do was not only help build that trust with users, but also really help users step by step along the way. So big thing that we did was basically like run this test clip, for example. And that got people over the hump of like, okay, I kind of recognize the potential of what this is.

Andrew Verboncouer: Really drive home the value a little bit more. Yeah, that's cool. So what type of things do you do outside of work? What keeps you busy?

Ben Huggins:   Yeah. So my new thing as I get older is trying to simplify my interests. And tell me what like really gets me fired up. So one of those is like, in the simplest format, drinking coffee outside is like, the right combo of all things. But I like to snowboard and mountain bike. You know, just getting outside. We do this thing, my wife and I, where we go on what we call like, serious conversation hikes. And what we mean by that is like, it's, it's a time we go, every Saturday morning, we go out, we take a hike. California is beautiful. There's like so much stuff to do. We just walk and like talk about, like, what we want our life to be like, and like, you know, our future and our family and things like that. And it's, it's weird, because sometimes in relationships, like you don't create the space to be able to do that, like, you've got so much going on. So that's been really fun. Yeah, a cool thing we do.

Andrew Verboncouer: That's cool. So we'll get into a little bit more about tell us about Humu what it does. Give a little bit of an intro and I think you know, your experience with, you know, psychology and you know, talking really about how you know how to humans thing, how do we solve these people problems from their perspective and really, you know, speak their language. And I think you know, what you do at Humu. This kind of ties it all together, you know, which makes sense that you know that you're heading up the design team here. So you tell us a little bit more about Humu what your mission is?

Ben Huggins:   Yeah, totally. So, in the simplest sense, we're trying to make work better, right. That's a pretty broad classification. But you know, we can start here right, like so for you. I'll turn it around a little bit. What's the most important thing that you do the thing you like most the thing that gets you most energized? The best way you can spend your time?

Andrew Verboncouer: Just family time.

Ben Huggins:   Yeah, totally. Like, I think that's a pretty common and, like, of course. How much time did you spend with your family relative to work this past week?

Andrew Verboncouer: This week, since I'm out in San Francisco now. Not too many. Yeah. You know, not too many. Yes, many hours. But last week, my wife was on a retreat so spent time with with our daughter. 16 months. So that was fun. But yeah, so a couple days, actually. So more than more than usual.

Ben Huggins:   That's great. That's great. So like, you know, we know really acutely, like, the things that matter the ways we want to spend our time in ways that are most meaningful. But the reality is, we spend a lot more time at work than we do, you know, with any of those things. And that's a necessity, right? Like, it's important that our jobs are important to a lot of degree. But the experience at work is not always as good as it could be. So if you and I sat down and said, like, okay, let's make a list. Let's use the rest of this time to just brainstorm things that will make us happier, more productive, you know, maybe more successful at our jobs. We can come up with a pretty good list, but it'd be a long list, right? And you know, picking the things off the list that are most important right? Is a pretty hard exercise, it's hard to know where to focus. There's another couple of problems with that. One is that we as humans, are not so good at figuring out what's going to make us happy in the future. Money is a good example of that, right? A lot of people over index on how happy money will make them if they make a lot of money. The other pieces like, we're just so in any given moment, we can be busy, may be distracted, we can be emotional, really just things that get in the way of us paying attention to the things that are basically acting in our own best interest. The things that are most important to us even

Andrew Verboncouer: We're in our own way.

Ben Huggins:   Yeah, exactly. And like so how do we remember to number one, know what the things are that we're supposed to be doing? And take action on those things. So essentially, that's what Humu helps with. We work with organizations primarily, but at the organization level, at the team level and at the individual level, to figure out what what are the things that will drive happiness?Tthat will drive an inclusive environment and then the the stuff that really matters is we actually help you remember in the moment with these little micro interventions that we call nudges. And what those do is basically say like, hey, you're walking into a meeting, you've been working on this idea of, we call it voice, but basically the idea of like, remembering to speak up, right. And if you speak up in the first 10 minutes, that's going to be easier for you. And then the interesting thing is that we actually do that for the rest of your team as well. So for your manager, if you walk into a room, they're also getting a nudge, basically saying, like, hey, if anybody's been quiet, just encourage them to speak up. So that combination factor, right, yeah, it's nothing like earth shattering, right? It's things you probably already are familiar with. But they're rooted in science, and they're tailored to you. Yeah. So taking these small little actions can have a huge impact not only on your world, but on the world of your team and on the company.

Andrew Verboncouer: Yeah, yeah, I've never heard of it applied that way. You know, behavioral design. Yeah. If you look at BJ Fogg, behavioral model, totally, I mean, it's, it's motivation. It's the ability to trigger and I think those things like to tied closely together, I could see how that could you know, people on our team designers, developers that, you know, have, really, I guess needs to experience new things or to grow and soft skills or hard skills. I think those reminders in context are super powerful. So how did he tell us a little bit more about how Humu came about obviously, Laszlo Bock is one of the founders. He has the book, Work Rules. When he was at Google, you know, so I also thought was interesting. You went from, you know, Nest, which got purchased by Google to YouTube and Google, kind of the line between there and then now kind of keeping it all in the family with a couple previous Google. Yeah, Google folks as well. To give us a little bit about who came about from your perspective.

Ben Huggins:   Yeah. So I mean, as I understand it, like obviously, our founders were telling much more elegant story. But essentially, it was just this idea of saying like, what are the things that we know to be true about behavioral science and about work, and essentially about the power of thinking about the science behind how people connect at the workplace, right? And how might we create a company that's really dedicated on translating those things, those things into number one a product, but also like things that people can understand and relate to and use in their day to day life. And basically bringing that some of that scientific rigor and some of that behavioral science to companies that haven't had access to it before. Yeah, that's great.

Andrew Verboncouer: So are you working with a lot of companies in the Bay Area or kind of globally at this point?

Ben Huggins:   Yeah. So we have a bunch of partners, kind of all over. And we work with, you know, companies that are unicorn technology startups, kind of the folks you might imagine in a Silicon Valley environment, but also really, you know, different set of companies from, you know, global analytics to financial services firms. You know, we've worked with a few companies like we can't mention all of them, but like few companies like Sweetgreen, which is a This quick serve salad restaurant. So it's really cool to think about the world like, not only from a, you know, office environment, but also from a retail environment, right store environment that way, right.

Andrew Verboncouer: A lot of the same themes carry over, regardless of where you're working totally right. It's little triggers.

Ben Huggins:   Yeah. And we worked with groups like Teach for America, right. So yeah, not traditional office environments, but still people who work really intensely collaborative team environments.

Andrew Verboncouer: Even just those, you know, I read Atomic Habits, re-read recently, you know, talks about, you know, environmental design. And, you know, I think this is a big part of it, we spend so much time on our computer, like you said, you know, busy from one thing to the next, and it's easy to forget that, hey, I'm walking into this meeting, I should be mindful of, you know, subjective with this goal that I have to speak out for, you know, could be a myriad of things. But I think it's just so important. You know, this is really impacting and giving you that trigger that cue to be able to make a change and, you know, relatively soon. Hey, you coming up in five minutes, you're in this meeting, be mindful of this. I think that's that's pretty awesome.

Ben Huggins:   Totally. I mean, you think about like, the just the overhead that you have on trying to figure out how to improve and your career, like, that's a massive task, right? We think about, like, you know, even in the design world keeping up to date on tools, you know, I read a ton of Medium articles and books and like, How can I be better at my job? How can I be better as a teammate? And having even a small part of that weight taken off of me to say, like, hey, we actually got you, right. And we know, maybe a little bit better, because we have this amazing PhD science, you know, behavioral science team, with folks that can essentially, that are so deeply immersed in the research. That they can help you understand things that you might that might not be obvious, essentially.

Andrew Verboncouer: Yeah, that's great. So from a success standpoint, how is, you know, you mentioned before, before the show, Humu is growing and you're hiring, and that's great, but how are you internally, you know, measuring success is that, you know, is that through the success of your users? Is that reaching out outcomes? Obviously there's the typical business metrics. Like the pirate model, if you're familiar with that, but you know, you're retaining customers, you're getting them, you're increasing revenue and kind of be mindful of those things. But are there any factors or metrics that you like to think about success? You know, as a team here at Humu?

Ben Huggins:   Totally, I mean, it's really at the most abstract level, it's about helping people, right? So any metrics that indicate and that's going well, or great. And it's, it's not about necessarily overnight coming in and saying, like, hey, we have the ultimate solution for you, like, flip it on like a switch. And that's all good. So incremental change at organizations are even more than incremental, like sort of meaningful changes over time, are basically what we pay attention to. So some organizations we've worked with have seen, you know, 20, plus increase in 20 plus percent rather increase in sentiment in focus areas and just, you know, timing six months or so. Other things we think about is like think about our effectiveness of these nudges. So we had an experiment with two groups, essentially one nudged and one not. We were able to show that nudges around a particular theme drove a positive change in sentiment. That was 2.3 times higher than the non-nudge group. So it's about saying like, is there organizational change? And then are the things we doing really driving that organizational change?

Andrew Verboncouer: Yeah, that's great. Yeah. It's great. So what what's one of the challenges that Humu's facing today? You know, is it? Is it communicating the value of this? Is it something different?

Ben Huggins:   Yeah. So I think our challenges stem from what we really care about. So if you think about, you know, being deliberate about how we build our company our own culture, we want to make sure we build everything to map to our principles, what we believe in, to make sure it's really deeply rooted in science. It's like, there's a way to go about building a product that you kind of build the structure of it and you you plug in the science later, actually or improve that over time. We're not doing that we're starting from a place of saying like, what's the science, let's start from that place and build a product around it. Having a huge emphasis on privacy and security, right, because we're dealing with real people data, right. And then things like building an inclusive team. So you know, there's natural friction involved in building an inclusive team, right people with different perspectives, and that's great. But all of these things that I mentioned, like basically require an investment, right, and that comes sometimes at the expense of speed. But at the same time, it would yield such a better product that we're really excited that we're going that direction. 

Andrew Verboncouer: Yeah, for sure. So makes me interested in how you think about you know, product here at Humu. You know, how do you tie in the science team with design with development and kind of really create that cohesive product cycle? You know, how does one inform the other and kind of make sure you're heading in the right direction together?

Ben Huggins:   Totally. This is going to sound like a total sales pitch for Humu and maybe it is but the the first day I walked into the office, I was is a little taken aback by how warm and welcoming everybody was. And like, just sort of collaborative, like everybody was, in a real way working together on a host of different things. So I think just having it be that kind of environment where people are actually willing to step up and help and work together. And there isn't a whole lot of emphasis on role or hierarchy kind of as barriers to getting involved, right. So I work really closely with our science team. Some days, they feel like my relationships I've had with PM, some days, they feel like relationships I've had with other designers. And I think that's a really great environment to basically be able to say, Let's come together as a project team, and figure out what needs to get done. And actually, you know, incorporating them into design processes, has been an amazing experience and it's really fun to work with them. 

Andrew Verboncouer: Yeah. Is that is that is that involvement, you know, typically throughout the process, I would imagine it it is, you know, they they might come with some science and you might create some features or share ideas around that. And then ultimately, you know, what's the cycle like to measure that response? Later when something's been shift or, you know, new features, or you know, even new users have gone through the process?

Ben Huggins:   Yeah, it's interesting. You talked about, you know, working together. In a process standpoint, we actually don't have any PMs right now. So we have these sort of self initiated product teams where somebody has a project, they think is important enough to kind of say, like, hey, should we prioritize this? They kind of bring it in, they pitch it, and then we build the team around it. Right. And that can be a cross functional team. And then throughout that process, you know, oftentimes, it's super collaborative between, you know, front end engineering, and back end and design and science to kind of say, like, okay, like, what are the requirements? What do we need to build here? are we solving the right problem are we doing in the right way? And then bringing it to a place where we say like, okay, we think this is think this is getting there, and then, you know, testing with users... and making? Sure related? Yeah,

Andrew Verboncouer: Yeah, that's great to hear. I mean, so. So we work a lot with companies where we don't have, you know, account execs or sure strict pm or people, you know, we like everyone to work directly with who's doing the work. Yeah. And so I think, you know, having that mindset and really having everyone take a little bit of ownership of the pie and, and making sure that they're understanding the problem, the user, like gauging towards that I think, you know, in our experience has provided the best outcomes, you know, from a feature or product standpoint, just launching that because you don't, you know, you can't say, Oh, I, you know, I thought someone else was going to do that, or I thought some of you kind of have everyone, you know, understand where they can pitch in and really take ownership of that, which is great.

Ben Huggins:   Yeah, and I love the idea of like, keeping so connected to the user. I think in certain company environments, especially the larger ones, it's really easy. Actually, I just saw this really awesome talk by Charlie Sutton, who's the head of TV design for Facebook. And it was really ironic because I used to work on TV design at YouTube. And just some of the issues he was talking about. Really resonant, but the majority of which had to do with this idea of business problems becoming so separated from human problems, right, which is totally natural and a larger organization, you have KPIs to hit, yeah, you know, you kind of organize success around those business metrics. But at some point, you know, almost without realizing it, you can almost entirely disconnect from user needs, and say, like, oh, shoot, like, you know, I did my diligence in terms of like, Who's, who's my user? Why are we solving like, why are we doing this? But you take a look back and you say, like, man, I, I was optimizing a little too much for my PM or my director, you know, just to get it out the door, right? So that's something that as we build who I want to keep really top of mind, which is, let's always be checking ourselves and saying, like, who are we building for? This is totally about people. And the minute we start to lose that connection, we got to recalibrate and reconnect.

Andrew Verboncouer: Yeah, yeah, that's great. How do you, you mentioned you know, don't have any strict pm. You know, everyone kind of chips in making sure that your understanding, you know, the users and the business needs and all those things into consideration. How do you manage? Or what tools you use to manage your internal internal workflow? More, you know, if there's an agile or Scrum process that you run internally or stand ups, you mentioned before?

Ben Huggins:   Yeah, we do have, we do have a daily stand up with 50 plus people. At some point, we're probably gonna have to adjust that practice just because of our room size. But in general, you know, I really have enjoyed the way that so our technical co founder, Wayne, has a strong opinion on basically saying, like, Hey, we're going to implement process as we need it. So instead of jumping in and saying like, okay, here's how we do design reviews, and here's how we, you know, write code tests, systematic. It's like, Okay, here we go. We're going to start from a place of saying, like, we put faith on our people to kind of organize around these product teams. Yeah. And as we need processes, it starts to hurt because with with scale, like it will eventually start to need a little bit more structure in place, you know, but let's wait until we feel that a little bit to institute the process. Yeah. So and from a tools perspective, you know, we use slack and everything else to kind of track projects, do a lot of spreadsheets just to like, make sure things run on time, right. But, but yeah, it's been great to kind of like, be a little bit more organic. And in so doing, we're starting to see where the gaps are that we need process. And hopefully, we will be better and implementing processes that fit those gaps, as opposed to like, whatever people did at their last job.

Andrew Verboncouer: Right, you're not really diagnosing before you prescribe something, you say, here's the process, follow it. Yeah. And hope that that's the right thing. Yeah. Because that process will change depending on the scale of your team. It's gonna look different for, you know, team of 50 versus a team of 500. So, I was reading an interview that you had in the UX planet, and you mentioned the importance of design critiques, and just kind of mentioned, there's no set process around that. How do you, you and the team here at Humu, I guess, operationalize that you know those good design critiques weekly or they just kind of ad hoc throughout the day. How do you structure those?

Ben Huggins:   So the team is actually still pretty small. We're hiring, we just hired a couple of folks who will be joining the team. And this is something I'm gonna have to really think about as we grow. But in terms of, you know, when I was at YouTube critique was very clearly, like, the most important thing we can think about as a team, like a great product and users and all that right. But like, the the vehicle for getting really good and shipping product that was excellent, as opposed to like, you know, satisfactory was this idea, critique, right. And one of the things I learned so I read, Discussing Design by Adam Connor and Aaron Irizarry is like, phenomenal book about this whole thing. So you should check it out if you can. But basically, it's this idea that critique often gets looked at as a meeting. Right? And so we set up our design critique, every comes in show work, you know, and that is what critique is, right? In reality, it's a practice, right? It's a muscle you have to build in the way that you communicate with other people, whether it's in that weekly meeting or you know, over their shoulder at their desk, right. And the other piece is that it's not about giving critical feedback on work and kind of saying, like, you showed work, is that good or bad? Right? It's about coming to a common understanding of a project and what you want to accomplish, and then saying, like, okay, we understand our goals here. Does your work, meet or not meet those goals? And if not, how might it better meet those goals? Right, right. So it's about us working together, as opposed to saying, like, you stand up, and we're going to throw darts at you.

Andrew Verboncouer: Right. Right. Yeah, so being more collaborative, you know, as you mentioned before, you know really focusing more on, you know, can you objectify design through a goal or, you know, something that, you know, designers working on through a project that you could give better feedback on versus I don't like that or it's not, you know, I mean, are you tracking towards the right things for the product and for the business and then figuring out, how do you give feedback, you know, in a way that's helpful. Can tell us a little bit more about how the team is made up, design team, how you're starting to grow it and function? Are you specializing in, you know, between UX and UI and research and all those things? Or are you looking for more holistic product designers that kind of own the whole process? Yeah. So the way the way I'm approaching it is basically to say, we're going to hire candidates. And sort of observe again, those gaps as as we go. But we just have hired a phenomenal designer who's coming in, who's going to help us build out some of our product. We had just hired our first UX researcher, which is really exciting. She comes from, from usertesting.com and the Nielsen Norman Group. So research at user testing is a little meta.

Ben Huggins:   But, you know, super talented. And basically, you know, my next step is, we have lots of candidates who are interested. My next step is to take a pause and say like, okay, based on these folks, as they get adjusted, we ramp up and we figure out maybe a little bit of process like Yeah, what do we need from there? Right. But essentially, like, something that's specific to Humu that I've been looking for is this understanding of, you know, the importance of human behavior, I guess, and how it connects to work. And really, you know, I learned a long time ago that if you don't want that thing to exist in the world, joining that startup is going to be hard for you. Right? The the analogy I use is basically, like, you don't want to be so excited about the subject, you want to read the book about it. You should want to write the book about it. Right? Like, you should just be all in. So you know that that's a big part of it, too. It's like do you really care about what we're up to here and and are excited about?

Andrew Verboncouer: Yeah, yeah,that's great. As far as tuning you guys use Sketch, Figma? A little into the hard skills just curious what for sure of you and the team are using.

Ben Huggins:   So sketch right now, but I've definitely you know, especially as we grow, you gotta keep an eye out for things that feel a little bit more collaborative. You know, should play the ping pong with the files a little bit more.

Andrew Verboncouer: How have you found that experience? Um, yeah, Figma has been great. Yeah. You know, for us internally, and then our clients do you know, with startups just like Humu, where you're wondering where stuff is, you know, we can kind of point to exactly where we're at be super transparent in the process we hop in. A lot of its, you know, collaborative design where we're not, you know, reviewing something, and then going back and changing it. We're kind of working on the fly and changing as we go. And in talking about whether this works or not, and do the same thing with engineering team. So it's been super helpful to not have to worry about all let me get that file version to you, or let me upload a new, a new InVision prototype or things like that. So it's been Yeah, I would recommend looking into it for sure. It's been game changing for us in our clients. For sure. So.

Ben Huggins:   It reminds me of how I would feel so what has it necessary is to design all of our UI in Keynote, okay. And that was largely thanks to buddy mine, Ted Botha, who was there at the time, who worked on the product Keynote, and basically was an evangelist for how it could help you get your work done more quickly. It taught me a lot about basically just crashing through a bunch of ideas because you can just duplicate slides, right. But the other thing was like we could share keynote files with each other. And at any moment, like fire up the presentation, because we were presenting united Tony Fidel every week. Yeah. And he didn't want to see like, oh, here's directionally some wire frames of what he's like, no, show me the thing. So that idea of being able to say like, Okay, number one, we're on the same page with what's going on here. Because we've all seen the file we've all chipped in. And then the ability to say like, hey, like, we can actually just take this file and make it into something that other people can digest and understand. Yeah, regardless of their role, like they don't have to have a Sketch license to get in there. Like that kind of thing. Yeah. It's pretty cool.

Andrew Verboncouer: Yeah. Yeah, it's powerful to they have a lot of great, you know, thing that API that opens up to you. And you can actually sync your design file with a React file and you can update things in Figma. And they update in the React using the API. So a lot of cool uses. There was actually a side scroller game that you can modify the level and it would update live in the browser as you're updating and in Figma, which is pretty crazy. You starting to see like the... There's another product out there. And I can't remember I was just looking at it this morning. That's basically Figma, but you can export React code with it and like your components are React components. So you can kind of really tighten the, the feedback loop on product is that Framer. No, it was a different one. Yeah, Framer X. Yeah, that's, that's one of them. That's very close with that, but... Any other tools you use internally that you couldn't live without?

Ben Huggins:   I mean, so Keynote is still a big one for me. But also, you know, that, you know, Google Docs, their collaborative suite is, like, pretty essential to what we do. I'm doing a bunch of, you know, sort of brand looking work right now. And just be able to put together things and share them out. And like, you know, mood boards and things like that. I love keynote, but like having something that's in Google Slides that I can actually like, easily share and have people comment on and like, get feedback is like, it's a game changer. So yeah, so that's a big piece. You know, prototyping do a little Principle. Getting a little bit into Framer... Still feels a little clunky. Yeah. But yeah, we're excited about the world of react here. So that can be good. 

Andrew Verboncouer: Is your product in react? 

Ben Huggins:   A little bit. 

Andrew Verboncouer: Okay. Anything you speak to about the technology that you're using on on the product or even the data science side?

Ben Huggins:   Um, not much. We're holding that a little closer to our chest.

Andrew Verboncouer: Yeah, yeah. No, that's good. What's next for Humu?

Ben Huggins:   So the way I think about it, in terms of how we're building right now is two things. One is like, it's so important that like, we have all this science backing our product, we have all the bells and whistles and charts that we could tell you about what's going on. But it's so core to what we care about to help you focus on the right thing. And say like, you know, as much as it's really valuable in enterprise software to be able to say like, we have 400 charts and bells and whistles, the user benefit isn't there. And especially when things are complex, especially when things are room open. Sorry, there's room for interpretation. Not only are we putting the burden on you to try to have to figure that out, but you might not have the skill set that, you know, a PhD behavioral scientist does to be able to go through and see the nuance there. So basically, we're working really hard right now to figure out what are the things that are going to guide us to a product as we build more that always keeps focus paramount and helps you focus on exactly the right thing? Yeah, and maybe even brings a little voice of the scientist in there, right, like somebody who's there to help out. So that's one direction, is basically like going deeper on the product and, and maybe even more focused on how we present things to you. The second is like you think about all the different stories that you could talk about in terms of a workplace. So, you know, our core is kind of that culture product with... Talk about happiness. We talked about retention, like kind of the the main things. But then you think about all the other stories you think about like you're joining a new company, what's that onboarding experience, right? You're a new manager, you've never done it before, like, how do we help you? You think about diversity and inclusion? How do we not only make sure that you're building a diverse team, but like people feel welcome there. And all these things coordinate back not only to individual happiness and satisfaction, but to the company's success overall. So like, it's kind of that depth of product and then the breadth of the story across those different areas.

Andrew Verboncouer: Yeah, that's powerful. So good luck on that. Sounds great. I'm, you know, really excited to dive more into Humu and, you know, continue conversations after this. Yeah. Where can people follow and learn more about Humu and follow you as well?

Ben Huggins:   For sure. So Humu is just Humu.com - H U M U. And then I'm BHuggins on most things. Or I have the URL hug.in So keeping it stylish.

Andrew Verboncouer: Sounds great. Well, thanks again, Ben for chatting, I appreciate it.

Ben Huggins:   Thank you.

Andrew Verboncouer: It's been great having you.

Ben Huggins:   Yeah. Awesome to be here. Thanks for coming in!

show notes
  • Ben's Journey into UX
  • Using Timely Triggers to Change Behavior
  • Building Product Teams around Business Goals