Creating New User Experiences at Adobe

JamieMyroldThis week, Jamie Myrold spoke with us about the path that led her to become Adobe’s Senior Director of Experience Design for Document Cloud, and her thoughts on managing distributed teams and fostering a design-led culture in a company whose name is synonymous with design.

What led you to become a User Experience (UX) designer?

I was that kid who was always making things—drawing, painting, and creating a lot of chaos and mess. I knew I wanted a career in an artistic field, so I applied to Otis College of Art and Design. Four years later, I graduated with a BFA in Communication Design and Illustration.

That was before digital design existed, when designers worked with blue lines and wax on paper. I felt a real connection with the tactile nature of that work, so I focused on letterpress printing, papermaking, and hand setting type for small-edition books that I wrote, illustrated, printed, and bound. I kept myself going by making wedding invitations and custom books.

When I met my future husband, who worked in computers, he said, “Why don’t you try to do some artwork on a computer?” That was something I was interested in exploring, so I learned Photoshop and Illustrator, as well as how to write HTML. That led to a job as a content strategist for a telecom, where I learned more about designing websites, and then I went to an agency to work on user interfaces for a while. Then I found my home at Adobe.

What drew you to Adobe?

Coming out of school, I’d always said I never wanted to work at a corporation. But when I delved into the digital world and started using Adobe software to make things, my creative life was so enriched that I became enamored. I wanted to be part of creating that type of experience for others, and Adobe was clearly the place to make that happen.

Adobe was the big shining light that had changed my creative process. So when an opportunity came up here, I leaped at the chance. It’s exciting to be part of something that has been so meaningful in my own life.

Did you come from an artistic family?

My family wasn’t artistic in the traditional sense. I was the only one continually drawing and creating things. Both my parents were athletes—in fact, they were Olympians in the ’64 Games in Tokyo—and their passion for sport and dedication to achieving their goals demonstrated values that allowed me to feel comfortable with the chaos of the creative process.

There’s a thread of continuity and consistency that has been present in all our lives. My older sister was interested in animals when she was a kid, and now she’s a farmer who raises cattle and horses in Canada. My younger sister was a big reader and a great student, and now she’s a lawyer. For me, creativity was the center of my early life, and is still the center of who I am today. We all found passions early that have stayed with us throughout the years.

You work remotely. How have you learned to manage a distributed team?

When I started managing my first Adobe team, I had people in San Jose, San Diego, and India. The experience of managing a design process that involved engineering and business people around the world really taught me the value of building relationships with everybody. The design work wasn’t going to be successful if I didn’t focus deeply on building relationships with both the people I saw every day and those I saw once a year. By the time I moved to Chicago, I already understood how to do design management with distributed teams.

With a distributed team, there has to be more meetings, more face time, and more voice time. I did a lot of video conferences in my early days at Adobe. I also made a point to visit my teams, so I was in India once a year and in San Diego whenever it made sense. I made a point of extending a hand to remote teams whenever they needed it.

I’m always conscious that people aren’t seeing my face, so I find ways of engaging with them, whether it’s on IM saying hi and how’s your day going, or something else. Leading a distributed team requires a manager to go beyond the boundaries of day-to-day work and put herself in the path of people’s day.

What aspects of your life shape your leadership style?

Even when I was little, I was always the one drumming up a game at recess and making sure everybody had a role to play. I really love people, connection, communication, and inclusiveness, so those natural inclinations have shaped my leadership style.

Caretaking and guiding are strong parts of my approach. I want to help people to reach their creative potential, and that requires me to spend time reflecting on my team, how we work together, and what we need to do to move forward, both together and as individuals. To do that, I need to enter a state of calm, which I do with a daily meditation practice. I’ve been meditating for twenty-two years, and it’s been a big influence on my leadership style.

What do you see as the biggest challenges in your work?

My biggest challenge is to be certain we’re evangelizing for the customer, the user, and the design in everything we build.

When we set out to imagine Document Cloud, I was asked to take the lead on a design-led vision for the future of one of its key pillars, Acrobat. It was freeing to be given a mandate to place design at the center of our effort and to know that corporate sponsorship and engineering buy-in were a given. A big part of our job is building relationships and continually evangelizing for design, and while that is valuable and necessary work, the design can never become a secondary priority. Balancing the needs of all the people who touch or are touched by our products is a constant focus.

Documents are all around us. Do you find yourself constantly thinking about how to make them better?

I think about how to make sure people who are working on documents on a computer or device have the best experience. Nobody likes to deal with anything in their worklife that slows them down or frustrates them. So, I don’t think about how to make documents better. I think about how to make the way people interact with documents better for them.

If you could travel a few decades into the future, how would you like to be able to summarize your design accomplishments?

I’ve talked about the importance I place on the people part of what I do, and my answer to this question is also about people. I work with some of the best designers around today, and I’ve already seen them do amazing things. I’d like to look back and see what they’ve accomplished in ten or twenty years, when they’ll be dealing with aspects of design that haven’t even been imagined yet. That would be the best thing ever.

If you could sum up the future of UX design in three words, what would they be?

Three words? That’s tough. There isn’t this one thing called UX design. UX design is really solving problems for people to make their lives better. So the future of UX is the fusion of business, design, and technology based on empathy and care. Can I have five words?

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