Community Series | InVision’s Adam Fry-Pierce and Mike Davidson on the 3 P’s of Community
As our series on community continues, we dig deeper into the fundamental elements that create a successful product community.
In the first episode of the community series, Adam Fry-Pierce, Director of Design Community and Curator of the Design Leadership Forum at InVision, shared what the InVision team considers to be the 3 P’s that guide their view of community. InVision’s VP of Partnerships and Community, Mike Davidson, joins the conversation to share how these principles look when put into action.
For the team at InVision, community means creating a better product while also creating a stronger community for designers everywhere.
Listen in to hear how efforts like the Design Leadership Forum and DesignBetter.co are helping InVision’s community of designers grow and evolve in unexpected and exciting ways.
- Connect with Adam
- Connect with Mike
- Learn more about InVision
- Connect with Christian
- Connect with Anna
- Learn more about Innovatemap
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Adam Fry-Pierce: The more that we can help mature the entire field through community investment, we're going to benefit in a number of different ways. We're going to create better relationships between people who use our products and also people that don't. But ultimately, at the end of the day, if we do our jobs right and deliver value first to the community, we are by consequence going to put ourselves in a stronger position, not only for us to win, but for everybody in the field to win. And that's really interesting.
Anna Eaglin: This product-
Christian Beck: Are we recording?
Anna Eaglin: Better Product, the only show that takes a behind the scenes look into how digital products are created.
Christian Beck: The business is built around them and how you too can innovate Better Product. I'm Christian.
Anna Eaglin: I'm Anna.
Christian Beck: Welcome to today's show.
Christian Beck: In the last episode we heard from several product leaders about the role community plays in the product development process, in both expected and unexpected ways.
Anna Eaglin: You got it, Christian.
Christian Beck: Nailed it.
Anna Eaglin: Personally, one of my favorite parts of our last show was hearing from Adam Fry-Pierce, the Director of Design Community and curator of the Design Leadership Forum at InVision. He talked about the three P's of community and I think this concept speaks to the core of what we were hoping to learn about community and product.
Christian Beck: Which is exactly why we invited Adam back on the show, along with InVision's VP of partnerships and community, Mike Davidson. We wanted to dig more into how those principles actually look when put into action.
Anna Eaglin: First, let me tell you a bit more about InVision. InVision is a digital product design platform that puts an emphasis on community through efforts like the Design Leadership Forum and DesignBetter.Co. According to Adam, many designers find themself pushed in new directions that are outside of their traditional skillsets and that's where their understanding of community comes into play.
Adam Fry-Pierce: And now in the current space where visual design's really become product design, the field seems pretty nascent and a lot of people who are practicing or leading teams are asked now to deliver on things that require skills that they didn't necessarily go to school for, right. And so knowing that, that a lot of people are in these positions that they weren't formally educated on, the thing that's always stood out to me is the way that we can bypass some of the problems that happen when you don't go do a full four year college for all the things that you're doing, is just to connect with the other people in the community.
Anna Eaglin: Connecting people with resources and each other is just one example of how InVision is approaching community. When Mike joined the company in 2018, after previously leading the design team at Twitter, he stepped into a role focused on expanding the definition of community. One way this manifests is by giving designers whose voices have been typically marginalized or ignored a platform to share their experiences.
Mike Davidson: If there's somebody who's got something important to say, but that doesn't necessarily have a platform that's 6 million users big as we do, we're happy to use our platform to direct it to the voices that aren't necessarily always represented in the typical places that you would look for them. People that don't necessarily have a million followers on Twitter or don't have popular design blogs, but nonetheless have very important things to say about accessibility and diversity and inclusion, subjects that are important to us and that are important to the world but don't necessarily get the platform that they need.
Christian Beck: And what about the third P, practice? Mike sees our design community as transforming typical work habits. We often want to keep our work hidden until we believe it's ready to be seen. But InVision's workflow encourages transparency and feedback throughout the design process, guided by the belief that the community will help improve the output of the individual's work.
Mike Davidson: We do as a profession historically have this proclivity to keeping our work close to ourselves and hidden until we think it's done. And that's the way I grew up, right? I don't want to show my work until it's polished and I'm proud of it. And I thought of every last thing and then hopefully I can sneak it through without it getting watered down by anybody along the way. But that's not really the modern way to design is much more of a team sport, much more of an open process where you show your work early, you show your work off and you don't get too attached to your ideas because frankly, there's a very good chance that you're wrong with your initial approaches.
Anna Eaglin: And it's with this in mind that we bring Adam and Mike back on. In this conversation, we learn how they make this idea of people, platform and practices a reality, and what they're learning from the design community, the community they're creating.
Christian Beck: And as it turns out, their community is growing and evolving in unexpected and exciting ways. So for the team at InVision, community means creating a better product while also creating a stronger community for designers everywhere.
Anna Eaglin: You mentioned the three P's and you talked about people, platform and practice. Could you talk a little bit more about the three P's and what role they play in the company?
Adam Fry-Pierce: So the people, platform and practices is really just, it's a way of putting a lens over how the industry operates, right. At the center of everything that goes on in product design, you have people that are involved, whether it's internal partnerships or partnerships at all, leading people, hiring people, everything that comes along with people, which is the people deliverables, right, and people management. And then platform is often the tools or the things that are used to deliver the goods, and then the practices are how you end up building it. Aaron Walter shared a great analogy on this once and it had to do with carpentry. He said the hammer is essentially the platform, the practices is how to use it and the people are the team of carpenters that ended up building the house.
Anna Eaglin: Love a good house analogy. No, definitely. That's our favorite analogy as well. We put everything into our house [crosstalk 00:05:38] .
Christian Beck: If I can't use a house to explain something then I just don't understand it. So no, that's great.
Anna Eaglin: A follow up question from something, we were talking about a little bit earlier about community. I think one of you mentioned that, Mike, I think it was you, that there's this idea that designers are always trying to improve themselves, or always trying to be on the cutting edge. Do I need to learn something else? Do I need to see this new tool? I can imagine that the intensity of the community is such a great place to be, that they're excited, they're always learning, they're always growing. But I can imagine it's also a scary place to be with a product. If people are so willing to embrace something that's new, are they going to be potentially willing to embrace a disruptor in your space? So how do you manage the veracity of the new with this community, but at the same time keep them involved in what InVision is doing?
Mike Davidson: Yeah, I think that's a really astute observation and I also think it's a fantastic thing. I grew up in the '90s, I started my career in the 1990s and there was one company that I was able to use that produced design tools that helped me be a designer. And I loved it at the time. I really loved those tools and they helped me build the career that I've been able to build. But there were no alternatives. It was essentially you were using this company's products and that was it. Thankfully they make good products so it wasn't a problem. But as we now work in many, many different types of modalities, we need different tools that do different things. And it's a scary thought depending on one company to provide all of those tools for all the designer's needs.
Mike Davidson: And so I like living in a world where designers have a choice of what tools to use. They can use InVision, they can use Adobe, they can use Sigma, they can use Sketch, they can use any number of other tools depending on what suits them best. And so you could say, "Well, as a company that has a popular tool, doesn't that make you nervous?" And I would say no, because I feel like we are a company that has a pretty good beat on where the industry is going and a pretty good ability to deliver on those tools. And so as a designer my philosophy has always been let the best tool win, or let the best shortlist of tools win. So I love living in a world in which designers are free to use whatever tool suits them best. And it kind of puts the onus on all of us working at design tool companies to produce that best tool.
Anna Eaglin: So I want to talk a little bit more about the DesignBetter.Co, the community. How does Design Better kind of connect with the larger InVision product suite?
Adam Fry-Pierce: So this kind of goes back to the three P's that we were talking about earlier, right? The people, platform and practices. DesignBetter.Co's is really all about serving the practices portion, right? So there are times where people and platform are woven into some of the stories or podcast or workshops that you'll see delivered through DesignBetter.Co but the entire purpose is to teach that carpenter how to swing that hammer with as much efficiency as possible. So it's really just all about helping bring up the industry by evangelizing what those best practices are. And that's sometimes done from the viewpoint of some people here at InVision or some of the research that we've seen, but it's more often done with us actually reaching out.
Adam Fry-Pierce: To Mike's point earlier of using our network, and that places InVision more as a Maven than anything else, is connecting the right people to the right person who has the information. Connecting the audience to the appropriate subject matter expert for whatever the topic is that you might be looking at, whether it's a DesignBetter.Co Sprints workshop and trying to figure out how to best set up Design Sprints at your organization or how to best take a client through a Sprint. There are workshops for that or if you're just trying to read up on what are design systems, well there's a handbook out there that we wrote with a bunch of really smart people out in the industry who have really figured it out. So the short answer is DesignBetter.Co is all about delivering the practices component to the industry.
Christian Beck: Yeah, it's funny you were actually just making me think, somebody on Twitter a while back was complaining that there aren't a lot of great new design books and as you were talking about Design Better books like, "Oh that's because InVision does them all now." Because you guys really do kind of like fill that void of design practice education. It's almost just like people forget that it's a book in that sort of regard. So there's not the old traditional design textbooks as much anymore. But it seems like you guys have really filled that gap on the education side.
Mike Davidson: No. So I think it's a good point. I think 10, 20 years ago there were such a small amount of places you could turn to when you wanted to learn things. There were the published once a year books on things like web standards or flash or whatever, what have you, and then there were the kind of smattering of conferences that you could go to in places like San Francisco or New York or Seattle. Anyway these were like special occasions. The conferences were special occasions, the books were special occasions. Now there's so much out there that you almost never need to go to a conference and you almost never need to read a book because there are eBooks out there, there are articles out there, there are tutorials out there, there are videos on YouTube. There's so much content out there that it's less of a question of is the material out there? And it's more of a question of how do I find it? And that goes back to one of the things that we try to do with all of our properties is to just direct attention to where the best stuff is.
Christian Beck: So we have the Design Better, but I'd like to understand what was the vision behind that. Because I think Adam, you're highly involved in that and you moderate the Slack channel really well. And so I'm curious, what was the need that the Design Leadership Forum was solving for InVision.
Adam Fry-Pierce: Yeah. Yeah. There's a story I like to tell, it's probably too long for this, but the punchline is that a lot of people who are in Design Leadership jobs right now didn't go to school for. It goes so a way that our theory was, if we can just create safe spaces where people can come and share stories around similar challenges, they'll teach each other and they'll take a little bit of that uncertainty that you might not be willing to admit. But a lot of design leaders have expressed to me that they felt this prior to coming to the forum, of there's a lot of guesswork that goes into their day to day, especially as the role of a digital product design leader continues to evolve and they're doing more and more things that again, they didn't go to school for. What better way to solve for some of that uncertainty than by just bringing people together in a safe space where we don't have any hidden agenda, InVision doesn't have any hidden agenda.
Adam Fry-Pierce: We're just trying to help by connecting people so that again, the entire industry can evolve faster so that we can all grow faster together. So that was the entire idea. And then in February of 2018 that theory was put to the test. We launched the Design Leadership Forum to the world. We had 12 founding members who would get together again at the in-person events. And if you fast forward to today, there are over 2000 people here in over 40 countries. We've done over 60 in-person events, dozens of online events, hundreds of hours of facilitated discussions. And the thing that we've gotten out of it, not InVision but the industry, is that we're all making really meaningful connections and we're building trust amongst each other so that we can be more vulnerable to talk about the stuff that quite frankly is really hard to talk about with your colleague within company walls. But if you have a network that you can plug into, if it's curated the right way, then it's going to work, it's kind of clockwork, right.
Adam Fry-Pierce: And it's not just me. There's a huge team here, people that are involved in not only the facilitating the dinners but helping out with the programming. Mike being a big part of that. So you know the forum is really cool because it goes back to what we were talking about earlier is Design Better mostly has a sage on stage model, right, where we ask people who really know a specific topic to share their knowledge with the world. And Design Leadership Forum takes a peer-to-peer approach, where we just bring in people who have the same pain points in each event that we do, whether it's a dinner or an online fireside, or question of the week in the Slack community, that has a specific focus on a very specific shared challenge. All we do is we ask a member to help facilitate that discussion. And as you might imagine, you know the first couple of minutes where everyone's a little quiet with each other, trying to figure out what everyone's agenda is, almost immediately because the room is curated so carefully, people open up and it's one of the best parts of my job.
Adam Fry-Pierce: I'm incredibly fortunate to be able to go to so many of these dinners and just watch people connect and watch the way that they open up and see how much they teach each other. It's been a really cool journey and it's by far one of my favorite parts of the job.
Mike Davidson: It's also one of my favorite parts of the job. Every dinner I've been at has been super, super fun, in no small part to Adam's excellent planning and participation. But like Adam said, it's kind of amazing to hear how similar people's challenges are working across many, many different types of companies in many different geographies. I'll just give you an example. One thing that comes up from time to time is a subject like, hey, there's pressure at my company to distribute our design team so that our design team isn't sitting together anymore. So designers end up sitting with engineers and product managers instead. I'm nervous about that, my team's nervous about that. What do I do, right? And I remember the first time this happened to me, my first thought was like, "Oh my God. I must be the only person this is happening to." And then low and behold, when you get in a room full of 20, 30 design leaders and you say something like that and you ask, how many people have had this happen to them, half the hands go up.
Mike Davidson: So it's always great to be able to discuss things like that with your peers in, like Adam said, a safe space. Imagine if you had a very public Twitter account and you said something like, "Hey, my company wants to break up our design team", and your peers read that, they might take it the wrong way. Or sort of be offended that you published something like that publicly. But if you can talk about it privately with other people who have been through it before, maybe they can kind of help you out and tell you, "Hey, this isn't actually the worst thing in the world. It's actually a good thing if you know how to do it correctly." And that's follow it up by tips.
Mike Davidson: Okay. So when you move your design team, you need to still have activities in the studio space and you need to still have everybody reporting into a functional design organ. You have a checklist of things that can help make a transition like that a positive thing instead of a scary negative thing. So, those are the sorts of things that couldn't happen without a forum like the InVision DLF. So we're just happy to provide that sort of service to the people in our community because we feel like it makes everybody more effective at their jobs.
Anna Eaglin: So as you guys have scaled Design Better and the community in general, I'm curious what challenges you face and had to overcome because as we know, communities have their own inherent issues.
Adam Fry-Pierce: Scale is probably the word, right? The more that you move away from a small group, you go from a couple people sitting around a campfire, all of a sudden that grows into a tribe, all of a sudden that grows into a town and a city and a nation. As you scale, it becomes harder to create meaningful connections. That has been the thing that I've been thinking about most. It's where I spend most of my time is trying to figure out how can I continue to create as much value in our community investments as the communities grow.
Anna Eaglin: What's a meaningful connection? What does that mean?
Adam Fry-Pierce: Great question. I would say a meaningful connection, it's a relationship where you can be vulnerable with somebody. And it's something that, the DLF, going back to that, is one of the things that it's really good for is helping two people who are like-minded, who have similar challenges, to meet each other and start to form a bond so that on any given day they can Slack each other in that Slack community and just have a chat. Like, "Hey, my budget just got cut 50% for head count and I'm growing my team. What do I do?" This weird stuff like that, right? So if you can create a meaningful connection, then in my opinion, you've done something good for the community. Or if you can create a space where meaningful connections can be created then you've done a good thing for the community.
Mike Davidson: Yeah. I think one thing that Adam said resonated with me there, which is the strength of connection is kind of a big deal to us and if you think about the concept of strong ties versus weak ties, a strong tie as essentially a good friend who you may have dinner with every month, that sort of level of connection. Whereas a weak tie is somebody you connected with on LinkedIn, you wouldn't really ping them unless you needed a job or something like that. I think of what we strive to create is more of something in the middle, like a medium tie where we're introducing you to people who you want to interact with on a pretty regular basis, but certainly not daily and maybe not even weekly.
Mike Davidson: But one of the nice things that we've had happen with these Design Leadership dinners is, people have a great time at them, and then when we ask for feedback on how the program is and how the dinner went and all that, a lot of people say the same thing, which is "How do I stay in touch with these people after each events? Like I don't want to wait until the next event." And so that was one of the reasons why Adam set up this very active Slack channel that we have. But there's certainly more that we can though that we can do there. We really want to facilitate connections amongst designers and design leaders all around the world at whatever pace is comfortable for people, or perhaps even a little uncomfortable. Sometimes you have to get a little outside of your comfort zone, talk to strangers and make friends with people who work at competing companies, or companies that are in your same industry in one way or another.
Christian Beck: So I buy everything you guys are saying, but I want to ask one challenging question because I'm curious what your all's thoughts are, but how do you know what you're doing is working for InVision?
Mike Davidson: So there's a bunch of answers to that. I think the most obvious is we try to measure as much as we can. Every time we bring in, let's say a speaker to one of our events, we test NPS for that event. Every time we have a function of one sort or another, we survey people about how they enjoyed themselves. We keep a close eye on attendance numbers, on how many people RSVP versus how many people actually show up. So there are a number of things that we can test, fairly quantitatively, to determine whether we're doing a good job or not. I would say there's a lot less direct testing of the effect it has on sales. So we don't do a whole lot of like, "Hey, we threw this event in Seattle and we now make this much more money from our customers in Seattle." Like we don't really go to that level of kind of quantification. We just sort of have a feeling that, if you do the right things for the community, success will naturally follow from it. And I think that's been true over the last several years.
Adam Fry-Pierce: I'll add onto that is that Mike really touched on the quantitative side and on the qualitative side, a way that we receive feedback that these investments are working is we are generally perceived by our customers as being a holistic partner, right? So we aren't just delivering a tool, we're delivering value as to, not only even how to use the tools in the right situations, but how to just generally operate as a product design team, right? So these community investments, they come back in a number of different ways. Mike really touched on some of the top layer ways that we can measure if these events and community investments are successful from a satisfaction standpoint.
Adam Fry-Pierce: But as far as a broader lens, we are generally perceived through our clients as being a strong partner and that's really what we're trying to go for, right, is to be much more than just a tooling company. We want to be a partner to all of our clients as they go through their internal digital transformations and as they go to building and maturing their product design teams. We have more to offer than being a prototyping tool or a white boarding tool with freehander. You know, insert the blank with any of the other things that we build on our platform side.
Mike Davidson: Right. If design remained a niche service within companies, like if design continued to be viewed as a kind of service department that was sort of subservient to the needs of let's say product management or engineering or marketing or any other department around the company, we wouldn't be nearly as successful as we are. I think only, only because design has recently transformed into being a strategic partner in the modern enterprise, have we and all of our competitors been able to build. So back to the [inaudible 00:22:54] it's very, very important to us that the field of design can used to be elevated in a workplace. We just want to do our part to help ensure that that happened.
Anna Eaglin: So I just have one final question to ask you guys. This has been so great and I just want to say how much we really appreciate it. It's been such a good conversation. What does Better Product mean to you?
Adam Fry-Pierce: My gut screams usable, accessible and delightful. I know that might sound a little cheesy, but really it's are you making things that people enjoy using, right. Especially with digital, you have shorter and shorter shelf lives. I think the ultimate test is is somebody using a digital product as long as they would their cast iron skillet? If you can build something that has a long shelf life that maybe even be passed down to your friends several years down the line, friends and family, then you've done what a lot of teams, I wouldn't say fail to do, but shelf-life is ultimately the thing that I kind of look at is like how well is something working, right?
Adam Fry-Pierce: I play music and I look at great design, a great example being MIDI language. We're still using 1.0 and I think MIDI was designed in the '80s. They're all being used. It's absolutely wild. We're just coming up to MIDI 2.0, and that's a digital deliverable. It's a language, but there are very few digital things that last decades. That is, in my opinion, what great design is.
Mike Davidson: I think, yeah, that's a great answer. I also look at the various levels of great design. My mind immediately goes to functional, usable, delightful, right? So you have to make something functional, first. Does the thing actually work? Then you have to make it usable. Do users actually understand how to operate it? And then after you've done the both of those things, you can make it delightful, which is, it's actually a joy to use. But I think up until the last few years, at least in digital product design, that's kind of where it ended. And I think we're now starting to see there's a fourth pillar there that comes, perhaps it should come at the start, which is essentially is it good for the world? Is it good for your health? Is it good for the world? We've become very good at creating very addictive digital products that are very effective at getting people to stay on their iPhone all day or click ads all day or like photos all day.
Mike Davidson: You have all those functional, usable, delightful qualities to the experience, but at the end of the day, what's it doing to you and what's it doing to the world? And so I like that we're starting to kind of ask ourselves as an industry, are we paying enough attention to these sorts of things? Because I think in many cases we have created products that generously, let's say, are a mix of good and bad for people. Look, I worked at Twitter, right? Twitter does a lot of good for the world, it probably does a lot of bad for the world too. It's good for your health in some ways, it's bad for your health in some ways. I think we are up front with ourselves as designers from the beginning and we anticipate all of the potentially negative consequences of what we're building, then we can build even better designed products that have potential. The only positive outcomes or almost exclusively positive outcomes.
Christian Beck: Many thanks to Adam Fry-Pierce and Mike Davidson for taking the time to speak with us and share some amazing stories of how InVision is building and learning from their community. We've heard some success stories over the past few episodes of how community and product can align, but are there situations where a community can make the biggest impact? What if you have a highly engaged audience or if there's an obvious geographical tie? In our next episode, we'll introduce you to stories that highlight the power of community in situations where it is an essential element in a product's success.
Anna Eaglin: Thanks so much for listening to the show this week. If you haven't yet, be sure to subscribe, rate and review this podcast. Until then, visit innovatemap.staging.wpengine.com/podcast and subscribe to learn how you can take your product to the next level. As always, we're curious, what does better product mean to you? Hit us up on twitter @innovatemap, or shoot us an email at email@example.com.
Christian Beck: I'm Christian.
Anna Eaglin: And I'm Anna and you've been listening to Better Product.
Christian Beck: Better Product.
Anna Eaglin: Drop mic.