I. love. learning. I've found that learning from some of the top leaders in the industry can be as simple as attending quality meet-ups with great talks. This year, I'll be doing recaps of events and personal takeaways that I hope can be helpful to you.

In a future post, I'll put together a design meet-up guide in NYC. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy this post about the most recent event I've attended.


Every month, Firstmark Capital in NYC hosts Design Driven NYC—a meet-up focused on the intersection of design, user experience, and technology. There is a lineup of 3-4 speakers each month speaking on various topics that are revealed to the audience as it happens.

This month, topics revolved around bringing user experience design to retail experiences, how ClassPass utilized GV's Design Sprints to validate new ideas, and lastly, how to strategically create a company's recruiting brand through authenticity.

Bringing Design to the Retail Experience

As the world gets more and more digital, we've also begun to digitize the shopping and retail experience. Digital designers have a crucial role to play in this shift.

Emily Wengert of Huge shares that as the shopping experience for the future shifts to buying from easily accessible giants such as Amazon, companies are relying more on building brand experiences on top of the retail experience. However, when one thinks about integrating technology or the digital experience, it's often an afterthought. This ultimately limits the full potential of what digital can bring to the retail experience as a whole.

Instead, Emily expresses that we, as designers, need to think about the retail experience from end to end. It's crucial that we, as product and digital people, should be contributing to these experiences.

Thinking about the retail experience as a product, there are a lot of similarities in problems and constraints. However, there are some differences that I personally found fascinating such as:

  • Human Considerations:
    • In a physical retail experience, you're in more control of the space that the user is coming into (rather than if your entire experience is designed for the computer or mobile screens).
    • However, there are social norms and biases that govern the way we, as human, behave in certain situations.
    • This leads to Emily observing that people often do not stand still in retail stores as the spaces seem to keep people moving.
    • Lastly, in the retail experience, you'll always be competing against a customer's phone. Finding ways to work with the device and attention is much more worthwhile than working against it.
  • Physical Considerations:
    • Hardware selection and costs are much different. Who knew selecting tile could be something that a digital designer could be doing?
    • Additionally, things can break and require maintenance. This could mean a digital display no longer functions—could the experience still hold up on its own without one piece?
    • Lastly, ADA Regulations are a must to abide by. Similarly to web safe colors and accessibility on websites, these are constraints that many interiors and architecture folks abide by.

Above all, we need to fight our own digital biases. Sometimes, not every retail experience needs digital. Emily shares that some of the most unexpected and biggest delights can be non-digital aspects in a digital space.

Validating Ideas Through Design Sprints—Saving time and Finding Focus

More and more companies have begun to adopt Design Sprints, a process created by GV. It's a 5-day sprint using design, prototyping, and testing with real users to validate business ideas. This process can help cut down months of additional work by answering key questions.

A typical design sprint week could look like this:

GV Design Sprint Week Schedule

Credit: Noah Levin

Noah Levin from Classpass shared his team's experience using the Design Sprint to test whether or not they could improve the Classpass experience with a Friends feature. 

Noah expresses that as humans, we're not great about predicting future behavior but asking about past behavior is possible. Sometimes, our customers or users will request something but just because they say they want something, you must figure out if there is a larger root cause.

Instead of digging into their process, here are some of the highlights I'd love to employ in my process:

  • Ask your user to show, rather than tell. During a preliminary session, the team asked their users to draw what their exercise network looks like. They were surprised to find that the networks are much smaller than expected. In fact, it usually includes only themselves and maybe one other person.
  • Use real data to make the testing experience feel more real. This is a territory that I myself have found to be difficult. For testing purposes, they continued their relationship with the initial user testers and asked for their friend's names and ClassPass information. They then took the data and plugged it into their Sketch files via Invision's Craft to quickly sync the info. This allowed user testing to feel more real and it was more relevant to the tester.

Credit: Noah Levin

  • Stand by your principlesAs designers, we often talk about personas and how they can be the guide for our designs. However, beyond building for our personas, using design principles can help with decision making. Such as figuring out what to cut and what to keep within the designs when it comes down to implementation (or even as early as what to design).

ClassPass example sprint to launch calendar

Credit: Noah Levin

  • Most of all, transparency in timelines and progress. Noah expresses that it's also important to be transparent about how long their process took to launch. I believe that we often find ourselves where most people think design is a big black box. Let's get out of that mindset and share and educate one another on how things work. We can start with something as simple as real timelines that would reflect how long a project takes to build, test, ship, fix, and fully launch. That way, we can collaboratively improve the processes.

Getting Real with Company Employer Brand

Aside from our day-to-day design work, how we got to our positions heavily relied on the company's employer brand. Finding work with a great company is hard. However, what seems to be equally as difficult is for great companies with little resources to market themselves in the competition for stellar employees.

Kathryn Minshew and Yusuf Simonson from The Muse shared that with any company employer brand, it's not about the extravagant perks but being real with those great potential employees. To be real with who you are as a company, what your needs are at a current state and desired future state, along with being able to communicate that truthfully can help you find better candidates.

The Muse's Example on How Recruitment is like DatingCredit: Kathryn Minshew & Yusuf Simonson

After all, looking for a new job is sort of like dating, as Kathryn and Yusuf expresses. There's nothing worse than showing up with high expectations and seeing a total mismatch. It's most important to be reflective of who you really are.

So how do you do it? Kathryn and Yusuf offers a few ideas:

  • Design a valuable and engaging candidate experience. From the moment the potential candidate learns about the company all the way till the first day. It's not about keeping up with appearance but more about building a strong connection throughout the experience.
  • Add personal touch from the employees. After all, your candidates will be working with everyone who is already on the team. One of my favorite ways to do this is that once a candidate receives an offer, I always send an email saying how excited I am to work with them. From personal experience of looking for a job, I know it sucks. It's difficult, time-consuming, and very draining. I personally value culture and the people I'm spending 40+ hours a week with and if I knew that the people I would potentially work with actually care—that makes a difference.

The Muse's Recruitment Strategy

Credit: Kathryn Minshew & Yusuf Simonson


  • Most importantly, adopt a strategy that includes considerations of all stages from pre-recruiting down to the first day. Again, recruitment isn't as simple as flipping a switch or tweaking a small portion of the process. Like the design process, recruitment is iterative and requires micro, but also a macro view. The above graphic shows a high-level view of the recruiting funnel as Kathryn & Yusuf's team utilizes. I see it as a diagram that allows all teams to understand how to plug in and improve at different stages of the "funnel".


All in all, every speaker had an interesting take on how to apply design into various aspects of processes that already exist. We, together, can utilize our strengths as designers to improve upon a wide variety of experiences ranging from retail to recruitment.


For more information on Design Driven, and their full video library, head over to Firstmark's site or their Youtube channel. There are some incredible gems here! Also, if you can't make it to these events and/or want to share the ideas you've learned, these videos are perfect for sharing with your company and teams.