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Q&A with Jocelyn Perron, Head of Design and Research at Wistia

The importance of mentoring, cross-collaboration and empathy

Welcome to Designer Interviews, a new series of monthly conversations. We'll be featuring incredible designers whose work has inspired us, and who we'd love to shine a light on to maybe inspire you too. This interview series focuses on designer and creative minds from a wide-range of backgrounds.

Introduce yourself - who are you, what are you doing now and how did you get there?

I’m Jocelyn Perron, the head of design and research at Wistia; a video marketing platform that helps marketing teams host their videos, distribute content, and grow audiences.

The team at Wistia is actually kind of unique in the tech industry. We are comprised of product design, marketing design and customer research. The way I usually explain it to folks is that my team works on the end-to-end customer journey, from the first time someone engages with Wistia in the very upper funnel, to our website, and into our product.

Having product and marketing design on the same team allows us to have a more consistent brand experience across that journey. In addition, our research team partners with product, marketing, and strategy to conduct generative and evaluative research across the org to help identify opportunities for the business and product.

I represent my team on the senior leadership level, which entails working with product leadership to define and set the overall north star product vision, as well as making sure that we are balancing customer feedback, innovation, feature development, and product iterations. I also work with the marketing leaders to identify product positioning and brand design opportunities.

Thanks to our team composition, we are enabled to create design principles and guidelines as a unified design team instead of two separate teams. I always say that customers don’t think of the experience as being upper funnel and in-app. The team makeup allows us to think holistically.

The collaboration between the two design teams is something I’ve felt passionately about throughout my career. I started out on a marketing design team for an AOL subsidiary, where I first became acquainted with product design and the frustrations with product and marketing design divisions. I found that the product didn’t always meet the same brand visuals. I ended up taking on product design work because I’d finish the work I had so quickly that I’d look for something else to do, and I befriended a designer on product design who would shoot over some icons or UI components for me to help with. After that job, I went on to work in a series of consultancies where I had the opportunity to work on all manner of design styles and learn from lots of different design disciplines and functions until finding myself in-house on product teams at Wayfair and LogMeIn.

How did you get into design?

I came from a very artistic family, so growing up I was always involved in art and design. When I started thinking about college, it was a natural step for me to go to design school. A few members of my family attended Pratt Institute and had great experiences, so I excitedly followed in my family's footsteps. I began as an interior design student, while attending the end of semester upperclassmen design shows, I fell in love with the creativity and flexibility offered by the communication design major. Students were showing textile design, comic books, product design, advertising design, book design and so much more. This was the genesis of my love for design in all its carnations and sent me down the route to where I am today.

Brandwagon

Brandwagon is a Wistia Studios Video series. The design team directed and created all brand identity and assets for this show.

For many of us, how we’ve come to choose the profession we are in today can often be traced back to an experience in our lives where someone or something came along and inspired us. Have you had any experiences with mentorship and how has this benefited you and your career?

Yes, absolutely! So many experiences with mentors shaped who and where I am today. My earliest experience with a mentor was in high school. At the time, I was extremely interested in fashion design and tailoring. I met a local business owner in my hometown that had attended FIT in NYC for fashion design, and after a very successful career in fashion design houses, she had settled down to a more casual life in New Hampshire where she was a seamstress. I worked with her a few days a week after school and she taught me everything she knew. While what I do now doesn’t directly tie to the work we did together, she taught me so much about design, business, and most importantly critical thinking and problem solving. She also showed me the importance of sharing our passions and experiences to help those who come after us build on our experiences and benefit from our mistakes. I believe very strongly in connecting with high school students and helping to mentor and introduce them to opportunities they might not have otherwise known about due to my experiences with my first mentor.

“My first mentor taught me so much about design and business but she also showed me the importance of sharing our passions and experiences to help those who come after us build on our experiences and benefit from our mistakes.”

In the years since, I’ve heavily leaned on mentors throughout my career to help learn balance, identify what my values are, and of course develop some of the more tactical design and research specific skill sets. I wouldn’t be where I am without the help of my mentors.

The demand for mentors has rocketed in recent years. A recent survey in the US found that 76% of people think mentors are important, however, only 37% of people currently have one. What advice can you give for creatives looking for a mentor? Are there any mentorship schemes/mentor-focused initiatives, especially for underrepresented people that you recommend?

I would definitely recommend researching out to any local networking groups to get involved in. Both as a mentor and a mentee there are so many groups where you can meet folks. It does mean sometimes going outside of your comfort zone to connect with someone that you’ve met. Sometimes it can be intimidating to put yourself out there, but there are so many great opportunities to meet mentors and network. I’ve actually hired directly from things like portfolio review nights in the past. When I spot someone who is enthusiastic about design and takes feedback and advice well, I am always excited to build a relationship with them. Thankfully, there has recently been a rise in networking groups for underrepresented folks. One that comes to mind is "Black Ignite", an organization that showcases BIPOC designers’ work and hosts networking events.

“Sometimes it can be intimidating to put yourself out there, but there are so many great opportunities to meet mentors and network.”

I highly recommend connecting with mentors and mentees that both offer more diversity in your network and also offer representation of the group you might be in. For instance, early in my career I found it incredibly important to seek out other women to be mentored by. It helped me feel supported and gave me role models in my career. On the other hand, I have learned so much from others’ experiences by being mentored by and mentoring folks who are inherently different from me and offer different perspectives.

In addition, I always recommend reaching out on LinkedIn and via email to folks you’d like to meet with a thoughtful message about why you would like to connect with that individual specifically. When someone reaches out with a message that feels personal and well researched, it shows the amount of work the mentee is willing to put in and why they are interested in that particular relationship. I personally try to meet with as many folks as my schedule allows for when it seems like they are thoughtful and interested in what I could offer. A personal message also helps a mentee stand out against others who are possibly reaching out.

“Reach out on LinkedIn with a thoughtful message about why you would like to connect with that individual specifically. This feels personal and well researched, it shows the amount of work the mentee is willing to put in and why they are interested in that particular relationship.”

On the mentor’s side, I do think that some ownership needs to be taken on by mentors. It is clear that there are folks who want to have mentor/mentee relationships but aren’t having success connecting with others. I know that it can be hard to find the time and desire, especially during these days when many of our lives have been turned upside down with a lack of child care or complex living situations, but for those who are able to mentor and have the ability and time, it is important for them to commit to putting in the work.

Talking too loud series

Talking Too Loud is an active series produced by Wistia Studios and is hosted on Wistia and distributed through our Channels Product which allows users to distribute and showcase their content in a beautiful and easy to use end-user experience.

This year has been eye-opening for many people across the globe, how important would you say diversity and inclusion is to any creative company?

There are so many different studies that dive into the importance of a diverse team for the business, but something that I feel can be missed in the quantitative studies is the impact that diverse teams have on the culture of a company, and importantly, the creative process. Innovation and creativity are the result of many different perspectives coming together to solve problems. While building a team, those perspectives are most valuable when both inherent and acquired diversity are taken into consideration. I’ve learned so much from so many different viewpoints thanks to the makeup of the various teams I've had an opportunity to work with.

"We need to lean into mentoring and advocating for underrepresented individuals, build diverse networks, open ourselves up to uncomfortable conversations about diversity and inclusion, and most importantly work tirelessly to have representation from so many groups."

I see a big swing in the design industry to make sure that we are building diverse and inclusive teams, which is amazing! However, in order to really set the industry up to be as inclusive and diverse as we want it to be, we need to lean into mentoring and advocating for underrepresented individuals, build diverse networks, open ourselves up to uncomfortable conversations about diversity and inclusion, and most importantly work tirelessly to have representation from so many groups.

You’ve held many senior positions in your career, how do you make sure that everyone feels included?

I've learned so much from navigating the best ways to be inclusive for other designers in the org. Ultimately, it comes down to transparency. Of course there are going to be some topics that you can’t be totally transparent about but I do my best to find areas where I can share thinking around decisions. I also identify decision making opportunities to loop designers into. In addition, I try to help people to observe and learn from the decision making process; that way they are able to connect the dots and understand how their work is impacted. However, it is a balance and requires some trial and error to find the right amount of involvement. There have been times where I’ve found transparency on certain topics to be distracting and other times where it has been empowering, so sometimes it is a combination of understanding the individuals on your team and how the subject matter might impact them.

Change the Channel

Identity and branding work for product launch event.

What would you say the most important skill is for leadership/management to have, and why?

Depending on your position and the area of focus you have, there are going to be a multitude of different skill sets that will help you be successful; but ultimately, I think "radical candor" is a skill that is important for all leaders and managers to have, and has certainly served me well in my capacity as Head of Design. If we follow the term coined by Kim Scott in Radical Candor, then you would have empathy in order to care personally, but are able to challenge directly in your feedback. Feedback is a critical part to the success of any team. Team members should be comfortable providing feedback downward, upward, and laterally in order to put out the best work and help each other be the best we can be. Feedback should be seen as a compliment because it means that someone is not only invested in you enough to provide it, but also knows you can be successful in acting on it.

“Feedback should be seen as a compliment because it means that someone is not only invested in you enough to provide it, but also knows you can be successful in acting on it.“

You’ve tailored your career to focus on customer centric spaces. How would you like this part of the industry to grow? What do you think they are currently missing or what would like to see more of?

Recently we’ve been struggling to find opportunities to include more cross-functional folks in the organization in customer/user research. We found it much easier to include other functions in research observation when we're in person, but I believe it would be very intimidating for a participant to join a usability study with 5-10 observers on the line. When we were in the office, we were able to have an observation room so that folks could observe and send the researcher slack messages in real time for follow-up questions. I’d love to see more software that enables more direct connections with customers, like a live observation room for remote work. I think in terms of software, the tools we use to collaborate in customer centric spaces could really advance to solve more of the problems we are all experiencing while navigating remote team work.

What is the best piece of advice that someone has given you?

This is tricky to narrow down to one piece of advice, but this one has stuck with me for my whole career. I was actually a baker before I became a designer, and one of the bakers I worked with would always say “it's just bread” whenever things at the bakery would get too tense or when we were really stressed around the holidays. I remember huge batches of cookies or bread getting burned or ending up on the floor, and all of the bakers would really stress out. Especially when the stress is coming from above it can be really hard to navigate, so I always make sure to stay calm and level-headed when I’ve got big problems to solve, or when we are up against deadlines that feel really overwhelming. Getting worked up is only going to add to the stress and detract from the clarity of any given situation, especially when my team is looking at me to set the tone for how we respond. Whenever the head baker would say “it's just bread” it always gave me a sense like this is something we can solve. It wasn’t a life or death situation, nor is shipping our product, and while I am incredibly invested in shipping a great product, I also know that we won’t make the most rational decisions if the team isn’t able to think logically.

This is tricky to narrow down to one piece of advice, but this one has stuck with me for my whole career. I was actually a baker before I became a designer, and one of the bakers I worked with would always say “it's just bread”

What things are you interested in at the moment, and why?

Recently, I’ve been into content that offers perspectives on leadership. Some of those include:

If you enjoyed this conversation, why not reach out to Jocelyn and let her know what you love about their work, say hi to her on LinkedIn!

Who would you like us to chat with next? Drop us a message on Twitter or fill out this form.

Content and Social Media Manager at Marvel | Photographer | Sewer

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