Day 3-Fireside Chat

I’m excited about the conversation today with Mike Davidson, the Vice-President of Kraken.


Q1: You’ve described yourself as design lead, but not as a researcher. Can you share context on your philosophy around research and how research connects with design?
—> Full disclosure, I know far less about research than anyone else at conference


—> I’ve lead design teams for while now of varying sizes, from 5-100 people
  • At beginning of  my career we didn’t have access to lot of data or research, and setting up my career I had few metrics outside of page views
  • As the field grew and developed, I added things like more granular data and entire UXR teams to see how products were used
—> At Twitter, I worked with a world-class research team
  • I learned so much from them, and all the ways we were failing our users
    • For international products like Twitter I found you will succeed with the tech savvy audience, but will fail across the world and those who have different life and values
—> All company fail users in a way, through this failure of imagination
  • The only way to resolve this is to get involved in UXR
  • So I’ve spent time to get researchers paid as well as engineers
    • Tech companies have valued engineers and it is time to value designers and researchers in the same way
—> Designers are tech folks, and research is not sitting at a park talking to people, but setting up well controlled studies for statistical analyses


Q2: Tell me about your work with Kraken. What does Kraken do?
—> Kraken is a digital asset exchanges on the world, where you can buy bitcoins, and other cryptocurrencies
  • It is much more of a global company and is a global concept
  • The goal is to spread adoption of crypto around the world for financial inclusion
—> When speaking with team members, in the US cyrpto-currencies are viewed as a toy and are seen as speculative
  • To people in other countries, it’s totally different
  • Cryptocurrencies can act as a lifeline for people to build wealth without the government being able to seize it
    • Look at the examples of Russian citizen, where the very best thing to have done in past ten years was put their money into Bitcoin, into wealth that couldn’t be seized
  • I love working on something new that gives people that sense of inclusion
Q3: I love the goal of creating level of equity and inclusion around wealth along the world. What does UXR have to do with getting there, and what is the value of building out a UXR practice?


—I’ve had the opportunity to stand-up design teams at top tech companies


—> I sell companies on  the concept that UXR will save time instead of take up time
  • If you don’t do promote research internally, people will instead try to move quickly as possible and just deploy features
—> When done right UXR saves time and labor, and prevents people from going down roads-to-nowhere
  • So orient yourself to research saving time and improving metrics
—> This is not enough though, as there can be a revisionist history in companies where engineers use UXR, but don’t take credit for it
  • You need to make UXR part of  the story that you tell and build an institutional muscle memory
—> Building a cache of research builds muscle memory by helping those around us and those unaware of value of research, to make it second nature to them


—> People also feel smarter and can articulate the reasons behind design decisions
  • It’s better to have back-up and lots of questions coming in
Q4: What are your thoughts on socializing research topics if you are not a VP, and encouraging conversations on UXR?
–> I hate hierarchy, but find a champion within the company as high as possible
  • Doing it bottom-up, might succeed, but will require little bit of work upfront
  • Find someone most receptive to story you want to tell them
    • In my case, I found CTO who was performing okay, but recognizing UXR team was our chance to lift things up
    • Old team-mate from Twitter asked question, why does research report to design?
      • My answer was that it was just the most common set-up, and research should report to org that will make greatest use of UXR
  • Find the most impactful advocates and work your influence from there
—> Also compensate researchers to have the same career path as engineers, lining up with highest levels in company, to get proponents for the message


Q5: What are your thoughts on scaling research and work that you do to be relevant in future?
  • If you are only one researcher, don’t do anything until a team is built out
—> Pace out timing of hires, and for a team of 4 VPs, there should be 20 ICs doing great work and doing reviews every year
  •  Staggered hiring of craftspeople and managers
  • Have a mix of qual and quant talent


Audience Questions
  1. How to hire, onboard, and distribute designers and researchers without disruption and compromise?
—> I’m still working to figure this out
  • Prefer in-person work, and like it, but there is a trade off of team intimacy for access to great workers
—> Develop a playbook, and don’t stay in your lane in your role
  • Do things like help improve the interview process and onboarding process
  • Fix issues with documentation, Figma, help researchers and PMs work together
—> Enlist team in building the way we work as we go


—> Your shouldn’t be swerving all over the place, but don’t get stuck in your default role
  • Your remit is improving the team, so set up career framework based on behaviors, not outcomes and plan project with amazing team, in the following areas:
    • 1: Improving the Team (How)
    • 2: Building Strong Relationships
    • 3: Individual Skills Like Empathy
    • 4: Getting Things Done
2. How to advocate for UXR and research without thinking of yourself as the experts?
  • Learning how to delegate is the key skill here
    • At a certain level you must recognize, you can’t see every pixel out of the door
  • Hire people you can delegate decisions to
    • My heuristic: Things are on the right track if all decision on team made directly by the team themselves and  I don’t have to make decisions for them
  1. Why do so many engineers want to avoid research? 
—> Number one, there is hubris on the part of the engineers, where engineers think they know the product, and know what users want
  • Why waste time doing research, is the  basic sentiment
—> Lot of places also haven’t worked with great researchers or research teams
  • I’ve experienced this all the time as a designer, where PM is often barking orders at designers
—> You can look at this type of management and be offended, or look to it as opportunity to work and teach most teams what they are missing


—> I’ll conclude with this tactical advice:
  • When doing a design and research career ladder, mirror the engineering career ladder exactly
  • Take a look at how engineering is set-up, and extend the structure to designers and researchers
    • This prevents awkward conversations as to what ranks of designers and researchers are, relative to the engineers