Product Designer at Klaviyo
Guilherme
Schmitt

Gui is an inquisitive Brazilian product designer based in Boston, and works at Klaviyo. An active design screenshot hoarder and question asker, Gui is working towards understanding his driving force.

Boston, USA • December 18, 2020

What led you into design?

Videogames and Apple.

I grew up playing video games, and I remember being very excited about usability improvements that sequels would get over their predecessors. I liked new game mechanics, sure, but perhaps subconsciously, I appreciated how sequels improved upon their predecessors for solving the same set of problems. Things like inventory management, menu navigation, or way-finding. If there was a game that did something notably better than others, I would wonder - why did other games not have that figured out? Things like that are only obvious in retrospect.

Apple products are relatively rare in Brazil, but I had one classmate in high school that owned an iPod. I borrowed it out of curiosity and was blown away. For some reason, it was just so much better and more pleasurable to do the same tasks as my own off-brand media player.

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Most MP3 players in Brazil around 2005, versus the iPod

Upon some online research, I found out about the role of design in shaping these experiences and how crucial a user-centric design can be. I wanted to be part of it.

I was intrigued about creative activities but for a long time, didn't consider myself "good enough" to be a designer (hello imposter syndrome). I couldn't draw and believed at that being a successful designer meant creating eye-catching images. So glad I was wrong!

That got me curious - can I pull off being a designer without knowing how to draw well? I emailed someone studying Visual Design at the college I was applying for (UFRGS, in Brazil), and asked if a designer could be successful with that seemingly catastrophic shortcoming. They reassured me - drawing was a tool to assist you, and all that mattered was making people understand the ideas in your head on how to solve a problem, regardless of the format. I took a leap of faith. Worked well so far!

What does a typical day look like?

Morning
8:15 AM - Wake up, sometimes before that, due to the Casper Glow light. I also check AutoSleep to figure out how my night went. I like how you can get a lot of rich data by just wearing your Apple Watch to sleep!
9:10 AM - Hop on the Orange Line train in Boston. I prefer to go a bit later to avoid the morning rush. Hurray for flexible work schedules!
9:30 AM - Get to work, head straight to the kitchen to get some coffee and breakfast.
10:00 AM - What is going on in the world? Catching up to it. Twitter works really well for this - for better or worse.
11:00 AM - Depending on the day of the week, there's either a project team meeting to discuss everyone's progress or a design meeting to get feedback from other UX folks in the company.

Afternoon
12:15 PM - Lunch. I'm a Soylent person, which sounds horrible, but I got used to it. Still, I make sure to not have it at my desk all by myself!
1:30 PM - Our team has a late stand-up meeting to check how everyone's day is going to look like. At the end, we do a team chant - "Go mobile!"
2:00 PM - My productivity tends to increase the later it gets. Some good sessions of uninterrupted work around this time can yield some great solutions.
5:45 PM - Time to head back home!

Evening
6:30 PM - Either go to the gym or play some video games to wind down.
8:00 PM - I'm used to eating dinner a bit later than most people, around 8 is the perfect dinner time for me.
9:00 PM - Netflix / chill / catch up on RSS feeds
1:00 AM - I tend to go to sleep a bit later. Soon it will all start again!

What’s your workstation setup?

At work, I have the classic MacBook Pro + external monitor combo. It's a Dell 27 QHD display. A few years back, I hopped onto the mechanical keyword bandwagon with the WhiteFox Keyboard - I like how it looks and there's a satisfying typing experience, all in a small footprint. For sound, I use the Fostex TH-X00 - they sound amazing, but sometimes I envy the new developments in sound cancellation.

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Klaviyo's product design team in a recent outing

At home, I use the 2017 iMac 5K, which looks a bit dated at this point, but the high quality display more than makes up for it. There's not a lot of great, desktop-sized Retina displays right now, unfortunately.

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I keep my main iPhone Home Screen as clean as possible - no folders or "slot machine" apps. I tried to apply some of the tips from the Make Time book, but have since dialed it back a bit (one of their rules is "no email apps on your phone," which sounds a bit extreme). I am a heavy user of the Screen Time feature - limiting social media apps to around 15-30 minutes a day.

Those rules are a bit looser on the iPad - I use it mostly for media consumption.

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Where do you go to get inspired?

I'm a digital hoarder. I take a lot of screenshots and pictures, from nice looking websites I stumble upon, to apps that have any interesting transitions, to typography being used out in the world. I put them all on my Eagle library (an image library/organizer), and apply tags as they seem fit. Common questions I ask myself: which UX patterns does it include? Does it follow a specific aesthetic? Is it from a particular company/design system?

There's nothing worse than having a faint memory of something visual that inspired you and not having the ability to recall it. Eagle has helped me revisit these experiences.

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Apart from design, I'm a big fan of photography and composition. It's incredible how framing something in a certain way can evoke completely different feelings. The wide-angle camera of smartphones is an excellent example of that - when used in the right context, mundane scenes can become dramatic and full of expression. Use it in the wrong way, and your friends can look unflattering.

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Videogames are also a source of inspiration - games like Persona 5 have a tremendous personality on their interface - someone even made a cosplay costume inspired by their menu!

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Persona 5 has tremendous personality in its UI

Nintendo has many clever solutions around copywriting, like using shapes and colors to provide instructions. All designers have something to learn from their broader audience approach.

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Splatoon 2 is stylish on everything, including its interface

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Super Mario Maker 2 makes the complex process of game design accessible.

What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?

Notion. It's an excellent example of a product that is simple on its surface but can scale gracefully to great lengths of sophistication if required. They add new useful features regularly, and there's an active community of enthusiasts sharing templates.

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What pieces of work are you most proud of?

My portfolio. I wanted to do a revamp of my website for a long time but realized it wouldn't happen if I just worked on it after the workday. I took time off (what some people call a staycation?) and made my own "personal design sprint" - 5 days of non-stop work (using Semplice to build it), and V1 was live!

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The hardest part was writing copy. As designers, we are so close to these problems, and providing context from nothing is challenging. I sent a draft of the website to friends that had never heard about the products that were displayed, and received some fantastic feedback. I'd highly encourage all designers working on their portfolios to do the same!

Being part of the mobile team at Klaviyo, we are about to release SMS messaging. It's our first significant channel addition and it's designed to be used hand in hand with our existing email platform. A lot of work has been done to properly guide and educate users on best behaviors around communicating with this medium. We recently adopted Whimsical for all our wireframes and user flow needs and it works great!

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From wireframes to the final version of in-line preview experience in the SMS builder.

Since there's a charge associated per message, we have to be extra careful and transparent about actions that can result in higher costs. When dealing with volume, those cents can quickly add up!

What design challenges do you face at your company?

At Klaviyo, the design team is a relatively new - so a lot of effort has been put into 3 areas: gradually building design culture, improving existing processes and creating a more humane data-driven tool.

In terms of culture, we had a design event this year called "DESIGNIVAL - It's a design event!" which was a lot of fun. We're also doing design podcasts every month. The range of subjects is wide - from job interview tips in a month to how we see automation affecting design's role in the future.

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In terms of processes, we are working on establishing a design system that can scale as we get bigger. Part of our platform runs on legacy code that makes design changes and ensuring consistency across pages quite hard. A component-based system will allow us to refine the visual language and interaction patterns of the platform to more aligned with its sophisticated capabilities.

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Being a data-centric product, we don't want the experience to be sterile. Data by itself doesn't say anything - it all has to connect with the goals and aspirations of our users while still allowing them to express their vision.

When building tools, you can never truly anticipate all the creative ways people use them. Each week, we showcase a different customer's journey using the product, and it's so encouraging to hear those stories. We are working to enable them to be more successful, and that's a big challenge.

What music do you listen to whilst designing?

Any advice for ambitious designers?

Anything you want to promote or plug?

There's this great segment from an interview with This American Life host Ira Glass which he talks about the concept of "the gap". When you are starting, have good taste, and you know your output is not there yet. You just gotta push through it, with the expectations that a lot of bad stuff will have to be done before you can get to something substantial. It's humbling and motivational. vimeo.com/85040589

My Twitter, Instagram and the Klaviyo Design Podcast - we post episodes every month. The previously mentioned episode on Automation is an interesting start.

https://soundcloud.com/klaviyopodcasts/7-automation-and-the-future-of-design