Long time no see.
Sorry about that, it’s all on me.
In my last post I promised to tell you a bit more about what I do at Spotify.
I had my final presentation last week.
Except that I accidentally put the headset on upside down it went ok.
While I have it fresh I thought I present it to you too.
So pretend that I’m talking to you and hopefully it make sense.
Hi I’m Sofie! I’m 24 years old, born and raised in Stockholm. I study engineering with a master within media technology at Linkoping University. This summer I’ve been working with the design team at Spotify. For those of you who don’t know, our team consist of 28 people spread across offices in Stockholm, London, New York & San Francisco. We work with features, platforms, growth & user research. Putting this presentation together I was a bit stressed. Being the 7th presenter meant that I needed to come up with something radical to get and keep the audience attention. We’re Spotify and we love music so I thought I would try to tell the story of my internship in a mixtape format. Every slide is a song that I’ve tweaked to suit what I’m trying to communicate. Let’s play!
Track 1: The Twisted Internship
Now for those of you who know your Kanye will notice that this is not a song but an album. How ever, it suits what I want to say so I’m cheating. My Spotify journey started in February as a student ambassador. I like most other students was around this time panicking about the up coming summer and what to do with it. To my disappointment Spotify didn’t have any internships within Design or Product in Stockholm. That’s where I really wanted to be. In my dark twisted fantasy I was thinking “what if ….” what if I just ask If they need help with something. So I did. And it worked.
Track 2: Confession
I’m going to confess something. I had a really hard time my first weeks. I saw people committing code and creating beautiful designs, contributing to the product in a very concrete way. I compared myself with these people and felt useless because my contribution was not really tangible. My manager helped me to figure out why I felt like this. Coming from university everything is focused on delivering tangible results. We get judged on those results and get grades. Our world focuses around this. Realising that this job wasn’t about enabling myself to deliver results but about enabling others to do great things. This realisation was a real game changer for me. Wind of change is to lame, it was a world of change. My brief for this internship has been to help build and establish Spotify’s Design Team. I’ve structured this presentation into two parts. First I will talk about building an understanding of our team and what we needed. The second part will be about within what areas I’ve implemented things and made changes.
Track 3: Direction
I did not walk in my first day at work starting to build a team. I wouldn’t even know where to start to be honest. To get understanding I needed direction. Where do we want to end up as a team? I got very clear direction from my manager and the design directors. I never got told exactly what to do just where we wanted to land in the end. I got to use my problem solving skills and what we had to get there. I came up with suggestions & solutions, got feedback, iterated and slowly we moved in the pointed direction. It was great to understand the importance of clear direction early.
Track 4: Insight
Another thing I needed was insight. Complete insight. In order to get that I’ve been attending all design management meetings. This has been very exciting for me. Listening to conversations around company and product strategies, how to build a team and how that team fits in at Spotify. This made me see the bigger picture and I got introduced to sides of product development that didn’t have to do with design or coding but more about why we are doing what we’re doing.
Track 5: Observation
I’m not gonna give a take on answering what is Love but what is design at Spotify. Getting the bigger picture defined the next step was to refine that picture with more details. The two first months of my internship I did remotely part time while still in school. It was great being able to observe our team from a distance through emails and shared folders. I read every line, in every email from every email group. I even joined the Python developer email group. I have never written a line of Phyton. A bit over ambitious perhaps. I observed what roles and responsibilities we had, what meetings and traditions we had, social rules and so on. What was the pains of our week and what were our highlights? Being able to do this enabled me to get started much faster when I went over to full time in June. I had an understanding of our team, where we were and where we wanted to go.
Track 6: Get Organised [& throw candy]
The first thing our team desperately needed was to be a bit more organised when it came to documents and meetings. All our documents were circling around in email threads and chats. To clearly demonstrate how I felt trying to catch all these documents I had candy in different colors. Every colors representing one of our team’s documents. I then threw this candy at the audience telling them to imagine that they needed to catch all the candy and put in one single location. This was a lot of fun. And to prove my point I had prepared a glas with candy well organised based on the color. Not sure if this makes sense to you but I wanted to mention it because it was a lot of fun. Setting up a structure around documents and meetings that worked for the design team was not that hard. But it quickly gets very complexed when taking other areas of Spotify into account. The tech team or marketing team might use another system. We’re fairly organised around this type of stuff now. Which makes it a lot easier to get an overview. Like if you were up in Google’s cloud and could see everything stored there.
Track 7: Team Building
I will start by telling you why it was a challenge to “team build” this particular team (not because of the people, they’re absolutely amazing) but we’re spread across 4 different offices. This gives us a time difference ranging from 1 to 9 hours. So it’s obviously very hard for us to meet with the whole team online during the workday. 54% of our team has been at Spotify for less than a year, so we’re a very young team. Designers spend most of their time sitting with their squads so even people at the same office don’t see each other every day. We also have 17 nationalities (that’s not really a challenge, just very cool so I wanted to mention it). Team building is not something you can force on people, it needs to happen by itself. We did several things here but the game changer was a 3 day offsite we had in June. I was in charge of planning this event which was equal parts exciting and terrifying. I have never handle a budget that big or reported into such an experienced management team. What do you plan when you only have 3 days for people to bond and build relationships? It was extra tricky since some people haden’t even met face to face prior to this. I think we did it right though. It has been really cool to see the after effects. People share more stuff, make after work and even weekend plans together. Really amazing to see. For this post not to turn into a bloody book I’ll leave out the other examples for now.
Track 8: Team Identity
Spotify is an engineering driven company. Which is very cool and a lot of our success is due to how amazeballs we’re at writing code. But in order to be the best of the best all aspects of the product needs to be considered. Design being one of them. The Design Team has in the past been quite under resourced and still is. It was therefore important for us to create an identity telling the rest of Spotify who we are, what we do and why they should partner up with us. Building a team identity is not something that can be done over night but I think we have a good foundation to let it develop within the coming months or year. Part of that foundation is our internal website that I set up. I also did a very cool project where I sat down with every designer in our team and just talked for an hour. Where they’re coming from, where they want to go, what inspires and motivates them and so on. I had to pinch myself from time to time realising what an extremely talented & experienced team I have ended up in.
Track 9: Alignment & Building Bridges
This is my favourite slide. Look how Abba is like “does your mother know that you threw candy at your audience?”. A great team is one that is aligned on everything from colours on buttons to values and ways of working. It’s been a hard nut to crack, especially since Spotify is a fast moving global company with many different projects running concurrently. We’ve looked at what meetings to have and what processes to have in order to stay aligned and up to date with everything that’s going on. I’ve come to the conclussion that the perfect balance between documentation and creativity is really hard to find. We’re not quite there yet but we’re definitely on our way.
Track 10: Wrap it Up [elevating the shit out of it]
It’s been really awesome to see what Spotify as a company is doing and then being a part of our design team doing the same things on a smaller scale. I’ve grown a lot in this role, both professionally and personally. I also feel very honoured & proud to have been trusted with the projects I’ve been involved in. On days that has been uphill I’ve tried to remind myself that I can not change the world, the music industry nor the company vision but instead try to absorb & learn as much as I can.
A few things I’ve learned:
- The complexity of tech organisation
- Ways to reason about strategy (company, product, design and team)
- Awareness on how to be perceived when communicating something to a group
- How a large tech org works with design (processes, tools, platforms, a/b testing and data strategy)
A few insights I’ve gained:
- What seems to be organised on the outside is not always
- Small changes can have a big impact
- Face to face communication wins over email 10 out of 10 times
- I should believe in my opinion more often, it’s usually pretty decent, and if not, no one dies
Thanks for staying with me all the way to the end.
I hope it made sense.
Fortunately this is not the end for me.
I will stay with this awesome team working part time during the fall (yay!)
If you have questions or want to chat more, email me maybe!
The epic mixtape can be found here.
Until next time: Stay Awesome!