How LinkedIn is changing the way we do business
Kim Lenox is the director of product design at LinkedIn, where she’s been since 2014. Before that, she was a design management consultant, the director of user experience (UX) at LUNAR Design, and the senior manager of interaction design at Palm, among other roles in her extensive background.
I chatted with Lenox over the phone about her role at LinkedIn and the evolution of the social media platform, the importance of good UX for end-users, and how culture plays a role within the company.
Skuid: Let’s just start off by talking about what you do at LinkedIn. You’re the director of product design. What does that entail?
I am leading a number of different product design teams within LinkedIn. Over the course of almost three years, I’ve run a number of different product design teams. We run our product, engineering, and design teams as standalone businesses within the larger business.
You may be most familiar with the flagship product (linkedin.com), which has a series of businesses including the Profile team, the Jobs team, the Feed team, and a variety of others. One of the projects I lead is design for products within the LinkedIn Marketing Solutions portfolio, our advertising platform.
One of the other areas I lead is design for products within the Enterprise Platform. Over the years, LinkedIn built a lot of different products to help our customers with onboarding and account/product management. And each product has its own approach. The Enterprise Platform team is a consolidated solution for account management and provisioning for a more seamless UX across all of LinkedIn’s monetized products.
The third team I lead is the Commerce design team which is a sister team to Enterprise Platform. Their focus is consolidating billing and payments across all our products, including enterprise and consumer products.
When it comes to LinkedIn versus Facebook and Twitter, do you find it difficult to differentiate the UX from other social media platforms?
I see them as different flavors of social media, and so it’s really about figuring out the audience and what their needs are. Like most people, I use LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram very differently.
My breakdown for sharing is: LinkedIn and Twitter are for software and design industry content and events; Facebook is personal content geared towards friends and family; Instagram are photos of my kids for about 50 close friends.
The thing that’s unique about LinkedIn is, because it started as primarily jobs and connecting businesses with potential candidates, people present themselves in a professional context. Because their profile is tied to their professional brand, they usually provide a view of their background that is something they want to communicate to a future employer or customer prospect. I think this, in and of itself, makes the experience and content very different.
LinkedIn’s content is mostly career advice, job changes, success stories and business-related content. But we have to remember, what each user sees will be different since our connections and content choices are different from one another.
Recently I’ve observed more content in my LinkedIn Feed about how government policies are impacting business, like immigration orders and tax implications. Meanwhile, when I’m on my Twitter or Facebook Feeds, I see these conversations take a more politically-charged and personalized slant and are not solely rooted in business context.
I like your word choice on that. On my Facebook feed, there’s lots of yelling back and forth online about political things.
There are certain ways that we empower our members to modify and improve their feed. You can be a Connection with someone, which means you are automatically Following them, but if you don’t want to see their content, you can Unfollow without removing them as a Connection.
You may still have a business reason to interact, but you don’t necessarily have to see their content in your feed. It’s really up to the user to manage who they connect with and and how they engage. Again, the professional context tied to the individual’s business profile sets a tone that is unique to LinkedIn.
I’d like to talk about the growth of LinkedIn. Can you talk about the evolution of LinkedIn from just strictly finding jobs and connecting people with jobs?
Our goal is to connect people to opportunity and help empower a global workforce. It’s not exclusively about matching job seekers with recruiters, although that is a big part of who we are. Content is a strong driver of engagement because what our members discover helps them not only find opportunities, but also makes them smarter about their profession and allows them to shine at work.
You can certainly search for people on LinkedIn, but there are also tools that make this an even better experience. We’ve got LinkedIn Recruiter for targeting and building relationships with potential candidates. We’ve got LinkedIn Sales Solutions, for finding potential sales leads. LinkedIn Marketing Solutions helps advertiser present products and services to a professional audience. Then there’s also Premium subscriptions, which amplifies the benefits from the member experience, and LinkedIn Learning Solutions for those who want to learn news skills or brush up old ones.
UX is increasingly important to employees in the enterprise. Could you talk a little bit about that, the need for employees to have a great UX with the software that helps them do their jobs, and how important the role of design is on those kind of products?
I’ve been doing software work for a long time. I think that the biggest leap we were able to make with user experience improvements was shortly after the iPhone came out. It was a way for millions of people to see the possibilities of good user experiences. It became the bar to reach. Because the iPhone was in everyone’s pockets after two or three years, that meant that we, as designers, had a chance to have that stronger conversation, to get that seat at the table. Suddenly, executives and everyone within different businesses saw the benefits of a well-designed user experience, and they realized their own businesses weren’t supporting good enterprise UX. I was a design consultant when the iPhone came out. I can’t tell you how many times I heard executives say, “We need it to be as easy to use as an iPhone.”
The iPhone started the conversations for better UX everywhere, including enterprise. My hunch is that before the iPhone, a lot of enterprise products were built with very little design influence. Then, the shift began: “Let’s hire some designers and see what they do.” You’ve probably seen John Maeda’s Design in Tech Report, where it lists, over the years, the number of design consultancies that have been acquired by different businesses. A lot of times they’ve been brought in-house. Sometimes it’s a consulting firm — McKinsey acquiring a design firm like LUNAR. But oftentimes, it’s larger acquisitions like Facebook acquiring HOT Studio. You can look at his report and see this huge uptick in acquisitions starting in 2011. That’s helping enterprise businesses create better UX for their products. Even if Facebook is a consumer product, they have high ambitions of being in the workplace as well. They even have a set of tools called Workplace.
Is artificial intelligence in LinkedIn’s future?
Definitely at LinkedIn, and certainly at Microsoft. We have the most amazing relevancy data scientists that I’ve ever met — just phenomenal people. They work really closely with the design and product team members so that we can build product experiences that are really compelling and useful. When you look at your LinkedIn Feed, we’re paying attention to what you’re doing on there to make your experience better. Sometimes we get it right, and sometimes we’ve got to tweak it, but that’s already happening at the relevancy level. That’s the precursor to artificial intelligence in my mind.
I’m curious about company culture, because I know it plays an important role at LinkedIn. And it’s something a lot more established enterprises are talking about. Culture is a lot of different things to a lot of different people. What does maintaining good company culture look like at LinkedIn?
LinkedIn has some really strong cultural values. From the very beginning, we look for people who believe in our mission: to connect the global workforce to opportunity.
When we’re in the interviewing process, we really look for people who are saying, “Wow, this is amazing. LinkedIn is doing this great stuff, and I really want to be a part of it.” We want true believers who see the possibilities of what LinkedIn can bring to the global workforce, and they want to be a part of it.
Then, getting into the different cultural values, we really have a bottoms-up organization, where we expect people to act like owners. This is actually really empowering for those who want to own things and make a big impact. You’re not expected to just do your job, you need to look beyond and really make sure that what you’re doing impacts the business across the whole company, not just one small piece of the puzzle.
Our cultural values play a big part in how I manage and lead my teams — having open, honest, and constructive conversations. Having this level of transparency in how we conduct business with one another. All of those things lead to a high amount of integrity and a high amount of respect for one another. I work with a lot of high achievers, and we also respect each other. They’re also very humble, so there isn’t a strong sense of competition between colleagues; it’s more about collaboration and about cooperation. That just makes a huge difference in how business gets done.
Awesome. Thank you so much for talking with me. I appreciate it.
Great. Thank you. You have a great day.