Leading by Vision

Creating a shared vision, opening the creative process, building pathways to collaboration.



Innovation at scale

In 2014, eBay's senior leadership saw a slowing of engagement metrics in our mobile user base. They needed a redesign, but knew there was no way to make huge strides in product development while being tied to a primarily business-driven roadmap. The VP of Mobile Product pulled together a cross-functional group of 2 Product Managers, 2 UX/UI Designers and 3 iOS Engineers, and sent us away to rustic Skamania Lodge in Washington for 1 week.


Our starting point: 4 mobile products with vastly differing user experiences.

You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.
— R. Buckminster Fuller


By the end, we had collectively redesigned eBay mobile,  creating a shared design system, the first step in unifying the omnichannel brand experience.

The Mission

At the end of our week-long session, we must have a working prototype to present to eBay leadership.  This prototype would reinvent the entire eBay experience with mobile leading the way, while:

  1. Increasing omnichannel engagement
  2. Reducing friction in key conversion paths
  3. Incorporating the 2015 roadmap into the product vision
  4. Build a new, cross-platform design system


Hive mind

We all had a million ideas, but they needed to be focused to be effective.  We created solutions to the pain points we saw in the apps, and also spitballed features and functions we've always wanted to build.

As we talked, I mapped each idea to one of our core goals. If it mapped cleanly to a KPI, then it's justified to land within the project scope.

We came away with what appeared to be 3 years worth of features, enhancements and innovations. Beers and cheers ensued.



Where's the bloody coffee?

To kick start our first full working day, the Product Managers and Designers gathered around the table to craft a new product structure as the Engineers went digging into service capabilities, hacking at some of our wild ideas.

I began clustering our previous night's list of ideas into themes we could all agree upon (like a post-it exercise, without the post-its.)

We argued and debated and made decisions quickly, the pressure of limited time looming.



Deconstruct : Reconstruct

To really nail simplicity, we had to approach the project through the lens of a brand new user, while being sensitive to our existing 160 million active user population. 

We pretended the 20+ years of eBay feature add-ons didn't exist, and seeing our core experiences as raw material, we played legos with the product. A new organizational hierarchy quickly emerged within the complex eBay ecosystem, and the app popped into vision with 5 new tabs.


It smells like a bear cave in here.

It smells like a bear cave in here.

'm a big fan of purpose statements throughout the design process.

'm a big fan of purpose statements throughout the design process.


Did you guys hear that?

Late night working sessions ensued. Engineers engulfed the living room as product and design collaboratively wireframed the new experience around the kitchen table, projecting our workstation onto a pop-up screen.

In a shared 3am hallucination, a shimmering John Donahoe appeared to the collective with a heartfelt mantra:  "Just don't fuck it up."


Early wireframes that came out of the Skamania Lodge sessions

Early wireframes that came out of the Skamania Lodge sessions



Show & tell

On day 4, our management team made the trip to the lodge to get a presentation of our progress. I presented our process and thinking, ending the presentation with a prototype what was a 50/50 mix of working code and static interface design with hotspots that advanced you through the experience. The management team loved it, and we felt the weight of time and expectation relax a bit. 

Our prototype was built with glitter and duct tape, but it worked, and we still had a few days to polish it up. 



The circus is in town

The tiger team returned to the office the next week and began presenting the idea to the broader product teams. I created a few animated roadshow decks that crystallized the new direction and emphasized what's possible with a ton of determination and a fuck-yeah attitude. The teams were starving for something real to be a part of.

So we pushed forward, presenting the concept and prototype to our executive team. I blacked out for most of this. All I remember is someone yelling "Yes! This is how we make an  app!" 



Going wide

After the green-light from leadership, we needed to do our due diligence. To make it work, we'd need everyone on board. the company had just gone through its 14th re-org since I started, and it was beginning to divide up the mobile teams into domains. The experience required everything from mobile-inclusive API engineering to cross-domain cooperation and resourcing negotiations. 

It's easy to build the future of commerce in a small team of like-minded, straight white dudes. Try bringing 10,000 strong, intelligent and impassioned coworkers with you. We invited the entire extended design team as well as key players in the product org to collaborate to start. Below are just a few of the dozens of navigational model iterations we explored in the discovery phase.



 take at Android's nav drawer

Exploring the Shop tab. Experimenting with locking headers, 4 vs. 5 tabs, carousel navigation and content clusters.



I lifted AirBnB's nav model and applied it here.

Snapshot of my workstation during the light-speed 'try-everything' phase.

Another take at Android



Returning the keys to the Corvette

It was around this time that eBay made its shift to being a "design-led" company, hiring its first CPO and Creative Director who quickly gobbled the project up. My original scrappy tiger team continued leading the troops on the ground and maintained key stakeholder status, but we lost autonomy as every decision made its way up the chain of command. It seemed that all of our passion and expertise could be undone with one sentence from our new leadership team. A common corporate tale, but it's still difficult to deal with when it happens.



International user testing

Besides all the brilliant minds I was able to interact with daily, one of the things I miss the most about working at eBay is that the decisions we made everyday affected millions of people around the globe. As a lead on the redesign, I was able to help craft our global user testing strategy, travel to Europe and take these regional micro and macro iterations back to the product teams.

I'll wrap this case study with some snaps from our user testing sessions, both domestic and international.

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