User satisfaction, increased engagement, and ultimately, improved brand loyalty. But how can product designers, developers, and organizations create user experiences that truly stand out and make a lasting impression on users? In this interview series, we are talking to UX professionals, product designers, developers, and thought leaders to explore "The 5 Best Ways to Elevate Your Product's User Experience." As part of this series, we had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Evie Alexander.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before diving in, our readers would love to learn more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve always felt most at home in the arts. It’s no surprise, considering both of my parents were artists: my father was the Head of Art Props at Disney for almost 40 years, and my mother was a gallery owner in Los Angeles. As I found my own way, design stood out as the natural track—a way to express my creativity.
In my earlier path as a graphic designer, I fell in love with the details of the craft. I loved how design could impact the way you feel. But I realized relatively quickly that I felt the function was missing something for me. I wanted to make things that people would use. That would solve problems. So, I made the transition into Product Design—or, as I prefer to call it, Experience Design.
Do you have any mentors or experiences that have particularly influenced your approach to product development and user experience?
I've been influenced by many things in my life, including people who demonstrate great leadership, terrible leadership, and everything in between. I believe that there is something to be learned from all angles, and I'm always learning and growing. I'm grateful for the many mentors and experiences that have shaped my approach to product development and user experience.
For example, I once worked with a business leader who was also a designer. They had a perfectionist design eye and drove the team to deliver exceptional craft and innovative new design models. I'm so proud of the work that we accomplished together, but I also saw how the long hours and demanding expectations took a toll on the team. From this experience, I learned both what to do and what not to do to get the best work out of designers.
I think it's easy for people to forget that you can learn so much from people who are not always great role models. It's not as simple as "take the great learnings and throw the rest away." You have to take the great stuff and then figure out how you can take the bad stuff to make your own skills better. I'm grateful for the opportunity to learn from both great and not-so-great mentors. I believe that these experiences have made me a better designer and a better leader.
It has been said that our mistakes can sometimes be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting?
We've all been there: we're stumped on a problem, and someone on the team comes up with an interesting solution. We exclaim, "Actually, that's a great idea! Let's do it." It seems harmless enough, right? But early in my time as a leader, I did exactly that, and the next day, another designer on the team pulled me aside to inform me that the “actually” implied I was surprised that they had a great idea.
Perhaps not “funny”, but this feedback was huge for me. As a leader, the way you show up every day has the ability to make people go home and feel like a million bucks, or spend the evening stressed that their manager was surprised they added value. While at the moment I felt terrible, hearing this early in my journey accelerated my management skills tremendously.
What do you feel has been your ‘career-defining’ moment?
In my career, I’ve been lucky to have some amazing opportunities to work at generational companies with incredible teams like Opendoor, Google, and Sonos. But my experiences at Airbnb really changed my approach to product design. I was an early leader on Airbnb Plus, a product that verified homes for quality comfort and design, from an initial concept to a full-scale product. Not only were we designing a brand-new, premium guest experience, but we needed to help our hosts deliver on that, which meant creating a large operations product—so, a three-sided product. I truly put blood, sweat, and tears into Airbnb Plus. In addition to the year-and-a-half we spent developing the experience prior to launch, my team and I worked willingly for almost four weeks straight to ensure every photo, pixel, and listing was ready for launch. And it was so worth it—guests loved it, and the hosts' response greatly exceeded our expectations.
This was a defining experience that taught me how to build a digital product that went across both the customer experience and operations—beyond the digital experience and into the “real world”. This prepared me for my current role at Opendoor, where we are transforming how people buy and sell homes. We’re designing a digital product, but it’s focused on facilitating one of the most important and emotional experiences a person can have in their lives—which all happen outside the digital product experience, so our teams are organized similarly to my team on Airbnb Plus—consumer and operations teams make up the full experience.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
When I first started in product design, it was very difficult to find a job. My experience prior was mostly in Graphic Design, so it was a challenge to get companies to take a risk in hiring me. I stayed the course and eventually landed a job where I was responsible for doing spec/red line work. Basically, annotating the product screens with the details of how many pixels were between different elements of the page… you can imagine how tedious this was, and I really wanted to be on the team doing the actual design work. So, I got fast at doing the spec work—which, mind you, turned out to really improve my eye as far as details go—and I started pitching other work. Eventually, I moved out of that role and into doing more design systems work.
How do you prioritize user experience when developing a new product, and what steps do you take to ensure that the final product meets the needs and expectations of your target users?
At Opendoor we have a company core value that everyone is measured against—Start and End with the Customer. We live and breathe this in Design.
Research is an integral part of our process, and we have an incredible Research team that spans quant and qual work to help us uncover insights into the market and our customer needs. But, we also encourage everyone on Design and Product to conduct their own research. We’ve democratized research capabilities by developing a toolkit available to everyone and it includes instruction on how to recruit, synthesize, notetake, and share findings. We’ve found this enables everyone on the team to fully embody the customer in their work.
Can you share any strategies you have for effectively gathering and analyzing user feedback?
In the past year, we’ve seen a dynamic real estate market, and we knew we needed to adapt our research methodologies to maximize learnings and ensure we were solving the right problems. We coined this “rapid research mode”: our researchers would meet with five customers every single day in order to better understand the sentiment on the market, Opendoor’s experience, and new pilot concepts to meet the moment.
The findings unlocked new ways for teams to learn from and better serve customers, while also allowing us to quickly gauge interest on some new innovations. For example, Opendoor’s new listing product where customers can list on the MLS with the confidence of Opendoor's cash offer as a fallback option customers can take at any time. We launched this in Charlotte and it makes up 30% of Opendoor contracts in that market.
Can you share an example of a time when you received user feedback that prompted you to make significant changes to a product's user experience, and how did you approach incorporating that feedback into the development process?
As the real estate market has changed, we've seen many sellers sitting on the sidelines, unsure of their next move, leaving little inventory for buyers.
Upon investigation, we found that many sellers felt stuck in the current market due to interest rates and affordability concerns. And our goal is to unstick them—especially since most sellers are also buyers.
So, we launched a new product last year called Opendoor Exclusives, a program that allows sellers to list their homes on our private marketplace. Buyers in our network can access these listings before they're available to the public, and sellers can test what their homes may sell for without too much commitment.
Within months of launch, we are converting more than 60% of sellers we pitch to enroll in Exclusives. In less than a quarter, we drove over 3% listing market share in Plano, Texas. This program has been a success because it solves a real problem for sellers and buyers.
How do you balance the need for simplicity and ease of use with more complex or advanced features in a product, and what strategies do you use to make sure that users can navigate those features without getting overwhelmed?
While Opendoor’s service has dramatically simplified the traditional process, real estate is still full of complex processes and confusing terminology. We’re committed to offering a simple and certain experience that leaves customers feeling taken care of, so we’ve created what we call internally, an “experience punchlist”. Some high-level things all our work must hit:
- Simple: Is it easy to understand at a glance? Are we speaking “human”? Is the experience pattern standard?
- Informative: Does it use progressive disclosure? Is there a main action on each page? Do we introduce resources as people need them?
- Considered: Have we followed the basics of typography, spacing, etc.? Does everything feel like it has a place?
These may seem like basics, but when you add them up, it builds trust with customers.
What are some of the strategies you’ve used to make your product ‘stickier’ and increase user retention?
When it comes to stickiness, I like to ask myself, “What can we lean into that only Opendoor can?” For example, we are the best at providing customers with reliable cash offers on their homes within minutes on our website. So, if we want to create a sticky experience, how might we make it even easier for customers to get their offer faster? Text messages. We launched a number that when you text your address, you get a preliminary cash offer on your home. You don’t even have to go to Opendoor.com.
In your experience, what are some of the most effective ways to measure the success of a product's user experience, and how can this data be used to continuously improve the product over time?
I think all of tech could write a love letter to data, performance metrics, and the value they add to our product strategy—myself included. But, especially as designers who craft the experience, we need to look deeper, not just into what performed better in an A/B test, but what makes the experience lovable. When you consider the greatest generational companies of all time, they are lovable brands that create a deeper connection. Opendoor is building a generational company that will simplify the real estate process for years to come. So, we’re focused on making something that makes people feel. We listen to customer stories where they express feelings like relief, freedom, and reassurance—that’s how we know we’re on the right track.
Based on your experience, what are your “5 Best Ways to Elevate Your Product’s User Experience?”
As a leader, I’m passionate about developing resources that help scale excellence on my team. We recently launched design principles that I firmly believe elevate all product experiences. Here’s a peek inside:
- Amplify customer voices. We find the jobs-to-be-done framework is a great way to ensure we’re hitting all the key moments in the customer journey.
- Listen to your front-line partners. Your sales and support teams talk with customers every day. They have the real details on how you need to improve.
- Challenge what you know. Be open to being wrong and biased towards action when you learn new things. Avoid stagnation.
- Get prototyping as soon as possible. This will help you figure out what works faster.
- Pay attention to the details. As Charles Eames said, “The details are not the details. They make the design.” When all elements, no matter how small, are in the right place, you’re building trust.
Is there a person in the world with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why?
I mean, who wouldn’t love to have lunch with Michelle Obama?
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