Behind the Scenes at a LinkedIn Design Team Meeting

This is obviously written tongue-in-cheek. I provide some context at the end.

Sometime in 2012.

Product Development Manager (PDM):
“It’s come to our attention that no one really uses our platform. They visit us hoping to have a more organized professional experience than Facebook and stronger communication than 140 characters allows. What they discover is that our interface is confusing and lacks tools to communicate easily with your connections. We need to do better. Any suggestions?”

Members of the team nervously shift in their seats. A few notice that a question has been asked and shut Facebook off their phones to pretend they are paying attention.

Team Member 1 (TM1):
“Maybe change the font. Right now we are very readable and sans serif. There are these new, marginally readable semi-serif fonts out. Perhaps if we do that, people will believe there has been some type of change. It will make our already confusing interface even harder to read. We can look like that stodgy accountant who uses Bookman font on his door and has moth-ball scented candles around the office.”

Several members of the team nod in agreement, knowing that a few simple CSS modifications and this change can be implemented in a day.

“Good.. that’s good.. add that to the list.”

“We can keep people on the site by making it almost impossible to go back through old contacts and old interactions. For instance, let’s make sure there is no way for a user to see his activity on our groups. He probably had an interesting back-and-forth a couple years ago before the groups became a morass of self-promotional posts, lacking even a pretense of interaction. If he finds those too quickly, he won’t have a reason to scroll through page after endless poorly designed page as he slowly loses hope of ever finding that obscure and hidden communication.”

Murmurs of agreement, some knowing glances, and approving nods from the group. PDM scribbles on his notepad.

One team member tentatively raises her hand then lowers it… the action was not missed, however, and the PDM points at her with his pen.

“Yes, you have something to add?”

TM3: -speaking a little timidly
“It just seems like we are trying to be Facebook without being Facebook. We seem to half-build tools to help people connect but then make the interface so confusing and try to sell premium services when the regular service provides no real promise of value.

Maybe we should make it simpler for people to communicate and to organize their contacts… and perhaps, flag or go back and see prior interactions – like on groups or comments on articles?”

The room falls silent. The PDM stares at her for a long time. Other team members look at the floor nervously. A few go back on their phone – the men swiping right frantically… the women swiping left just as frantically.

Another team member stands up…

“Let’s add these tags for supposedly skills that people have.. we’ll call them endorsements. And users won’t have to do anything but click on a skill name. It won’t even have to relate to what the person they are endorsing does. Each time someone is endorsed, we send a message letting them know that someone that they don’t know, who has never worked for them, has endorsed them for.

This will cause them to visit the site repeatedly. Their guilt will cause them to return the endorsement like a never-ending game of tag.

We can charge our advertisers more for the impressions that no one clicks on.”

The PDM looks at TM3 briefly – shakes his head and then looks back at TM4 approvingly.

“Now that’s an idea we can run with. I want all 4 of our developers to focus on this.”

“But wait.. there are some bugs – like the message notification never going away. I thought they were going to fix that.. it’s been on the list for three years now.”

The room once again falls silent. Team members look around at each other.. What she is saying is true. But slowly a smile crosses their collective faces… then a chuckle.. then laughter…

PDM:- speaking directly to TM3
“You are wonderful… the way you deliver that – so serious and deadpan. We almost thought you were serious.”

Then to the group.

“This has been a constructive meeting everyone.. Good job.

My professional opinion

LinkedIn would be much more valuable if I could easily view and organize my contacts… plus the ability to see interactions across the platform by date and/or other logical factors. I check LinkedIn less and less these days. They make finding the tools nearly impossible and in an attempt to look different than Facebook (while trying to add Facebook like features), have made their interface nearly unreadable.

But professionals – true professionals – would LOVE a functional interface that wasn’t Facebook. Just a thought.

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