Yo! Podcast #003 – Jess Eddy – Product Designer, Founder UI Goodies

Published by @RobHope in Yo! Podcast on April 10, 2019

Jess Eddy (@JessEddy) is US-born Product Designer currently working in Sydney, Australia. Jess is also a true Maker at heart with an impressive portfolio of diverse side-projects. We rap about the ice-cream industry, UX design, improving podcasts and the continued need for curation online.

The episode links and text transcription are found below – hope you enjoy the interview!

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Transcription:

Rob: Yo Jess! Welcome to the show!

Jess: Hey, Rob. Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Rob: Cool. So, before we dive deep into your background side projects, tell us exactly what you're currently up to at Cluey Learning there in Sydney?

Jess: Yeah. So, Cluey Learning is an educational technology startup company. And we're building, sort of, next generation learning platform for tutors and students grade 3 through 12. So we have... What's really great about our platform and our company is we have an in-house education team that comes up with the custom learning plans for students for chemistry, English, and maths, and I'm the product designer on the platform. Yeah, it's really cool, we're building... It's just a really neat collaborative environment, it's a way for tutoring to take place online in a really, sort of, nice and easy way.

Rob: That's incredible, must be quite a rewarding job?

Jess: Yeah, actually it is. And I think, as a designer, that's something that I have thought about more, I guess, later in my life and later in my career, and that's something that's important to me is doing work that I consider to be meaningful, and I think helping students learn is something that I can be really proud of and I think something our company is really proud of.

Rob: Epic. So, are you enjoying Australia, more so Sydney?

Jess: Yeah. So, it's one of the most beautiful places I've ever lived. There's a lot of great things about the United States where I'm from, in New York City, and other cities like San Francisco. Cities in the United States are becoming increasingly difficult to live in for a variety of reasons, and Sydney is a city that I consider to be very comfortable and very easy. It's beautiful. Like we have the beach, we have the city, and you can get from one to the other in roughly 20 minutes in a car, so it's really pretty, and the weather's great most of the time.

Rob: Awesome. So, in 2010, I actually went on a road trip with my dad and my bro. We went from Sydney all the way down to Melbourne, did the whole of New South Wales, just surfing any point break we could find. And it's very some similar to the Garden Routes in South Africa.

Jess: Oh, great. Cool. Yeah, the surfing here is amazing.

Rob: So you worked your way up through various jobs, through a job at JE Design in 2011, in New York.

Jess: Yeah.

Rob: And here you've spent five years as a UX consultants. Assuming you dealt with a ton of different clients, what did you say the most common mistake businesses are making, with the approach to UX?

Jess: Yeah, that's a really great question. I think it's an even broader question than that, which is, what's the mistake that most people are making with product that is related to user experience and design? You know, I think a lot of the companies that I worked with were trying to build something, trying to be successful, but wasn't quite sure if the product was well suited for users, if it really hit the mark. So, there's a lot of, you know, assumptions that are getting baked in, a lot of validation that needs to take place once you get your product or your feature into the market. So, as a UX designer, or as a design consultant, I spend a lot of time trying to get clients to do certain activities and things that would get their app to the market with less risk, meaning, how can we do it a bit quicker? How can we do it a bit cheaper? How can we make this less risky for everyone involved, mainly the company?

Rob: I mean, you would say you're still a UX consultant?

Jess: I guess that part of me never goes away, especially when I'm having conversation...

Rob: I was about to say.

Jess: ...conversations with people. And so many people have questions about technology, and startups, and building stuff, you know, and that's been something that's been going on for a long time. So, I don't ever consider myself, you know...I'm always a teacher, I'm always a facilitator, always a consultant of some sort, I mean, even at my full-time job, you know, those things are just part of the work we do. And especially, like I'm the only designer on the product team, so really educating the team on why we're making certain design decisions, who they're serving, and really doing that all the time, so everyone is sharing the same information and same knowledge so we can actually really move forward together as a team.

Rob: Awesome. So, I wanna break into a quick intermission I like to call, "No Context."

Jess: Okay.

Rob: You simply choose either of the two words I say, no explanation needed at all.

Jess: I'm ready.

Rob: Email or Slack?

Jess: Slack.

Rob: Australia or U.S.A?

Jess: U.S.A.

Rob: Sydney or Maine?

Jess: Maine, as in the state in the U.S.A?

Rob: Yes.

Jess: You've really done your research. Sydney.

Rob: Fiction or non-fiction?

Jess: Non-fiction.

Rob: Bulma CSS or Bootstrap framework?

Jess: This is gonna be very controversial.

Rob: I'm ready.

Jess: I'm gonna go with Bootstrap.

Rob: Wine or coffee?

Jess: Oh, so both is not an answer?

Rob: No. (laughs)

Jess: Coffee.

Rob: Instagram or Twitter?

Jess: These are two competing passions. Twitter.

Rob: Breyers or Haagen-Dazs?

Jess: Haagen-Dazs, yeah.

Rob: Last one. Ben or Jerry?

Jess: (laughs) We've got gotta go with Ben, he's the business man.

Rob: Okay, right. So, for the listeners that don't know, Jess co-founded a startup called Phin & Phebes, that was stocked in over 1,800 stores across 40 states. From someone with a graphic design turned UX specialist, what drove you to co-found a food startup? You know, were you itching to try build something new and tangible? Or was it a drive, you know, you can literally make a kick-ass ice cream?

Jess: Yeah. So it was something I never expected it to do in my lifetime. I think some things fell into place and it sort of happened by chance, and I have a tendency to take things too far, and I think this is probably a great example of that. But, at the time, my partner and I just started making ice cream, and it was winter in New York, it was February, it was really cold, you don't leave the house that much because it's just very painful. And, we were looking for a sort of winter hobby. We're both into cooking, into food, really into, like, tasting things, ingredients. So, I had made ice cream before and had an ice cream maker, and we just decided to give it a go. And before we made the first flavor that we ended up making, which is called fluffernutter or fluffnut, we talked about our sort of childhood treats, and things that we really liked to eat as kids, and, for me, one of those things was marshmallow fluff with peanut butter in between two RITZ Crackers. I don't know if you've ever had that, but it's amazing.

Rob: No.

Jess: So we started with this idea of something that was really delicious, and we decided to sort of try to make an ice cream flavor out of it, so we did that. We made those RITZ Crackers things with marshmallow and peanut butter, and then we covered it in chocolate, and then we just made a simple vanilla base, and we put the chunks in, and we had our first flavor fluffnut. So, when we made that flavor, it turned out really good. And I think we got really excited about that, and really, kind of, hooked on the process of conceptualizing a flavor, getting the ingredients, making the recipe, sort of testing it, and getting to an outcome that was really good, and a flavor that was really flavorful and kind of different. So, we got really hooked on that, so, we just kept doing that.

And then at some point, winter was over, or had ended, or was coming to an end, and we were still making ice cream. So, we decided to test it with a larger audience, and at this time, I was very big on validating stuff before taking too many steps forward, and... So we took our ice cream to farmers markets in New York, and...or actually, the first one we went to was in Brooklyn. And it went really well, and we sold out, people loved the ice cream. We did a survey, which at that time, we didn't realize what we were doing was market research, but we were basically trying to have an understanding of, you know... Sure, everyone likes ice cream, but, you know, "Why do you like this ice cream? And how does it compare ice cream that you eat and can find in the store?"

So we started collecting a little data about how consumers felt about the ice cream, and it was all really positive. And I think we just got really hooked on that, and on making a product that we felt was a bit different at the time. It was very hard to find ice cream that was made with high quality ingredients, that you could feel good about eating. And it was just a bit different in terms of flavors and what you could find.

Rob: Wow. So, just thinking of the way you just described that process versus digital, you have, you know, that experience when you watch someone eating your own product, and just that joy they give you, it must be quite like a drug.

Jess: Yeah, it really is. And I think that's one of the things that really drew us into it and kept us going and... You know, there's nothing like giving someone a sample of ice cream, and just seeing their face light up, and just hearing them say things like, "Wow, this is amazing. This is the best ice cream I've ever had. This is really great." So, there was definitely like a lot of dopamine kicks happening at that time when we were, you know, with customers and seeing them eat ice cream.

Rob: So we got a question here from Andy in the UK asking, "What is your favorite Phin & Phebes flavor?"

Jess: Okay. So, I tend to like much more minimal and simple flavor combinations. So I think, for me... We had a vanilla cinnamon flavor that was just vanilla ice cream and cinnamon, but it was extra fancy Vietnamese cinnamon, which is this really lovely sweet cinnamon, and, it almost made the ice cream taste like it was sweeter, like it had more sugar in it or something. It just had this beautiful and even kind of like floral flavor about it. And there was nothing else in the ice cream, no chunks, no cookies, no anything. Most people tend to like the chunks and the cookies, like, everyone has grown up on Ben & Jerry's, and I think to a certain extent has become a little programmed with that style of ice cream. For me, I like that too, but I really like... You know, for me it was like, "How can we do a flavor with the least amount of ingredients on it that is just mind blowing?"

Rob: So can you share one takeaway for any digital makers out there wanting to dabble in the tangible retail space?

Jess: I think starting small is a really key thing. And, this applies to technology products as well, like, build something small, get it out, and get some feedback. But I think with retail and CPG, it's so competitive, like...especially in the United States where you can go into any grocery store, and, you know, if you wanna buy ketchup, there's like 15 different types of ketchup. So, if you're creating a retail product, a food product, there has to be something so good, or unique, or different about it, that's gonna make it stand out. And even when you have that attribute, sometimes it is still not enough because there's a lot of other factors at play that determine your success. But, you know, really thinking about like, "Why do I wanna make this product? Why should it exist? What's so good about it? Why is it different? How will it stand out compared to everything else that's on the shelf?"

Rob: Well, it's a pretty difficult question when you have this little idea and you just have to actually be honest with yourself.

Jess: Yeah. The positive way to look at it is it can eliminate a lot of things, you know. We all get excited, and, like, maybe you have home recipes or something that get passed down your family and they're really great, and...I'm not saying that can't be successful, but, you know, you've really gotta look at the market landscape and kind of think about what your chances of success are in that area.

Rob: Let's deep dive into the digital side projects. So, there's no question you are a maker at heart, okay? From food truck trackers, conference room booking, freelance resources, Twitter alerts, Sketch wireframes, to curating User Interface Goodies. Why do you work on side projects?

Jess: Yeah. I think it just brings me a lot of joy. I think I'm just a very curious, passionate person, and I tend to pour that energy into projects. And I think, at some point, I wanna do something that's bigger than myself, and all these side projects are not necessarily attempts at that, but, you know, everything is practice for me, like, every project I work on, I learn more, and I can apply those learnings to the next thing that I do. And I just get really excited about things like, you know... Putting a curated list of resources together is not necessarily a novel idea, people are doing that, but, you know, I think there's value in putting your perspective on that curated list out into the world. And you're really adding value to people's lives, and I think that's a really great thing, like, if we have the power to do that as designers and technologists, then we should try.

Rob: Respect. So, how do you green light these ideas, you know, is it intensive groundwork? Or is it simply a few searches and then, "Yup, I can do this better."

Jess: Yeah. So, like my time is limited, so do I have to think carefully about what to focus on. There are some projects and some things that I think about that just keep recurring, and, you know, I'll think about it, maybe I'll write it down, or put it somewhere, and then I won't think about it for a while, and it just keeps popping up, and almost like nagging at me. So, I look at that feeling and I'm like, "Okay, I just really wanna do something about this." And of course, I think about like how potentially valuable something will be to the community, because I think, you know, it's really easy. One of the first lessons I learned when I started making products was...which we all know now is that, just because you make something doesn't mean that people will use it or find it, and you can think it's the most amazing thing in the world. But, you know, getting your products and your projects out there is really hard. So, I do think a little bit about, you know, "Is the value enough to get a little traction?" So, you know, word of mouth will spread it around.

Rob: I love the optimism here. So, for those who aren't following Jess on Twitter, she's @jesseddy. I've been following you for maybe six months, I just wanna give a quick shout out to the positivity and the good vibes, with minimal bitching like the rest of us.

Jess: Thanks, Rob.

Rob: So, let's transition into the next section, okay? It's called, "True, False, Maybe." and you just need to shoot me back either of those three words.

Jess: I'm ready.

Rob: Figma is the best design tool.

Jess: I'm gonna get a lot of flak for this. False.

Rob: Good design is good business.

Jess: True.

Rob: LinkedIn has actually helped you get a job.

Jess: True.

Rob: There is no difference between UX and UI design, they should be classed together.

Jess: I'm gonna say true.

Rob: Last question, okay? Google Inbox was the best email software.

Jess: True. Well, for Google, yes.

Rob: From a UX designer with experience with many different levels of software development, what do you think happened here to warrant shutting down Google Inbox?

Jess: Oh gosh, that's a great question. You know, I hadn't given it too much thought. That's something I would love to be...I don't know, I'd love to be a fly on the wall, but, yeah, I don't know.

Rob: My two cents here is... I mean, they've shut down so many things... I actually need to link the Killed by Google landing page that just dropped I think two weeks ago where they just listed everything they've kind of shut down. And it seems to be getting a little bit more aggressive. They've got 1.5 billion Gmail users, I think it's per month, and maybe this just wasn't enough traction, maybe it's just simply a binary decision like that, it was just not enough traction.

Jess: Yeah. And I think a product like Google Inbox is really valuable to, like, everyone that's in our bubble, you know? But if you talk to mainstream America, I don't think anyone in mainstream America is upset about Google Inbox going away. I don't know, I could be wrong. But, you know, nicely designed products like that tend to appeal to a very small part of the population that Google actually serves, so, I don't know, it could not have been...yeah, like you said, it just could not have gotten enough traction.

Rob: Yeah. You know what, I don't care what they say, there's literally no easy-to-access news function on mobile, so, it sucks. So, one of your more recent side projects UI Goodies is doing great. For those who don't know, Jess has an excellent website curating design resources at uigoodies.com, now features over 300 resource, 15 categories. Why do you think it had such a great reception?

Jess: Yeah, that's a great question. I mean, I think in part, like, there's just a timing to these things, and sometimes you get lucky, and, you know, you just publish something at the right time and it just tends to get traction. But with UI Goodies, I was solving a pain point that I had, so I guess I was scratching my own issues to an extent. And I was keeping track of all these great design resources in text files and other, sort of, unmanageable ways. So I decided to make something of it, and, it created a lot of value for me personally, and I believe it created a lot of value for the community as well. And, you know, I got such great feedback when I launched UI Goodies. I was almost beside myself, like, everyone was so thankful and just giving me so much love, and, that was really meaningful, and it really made it worth it to me.

Rob: But there's always going to be this need for curation. Someone can maybe identify with your style and what you like and they like your personal taste. I feel that the more websites out there...we need these to cut through all the social media noise, like our Google searches, are we finding free icon pack? I'm not gonna really get what I want. I need a curated resource to save me time.

Jess: I think you're right, I think you're exactly right, and I think that's where we are with the internet and content now, because there is so much out there, and there's so much being created every day. It's impossible to keep up with it. I think curation, sort of trivial as it seems, is actually really important and really meaningful. It has a place on the internet for sure.

Rob: It's so interesting. So, you've blogged, your goal is for UI Goodies to be the place where anyone from the design community can come and find tools. What is your plan to take it there? What is your plan to make it number one?

Jess: Yeah. Well, I think one thing that I've discovered now since doing this for a while is, it's great to have a website with all of these resources, and like you said, there's almost 300 or about 300 now. But now there's a different problem which is, it's actually taking a lot of time for someone to go through and find, let's say, the right color resource or something that they need. So, curation is great, but there's still a bit of overhead in finding great tools that you might build into your workflow. So, I think a bit about the next step maybe being taking curation to the next level and sort of writing a bit about, you know, why certain tools are good for certain use cases, to make it a little easier to find what's going to work for you.

Rob: So I see you got the Carbon Ads block going on the site now, so congrats on the monetization, it's always worth celebrating.

Jess: Yeah, thanks.

Rob: Can you see UI Goodies generating enough income to be a full-time job?

Jess: That's a great question. Right now it's hard to see it like that. I think this year I will do some tests, and make some additions to the site, and see how that goes. I don't think right now in its current state it's capable of doing that, but I'm always working on building the newsletter subscribers, and the emails that go out, and get those to more people. So I think I will need to make some adjustments and find a way to add more value to people through the site for it to be monetizable.

Rob: So I see you've got newsletter sign-up prompts on UI Goodies, on We Freelancing, and I think a couple others. How important is it to have that newsletter sign-up on that initial launch traction?

Jess: Yeah. So I think it's super important, and this is something I learned... And I got some advice from someone at the time, actually, Graham from Prototypr, who's like, "Oh, if you're gonna be launching this, definitely put up an email newsletter sign-up form just in case things get crazy." So, things did get a little crazy, and so I'm really happy I did that, I was a little late to the game, but I eventually got there. But I think you really never know how things will be received, and how largely they will be received. So, you know, an email newsletter form is super easy to implement and hardly takes any time, so I think it's really worth it.

Rob: And what are you using for these sends?

Jess: I use Mailchimp currently.

Rob: And why did you choose them?

Jess: I think I've used Mailchimp in the past, I've been a customer for a number of years, so I just kind of migrated back to them. When you have a site or something that is basically not making any money, it can be a bit hard to justify the Mailchimp price especially as your subscribers go up in numbers. So, I might think again about what the right platform is for that. What's nice about Mailchimp is they have a lot of add-ons, so you can just do pop-up forms and stuff right out of the box on the same platform.

Rob: I also feel the 2,000 subscriber limit on the free is quite generous.

Jess: Yeah, that is good actually. It is really good. I think once you get past that, costs start to add up a bit.

Rob: Yeah, totally. So you've got two podcast side projects, one live, and one a work in progress?

Jess: That's right.

Rob: Assuming you dig podcasts, what shows are you enjoying right now? It doesn't have to be design shows.

Jess: Oh yeah, that's a great question. So, I'm gonna open my podcast app right now, but a couple that I love are "How I Built This"...

Rob: Oh yeah, for sure.

Jess: ...on NPR, that's great. I listen to "The Daily" a lot. "The Dropout" has been really good. Then kind of obsessed with the whole Elizabeth Holmes Theranos fiasco since reading the book, that's been really good. And then, Nike has a podcast called "TRAINED" and it focuses on all the facets of fitness like sleep and diet, that's really great as well. "The Big One" which is about potential earthquake in California, that's been really good, and "Indie Hackers podcast" too.

Rob: Oh, awesome. Okay. So, I'll link them all below. So tell us about this new podcast side project you're working on, does it have a name?

Jess: It doesn't have a name. I don't know if I will give it a name. We'll see how it goes. I'm trying to finish it right now, I'm trying to get it out this month. But, basically, what happened was I stumbled upon doing some research last year, and I tweeted something about asking people what their biggest pain points and frustrations were around podcasts and listening to podcasts, and Koevin [SP] retweeted it, and he has a lot of followers, and I just sort of ended up getting all of this amazing feedback in this one Twitter thread, and it just kept coming in. So I started to look at that...

Rob: Bless Twitter!

Jess: Yes, bless Twitter, great place for user feedback sometimes, or user research. So, I started to look at the feedback, analyze it, put it into categories, and I started to see patterns around what people were saying, so there's some challenges around. And I guess this is more kind of like a wish list of what people wish they could do with podcasts. But there's a lot of pain points around, you know, not being able to understand really what an episode is about without listening to it or investing some time listening to it, so, it's hard to figure out what to listen to. People had pain points around not being able to save notes or make highlights around interesting things that were being talked about in a podcast, and then related to that, share those insights and snippets from a podcast. So, a lot of that revolves around the fact that, the way we interact with podcasts is very straightforward, it's a bit of a one-way street, we're listening to audio but we can't really do anything with it, like we can with, say, articles, or other things of that nature. So, I'm working on a concept that sort of breaks down those boundaries, gives a lot of transparency into episodes, and lets you interact with them like you can with articles.

Rob: Fascinating. So, back to what you were saying earlier, where your time is limited. So just say this got massive traction on Product Hunt, people started using it. Does this automatically sort of de-validate the rest of your side project?

Jess: Well, that's a tricky one because what I'm working on now is just a design concept, it won't be an app, because it's very challenging, like, I can't build it, and it would actually take quite a bit of time to do. So, my initial test is just to get the idea out there, and see what happens, and see what people say, and see if anyone contacts me about anything, and just see how that goes.

Rob: Yeah. So this is very similar to what John O'Nolan did with Ghost where he simply had a blog post, it got massive traction, you know, number one on Hacker News, that lead to the Kickstarter, and now it's his whole life. And that's kind of how...that's a perfect way to test as well, just with the design, so why haven't you tried to build a prototype, just funding?

Jess: So it's a bit of a complicated problem because the way that we consume podcasts currently are dependent on the platforms, and the software, and the input methods that podcast creators have to set the podcasts up. So, you know, right now it's not difficult to get basic podcast's info, the title, and metadata around it. What's much more complicated and what we don't do today is give podcast creators a way to basically, I don't wanna spoil it, but transcribe podcasts, and organize the content in it in a way that can be consumed on a consumer end. So, it's not just a podcast app that we're talking about that we need to be built, it's the whole platform that the podcast creator uses as well.

Rob: Jess, last question. There's loads of listeners out there that have pretty awesome side projects, but little to no traction. What advice could you give someone to get that initial traction, and just start the ball rolling?

Jess: Just tweet to me @jesseddy and I'll tweet about it.

Rob: Perfect.

Jess: So I think writing about what you're doing is really important. Listen, it is hard to build an audience and it takes time, and like you talked about earlier, there is so much noise on the internet. So, yeah, it's very challenging, but I think if you can focus on platforms that will help you get the word out and help you talk about your product in a way that can make people really understand it and give transparency around it is really good. I think becoming a good writer is also a difficult skill, but it takes practice, and what it gives the audience is well worth it. If you can master a bit of storytelling, you can really communicate what something is doing, and the problems it's solving, and why it might be useful to you. And I think getting your getting your friends to talk about it and share it as well is probably a good idea.

Rob: Are you a fan of documenting the whole process?

Jess: You know, that's an interesting question because I think when I look back on projects and businesses that I've been involved in, I almost wish I kept like a diary of it because, you know, once you're in it, and you're kind of living the day-to-day, you don't really think about it much, but once you have the opportunity to get to a certain point and reflect and have some hindsight... Like a lot of really crazy, amazing things happen, and a lot of learning moments that could really be valuable to a larger audience who are really trying to do the same thing. So, I think documenting it in a way where you're capturing interesting insights and stories and learnings is...I would definitely say yes to that because I think that there's really something bigger to that that can be shared with everyone else.

Rob: I'm currently documenting the Email Love website build.

Jess: Oh, great.

Rob: And, for me, I'm trying to just become more accountable as the solo maker, you know, at the tip of Africa, I just want to share my experiences. I'm absolutely sure I'm gonna fail on a few sections on the websites, some will do good, some will do bad. But for me to also look back at my process in a year to see where my thinking was and where I've grown...

Jess: Definitely, yeah.

Rob: ...would be quite a good study as a maker, you know, just on myself, more self-awareness.

Jess: Definitely.

Rob: Amazing, Jess. Thanks so much for being on the show.

Jess: Okay. Thank you, Rob. It's been really fantastic and fun, thank you.

Rob: Awesome. And where can people follow your progress on your projects?

Jess: I'll probably tweet about it, so Twitter is the best @jesseddy.

Rob: Awesome. Thanks, Jess.

Jess: Okay. Thanks, Rob.


Hope you enjoyed the Yo! Podcast interview!

Much love,
Rob

Twitter: @robhope
Instagram: @rob_hope
Email: rob@onepagelove.com