530: Keaton Taylor on Product Design, Career Paths, and DadTalk Show
Keaton Taylor is a product designer at Discord and stopped by the show to talk about getting distracted by new dev toys, spoons as the best worst analogy, Wichita as the new Portland, working at Discord, and the interesting career paths for developers and designers in 2022.
Time Jump Links
- 01:18 Guest introduction
- 03:46 Transitioning from new dev to experienced dev
- 05:23 Spoons as the best worst analogy
- 09:31 Wichita as the new Portland
- 10:52 Working at Discord
- 12:45 Discord Nitro
- 18:23 Why buy a company?
- 21:15 Sponsor: Notion
- 23:04 Working as a product designer
- 26:54 Flexbox vs Grid
- 28:08 Developer vs designer
- 32:44 How do you think about rework?
- 40:48 Sponsor: Deque
- 42:16 How is CodePen thinking about user feedback?
- 47:41 Developer career paths
- 55:25 DadTalk Show
Episode Sponsors 🧡
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MANTRA: Just Build Websites!
Dave Rupert: Hey there, Shop-o-maniacs. You're listening to another episode of the ShopTalk Show, a podcast all about websites. I'm Dave Rupert and with me is Chris Coyier. Hey, Chris!
Chris Coyier: Hey. Hey. Hey, hey, hey.
Dave: I got a new mic. Probably sound different. Probably sound more luxurious, more radio.
Dave: More, uh, hmm... yeah. I'm on a morning show. I'm -- [laughter] I'm a podcaster who gets millions of dollars from Spotify now. This is beautiful. This is where I want to be.
Chris: I appreciate the choice, though.
Chris: You went with the Shure MV7, right?
Dave: Shure MV7, the all-USB guy. It actually can XLR too, but I don't want to have any audio gear on my desk, so that's by choice.
Chris: Oh, it can XLR too?
Chris: I feel like nobody buys it for the XLR though.
Chris: You buy it because it does not require an audio interface.
Dave: Exactly. Then I got a little gauge on here. I think I can even make it live. Anyway. I'm not going to do that.
Anyway, hey, Chris, who do we got here today? [Laughter]
Chris: Oh, this is a fantastic guest, Mr. Keaton Taylor. How ya doin', Keaton?
Keaton Taylor: Hey, guys! How's it going? I'm doing great.
Chris: Yeah. This is random how it came about but let me start at the start here just because I think it's kind of a fun way to begin it.
Because you tagged @shoptalkshow in a Tweet, and we have this Twitter account for ShopTalkShow -- tens of tweets a month, you remember, which is actually probably more like three or four.
Chris: Five, maybe. [Laughter]
Dave: Yeah, we haven't been living up to the goals.
Chris: But we tweet when there's a new show. You know?
Keaton: That's what matters. Just in time tweeting.
Chris: Yeah. Yeah.
Chris: It's like the RSS Twitter kind of feed, but we do check the @s. I have a Twitter search for it and stuff when we're being vain, so we see stuff like this.
Chris: Keaton, I'll read it. I remember writing, "Bea guest on ShopTalk Show on a vision board in 2014, the ancient times," which I thought was funny. This is the first time on the show, as far as I know, right?
Chris: Then it says, "It's interesting how much we just calm down and do the work as we grow older," meaning that [laughter] it's almost ironic that you're on because you wanted to be on in the past, and now you have stopped caring [laughter] -- in a way. Now we have you on.
Keaton: In a way, yeah. It's one of those things where I think you get started on something and you're really excited about it all the time. That's the only thing you think about. You start digging into the content around that thing. This being sort of like Web design and front-end development.
You get so hyped on these certain pieces of the community, and ShopTalk Show was one that I grasped onto really early. It was just so informative and so fun. At the time, all the live shows, I could jump into the chat and just kind of shoot the breeze with some of the other folks who were listening as well. It was just all-encompassing.
But then you kind of get further into your career, and you figure out that all that stuff is cool, and you still listen to the podcast episodes. You come back around to it every once in a while - or whatever. But it isn't all-encompassing anymore. You have the skill set to do the work, to go home, and not think about anything that has to do with the work, really, until you have to go back to the work the next day.
Chris: I see. I see. Yeah, it's a calming down is a good way to put it, like you did.
Keaton: Yeah. Just sort of ease up a little. Take about 30% off.
Dave: Do you think that's the new mentality? "I'm new. I'm hyped. I'm going to just go learn everything. I'm going to download everything anyone talked about today." Is that the--? Are you susceptible to hype - or something - in your early career?
Keaton: I don't think it's just early career. I think I still get susceptible to hype. I'm always tracking all the Apple garbage because I do.
I still get psyched about every time something new releases in Figma. I'm like, "Oh, I'm going to go try that out." But I think it's just a matter of understanding when to go, "I don't need to do that right now. I'm going to go play with my kids. This just doesn't matter right now."
Dave: Yeah. Yeah, it's kind of -- there's always new stuff. Once you realize that there's always new stuff, and I'm going to be too tired chasing this all the time. I feel like that's where--
Keaton: Yeah, 100%.
Chris: There's a nice relaxing for me where I felt like, for a long time, part of my career -- or I could tell myself that that was my job. I had to know what was going on because of CSS-Tricks (and this show, to some degree). Now that I don't have that, that excuse has gone away, which is a bit freeing in a way.
Dave: Do you all know that Spoon theory, or whatever?
Dave: It's just basically like you have so many spoons and these spoons represent your emotional bandwidth. You're basically like, "I'm out of spoons. I'm out of F's, you might say. I'm out of F's or spoons to care, so I'm out."
Chris: How does everybody know spoons? It's like the worst analogy, but somehow the best analogy.
Dave: Well, I personally resonate because we have 6 spoons, 32 forks, and like 8 knives.
Chris: In your drawer?
Dave: Oh, yeah. I don't know.
Chris: Oh, my God.
Dave: Only the spoons fall in the garbage disposal too. That's a well-known fact.
Chris: Oh, we had that our house and now, all of a sudden, we have 48 of each now. They're overflowing in the drawer because Miranda was like, "Enough! We're getting a zillion--" yeah, okay. Spoons. Yeah, that's good. I like spoons.
You know what I like spending my spoons on, just the stupidest - the stupidest. The stupider the thing I can spend a spoon on the better. You know?
Dave: One, two, three - let's say our stupidest-- [Laughter] What's your stupid spoon? Ready?
Dave: One, two, three... Gundam....
Chris: Cruise YouTube.
Keaton: Celebrity drama.
Dave: Good. Okay. That's good. You said cruise YouTubes?
Chris: Yeah, but literally not cruising YouTube, but YouTubes about taking cruises.
Dave: Ooh, good.
Chris: There's a lot of cruise content on YouTube that's enjoyable.
Dave: I follow quite a few off-grid families in Idaho and Arkansas and--
Keaton: That's good.
Chris: My best is if it's a subject that I like and there's some ASMR quality to it.
Dave: Yeah. Yeah.
Chris: That's clutch to me. If I can watch some very soft-spoken British man tell me about the dos and don'ts of cruising, hmm... hmm...
Dave: Hmm... good.
Dave: What were you saying, Keaton?
Keaton: You know the more you can just prep yourself for when everything goes wrong, especially for you, Dave. You're living in Austin, right?
Dave: Yeah. Yeah. We just occasionally lose electricity. It's fine. It's fine.
Keaton: The problem with Austin is it's just surrounded with so much Texas.
Keaton: That's the biggest challenge.
Dave: There are benefits too, but I don't know. It's a good place. There are good people, but it is -- I just wish my power wouldn't go out. So, I have to have an element of prepper lifestyle.
Keaton: That's right.
Dave: The off-grid lifestyle.
Chris: Why don't you get the little Tesla wall thing?
Dave: Well, when you get into it, the Tesla wall thing doesn't quite have enough power. [Laughter]
Chris: Oh, you need two of them, three of them?
Dave: Well, it's like $20,000, and it kind of doesn't -- you need two of them and they kind of don't go for a long time. But I would -- I don't know. That is sort of like a minimum solve, but I don't know. What I hate--
Sorry. This is not the prepper podcast, but what I hate about it--
Keaton: No, this is great.
Dave: We can talk about whatever we want after this. What I hate about it is when it's like, "Oh, man. You need to know how many watts you use." Yeah. Okay. Let me just go read the back of my refrigerator or something.
Chris: Your electrical bill?
Keaton: Yeah, every one of your lightbulbs.
Dave: It's so stupid. Then people are like, "Here's a watt gauge I got on Amazon." I'm like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah."
Chris: That's for one plug.
Dave: I'm not moving the refrigerator. [Laughter]
Chris: Hopefully, your electric bill just says, but I'm sure it doesn't.
Dave: But it's in kilowatt-hours.
Dave: It's not like days without electricity. You know?
Chris: Yeah. Oh, I see.
Dave: I'm going to run my house a little bit different when the--
Chris: Oh, right. Because you don't need--
Dave: --when the power goes out.
Chris: You don't need to run the blender that day.
Dave: Yeah, we're not Vitamixing--
Keaton: Yeah. No margaritas when the power is out.
Dave: No hairdryer, no Vitamix. You know, so it's a little different.
Chris: You're in Wichita, right, Keaton? True dreams.
Keaton: Yeah, yeah. Southcentral Kansas.
Chris: Southcentral Kansas. Yeah, right on, which is in southcentral Kansas, I hear. [Laughter]
Dave: Wichita is cool. Wichita is the next Portland. I'm going to say that here.
Keaton: Yeah. I'm going to take that as a sound grab to play at Wichita Startup Week. "Dave Rupert says..." [laughter].
Dave: Wichita is cool, man. I think there are cool things about it.
Chris: I've never been, but I assume that I would like it, as a Midwestern fanboy.
Keaton: You know what's really interesting about Wichita? I didn't know this coming here. There's a developer community here that's actually really robust and really active. There are folks here that are working at Lattice, Zapier - a bunch of those companies. Also, this is like air capital of the world, so we have tons of aeronautics companies here--
Chris: Oh... Really?
Keaton: --that are doing a ton of really interesting, pretty experimental things with drones and with airplanes, in general. Harrison Ford comes here a lot.
Keaton: Just throw that out there.
Dave: That guy knows how to crash a plane.
Keaton: That's right.
Dave: The expert.
Chris: Well, that's cool. And you're at Discord, right? Front-end--
Keaton: Yeah. Yeah, I've been at Discord for about a year.
Dave: Never heard of it. What does Discord do?
Keaton: It's like complicated IRC chat.
Dave: Okay. All right. Fancy IRC. That's good.
Keaton: Yeah, yeah.
Dave: That's good.
Chris: It's one of those apps where it moves a lot because everybody, I feel like, famously knows that you can't use Discord for two hours without a fricken green arrow showing up in the UI.
Chris: That says to fricken download ten updates, so people are clearly doing work. But I joked at one time that I've never -- what I do in Discord is I open it up, and I see what people are saying, and I may or may not type a paragraph back to them in the chat. That's what I've done in Discord for many years.
And 78,000 updates later, I still type paragraphs to people. That's what I do.
Keaton: Yeah, we're shipping code really regularly. I mean not me. It's more of the royal way.
Chris: [Laughter] Right.
Chris: Right, but it is a great product and wildly beloved, so we won't grill you, of course, on what Discord is doing and such. I don't know. I'm calmed down to the point where I care for you and for the company and stuff, but I'm not foaming at the mouth for what companies might be doing. You know?
Chris: I don't care. [Laughter]
Keaton: Yeah, and if you look at the Discord Reddit, everybody has poked holes in everything that we've ever done and been like, "Oh, I know how to launch this thing that's not released yet. Check it out."
Dave: Oh, wow.
Keaton: It's just like, it's a culture of people who are really, really excited about everything we do. They're also very angry about it.
Chris: Oh, I see. Well, I'm mostly curious about--
I realize you don't speak for Discord leadership - or whatever. But it seems to share some spirit with Reddit in a way in that the Reddit business model has always been a little questionable. You know?
You're like, okay. We're going to have everybody on the entire Internet come to the website and then we're going to sell little stickers.
Chris: You know? Or whatever. I don't know. I think that's how Reddit works. Discord is similar too. It's entirely free. The entire robust amazing feature set of Discord is free. Then I guess you get Nitro, which means your videos can be five megabytes bigger.
I get the deal, but it's not the same as if I buy this car, then I have a car. You know? The value add is a little confusing.
Keaton: I think the biggest thing about Nitro is that it gives (especially folks who fall into our sort of main user demographic) the ability to customize things in a way that lends their personality to their experience on Discord really, really heavily. For folks who are doing things that are more like HD streaming or are more in sort of the gamer demographic, we have those features that are a part of Nitro that we can push to them for bigger uploads, for HD video, things like that. That is absolutely a value add for them. But the folks who are just like, "I'm just talking to three or four people inside this server, and there's no reason for me to decorate my profile with this three or four people."
I think one of the great things about Discord is leadership is very intent on figuring out a business model that doesn't work off of selling people's data, essentially. And so, that's the sort of ethos behind a lot of the stuff that we've done. But yeah, for some people, it's just not -- some of those things aren't valuable.
Then we also have boosting, which is this sort of weird secondary thing that you can buy where you can just (on a server level) add some of those features that you want the server to have.
Keaton: It's kind of a difference between personal things and server things, and kind of weighing between which one of those make sense.
Dave: I feel like Discord really nails the community. We use it for ShopTalk where it's like the access through the Patreon gives you access to the Discord.
Chris: That API thing is a big deal.
Dave: Yeah. It's something that "competitors" don't have. Stuff like I know Frontend Horse, it's like if you're a sub to the channel, you get into the Discord. The community can--
That's two things, but there are thousands and thousands of streamers, and they all have the same setup. If you sub, you can get access to Discord. You get the stickers.
It's just cool. I don't know. I like that vibe, that atmosphere.
Then also, Chris and I have a chatroom with some folks in it, but having levels, like mods and stuff like that, which is essential to a community. That's a huge feature.
I have another Discord where it's just friends, and we game.
Dave: Just hop on, and when some guy is like, "I can't. I'm on an airplane," it's like, "Cool. I'm broadcasting the game to you now," like a private Twitch.
Dave: It's just cool. I don't know. It's very useful.
Keaton: It is, yeah, and the communities aspect of it is huge. I got to Discord because the startup I was at before that got bought by Discord.
Dave: Okay. Yeah.
Keaton: We were building a platform that was just specifically for talking to your friends, doing video chat, and playing games together. We had a game studio built into this startup where they were building things like versions of board games, so we had Scrabble, essentially, and some other things like that.
Dave: Or Katan or something like that, yeah.
Keaton: That was -- yeah, that was something that we were trying to figure out how to build at the time. Then Discord came along and was like, "Hey, you guys have been doing this for like less than a year, and you already have a million users using this thing. We're going to buy you."
That essentially took this team of 30 people and shoved it into Discord. What we've been able to do is start standing up a platform where we can do some of the same things that we were doing at this startup, as we are now.
But much as sort of the weird path of me being on this podcast, we were building this product, and we kept talking to PMs and to our leadership. I was just like -- I personally kept going, like, "Hey, we're not Discord. That's not what we are. That's not what we're building," and our PMs would be like, "Yeah, but Discord does this thing." And I kept just kind of hammering on, "That's not who we are. We're our own company. We have our own ethos. We're doing our own thing."
Then it turns out maybe we are Discord.
Dave: Surprise! [Laughter]
Keaton: Yeah. Surprise! Maybe we are.
Chris: What did they want? Did they want--?
Again, if you can't talk about it, it's fine. But an acquisition always seems strategically weird when a company that does almost the same thing gets bought. You're like, why? I don't need you. We already do your thing. I'm either buying your users or the fact that you have a bunch of professional expertise that's pretty similar, so it's a big -- I get 30 employees for the price of an acquisition.
Keaton: Yeah. I mean I can't speak to what their mindset was, but I know from my perspective, I think the value for them was that they had launched an actual game store on Discord a couple of years before where you could buy AAA games and play them.
Keaton: It just didn't do as well as they had hoped. And so, from then on, there was kind of this thing in the back of their mind of, like, "Okay, well--" this is again my assessment, where it's like, "But could we have people doing things together that's not just talking or streaming a game? What happens in between the raids when you're playing Dota 2 with your friends? What happens between then?"
I think there was an opportunity to say, "What happens between then? Scrabble." [Laughter]
Keaton: You guys can play Scrabble - or something similar. So, it's been really interesting.
Chris: That's interesting that gaming legacy has held on so strong, which I think is cool, and I get that gaming is big, but it almost feels like the rest of the world is so much bigger. Discord does so well with communities that have nothing to do with gaming that I feel almost like the non-gaming stuff is more interesting to me.
Keaton: Yeah, and what we saw at Backyard -- the company was called Backyard that got bought -- what we saw at Backyard was that we were getting these groups of college students that were coming on the platform that were--
This is pandemic times, and so those people couldn't go and do anything together. Or it would be even more often like high school students, and they couldn't go and do anything together, so they would jump on Backyard in video chat, in these specific spaces kind of built for playing games together, and they would play games for hours and hours.
It got picked up by TikTok a couple of times and went viral enough that everybody was kind of all-hands like, "Oh, crap. This is more people than we ever expected to use this at this point."
But we got a beta out there, and it was really interesting seeing that people really wanted this sort of casual game experience on the Web.
Dave: Yeah. Interesting.
[Banjo music starts]
Chris: This episode of ShopTalk Show is brought to you in part by Notion. You can get started for free at notion.com/shoptalk.
My favorite way to use Notion is to have everybody on your team use Notion to organize the work you do, talk about the work you do, get everybody on the same page, and having Notion open because that is the home base for the business that you're running.
A small example, we use it here at ShopTalk Show to manage our show calendar. That's one of the things that we have in our Notion, and it's a database, you'd call it. Don't be dissuaded by that term. It's really not that complicated.
It's just kind of like a beefed-up Excel spreadsheet in a way. I'm looking at it right now in table view, and there's a list of dates. When are the shows that we're doing dropping? What's the number of the show? Who is on the show? Who are the sponsors from the show? What's the status of the show? Is it upcoming? Is it being recorded but not edited yet? Is it being edited right now? All that information is in our Notion.
We also use the Notion API so that you, dear listener, can write in a question to ShopTalk Show. It uses their API and pipes that question right into an incoming questions database in Notion. We can drag those questions onto the shows that we're about to do. Now, if that all makes sense to you, you could imagine that is a very adaptable thing for any kind of business flow.
Now, I described the table view of this database. That same data can be viewed in different ways. With a click of a button, I can turn it into calendar view and be looking at that same data but as a calendar. I could view it as Kanban cards and look at the status of all the different shows in different columns, which shows are in which position. That ability to look at data in Notion in different views and have that be so easy to filter, sort, and arrange is the most powerful thing in Notion, I think.
Congrats on the new status thing too. That's a newish feature in Notion that's really powerful and cool and, of course, we're making use of all over the place.
That's notion.com/shoptalk to start for free and take the first step towards organized and productive work and life today.
[Banjo music stops]
Chris: One thing I've got to know about is because you call yourself product designer, right? Is that the role?
Keaton: Yeah. Yeah.
Chris: You've mentioned Figma already, so you're into literally design or front-end development too?
Keaton: Yeah. Yeah. I have always kind of played around with front-end development. Actually, my first job, I walked into this place and my friend was working there. They were all essentially like, "Hey, you need to learn HTML and CSS. You have a couple of weeks to sort yourself out enough that you can draw some divs or write some divs with us."
And so, I just kind of fell in love with it, and so I've been writing code (front-end code specifically) since then. Getting super deep into Rails and React when I was working at another company called Apartment Therapy. It was designers were shipping code constantly.
What I've found is sort of the deeper you head into the UX and strategy and product focus of things, the less anyone wants you to touch anything but a pull request to make sure that everything looks okay. It's like the deeper I've gone through this sort of career path, the more it's like all of my coding is hobby coding at this point.
Chris: Oh, that's interesting.
Dave: How does that make you feel? [Laughter]
Keaton: Well, Dave...
Dave: [Laughter] Yeah. It's interesting, and I think I've felt that a bit in our tiny organization. But some of it I think is because of the complexity of code has exploded. Operating in a very vanilla Rails app is pretty comforting, to be honest. It's just HTML and then curlies and percent signs. You know? But then now it's just like you've got to Webpack the florps to the Vite and make sure, you know, redux to the state tree.
Chris: Is that because you're old, though, or not? Because you've already gone through so many eras that now you're in whatever era, 17, and you're like, "I'm sick of eras." But if this was your era 2, you might be like, "This is normal, easy, and fine."
Keaton: I've wondered the same thing, honestly. I remember getting mad when Flexbox dropped and being like, "This doesn't make any sense!"
Chris: [Laughter] [Growls]
Dave: Oh, yeah. I love that. That response is good, like, "I hate it. It doesn't do the one thing I want to do." Yeah.
Keaton: Yeah, I just want to center divs.
Keaton: And this is not doing it the way I want it to.
Dave: Yeah. Yeah.
Keaton: But then you work with it. You figure out what the quirks are, you figure it out, and you keep going. Then Grid dropped, and it was like why did we ever even do Flexbox, especially from a designer's perspective where I'm really, like, I'm designing this thing to be as simple as possible so that I can then have my front-end engineer friend come over and just completely destroy my whole PR because nothing is set up correctly for Rails or for React.
Chris: This will be fun then. Now Flexbox and Grid, if you could only pick one, which one?
Keaton: [Laughter] I would go 100% Grid because it's easier. I don't have to wonder about things whenever I'm using Grid.
Dave: It's Grid, but purely because it's like Legos. It's like, "You go here. And you go here." And they go there. You know?
Keaton: And that's the end.
Dave: Whereas Flexbox was like, "All right. We're all going to jump on this moving car, and then pick your seat," is what it felt like.
Dave: It's like full scramble onto a moving car, and we're just going to see if it works.
Chris: I would definitely pick Grid too, except for the odd flex one.
Chris: I would miss that odd, like, just stretch yourself as far as you can go, you dummy. You know?
Dave: Yeah. You be big. Yeah, you go big.
Chris: Yeah. [Laughter]
Keaton: Yeah. [Laughter]
Chris: You be big. Yeah, I like that. But yeah, Grid is way better.
Keaton: Why isn't this whole width?
Dave: Yeah. Always.
Chris: Well, I thought you maybe just perhaps slightly stronger identified as front-end or did more front-end for Discord. Not that you don't. I wonder because I was planning on asking what is that even mean anymore, to get into that, like, what the heck is a front-end developer anymore. But we could just morph it to be like what is your job anymore. What is a product designer then?
Keaton: I think the interesting thing is, as I sort of have taken stock of my career, one of the things that's been interesting is the more I think about it, the more, like, there was a long time when I called myself a designer when I was totally a front-end developer, and I was like, "Oh, of course, yeah. I'm a designer."
Then it would be like, "Well, how would you solve this problem?" Well, the first thing I would do is I would pull open our rough component, and then I would start designing this thing in the browser.
While that doesn't make me not a designer, I was, at the time, much, much more focused on just writing that code and pushing PRs. I was reviewing other people's PRs.
I think the way that that's morphed, like I said, is writing less code. But also, I think one of the things that stepping into more of a designer role now has given me is that I know how to speak that language.
Keaton: Even though I'm not actively opening PRs and doing those things, I still have the ability to sit down with our front-end engineers that we work with and say, "Hey, I think we could do this. This is one way that you might want to think about this, especially because we're going to have to do order one, order two on these things (whenever it gets down to a smaller size)."
Having the ability to have those discussions with that vocabulary is a completely different experience to a lot of product designers who are coming out of college and going to work at Meta. They're in a new grad role who has never touched code in their life. Or maybe they've taken a couple of front-end classes in college, but they've never gone through how much that doesn't really translate to being a front-end engineer or a designer.
I think the biggest thing is that benefit of being able to speak the language.
Dave: Yeah. I was going to ask. Not to compare. [Laughter] I don't want you to compare yourself to coworkers, but new Meta grads is great.
It seems like being a product designer with a technical background is kind of radical because, like you're saying, you speak the language. If a developer ever has--
Do you find yourselves in situations where a developer says, "This is impossible," or do you feel like you've already interpreted that or anticipated some of that?
Keaton: No, that's an excellent, excellent observation because I think that's part and parcel of being able to speak the language. I think one of the things that is-- [Laughter] One of the traits that is not great that comes out of that is I am brutally practical.
Dave: Ah... Okay.
Keaton: When it comes to building something, I am not going to ask you to do, like, let's make this thing spin - or whatever. I don't care about that. I am-- Somebody described me once as a PMs designer. [Laughter]
Keaton: Because I am constantly like, "What can we pull out of this? What can we strip out of this to ship the easiest thing possible with the most polish possible without it becoming just a spiderweb of bad?"
Keaton: But yeah, I mean I think a lot of people fall into that trap, and a lot of those folks are the best UI designers around because they can go and do this stuff that's really beautiful and really awesome and really fun to look at. But when you're talking about products and the practicality of making sure that something just works, I have a real distrust of flashy design when it comes to building things for people that I need to work.
Dave: Yeah. Do you find--? I would love to get your thoughts on rework. From my perspective, building a product, we've been building Luro kind of constantly for the last nine months or something.
Dave: One thing I'm just like, "You know, let's just put it up. Get that MVP." [Laughter] "Let's just get it, and then we'll come back to it later."
I think I'm overly fine with it. I think I am super comfortable being like, "Yeah, it's kind of messed up, but whatever. That's fine." [Laughter] You know? The pressure is probably on to get it a bit more dialed in the first time, but I guess what are your thoughts on rework and how does a product designer have to think about rework where I'm sure perfectionism is a big piece? What do you think about that?
Keaton: So, I definitely fall more to the side of I want to get something in front of people and get feedback as quickly as possible because the more that we let something languish and we're making decisions and remaking decisions and remaking decisions, the less fresh something is going to be. I mean that on a design and code basis.
If you're consistently just shipping a bunch of stuff into your product that is kind of reworking the things that are already there to make sure that this has the perfect amount of polish, you're going to be doing that forever. Not you personally, but I feel like us, we will be doing that forever.
Keaton: I know, for me, I like to find this -- [laughter]. I like to find a balance between let's put this out there or put pieces of this out there that we know work and can accomplish some of these goals. While we're doing that, let's go ahead and just talk to everybody. Let's put a survey with a link.
That's one of the things that I've been doing at Discord for the last year.
Chris: A survey? You have a Discord.
Keaton: That's right. Well, so--
Keaton: We use Discord for that. We have what's called the Game Lab. It's a public beta where people can go in and try out activities. Those people, when they're trying out activities, we have a survey link where they can go and fill it out and talk to us and say, "These are the things I liked. These are the things I didn't. Yes, I would love to talk to you about this more in-depth."
Keaton: We've done hundreds of interviews with people specifically about the things that we're working on in the platform ecosystem team. That feedback has not driven what we've done, but it's informed what we've done because people, especially folks who really love Discord, they're going to call out the things that don't feel like Discord in the same way that somebody who is using something that you're building are going to call out things that don't necessarily feel intuitive, or they don't feel like they're working the way that would be expected.
You have to -- especially talking about rework, right? You have to have that sort of balance of a point of view, a strong opinion about what you're building. But I also think there's room there to figure out if your point of view matches up with the point of view that are using the folks that you're building the thing for.
Keaton: I've been in situations where that was backwards. We were like, "This is great. Everybody is going to love this. This is perfect." Then we would ship a feature, and every user would be -- I mean maybe not every user, but most users would be -- "This is terrible. This is not accomplishing what I need to accomplish." So, as with everything, it depends, I guess.
Dave: It depends.
Chris: There's amazing serendipity here in that I think Discord has changed Web development in a way of making rapid feedback cycles a lot more achievable in that a lot of good software these days is good because there's a public Discord for it and that public Discord becomes just a freakin' hive of fans and users. They might not even join the Discord to be like, "I have feedback on this API."
Keaton: [Laughter] Right.
Chris: What they're going to say is, "This is busted. I'm having trouble with that." When they say, "This is busted," the other thing that they're saying is, "I couldn't find good docs for it." You've learned that. And that, oh, there actually might be a bug. [Laughter] Then you fix the bug or whatever. Then that cycle, you fix the things, you update the docs. You do whatever you have to do to help that one user.
Now, it's a little mishmash. Maybe I get the survey thing because when you have aggregate data like that, bigger and more important things can rise to the top. And if all you're ever doing is immediately reacting to any Tom, Dick, or Harry that rolls into the Discord, that's different. But I think if you do the Discord approach long enough, you end up with good software.
Keaton: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, to your point, that's exactly what we did at Backyard. We opened up this Discord and invited a bunch of people into it that were specifically people who were already using Backyard and told them, "Hey, find groups of friends here if you want to. But also, if you see anything weird, let us know because we can address those things pretty quickly. If you're seeing something weird and there are other people," because if somebody says that something is weird, a lot more people are going to jump on and be like, "Oh, yeah. I saw that same thing." Then we can go and reproduce in the browser and push a fix out relatively quickly. That's what we were doing at Backyard.
Chris: Yeah. It's like a live version of that -- what is that thing that Stripe--? Remember the Stripe thing that, like, friction journaling.
Dave: Oh, friction log.
Chris: It's the high speed friction log Discord.
Dave: It is. It's the firehose of friction logs. Yeah.
Chris: Yeah. [Laughter]
Dave: You learn real quick. No, that's pretty cool to think about getting feedback and stuff like that. Discord, the product, tries to do these surveys and informed design decisions, basically, and product decisions?
Keaton: Our team does. That's part of what we sort of brought over from Backyard. I don't want to speak for any other teams, but I know that we have an excellent data science team, and we have a UX research team. A lot of the stuff that we do inside the platform ecosystem team, we end up conducting these interviews ourselves, designers and PMs and engineers (for that matter) because I think the closer we can get to the people who are actually using the thing inside that group, the better we're all going to be for understanding what the actual problems people are having are.
Dave: Yeah, that's cool. Yeah. The more I read, the more there's no replacement for having your developers and people talking to customers rather than - I don't know - the old customer support call center vibe. You know?
Keaton: Yeah. [Laughter] "We have a CX team and that's where everything goes." I don't think that's a good plan.
Dave: Right. Well, and then even as a developer, if I saw a piece of feedback, and I don't want to be inundated with firehose feedback, but if I saw something come in, I could be like, "Aw, you know what? That's probably just a semicolon," or that problem could be addressed really quickly. You know you might not know that.
It might actually be more work to create a bunch of tickets and a bunch of PM meetings and triages just to get this semicolon fixed - or whatever.
[Banjo music starts]
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[Banjo music stops]
Keaton: Hey, how are you thinking about user feedback and things like that for CodePen, Chris?
Chris: Well, we're in this pre-phase where I've already made our Discord. There is no public CodePen Discord yet for y'all, but I've made it and I'm ready to invite people to it.
Chris: We have a plan, though, and it's just kind of because we're in the throws of remaking like a next-generation CodePen, and it's just taking forever because it's a huge product and all that stuff.
I always get one little tear in my eye when people are like, "Yeah, we just ship code every day, little things to make the product better." I'm like, "Yeah, we used to do that too."
Chris: It's a little different when you're under the big mega-mega project. You know?
Chris: When that project rolls out, we've already talked and thought about this. There's going to be an alpha. The alpha is designed just for us, so it's going to be on production, and it's going to be like we're playing with our product with 100% production infrastructure and features.
Chris: Once it's on production, we've achieved this kind of alpha status. Maybe there'll be a handful of other people in the alpha, but we're really thinking about ourselves.
Beta is that moment where we've cleaned it up enough that basically what the beta is, is Discord. It's that we're going to flip a switch because everything is feature flagged on CodePen. It has been forever anyway. We'll be able to hit a feature flag, but we'll probably, just because we're nerds, API it. We'll turn your account on in Discord too. You know?
Chris: There might even be a moment (depending on how that goes) that your Pro membership of CodePen means Discord access. We'll just do all that programmatically.
Chris: Then if you don't have Pro, you don't have the Discord - kind of thing. Not necessarily as a perk, but just to almost keep the riffraff out - or something.
Chris: Make you have some investment in the product before I'm listening to you in real-time. You'll always be able to email us, but if I'm going to read your Discord messages, there's going to be some money involved, I'm afraid. [Laughter]
But that's beta. I literally think of it as the Discord phase. That will be a little bit more hand-picked or applied for or something. But I hope to grow and grow and grow and grow that beta until there's quite a few people using the product, there's quite a few people in the Discord. We're benefitting from that firehose friction stuff.
Chris: We are not there yet, but that's what that beta will be. Then that will smooth out the product and get it feeling good and then public releases, public release.
Chris: You know everybody gets it at that point, so I'm excited for those days, but we're a very small team and we're just taking it slow on purpose. We have that luxury as an existing, profitable product.
Chris: Slow and steady.
Keaton: Slow is smooth, smooth is fast. That's what one of my engineer friends used to tell me all the time.
Chris: Because we literally did a podcast about that phrase not long ago. Not on ShopTalk, on CodePen, though. My co-founder Alex, it's one of his favorites. It's like a military thing.
Keaton: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. John Mosesman - a shoutout - an engineer from the Oklahoma City area. We were working on a startup together, and I was shipping a ton of stuff that I would miss a closing tag. He was like, "Listen, I know we're under the gun. But slow is smooth, smooth is fast, man. Just take a breath before you open a PR."
Chris: Yeah. Yeah. His feeling on that was definitely that would have been under it too, but it was almost more about debugging things that are really hard. I really need to learn from him in that way because my tolerance for throwing up my hands on a hard problem is weirdly low for as long as I've been in this industry.
I'm like, "This test is failing." I'm like, "I don't get it! I'm done! I'm out!"
Chris: "Someone help me."
Dave: Comment out. [Laughter]
Chris: Yeah. [Laughter] And working with Alex is such a pleasure because he freaking can solve anything. Sometimes I'm sitting there debugging, and he will dig to the middle of the Earth to discover what is wrong. But it doesn't look painful. It feels slow and it feels smooth. And he can talk calmly through the whole thing, like, "Oh, what's happening here? Well, let's log it. Let's look here. Let's dig into the node dependency."
He'll dig anywhere that needs to be dug to figure that out, and I can always identify (while he's doing it) where I would have -- where my skillset fails.
Chris: Where I'm like, I wouldn't have known to type PS grep aux thing pipe thing into the thing. I don't know how to do that, so I can't. I couldn't have followed you to the middle of the Earth because that's where my skillset falls over, but his does not.
Let's talk about careers for a minute because it was kind of on your list of things that's on your mind, which I think is interesting. You have, I would think, a little bit of not traditional. I'm sure you have weird paths and stuff, but you've bounced around to companies like I feel like most developers do. Right? In the grand scope of your career, you've been here and here and here and here.
Keaton: Yeah, I think the reason why when you asked me, "Hey, is there anything you want to talk about?" that came up. I've been thinking a lot about nontraditional paths into the tech industry because -- I've said this a million times to other people -- I didn't even start in the tech industry until I was like 26.
I got my first job at a local -- it wasn't even a tech industry, honestly. It was like a local Web design shop just designing websites, and I didn't even get there until I was 26. I was managing retail stores and part of an audio QA team at a telemarketing company for years before I ever figured out that design was something that someone would not just pay me to do but be psyched that they could hire me to do that for them.
Yeah, since then, definitely, I've bounced around, and there have been sort of highs and lows of figuring out what it means to be a part of the industry. But I think, now, as somebody who is at a certain level inside of a relatively large company, for being a startup, it's like I don't know what the last count was but we're north of 700 people.
Keaton: That's pretty sizeable. And I think one of things that has become more clear over the last few years is that nobody knows how to level anyone and everybody assumes that if you have this title that you do this thing, and there's very little wiggle room inside of that. The person that I work with the most at Discord as another designer, we have completely different skill sets.
He is an insanely good UI designer. He does video and motion graphic stuff, and I am so much further to, like I was saying, a PMs designer. I want to figure out the simplest thing possible, and I want to ship something. I want to understand what the strategy for these things are going forward and how we're going to fix that.
But we're both the same title working inside the same org. I think one of the things that we do a bad job of with titles and in companies is figuring out how to explain this person is good at this thing, so this is... You can't do that with a title. But there's got to be a way that we can have a framework for a conversation inside of a company to talk about what people are good at.
Weirdly, somebody just shared with me the other day that Meta or Facebook (of all people) have an actual functioning list of titles within product design that are different specialties.
Dave: Oh, interesting.
Keaton: And you are graded sort of for leveling and everything based on being sorted. It's a sorting hat, essentially. [Laughter] You're put into one specific house inside of Facebook. For all the other bad things about Facebook, that's pretty rad.
Dave: That's cool. I love the idea of specialties because I feel like that's something you have to figure out as you go. It's like, "Oh, you actually hate this." [Laughter] You know?
Dave: Like, "Oh, we hired you for this, but you hate dealing with customers," or whatever. I think figuring that out is pretty -- I don't know. Yeah.
Chris: You'd think it'd be obvious, but it just isn't, is it?
Dave: It just isn't. Even the same title and stuff like that. I joked a long time ago, wrote half a blog post, but I think even like video game roles where, you know, are you tank, a DPDS, or are you a range fighter or something like that?
Dave: Or support. I asked that on Twitter, and a bunch of people said they were support, which is really interesting because you don't think of that as a developer role as, like, actually, I'm really good at support. I can do PRs. I can fix patches if there's broken stuff. I'm pretty good at that.
We only think of things in the big buckets, and we don't really see the small buckets. Then we don't even see even the interpersonal skills.
Dave: If you are on the team, what shape does that give the team?
Chris: It's almost unfortunate that money has to play into it because how much they like or dislike it may not actually matter to them. If you've hired somebody and you're paying them $115,000 a year, $100,000 a year, or something, and you sense them not liking the role, and you say, "Hey, it doesn't like you like this very much," they'll be like, "Maybe I don't, but I don't care."
Chris: [Laughter] You know? "I need this job. This is a good job. I want this job. How much I like or dislike it is freakin' irrelevant to me." You know?
Dave: Right. Right. Yeah.
Chris: But it's not irrelevant to you as their manager because it means that you're not getting out of them what you hope you would.
Keaton: I think there's also a piece there where it's not just you're not getting something out of them. It's that, as a manager, you're not able to support them in a way that pushes them forward in growth, and that is--
The two times that I've ever managed designers, that is the most painful realization that I can't support this person. I can't be the sort of support that they need to do their best work, and that sucks.
Dave: Yeah. No, I mean for me it's been, like, let me know what you don't like or when you're out of your wheelhouse. Let's get you back in the wheelhouse if we can.
Let's always kind of yo-yo a bit to try to grow or fatten the T (I think is the phrase we say in business), but let's try to do that. But then let's also get you back in the wheelhouse if that didn't go well - or whatever. Just trying to--
But that's hard. That's a lot of -- you know. I don't know. And there's emotional stuff like EQ, emotional intelligence - or whatever. Where you're just like, "You know that didn't go well, and so I need to not do that kind of work."
Dave: Somebody else needs to. I mean I think I learned that as, like, "Hey, I don't like setting up CMSs, WordPresses, Crafts anymore. [Laughter]
Dave: I can. I'm sure I could do that, but if somebody else, we can pay somebody else to do that, that would be awesome. I think we figured that out and it was wonderful, but it took a while to figure out. It's like, hey, that part isn't fun for me, so let's not do it.
Chris: Well, we're all dads too, huh? We've got that in common.
Keaton: [Laughter] Oh, man. Dad stuff is the best.
Chris: You're an enthusiastic dad.
Keaton: I really am.
Chris: I feel like we all are to some degree.
Chris: But you out-dad me, I think. [Laughter]
Keaton: Man, how could you not be enthusiastic about it? I mean I guess I know people who are not that enthusiastic about being a dad too, but having tiny humans that are psyched, like my son at school the other day, apparently they were like, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" and he was like, "I want to be a product designer." I was like--
Keaton: Good! Good! Great job!
Keaton: I'm not the best dad in the world, but I'm in the running.
Keaton: It's just such a huge -- and I'm going to tell another story about one of my kids because this is amazing.
We were talking to my son a couple of days ago, and he's a very active and very excited kid. He pops out of his room like Kramer coming through Jerry's door every morning.
Keaton: We were talking to him and asking him how his day was, because they just started public school for the first time this year. They've been homeschooled up until now. And so, we asked him how his day was.
He was like, "Hey, you know, I was talking to my friend Brock. He said that his little brother was a mean kid, and I stopped him. And I was like, 'Hey, Brock. There's no such thing as a mean kid. Maybe he just needs a friend.'"
Of course, my partner and I are just like, "Yeah! Good job, buddy!"
Keaton: "Yeah! That's good!" Then we left, and it was like maybe parenting is actually like sinking in at this point. He's nine, so it's like the most insane ups and downs all the time.
I don't want to say who out-dads who, but I feel like in this room now, there's just a lot of big dad energy here.
Chris: [Laughter] There is. There is.
Keaton: I think that's a good thing.
Dave: It's my tiredness. My general level of tiredness. I also try to send you to your room without an iPad earlier, and that was probably a tad overkill.
Keaton: It was weird, but it's fine.
Keaton: I understand.
Chris: I only have one daughter, and she's been gone because I took a trip of my own doing some camping. Mom was like, "Well, we're going on our own trip then," which was really wonderful and cool. They got to go to Atlanta and see. There's whale sharks at the aquarium in Atlanta.
Chris: Do you know that? That's amazing. Whale sharks are fricken' huge.
Dave: Yeah. Wow.
Chris: Anyway, they had a great time and went to a lake house and all this stuff. But I haven't seen them in 11 days, which is an insanely long time.
Keaton: Oh, my gosh!
Chris: It has definitely never been that long - as a dad.
Chris: I think I'm questioning it.
Keaton: That's a long time.
Chris: Am I even a dad anymore after 11 days?
Dave: What value? What value do I bring to the family unit?
Chris: Yeah, totally.
Dave: Yeah. It's questionable.
Chris: Literally, I'm so helpless alone. I'm just at the house. Just got the Apple TV remote in my hand and being like, "I guess this is it."
Keaton: Weird plug for Wichita. Just throwing this out there. Dave, the next time you drive through, Chris, if you drive through, we have an insanely good zoo here that has manta rays that you can touch.
Keaton: It is very, very cool. Just throw that out there, just being dads and everything.
Dave: Wichita, man, up and coming.
Chris: Which month can you visit?
Dave: Probably not in the winter. [Laughter]
Dave: Avoid. Avoid.
Chris: I bet it's a pretty chill winter. Not warm, but it's probably not blasted.
Keaton: It's pretty good. Yeah. My brother-in-law, who lives in Austin, came up to Wichita when the power went out last year. [Laughter]
Dave: Oh, yeah.
Keaton: He was like, "Nope. Here I go."
Dave: Here I go. Yeah, that's true. It's on the correct grid.
Dave: [Laughter] Well I guess - I don't know. We should wrap it up. Do we have a hard stop? I don't know.
Keaton, thank you so much for coming on the show. We really appreciate it. For people who aren't following you and giving you money, how can they do that?
Keaton: [Laughter] Nobody needs to give me money unless they just really want to, and they can just sort of holler at me if they want to. But I'm on Twitter a lot, @keaton_taylor. Otherwise, it's been an honor, fellow dads, hanging out with y'all for an hour.
Dave: [Laughter] Wonderful. Well, thank you for coming on and dadding it up. If y'all are ever in Wichita, the Drury Inn -- they're not paying me to say this -- it's fantastic. It's right there on the river. It's just across from the conference center. It's just beautiful, Drury Inn.
Chris: Is it a hotel, a restaurant?
Dave: There are drinks waiting for you. Drinking waiting for you at the Drury Inn.
Keaton: Oh, there are. It's true.
Dave: You should....
Keaton: Drink tickets. [Laughter]
Dave: Anyway, I'm -- [Laughter] Anyway--
Dave: Thank you, dear listener, for downloading this in your podcatcher of choice. If you work at Drury hotel establishments, you could sponsor the show. [Laughter] It totally helps out there.
Follow us @ShopTalkShow for tens of tweets a month. And join us in the D-d-d-d-discord, patreon.com/shoptalkshow. Chris, do you got anything else you'd like to say?
Chris: Oh... ShopTalkShow.com.