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JD Welch, Senior Product Designer

May 2021

Article

Spotify Design Team

To showcase our band members, every now and then we put a Spotifier in the limelight. Today's headliner is JD Welch, Senior Product Designer for Experimentation in the Data and Insights team in Stockholm. Put on your headphones, hit play, and read along!

Questions & Answers

Why are you a designer?

The joy I get from digital product design is in building things and giving them to people to use, hopefully making their lives and work better. Most of my career has been about trying to make heavy-duty, technical, Enterprise-with-a-capital-E software easier, faster, and more pleasant for the humans who use it. I especially like focussing on a technical audience, as most developer and infrastructure tooling has suffered from lack of good design for a long time.

I sort of wanted to be a visual artist, but I have no real talent for it. I did a lot of theatre tech at school (and for money, briefly) and my first major at uni was theatre design. I did a degree in art history because I love both the experience of visual art and the scholarship; really digging into the topic and the theory. I started doing digital design officially in college, making portfolio websites and things like that for visual designer friends. I had the wonderful realisation I could combine visual work with programming and that was pretty much that.

Describe your job at Spotify without using the words "design" or "designer."

The tools I work on help product teams learn from data and make evidence-based decisions about what to ship. I thought "A/B testing" was relatively straightforward before joining the Experimentation team, but I was of course completely wrong. It's a fascinating, nuanced, dense field. I'm trying to ship great products that make that domain more accessible to more people at Spotify.

Show us a picture of your desk, and explain why it looks how it does.

Here is how my workspace in Stockholm looks at the minute. Sorry for the bad lighting; I have zero natural light as all the windows are being replaced.

1. A truly excellent water bottle, courtesy of Spotify Design. Hydration is fundamental!

2. Fancy mouse. I have long had problems with my mousing wrist so the right-pointing device is important, and I switch between them frequently. I recommend the Logitech MX Vertical.

3. Headphones. Been using some variant of the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT for maybe ten years now. Just enough isolation, comfortable to wear for hours, and beautiful sound.

4. Good microphone. Since 98% of interaction with work folks is through the Medium Screen these days, clear and pleasant audio is crucial. The Røde NT-USB Mini was recommended by some colleagues on a group chat dedicated to discussing fancy streaming setups and gear. A lot of my job is simply talking to people, so it's been a huge upgrade.

5. Pens and paper: The pad is a Rhodia Dot Pad, which is a perfect pair for my many Lamy Safari fountain pens. I am extremely particular about pens and paper.

6. Plant(s). I like having something living, organic, and green as a contrast to the weird pixel world I spend so much time in.

7. Phone used as a webcam. This is a very recent addition. I previously had what I thought was a decent webcam but this makes me look, like, 47% better on camera.

8. Lovely Marimekko mug from my husband. It's like a hug from him every time I take a sip of my coffee or tea.

9. Coaster that my dad made at Piedmont boy scout ranch in 1964. I doubt he remembers this thing at all but I really love having it around.

Tell us about a time you beat an intimidating design challenge.

The design part is easy, or at least straightforward: You collect data, you come up with an idea, you test it. Repeat until it's good, then ship it. The people part is what's hard. Managing expectations, weighing the business need with the user need; often they conflict in maddening ways. Over time I have learned how to adapt what I might want as a perfect design process to the real world. That's been the biggest challenge: adapting the ideal to what is possible and practical.

Name three non-designers you feel inspired by when designing.

John Waters. The DIY spirit of his work belies a surprising underlying sophistication. I should be so lucky to make such masterpieces with no money!

Dorothy Parker. I wonder what she'd think of what I call a "profession"; spending so much time on things that only exist within these strange, glowing boxes.

Mies van der Rohe. If I was any good at math, I'd be an architect, and I would try as hard as I could to design things as breathtaking as his.

What would your self-portrait look like?

Any final shout-outs or things you'd like to share?

Thanks to everyone who has put up with my weird brand of contrarian over the years, especially those who have managed to influence me to be a better person and better designer.

Also, you should really listen to: "Maintenance Phase" from Aubrey Gordon & Michael Hobbes, "Binchtopia" from Julia Hava & Eliza McLamb, and "Brenda, Call Me" from Courtney Act & Vanity Faire.

Credits

Spotify Design Team

We're a cross-disciplinary team of people who love to create great experiences and make meaningful connections between listeners and creators.

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