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Week 4: Synthesis

Thanks again to Nour for taking detailed notes during class!

Warm-up exercise

Think back to the day you applied to SVA.

What have you learned since then?

... about design?
... about yourself?

Write a letter to your younger self.

Go for 10 minutes.

Guest speaker: Karyn Campbell, Product Design Lead for Etsy Studio

Writing & Design

“For me, [writing and design] have been so intertwined, they’re almost like one thing.”

Common theme of designers in my gen: because I wanted to be a magazine editor, I just made my own zines.

Ghost-writing on twitter: had to create editorial guidelines and style guides that were really clear for interns to be able write in a voice appropriate for these basketball players and supermodels.

Etsy Studio

First time in 11 years Etsy has created a sister brand / separate marketplace

  • In order to even get Etsy to consider doing something like this took a lot of writing.
  • Secret, not so secret: To work on a vision, you must creative narrative runway so that you can fly into execution.

“Strategraph” ← whoa

Voice and style

Creating a brand -> Start with voice and tone. Then, you can create visual elements and interaction styles that reinforce how you speak.

Etsy studio example:

  • Our voice reflects the making process.
  • It’s quick-witted and uses short sentences.
  • It’s crafted with lots of verbs, so it feels like it’s in constant motion.

Written guidelines will also help with localisation around the world… they can help translators better adapt the language to local connotations and metaphor.


  • Start with a vision
  • Create a shared language
  • Let it inspire your choices
  • Writing and design thread experiences


What were some of the biggest challenges and frustrations in trying to get Etsy Studios funded?

Very, but most things that are really good are really challenging and frustrating. Things that are hard are what you feel most proud of. The most challenging thing was getting internal stakeholder alignment, for which writing was essential + being able to visually inspire people to buy in to something… how to humanise the problem for people.

Sounds like you were presenting writing as a preliminary step that drives visuals, do you think that’s unique to yourself or that all designers can learn from that? Do designers sometimes flip it?

This presentation is so specific to the creation of a consumer brand that maybe the logic doesn’t apply to something else (like work for Brooklyn museum). Tension between having content or design first, hopefully it’s happening together. Etsy notices extreme need for writers, so we have Product Writers at Etsy that are paired with designers. Able to act as an editor. Most successful things i’ve seen in product design is when designers and writers work really closely together, or designers learn to write well. With brand design, start with personality before you dive into what does that personality look like.

What about situations where you realise that you started without strong guidelines and need to rewind and reset? Within a company that has started down a path and you want to help steer?

That’s probably more common than the other way around. Have to be patient with ambiguity, and advocate for this kind of work. E.g. Google went really far in one direction before realizing how important mobile is to society → material design is born! Need patience and ability to work within the ambiguity that’s really important. When it’s a client, it’s easier because the relationship is clearer (my interpretation?) but within a big org you have to keep pecking at it until people see the business case for it.

You shared a very personal experience of your Spain time. How did you manage to convey what you’re thinking in those days? Assumptions are that you’re articulate since you’re a writer, and you felt out of place maybe because of language barrier?

To clarify, when I was living in another country and trying to work, how was I able to convey myself?

I don’t know that I succeeded, I think it was really hard, not necessarily a language barrier, because I spoke spanish… more cultural, and being a young woman. I think I was at a stage in my career where I was just trying to survive so I didn’t think about existential, just trying to get paid. No reading my journals, that entire experience was so crazy, but in the moment just focused on surviving.

How do you balance universal (?) design and developing a brand vision?

That’s the ultimate question for a lot of designers: how do you balance bringing new balance to your customers when they’re not asking for it? Jeff Bezos’s letter to shareholders contained a succinct paragraph about this. Our customers never asked for Prime, but we had an intuition that it would bring a lot of value and solve a lot of the problems that they told us they had. Important to listen and feel what problems people are having, let that be a source of inspiration. Stretch yourself, take risks, be open to failure. Leader with more long-term vision gives you more runway to explore bigger things, shorter-term constraints let you iterate faster.

How did you come up with Etsy’s voice and tone, because I feel if you get that right everything else falls into place, but how do you start?

For Etsy Studio it was a lot different than Etsy, since main brand serves both buyers and sellers but studio more for buyers. We started with research, figured out target audience, then worked on brand positioning.: the thing you say over and over internally to help you make brand decisions (e..g Starbucks: “The third home”). Etsy studio’s is “Driven to make” and we’ll never say that to a customer but it drives our work. Long story short: a really talented writer was brought in for it. If you can’t get that, you have to advocate for it as a designer.

[Nicole adds:] It often comes down to having specific attributes, you can get them through a card sort. I’ll post Margot Bloomstein’s method to our Slack. (You might also find these attributes useful, some of the ones I use.)

How specific are these, they sound universal… would you ever want “long, drawn out, endless, redundant meander”?

Yes, e.g. our voice for is a lot more whimsical, sometimes it’s good to cover the basics

How do you package this work in a way that the team will actually use it?

Goes back to paving your runway… sometimes you have to constantly advocate for this type of work. “This is what our customer really needs.” Easy to get hunkered in our individual life and environments… momentum and gravity contributes to how this is important work to be done. There’s a great online seminar by IDEO called “Internal Storytelling” (maybe this one?) → how do you really get people to buy in? It’s your job to make sure design has a seat at the table because it really has an effect on the bottom line

Are you constantly testing language as you go?

It’s a little bit different from a language perspective, but there’s constant research happening at UX level, market experience level, and brand level… we’ve create ux principles, and test how we’re doing based on the data we’re collecting, and use it to adjust and find opportunities to improve.

How has being a ghostwriter influenced your view on social media?

I think it’s the most millennial thing I’ve ever done and ever will do. It’s just characters, whether it’s yourself or celebrities, it’s people voguing with tweets and updates, made me not take the whole thing so seriously.

Curious how a Writer, UX researcher, and Product designer work together?

Product designers work “from concept to code”.... Work with a researcher to concept the problem you’re trying to solve. PDs also code front-end experiences. Work with a writer (product writer or brand writer) in your critiques + ad-hoc pairing to make decisions on words that will be in the interface. Writers also help thread marketing experiences in to the site experience.

How has your job evolved as Etsy Studio has evolved, and what will you be doing now that it’s launching?

I went from being a product designer in the trenches to having to force myself back into a younger version of myself and ask what is this big thing that I want to do, what is my vision, and force myself to be optimistic and let go of learned habits… you have more scale and impact, but maybe it’s a little bit more shallow than working on deep PD problems. I don’t know what’s next!

When you create style guide and voice and tone and all that, it reflects really well when you’re using the product, but how about when you take it offline? Social media? Interviews?

The goal is that it would be maintained and even more exaggerated at the top of the funnel (when a wide spread of public might be interacting with your brand). As you get closer to making a transaction, things get more instructional and functional so you can complete your goal. It’s not always that way but something we aspire to. We struggle with it, but Etsy Studio is a good example where we use the style guide and brand guidelines to create really good and tight social media posts. [How to measure?] Sales (GMS: Gross Merchandise Sales). Are we making sales? We’re measuring with our beta, and we have GMS goals to make it worth the company making the investment in it. You can also measure NPS (Net Promoter Score: “How likely are you to recommend this to a friend?”).

You said that research defines a lot of your voice and tone, how often do you do research?

Continuous, dedicated function of the design team. I work with 2 researchers, 1 writer, 1 art director, 4 product designers. Researcher tells us where we should be on the double diamond of the design process at any given point. It’s never over, it never ends.

[Nicole adds:] The more corporate you get, the more people will have a dedicated role in the process. Doesn’t mean you can’t participate as a visual designer, for example.