“In a world overwhelmed with information, how do you develop a mobile product without adding to the noise? That helps people filter and save the information that’s meaningful to them, in a way that’s as effortless as thinking?” – Nate Fortin
For years, Evernote has been at the forefront of helping millions of users organize their information, whether its recipes, meeting notes, or scientific formulas. Among those leading the charge is VP of Design Nate Fortin. Apart from being an inspiring leader, Nate is also a judge of the 2018 Mobile User Experience Awards (MUX ’18) along with Appsee‘s CEO, Zahi Boussiba. We had the pleasure of chatting with Nate to learn about Evernote’s challenges and how to build with purpose.
Hi Nate! Can you start by telling us a little about your role at Evernote?
Nate: As the Vice President of Design at Evernote, there are a few components to my role. It starts with communicating a vision and a strategy to the team and making sure that everybody understands not just what it is, but the why behind it. In addition, I ensure that we have the right team and that we are set up for success. I’m also involved in helping solve some of the hardest problems that we’re facing and at the end of the day just staying engaged in the larger conversations.
Looking back on your career, is there a problem that lead you to where you are today?
Nate: Early in my career I had the opportunity to work on a mobile device that would be used as a guide in a museum experience. For a pretty large museum you can imagine the problem they were having — how do you augment and enhance the experience without detracting or getting in the way of people’s interaction with the art? The heart of it was really about spending time with people and observing these interactions in context.
What are the challenges of designing for Evernote?
Nate: Mobile devices offer so much opportunity to people, because you are basically carrying a supercomputer around in your pocket that puts you in touch with all the information in your life, literally at your fingertips. However, we’ve really contributed to this problem of exceeding our ability to manage the volume and velocity of that information. Nobody feels organized, nobody feels they are on top of it, nobody feels like they are being successful. We’re all experiencing an information overload that we’re not really designed to cope with. I think the problem for us and for design is… how do you solve for this problem without adding to it.
I think it starts with a deep understanding of people, their goals, the situations and context they find themselves in. At Evernote, we make research with our users a fundamental part of our practice design. Every single week we have users in the office, or on a remote call where we are showing them ideas and experiments to understand what happens when we put these products into the real world. We want to learn whether we are solving a problem, or adding to it.
Can you share about a time when solving a problem led to a painful compromise?
Nate: If I go back to the redesign of our IOS application, we originally decided to include a dashboard that puts all the power of Evernote on the front screen, so that you could move around the system very efficiently. But it made it more difficult to capture ideas at the speed at which you thought of them.
So we made a really tough choice and brought the most recent notes, and the ability to create a note, front and center. I think that was the right choice as it has really driven the ability for people to capture information effortlessly.
What’s your approach for designing experiences across web and mobile?
Nate: We actually have five platforms! Two native desktop platforms, the web and then two mobile devices. One of the ways that we design for our product is to think not about an iOS experience in isolation, or about a mac or web experience. When we’re designing something for the desktop, we think about the mobile experience at the same time. We also try to get our designs off of screens and onto boards, so people can stand around and have conversations about the full range of experience.
At the end of the day, we’re trying to develop a cohesive experience because that is how our users experience the product. In the morning I might be on my home PC capturing information. Then I’ll jump on a train and pull out my mobile device to pick up where I left off. Then I get to work and jump on my laptop. I want that to be a seamless experience.
Any closing thoughts?
Nate: I’m really excited about the opportunity that mobile experiences have to offer in solving the problem of information overload; the idea of having access to all of your information is super powerful.
I think the real solution is going to come from the device and the system doing more work for you. Computers, machine learning, artificial intelligence — those are all going to be in service of getting to the place where we can actually start to tame this problem.
In many ways, mobile has introduced this to people.