WWCode Talks Tech #9: Design and Dev: Partnering to Create Living Prototypes

Women Who Code
7 min readAug 8, 2022

Written by WWCode HQ

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Kate Thomas, Director of Mobile Technology at VF, and Purvi Patel, Director of Digital Experience and Design at VF share their talk “Design and Dev: Partnering to Create Living Prototypes.” They discuss the design and development process at VF and the importance of staying connected to the products to ensure they are evolving with technology and customer need.

Kate Thomas, Director of Mobile Technology at VF, and Purvi Patel, Director of Digital Experience and Design at VF share their talk “Design and Dev: Partnering to Create Living Prototypes.” They discuss the design and development process at VF and the importance of staying connected to the products to ensure they are evolving with technology and customer need.

KT: I started my technology career in the oil and gas industry where we were building mobile solutions for the men and women that were working out on the oil rigs. I moved into healthcare where I was focused on mobile products. I did a couple of years in IT strategy. I’m back doing what I love, building mobile solutions in the retail space here at VF.

PP: I’m a graphic designer, I’ve been with VF for almost 10 years. I started out working in innovation and strategy and then moved into a role to figure out how we accelerate our design and innovation pillar to become a more design-centric company. Currently, I work in digital technology. I’m focused on CX UX. I’m getting to blend my design and design thinking skills with solving user-centric problems. At VF, we’re evolving from a mobile-friendly strategy to a mobile-first strategy. Most people spend about four times more time on their mobile devices than they do on a desktop every day. In the US, we spend about as much time on our mobile as we do watching TV.

KT: There are some things that we know need to be true about our products to ensure success. Our solutions must have a purpose because it is a huge driver of engagement. It’s not revolutionary. It’s also important that we don’t confuse having a purpose with overloading our solutions with different capabilities. It can backfire if we try to put too many features into our solutions. We end up overwhelming not only the solution from a performance standpoint but also overwhelming our users.

Next is performance, because in our industry, performance can equate to the conversion of browsing into purchasing. Almost 70% of consumers say that page speed impacts their willingness to buy. Almost 22% of consumers said that they would completely close the tab or the app if they were having a poor user experience or if the performance wasn’t there. If that continues, we’re going to potentially lose the loyalty of these consumers as well.

Last is value. We have to evaluate and understand what our consumers perceive to be valuable. We used to equate value to things that were cost savings or time savings. Those may very well still be valuable, but the value is starting to show up by way of feeling. Value can be feeling like you belong, or giving someone a sense of community. Making sure that we understand what our consumers find to be valuable and building those things into our products, understanding it holistically, is critical.

PP: Before we begin any solution development at VF, it’s important to understand the why. Our first phase of why is explore. As we go through explore, we’re trying to build out customer or user journeys. We’re looking at all these touchpoints, like someone downloading an app and then using it all the way through, or if they’re just using something on their mobile, like the browser, what does that mean? What insights can we gather? Why are they using it? What are the problems that we can solve? Alternatively, what are your competitors doing? What are other people doing better?

We’re really going to explore and understand all the facets. We meet with our business partners and stakeholders to understand the goals and considerations that they’re looking to meet. What do they know that we may not know as we’re evolving the solution? What have they learned in the past from testing or talking with their specific consumers? Every consumer is different. Understanding nuances and developing for specific consumers come into play. No solution is one-size-fits-all. Design and test is where you start to explore the technical options. Understanding the constraints of balancing technical possibility with user excellence and user experience excellence will allow you to get to a place that feels realistic.

KT: We know why we’re building something and who we’re building it for. We want to start leaning into how we’re going to solution for it. We’re trying to hone in on what technology or what framework we may use. We start with a set of questions that maybe we already have some answers to. We work through them with ourselves, the engineers, the designers, the business stakeholders, and anyone who has a role in this process of creating.

The first question we ask is, What platforms do we need our solution to be available on? Do we need iOS or just Android? Maybe iOS and Android. Maybe we don’t need an app at all. How do we want to show up and get into the hands of our users? The second question is, what are the necessary capabilities? It’s important to note that not all capabilities are created equal. You may very well have the need to have capabilities that rely very heavily on performance. On the contrary, your capabilities could be dependent on the UI and the ability to hone in. manipulate, and manage the UI. Those aren’t necessarily the same, and oftentimes, different frameworks excel in delivering on different types of capabilities.

Last, what does your product funding look like? Not only what it takes to create it initially, but to nurture that product and keep it alive throughout its entire life. What type of resources do you already have in-house? What skill sets do you have access to versus what would you have to hire externally and therefore may be an incremental cost? What kind of budget do you have to work with to support this living and breathing solution?

Even though we are trying to lean into a specific technology, we typically approach questions from a technology agnostic standpoint. We also like to ask some of the same questions with a specific technology in mind. The hope is that we land on a general consensus around what framework we want to use. The second thing is, no matter what framework we end up choosing, we are committed to not only creating the solution but to continue evolving it so that we can continue to meet the changes and the consumer demands.

PP: This is where we’re bridging the why and the how. How are we going to develop this? At VF, we don’t do this in a vacuum. You are still involved during the development phase. We want to understand once you’ve gotten into the code, are there any problems that we’re seeing? We want to ensure that the interactions and the aesthetics are manifesting themselves as they should when they’re live. It’s important to recognize that 80% accuracy may still give you 100% results. You continue to evolve it to a place where it feels right from your side of what you promised on a delivery.

KT: How do we ensure that we continue to evolve our solutions? The first thing that we need to do is elevate our thinking from project thinking to product thinking. Projects, historically, have a start and an end date. We’re focused on the milestones along the way and the delivery of that initial solution. If we don’t continuously allocate resources and budget to that product, it’s going to fall flat. We treat these products as living and breathing prototypes and keep them alive throughout the entirety. There’s a tech piece of this as well. Tech companies create new devices, and new software, and sell companies. They create new services, and they partner together to offer us new capabilities. It is in our best interest to be able to react to those technology offerings, and better if we can actually foreshadow those new technology offerings. Once they are available, we have been able to see that they’re coming our way. We can utilize those new capabilities and offer them back to our consumers as well.

We must continue to support and enhance our products. The moment that we fall so in love with our products in their current state, we lose the ability to evolve them because we become so hyper-focused on what we have right now. We can’t see and predict changes in consumer behavior. We can’t see new technology offerings coming our way. We must be able to evolve our product to meet these things.



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