Steve Johnson Hero

Editor’s Note: This is part of an ongoing Q&A series called the Inside Story where we sit down to learn more from the people behind the products at LinkedIn.

Q. As the leader of LinkedIn’s User Experience Design team, do you have a particular design mantra or philosophy?

A. My approach to design is always focused on aspiration. As a child, I grew up with practically nothing so I understand what it’s like to feel that your dreams are out of reach. I want the LinkedIn experience to make our members feel that they are taking a step closer to their goals and aspirations. When they are building something like their LinkedIn profile, I want people to feel proud of what they’ve created and empowered to make their dreams a reality.

From a larger team perspective, we have a very unique approach to team structure. Our web developers, researchers, voice team and designers all work together as one team, which enables a more seamless creation process. By ensuring that everybody is measured by the same core goals, there is less debate, and more efficiency.

Q. What do you look to for inspiration and how has it informed your recent designs?

A. I love cars and I’m constantly looking at their designs for inspiration. Dashboards, navigation interfaces and center consoles in particular, when done well, are all about simplicity. I want LinkedIn’s designs to have that similar sense of utility and sophistication. Now, in today’s digital age, we are used to being overloaded with information at every turn so some people automatically have a negative connotation with simple. Simple, however, does not mean sparse – it means sleek, useful, clean. I want members to feel that the site gives them an experience that is substantive, high-quality, and sophisticated, but, at the core, very simple and refreshingly straightforward. I want members to be pleasantly surprised with the ease of the experience.

Q. Do you have any words of wisdom for people who are currently studying user experience?

A. Aside from the obvious answer, like mastering the tools, I think it’s really important to understand how design and customer service are two sides of the same coin. I’m inspired by books like Be Our Guest: Perfecting the Art of Customer Service by Theodore B. Kinni, which underscores the importance of having an acute attention to detail and creating a user-centric experience. The book shares how the creators of the Disney Cruise Line look at every single, painstaking detail – from the height of the tables to the shape of the plates to the positioning of the chairs – all to create a magical experience. We call Disneyland the happiest place on earth and it is, by design.  I think people in user experience need to concentrate on the customer experience, not just the product.

Q. What is your favorite LinkedIn tip that you would like to share with members?

A. Don’t be afraid to show your personality. LinkedIn profiles aren’t like the printed resumes of old, you can bring your professional story to life. We are giving you the opportunity to share your career aspirations, showcase your unique character and what you bring to the culture of your company. Use the tools we provide, like the publishing platform and rich media, to add color to an otherwise stagnant profile on a page.

Q. What’s not on your LinkedIn profile?

A. I’m an avid musician and music is a very important part of my world. When I’m not in the office or with my family, you can find me playing the drums in my band BCC or throwing down a mix. I listen to everything. I mean that. My iPod has 80’s, Hip Hop, EDM, Alternative, Classical, Dubstep, you name it. Currently, I’m listening to downtempo trap music like “Whoops” by 12th Planet and Mayhem – it’s simple, easy to mix, and has a LA lounge vibe to it.