Finding Inspiration as a Product Designer at Shutterstock

By BrainStation February 26, 2020

In this quickly developing tech landscape, it’s important to stay curious and always be learning. There’s no better way to be inspired than by following in the footsteps of industry leaders.

With that in mind, we spoke with Product Design Manager Rose Matsa on what it’s like to work at Shutterstock, and how she finds inspiration when designing new products.


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What are your main tasks as a Product Designer?

As a Product Design Manager at Shutterstock, I’ve transitioned from an individual contributor-focused role to a primarily managerial role. My main tasks are creating alignment with the teams I work with, defining product design strategy, and supporting my direct reports and the UX team.

That means there are a lot of meetings on my calendar these days, but I’m also finding ways to carve out time for strategic ideation, and to pore over the latest customer feedback, which fuels the aforementioned ideation.

What are some big projects you’ve worked on, or are currently working on at Shutterstock?

Last year I had the opportunity to bring to life one of my favorite projects I’ve ever worked on: a brand new homepage for our returning customers, with a focus on personalization. The project is ambitious in that it is attempting to change customers’ expectations of what a stock content website can offer them. Several rounds of user research led to the final design that we shipped, and I’m proud to say it’s a wholly user-centric experience.

The other big project I’m working on currently is consolidating our customer feedback in one single, searchable platform, to empower our teams to make strategic decisions with customer needs top of mind.

In addition to the above, I’ve also been facilitating a number of coding workshops for the Shutterstock UX team. The goal is to empower our Designers to build their own experiments, create more complex, real-world prototypes, and to foster more effective communication and collaboration between Designers and Developers. 

What advice do you have for keeping a product fresh and relevant? How do you decide what features to push forward?

Take the time to really listen to your customers. Conduct user research, and do it as often as you can. Eventually, you’ll start to see the patterns and common pain points, and you’ll understand them so deeply that the ideas you push forward are not only addressing those pain points but are also innovative. To truly be fresh and relevant, one piece of advice I always share with new Designers on the team is to spend more time analyzing and understanding the tech industry at large beyond just Shutterstock’s direct competitors.

screenshot of shutterstock personalized home page

What teams do you collaborate with to take a product from ideation to completion? 

On a daily basis, I collaborate with several of our product pods (made up of Product Managers, Designers, and Engineers), as well as my UX family within the company. Outside of those teams, I work closely with our Global Customer Care team, who has a direct line to our customers, as well as our data analytics, marketing, and content teams.

What role does user research play in product design at Shutterstock?

User research is a huge part of our product design efforts. We support all of our Designers in planning and conducting their own research. We’re constantly optimizing our research process to diversify when and how we talk to customers, and how we capture and share feedback in an impactful way. 

More recently, we’ve placed emphasis on bringing the customer feedback to project stakeholders in the form of soundbites and video highlight reels, so that it truly resonates and creates empathy. When you’ve got everyone on the same page, it’s much easier to agree on a way forward, and translate that into a user experience that actually gets shipped.

Have you had any mentors? If so, in what ways did they help you develop your career?

The people that have deeply inspired me have mostly been from outside the design industry. I had an Art History professor in college who I really looked up to, whose passion for life and art was infectious. She was in her sixties at the time, and, as an underwater archaeologist, she spent every summer diving in search of ancient shipwrecks in the Mediterranean Sea. I went out of my way after my first class with her to take her more advanced course on Greek art history and ended up becoming her in-class Greek translator. She taught me how to appreciate art. I think of her often.

During my first couple of years at Shutterstock, I had a colleague that I worked with closely who mentored me on how to give thoughtful feedback. I learned a lot from him and I believe I’m a more effective manager because of having worked with him.

picutre of noguchi working on art piece

Who are some creators or industry professionals that you’re inspired by?

I’m inspired by multidisciplinary Artists and Designers who have found ways to create without compromising on method, medium, and vision; especially those who have blurred the lines between applied and fine arts. I’m a jack-of-all-trades, generalist of sorts who wants to make many things in many forms, and I aspire to someday be able to do that without being limited by my professional circumstances. 

Design legends like Isamu Noguchi as well as Charles and Ray Eames are huge inspirations. Among contemporary Designers, a few that come to mind are Designer/Maker Andrew Neyer, Joseph Guerra and Sina Sohrab of Visibility Studio, and creative partnerships like the New York-based Egg Collective.

I’m also a huge admirer of Designer and writer Craig Mod. Craig’s views on technology as a self-described “skeptical technology optimist” align with, while often challenging, my own evolving feelings on technology and how it affects and shapes our lives.


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How does Shutterstock encourage new ideas and creative thinking in the workplace? 

The Product and UX teams regularly run design sprints to explore new ideas centered around important initiatives. The format is such that it allows breakthroughs in approach that are a few steps beyond just simple iteration. 

As a company, we also have twice-a-year hackathon events where cross-functional teams come together to build new and exciting things. Many of the projects that have come out of our hackathons have gone on to become part of the Shutterstock platform. For example, our “view in room” augmented reality feature for mobile which went into production shortly after being presented as a hackathon project.

Are there any unexpected everyday things that have inspired you while designing something new?

One of my favorite things to do when starting something new is sketching my ideas on paper before doing anything digitally. I find that the format helps me put things down quickly without thinking about any of the details too much. With that kind of ease and speed, an initial idea can turn into several offspring ideas in the span of a few minutes. This method, a kind of brainstorm conversation between myself and the paper, often leads me down unexpected, but always promising, paths.

What are your favorite resources to stay up-to-date with the latest trends in product design?

I’ve been a subscriber of the daily newsletter for years. It’s a good combination of industry-specific resources and inspiring miscellaneous content. I also really enjoy the Track Changes podcast by the folks at Postlight; the conversations are candid and insightful, and the guests are top notch. 

What’s an old design trend you wish would become popular again?

There isn’t one specific design trend that I wish to see return, but, in general, I’d like to see more diversity in user interface design. I was there when CSS Zen Garden became the destination for web design inspiration (how old does that make me?), and I was very inspired by it. By contrast, the web is looking very uniform these days, and even though that has come with benefits for users and product teams alike, it’s also stifling creativity in many ways. 

The tooling for building websites has gotten so complicated that we spend too much time figuring out how to improve loading times, and there’s nearly no time left for testing the waters with new and unexpected things. I’m not suggesting we should trade one for the other; I’m saying we need to shift the balance back toward creativity. To clarify even further, that doesn’t mean to cram more stuff, more animations, or more illustrations on a webpage, but rather to boldly consider taking away stuff, however one defines stuff in their own role. To be creative means to think differently, then apply that thinking in the interfaces we design.

hans wegner designing chair porotype

Do you have a favorite product, service, or experience that gives you design envy?

Well designed, timeless furniture will do that for me. Take almost any chair designed by Hans Wegner, for instance. On the digital side of things, I’ve been surprised by how quickly I’ve gotten accustomed to using Apple Pay when I’m out and about. It’s so quick and seamless. It’s amazing because multiple pieces of hardware and software have to learn to speak to each other for this particular interaction to work, and the Designers and Engineers at Apple have pulled it off really well, in my opinion.

What’s next for Shutterstock?

Shutterstock is a creative platform for high-quality assets, tools, and services meant for storytellers of all sizes, in all industries, all over the world. With our newly-appointed CEO, the strategic direction for the company will have a strong focus on driving performance and efficiency in the customer workflow to help them deliver impactful stories that capture and captivate their audiences in today’s increasingly content-driven world.

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