Design Leader Insights - Glen Lipka on Career Growth, Education, and Building Better Products

February 27, 2024


Alex Smith: Design Leader Insights is brought to you by Fuego UX, a UX research strategy and design consultancy. Hey Glen, thanks so much for joining the show today. 

Glen Lipka: Thanks for having me. 

Alex Smith:  Yeah, for sure. And to get started, can you give the audience a bit of insight in your journey in ux? 

Glen Lipka: Sure. I'm Glen Lipka. I'm the VP of Product Design and Framework Engineering at CrowdStrike. They're a cybersecurity company. I've been building products since 1995. Did a lot of firsts. Using every technology, one of the first SAS softwares, I had moved to the Bay Area after 911 from New York City and I had joined a company named Marketo as the first employee. I designed and built that entire system and was there for 10 years and went through going public. Been a part of several different kinds of companies and teams before joining CrowdStrike this year. Also I blog frequently at and I do a lot of mentoring, most recently with ADPList. And a lot of coaching for people to try to help designers be the best they can be 

Alex Smith:  Nice. I love that. And thanks for the background. I think one of the things we spoke about, which probably spurs a lot of the mentoring you do, is the state of design education today. And I definitely want to dive into that. 

Glen Lipka: For ADP Lists, the majority of people I meet, especially for the first time, they're right out of school, or they're transitioning from one career to another. And they want to know, how can I get into design? Because these are people who think of themselves as problem solvers, and they're creative. And so design seems like a good thing to do. Unfortunately, I believe that colleges, specifically HCI programs, and also boot camps are not teaching people how to do the job. They're not giving them the foundation that they need to succeed. Just some examples. They're teaching them mostly mobile design or website design. They're not teaching them B2B product design. Whereas I believe more jobs are available in product design, more career growth, more money, more stability. And they're just not teaching that at all. I think they're teaching students how to be almost researchers as opposed to designers. I think a lot of designers sometimes get all wrapped up in the aesthetics, you know, what does it look like? As opposed to how is it modeled? How do we make this strategic for the business? I don't even think about the business. I think that they're not coming out knowing how to make their website. They're not coming out knowing how to do a job interview. They're not coming out even knowing just basic, work life balance of like, how many hours should I work? How much money should I ask for? So I feel like we're doing a real disservice to these young people and not setting them up for success. I feel like now we have more infrastructure, we have more ability to make this career more substantive, but we're not taking those next steps. One of the things, so when I talk to a junior designer, I usually tell them there's three things that you need to do to get that first job. You need to be a good designer, you need to have a good website, and you need to do well in interviews. ADP List is actually really great for mock interviews. You can just practice interviewing and you'll get better at it. For being a good designer, I usually recommend reading About Face by Alan Cooper. I think it's a very dense book, it is a serious book for serious designers in terms of having that good website. I actually find like one of the most fundamental things that designers should be doing and no one does this is put session recording on their website. So if you have a website out there and you're hoping that somebody sees it and wants to talk to you, if you don't have something like HotJar, FullStory, and keep in mind, these are free. These are absolutely free tools. And I just feel like this is something that the education system should be teaching people, is how to differentiate yourself, how to tell a story. So many of these Junior designers, I feel like they're being, they're starting in a hole. That the education system is not even starting them neutral, that they're starting in a hole of like, here's a bunch of bad habits and bad ideas. So all of that adds up to me is something I'm very passionate about, which is improving the education for young designers. Mentoring more for young designers and starting to hopefully influence our educational system that it needs to teach them how to be power users of Figma and how to actually do the job and how to work with engineering and do business apps, not just mobile apps.

Alex Smith:  Glenn, we also spoke about something that kind of blew my mind. We were talking about design fundamentals, and I'd like to go into what you mean by that. And you gave two examples, and I think it was Excel and Salesforce. 

Glen Lipka: Sure. A lot of times design is talking about the way something looks and Steve Jobs actually for all of his flaws, he did a lot of things right. And one of them was saying design is not the way it looks. Design is how it works. And the first example is Salesforce. It's not a particularly good experience to use. There's all these horizontal tabs there's way too many sections and icons but the modeling which was actually invented by Intuit QuickBase of like make your own database and the modeling of well let's apply that make your own database and we'll start them off with objects that make sense like for a CRM and all that came from their Benioff's experience at Siebel. And by modeling this in that you can make your own database way, it completely changed the extensibility of the system. You didn't need millions of dollars and professional services. And you know, PricewaterhouseCoopers coming in with million dollar deals to implement different changes to the software, you can just go click a button saying, I want another field. And I want to change this field and I want another object. You can just click on stuff and make that happen to me. That is why Salesforce succeeded. That is what led to app exchange because you had a predictable extensibility model, and that created probably the world's greatest business moat that protects them from the competition. How can you switch to NetSuite when all of your apps, all of your extensibility is already baked in. On a maybe a more consumer style product is the spreadsheet. So the spreadsheet to me. If you were to explain it to another designer who had never seen a spreadsheet before, they would look at you like you're crazy. Like, there's, okay, there's going to be columns, columns will have letters, and there's going to be rows, rows are going to have numbers. So if I go to any particular one, it'll be, you know, X 75, and that's a cell. So I'm going to have a formula in that cell, and the formula will be way up here, but it won't even be close to the cell. And it will refer to other cells, and it'll use parentheses and all sorts of crazy formulas. And, the designer might say, whoa, whoa, whoa, slow down. Who is this for? What's this product? Who's it for? And my answer is it's for everybody, everybody. It's for children and grandmothers, and it's for nuclear physicists and statisticians and accountants, project managers. It's for everything. It's for house moms. It doesn't matter. And we're like, well, what's the use case? You know, what do you do with this software? What's the use case? It's every use case. It's everything. You want to make a shopping list, you want to do project management, you want to do quantitative analysis of hedge funds, you want to do a list of who works where and turn that into a map of where everybody lives. It does everything for everyone. A designer should look at that and say, that's impossible. This thing will never succeed. And you're just crazy. Products are supposed to be targeted, and they only do one thing. The people who use spreadsheets. They love it. And you don't really need to be taught that much about it. And to me, that is probably the world's greatest designed software ever. That it's creative. It is open ended. It creates a platform, not just a straightforward use case. It really opens the door to the user being creative and coming up with different ways to use it. I think there should be much more of that in the world. I actually think that Salesforce is an example of that because it was open ended, you could do more things with it. You can do support clouds and you can do, you know, other exciting things with it. And this is the kind of thing that I want designers today to take a lesson from. You don't make amazing designs by just asking people what they want or saying, do you prefer this or that? You have to really think about it as a system, as a system in flow, where it needs things you could do in the beginning that are easy. And as you get more sophisticated, there's more and more sophisticated things that you can do. And it keeps revealing itself of more capabilities, the more that you use it. And I want designers to realize you can drive vision in a company. You can say what the next version of the world would be like. You can show how your value can be quadrupled or 10x  if you were to model things in a different way. 

Alex Smith:  I think many designers now with products, you know, a lot of design teams are reporting the product would say, hey, product on strategy. They own the business strategy. How can we, how can we do that Glenn? 

Glen Lipka: The designer superpower is that we can imagine a better future better than anyone else. That our imaginations, and even to take it further, we can draw a picture of it, that the ability to draw a picture of a better future is an incredible superpower. The ability to persuade requires having a vision and product management, product management, there's different kinds of product management teams out there, different kinds of PMs. Some of them are thinking, I just need to check all these boxes, everything that sales tells me that's like a box I need to check, but it's, it's up to us to say, but the experience could be different and here's how. In terms of Salesforce, their model of extensibility, it's a database, you know, like it's a QuickBased-style system, but they had all of the objects set up for a CRM, a classic CRM, or at the time Salesforce automation application. It didn't matter what the UI looked like. That modeling was wildly better than doing it in Siebel. It was wildly better than doing it in Oracle CRM. It was, it was a miracle. It doesn't matter how hard it was. It didn't matter how ugly it was. It was the ability to do that. That it was metadata driven relational database with a UI that you can change. That was it. And I would say that that is something that anyone ultimately can say that's the vision. But that was the key thing that made them special and different. And that they've been trying to fix their UI ever since, and not been successful necessarily at doing that. But the UX is more than just individual use cases and what you click on. It's the model of the whole thing. And that's where I want designers to think bigger than just some modals equal a use case.

Alex Smith:  Yeah, Glenn absolutely love it. Thank you so much for sharing these insights today.

Glen Lipka: It's my pleasure. Thanks for having me.