I’ve got the laptop on the left on the stand and I’ve got another monitor in the middle. I use this type of microphone; I got this as a gift. I’ve got this old camera mounted with a little ring light behind the screen. And then on the side, I have my sketchpad. And other than that, I’ve got a couple of German design books on typography. I don’t look at those very often, they’re under the laptop 😂 but it’s nice seeing them and having them around. And that’s my setup and always coffee. ☕️
For sure. So I’m Jannis, I’m a Design Manager at Atlassian. I was born in Germany. I grew up there, went to school, then went to university and studied in several different countries; I went to university in Australia and Switzerland, Canada, and Germany.
And after my degrees, I moved to Austin, where I now live with my family and our two dogs. When I’m not doing design manager stuff at the computer, I usually like to be outside, like taking walks, and going on hikes. Or on the lake in Austin.
We kayak in the summer cycling that sort of stuff, just like being outside and active. It’s a very flat River and we just like to go out with some coffee and just chill in the sun and the nice weather is a lot of kayaking in Austin.
I went to school for business and engineering. I didn’t grow up thinking I was going to be a designer, where I grew up, they were so-called real jobs. Like a lawyer or a doctor or an engineer or a business. And designer wasn’t a real job. So I went to school for business engineering thinking and that’s what I wanted to do. But then throughout my master’s degree, I met some friends who were studying design.
I had never heard of this and didn’t know that this was a real thing that people could do. But I learned about it and loved it and then did a design program in parallel to my master’s degree, and started to design stuff on my own. I eventually got an internship as a design researcher, because I’d done research before in my business studies, and I’ve done a lot of social research. So that felt most familiar. I have also always been interested in psychology.
So I started as a researcher at an agency, and did a lot of classic design, research, interviewing, card sorting, that sort of stuff. Then, I moved into a design strategy role which was a little more about taking the insights from the research and then creating business plans of roadmaps or a design strategy for five to 10 years. At some point, I became unhappy that I never really got to finish anything. I am restless for like never finishing because when you do research you have findings and you present them, but then a designer takes them into execution and builds them. And so I didn’t like that. I wanted to see it through. So I moved into product design. And then eventually, I really liked the people's work, so I moved into a management role.
So first of all, it’s really fun. We obviously use our products at Atlassian. And we use them to an extreme — I don’t know if any of our customers use our product as much as we do — because we use Confluence and Trello and JIRA all day, every day. So we use it and we test our products. And it’s fun because we get all the new features early. For example, teams will ship any feature internally. Even if it’s not good yet. It’s not perfect. But we get to try it out. We get to give feedback and we get to try out our work. It’s also exciting to see people push the limits of our products and use them really creatively. I had a chance to work on multiple products like Trello and Confluence and some others.
I got to see how people use Trello, but then some people use Trello in a completely different way that I didn’t even know you could use it that way. The best is when you come in with some expectations, and then the users just disregard all your assumptions and just make something else out of the tool. And it’s way better, those are some great moments.
The thing I love the most is the people I get to work with because there are some really super talented designers and product managers, engineers and marketers, and all these other folks at Atlassian that I get to work with. So every day when I come to work. There’s someone who has a great idea, and there’s someone who wants to do something and wants to push for something. And there’s someone who’s challenging me, like when I say oh, we should do this and they’re like, I don’t think so. I think there’s something better. So I love that.
But I also get to work with some wonderful humans who are fun and they’re interesting and they’re clever. They have depth and so that’s really rewarding to have these, this really good work relationship but then also get to make friends and like build relationships with people. I really liked the culture. I believe we have a pretty value-driven culture at Atlassian and that we’re pretty open and honest with ourselves. We all go through things and we try to be supportive of that and help people make time for life, and also that they can take care of their families.
With my team when they’re online, I try to help them to be present online 100%. But if they can’t be present right now, it’s totally okay to say I may take the day off right now because I got to pick up my kids from daycare. It doesn’t matter to me whether they work on it in the morning or whether they work in the evening if no one’s waiting on it at that moment. Seeing people as a whole human and then building a design culture with that in mind, both in helping them be most effective but also bringing their strengths out, something that I liked a lot about Atlassian.
At Atlassian, we have our own Atlassian values. And the big one to me is being an open company, and taking no bullshit. I think we have very open communication. I believe that makes us better, makes the culture better, makes us stronger, a tighter team, and makes it work better. And it’s an environment that I enjoy quite a bit. Then the third part is I think we’re building quality products that help teams do better. And that’s, that’s just fun to do.
And it’s rewarding to see people using them and their businesses thrive or their nonprofits evolve because of that.
We have big companies using it and that’s cool. But then in Austin, we’ve got this rescue dog organization, and they use Trello to organize, the dogs that they pick up off the street. And that’s cool to see that the tool could do that.
I’m one of the design managers at Confluence. Confluence is a pretty big product. I think our design team is about 35 people now. So we’ve got three design managers and I am one of them. And I support a number of designers across the web and mobile. The things we work on are the mobile apps, but then we also work on helping people discover content in Confluence. So when I log into Confluence, how do we make sure that someone sees things and finds things that are important to them that they should know about? Some things they are looking for and some things they didn’t know are important to them.
The other side is how we help people collaborate well in Confluence. Remote collaboration is really important, but how do we do that? So those are the themes that I helped my team work on. And my role specifically is split. One part is people management. This is essentially supporting the designers on my team, helping them grow, and making sure they can do the best work of their lives at Atlassian. And so really, this is one-on-one, conversations, making sure they have growth plans, they feel supported, they have guidance.
Also, just really small stuff like expenses or licenses for a software tool. That way, designers can do more work quicker and better. This is the people management, supporting them, making sure they’re set up.
And the other part is the strategy, quality, and impact of work. So making sure that from a design point of view, we’re doing the right things and we’re doing it right. Strategy is what things are we saying no to, and what is more important. Quality is how good the design work we’re shipping and then impact. And then impact: Even if we do really good design work, does it have an impact? Does it help people be more successful? Does it help them find value? Confluence?
What I try to do is I don’t want to be the blocker, so I try to help people run on their own and make decisions on their own. And I try to connect with people, too. Sometimes there’s a designer and they’ve got some great ideas, but they don’t see that there’s someone else who has already done this. So I just try to connect with them so they can learn from each other.
It depends on the design team, but most of our teams right now are at least partially remote. Most of our folks at Confluences are in the US, which makes it easier timezone-wise. What we do is try to mix, synchronous and asynchronous collaboration. So not everything has to be a meeting. Not everything has to be a brainstorming session. You can also collaborate on a Confluence page or in a Figma asynchronously.
We also try to make time for social activities, like just for fun and bonding with the team. So sometimes, we have a casual game. Sometimes it’s just an open session like, “Let’s just hang out and just be on Zoom!” Sometimes, you also just give people time back.
Sometimes the best way to build relationships is to help people disconnect from the work a little bit and come back energized.
We use Slack, we use fig jam, and we use Zoom. Slack is kind of our office right now while we’re remote to make sure that we practice similar etiquette as in the office. Like, when you go to the office in the morning, you would say hi to people, right? So in the morning on Slack, you can say hi to different folks and people would respond to you. I think it is really important. Slack is such a central tool for us, so I try to help people make those connections.
I have a couple of mentors. Some of them are officially my mentors like we’ve agreed on a mentorship relationship. And some of them are more informal. For example, I have a friend who I consider kind of a mentor because he just has some really good experience and I learn from him. And it’s not design-specific, but it can also just be life-specific. And then I applied to design.
I try to look for mentorship in areas where they have a lot of experience. They’re way ahead of me, but I would like to be where they are at some point. When I think about mentorship. Mentorship is a vague term, but what I always associated with it is like learning through the experience without having experienced it. I haven’t gone through the experience, but I can ask someone else about their experience with that. So it’s very individual. It’s very specific. It’s not coaching or it’s not teaching me, so as a mentor.
I don’t think you were accountable for someone else’s success. As a teacher, you are accountable for their success, or if you coach you are accountable. But as a mentor, I think it’s a lighter touch or sharing an inspiration piece. And so that’s what I try to get from my mentors, is one perspective, one piece of advice, and one piece of inspiration that changes my point of view and it opens up another door for me in my head. I’m like, “Oh, I hadn’t thought about it from that point of view.” “I haven’t thought about this other path they could also go on.” So that’s the way that I approached mentoring or being mentored.
For me, it’s mainly that I’ve had a lot of great mentors in my life, and they’ve helped me. So it’s a great way to pay it forward. And the other part that I love, is that ADPList is free. Because I feel like there are a lot of really smart, really talented, really hardworking designers out there. But they don’t have access to mentorship or people because they grew up in a city where there isn’t a community, or because they grew up in a social class where they don’t get to go to college. And ADP helps make that mentorship and design knowledge more accessible.
I think mentorship is specific. And I don’t think I hold a very super universal truth. That applies to everything, but I have some experiences that might be valuable to learn about for some people. So I try to just share that. I try to be a pretty honest and direct mentor. Sometimes, the most important thing for someone is to realize a blind spot and that can be uncomfortable, but I try to share that with folks nonetheless.
And also try to be always encouraging with a mentorship. Most people can do more than they think. So I try to figure out how I can help them tap into their confidence a little more?
It was probably the piece that I mentioned:
You can do more than you think.
You are probably selling yourself short and the way you talk to yourself is not what your best friend would talk about you. So try to cultivate a belief in yourself because you can do more than you think.
And the other part is to practice a learning mindset. Reach out to people to learn from them or get mentorship. This approach to comment start is what’s helped me a lot, and I think it’s generally a good attitude to life and design.
For example, I’ve mentored many folks who’ve never applied to a big company. So it’s intimidating, but it’s also something that you can get a lot of help and support with if you reach out.
So believe in yourself, but also never stop learning from others.
One impact that I would like to have is using a design just to make things more accessible. There’s a literal definition of accessibility, but also the broader definition of making design more accessible and inclusive. Many people have a ton of talent and have worked really hard. But, they are struggling to break into the design industry or the tech industry or see success because of systemic barriers. And the same accounts for the tools that we use and the systems that we build. I’m hoping that I can just do a little bit and help maybe break down some of those barriers in design and tech.
So it becomes more about who you are and what you can do. And less about where you come from or who you know. I would love to have that type of thing in that.