Inside VNN: Laurel Stanley, Senior User Experience Designer

Laurel Stanley designs for people. In her role as senior user experience designer at VNN, she creates digital solutions for the problems that face athletic directors with research, empathy, and reading between the lines.

As told to Romy Glazer

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I love building products from one end to the other. From the idea to the implementation. That’s pretty much why I’ve always been in interactive design. The chance to make experiences that are tailored to someone personally is something I really love.

 

My first job was in healthcare. Back in the dot-com boom of the 90’s. You know when you go into a website and log-in? That was me. Imagine the challenges there – privacy and HIPAA alone. You’ve got to make a different set of experiences for each of the various types of users. Employers, doctors, agents, patients, insurers. It’s important that you start understanding what kind of needs each group has and how to meet them. To me, technology is something that supports a realistic solution to a problem. When I make something, I need to know that it solves some kind of human issue.

 

I’ve never been able to create genius in my own head. In my experience, the best products come from researching, assuming nothing, listening, and talking to people. Observation is really important. The solution’s not always in what people say, but it’s also in what they do.

 

Our athletic directors are going a million miles an hour and are spread so thin. They’ve got to keep so many programs going and know what’s happening at every minute of the day. What we’re doing with our products now is creating a bridge between them and their communities, but I also want to make them better at their jobs. Listening and observing has taught me that there’s a huge opportunity for us to give our customers better insight into what’s going on in their day. Some kind of visual awareness would be a big deal, and you could tackle it from any level – sports, community, coaches – that would really make their lives easier.

 

The first thing is always the people. What are their expectations? What do they do daily? Starting there, I’ll then move into where we are now – what’s our business? Should we be building something to solve this problem, or that one? Get my head around the right solution. Then I dive into the broader market. Are there any similar solutions? Are people using something else? I look into everything, from the idea of the applications themselves at a high level, how they work, and down to how the buttons work. Only then do I really feel comfortable with starting to sketch what I think our product should look like.

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If I look at all the other products I’ve worked on, I think VNN is unique. The competition is something I didn’t experience in my other roles and it seems like there’s a lot of noise in our market right now. The healthcare industry was already so developed — I just needed to play a supporting role. My other positions at Spout.com and ArtPrize were about creating a strong local following from scratch without any other players. VNN is building a market for itself too, but in high school sports there are so many companies, so many players who are vying for space and attention, so many aspects of the business you could tackle, and so many things to manage in an athletic director’s day. I think our niche is bridging the gaps between the athletic department and their communities and making sure our customers have a space that is just their own. The VNN site is a space for a school to archive and manage all the experiences a community has with their teams. It still connects with all the other medias like Facebook and Twitter, but it allows the AD to make it their own.

 

So far, the hardest thing for me has been having a vision that might be beyond where the market is today. If you wanted me to plot out a map of where we’ll be in ten years, I could do it. But things change so fast in technology and sports. I’ve got to rein in my excitement for building a product in its entirety and concentrate on building things piece by piece to be sure we aren’t missing the mark. It doesn’t ever seem fast enough sometimes. We try things, learn, and then decide the next move to make. Creating a really perfect product right away is harder than it might seem.

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We’re lucky to give ADs the tools to leverage their community around athletic programs. Unlike a lot of the other products I’ve seen that concentrate on logistics like paying referees and managing fields, we’re focused on the human element. Our aim is to let you tap into the stuff that you love, build community, recognize every player, make the experience of sports awesome for everyone that signs up at your school, across all their networks. That’s the goal.

So far, I love that we’re creating the idea of universality in our products. If you’ve seen Pressbox and Alerts and our website, you’ll understand how they’re separate things. Little by little, I’m working toward bringing them together. A cohesive look and experience between everything goes a long way, but also leveraging content you put in one and having it appear in another makes our products more simple for people to use. I talk a lot about community building, but doing that’s also got to be easy and save time- otherwise, who’s going to use it?

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