Inspiration > Design Process Interviews > Starting Small and Other Product Tips with Shay Howe

Starting Small and Other Product Tips with Shay Howe


For this interview we are joined by designer, developer, product marketer, and all-around awesome dude, Shay Howe. We discuss the company he co-founded, Lead Honestly and the process behind how it was created. He gives interesting insights into how to get started with your idea, tips on how to design with "no-fidelity", his wireframing process and more. Below is a summary of some of the things we covered in the video.

Lead Honestly allows managers to establish and create more meaningful relationships with their team members. It's a great tool for people managers who want to keep up-to-date with the pulse of each member, more easily and efficiently. It was born out of processes developed leading product and development teams at a startup.

The product started as a email from the Lead Honestly team

Will people pay for this?

"Our product on day one was, Will you pay $9/mo to have five questions emailed to you each week? That was it." "We stood up a landing page in a day,...connected it to Stripe,...posted it to Product Hunt...and had 10 people signup. So we had to get started, build an email list and get going. It slowly grew from there.

It now has all the automation. You can customize your questions, you can use the Playbooks, you can put surveys in there. The entire team / organization capabilities, there’s analytics behind it. It's got some super powers in it now that we’re far off from those days ago. The evolution was one of, what was that smallest nugget of a product we could build and then iterate our way through it." "For the first year I would send an email once a week...It was so painful! It was so time consuming, but it also opened up interactions to our customers. The email was from 'Shay', just reply and we can talk. "

An ‘Improving Performance’ Playbook

Customer Feedback

"My background is in design and product and I always try and stay as incredibly close to the customer as I can. I started to automate ways that that would work. The day after you sign up you're going to get an email from me that asks how’s it going. After your first meeting you're going to get an email from me that asks how’s it going. There are different triggers I am going to email you on...We find lots of ways to get that feedback and it drives what we build and how we change the product."

*When I started working on the new 'Add an Employee' process..I always try to go from low-fidelity to high-fidelity...but in this scenario I started in *No-Fidelity. It was literally all copy. I created a Google Doc and mapped out all the copy. I went to our customers and said, 'give me feedback, what do you think?' I hadn't put pencil to paper on any of it. I iterated on the copy to make it make more sense."

There is no design to this. The most design there was was bold words.

Shays example of No-Fidelity design

Once I had that in place, I knew enough of where I wanted to get started, so I started building a loose prototype. Having an engineering background, I jumped straight into that. Taking what the copy was and using our existing form fields on the site to build out a clickable prototype. Went back to the same customers and said, he's the copy in an interface, does it still work? I got great feedback and continued to iterate.

Honestly, that's not the process for everything I do. Its going to vary based on the problem I'm solving, how close I am to it, what it actually is.

The one thing that is core and really doesn’t change for me is that I always start with the words...even if its just the sketch on the page. I'm usually not doing scribbles to say this is the heading... and this is the subheading. No, what does it actually say? It's going to really influence the design. I'll put more effort there than... how something looks.

I'm not a great visual designer and I don't think that is inherently bad. Even if it looks great, if it doesn’t work, it doesn't solve the right problem, it doesn't matter how good it looks.

Once you get into moving elements of a page around, or starting to structure and think about it, your mind can be pulled off the end-user a little bit. I'm trying to make what's on the page easier... but do I even have the right things on the page to begin with? Is this what's helpful? I know if I didn't start with the words...there is so much I would've missed."

What advice can you offer people looking to learn design?

I think a lot of it depends on like what type of learner you are. I'm very kinesthetic. I learn by getting my hands on it. For myself it was always, how do I actually build things? How do I get that real experience? I used to just grab a website and redesign it, but even then I'm missing so much context. Again, going back to why. I don't understand why they made certain decisions. I just have a hypothesis of why it would be better.

One of the things I started doing in the first year or two was to find organizations that needed help but couldn't really afford it. The first website I ever got paid to build was for the ARC, the Association of Retarded Citizens, in my hometown. Its an amazing nonprofit and I built them a website entirely based in tables. It took me forever to do and it's impossible to maintain, but I got to spend time with their director, understanding who their customers were. How they were trying to drive donations. How they organized events. How they operated as a business and how we could start to bring that into their website. It was incredible because it took me a while to do, but I learned a lot. Then, that individual immediately turned me around and referred me to a food bank in the same town. And they were the same story.

For me, learning was getting that real experience and being able to stretch myself through it.


Well that is it! You can catch much more in the interview posted above. I hope you enjoyed learning from another talented product creator in our field. Please reach out to us if you have any questions and as always, Happy Designing.


Billy CarlsonBy Billy Carlson
Got questions or feedback? Email billy@balsamiq.com.