In 2014, LinkedIn was just wrapping up an incremental visual redesign of its entire desktop platform, but the experience was still severely fragmented. Our mobile and desktop teams were siloed, which created inconsistency across platforms. We frequently overlooked one of our most important and fastest growing user segments–millennials and career starters. Our patterns were stagnant, and members did not perceive us as modern. We lacked a consistent voice. Different products were built on different tech stacks, leveraging new and old technology. Product, engineering, and design teams were not thinking beyond their individual roadmaps and working as one.
Righting the ship was no small feat. We formed a tiger team of 3 designers, 1 engineer, and 2 researchers to inspire a different way of thinking about LinkedIn, starting with a younger, more mobile-savvy demographic.
I partnered with two other designers on this project, including Christine Wendling, who managed the team and informed strategy, and Jessica Clark, who lead explorations in natural language forms and managed our relationship with engineering. My primary responsibilities included profile and homepage explorations, and creation of our initial pattern library.
Ultimately, SHIFT was the beginning of a movement. We wanted to inspire the broader team–and the company–to create innovative, functional, and targeted experiences that felt consistent and cohesive regardless of platform, medium or codebase. Our small tiger team set out to:
First, at the time of our research, there were roughly 79 million millennials in the United States, comprising about 25% of the population. Beyond the numbers, millennials use social media at higher levels than all other generations, and they perceive technology as much more than simply platform for communication. Rather, technology provides a means to improve life, make more informed decisions, and contribute back to society.
Our hypothesis was twofold:
We created two persons that brought this demographic to life, and we leveraged them to inform and pressure test our concepts throughout the entire SHIFT process.
Grad student • San Francisco, CA
Job seeker • 1 position • 19 connections
"I'd want to brand myself as cool and social to friends, but professional, focused, and determined to bosses/colleagues."
Admissions counselor • Chicago, IL
Career starter • 1 position • 81 connections
"I don't know if there's a benefit now [to LinkedIn]. I'm hoping in two years there will be, after I build up my circles."
Early and often, we collected visual representations of products, brands, and ideas that inspired us creatively, resonated with our target audience, and struck a delicate balance between approachable and professional. We began to see themes emerge–clean typography, use of negative space, blurred imagery, full-bleed photographs, color blocking, and overlays–that would help inform our own visual explorations.
Build off of the simplification of the previous redesign. Streamline the experience with full-bleed images, intentional white space, and bold color blocks for a simple, rich, approachable–yet professional–experience.
Establish a design system where colors, icons, and spatial relationships remain consistent across platforms. Tailor layout and interactions to the device.
Create a platform where our members can express themselves fully and more authentically. Design for delight and, in turn, create an emotional connection between LinkedIn and our members.
Design layered experiences for browsing and consuming content in context for an app-like UI and a truly immersive user experience.
Engineer systems that adapt to user interactions over time, creating a more relevant and personal experience.
Proactively serve up valuable information users would not have otherwise thought to look for.
The homepage is the hub of LinkedIn, but historically, we've relied on chronology and network activity to deliver information to users. However in research, we heard over and over again that for the millennial audience, the feed needs to be professionally useful, meaning accurately targeted to their interests & objectives. So instead, what if we presented members with novel insights, content, and actions that tie together disparate information in new ways? Our hypothesis with homepage was that by showing members that LinkedIn is able to crisply distill timely trends that are relevant to their professional career, we would both deliver value upfront and hint at the possibility for members to seek out further insights on their own. In short, we could make LinkedIn do more work for the user.
Help our users connect the dots, plot their stories, and share. Promote personality and self-expression.
One obvious opportunity to infuse LinkedIn with greater emotion and self-expression is the profile. Here, millennials told us loud and clear that they view profiles for the same reasons as other members (to connect, see what people are up to, pre-meeting intelligence, etc.) but also to get inspiration for their own profile and broader career. A visual refresh alone is not enough to retain and engage them. Instead, we heard a strong desire for LinkedIn to help them communicate who they are and express a more dynamic personality.
We saw a huge opportunity to reinvent the static online resume and build a bigger, more complete picture of professional identity. We set out to showcase uniqueness using rich media and narrative, unified via a simple interface – one place to celebrate moments of appreciation, recognition, and realization; one place to capture the member's professional journey.
Leverage implicit and explicit signals to adapt the experience to each member, increasing engagement and delight the more they use LinkedIn.
In research, we discovered a huge opportunity for LinkedIn to do more heavy lifting, especially for our less-experienced members. We knew that whatever we created needed to increase engagement by constantly adapting to member intent, use behavioral data to gain better understanding over time, and provide easy, reproducible, and flexible tools to achieve goals.
One example of personalization brought to life is what we called Welcome Mat – task-oriented, natural language forms that ask members what they want to achieve and then reconfigure the system over time to help meet those goals. Rather than rely on implicit signals to inform relevance algorithms, we could collect explicit intent and help members more clearly understand the "why" behind what they see.
Inspire personal growth and self-improvement by providing the tools necessary to make progress toward specific goals.
We wanted to build new new artifacts in the LinkedIn ecosystem to help members achieve their professional goals–especially as they related to LinkedIn's mission to connect the world's professionals and create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce. For instance, industry pages highlighting relevant skills, jobs, and people could help members better understand their career trajectory–especially in times of transition or when just starting out–and help LinkedIn close the skills gap and connect members with the right jobs.
Encourage action by surfacing insights and information in relevant and contextual ways.
We wanted to evolve LinkedIn beyond a set of static webpages by creating more connective tissue to knit together a more engaging, interactive experience. Through greater use of rich, layered overlays and interactive drawers, we could present more relevant information in context, guide millennials on what to do next, and inspire more meaningful actions.
Through extensive exploration and iteration, we began to formalize a foundational pattern library that would ultimately inform LinkedIn's look and feel for the next two years and beyond. These initial patterns grew into a robust design system and code library that we continue to iterate on and evolve today.
Like most proof-of-concept projects, SHIFT was really about demonstration rather than execution. Our team was tasked with inspiring future iterations of the entire suite of LinkedIn products through shared design and experience principles, a consistent voice, and the beginnings of a new visual language. Once we articulated a clear strategy and achieved widespread momentum, our concept team was dissolved and individual product teams began the real work of executing against our vision.
2+ years later, our thinking continues to power design & business decisions related to future feature development for dozens of products, across all platforms.
Sometimes the stuff we design never sees the light of day, and that's OK. We knew from the start that most, if not all, of our work would never make it in front of members. SHIFT was about mobilizing a larger team around a shared vision and inspiring an entire company – shipping was never the goal.
Designing without limitations, as we did with SHIFT, is inspiring and challenging in its own ways. But it's also a bit of a headache to retrofit or reinvent everything to work around real constraints further along in the process. Embracing these early on keeps every design rooted in reality, ultimately resulting in stronger solutions – for your users and the business.