Case study
Vision Quest
ebay | 2013

It was the middle of winter when eBay's VP of Mobile pulled together a cross-functional group of seven, and sent us away to a remote lodge in Washington for a week.

When we returned, we set a new direction for the whole company.

Team Leadership
Executive Presentation
Product ManagemenT
Project management
UX / UI Design
User Research


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In 2014, eBay had four mobile apps, each with its own distinct structure, interface, and set of features.

The apps were getting stale. New user growth and existing customer engagement were beginning to flatten, and competition was picking up in the mobile shopping space.

We needed to leapfrog our current mobile experience, but at our size and scale, innovation seemed impossible.

Facing pressure from senior executives, the VP of Mobile Product pulled together a cross-functional group of seven. We were 2 Product Managers, 2 UX Designers and 3 iOS Engineers. He booked us a suite at Skamania Lodge for 1 week.

The mission

At the end of our week-long session, we were to have a working prototype to present to eBay leadership. Success means a mobile-first reimagining of the eBay experience, and meeting a few OKRs:

• Increasing omni-channel engagement
• Reducing friction in key conversion paths
• Incorporating the 2015 roadmap
• Aligning all platforms around a consistent design

We jokingly called the initiative "Vision Quest." As the project grew, it kept that name internally.

The Hive mind

We all had a million ideas, but they needed to be focused to be effective.  We created solutions to the pain points we saw in the apps, and also spitballed features and functions we've always wanted to build.

As we talked, I mapped each idea to one of our goals.

Working session

To kick start our first full working day, the Product Managers and Designers gathered around the table to craft a new product structure as the Engineers went digging into service capabilities, hacking at some of our wild ideas.

I clustered our previous night's list of ideas into themes we could all agree upon in a post-it exercise.

We debated and decided on things quickly. The pressure of time was always looming.

Deconstruct : Reconstruct

We approached the project through the lens of a brand new user, while being sensitive to our existing 160 million active user population.

Pretending that 20+ years of eBay feature creep didn't exist, and, using only core experiences as building blocks, we reconstructed the product from scratch.

Some of the wireframes from the Skamania Lodge sessions.

In the nick of time

Late night working sessions ensued. Engineers engulfed the living room as product and design collaboratively wireframed the new experience around the kitchen table, projecting our workstation onto a pop-up screen.

By the end of the week we'd put together an impressive working prototype combining working code and static designs.

Side note:

I realize how old school it is to send 7 white dudes off to 'go figure it out' for everyone. It was 2013, and this is a tale of those times. If we did it again today, I'd hope we were a more diverse group brilliant minded makers.


Executive sponsorship

The Vision Quest team returned to the office the next week. I built a presentation demonstrating the problem and emphasized what's possible with the new direction. We presented first to our local teams for feedback and consensus, to validate internally, and prep for the executive presentation.

A few weeks later we presented the deck and prototype to our executive team. At one point one of the executives yelled:
"Yes! This is how we make an  app!"

We were in business, now we needed to operationalize.

Since a mobile redesign stretches across all customer-facing domains, we needed a broad collaboration effort. We invited the entire extended design team as well as key players in the product org to collaborate. Below are just a few of the dozens of navigation  iterations we explored in the discovery phase.

Iterations, collaboration

By this point we had dozens of people collaborating on the project. I was leading offsite working sessions in San Fransisco and Portland, serving as a PM, writing requirements, and doing UX design.

Uniting so many people around a common vision at this scale was a tremendous challenge, and set the stage for my career in UX Strategy.

A new app

Here's one of the late concepts we presented during the discovery phase. It was a radical new direction for eBay, moving the company into a more curated, intentional space, with hand-selected collections, editorial content, and imagery designed to attract enthusiasts and casual shoppers alike.


Returning the keys to the corvette

Around this time, eBay hired its first CPO and Creative Director, who quickly gobbled the project up.

The Vision Quest team continued leading the troops on the ground and maintained key stakeholder status, but we lost autonomy as every decision made its way up and through the chain of command. It seemed that all of our passion and expertise could be undone with one sentence from our new leadership team.

I moved into a Product Design role for the Home & Engagement team out of New York. The new mobile product released in 2015, and it was a far cry from our original vision.

Global user testing

International testing

Besides all the brilliant minds I was able to interact with daily, one of the things I miss the most about working at eBay is that the decisions we made everyday affected millions of people around the globe.

As a lead on the redesign, I was able to help craft our global user testing strategy. A small team of 5 travelled to Europe to run a multi-country user test on the new app. It was fascinating to see the variation of effects that small details had on users from different countries.

Key takeaway

The value of user research

As we continued iterating on the app, it began going in a direction we were very conflicted about. We knew what our users needed, but our new leaders wanted something different.

When the app released, a very vocal portion of the user base was unhappy. If we could have taken the time to step back and validate some of those decisions as they were being debated, perhaps we could have swayed leadership to move in a different direction. Hard to say for sure, but now I know the signs to look for when we're veering off track, and the importance of validating your work with your users.

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