Making Products That Are Kinder Than Necessary: A Product Designer’s Career Path
Principal Product Designer Jake Ingman feels lucky that he’s been able to find a role that combines his passion for cybersecurity, design and engineering. Bringing Minnesota nice to a kinder than necessary culture that values design has allowed Ingman to infuse Duo products with empathy while defining his product design career path. If that’s the way you want to innovate, check out our open roles.
What unique opportunities exist for product designers working on Duo at Cisco?
Jake: Cisco and Duo have been very deliberate and intentional about building a path for product designers to remain individual contributors, this kind of quote unquote “IC track.”
"It takes a lot of respect for design and acknowledgement of the importance of design to build out that career path and put design as this equal partner all the way up within the organization.”
Leading without managing is another way to say it, and that’s not something that just happens automatically. It takes a lot of respect for design and acknowledgement of the importance of design to build out that career path and put design as this equal partner all the way up within the organization.
If you look at the organizational chart, you can see the value that the company puts on design. I feel really lucky to be in this position where I get to continue to be an individual contributor. I like being very close to the product and close to the design work and working directly with different teams. This company values the role that design plays in product development; designers are very well empowered here.
As Duo’s first principal product designer, what are your goals?
Jake: Part of my role is to be an advocate for design and user experience. So what does that mean? Well, a big part of that is understanding all of the tools and capabilities that we’re building here at Duo and in Cisco. Then, the goal is to figure out how to connect the dots across these projects to either improve the experience for our users or to improve their security in some way while also guarding their time and attention.
What brought you to Duo and Cisco Secure?
Jake: I had joined a startup that was co-founded by Sally Carson and about a year into my being there, Carson announced that she was going to go work for some company in Michigan called Duo. When Duo was acquired by Cisco, she worked up to being head of design at Cisco Secure.
So I spent about five more years at that startup and then when I was starting to look for a new role, Carson told me about this opportunity to work on a new product that Duo was building called passwordless. Then, I started talking to my now manager, Fraser Marshall, about what this project was about.
I couldn’t believe my luck that so much of my seemingly unique experience in design, engineering and security lined up so well with what this passwordless product was trying to achieve and what a lot of Duo’s core values are around designing and security. It was really the perfect fit.
[Editor’s note: to learn more about Ingman’s passion for design and how it intersects with cybersecurity, check out From Robots to Human Needs: How to Become a Cybersecurity Designer]
What distinguishes your experience on this team, at this company and doing this work compared to other work that you’ve done?
Jake: Cybersecurity is this really unique opportunity for design and for a designer. I really feel like it’s my job to do everything I can to genuinely improve someone’s quality of life. I know that the product that I’m working on is a requirement for them. It’s not something they asked for. I’m lucky to be able to use design to actually make someone's life a little bit better. It’s funny because a lot of the time, that means removing my product from their day-to-day life.
"It’s pretty rare that you get to work on something that the literal job of the product is to protect someone from a threat that they might be facing and not know about.”
That’s where a lot of the design happens, really, is designing some of these behind the scenes components in a way that removes this security burden from our users. It’s pretty rare that you get to work on something that the literal job of the product is to protect someone from a threat that they might be facing and not know about.
"I get to use the craft of design to protect someone’s time and attention and improve their quality of live because of that.”
I know that it’s quote unquote “just a security product,” or we’re just helping someone log in, but I really do feel like I get to use the craft of design to protect someone’s time and attention and improve their quality of life because of that.
Another thing that differentiates being at Cisco working on Duo is the scale of that impact. The little things that we do to improve the experience get multiplied millions and millions of times. There are literally tens of millions of people who are affected by the design decisions that we’re making here at Duo.
How does our company culture impact your work?
Jake: Everyone here is just very talented and impossibly kind. Of course, one of our core values as an organization is to be kinder than necessary. I remember hearing that when I was interviewing and researching Duo. Being from Minnesota, the whole Minnesota nice vibe, that’s important to me. That’s a real thing.
Being kinder than necessary, that sounds nice. Of course before working here you don’t really know if that's just a thing that the company says or if it’s something that they live. Now that I’ve been here for almost three years, it’s honestly true. We really are kinder than necessary, not only to each other, but we try to be kinder than necessary to the people that we serve.
Especially in this position of designing for Lee (our end user persona), I really feel like part of my job is to bring that kinder than necessary principle to the product design work that I do. How can we ease this particular burden on Lee? Or how can we make this part easier, or get them unstuck faster?
Security isn't something that has to be nice or is typically thought of as being kind, but I really feel like this kinder than necessary value is something that has made its way into the product. My job is to make sure that it continues to show up in the product.
How would you describe your team?
Jake: Everyone here just cares so much about each other, about the work that we’re doing, about the people that our product impacts and protects. If you look at a message thread, you wouldn’t necessarily know who is the engineer, who is the product manager and who is the product designer.
Everyone is very engaged in talking about all of these decisions that we have to make and trying to make the best change to the product or trying to find the most elegant way to solve the problem. You wouldn’t get that if people didn’t care.
"Everyone here just cares so much about each other, about the work that we’re doing, about the people that our product impacts and protects.”
Every conversation tends to take maybe three to five times longer than it would if people didn't care. The fact that so many people care and there’s so much attention and care paid to these decisions that we're making has a really big impact and influence on the product that we're making.
Learn more about a product designer’s career path
If you also care about carving your path as a product designer or someone who contributes to a kinder than necessary culture, check out our open positions.