project44 is how your favorite brands manage their global supply chains
I joined project44 in 2021 to lead their product design, product brand, and research teams. You’re no stranger to out of stock products and bare shelves at grocery stores. Lost packages and furniture that’s still back ordered from February of last year. project44 helps the world’s biggest brands manage their global supply chain.
project44 started as an API-only platform where user interfaces were an afterthought. project44 had always seen itself as API platform as a service.
As the customer base shifted from just logistics service providers and into major brands and retailers and as new board members joined to help project44 prep for its public offering, the demand for a world-class user interface became a clear priority.
Immediately after joining, project44 went through a massive corporate development cycle, acquiring six platforms. Some with user experiences and two teams with a formal design practice. We acquired companies that quickly pushed project44 from a local Chicago tech startup to a global distributed firm. With offices in San Francisco, Austin, Chicago, across Germany and Denmark, Paris and Lithuania, and as far reaching as Singapore.
project44's platform had both supply and demand side users, as well as end-mile products, touchpoints for truck drivers and gate house security guards, and a jarring number of personas and sheer mass of features. To help me get up to speed, I organized a series of field research sprints with our amazing product managers to meet with customers, understand where our platform were leveraged in the real world, and meet our global team.
I returned to HQ with a clear set of personas, a clear set of platform needs, and an ability to start to build a global team to tackle this challenge.
When I joined project44, there were four design practices that needed to be stood up:
Within product design, there were four core sections to our platform:
Each team consisted of a design director that managed a staff of individual contributors. Each director was paired to their corresponding product management leader. All teams were supported by both the design systems and user research teams.
To unify the capabilities and build a new platform to serve our customers, we couldn't rely on green designers who needed any level of hand holding. Supply chain is a complex industry, so teaching new-to-the-industry designers would be a challenge. I had to make the case to invest heavily into senior design talent and staff to ensure that we could trust each designer with significant ownership. Taking a company from zero to twenty five in a short period was a significant sea change to the way we built and invested in product design.
I made the decision to hire top-down, placing a director at each core product section first, as well as one for design systems and brand. Each of them would be heavily involved in hiring the individual contributors to their team.
We also onboarded designs systems focused engineers and a dedicated product designer to start work on a new design system to power the unified platform.
At the same time, we needed dedicated support for user research. Rather than hire a dedicated researcher out the gate, I chose to first hire a Research Operations Manager. This individual would be a catalyst to senior design staff who could be trusted to run research, by offloading researching recruitment, logistics, field research trip planning, note taking, and rallying the customer-facing teams (customer success, go-to-market, etc) on the value of research.
This strategy was unusual for project44, but was wildly successful for a few key reasons:
There is a high likelihood that you yourself haven't heard of project44. Even Kai Ryssdal, the host of NPR's Marketplace, was surprised to see project44 raise significant capital
Product designers, creatives, and design leaders alike generally target companies that can provide them with strong compensation, strong brand recognition that they can leverage in future career searches, and a mission they can believe in. project44, unfortunately unlikely to fulfill this ideal state well.
Instead I needed to lean into our ability to communicate the mission and the ability for designers to grow quickly in their careers. While the brand team was hard at work building a new marketing site and brand design, we needed to be able to communicate the unique design challenges and not let the old project44 brand and website be a turnoff for designers.
So, we built a design hiring microsite in Webflow to court designers and explain how we were valuing design.
To ensure that when we found qualified candidates, we would be highly like to convert them to full time hires, I built a hiring methodology and workflow that provided high levels of objectivity and transparency.
I acted as the in-house full time recruiter. Working to hire strong senior design talent, and then eventually helping them become strong hiring managers. I also found and vetted external recruiters to assist in sourcing top talent.
This design hiring process would provide candidates and interviews with clear kits, standardized questions, rubrics for grading, and paired job leveling to my design performance management framework.
When you're hiring designers, we aren't testing for their ability to nail a question on the fly. We want them to be able to show their work in the best light possible. So, we provided clear guides to the questions, what we think makes for a successful presentation, and provide them information on who their interviewers will be.
Each candidate was also offered a trip to Chicago for their final on site interview, and we crafted an on site experience that ensured no candidate had to outlay any funds for travel, and we could leverage the best of the windy city to help seal the deal.
Our design team spanned across a half-dozen time zones — with designers in San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Mexico City, and Amsterdam.
With nearly every team member new to project44, it was important that we built a strong design culture and build strong collaborative ties even when most of us are on Zoom.
Firstly, we crafted a two week onboarding course that ensured designers knew the ins-and-outs of the supply chain industry and the products we are designing. Most of the team was able to do those onboarding classes in person with our learning & development team, as well as myself in Chicago.
Additionally, we built specific design rituals that ensured our team had consistent and solid touchpoints. Here's what worked for us:
This wasn't an easy feat, but ultimately helped us accomplish some of the most challenging product design work of my career. And I couldn't be prouder of the work the team accomplished.
Over the course of my first year and a half, I scaled the design department from two to twenty five to introduced a new, unified platform experience— all backed by a distinctive new product brand.
It started with a monumental task for our team: Combine the capabilities of a half-dozen acquisitions and properties to help save the supply chains of the world's biggest brands. This September we launched Movement by project44, which unifies all of project44’s capabilities into a brand new platform and user experience.
The new Movement platform features a novel experience, known as the Workspace. This patent pending design allows users to investigate supply chain challenges in a data-dense, collaborative space that combines order and shipment information together. This infinite horizontal canvas gives customers the ability to cross-reference logistics details between orders, shipments, invoices, inventory items, and more. Users can reference complex route maps for large orders and then dig into which specific shipments may be running behind and delay delivery in full.
Powering the shift to Movement is a new design system known as Manifest. This system allowed us to move quickly to unify experiences, and introduce a new, consistent user interface across the Movement platform.
Alongside the design of this platform, I led the creation of a new product brand for Movement. In a stodgy logistics industry, the introduction of a disruptive, tech-forward brand differentiated us further as the clear industry leader.
Movement — named after the core of what the platform orchestrated — utilized a glass cube metaphor throughout all brand touchpoints. Stock photography of physical transportation assets (boats, trucks, trains, planes) and editorial photos of congested ports had become oversaturated in the market. We wanted to introduce a series of brand elements that would stand apart from the images the industry (and world) are used to see alongside supply chain products and news.
Movement represented a paradigm shift and a whole new to see your supply chain, for every party involved. From truck drivers to demand planners. This glass cube metaphor extended our interaction paradigms. We weren't a single pane of glass, but rather an adaptive interface for our multi-sided marketplace. Movement, as a platform, had depth. The glass cube represented how each persona to see the data that mattered to them and customize the platform experience to serve their needs.
The product brand extended to microsites, in-person trade show events, as well as within the platform experience as well.
Movement was named the Gartner Magic Quadrant leader; placed highest on "Ability execute" and furthest on "completeness of vision" in its first year. This was a monumental success and proved how a design-driven process could unify project44's acquisitions and realize outsized value for all customers and platform users.