Primarily, DADA has been a social network for more than 160,000 artists from all over the world to communicate with one another through digital drawings, creating collaborative, visual narratives. A demo from the CEO (watch for one minute):
A pioneer in blockchain technology, DADA has built a foundation for artists and other stakeholders (collectors, licensors, etc) to functionally and provably sell, buy, own and authenticate the digital art created on the platform; mechanisms that adoption and scale would revolutionize and dramatically grow both the global art market and the quality of the artist worldview. DADA has the largest collection of digital art on the blockchain to date at over 110,000 unique assets and is in the early stages of building a functional marketplace around it.
Seeded by ConsenSys, DADA has appeared in Forbes, TechCrunch, Financial Times, HuffPost, Observer and other major art and blockchain media.
I was hired as a Product Lead to own the end-to-end redesign and development of DADA’s web and responsive mobile site. During this six month timeline, I managed a team of two designers, an internal team of four back-end developers and an outsourced team of one project manager and four front-end developers. I was particularly hands-on directing UX/UI design as well as bridging communication across all stakeholders through workflow design, task-tracking systems, documentation, presentations and other modes of knowledge transfer or iterative feedback loops.
DADA‘s existing product, in addition to being inherently esoteric, suffers from a disjointed and cumbersome user experience including low usability, confusing navigation, unsophisticated information hierarchy, dead-end user flows, nonsensical interactions and absent product education. Despite these challenges, DADA’s power users have cult-like engagement who go to great lengths to manage the frustrations of using the product. I was really energized to know them, to hear them, to see them — and ultimately to alleviate pain points and create meaningful, delightful moments that would strengthen the bond and value they experienced on DADA.
In blockchain’s nascent ecosystem, combined with the existing product’s challenges, we strategically decided that the main goal of this redesign was to bring DADA from -1 to 0, instead of -1 to 1. By that I mean DADA is a product by artists for artists and the former allowed us to focus on improving the experience for real users by orders of magnitude in relative quality. If we pursued the latter and launched new product lines for new user demographics that entirely evolved the value proposition from a safe, creative space for artists into a marketplace for buying and selling art, we would ultimately alienate the very people who have relied on DADA for years as a cathartic, creative panacea. Introducing artists to the idea of selling their work and educating them on how they could benefit from blockchain technology required patient, delicate disclosure, a deeply empathetic ear and really, really getting it right.
In addition to the above, our approach allowed us to:
- deepen the value proposition of the products our artists already loved
- test and optimize how the redesigned product could support business goals around artist acquisition and retention, user-generated content and blockchain education
- research collector demand and prototype divergent ideas for a marketplace that we’d be ready to start building after launching the redesign
User Empathy. I became a power user of DADA. In short, this included embodying the psychographic of a visual artist and immersing myself in the supportive, positive nature of DADA’s community: creating my own drawings every day, creating drawing-replies to other artist’s drawings (and receiving replies to mine!), exchanging comments or likes on the remarkable visual narratives these drawings evolved into and all the while personally connecting to the emotions experienced in each. This brought me face-to-face with the user:user and user:product microinteractions that, in aggregate, created a clear insight to form the core problem: the existing UX/UI is but a frustrating layer cloaked over a timeless expression of human connection that unifies all — the language of visual storytelling.
A heuristic evaluation resulted from my immersion as a power user. We then cross-referenced these findings with existing user’s feedback, validating both pain points and needs as well as learning new ones. Key issues were prominent around navigation, content discoverability and searchability, user flows and a gamified system core to the product’s experience that new users received no education for. It was all very obvious, but seeking out how all these moments made our artists intimately feel based on who they are and the role DADA plays in their life enriched our understanding of the nuances.
Our relationships with users were far from nameless and faceless; our team had intimate, personal connections with users from all over the world, often video chatting or meeting up in person to use DADA together. Through broader in-depth qualitative and quantitative research, from user interviews and usability testing to email surveys and synthesizing behavioral analytics, we de-risked our assumptions and laid an informed foundation to define product requirements.
Product Design. With the body of insight we now had around the attitudes and behaviors of artists using DADA, we had a clear understanding of who we were designing for and what in the product needed to be fixed. At this point in the process, I felt empowered to ideate experiences users would love without them knowing to ask for it.
My design team and I collaborated to create user personsas and stories to define product requirements: information architecture, sitemap, user flows and wireframes. From here, we moved into fleshing out high-fidelity mockups, branding elements, copy, micro-interactions and edge cases. Through ongoing weekly iterative feedback loops with power users and executive stakeholders across these steps, we presented, refined and finalized our designs to ensure we were solving at the nexus of business goals, technical implications and most importantly, user-centricity.
Product Development. I worked cross-functionally to create and keep comprehensive documentation for how the product developed in an effort to drive transparency, accountability and progress across the team.
- I worked with the CEO to create a 12-month product roadmap
- I introduced task-tracking and workflow systems between design <> development teams
- I introduced meeting structure with agendas/recaps and clear action items
- I facilitated knowledge transfer between front and backend teams to ensure API development accuracy based on use cases
- I QA’d development to ensure builds were meeting all criteria of product requirements
This was an amazing opportunity for me to lead a team holistically designing a product I really care about for a cause I really care about.
In hindsight, from a management perspective, this proved to be quite a challenge. As a first-time PM in a resource-poor startup leading a large team, I oversaw this process remotely across 11 teammates and three executive stakeholders in four international time zones with three language barriers (gasp!). Over-communicating served us in successfully task-tracking and being well-documented, transparent and aligned as a team. And I had a really rewarding experience working with my design team: (UI) a Princeton grad who runs a boutique web design studio and (UX) the newly appointed Product Design Lead at a leading international design services agency.
In reflecting on my contribution, it’s clear product design is baked into my instinctual operating system thanks to marrying a strong grasp of how people think, feel and make decisions with an engine of creativity, an analytical nature and empathy. And as a strong communicator, I can demonstrate ideas clearly in a team and visualize how a workflow impacts all involved. I’d like to continue improving my understanding of the product design and management process by working with a whip smart team, in a structured environment I can learn within, on a consumer product whose mission I deeply care about.
DADA is a seed-stage startup currently fundraising at a $10MM valuation and will launch the redesigned product when the round closes to support the anticipated growth. We were disheartened that DADA could not align fundraising with the launch for us to continue.
On a more personal note, I was really proud to support not only a company with female founders, but who are also LGBTQ+ and immigrants — a wildly underrepresented demographic in venture capital dollars deployed.
“It takes real courage and confidence to tell your CEO, who has been tightly managing the product for years, to be completely hands off the new redesign of her platform. But I knew Michael was very thoughtful and cared deeply about product so I trusted my baby to him. Not only did he lead the design team to develop a robust and beautiful redesign, down to the smallest detail, but his leadership also helped free my time so I could devote myself to pushing forward toward our big vision. Michael is thorough, focused and a pleasure to work with.”
— Beatriz, CEO DADA