Photo: Johannes Romppanen

produktbezogen im Gespräch mit Chad Mazzola (Director Product Design, Klarna)

Mit „produktbezogen im Gespräch“ starten wir eine Interview-Reihe mit ausgewählten Produktmanagement und User Experience Experten. Den Anfang macht Chad Mazzola, den es von Boston nach Stockholm gezogen hat, um dort als Director Product Design ein Team aufzubauen und das Design von der nächsten Generation des Klarna Produktes zu gestalten. Wir freuen uns auf jeden Fall sehr, dass wir ihn für ein Interview gewinnen konnten. Anders als sonst bei produktbezogen ist das Interview auf Englisch, da eine Übersetzung dem Ganzen unserer Meinung nach nicht gut getan hätte.

First of all, please tell us a little bit about yourself.

Well, to go back to the beginning, there was one fateful weekend with a „Learn HTML in 24 hours“ book in high school that pretty dramatically altered what came next. I’ve been making things on the web ever since then.

I moved to Stockholm in April of last year to lead the product design team at Klarna. I had been working in the tech/startup scene in Boston for several years, mainly with early-stage startups.

Over the course of my career I’ve been a developer, product manager, and designer. It’s been important for me to integrate these different perspectives in my daily work. I’m also a voracious reader of psychology, philosophy, business, literature… pretty much everything.

How is it like to work at Klarna?

Klarna has historically been a sales and finance driven company, so there’s been a tremendous effort over the past few years to bring a product and design focus to the company. Given how crowded the payments space is, providing an exceptional user experience becomes a huge advantage. That’s what we’re aiming for.

Part of the attraction of joining the team here was the chance to live abroad, which has been a fantastic learning opportunity. While we are a Swedish company at heart, we also have an office in Tel Aviv and employees from across Europe and beyond.

As an American working at a Swedish company with an Israeli boss, I’ve had to learn the true value of communication. Being able to listen to people, understand their perspectives and concerns, and come to a shared understanding is essential for a healthy team.

And how does it feel to work in Stockholm? Is the StartUp/Technology Scene very different in comparison to Boston?

There is a strong and welcoming Startup/Tech scene in Stockholm. There is a good mix of large, established companies (Spotify, Klarna) and young companies with promising growth (Tictail).

I’ve definitely noticed a difference in the willingness for Swedish designers to strongly promote their skills and achievements compared to designers in the States. I’ve encountered this while recruiting quite a bit. I think there are a number of very talented designers who would benefit from building stronger online identities and sharing what they are doing more openly. Really, I want them to make it easier for me to hire them!

What are in your opinion the most important skills for a product designer?

Every designer is different and there are many different combinations of skills that any specific designer may have. Some are stronger visual designers, some are more code focused, while others are more business focused.

But I think two things are essential.

First, strong interaction design skills. I see interaction design as the fundamental grammar for building digital systems. Interaction design enables you to build living, breathing systems that enable greater human potential.

Second, a strong sense of why the thing you’re building is valuable, and how it fits into the world at large. I’ve been influenced by the „jobs-to-be-done“ framework, first introduced by Clayton Christensen. The question it asks is this: what job are people hiring your product to do and why? Without this understanding, you are building solutions in search of a problem.

What are the biggest challenges you as a product designer are facing in working in an agile and fast-moving company?

Communication, communication, communication. The reality on the ground changes so quickly that by the time everyone has learned about the latest changes, things have already changed again. The challenge companies face is how to thrive in the face of constant change; to execute on present opportunities while preparing for the next.

I think designers are uniquely positioned to help companies in this regard. Effective communication is part of our training and background. Rather than focusing on aesthetic improvements to existing ideas, designers need to bring to light new insights that will lead to more effective strategies.

Please tell us a little bit about your work – what does your typical work day look like?

I currently have two major projects that I’m involved with on a daily basis. For these, there are usually daily check-ins with product managers, engineers and designers. I am mainly concerned with removing any blockers for my designers and ensuring that the soundness of the design is maintained throughout the cycle from research, prototyping and implementation.

In previous positions, I was able to be very hands on with the product. I could be in the codebase implementing things I had designed. At Klarna, I’ve had to rely more on sketches, wireframes, and sessions in front of whiteboards. My goal is to communicate the design vision that can guide our designers when they sit down to work.

Otherwise, recruiting is the biggest commitment I have on a daily basis. It’s very easy to be pulled into email, meetings, and whatever else may arise on a day-to-day basis, but I try hard to commit to constantly meeting with potential hires, following up on leads from my network, and promoting what we’re doing with design at Klarna.

What or who inspires you?

I was lucky to meet Ori Succary, a Tel Aviv based designer, in the past year. Conversations with him helped me to feel much more deeply what it meant to be a designer.

The one-day event from the Helsinki Design Lab in June of last year was an amazing view into the nature of the problems that design can solve. It’s not just apps and computers, it’s people.

This internal memo from Stewart Butterfield is an incredible document of product vision and leadership.

And I’m currently deeply invested in True Detective, the new show from HBO. The writing and performances (especially from Matthew McConaughey) hit me right in the gut.

Do you have any tips for product designers interested in working at Klarna?

Be personal and direct when you talk to me. Don’t spend a lot of time on a cover letter. Instead, send me links to your portfolio, blog, GitHub account, Twitter account. Show me the communities you’re involved with, the projects you’re working on, the knowledge you’ve shared with others.

Don’t be afraid to show your personality. I’m building a team of people who enjoy working with each other, day after day, through success and failure. Ultimately, it’s not about whether you are the best designer in the world, it’s about whether you want to be.

Thanks for the interview, Chad. 

If you want to get in touch with Chad, here’s his personal website and you’d also follow him on Twitter.

(Photo: Johannes Romppanen)

Über Inken Petersen

Inken Petersen ist Gründerin & Design Partner beim Ubercreative Product Design Lab in Hamburg. Mit Lean UX-Training und Discovery Coaching hilft sie Teams schneller, kreativer und mit mehr Nutzerfokus gute Produkte zu entwickeln.