5 lessons learned during my time as a product designer at Etsy

See how a multiple-million dollar business thinks about making small changes to drive significant impact
Written by
Published on
April 3, 2024

Throughout my years in the tech industry, I've assumed various roles, each with its unique set of responsibilities and types of work.

During my tenure, I had the privilege of contributing to the Etsy Product Design team, collaborating across diverse segments of the business. This experience allowed me to understand their operational dynamics, focus on specific metrics, and strategies for marketplace growth while supporting both facets of the business.

Small Changes, Significant Impact

At scale, even seemingly minor adjustments can dramatically increase revenue—sometimes by millions of dollars annually. For instance, over six months, we experimented with text placement, color schemes, and element sizing. These changes ultimately boosted revenue by $50 million.

Detail-Oriented Approach

In user testing for future design concepts, Etsy adhered strictly to realism to garner accurate feedback. Investing hours into prototypes prevented false positives, underscoring the importance of attention to detail.

Recognizing Limits

There's a notable disparity between what users say and what they do. Despite negative feedback on a specific recommendation section, eliminating it always reduced conversion rates. It was crucial to know when to cease efforts on a non-productive initiative to use time effectively.

Embracing Risks

Caution often impedes significant progress. While Etsy typically made conservative changes to its site, we discovered that bolder updates had a more substantial effect.

Business Impact Focus

Regardless of a feature's innovation or design excellence, if it doesn't positively affect the business, it's challenging to justify its priority. The bottom line is essential: no impact on business metrics means no implementation.

Applying these lessons as an indie hacker involves several strategic approaches

Early Data Tracking

The sooner you understand what works and what doesn't, the better positioned your startup will be for success.

(I track daily active users, implement specific feature tracking and utilization, funnel tracking, click-through rate, etc.)

User Workarounds Insight

Users often employ tools in unintended ways. Paying attention to these workarounds can provide valuable insights into your product's potential success or failure.

(I watch video recordings of users on emailemu.com using a tool such as Hotjar or Posthog so I can see where they click and use the site. I also talk with a user or target user each week)

Prioritizing Quality

The current expectation for quality is higher than it was five years ago, partly due to the availability of no-code tools like Webflow. While launching a minimal viable product (MVP) is important, focusing on the aspects most likely to drive significant impact is crucial. This doesn't mean everything has to be perfect before launch, but a higher quality baseline is now expected.

By adopting these insights and strategies, one can navigate the complexities of the tech industry more effectively, making informed decisions that contribute to sustainable growth and success.

(Now that my MVP is live I don't ship shitty experiences. They need to have a basic function and not break. I would rather push a feature back or update going out by a week if it prevents the user from having a poor experience. Sometimes, you only get one shot.)

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