Blake Keng is a Director of Product Design at Stitch Fix with 15 years experience in building digital products and leading product design teams. He’s worked at early stage startups and at well-known brands including Blue Bottle Coffee, LinkedIn, and Conde Nast. His passion is in the consumer product space, and he’s had experiences that range from UX/UI design, UX research, product strategy, and creative direction.
We sat down with Blake following his recent webinar with the Designlab community about data-driven design. Read on to learn helpful insights about how to advance your product design skills through the use of data...
Hey Blake! Thanks for taking the time to speak with us. To kick things off, we’d love to know a little bit about you and your role.
Absolutely! I was born in Taiwan and moved to the east coast at an early age. I’m a huge Red Sox fan, avid fitness/gym goer, and am currently training our puppy who my wife and I adopted this last year.
A fun fact about me is that I took a short detour from product design to go to culinary school and cook professionally for a few years and then returned back to product design after missing it way too much.
I’m currently a Director of Product Design at Stitch Fix, where I’ve been working for about 3 years. I’ve had multiple roles from being an individual contributor to a manager. Currently, I lead product design for one of the 5 company pillars called “personalized shop” and manage a team including Product Designers, UX Researchers, and UX Writers.
Sounds like you’ve really been able to grow your career at Stitch Fix in a short amount of time! What was your journey to the field of UX Design?
I’m formally trained in graphic design and print design, and I’m a self taught Product Designer. I learned through countless UX books, online courses, and industry experts. I transitioned from print to UX in the early 2000s designing travel booking engines for a digital agency when consumers started to shift away from calling travel agencies to booking online. I just fell in love with building digital products and didn’t turn back.
We know the feeling! How did you land your position at Stitch Fix?
Before I joined Stitch Fix, I read a lot about designing with data, however, I never had a chance to put it into practice. Stitch Fix is a personalized styling business that uses both technology and humans to help people find the apparel that they love—the company’s DNA was building products based on large scale user data. Data scientists were often building products that later turned into consumer facing products with the help of product managers and designers. I found that to be a great opportunity for me to put what I learned about designing with data into practice.
It sounds like you really found your calling in data-driven design. What do you enjoy most about doing product design?
The part of my job I enjoy the most is building innovative products in collaboration with my cross-functional partners and making a business impact, coaching team members and seeing them succeed in their careers and find their own passion.
We can tell you really care about your team. Tell us a little bit more about Stitch Fix…
Stitch Fix’s mission is to help people to find clothes they love by combining technology and data with the personal touch of seasoned style experts.
In just over 10 years, Stitch Fix has grown to be an approximately $5 billion dollar company that has reinvented the $330 billion dollar fashion and apparel industry, by scaling a personal styling platform that delivers curated and personalized apparel for women, men, and kids in the US and UK.
The secret to Stitch Fix’s success has been the unique blend of art and science. Our technology enables our Stylists to send a unique selection of apparel for each client and most recently it’s allowed us to launch a new personalized shopping experience where each client can purchase directly from a hyper curated shop based on what we know about you. Essentially, we’re like a shape shifting mall, your mall is personalized just to you and what you need.
What I personally think is cool about Stitch Fix is that we not only give clients an effortless way to shop but we also inspire them to build confidence in their style.
We love that you’re building confidence in both customers and your product design team! How’s product design set up at Stitch Fix?
The Stitch Fix product design team has steadily grown in the last 3 years, there are just about 30 team members in total and our team includes product design, UX research, and UX copywriting. The company has 5 pillars and everyone at the company is working on a specific pillar to ensure that we’re working towards the same goals. We have an embedded team structure, what that means is that everyone is embedded in a pod working on 1 of the 5 company pillars. Each pod generally includes a product manager, product designer, a small team of engineers, and data scientists. And they work with cross functional partners to operationalize the entire product.
We are a highly collaborative and communicative team, sharing designs in critiques twice a week and in small groups with our cross functional partners. UX research, product management, and data science teams are just a few partners that play a critical role in helping the product designers understand the problem and build best-in-class, innovative products.
What’s the product area that your team is focused on?
I’ll start with a bit of context and opportunity that we had for the business. Up until 2019, our core business was limited to personal styling. Focused on capturing and using customer data to personalize a handpicked box of clothing (call a “Fix”) by a real life personal stylist.
We had a simple interface that only allowed our clients to rate on their style and write a note to their stylists telling them a little bit about what they are looking for in their next “Fix”. Then the stylist will hand pick a box of clothing based on what the algorithm recommends is best for the client based on the data we know about them and the note.
We had a huge opportunity to increase client share of wallet and expand the appeal of Stitch Fix through new service offerings outside of personal styling.
The product area that my team and I have focused on is building this new shape shifting mall that I described earlier. A new way for clients to shop directly from Stitch Fix that is still personalized but does not need to work directly with a stylist.
Let’s think of Shop as the most space-age mall you can imagine...
The mall is shape-shifting based on each individual. Not only is each Shop built especially for you, with just the right things, in your size, price, and taste, but the location of each store in the mall is also constantly shifting so that the best stores for what you need today are right next to each other.
If you show up to the mall tomorrow, the mall will know that what you need tomorrow is different from what you needed today, and the contents of each store will be updated and the stores will be in a different place.
Diversifying the ways clients shop with us enables Stitch Fix to appeal to a totally new population and serve more shopping intents.
Wow, that is a mall we would like to shop in! How did you uncover this opportunity?
This is where data-driven design comes as early as the discovery phase. As we started to think about how we can grow the business, we worked closely with cross functional teams like corporate strategy team, data science, product management, CX to understand the problem we’re solving, and identify the user and business opportunities.
We actually started with quantitative data first since this was the most notable to our strategy and product partners. From our consumer transaction data we saw that clients spend more on fashion after joining, but are spending it at other retailers. These are missed sales for us.
Based on what we saw at scale, we dug into the ‘why’ with qualitative insights. There was a high percentage of client feedback to CX (customer service) indicating that clients had a multitude of other shopping needs that didn’t necessarily need the help of a stylist. Clients expressed they wanted to purchase directly from Stitch Fix for specific needs in addition to the Styling service.
To learn more from Blake about the data-driven design process and his work on the Shop project at Stitch Fix, watch his recent webinar with the Designlab community!
Explore data-driven design with industry professionals like Blake through our intensive UX Academy program. You’ll learn how to use product data and UX analytics to make high-impact design recommendations and influence product and business metrics.