Create a platform that empowers real estate agents with modern technology that makes the experience of buying or selling a home simple and delightful for consumers.

Berkshire Hathaway
HomeServices.


OVERVIEW

Feb 2018 - Present

Sr. Product Designer

Lean UX

Design Workshops

Storymapping

Figma

Create a platform that empowers real estate agents with modern technology that makes buying or selling a home delightful and simple for consumers.

Grab your shield, we're entering the Brokerage platform wars.

This is how the notorious real estate tech blog Inman describes the state of PropTech as it applies to Real Estate Brokerages. I would be joining the fight under the Berkshire Hathaway banner, not a bad start. However, we operated in stealth for quite some time, a decision made by execs to prevent losing our position to enter the market.

My entire time with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices has been spent building, validating, and preparing this platform for its debut. I will try to share as much as I can about my contributions and experience thus far. If things seem a bit abstract, it is intentional, my NDA requires it.

The Problem

The competition in real estate has gotten fierce over the last few years. Big disruptors, new business models, emerging technologies, and a new kid on the block, millennials. Not to mention the crash of 2008 which reshaped how a lot of people approach homeownership. These variables have all contributed to where we are today, savvier buyers and sellers, iBuyers — companies that use tech to make instant offers on homes, real estate agents fighting for their position in the transaction, and brokerages making bold moves.

There's a lot to consider here, and it took me some time to really understand the landscape, trends, and forecasts for this market. But as designers, this fundamental understanding is critical to making meaningful contributions and adding value as quickly as we can.

The Vision

Create a platform that empowers real estate agents with modern technology that makes buying or selling a home delightful and simple for consumers.


Each brokerage had a specific system in place that they accredited to their success. These systems are complex and composed of third-party vendors, in-house tech, refined processes, marketing teams and much more.

Additionally, the systems varied among real estate agents, real estate teams, and at the cornerstone of all this was the homeowner or seller. The number of inter-dependencies and overarching goals among the personas was incredible, we had a magnitude of work ahead of us.

Personas

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Buyer-page-001

Seller-page-001

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Design Strategy

My primary function was to act as a facilitator, ensuring what we built added measurable value and brought us closer to executing our product vision. This included but was not limited to:

  • Identifying and prioritizing areas of risk for experimentation and validation
  • Collaborate with Engineering, Product, and Marketing to execute on our roadmap and drive the iterative design process forward
  • Applying conceptual thinking and creativity to complex business problems and briefs from conception to production
  • Helping identify opportunities for innovative creative solutions to pressing business needs
  • Contribute to the brand's aesthetic and overall visual and voice identity
  • Ensure product design work is held to a high degree of excellence and rigor
  • Create compelling and delightful user-experiences

Workshops

After several months of participating in our established sprint cycle, I identified an opportunity to increase velocity, alignment, and collaboration. While creating this proposal I drew inspiration from Google Design Sprints, LEAN UX design studios, and Invisions design sprints.

Something to note is that this workshop was created to fill a gap in our product cycle, not as a replacement of a typical design sprint. The workshop aided in:

  • Contributing to the shared understanding of the design problem and the solution
  • Identifying assumptions, constraints, and unknowns that could impact the success of the sprint
  • Rallying teams around a design direction
  • Creating high-level design artifacts
  • Increasing the feeling of ownership across the team

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After my team was successful in creating notable change in the areas above the workshops were adopted organization-wide.

Presentations

This type of experience is usually overlooked in case studies but I feel it is a competency that is critical to design professionals. Often times in my role I found myself being called on to communicate and present conceptual ideas, detailed designs, and design rationale, both verbally and visually to different stakeholders.

These were not your standard "sprint reviews" either. They usually happened when a milestone was achieved or if we identified a high-risk item in the roadmap. The rooms could include C-Suite Execs, stakeholders, top performing real estate agents, and leadership.

Nerves were high in here, the traditional real estate model they were used to was often being challenged by our solutions. This required I have strong visibility into how these proposals could impact their day to day and provide supporting evidence that we could introduce positive change.

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Scalable design

We would need to support the largest real estate company in the country with 42,000+ real estate professionals, 1200+ offices, and located across 47 states. Not to mention most brokerages, if not all, have their own unique brand identity. Additionally, each real estate agent had its own individual brand identity.

We would need to have a design language that stayed true to the Berkshire Hathaway brand but was flexible enough for its agents and brokerages to showcase their own unique identities.

Design Language

I was the only designer with experience architecting a design library on our team. This allowed me to quickly segment components and identify patterns in our design files. After a comprehensive audit, I was able to surface what our design language looked like across the site.

Color-Audit

Typography-Audit

audit

The usual culprits were found such as color variants, excessive fonts, similar but different components, range CTA's, and others. From this high level view we identified a path forward for the design language.

Design Tools

Axure was our tool of choice initially. It served us well for creating highly interactive prototypes which we used for user testing but it came at a high cost. Propagation. Changes made in one file would not propagate to files shared by the team. This immediately introduced fragmentation into our designs.

I had worked exclusively with sketch up till point in my career so when I first noticed the lack of symbols, text styles, and palettes I was concerned. After illustrating the benefit of having such features that would inherit changes to all design files, we began testing several tools to replace Axure. Ultimately we landed on Figma.

Cohesion

I'd love to say this all happened seamlessly, but it didn't. It required months of advocating for these tools and systems to be adopted. Once it was finally adopted we began to really gain momentum with our design language. The entire library was getting leaner, more compassable, and aesthetic. We got faster, engineers were creating more reusable components, and this freed up more time for us to handle bigger problems.

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Before our design language

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After our design language

Additional Contributions

Design Intelligence Tools

I've always admired designers get hands-on with the code to create unique tools for unique problems on their teams. In addition to design, I have also successfully completed the Immersive Software Engineering program at HackReactor. This competency has allowed me to create unique tools such as:

  • A google script to create data visualization from usertesting results
  • custom node scripts to create a sentiment analysis of user feedback
  • leveraging the Figma API to create a custom linter (still WIP)
  • Hosting our design system online
  • Provide designers with a "no-code-needed" method to contribute to the design system and deploy immediately

Launch promo

A few days before a large conference in Las Vegas our leadership team asked if I could create a promotional video of our product. This required some very late nights and early mornings. The teaser served its purpose and grew the excitement and waiting list for our platform.

Made in 3 days!


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Final Thoughts

My time thus far at Berkshire Hathaway has allowed me to grow in ways I wouldn't have imagined as a designer. I applied learnings from previous mistakes and made new mistakes. I've conducted more experiments than ever before and I've built some amazing relationships with some super talented people. I hope this has given you a clear look into what it's like to be apart of a growing product team at a large enterprise.