How rethinking email has shaped my design career

Maggie Lamas,

Product Design Manager at Front

23 March 20220 min read

Front’s first product designer, Maggie Lamas, shares her journey at Front and how her career evolved as she navigated the challenges of rethinking the most ubiquitous work communication tool.

In February 2017, I interviewed for my first-ever product design role at a teeny startup in San Francisco. They were working on a shared inbox product, and they asked if I would be interested in doing a trial week to get to know the team before taking the job. 

Apprehensively, I said yes — and five years later, I have to say it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

During that trial week, what became immediately apparent was the team’s culture, talent, and infectious pace. And all of these things remain at the company even today. 

But what I didn’t know? The gravity of the challenges that I would encounter while rethinking the product that powers communication for billions of people worldwide.

I feel lucky to have found a professional home where my career and the business could skyrocket together. Looking back, it would be hard to decouple my growth as a designer from the growth of Front. In many ways, I started a new job every time Front entered a new phase of its growth.

Years 0-2: Becoming experts in email

What was Front up to?

We had just found product market fit with our shared inbox product. As the customer base grew, we needed to meet basic expectations of an email product. During that time we shipped tags, contact management, attachment handling, and calendar just to name a few.

Today, these basics amount to 80% of what email providers offer to 4 billion knowledge workers. My first 2 years at Front were focused on laying that foundation for our product through these classic features.

What was the Design team up to?

For my first year, Design was a team of one. But by the end of my second year, we had a team of three. We had just begun to incorporate design into the product development process. Execution and velocity were key — we were designing (at least!) a new feature every week. This meant we needed to understand every detail of the most commonly used email clients out there. If we didn’t understand the email of today, we couldn’t design for the communication product of tomorrow.

What was I up to?

Truthfully? I’d underestimated how complex designing for a product like Front could be. After all, it’s just email with comments, right? But these were problems that literally no other product was solving, so we were on our own — and it quickly became clear the depth of complexity of this design work.

Years 2-4: Becoming experts on our users

What was Front up to?

Front had great momentum. We needed to shift our focus from shipping email MVP features to working on the right improvements for the right people in a predictable fashion. This meant building key functions and improving our internal processes. We agreed that Front’s delightful, intuitive user experience was our competitive advantage, and shortly after, we welcomed our first Head of Design, David Stinnette!

What was the Design team up to?

Stinnette had his job cut out for him. He inherited a team of 3 fearless design executors who were email nerds with little user empathy. 

So he got to work. We added Design Research, Brand Design, and Content Design by the end of my fourth year! Product Designers began working closely with Product Analysts and Research partners to make data-informed decisions. We defined our user personas. And we began to operate iteratively with Engineering, building prototypes, and testing earlier in the process.

To say we up-leveled as a Design team in these years is an understatement.

What was I up to?

This time was spent mentoring our awesome new team and putting insights from our new testing processes to work. With thousands of customers, we could clearly see what success looks like when it comes to using Front. We made a ton of UI and UX optimizations in this time, using data from our users every step of the way.

Years 4+: Becoming experts on the art of multiplying

What was Front up to?

We began selling to larger teams with more sophisticated workflows. We built specialized product teams serving each user persona, and we embarked on one of our largest endeavors yet — doubling our company from 300 to 600 Fronteers, so we could have the right people working on the right problems. 

What was the Design team up to?

As our customers grew, our personas evolved. We made Paris the hub for all admin product development. We had built out Engineering and Product teams in Paris — but Design was the missing piece of the puzzle.

What was I up to? 

I was asked to ship that missing piece in Paris. So, I moved across the world to build our Paris Design team! I built a network in Paris, tracked down the hottest French startups, and even improved my French — I’m ashamed to say that after years working with two French co-founders, I have very little French skills to show for it!

In just a few months, we hired three amazing new Designers and a Design Manager, Hortense Desodt

Join me at Front

I feel incredibly fortunate to have grown from Front’s only designer to now nurturing a world-class team. It’s no secret that I’m bullish on Front’s future, but if you’re interested in learning more, read what our new Product Design Manager, Kaitlin Fink, has to say about the future of Front Design.

If you're interested in joining Front's mission to help people work happier, check out our open roles.

Written by Maggie Lamas

Stories to strengthen the heart of business