July 21-22, 2021 / Online

An Interview with Jon Lax

April 24, 2016

Steve Fisher chatted with Jon Lax the Director of Product Design for Utility Board at Facebook about what it's like to create great products. In his upcoming talk at our 2016 event he'll share what happens and what conditions need to exist for great products to come into the world. You won't want to miss his talk.

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Interview Transcript

Steve: We’re here with Jon Lax from Facebook. Could you intro yourself to the DCC crowd and tell us a little bit about what you do.

Jon: I’m the Director of Product Design for Utility Board which is one of the 4 product organizations inside of Facebook. I oversee about 70 designers in 3 offices in North America, working on a wide range of the parts of Facebook, some of which you would use daily like profile or Facebook search or Facebook events. Other parts that you may not use as widely unless you’re a developer like our Facebook developer network and Facebook login which you may have used if you’re logging in or building an app. There are about 30 products that exist underneath me that those 70 designers work on.

Steve: Wow. That’s a lot to keep track of, I imagine. You have a unique background in that you’re coming to Facebook having run your own successful design firm for years. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about that since it plays into your conference talk?

Jon: For 12 years prior to joining Facebook, from 2002 to 2015 I cofounded and ran a design studio in Toronto called Teehan+Lax. We were really focused on working on digital only. We didn’t do print or TV advertising. Even inside of digital, we were very focused on and interested in what has now become known as product design. When we started in 2002, that didn’t really exist as a term. We were focused on highly-functional digital things, like banking sites, airlines—like how you’d buy a ticket on delta.com. As we progressed as a company and the internet became more mature, that became known as product design. In 2015 we decided to do this work at Facebook on the Facebook family of products.

Steve: It seems it’s been a good transition for you.

Jon: It has been a good transition. It’s been an experience moving from services to client. It’s something I was ready to do and interesting to see this side of the industry.

Steve: Why don’t you tell us a bit about what you’ll be sharing at DCC this summer.

Jon: Sure. One thing I’ve noticed if you spend any time on the internet or you attend conferences is a discussion about how do companies in the Valley do what they do? Especially from people not in Silicon Valley, there’s a lot of thoughts and assumptions about how to build the products that eventually become used by billions of people. One of the things I want to talk about in my session is how this actually happens. The fact is it doesn’t happen by accident. A lot of people may ascribe luck—and definitely there's an element of luck. Some ascribe “try a lot of things and something eventually works.” While there is some truth to that, I don't think it’s entirely true.

I’ve experienced and witnessed the way great products get made and it’s not an accident. There’s actually intentionality behind it, but it’s probably not in the way that a lot of people think. I want to share what happens and what conditions need to exist for great products to come into the world.

Steve: That sounds fantastic and I think we’ll all enjoy hearing more. Now you’re coming to Vancouver—when is the last time you were here?

Jon: Probably 10 years ago. Although the most memorable time was in college, passing through on my way to Whistler.

Steve: Is there anything in particular that excited you about coming to Vancouver.

Jon: I enjoy getting back to Canada whenever I can. I definitely feel home north of the border. It will be nice to be around Canadians again. Vancouver has changed a lot since I was last there. I probably won’t venture too far from Gastown, but it will be great to be back and go out in the evening. Steve: We’re really excited you’re joining us this summer, Jon. We look forward to seeing you in July.

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