16 Questions with Hometap’s Head of Design
As Hometap's head of design, Martha influences just about everything you see at Hometap.com, and some things you don't. From our content to our Fit Quiz and each digital homeowner experience, she makes every visit to our home-on-the-web feel approachable, clean, and elegant.
Q1: Was there ever a point (either in your education or in your early career) when you considered another career path that wasn’t in design?
I initially wanted to be a fashion designer; I got to study in Florence for a semester and realized very quickly that that’s a scary business to be in. My first job ever was in marketing as a coordinator for a small company, and I found myself doing things like creating banner ads, creative graphics for blog posts, email blasts, so about a year into that job I asked if I could make the switch to design full time.
Q2: You’ve led and overseen large design teams and worked at startups as a solo designer. What are you able to do differently when you have a team under you and what are the benefits (if any) to going it alone in a smaller setting? Is there an “ideal” team size for you?
In my previous role, as a creative director, I oversaw process and craft for a cross-geo design team of about 55 people. With a team that size, my entire day is made up of meetings and planning, with no time for execution at all. The benefit is you get to set the course from a high level, but you’re not the one implementing it. I like to be a player-coach; I like to be in the details. I’m a better designer when I’m closer to the work, and I’m more passionate about the outcome when I’m invested in the smaller details.
Having said that, there isn't an ideal team size per se, but to be able to do both — to be in the details when needed and have the ability to zoom out and see things at a higher level is where I want to be.
Q3: How do you define and measure the success of a product’s user experience from a design perspective?
What makes Hometap so great and what makes us stand out in this space is how good our customer service is. Whether I’m reading a Trustpilot review or I’m interviewing a homeowner, it always comes back to the level of service that the Investment Manager gives. And so the most important thing about our digital product is that we provide that same experience online. We want it to feel just as comforting and trustworthy and accessible as talking with our Investment Managers feels.
The best way to measure that success is to talk to the homeowners who have experienced the Hometap Investment process. What did they like? How can we do better?
Q4: How would you describe your personal design style? Do you feel your personal preferences and your company’s style need to align? Does it make work more challenging when they don’t?
My design style is really minimal, maintaining lots of white space. I believe that less is more. I like to think the reason I was chosen to lead Hometap’s design is because the leadership team saw a lot of overlap in my portfolio and what they envisioned for Hometap’s brand.
That said, it’s not essential for my style and our brand’s style to align. Frankly, I wouldn’t be good at my job if I couldn’t execute well on a project because it wasn’t my personal preference of style.
A design needs to do the job at hand well and serve its purpose. There’s a balance of decisions that are subjective and objective.
Q5: What’s the biggest challenge you face as head of design at Hometap?
On a macro level, design challenges are similar to marketing challenges: We’re trying to communicate a concept that’s new in a space that’s already so tightly defined. How do we do that succinctly and without a lot of complicated explanation?
Q6: You’ve spoken at live events, including a UX conference in Denmark and several industry events here in Boston. What is that like?
I came to a point in my career where I felt like presenting at events would make me a well-rounded professional, especially in my past life as a consultant where so much of your success is dependent not on the quality of the design, but on your ability to sell the design. The more comfortable you can get at pitching your concept to a crowd, the better you’ll be at your job. I was always afraid of public speaking; I wanted to challenge myself. I’m glad I did it, and I still find it terrifying.
Q7: What is your favorite type of project and what area of design does that fall into? What are some of the things you’ve done that you’re most proud of?
I’ve been lucky enough to be all over the place when it comes to types of design. I’ve done campaign work, plenty of packaging and print, brand development, and digital product design. I personally like product design best, because I really like the puzzles that come from designing software. What's intriguing about Hometap is we have the homeowner-facing piece but also intricate processes on the underwriting and side that we’re always improving for our internal personnel. It’s a fun challenge to think through.
Q8: How do you stay apprised of the most current practices within Design? What inspires you?
I subscribe to a few industry newsletters that I check regularly. I follow designers I like on Instagram for visual design, but mostly leveraging the Boston design community and my personal network is where I get the most value.
I’m part of a global Slack group for design leaders that’s been invaluable when it comes to topics like how to structure a department, how to manage, etc. Design leaders from all over the globe participate, so as a new design leader I like to be a fly on the wall there and learn from people who have been doing this for a while.
Q9: What’s something you wish teams or individuals understood about design that they often get wrong? Are there common misconceptions or things you find yourself explaining often?
It’s so much more than “make it pretty” — the visual design, the colors and fonts we pick. It’s about solving a problem. Whether we’re doing it with marketing collateral, a logo, or software — it's about identifying a problem, and figuring out a graceful solution to solve it.
Q10: What are the qualities you’re looking for when recruiting members of your team?
I’m looking for enthusiasm over experience; you don’t have to have most experience in the world, but if you’re coming in eager and hungry and want to learn, those are the people I look for. Hometap has done a good job of finding people with the same strong desire to help and do good for homeowners; new members of the design team need to reflect those same values.
Q11: Do you have a go-to interview question (when interviewing any role)? What is it?
I always pay the most attention to what questions the interviewee has for me. You learn more about the questions they ask you; you learn a lot about what they care about.
Q12: What was it that appealed to you about Hometap as a business?
The mission was certainly appealing to me, but the people over anything else were what won me over. I was really impressed by everyone I interviewed with. They were extremely intelligent, experienced, and passionate. It was clear that they had a strong desire to do what was best for homeowners.
It’s like when you step onto a college campus for the first time and have that feeling of “I just know this is the one.” And I was right.
Q13: If you could trade jobs with anyone else at Hometap for a week, what position would it be?
Capital Operations. I would love to have a better understanding of the investor side of our business. I get to talk to a lot of homeowners, but that’s just one side of Hometap.
Q14: What’s one quality someone needs to be successful at Hometap?
The desire to bring solutions over questions. It’s easy to come to the table with a list of things that could be better. It’s a lot harder to be the one coming up with the solutions, and I think that the most successful people are willing to do the legwork of coming up with the ideas to solve business problems.
Q15: What qualities do you look for in a company’s office culture?
I look for a company culture where leadership is transparent with everyone, and where there is a level of autonomy. I think everyone is more invested in an outcome when they’re empowered to make their own decisions. And I look for a company that has a customer-first mentality, is mission-driven, and where people are encouraged to be weird and unique and themselves.
Q16: What has been your best contribution to the happiness team?
Whitney, Adam and I spent a lot of time making custom valentines for every Hometap employee. And I’ve made a lot of custom Slack emojis.
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