Creating approachable experiences with user-centered teams

Hi, I'm Jess.

I’m a creative, empathetic design strategist who's been in the biz for nearly a decade. Through my work, I guide teams toward working more strategically and cross-functionally. When we work together, we win together. I strive to address systemic exclusion and to optimize usability, creating more inclusive and human-centered experiences.

Among my personal principles, I value healthy communication, mindful leadership, and a generative approach to conflict.

I also have dual citizenship with the E.U., so if you’d like to ship me off to your Paris office for a few months, I’m not likely to complain.

Fancy a chat?

Please get in touch.

Macbook mockup. A graphic fills the screen. It reads, "Lyft Launchpad. Share the love." It features photographs of various people spending time with one another, taking photos of murals, hugging their children, and posing in front of brightly colored artwork.

Driving community with Lyft Philly

With a strong national brand, the team dedicated to serving Lyft passengers and drivers in Philadelphia sought to augment their position in city and its surrounding counties. I worked with them to create a brand advocacy program, the Lyft Launchpad.

Graphic with four personas represented: Student Shanise, Suburban Sean, Young Professional Paulina, and Sports Fan Frank.
A Macbook screen depicting the Launchpad platform. There are four main sections: Philly (with a photo of feet climbing stairs), Lyft (with a photo of people silhouetted against a glowing orb), Cities (with a photo of a neon-colored skyline), and Your Stories (with a photo of a woman taking a picture of graffiti with her phone).
Two mobile screens depicting the Launchpad platform and one depicting an email from Launchpad.

Before building an advocacy platform, you have to know who’s likely to use it. I conducted user research and stakeholder interviews to develop advocate personas that shaped how we reached out to potential members and in developing the content plan.

We sought to empower active Launchpad members to create their own content while also giving less active members an opportunity to share owned and curated content. Planning the Launchpad involved project management, program timelines, and my BFF, content calendars.

I started the Launchpad project as an outside consultant, then brought the project with me as I joined an agency. With the Lyft Philly team and a talented crew of producers on my side, I had to find a way to ensure everything between our two teams and our advocate community ran smoothly. I designed processes for maintaining the platform, content, and delivering rewards, optimizing for efficiency and sustainability.

Since we had limited resources and couldn’t build our own platform, I was responsible for researching and selecting a content management system. I explored industry trends and user reviews, remembered our business and marketing objectives in every sales call, and considered budget constraints at every turn. In the end, we selected a tool that accomplished what we needed and ended up having some pretty interesting hidden features, too.

How did I find those hidden features? I’m really good at sleuthing. Just kidding — it was through iteration. We regularly assessed content’s performance and asked Launchpad members for feedback. Through iteration, we were able to deliver an experience optimized for mobile use and created a simpler interface that was easier to navigate on all devices — and iteration challenged us to explore the limits of the platform (which is where those features were hiding).

Content design typically refers to words, but visual identity is just as valuable to the user experience. When Lyft HQ revealed a new set of brand guidelines completely different from anything we’d seen before, I created visual assets that adhered to those guidelines while making sure to include some Philly-focused elements, too.

From recruitment-focused copy to weekly community emails, the Lyft Philly brand voice had to stay in line with the strong national brand while adding some personal, local flavor to our content. I developed and ensured consistent use of voice and tone throughout all aspects of the program.

Without a lot of original content to share with advocates, we turned to a mix of curated and original content. Through research, user interviews, and social listening, I developed a feed of relevant sources for curated content that covered our core subject areas: Lyft as a company, Philly fun, and urban transportation.

For particularly engaged advocates, we implemented a user generated content strategy. Following Lyft’s newly-revamped slogan, “It matters how you get there,” we sought to inspire users to share where Lyft takes them. We met users where they were, issuing challenges with hashtags people were already using, and engaging with them directly on their Instagram posts.

A mockup of a MacBook depicts the 1776 website. There's a photo of what looks like a living room - couches, a coffee table - with giant wood letters behind it that spell "1776." Beneath the photo is a headline that reads "Welcome to Revolution 2.0 - 1776 has arrived back in Philadelphia."

Revolutionizing a Merger with 1776

After recognizing several common bonds, coworking space Benjamin’s Desk and entrepreneurial incubator 1776 merged to form a network of incubators along the Northeast Corridor. I helped 1776 evolve their established brand into its latest form, developing processes and systems to support their newly-expanded team along the way.

Screenshot of a Google Sheet called "Digital Asset Transfer," which was used to orchestrate a content migration on social media.
Screenshot of a Keynote slide that reads "NewCo: Your favorite professor. Our recommended NewCo voice is conversational: honest, engaging, informative, simple, fun, grounded, inspirational." There are four pictures as well: Julia Roberts in Mona Lisa Smile, Robin Williams in Dead Poets' Society, Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins, and Carl Sagan. A banner along the bottom of the page identifies the keynote as a presentation called "Benjamin's Desk / 1776 - NewCo Voice Proposal"
Screenshot of a Google Sheet called "Content Dashboard" that depicts a Gantt chart-style layout highlighting key events over a timeline.

Both organizations brought troves of content to the table, presenting a challenge — how do we reconcile the two brands as they joined forces to become one? I evaluated the existing content environments on each company’s website, newsletters, and social media.

Following a stipulation in the merger agreement, a separate organization gained ownership of one organizations’ social media and backend systems. I worked with all stakeholders to prepare for and to conduct a content migration, developing a strategy that ensured operational security and a smooth transition. We updated Benjamin’s Desk properties with 1776 branding and assets, and we developed a plan to communicate the changes to audiences wondering what a new avatar and brand name was doing in their feeds.

In preparing to hand off management of the new organization’s platforms, I conducted research to develop a governance structure for content on 1776’s owned properties. My research included stakeholder interviews, user testing, and analysis, and I advised the 1776 team on information architecture in migrating newsletter data and content from Intercom to Mailchimp.

Benjamin’s Desk and 1776 had deeply-established brands in their respective markets — both with strikingly different brand voices. In order improve the experience for members and other stakeholders through the merger, I created a new voice for 1776 and developed documentation outlining how to implement it across platforms.

In the since-deleted words of Kanye West, “Sometimes I get emotional over fonts.” In collaboration with a graphic designer and the 1776 team, I recommended changes to the brand identity based on cost-efficiency, business objectives, and a need to make content more accessible. These changes impacted typefaces, email newsletters, and the production of blog posts. We opted to use free Google Fonts and take advantage of images on Unsplash in emails in order to reduce costs and deliver a more cohesive experience for their audience.

1776 decided to keep most of the elements of their original brand, but they also wanted to incorporate the Benjamin’s Desk brand in their visual design — namely by nestling Ben’s kite inside the six in the 1776 wordmark. I collaborated with a graphic designer to determine which of the other aspects of each brand would remain and which would change, in turn creating style guides for internal use.

While working with the 1776 team to produce content, I developed a content dashboard that provided a holistic, integrated view of all marketing and communication efforts. The content dashboard included an editorial calendar, a content calendar, project timelines, and performance metrics. I structured it so anyone — not just content owners — could understand it, giving the team access to a new level of transparency as they figured out how best to work together.

As part of a consulting team that also included implementation, I developed processes for staging, approving, and executing on content. These systems involved teams from three organizations and multiple job functions; I had to seek out overlapping strengths and needs for each of these groups in order to develop an efficient and sustainable process. I was able to turn too many cooks into a potluck where everyone was invested in the outcome of the meal, but people weren’t piling on top of each other to finish their dish.

To prepare the team for owning their content as we shifted our focus to production, I established systems for submitting content for social media, newsletters, and other outgoing communications. I collaborated with 1776 team members to ensure the systems were useful and efficient, identifying points of friction and working to alleviate them.

MacBook mockup depicting an article on Built In Colorado titled "How a Parisian thief inspired this new Colorado IoT startup." Jess Ryan is listed as the author, and a photo below the headline depicts a cell phone and a small, rectangular IoT device.

Building Bridges Between Companies and Top Talent With Built In

Companies have trouble sourcing talent, and job seekers struggle to find information about companies to which they’re applying. As a staff writer for Built In, I helped connect our clients with top talent through engaging, useful content on Built In Colorado, the state’s leading platform for the local startup and technology communities.

Three iPhone mockups of an article called "Why didn't I think of that? 8 Colorado startups turning simple ideas into big business." One screen depicts the headline, one depicts a company tag (in this case, Craftsy), and one depicts Craftsy's open jobs, categorized by type
Screenshots of two pages from Built In Colorado. One is titled "Why this PR pro left his Silicon Valley job to join a Colorado startup," and the other is titled "A look inside some of Colorado tech's hottest offices."
A screenshot of an older version of Built In Colorado. It depicts an article called "50 Colorado startups to watch in 2017"

As the sole staff writer for the Colorado site, I produced 8-10 posts each week, owning all stages of production from ideation to publishing. I researched each piece, interviewed sources, gathered and optimized visual assets, and wrote all copy and captions. (I’ve started collecting hats in real life, too.)

As a content team, our staff writers shared the responsibility of editing and quality assurance testing for every post that went live on the site. I used the buddy system with a new peer editor every quarter and contributed to headline review discussions multiple times per day.

As SEO best practices evolved each month, I collaborated with our head of SEO to ensure all of the content I produced was optimized for search and accessibility. I researched keywords, tested our rankings, and delivered performance reports. We positioned ourselves as the leading platform for startups and tech in Colorado; I did my part to make sure that was true.

With some editorial guidance, I was responsible for managing my own content calendar (swoon!) and project timelines. I developed a system for all staff writers to use that helped us keep track of our stories and gave account managers easy access to data about client features and behavior (like which clients were ghosting us and which ones got back to us right away).

In supporting the Colorado market, I developed a taxonomy of topics and subject areas, from listicles about office dogs and photo-heavy office highlights to in-depth reports and interviews with CEOs. This allowed me to plan and tag content, and it made it easier to identify subject matter experts and sources I could reach out to for non-branded content (including a dog named Ham, who got a job at a cybersecurity startup).

For employer branding content, I worked with sales teams and account managers to support clients’ business objectives. Most clients turned to us looking for more applicants in general, but others wanted to highlight their executives or to manage their reputation after leadership shakeups or not-so-flattering Glassdoor reviews. I collaborated on strategies for each client, tailoring pieces for each of them and allowing for easier planning across time.

Most of the pieces I filed required quotes from stakeholders, sources, and subject matter experts. When I wasn’t conducting interviews on the phone or in person, I assigned content requests to these individuals, which included production deadlines, voice and style guidance, and asset requirements. Thanks to this process, all parties had clear expectations, which resulted in fewer emails back-and-forth trying to get someone’s job title or a photo that wasn’t 300 pixels wide.

I was responsible for adding content to our Drupal-based CMS. I staged posts — including assets — and ensured I always included the correct company and category tags when adding posts. Anytime requests came through or I learned new information about companies — like funding or leadership changes — I also updated company profiles and old articles within the CMS.

As the design and dev teams changed the site’s appearance and functionality, I adapted how I structured articles and event listings to work within their new interface, and I went back to old articles and optimized them for the new CMS. This included resizing or selecting new assets, updating tags, and adding microcopy for better readability.

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I'm currently open to new opportunities, exciting stories, and the best pastries in Philly. I'd love to hear from you.