From engineering to design, Kevin Mackie has had an extensive career in leadership. Our new VP of UX Design System started programming at 12 years old, working his way up the ladder to engineering management. There, he discovered his love of User Experience (UX) and how it helped him “probe into the problem space” before looking for solutions. Now he’s combining everything he’s learned for a new challenge: building a design system at scale. Below, he shares what attracted him to ADP, his plan to align his multidisciplinary team, and how he’s moving UX design forward for large enterprises.
Tell us about the highlights of your career so far. What brought you to UX design?
Each weekend when I was 12 years old, my neighbor, a programmer for the U.S. Navy, would bring home a 27-pound portable for me to play games on. He began teaching me to program, and I got addicted, later completing a degree in computer science. About 20 years ago, I started working my way up the leadership ladder, and by 2011, I was running a global engineering team at Taleo.
One day, the VP of product management brought in a UX expert to talk to the design team, and walking past their conference room, I saw an explosion of Post-it notes. I was so intrigued that I asked if I could crash their party, and that’s how I learned how to do user research in the field and turn it into insights. While engineers and software developers love to jump into the solution space—which often leaves us solving the wrong problem—this introduction to UX showed me the possibilities for probing into the problem space instead.
I started leading UX teams in 2014 when my former general manager unexpectedly asked me to join CA Technologies as the VP of Design, and that’s when I really fell in love with UX. Recently, though, I began feeling the need for a change. “I’ve led engineering teams globally at scale; I’ve led design teams globally at scale,” I said to myself. “How can I leverage the experiences of doing both?” Clearly, the universe listened because ADP called shortly after Thanksgiving to ask if I’d be interested in leading their design system.
What made you want to join ADP?
Usually, I’m the one trying to convince leadership about the value of a design system. But in my interview with our Chief Product Officer, he was the one who articulated its importance to me. That showed me I’d be joining a team committed to improving the experiences we deliver to our employees, our customers, and particularly their employees—our end users. It was also clear that I would be part of a leadership team that truly supports one another and that the support extends across ADP.
My intuition paid off on day one. I joined as we’re building a small coalition to focus on UX. After the announcement introducing me went out, people flooded my inbox with welcome messages and offers of help. I’ve never experienced that reaction at a new company before. There’s also an entire ethos around playing to each employee’s strengths to build a great overall team. No one hired me to fix anything; I’m here to complement the leadership team. ADP is a great place if you want to be part of an organization invested in helping you grow.
What’s your approach to building ADP’s design system?
What I love about UX as a discipline is how diverse we are—most of us did not go to school for graphic design. So, I know this sounds right out of a management book, but I’m starting with the “people” part of “people, processes, and products.” I’m about halfway through the one-on-ones I set up with each of my team members to understand their products and their specific journeys. I’ve talked to people who started off in music, building architecture, or went from chemical engineering to design. Tapping into these individual perspectives can help us better understand our problems and develop some really creative solutions.
We’re approaching the design system as a separate product. Developing a shared language about what makes a great experience is part of the transformation. Instead of building something we think our designers and developers need, we’re partnering with them, so when we deliver the design system, the teams will already be on board.
When it comes to philosophical alignment, the best approach is empathy. Not only empathy for the product managers and developers but empathy for our own work. The more we appreciate and understand the motivations and challenges of others, the better we can work together as a high-performing, cross-functional team. I encourage people to have healthy disagreements and act as influencers who can go back to their teams and bring everyone along on the journey.
What is most challenging about your work?
It’s challenging to build a design system at scale in a company of more than 58,000 people. Thankfully, with the large number of UX professionals throughout ADP, we’re not starting from scratch. My team’s job is to take already great work to the next level—it’s like we’re a group of conductors from different orchestras, asking how we make the whole thing come together.
A lot of it comes down to transparency and alignment on what’s working and what’s not. To do that, we need to measure the usability of our apps and define whether someone has a good or bad experience. For example, our ADP Mobile app has a 4.7 rating with more than 1.5 million reviews in the App store. Even so, usability studies show us people sometimes hover over the submit button for minutes, likely out of uncertainty about their selections. So, how do we give them the type of “confidence experience” so that they can review their choice and say, “Yes, that’s what I want,” and click without hesitation?
We’re also figuring out the right things to measure. Successful consumer-grade applications always measure how long it takes someone to do something and prompts them for feedback. So how do we incorporate more feedback into our products? Since I recently got my ADP account, it thinks I’m a new user. Thirty seconds after searching for the first time, I got a nice pop-up asking, “How did you like the search experience?” Then after I answered, I got a second prompt asking, “Would you like to tell us why?” I thought that was a great way to get feedback in the moment.
What does the future hold for you and ADP?
First, we’ve got a pretty clear vision of the future that we’ll continue to refine. Whether it’s a frontend developer, a designer, or the product team with limited UX resources, our goal is to get our teams on board. We want to make it easier for them to deliver better experiences faster to make life easier for our users. After all, business owners don’t wake up in the morning because they want to run payroll software. They started a company because they have a dream. And we’re here to help them realize that dream by making payroll, benefits, and compensation easier for them.
We have the unique ability to learn from what’s working at small, medium, and large businesses. There’s no reason why we can’t deliver consumer-grade experiences at an enterprise level. Whether you’re an employee of a five-person organization or a 1-million-person organization, you still want to understand your compensation. You still want to grow professionally. I joined ADP specifically because we’re committed to putting in the work to help simplify life for everyone. When our clients come back to us and say, “Oh yeah, this product is great. It enables our business,” I’ll know things are humming.
Curious about a career in UX? Check tech.adp.com for our current openings.
Kevin Mackie is a Vice President, UX Design Systems at ADP based in California.