Interview with Product Designer Jessica Harllee

Badass Lady Creatives celebrates talented women working in the creative industries. This week, I chat with product designer Jessica Harllee about her work at Kickstarter, hackathons, and embroidered poo.
Interview with Jessica Harllee / on Design Work Life
Kickstarter Year in Review

MR: So, you’re currently designing for Kickstarter in New York, by way of Virginia. Can you tell me more about how you got to where you are now?

JH: I went to school in Virginia, at Virginia Tech. I had an internship at a digital agency called Modea while I was a student, which turned into a full-time job after graduating. It was great because I knew that I was interested in making websites, but learned that advertising wasn’t really my thing; I struggled with not really having an emotional attachment to what I was making websites for. One of our clients was a startup called Moveline that wanted to build an online tool to help people decide the best way to move. I spent two years helping them define and design what that tool would be, which was my first introduction to product design. I fell in love with the idea of spending all of my time devoted to creating something that I really believed in, which brought me to Kickstarter.

Interview with Jessica Harllee / on Design Work Life

Awesome, it’s great to find your passion organically. Is Kickstarter what brought you to New York, or did you already have your heart set on eventually moving to NYC?

I moved to New York to work at Kickstarter, but I had spent a lot of time visiting New York (sometimes even two or three times a year!). It worked out really well that a company I loved was also in such an amazing city. After visiting New York so much, it wasn’t a huge leap for me to imagine living here.

Was there anything particularly intimidating about the move, and if so, how’d you deal?

It was a little scary! I had spent the past six years living in a tiny town in the mountains, which is very much the opposite of NYC. Even though I grew up in the suburbs of DC, it was still a pretty big change. It was definitely a change I was looking for, though, and it really helped that I had a couple of friends up here already.

Always good to have someone help you drag furniture upstairs. What is your process like at Kickstarter?

My process varies a lot depending on the project. If it’s a large project like a redesign or a completely new part of the site, I’ll usually start out with some planning and brainstorming up front with the other people I’m working with (usually a product manager). I’ll wireframe a bit to start getting some ideas down on paper and to organize my thoughts. When it hits the point where we need to start using real data or test out interaction ideas, I’ll jump between Photoshop and prototyping in code. By the time I start prototyping, I’m also usually working with an engineer and we’ll pass stuff back and forth. If it’s a much smaller project or an update to something that exists, I’ll usually just jump right into building.

Kickstarter Project Jam event page
Kickstarter Project Jam event page


What is your favorite recent project?

[This devolves into some confusion between projects you work on, vs. Projects you fund on KickStarter, but we’re soon back on track.]
It’s not the sexiest thing, but we’ve been redoing a bunch of our emails recently. A pretty significant portion of our emails were completely undesigned and text-only and we’ve been chipping away at redesigning them. All of the new emails are responsive and look great on mobile, and it makes such a huge difference when one of those emails lands in my inbox.

Good-looking emails, indeed.
Good-looking emails, indeed.

That’s great, emails are such a pain to craft for all the different clients, so that is no small undertaking.

It’s a huge undertaking technically, but it really pays off.

As far as projects on Kickstarter go, which projects have you backed?

Oh man, I’m almost at 100 backed projects. I backed two yesterday.

DANG! What are yesterday’s?

Yesterday I backed a project by a band called Humming House to make their new album; I saw them live a few months ago and they were fantastic. I also backed my coworker Chris Muccioli’s side project called Singles Club, which is a record club and music journal that he’s launching that’s going to be really incredible; he’s both a talented designer and musician.

I’ll have to check those out. What else are you listening to lately?

Lots of Andrew Belle, Washed Out, Polica, Haim. I’m trying to get into the new Lady Gaga, but we’ll see. And I’ve been doing work to 90s R&B all week.

So outside of Kickstarter, what else are you up to lately?

I just started picking up embroidery again; I used to sew a decent amount as a kid and I’ve been really interested in getting off the computer and making something with my hands. My first project is around embroidering emoji and I’m really looking forward to seeing where that takes me.

These little guys will be at the The Emoji Popup Market tomorrow.
These little guys will be at the The Emoji Popup Market tomorrow.

Your site is built on SiteLeaf. What was the learning experience like?

It was actually pretty easy to pick up. I used to mess around with WordPress a lot and I code every day at work, so the learning curve wasn’t too steep. There’s a lot of great documentation on their site for people getting started and the guys at Oak hosted a few Siteleaf hackdays that I went to that were incredibly helpful.

What would you tell someone who was going to their first hackathon/hack day?

It was really helpful for me to have started setting up my site and local environment before showing up. I already had a few questions around that when I arrived and was able to get to some of the meatier issues while I still had the Siteleaf guys at my disposal. Come prepared! I also didn’t focus on the design of my site at all while I was there, just on making a functional prototype, because I knew I could always fill in the design later on my own time.

Speaking of learning something new, Jessica runs a SkillShare class called Wireframing: The first steps of web design
Speaking of learning something new, Jessica runs a SkillShare class called “Wireframing: The first steps of web design”

Any life/work lessons that you find yourself continually re-learning?

I constantly need to remind myself to maintain a healthy work/life balance; I can be really bad about that sometimes. Find things you can accomplish outside of work that will make you happy, too. Be picky.

On a similar note, do you have any advice for aspiring product designers?

Ask a lot of questions. Look at a lot of work, both product design and otherwise. Paper can be just as powerful of a tool as a computer. Never stop learning.

Which badass ladies are inspiring you lately?

I’m constantly inspired by Tina Roth Eisenberg, everything that she’s involved in is so playful. Jessica Hische does great work and I love that she’s always trying new things and sharing her experiences. I love the stuff Jessica Karle Heltzel did with Kern and Burn. And Erin Nolan does really refined work and is also one of the most fearless people I know.

And the most important question, based on your website bio: how many sweaters is too many sweaters? And do any of them have gems?

Too many sweaters is when I feel guilty about buying yet another one but do it anyway. And no, there are no gems yet, but one of them does have dreidels (and was a Kickstarter project)!


Thanks for the chat, Jessica! Can’t wait to see more embroidery Emojis (please do the one with hearts for eyes). You can view more of Jessica’s work on her website, and if you happen to be working on your own portfolio, be sure to check out her SkillShare class “Wireframing: The first steps of web design”.


Melanie Richards is a designer at Fuzzco, and spends her days designing and building
websites, and crafting brands. Outside work she runs Badass Lady Creatives, a project that celebrates talented women in the creative industries. Melanie is way into books, cheese, and dad jokes.

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