S2 • E4 – Oct 19, 2021

Inside Marketing Design at Notion

with Designer Cory Etzkorn

with Designers Cory Etzkorn and

with Designer Cory Etzkorn and

Cory joined the Notion team when they were just 15 people in a room. In this episode he tells us about both the early days of marketing design and Notion, and also about how things are working now that the team is a lot larger. We dive deep into the intricacies of making good product imagery, why illustration is a core part of the Notion brand, and some of the systems the team has put in place to deal with a large amount of design needs a fast-growing company has.


0:00 - An introduction to Notion

2:00 - The design org structure at Notion

5:10 - Dreaming and descoping

6:30 - The Notion brand

7:20 - Putting effort into product imagery

11:00 - Illustration at Notion

14:00 - Collaboration with the marketing team

17:00 - Creating a landing page system

20:45 - Project process for updating the site navigation

27:15 - Quick sidebar about meetings

28:30 - The dev process

29:55 - Data and testing at Notion

35:00 - Project planning & design requests

41:45 - Building scalable systems

44:10 - Takeaways


Charli: Welcome back to Inside Marketing Design. I'm your host, Charli Marie. I'm the creative director at ConvertKit and on this show I'm giving you an in-depth look at the marketing and brand design processes and principles and projects of various other tech companies. Today, I'm speaking with Cory Etzkorn who is a designer at Notion. If you haven't heard of Notion, it's an all-in-one workspace tool where you can take notes and plan projects and work on things as a team and fun fact, it's what I've been using to plan this season of Inside Marketing Design. They're a company that's grown a lot over the past year, they went from being a team of 30 people, to now being a team of 150, that's quite a big change. And Cory joined the team really early on about two years ago. He played a huge part in shaping the Notion brand, but also in scaling the marketing design processes to keep up with the marketing needs as the team has grown over the past year in particular. So, of course, he shared a lot of great advice on all of these things in today's episode. Before we get started, I wanna say a huge thanks to our season sponsor webflow for supporting the show. They're a website building tool and like Notion, I also use Webflow for this show. I love the web flow designer because it gives you the power of code without you having to actually write it yourself. And it feels like a design tool. So us designers, we feel right at home in it. Check it out for yourself or for your marketing design team at insidemarketingdesign.co/webflow. But now let's get into the episode and take a look inside marketing design at Notion. 

Cory, welcome to Inside Marketing Design, excited to have you here. I am a Notion user myself, and a big fan of your brand in general, the website, the way you use emoji throughout, I feel like that's a cool part of the Notion brand or as it's become, which I'm sure we'll dig into, but yeah, excited to have you here and to be digging into marketing design at Notion.

Cory: Hi, good morning, thank you for having me, Charli. I'm excited to be here on Inside Marketing Design. Woo hoo.

Charli: Let's start by talking about the team. So you're in a really unique situation at Notion, right? Where you were the second design hire, right?

Cory: There was one other product designer, but I was the first marketing designer.

Charli: First marketing designer, that's right.

Cory: So at the time the marketing team was just one person who was kind of leading all of it.

Charli: Yeah, you've been through such huge growth at Notion, especially over the last year. And I'm curious to hear what the team structure is like right now. How many designers are on the team? What does that org structure look like? Who's your boss? Do you manage anyone? Give us all the details.

Cory: Yeah, so we've tried to keep a good balance, like a focus on having quite a few engineers and designers at the company I would say design is sort of catching up to engineering now. We have two product designers and currently we have two designers on the marketing team. We're starting to hire more, 'cause we have a lot of jobs open on our site, and we're finally getting to a place where I'm starting to specialize more on like the website of marketing and the product designing aspects of it. And another designer, Sam, is leaning in more towards the brand side and everything that isn't the website, yeah.

Charli: Gotcha. And did that split happen naturally or when Sam joined, was it like with the expectation that that would be the sort of role?

Cory: No, in the beginning, every designer we've hired so far has also written code and that's something that isn't going to be the case forever, but in the beginning, it was helpful because we ended up building everything we designed and Sam and I both are kind of hybrid designer engineers. And we both basically just split all the design work for at least the last year. And it's just gotten to a point now where we're trying to specialize a little bit more so we can have a little more focus.

Charli: Who do you report to, where does marketing design sit within Notion’s org structure?

Cory: Yeah, so design at Notion is interesting because there isn't like an independent design team yet. We have a few designers who sit on the product and engineering team. And then we have two designers who sit on the marketing team and I report to the head of marketing, which was Camille. And she joined a few months before I did. And it was just her. So I reported to her, but it was just us two, it wasn't a full team until we hired more people.

Charli: Cool, okay. Yeah, that's where I sit within ConvertKit as well. It's sort of like as part of the growth marketing side of things as well, and we don't have a formal design team as such, but we're sort of an informal design team where we get together with the product designers and I dunno, critique work, discuss design stuff. Is that something you do as well with the product designers?

Cory: Yeah, definitely. I would say we also have an informal design team and it's important for like the brand side of things to stay up to date with the product. And once a week, or once every two weeks, we do kind of a show and tell where there's just so much going on that the product design side kind of shares. A lot of times they'll be working on future ideas, that aren't necessarily even features, but just like what could Notion look like in like two years if we had like every engineer in the world, right?

Charli: Yeah.

Cory: So it's cool to see where their brains are at and kind of get a sneak peek at the stuff we'll be able to market in a year from now if we build it. Yeah.

Charli: Fun! I think it's so important to make time for that. Like, I dunno, just like the dreaming stuff like that.

Cory: Yeah, it's definitely important, it is interesting though, 'cause I don't know if you found this, but marketing is a little bit less about dreaming, right? Because the whole point of marketing is documenting and sort of packaging up and making the thing that exists look really good, but it's interesting, I wonder if there is a way that you could make marketing a little more dreamy or kind of market into the future or something, so.

Charli: Yeah, for us, that side of things tends to come with individual projects where it's like, well, this is the version we would love to implement, but we don't have time for that. And so we'll like, de-scope it, and this is what we'll move forward with, but we feel good knowing we explored that option. Is that a situation you ever find yourself in? Being such a small marketing design team?

Cory: Yeah, one of our company values is quality with speed, which...

Charli: Ooh, I like it.

Cory: Which is sort of sounds kind of like a contradiction, but I think it's possible. And the most important thing is that we're shipping something good and high quality. And it's also important at a start up to do it fast. And usually the best way to do that is to pull out some scope and just make the parts that are included nice.

Charli: I like that framing of it, it's 'cause it means you're not compromising too much, right? Like you're shipping quickly, but you're still making sure things are meeting quality.

Cory: Yeah, totally.

Charli: Cool, can you tell us a little bit about the Notion brand? How would you describe it? 'Cause I know you've played a big part in forming it early on. So I'm keen to hear in your own words.

Cory: Yeah. So, I've asked a lot of people this same question, like over the last couple of years, 'cause I'm always curious what people think about it and it's can be hard to describe, I think the way I describe it, is it's classic and timeless, but it has sort of an edge to it, like a secret edge. Like if you only realize that once you've like been around the brand for awhile. Yeah, like some of our, I don't really run the Twitter account, but some of the tweets can have like a little bit of snark to them or something like in a nice way and not in a mean way.

Charli: Yeah.

Cory: But definitely some of the brands that we reference when we're designing stuff, are like the New York Times, just at Apple marketing, we like their marketing a lot. Well, there's a trend in like SAS marketing and like marketing for digital products where everyone kind of abstracts things. And instead of showing their product, they like doodle over their product and they like crop out. They take it out of context and instead of showing like the chat app, they'll show just a little speech bubble in the corner or something. And we always like how Apple approaches things where you always have the context. And if they're showing like their chat app, or iMessages it's in the context of like an iPhone, their product, it feels sort of complete. And like in this package.

Charli: That's really interesting to hear you just talk about that. 'Cause as I'm thinking about the Notion website, that's very visible, right? You lead with the giant shot of the product. And I noticed too that all of the product imagery on Notion site feels real. You know, you're not using lorem ipsum filler copy in it. The same as apple. They always pay attention to what the messages are saying. You know, it's not saying message one, message two. So that's a really cool way to pull inspiration from that. I was sort of going into a different direction now, but I would just want to know, do you create all of that product imagery? Are you the one writing up the dummy copy and things like that?

Cory: Yes.

Charli: Yes? Wow, that's a lot of work.

Cory: So this is why people don't do this, 'cause it's really hard. Yeah, I mean, I used Notion before I joined the company and that's how I knew about the product. And I thought it was a really amazing tool. But part of the job actually for the first few months was just getting to know Notion and like all the features it has and everything you can do with it, 'cause part of my job was building, I designed most of the templates that are in the template gallery in the beginning. That was a very interesting meta design challenge, designing with the tool that you're marketing and then taking screenshots of it. When you sign up for Notion, it's a blank canvas, right? So we have to show people what you can do with it. And the only way to do that is to create fake workspaces and inspire people with like the beautiful stuff you can make. There's no secret hack. It just takes a lot of time.

Charli: When you need to create a product image. Do you have in mind, I don't know if you call it a persona or if there's sort of like an imaginary customer that you have in your head that you're creating this example image for.

Cory: Yeah, definitely. We've debated like how far to go down this rabbit hole because if you're going to always show real content and real examples, say the example is, you can take meeting notes in Notion, right? And we have like the database of meeting notes. We have like a landing page for designers and a landing page targeted at like managers. And we could create a separate screenshot for designers and managers where it's the same template, but the names of the meetings are like for designers, it's like choosing colors and font choice or whatever. And for managers, it's like one-on-one with your reports and we've debated whether going to that level of detail matters, and...

Charli: And what'd you decide?

Cory: I mean, I think it definitely matters. I think the question is, I mean the more you see an example and feel like this product is made specifically for you, the more you're gonna be interested in using it. I think the struggle is that level of customization takes a lot of energy and time. And the question is, is that trade-off actually worth the whatever lift you would get in like conversions or sign-ups? Maybe we'll actually answer that question with data at some point and we'll test it out.

Charli: That would be fascinating. I would love to hear the results of that. If that is the test you run. I, yeah, I definitely want you to run that.

Cory: I think we definitely will, so.

Charli: Keep us posted, great. Another part I love about the Notion brand is your approach to illustration. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Cory: Yeah, so we've been unique in that we've had an illustrator, Roman, who's been on staff since before I joined, he wasn't really an early employee, but in the beginning he was like our artist in residence and Ivan, the founder, I mean, he just has a deep appreciation for art and he had just an area of the office where the intention was, we just let artists come work in the office around us.

Charli: Amazing.

Cory: So, I think that's how Roman sort of began coming to the office and that's something I appreciated as a designer is having beautiful assets to work with. Like you can't design a nice page if you don't have nice photography or if you don't have nice illustration, or if you're limited to like a Google font or something, you have to have nice inputs to have nice outputs. And the illustration is, yeah, it's become a huge part of the brand. And Roman has such a unique style too, that's very recognizable.

Charli: Yeah, it's so Notion. Yeah, you can notice it anywhere. I noticed too that every person so far that I've emailed from Notion all has their own illustrated portrait as the photo.

Cory: Yeah, some people, some of the employees who are like on Twitter have, people have commented like, is this a requirement when you join? Like you have to devote your life to Notion and update your avatar and it's not, but I think they're just really fun and people are proud to be part of building this tool.

Charli: And to have a custom illustration of yourself. I mean, that's pretty special. Let's talk a bit about how illustration fits into your design process, when you're designing a landing page or something. Do you make a request of Roman for an illustration that you need to explain a concept? Or I don't know. Yeah, how do you work together normally?

Cory: Yeah, usually he comes in more at the end because usually our landing pages aren't super conceptual, like intentionally.

Charli: Yeah, like you said, there's a lot of product imagery.

Cory: Yeah, the main thing is showing the product and explaining the features and why you'd want to use it. The reason we have illustrations is to reinforce the brand and just tie it all together. So it is usually kind of the last piece. In the beginning, me and Roman worked a little more closely together, so I would kind of loop him in earlier in the design process, but now we have kind of a library of, he's done so many illustrations. That I'll just grab stuff that he's done in the past. That's around the same size, or maybe it's a spot illustration versus a hero illustration and I'll just drop them in. And sometimes I'll also add notes about like, kind of what I would think we would want to illustrate there and just ideas. He's also just brilliant and has lots of ideas as well. Yeah, so he kind of comes in at the end and adds stuff and I think he likes working in that way. He knows what the context is gonna be.

Charli: Yeah, that helps. Especially with illustration, right? 'Cause you need to know what space it's going in.

Cory: Yeah.

Charli: What about the ways in which you collaborate with the marketing team? Can you tell us more about that?

Cory: Yeah, so while the marketing team covers a lot of grounds, so we market the product, we also educate users about the product. So we run the help center and we've been creating a lot of educational material and like sort of a Notion academy kind of thing, and webinars. And more recently we've started producing a ton of content. Like we've been posting on our blog a lot. There's a lot of different work streams happening at the same time and we have two designers. So the last couple of years we've just been shipping a ton of big things, like we had to build the blog. We spent some time building like a landing page builder system where we could spin up a lot of landing pages.

Charli: Ooh, okay I wanna hear about that.

Cory: And yeah, a lot of the time has been put into building bigger systems that are going to kind of support our growth. But now that more of these systems are in place, we have more time to kind of work one-on-one, like I might pair with one of our content writers and we'll write a landing page together. They'll start it by kind of outlining the goals of the page and the audience and the messaging. And from there, I'll translate it into kind of our style and help flush out the visuals.

Charli: That's cool, I like when you can collaborate on those early stages as well, of like, what does this page say, and in what order should that information go in? I think that's really important to be involved with that stuff.

Cory: Yeah, I think the tricky part is we've sort of, at this point we have sort of a formula for like a Notion landing page and that's when someone's writing a new landing page, before I look at it, they'll often reference like existing landing pages to kind of have an idea of like what components exist and like what we can work with. But I also, on the other hand, that's great because it means it's going to be easier to build and we can make it fast. But I also try to remind people that we can create new things and it's okay to think outside of the exact components we have. And at some point we want to also evolve what we've made. When we do that, we'd have to know it takes a little bit longer, right.

Charli: But sometimes it's worth it, right? If it's warranted, if it's an important project in particular, yeah. I have the same struggles in that people try to help. So they're like, look, we could just make it like this page here and I've written the information so it can fit in the exact same place. I'm like, oh, well, that's good. But also I'd prefer to like change things a bit because this structure isn't an ideal for this information.

Cory: Yeah, I mean, there is a place for that 'cause you do have to move fast as a startup, right. 

Charli: Yeah, like you said, quality with speed.

Cory: But the other interesting part about if you do kind of make all the landing pages similar and build them on a sort of system, that means if you start doing testing later on and improving modules on a page, you can apply that learning to like a hundred pages at once. So there is an advantage to kind of following a template or format.

Charli: That's a great point. So let's jump in and talk more about this system you set up. So is this a system where the marketing team can self service a page now or is it a system where it just makes it faster for you all on marketing design to get the page built?

Cory: It's just built in our content management system, Contentful. I wouldn't compare it necessarily to Squarespace, but you can build an entire landing page in the CMS. You can upload all the screenshots, you can write all the copy, it handles all the layout. And we tried to build it in a way where the content you can put in is somewhat limited intentionally, so that no matter what you do, it's going to look good and it's going to flow nicely. It's been really good, like this week, I think we're launching four pages using it. And if I was building all of those, it would take at least a couple of weeks. Yeah, I think it's going to help speed things up a lot, even with a landing page builder, so much comes down to like having an eye for design and layout, even in that, because half the page is screenshots. And if you choose the wrong color of emoji for the page, like it could kind of throw off the whole thing, you know? So there is still a need for like a lot of design collaboration there.

Charli: But it does make the whole thing faster, like you said. What are these pages normally used for? What's the use case for the four shipping this week, for example.

Cory: Yeah, so we kind of have a distinction between like main product landing pages and then there's performance marketing pages that are specifically targeted to ads. And that was the main driver for creating the system because we have a page that's like Notion for Enterprise. And that page is fairly fixed in that we update it with like new features and things like that from time to time, but we don't need to constantly update it. But these performance marketing pages, one of the people on the marketing team, their whole job is focused on performance marketing. And this has given him the autonomy to have an ad and have half of the people go to one landing page and half of them go to the other or customized landing page to speak specifically to a certain persona. That's just something we didn't have the engineering bandwidth to do before. But now that it's more self serve, it's possible.

Charli: Yeah, that's great.

 Cory: Having that customization is super important for performance, right?

Charli: Yeah, and I love that you've set up that system 'cause then it frees up your time. I'm sure there was extra lift in the start getting it into place, but now you can be focusing on other things.

 Cory: Yeah, I think the tricky part with a system like that, is as soon as you build it, the first thing that happens is you try to break it and add a new thing or modify a certain thing. And you have to be very diligent because pretty soon it's not going to be a system and it's going to be like, you're going to be back to where you started, where it was supposed to be automated, but now it's like this customized Frankenstein thing, you know?

Charli: Yep, so you hand it over to the marketing team and see how they could break it as well. I'm sure that they found some things.

 Cory: Yeah, it's okay to extend and it's okay to change, but we try to avoid like modifying it for like one-off use cases unless there's like a really compelling reason.

Charli: Cool, well, sorry to listeners who weren't as interested in a deep dive in that as I am, but I'm basically using these interviews as a research for my own purposes sometimes too. And I really want to set up something like this. It sounds like it's going to be really useful.

 Cory: Do you have something like this?

Charli: We do not, we do not have any thing templated where people can self-service create a landing page on our main marketing site at the moment. ConvertKit has landing pages where you can like spin up a page using a template and collect email addresses and things. Sometimes we'll use that, if like that's the purpose, is to collect email addresses. But yeah, I think something like this is going to be needed because we also just hired like a paid marketing manager. So I know they're going to be wanting to make pages for ads too. Let's talk about a project that I guess maybe you have time for, because you're not having to spend all your time making these other landing pages. I know you worked on new navigation across the main site, which is, I guess a little bit more static and not as self serve. Talk us through the process of that. Where does that start from? Who decided that we need to update the navigation?

Cory: We've had a growth team for awhile, which is, it sort of sits between product and marketing. We have a few data scientists who are on that team. And as we've improved our data capabilities and reporting and stuff, we've hired a few growth marketers who are now synthesizing that data and trying to identify areas where we could see a lot of lift or like conversion or improvement. And one of the areas we identified was the nav. And like one of our goals was driving more enterprise contacts to our sales team. And so we wanted to elevate just the ability to contact our sales team and make it as easy as possible. We also had in our main nav, we had instead of a signup button, it was an email field with a sign up button. So it was like you type your email and then you sign up, and we got a lot of feedback that people thought that was a sign up for something like a newsletter or something and not the product, which is pretty problematic.

Charli: It was too easy to sign up for your product.

Cory: Yeah, it's the thing where it was a cool idea, but I felt like it was maybe reinventing the wheel a little too much. And, especially with, on the product side, in most cases, I think you want to follow conventions. You don't want to try to push people to learn a new thing, unless there's a really good reason, so, yeah.

Charli: Right.

Cory: So that we just felt there was, the growth team felt there was a lot of improvements that could be made there. Our goals with the nav were three things, one, increased sign-ups two, increase the number of sales leads and contacts we got and then three, restructure things, so that looking at the nav, the first impression you got was that Notion was a product for teams and enterprises. We have an interesting customer base where a lot of our customers are just personal users, but we obviously want to focus a lot on teams. 'Cause that's a source of revenue and yeah, we wanted to restructure the nav to speak to each of those teams. Like we wanted the word, design teams in the nav and managers and make it very clear that we catered to those use cases.

Charli: Cool, so who did the, I guess like the information architecture for the new nav? Did you get those goals and go about creating that yourself? In collaboration with someone?

Cory: Yeah. So this was one of our first collaborations I've had with the growth team since that's kind of a new function

Charli: Cool.

Cory: And they started by sort of auditing the nav and looking at other competitor navs. And we started a Notion actually just with like a bulleted list of...

Charli: Of course you did.

Cory: Yeah, yeah. A bulleted list of like different paths of like what would the main items be? And like what items would be inside them, which items could we potentially consider removing? What items do we need to add? So that we're on par with other competitors. Yeah, so it started with a list on Notion. And from there I did some wireframes, which not really, I don't have some like wireframes style or something, but just something more visual where it's not a list and it sort of looks like a nav and something the design team does in Notion a lot is, we do a lot of iterations, like more than anywhere I've ever been.

Charli: Okay.

Cory: So I think all in all, it ended up being nine rounds of design and each one like has 10 to 20 variations of how the nav could look.

Charli: Wow. That's a lot.

Cory: Yeah, but we don't spend a ton of time on each of them. Like I'm spending, five to 10 minutes on each variation. We try to explore paths that even if I think something isn't going to be good and try to like, design it in Figma just to see it and confirm that it's not good.

Charli: Yep, and then you know, and do you leave it there in Figma to reference? 'Cause I like to do that. Leave all of my iterations.

Cory: Yeah, I mean, I actually, if there's one feature of Figma I never use, it's like the versioning feature. Like I use it

Charli: Yeah, me neither.

Cory: if I like lost something, but I create pages, I'll have sort of like round one

Charli: Same.

Cory: and in round one there'll be like 10 variations of the nav that are in very different directions. And then we'll share that with the stakeholders, which in this case was the growth team marketing, our new chief revenue officer. Yeah, so I'll share it with them and then collect the feedback. And then the next day there'll be like a round two page where I just duplicate the first page and then delete the stuff we didn't like and start iterating on the stuff we did like, and for this particular nav project, we did that like nine times. So, took about a week.

Charli: Do you collect feedback on each round in Figma itself as well or in a Notion doc? How does that side of things work?

Cory: Yeah. There's not really a set rule. I like getting feedback in Figma because then you don't have to type in Notion like the button that's red, that's next to that, you know,

Charli: Yep.

Cory: You can click on it and you can talk about it. And I think it also helps prevent like 10 people telling you the same thing because other people can see what other people have said. Yeah, so we collect feedback in Figma in the beginning, and then as things get a little more refined, like some feedback will come through Slack, too.

Charli: Do you have meetings to present each round and discuss, or does it all happen async?

Cory: It's pretty rare that I'll have a meeting to discuss. I mean, I don't even set a meeting to like present an initial design. I just put it in Figma and I share the link in Slack and with kind of some guidelines for, hey, this first round is more about information architecture. Try not to focus so much on the colors and stuff and sort of guide the conversation. Yeah, and we will have meetings, but I usually hold off on that unless, if we get to a place where we're just going back and forth a bunch, or there's conflicting feedback, then I think it's helpful to me.

Charli: Yeah, that makes sense, like meetings as a last resort, rather than as a default.

Cory: Yeah, it's nice to see people though, like I'm not against having a Zoom. It's just they can add up really quick.

Charli: This quick sidebar about meetings. How often do you think you're in meetings throughout the week? How much time do you spend in meetings?

Cory: I mean, in the beginning. I mean, that was something I loved in the beginning. Like I think I didn't have a single meeting for like the first year, which yeah.

Charli: Whoa. So no recurring team meetings or like one-on-ones with the manager?

Cory: Yeah, I did have a one-on-one with a manager, but aside from that, there was 15 people in a room. Ivan, the founder, has always been very pro at like asynchronous work and that's, I mean, obviously meshes with Notion well, because that's kind of what it's for. So we've had like kind of a culture of writing docs and like trying to be thoughtful about what you're trying to accomplish. Like instead of just like slacking someone like, hey, I have this like random idea, just kind of instead, like creating a Notion doc and fleshing out your idea a little bit more before you kind of share it with everyone so there's more context.

Charli: Yeah.

Cory: Yeah, I probably have a couple meetings a day now that are like one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Sometimes there's more, we're also hiring a lot. So there's been a lot of interviews and stuff.

Charli: Okay, so back to the talk about the navigation. So once you reached a stage where you were happy with the design and it was ready to be built, who builds that now? Is that still you, or do you now have engineers on the team who can implement that?

Cory: We do. We did hire our first marketing engineer a few months ago.

Charli: Woo hoo.

Cory: Yeah, it's really exciting. Yeah, it's been super nice to have someone dedicated to that function. In this case I did end up building it and that was the plan. Yeah, it was just, it's a case of just moving quickly and that was the quickest way to move, was just to design it and build it.

Charli: Yep.

Cory: Yeah, and the nav is also, it's one of those things where there's a lot of interactions and there's desktop and mobile, and we had a bunch of different were tested. It was like a three-way split test thing.

Charli: Oh, wow.

Cory: And it was just quicker to, instead of like designing every single variation in mobile, it was quicker to kind of just get in there and do it.

Charli: Yep, just do it in the code. 'Cause you already have in your head probably what you wanted it to look like.

Cory: Yeah, for sure. I think we will probably get to a place where ideally I'm not like building quite as much stuff because it can be a little difficult on a timeline to kind of have to jump back and forth between GitHub and Figma.

Charli: Yeah, it's a lot of context switching as well, to go from design mode to code mode.

Cory: Yeah, for sure. And I think it's possible and it works, but I think there are a few pitfalls of it.

Charli: Yeah, that's fair enough. You mentioned split testing there. What tools do you use for that? Do you have some sort of internal one? Is there a third party tool you use?

Cory: Yeah we have an internal experiments framework that we built, the product team built that and it was mainly used for the app itself. So we could test features and release them like at a interval. Yeah, we've used that for marketing as well. It lets us do, split tests, A/B tests and all that data gets tracked in our data systems and we can create reports about it. And it's pretty flexible.

Charli: Amazing.

Cory: I think the one issue we run into is it requires an engineer to do pretty much everything, which could be me, like I can set up tests, but you know, people like our performance marketer have less ability to create their own tests and things. So we're definitely going to try to figure out a way to make it a little more self-serve.

Charli: Sounds like, yeah, the next system thing to happen, right.

Cory: Do you have like a testing framework?

Charli: Yeah, we previously used Google Optimize and it didn't play nice with our data system. We just felt like we couldn't trust it in the end, it would put people in two different buckets. And our data system would show that people had both buckets they'd been tracked with. We're looking at VWO now. But I think in the long run, it'd be good for us to build an internal one as well, because it just feels like it's the most accurate way to run tests but VWR seems pretty good.

Cory: Yeah, cool.

Charli: You mentioned data and that there's the data analysts and that the growth team pay attention to that. And that's where this whole idea for the nav update came from. How close do you feel to the data? Is that something you look at often? Do you have people reporting back to you? Like, I don't know. Interesting things they've noticing on the site, can you tell me more about that?

Cory: Yeah, data has been an interesting function at Notion like we've always looked at very high level things like sign ups over a period of time or team signups or personal signups and turn or retention. For a long time, we didn't really go too much deeper than that because Notion grew very organically by word of mouth and we didn't really have a performance marketing function for awhile. I think we ran our first ad ever like sometime in the last nine months. And yeah, we've done other advertising, but like traditional performance marketing is a very new thing. So, I think data is just starting to become like a really important thing on the marketing side because of that, because we're starting to spend money on acquiring customers, customers who wouldn't have normally known about us. And yeah, we want to optimize that. So we're not just wasting money.

Charli: Yep. I would be curious here in future, if this gives you more insights into like conversion rate of certain pages that you have. And if that, I don't know clicks on buttons and if that starts some more tests for you.

Cory: Yeah, we sort of like, since we have a little less data in the beginning, we had all these sort of theories that we've slowly been trying to prove. Like one of the theories was, we had some very, very long landing pages where it was just, you just scrolled and scrolled and you scrolled. And I think scrolling is great as an interaction, but I was always wondering like, is this page just too long? Are we trying to do too much? And is it overwhelming? Are we trying to tell too much of the story to too many people? And we have found that the shorter pages have started to perform better and maybe it's better to create more pages that are tailored to specific personas or use cases instead of trying to create these monster pages that speak to everyone.

Charli: I like that, that makes me think about our feature pages, which some of them are getting pretty long, as our features become more and more robust. And I'm starting to think that we need to break them down more and just try and do less in an overview and give people room to go more detailed if they want, but not like show it to everybody.

Cory: Yeah, I know we've redesigned our homepage several times. And at one point we were going to test a version, there are companies out there, where you go to the homepage and you don't scroll at all. It's just literally a giant button in the middle where it's like sign up for our product that doesn't even have any context about what the product does or is. And those pages can convert really well. There's things you wouldn't expect to work that work really well. So the only way to know is to test them and see if they perform.

Charli: Yeah, that sounds fun. I think you're going to have a lot of tests in your future. It seems like.

Cory: Yeah, for sure. I think it's the year of tests and data.

Charli: We've talked about a few tools, Figma, Notion, the internal testing tool. What other tools come in as part of your process?

Cory: Yeah, I mean, on the design side, like Figma and Notion, we don't use too many tools. Yeah.

Charli: Those ones do what you need.

Cory: We design in Figma, I write code and VS Code and people comment in Figma. We do use Notion heavily. There is a blog post on our site called How Notion Uses Notion, which is super interesting to read, I think. We obviously use Notion for everything, it's become so normal to me that I've forgotten that in the regular world, everyone's like in Google Docs, maybe in an email and I've totally forgotten those things exist. Yeah.

Charli: Oh, that's nice, yeah. It'd be nice to forget that Google Docs exists. Okay, another question I have for you, knowing that you're a very small marketing design team compared to the company size, right? And I think this is going to be a similar situation that I'll find myself in once ConvertKit grows more, is that, the rest of the company will grow around us, but we probably won't expand the marketing design team a whole lot more than what we are right now. I'm curious to hear about how you deal with just the sheer amount of needs within the company. So the system that you built for landing pages is one, but I'm sure that there's more requests for design than you have time. You and Sam have time to fulfill. I'd love to hear how you handle that.

Cory: Yeah, this is a thing we're still working on, but...

Charli: You're not alone my friend.

Cory: I think this happens on the product side too. Like there's always feature requests and things like that, but marketing is a little more unique in that everyone at some point is going to need assistance from marketing to either promote a feature or set up a webinar for the sales team or improve the help center for the customer success team. And so at some point everyone's going to interact with marketing and there's only two designers. And in the beginning, we would just do everything, try to be as helpful as possible. And I think we still try to do that to some extent. And I mean, the other challenge with marketing is you can plan, but you can't plan everything for marketing because there's going to be something that you're going to have to spin up a page because we just acquired a company called Automate IO.

Charli: Yeah, I saw that.

Cory: That's something that some of us didn't learn about immediately. So we had to kind of figure out how to announce that and publicize it. So there's always going to be kind of last minute requests. I think this is the most important thing is just creating visibility around the number of requests for the design team, but also for people who are making requests. So it's not going into a black box and it's like, hey, here's the request. Unfortunately, it's number 32 on the list of things that are probably going to take the next 10 years, but we can move it up the list, but then like it's important to understand the trade-offs, right? Like whenever we move something up the list, something is moving down the list and we need to make sure we're not moving something really important down the list to change the color of a headline on some page.

Charli: Yeah, that makes sense. Who evaluates those trade-offs and who is like doing the ordering of this list? Is that you and Sam working through it together?

Cory: Yeah, so Notion hasn't really had any product managers. We hired our first product manager in the last six months. They're focused more on the product side. So the marketing team still doesn't have any people dedicated to product management.

Charli: Yeah.

Cory: That's, I think something that's going to change. So eventually that person will probably be the person prioritizing and figuring out that. Yeah, but we use Notion we have a Notion database. It's like a Kanban board where we're just adding, we have a backlog of tasks when a request comes in, we try to document what the request is and the context. And we have a weekly marketing design/engineering meeting where we meet with the head of marketing and we try to surface anything new that's come in and figure out if it makes sense to adjust the next week's worth of work to kind of accommodate some of these new requests or if we have to kind of hold off on them for a little bit.

Charli: Which is often the reality, unfortunately.

Cory: Yeah.

Charli: But I think that's the same for every company.

Cory: Do you have like a super long backlog of things that you want to do?

Charli: I would say honestly, we don't even have a super detailed backlog. We plan work at ConvertKit, this year, anyway, we've been doing it in six weeks cycles within a two week cool down for planning the next cycle and like wrapping things up. So we tend to just look at what's the business needs. What do we need to do to make that happen or to support projects that other teams are doing this cycle to make that happen. And that's what we go with. But yeah, I think a lot of the dreaming ideas, like what we're talking about at the start, get left behind in that way of doing things. And I want to find a way to bring them back in. What timeframe do you work in and how do you plan, is it weekly?

Cory: Yeah, we do have, like quarterly OKR planning at a company level and we have a lot of things on that list. Like it's pretty ambitious, which I think is good, but we've had so many things that, the only way to kind of accomplish them, is to sort of divide and conquer. And like, I go off and I build landing page builder, and then Sam goes off and he works on advertisements. And like, there's no way everything else would just get done. So I think we're trying to plan in a way where we can collaborate. There's more opportunities for collaboration and we can kind of pair and have multiple brains on a project. And I think also something that will come out of that is more of a process, more of like a agile, like biweekly cadence, where we set, we kind of scope projects and adjust our priorities. But currently it's quarterly and then weekly we just have a check-in where we figure out what actually can happen that week and how the week before went.

Charli: Yeah, it sounds like the way you work is sort of, not technically I'm sure, but really like one project at a time. It's like, okay, let's focus on this, get it done. Then we move on to the next one, focus on this, get it done.

Cory: Yeah, we try to do that. I mean, yeah, there's a bunch of projects going.

Charli: And they're all in different stages at all different times.

Cory: Yeah, it would be nice to just to finish them all. I keep waiting for this magical day where like all of the big projects will be done. And then we're just going to start optimizing all the pages and kind of iterate on what we have. And I have faith that this day will come, but I think there will always be big projects.

Charli: I think you're right.

Cory: Well, I don't know.

Charli: The work never ends.

Cory: I just look at the marketing site and I'm like, what other pages could we possibly add to this thing? Like, I feel like we have all of them, but then we don't, so .

Charli: Yeah, well then what's happened to us. Is, I'm like, yeah, we've got all our pages, but some of them are like, I don't know, four years old at this point, because that's when we last made them. So now they need to be re-looked at.

Cory: Yeah, I totally forgot about that. There is a lot of pages on the Notion marketing site where I'm like, it's still sorta holding up, but it's like, it's old, and we've evolved how we talk about the product and show the product since then. And it doesn't feel off-brand, but I don't think customers or users see it and think that, but I see it and I'm like, this needs some updates.

Charli: Yeah, you know it could be better. And you know that.

Cory: Yeah.

Charli: You can do it.

Cory: For sure.

Charli: Let's end by talking about the thing you're most proud of from your time at Notion, it could be a project, it could be a certain impact that you had, I don't know. We'd just like to hear.

Cory: Yeah. I think part of like being a designer and engineer and like living in that space between things, is you sort of start to understand the inefficiencies like between the two. I'm just always thinking about how to get those things to work better together and faster and in a more scalable way. So I think the thing I'm most proud of is just, I feel like I've helped build a lot of really scalable systems. The company stayed quite small intentionally for a long time and it's still pretty small. Like we're currently just over a hundred people. But, for the first year we were under 30, it wasn't until like a year ago that we really started hiring a lot. And even before we started hiring a lot, we were very diligent about using Notion to document things. There was one other designer at the company, but we still took the time to make a whole Notion Doc About.

Charli: Oh, that's so good. I wish I'd done that.

Cory: Yeah, and at the time I was just like, I don't know if this is a good use of time. Like I could just have a half hour Zoom with Sam and we could go through how Contentful works and we could be done with it. But instead I spent an hour like screenshotting the process and like which buttons to click and have done that over and over. Like a lot of people at Notion have done that across the organization. I mean, that's part of what happens when you use Notion as a product and I think one of the selling points, right, is that it's fun to document and prepare, well there was a particular month where, I think that month we hired like 15 or 20 people in that month and basically the company doubled that month. And I didn't really see that coming. I knew it was going to come someday, but I didn't really know when, and I don't think things would've really worked if we didn't have all that documentation in place. And hadn't really thought ahead enough to a day where we couldn't sit down with each person and go through, this is the brand and this is what Notion's about, right? So yeah, I think just building scalable systems and thinking ahead, but not too far ahead.

Charli: I love that. Thanks so much for everything you've shared Cory, I feel like I have a to do list now,

Cory: Oh no.

Charli: Honestly, coming out of this conversation of things I want to implement myself. No, it's all good. And I'm sure that our listeners do, as well. Thanks for all your insights.

Cory: Yeah, thanks for having me Charli, this is really nice.

Charli: That was a jam packed episode, full of useful insights, right? I hope you enjoyed it. One thing that I didn't mention in the introduction is that Cory actually has a background in product design. And I think this really comes through in his approach to the Notion marketing side. He treats it like a product and that's something that I'm definitely gonna take into my work at ConvertKit ongoing. And in my approach to our site, I'm going to treat it like a product and see how that goes. As always, I would love to hear your favorite insights from this episode though. So please feel free to share them in the YouTube comments or tag me on social media. I'm @charliprangley on Instagram and on Twitter and check out the description or the show notes for links to Notion as well as links to Cory. Thanks again to webflow for sponsoring this season. If you're on a small design team, webflow could be a really great way for you to speed up your landing page build process, to support the needs of the marketing team. So check it out. You can try it for free at insidemarketingdesign.co/webflow. Stay tuned for more great episodes coming in season two, and you can get links to the Marketing Design Dispatch newsletter, the job board, and of course, more episodes of this show at insidemarketingdesign.co. Thanks for listening. And I'll see you next time.

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