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WeAreDelphix: Meet Stephen Wolf

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Stephen Wolf is the director of experience design on the product management team at Delphix. In this spotlight, he dives into what XD is all about, his best piece of career advice, and why listening is his secret superpower.

What do you do at Delphix and what inspired you to join the company? 

I lead the Experience Design (XD) team at Delphix. We’re responsible for translating unfamiliar concepts into transparent workflows and complex functionality into convenient user interfaces. At enterprise software companies, there’s no end of fun in that. While our product innovations come from deep technical expertise, it’s up to the XD team  to make it easy for customers to unlock the value of what we build for them. If you’re the kind of goofball who likes making order out of multi-dimensional complexity, it’s a fantastic job to have.

I joined Delphix because of the people, and there are two sides to that: the employees and our customers. A former colleague at another company recruited me, and during the interview process I kept noting how intelligent and personable everyone was. That’s true throughout Delphix, at every level of the company. Our customers are dedicated and passionate people. When it comes to designing workflows and user interfaces, customers and employees have been the most thoughtful and collaborative partners I’ve encountered. It’s been an all-time high in my career working with the caliber of people at Delphix.

You can ask me anything about…?

The mysteries of why people do what they do. This is what XD is all about. To design something that people love to use, you have to get out of your own head, walk in your customers’ shoes, and do great detective work. XD is like a crime scene investigation before the crime even takes place. Ask a lot of questions. Figure out exactly what steps users will take as they work through a task. Then designing great experiences is a sure thing.

What’s the coolest project you’ve worked on at Delphix? 

I want to say that all of the projects I’ve worked on are candidates for the coolest, but in terms of depth and scope, redesigning our Timeflow experience takes the cake. It was like living half of my life in a time machine, shuttling back and forth between the present, moments in the recent past, and events in the near future—then trying to make sense of all of it. 

I wouldn’t recommend it for people with vertigo or motion sickness, but it was an amazing mix of learning, discovery, and designing something for our customers that was just what they wanted (even though they didn’t know it in advance). Not to mention, the interactions we had with engineers, technical services experts, and our customers was incredibly informative and rewarding. 

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? 

When I was cutting my teeth as an editorial assistant at Random House, a seasoned book editor told me: “If you don’t turn down at least one manuscript a year that becomes a bestseller, you’re not following your instincts.” Listening to your inner voice—your instincts—is critical. Don’t leave home without it.

What’s your secret talent?

My secret talent is listening. Living in Japan for four years made me into a super-listener. Part of the challenge of living outside of your native country is learning the language and understanding the nuances of what people are saying. The culture of listening in Japan is phenomenal. Verbal communication is part of the experience. Body language and what people don’t say is just as important. At work, going into that place of deep quiet to listen to what customers are saying and meet them halfway is my tried-and-true source of design inspiration.

What song instantly puts you in a good mood? 

I’m a huge fan of Samba and Bossa Nova, and Elis Regina is my favorite singer. Her version of  Alô Alô, Taí Carmem Miranda, about the Brazilian superstar who used to wear outlandish head pieces, is swinging, sweet, layered, and delicious.

What drives you everyday? 

You could say that I’m an aha-moment junkie. I live for moments of discovery, when blurry pictures snap into focus and a mess of puzzle pieces finally fit together. For me, that’s what experience design is all about.