We caught up with Benjamin Gadbaw for our latest Alumni Spotlight, who told us all about his work with WeWork in Denver, how he manages working remotely, and what he hopes his legacy and influence will be in the future.
Catch us up with where you are? Still in New York? Somewhere entirely different? Full-time/ Part-time?
It's been five years since I left SVA as the second graduating class. I spent three years at IDEO in their New York office. I eventually got over the New York bug and headed west. Now I'm working full-time and remotely in beautiful Denver, CO on the WeWork User Experience team (along with Sam Carmichael). Ironically, WeWork is based in Chelsea, NY so I visit for a week or so every month and travel abroad as we open new markets.
Tell us a little about your current work and some other projects you’ve been involved in since graduating?
My current role is as the Service Design Lead for WeWork. The last year I've worked closely with Tomer Sharon and the rest of the UX team to make the member experience visible to all of WeWork and help the company decide what to work on using evidence of what our users (we call them members) need.
At IDEO, one of the projects I'm most proud of was an SMS-based interface and CMS, that IDEO later called "Walkbot" I made with Francis Tseng specifically for product research. It was early in 2013 so conversational UI wasn't as common, and we were stoked to see how a service could be designed and delivered with a focus on the content more than the graphics of the interface. I also spent a year editing a recently published Rosenfeld Media book—Validating Product Ideas Through Lean User Research.
What’s next for you?
I'm interested in finding new roles WeWork can play in removing risk and providing a more diverse and globally distributed (and deeply connected) community for members. Working remotely myself, I know first-hand the pros and cons of a geographically distributed team. I think some of the old ways of working are just myths that will be debunked by more progressive companies and people like DHH. But other barriers are less superficial, like the deprecation in the quality of an interaction that's mediated through a screen instead of in-person.
What does a typical day look like for you? Are you spending all your time at work, or finding time for personal projects? Do you wish it was more balanced or more intense one way or another?
A typical day starts with writing, mostly about things I felt waking up that morning or am looking forward to that day. I begin work either at one of the WeWork locations in Denver or from home. After some independent work I log in to my double (an iPad on wheels) which I control from my computer and rolls around at WeWork's Headquarters in New York. Lunches are with friends in Denver or family who live close by. I'm an aspiring FPV racer so I take regular breaks to fly an Ares quadcopter. Also my physical energy peaks around 2 or 3pm so I usually take a break to run or climb at the gym before coming back to work. But if it's a Friday and there's fresh powder I head to the mountains.
What type of legacy do you hope for your work to leave?
I hope that people I work with will look back and think positively about what we accomplished. I also would like to influence the companies I work for toward what would best be described today as B Corps.
When I think about the experience we are designing at WeWork and how most of a member's waking day is spent within the product, I realize we are just beginning to understand their needs and our role in delivering an experience to meet those needs. Following Paul Ford's advice from our graduation speech, I regularly ask myself "am I going to help someone make order in his or her life, or am I going to send that person to a commune in Vermont?"