This week on the Salesforce Admins Podcast, we sit down with Adam Doti, VP and Principal Design Architect at Salesforce. He tells us about the team he leads that empowers Salesforce designers.

Join us as we talk about how Adam and his team have brought designers together at Salesforce, and the resources they’ve put together to help you apply design thinking concepts in your org.

You should subscribe for the full episode, but here are a few takeaways from our conversation with Adam Doti.

A small but mighty team of designers

“Salesforce Design is a small but mighty team that sits at the intersection of our product user experience design team, our customer success group design team, and our creative team in marketing,” Adam says. They have two main goals: build a culture and community of design at Salesforce, and bringing design to our ecosystem.

When they started, they knew they had a lot of design capability at Salesforce and they needed to find a way to harness it. They wanted to learn from each other and inspire each other, but they didn’t know how that would work. “Everything is designed,” Adam says, “whether intentionally or accidentally—stuff is designed.” And indeed, they ran into all sorts of people who were making design decisions: from professional designers to admins and developers making choices in their orgs. What they realized was that they needed to help people understand how to think about and see design.

Why admins make design decisions every day

The Salesforce Lightning redesign brought the platform forward in a lot of ways, “…but it actually exponentially made the need for good design even more important,” Adam says. One concept Adam and his team focus on is relationship design — a creative approach to driving social value focused on building relationships with customers, employees, and community.

In case you missed it, we have a new video series with Adam called #BeAnInnovator with Design focused on the design thinking process. It’ll take you through the six phases: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, build, and validate. Each episode will have an exercise to help you put those concepts into action in ways that make sense for your org. Join the #BeAnInnovator with Design journey today! 



Full Show Transcript

Gillian Bruce: Well, welcome to the Salesforce Admins podcast, where we talk about product, community and careers to help you be an awesome Admin. I’m your host, Gillian Bruce. And today we have an amazing guest joining us, someone who I really truly have so much fun talking to. We have the one and only Adam Doti joining us. So Adam is a long time Salesforcer he’s VP and Principal Design Architect. He is leading up a new team that is working to help empower Salesforce designers.
And I have him on the podcast today for a lot of reasons. Of course, I love talking to him, but also because I really wanted to introduce this design thinking to all of us Admins out there in the world and get ready for something really exciting, our new Be An Innovator Campaign that is all about design thinking. So without further ado, let’s get at them on the podcast. Adam, welcome to the podcast.

Adam Doti: Thanks for having me Gillian.

Gillian Bruce: Oh, you’re so welcome. We’re very happy to have you on the podcast and talk about some very exciting things. Before we get into that. Let’s introduce you a little bit to the listener. So Adam, can you tell us a little bit about what you do at Salesforce?

Adam Doti: Yeah. So my name’s Adam Doti and I am a Principal Design Architect and VP of Design at Salesforce. Kind of a meandering interesting career here, I’ve been here about 10 years and I got hired on to be a UX designer for our platform. When we were about 22 people big and the company it was about, a few thousand and we’ve since then grown a lot. And I found my way helping design our design system and launching that, and then designing Lightning and launching that. And then owning some experiences around onboarding and trialhead integration. But now I currently… About two years ago helped create a team that’s simply called Salesforce Design.
And it is a small but mighty team that sits at the intersection of our product user experience design team, our design team over in customer success group called experience design and ignite, and our creative team that sits in marketing. Simply I focused on two things about building culture and community design at Salesforce and then bringing design to our ecosystem. Which I’ll get to in a little bit, but in helping amplify design across the trailblazer ecosystem. So long with an answer, but at the core I could have just said, I’m a designer. And that’s what I am, I’m proud to be a designer and I will always be a designer and I’ll always roll my sleeves up and design in any way that I can.

Gillian Bruce: And you’re working on creating more designers, right?

Adam Doti: Yeah, more.

Gillian Bruce: That’s what I hear as a passion for that.

Adam Doti: That’s my passion. Yeah. Exactly.

Gillian Bruce: That’s awesome. I love that you said, the UX team was 22 people when you started that’s incredible.

Adam Doti: Yeah.

Gillian Bruce: You and I started around the same time, I think. So we’ve been at Salesforce almost 11 years. So it’s been quite an evolution.

Adam Doti: Yeah. Parker Harris famously says, that he was the Salesforce’s first designer and used Paint Shop Pro and quickly realized he was way in over his head and had to bring in the pros. And so I like to say, I’m only 24 people away from when Parker was the designer.

Gillian Bruce: That’s great. Yeah. I think it’s a good thing that we hired people to take over Parker’s design duties let’s just say that. So Adam, let’s talk a little bit about some of the things you just mentioned in terms of being a designer advocate, both within Salesforce and then bringing design to the trailblazer ecosystem. Can you tell me a little bit more about what you’re building and what that looks like?

Adam Doti: Yeah, it’s funny. I have to say that when we started this out, we didn’t realize that where we are today, is where we wanted to go, right? It was an awesome design experience experiment to be honest. When we started out, we knew that we had a lot of design capability at Salesforce, we needed to do something about it just simply put, right. We had all this awesome talent at the company and we were growing and so was the talent. And we wanted to learn from each other and we wanted to inspire each other. And we wanted to bring that to our trailblazers and our ecosystem in some interesting ways, but we weren’t quite sure.
And meanwhile we have this awesome Salesforce Lightning design system, which is wildly popular and frankly has won awards and has been talked about on stages around the world and we’ve got all of this. So we basically started off with a bunch of research, figure out where we should go and what do our customers need? What do our partners need? What do the trailblazers need? And just started with the fundamental question of all right, let’s go do some research and just ask the fundamental question, what is design? Define design for us? Just the word design.
And so, as you can imagine it was all over the board, right. Everything from, oh yeah it’s the color I choose for my button, or it’s the shiny chrome on my MacBook, or it is the intentional way of creating experiences, you know what I mean? So it was all over the place, we started realizing that when we were talking to our trailblazers, like your Admins, your Developers, your Architects, your consultants. We would literally stumble across professional designers. And they were like, we’ve been waiting for you. We’ve been waiting for you to talk to because we knew that design was happening. In fact it’d be crazy to think design isn’t happening, everything is designed, right? Whether intentionally or accidentally stuff is designed, right.
But there’re professional designers walking around out there, as we came across and they like, oh my God we’re so happy that you’re here. We’ve been waiting for you to basically that’s what they were saying. And so we were like, oh this is awesome. And we started realizing holy cow, there is a need for us Salesforce to recognize the important role that design plays in our ecosystem as a co-creator and a collaborator with our other makers, right? So simply put we have Makers, we have Admins, we have Developers, we have Architects, they’re makers. They make the things that then our business users use, design is happening in there. It’s just, we didn’t really give them a platform and celebrate them in the same way we do all other roles, nobody’s fault.
It’s just we’re growing, everybody’s growing, the world’s growing and the world’s changing and you have to prioritize, right. And so no blame it’s all good, and so this was our moment, this is what we need to focus on. We need to pull these professional designers out of the shadows. Now at the same time we were coming across Admins and Developers that also do design they’re very proficient at it. And they’re very good at it. And they’re also equally happy that we showed up, knocked on their door, and interview them to have them define design because there’s we want to elevate our design capability. They want to just level up, which we’ll get into one of the strategic programs in a little bit, but they want to level up on design.
And I’ll never forget this one comment that a gentlemen told me. I was asking him what we should do? He’s like, what you need to do I never quite get this right so you have to bear with me, he’s like, “you need to level up Admins to the point where they see and recognize and feel the value of design to the point where now it’s a little bit painful.” And what he means by that, what he went on to say was, “because then you want that admin to lobby for design and grow the team, right. And say, we need to hire designers.” It’s the same argument and when we need to hire developers, right?
Because it’s a team effort, right. If your company could support it and given all of the sort of things, right. That go into growing teams, but he was like, “you need to elevate design to the point now where through now Admins and stakeholders can see the value in design and they can then lobby for good design.” Now that just means, sending them to training, sending them to get certified in UX Design certification or lobbying to grow their team. It means it’s all good for our ecosystem, right. Because we’re getting more design and better design will lead to better experiences on our products.

Gillian Bruce: Yeah. I think what’s so interesting is, one of the things that you’ve mentioned in your career journey too, is the advent of the Lightning design system and then Lightning itself. And when I think of Admins and design, for me, Lightning was a game changer, right? Because you now have so much more control over what your users see, how the pages appear, home pages versus record pages versus that pages, what fields appear, how things are ordered, how things are hidden or unhidden or the list views.
There’re just so many more options now that admins have the ability to manipulate and to customize for their users that they never had before. And so I think it’s really interesting that with the progression of our Salesforce platform, you’ve seen the emergence of these designers and this designer persona emerge. And have discovered a whole bunch of people hiding in the shadows that were like, yes I am designer.

Adam Doti: Right.

Gillian Bruce: And thank you for finding me. So I think it’s really interesting because as you hinted at, every Admin is basically a designer because they’re building these visual experiences for end users every single day.

Adam Doti: Yeah, 100%.

Gillian Bruce: Yeah. So I think what I also heard and what you said is, being an advocate for design and turning Admins and advocates for design, I think is super important. We try to evangelize Salesforce to the point where Admins create other Admins. But I think now, the way you’re talking about it too is it’s expanding it’s not just creating more Admins or creating more Developers. It’s also creating more Designers or discovering those people who have that skillset and that capability and bringing them, recognizing them, bringing them into the process and helping by giving them tools and resources.

Adam Doti: Yeah. When you get to the point… You can have a you can hire another design minded Admin, you can hire another Admin minded designer at the end of the day it’s all good, right? It’s a healthy economy and it’s all in service to creating better experiences for your end users. So yeah, it’s interesting, to your comment you made a second ago about, SLDS as a game changer. It’s funny, yes it was and we set out to create a much, it’d be honestly to redesign an experience and make it more modern, right. And our principles, you had a podcast a couple of years ago about our design principles and how we got there.
And it was all great, it’s almost like there was this expectation that our work was done as designers, right. We redesigned Salesforce, our work is done, right. And it actually exponentially made good design or the need for good design even more important, because we basically created… Salesforce always uses, I’m assuming you know the Lego analogy, right? Salesforce use the Lego analogy all the time, right? The Millennium Falcon and all these things, you can build whatever you want, with Salesforce it’s never more true, right. We actually created a design that is much more simple and much more build on a platform that is now, you can do even more with. And the more we don’t get out in front of it and help our Admins and our other makers design, make decisions that are ethical and sustainable and inclusive.
It’s very easy to create experiences that go against those principles, right? Mostly unintentionally, right. People just don’t know it, they just don’t know, right. They’ll put together a thing that then is violating some ethical principle and they just didn’t realize they can do that, you know what I mean? So it’s a constant conversation around aspects of design and the type of research you do and staying human centered and human focused. But while folding in, what you’ll start hearing about which is relationship design and the practice of relationship design that Salesforce is launching, which in that has sustainable and ethical and inclusive tenants, right. And scale actually and that’s our design system.
So it’s actually, there’s no time to rest, there’s still a lot of work to do. And being more design minded, no matter what audience you align with, whether it’s an admin or an architect or a consultant, being more design minded is definitely be one of the things amongst many other soft and hard skills, right. That we’re really going to be investing in to make sure our trailblazer ecosystem is up to speed on.

Gillian Bruce: The way that you frame the importance of design, not just making your end users able to use it easier, but about inclusivity. And I just, of course I should have made that connection. But I immediately went to, we did a series of podcasts and blogs about accessibility and how Admins can build accessibility while they’re building apps. And I think the relationship there is so strong and so important that we need to continue to remind the makers and the builders of the apps that, you have these awesome tools, you have to use them responsibly in order to make sure that you’re including all of the users that you have on potential new users.

Adam Doti: Yeah.

Gillian Bruce: It’s such an important aspect.

Adam Doti: Yeah. And we call that… It’s funny you should mention that because that has a name and that’s called, well it has a couple of names. And one of the names is called consequence scanning, and consequence scanning is one of the tools, moments, artifacts, workshops, if you will, they’re all under the umbrella of relationship design that we can use in our design process. And we didn’t get into consequence scanning in the series, Be an Innovator Series that’s coming out next month. But it basically is intentionally created to address what you just said, right.
We need to make sure blankety, blank, and it doesn’t have to be a week long process. It’s just a moment to calm down, take a breath, think about all the intended consequences of launching this LWC component onto a page. What does it do, right? Is it going to be unintentionally used for good or for evil, are we alienating certain populations, you know what I mean? So this is all part of the toolkit that we’re going to be activating through Trailhead that anybody can use, right. We often referenced designers because they happened to be the stewards for a lot of these things, but they’re created mainly for Admins and Developers and Architects to use.

Gillian Bruce: So let’s talk about something you just hinted at, because I know everyone’s going to want to know. Let’s talk about, Be an Innovator. So the, Be an Innovator campaign that is launching eminently, actually by the time this podcast airs, I think it will have just launched. Let’s talk a little bit about what that campaign is about. This one is all about being a designer and design thinking. Can you tell us a little bit more in detail about what to expect? What kinds of things that are included in this and what you’re excited to see?

Adam Doti: Yeah. So simply the Be an Innovator series is about, I think it’s about six episodes and they roughly align to the design thinking process. So, which by the way, if you Google design thinking or the design process you’ll see many variations of it, and that’s fine. It’s because it’s easily adaptable. And so the design think process is, basically starts with empathize, has phases has six phases. Empathize, define, ideate, prototype, build, and validate. And so each of the episodes is aligned to one of those phases. And then we bring the audience through an activity that they can do that best aligns with something that’s classically done in that phase, right.
So, in each episode for instance, the empathize phase will lean in a bit on, how to run research and insight activities with your end users, how to gather feedback. And for instance the, ideate phase will go over some strategies and approaches to run some quick brainstorming exercises where you scribble, draw sketches and it all culminates. There’s a theme, right so Leanne will lay out the design challenge for the series in the all are done in service to the participants, working on this design challenge at the end. So it’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m super excited.

Gillian Bruce: Yeah. It’s a little different than some of the being an innovator challenges we’ve had in the past. In that, in the past it’s about a specific product, or a specific tool, or specific feature. This is I’m very excited about because it’s much more of a strategy skill that people are learning that then, you employ different parts of Salesforce to accomplish. So, which I think it’s really cool to be able to help build that because one of the pieces of feedback, I think that we’ve gotten from a lot of people in the Admin community is that, it’s not easy, but it’s attainable to learn a technical skill. Like how to build a flow, maybe that’s a little more complicated, but you can still learn.
There’s plenty of resources out there for that, but there aren’t so many resources out there for some of this more kind of what we would typically call a soft skill or some kind of strategic thinking. So I think this is a really great exercise and example to help people build those muscles, discover those muscles. I am really looking forward to some of these designs that come on at the end of it. So-

Adam Doti: Yeah. Totally. What’s particularly exciting. I think for me about this series is the opportunity to raise the awareness to the audience that design isn’t just the UX of a page layout. To be honest, I think the conversation that I stepped into when I started doing all this research with Admins is, that’s what we were hearing and I’m not super surprised. That’s what we’re hearing either, right. It’s level of, I think that’s just where everybody’s head goes, right? We’re a platform create a tool. Everybody uses it and everybody’s head immediately goes to page layout, form design, all this, right. And so what I really loved about this series was that we extend the conversation to a number of phases that happen much before to the point where we actually start designing a solution for a particular need, like an intake form, right.
And so almost to the point, not almost to the point, but to the point where we’re not even working on the platform, which was actually a fun moment to be honest, I think that Leanne would laugh. It’s sort of like, we were laughing like well, when are we going to work on the platform? And I’m like, well we’re going to post a note. We’re going to talk about this first. And then we’re going to do some research and we’re going to ideate and we’re going to brainstorm, and this is all done off the platform. And I think that’s super interesting thing that we all need to realize that, if you jump right into app builder or jump right into page editor or start doing things right out of the gate, you’re already designing yourself into a corner, right?
So this multimodal, like get out of your chair, grab some sharpies, grab some paper, go to your co-workers, go to your users and just start brainstorming the art of the possible and unpack the challenge, and unpack whatever it is that you need to be doing in the next project that you’re using Salesforce for. So I really like the series because it really enforces the need for this empathize, define, ideate phase before you get to the prototyping and the build phase, which are classic sandbox and org phases, right? So we add on these three other phases upfront, which will just make for better solutions in the long run.

Gillian Bruce: Yeah. When you talk about that, it actually really reminds me of the idea of process mapping. We talked about, many years ago, I think Mark Bazan and I did a session of the process before the process builder. And it’s a similar concept of, 90% of the work actually happens before you get into the app, because you got to ask the questions, you got to do the research, you got to map out what this could be. And then you’re like, okay, now I have this whole model out. Let’s just go build it in Salesforce real quick. Like that I think and that is so in the admin skillset, wheelhouse. And I think the more we focus on that and continue to try and help develop those skills across the ecosystem, the better off we will be. And I think that it’s always so important to remember that pre-work, before just adding the checkbox, if somebody asked you, let’s ask some questions before we do that.

Adam Doti: Yep. Absolutely.

Gillian Bruce: So Adam, as we get to the end of our conversation here. We’ll definitely have you back on the pod, because this is so fun. I’d love to know, what are you excited about in terms of the future for designers in the space of Salesforce? What do you see, a year from now? What would make you super excited?

Adam Doti: I think most excited about what is just building the community of design. It’s funny often say that, we’re like a design or success program. So we represent the designer, the profession, the human being that does design, but we also represent the practice of design, right. And so we have fun with it as designers do, and we wrap parentheses around the earth. And so we have a designer success program. So I’m most excited about building this community of design out there.
And just really the goose bump moments I have are when I started thinking about all the jobs that are going to be created as a result of what we’re doing, right. And I just feel lucky every day to be at Salesforce, to have the trust and the partnership from teams like yours, Gillian, from Leanne, from the developers to be able to have conversations like this, right. And to share best practices and to share stories, to be able to do this. So I’m just excited about building the community and in a year from now, I’m looking forward to showing up at Dreamforce in person, I guess a year from now, it’ll be TDX, will it?

Gillian Bruce: Yeah. Let’s hope so. Yeah.

Adam Doti: Show up a TDX, show up at Dreamforce and just be able to just see other designers, walking the halls and finding jobs and finding success as a designer in our ecosystem and working for awesome companies and doing design for awesome companies. So that’s the number one thing that I’m looking forward to. I never thought that I’d be so excited about connecting people to jobs. It’s funny. I just stumbled into it, right. Because I was just like, okay, well, if I want this designer thing to take off, oh yeah. We want to create more jobs in service to it. And then seeing the, I just didn’t think people would be excited about it. I didn’t think other designers would be excited about it, right. And so that totally took me by surprise and they are, and so I’m stoked. And so that’s what I’m excited for.

Gillian Bruce: I love that, I’m excited too. Especially after the way you chat about it, also visions of roaming, the halls of Moscone and seeing designer sessions and designer, like activations.

Adam Doti: Maybe even a character. So we’ll see.

Gillian Bruce: What? Okay. Forward looking at statement.

Adam Doti: I prefer forward looking at statement. Yeah. It’s two things, it’s the designer, but it’s also, it’s just equal excitement comes from the admin and the other audience as well, right. So they’re equally as excited to just scale up on design, right. And so, when we did all the research with the admins that I referenced earlier, they were just beyond excited to just learn how to design better, right. Whether it’s design strategy or whether it’s UX. Incidentally, we did a bunch of research, job market analysis research too. And it showed that design skills like UX and strategy and a little bit of creative and brand is increasing in demand among admins.
So, that’s my… I need to make sure that we show up with the necessary content and enablement to… In service to that demand that our admins are going to have, right. I think it’s something like, there’s a growth of about 20 to 22% over all of these skills. That’s going to be expected of admins under the banner of design, right. It gets a little more nuanced once you get underneath, but I’m up for the challenge. I’m looking forward to it.

Gillian Bruce: I love it. Well, you’re the right man for the job and I’m so looking forward to seeing how our admins, upskill and glom onto this incredible content that you and your team are putting together, starting with being an innovator and going from there. Adam, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast and thank you for your vision and your dedication and your passions for the admins and the designer community. We really appreciate it.

Adam Doti: Happy to be here. And I look forward to the next one. Don’t be a stranger.

Gillian Bruce: Careful what you say, he’ll be back. Well, huge thanks to Adam for joining us on the podcast, got me all inspired and excited about the future of designers and the designer role at Salesforce. And gosh, I don’t know any Admin who won’t consider themselves at least some part of the designer after that chat. Now let’s talk about some of my favorite takeaways from our chat with Adam. First of all, design thinking is a way more than just customizing a page layout. He points out how there’re so many steps in the process before you even get to Salesforce that are really important because it helps you create the right solution for your users or your use case.
So a lot of it starts with just a pen and paper, maybe some sticky notes, a lot of Saba, which we like to call Salesforce administration by walking around, doing research, walking around or zooming around to connect with your users, to really do the research and understand what they need. And then you figure out how to create those solutions. And this Be an Innovator campaign that’s coming up explaining design thinking for Admins. These are tools that are going to help you do that. So make sure you pay attention. The other thing I thought that was really interesting that Adam talked about is embracing the art of the possible.
So that’s something that I think is so important, not only for designers, but it’s so applicable to what we do as Admins, right? IS we come up with solutions and so talking about what we could possibly build that would solve a problem. It’s a lot of creativity and it gives you this broad spectrum of options. Salesforce gives us so many tools and features we can use to customize. It’s our job as an Admin to come up with what those are and what the right combinations of those are really effectuate the right solution for our users. So really fun chatting with Adam.
Now, if you want to learn more about being an innovator, great news. So Be an Innovator is happening on May 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th, and 14th. Why did I say every other day? Because every other day is going to be a new video that gets unlocked as part of this, Be an Innovator series. So the way Be an Innovator series works, if you haven’t done one with us before every other day, a new video comes out with a specific piece of the challenge that you then do on your own. And at the very end, you can earn a badge by completing the modules that compliment the specific video steps. And then you might have a chance to win something very cool. And if nothing else, you definitely learn some incredible tools to help you become a better designer and employ that design thinking in your day to day job.
So don’t want to miss it. You can go to the, Be an Innovator page on and it will have all the information there for everything you need to start thinking like a designer. And if you want more great content, blogs, podcasts, videos, whatever you want, it’s all at the same place, is your one stop shop for everything to help you be an awesome Admin. If you have a few minutes a day, we’d love it. If you’d leave us a quick review, we really appreciate the feedback we get on our podcast episodes because you’re the ones that help us make them better or figure out what kind of content we want to put in here.
So please give us some feedback, whether that’s in the Apple podcast app or on Twitter, however you want to reach out to us. We would really love to get your feedback. With that I will encourage you to connect with our amazing guests today. Adam Doti, he’s on Twitter at D-O-T-I, it’s his last name @Doti. So pretty easy to find him and myself @GillianKBruce. Hope you enjoyed this episode. Hope you have a great day and we’ll catch you next time on the cloud.

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