When Jessica and Casey Forbes launched Ravelry in May 2007, it was a lean start-up operation, with Casey taking on the responsibility of designing the visual look of the fiber crafting social network, along with building and coding the site, and Jessica managing the rest of the responsibilities.
As the site has grown to more than 8.5 million registered users, the team at Ravelry has also expanded to a slightly-less-lean staff of six, including a vice president of operations, a community support specialist and a web application developer. In January, Ravelry brought on its first product designer.
Livia Nelson, a knitter who has a background in user experience (UX) design, has taken on the job of making the site – which includes connected databases of patterns, yarns and projects, as well as active forums – easier for both its longtime members and newcomers to navigate (disclosure: I’m one of the site’s longtime users and have met with Livia to provide input to help with her work).
“Adding people to our tiny team is a big deal, and we’ve wanted to hire a product designer for years,” Casey says of the decision. “It was one of our goals in 2017 and we just couldn’t fit a new hire comfortably in our budget until this year. … The bar for usability and design is so much higher than it was back when we started and I feel really good about the future.”
I spoke to Livia about her professional background, what exactly her role at Ravelry entails and how taking a self-proclaimed “dream job” has changed her relationship to her craft.
Livia Nelson is Ravelry’s first-ever Product Designer.
Craft Industry Alliance: What kind of projects did you work on before coming on board at Ravelry?
Livia: Before I worked for Ravelry I worked at a digital agency for six years, so I worked on a really wide variety of projects. Some of them were digital products like Ravelry, but I also worked on content websites, apps, social media campaigns, videos, in-person digital experiences for events, rebranding projects… basically all things internet, for clients in all kinds of industries.
But working on digital products was always my favorite because it’s the most interesting and challenging UX work, so it’s super exciting to now be working in-house at Ravelry, where I can focus on this one big project all of the time and be a part of the team, not just a vendor.
Craft Industry Alliance: Can you describe your role at Ravelry?
Livia: My job responsibilities generally fall into two categories.
First, I’m responsible for the website’s user experience (UX) design, which means I work on making Ravelry as accessible and easy to use as possible. I think very deeply about things like: How do these pages relate to each other, and is it easy for Ravelers to navigate through them? How easy is it to discover this awesome Ravelry feature? What happens if a Raveler tries to do something while logged out, or if there are no results, or if they’re visually impaired, or if they joined the site yesterday? I answer those questions by creating prototypes of pages and features on the site, which Casey then codes into life. I also talk to Ravelers before I work on a prototype to get their input and perspective, and we test it with Ravelers after Casey builds it to make sure it works for them.
Second, I’m responsible for Ravelry’s visual design: colors, typography, imagery… everything that accounts for the look and feel. Visual design is closely tied with UX design — for example, the color of a button might make it easier to find on a screen. Usually visual design is done last, so it’s like design dessert!
Craft Industry Alliance: How would you say you fit into the team at Ravelry? Are you doing something completely different, taking over responsibilities that Casey was responsible for, or a little bit of both?
Livia: Up until when I was hired, Casey was doing all of the UX design and visual design himself, which is an astonishing accomplishment, especially given that he also does all of the front- and back-end development work (i.e. building and coding the site). Casey is a really great UX designer — obviously! — but websites as big as Ravelry sometimes have teams of dozens, if not hundreds, of people doing his job and my job. So I’m here to help him do the work he’d already been doing for 12 years, and also bring some new perspectives to the table as someone who is focused on design.
Craft Industry Alliance: How do you think your work will change the user experience of Ravelry?
Livia: With regard to existing features on the site: Ravelry obviously has tons of amazing features for fiber artists. I want to make it even easier for Ravelers to find them, whether they’ve had an account since the beginning or just joined yesterday.
Regarding new features that we have yet to design and build: I want those to be easy to use too, and I want to help Casey as much as I can so that we can release them even faster!
Craft Industry Alliance: What are some of your ideas for the future of the site?
Livia: You will know very soon!
But also, I draw a lot of my ideas from Ravelers. I’m just one person who uses Ravelry in my own specific way; to do my job right, it’s more important that I listen to the voices of other Ravelers and see what changes or new features they’re requesting. For example, Casey had the idea for the new Purchase Finder because Sarah was getting a lot of emails asking for help with recovering purchases. He asked me to design a solution to that problem that was self-serve, and we all worked on it together. (If you want to read more about that process, here’s a blog post we did.)
Craft Industry Alliance: Tell me about how you learned to knit? How has working at Ravelry changed how you relate to your hobby?
Livia: When I was a teenager I decided, somewhat arbitrarily — I didn’t know anyone else who knit at the time — that I wanted to learn to knit, so I taught myself by watching YouTube videos. Until working at Ravelry I was a pretty casual knitter; when I had some free time or a baby shower coming up, I’d look up a pattern on Rav and knit it, and then I might put away my needles for a month or two. My friends and family always thought it was quirky and sort of scratched their heads at me, but my little hobby ended up leading me to this dream of a job, so I’m glad I kept at it!
Now I always have at least two projects on my needles and have started taking on much more ambitious garments. Knitting a lot makes me use Ravelry a lot, which is obviously good for the day job, and it’s helped me learn a lot more about the industry. My wonderful coworkers have also helped with my education about pattern designers and dyers and LYS (local yarn shop) owners and all the people who make the fiber artist universe turn. I love learning about everyone and think it’s so cool that this is such a women-driven industry, and I can’t wait to meet even more people in person, at Rhinebeck and other events.
Lisa Chamoff is a freelance journalist in the New York Metro area who specializes in home design, real estate,and healthcare. When she’s not writing, or knitting shawls and sweaters, Lisa runs Indie Untangled (www.indieuntangled.com), a marketplace and blog that promotes the work of yarn dyers, pattern designers,and crafters of knitting-related accessories.