Klare Frank – Lead Designer at CodePen

Klare Frank – Lead Designer at CodePen

Can you introduce yourself?

Hi, I’m Klare Frank and I lead design at CodePen, an online code editor and front-end design and development community. We’re a team of only six people working on a platform with over a million users, so my role spans a lot of responsibilities.

Sometimes that means mocking up new ideas in Figma, sometimes that’s coding things up, sometimes it’s introducing new product management workflows, or conducting research on how to support the Front-end Dev community. I’m also a few credits away from wrapping up a Master’s degree in Human-centered Design and Engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle.

How did you start working remotely and why?

I started my first remote job over five years ago when I started at Treehouse. I was living in Washington, DC working at a digital agency at the time when I saw they posted a job description for a product designer. I was looking for a good opportunity on a team that would trust me enough to use my front-end skills and get away from the same old marketing website projects I had been working on. I started my career doing visual design for complex UIs for government agencies, really enjoyed the challenge and wanted to get back to something that wasn’t going to be like skinning the same design patterns over and over with different copy. The fact that the position was remote was a big plus too. I loved to travel and had friends all over the country, so I viewed it as an opportunity to go explore without having to take vacation time.

The hiring process at Treehouse took about two months total from the time I applied to the time I accepted the job. I rushed to fix up my portfolio before I applied so I felt confident with my work. I feel like fixing up your portfolio is a good way to brush up on everything and really understand your accomplishments. The design team had me do a simple front-end coding exercise. I think they sent out a mockup of a grid card layout and had me code it up in HTML and CSS, and wow, thinking back now, it would’ve been way easier with grid and flexbox, but at the time those things weren’t super adopted by all browsers so you couldn’t rely on them.

Then I did a remote video interview with the entire design team which I think lasted an hour. I honestly don’t remember what we talked about, but I do remember I had written up a whole outlined monologue for the inevitable ’tell me about yourself’ part. It helped hype myself up for it all.

After that, they had me do a (paid) design challenge where I got to choose one of three things. I think the one I chose was resume builder, so I made wireframes for everything, uploaded them to InVision, linked all the screens and interactions, and commented the hell out of my design decisions. To sweeten things up, I did a completely designed mockup in code with CSS animations and some basic illustrations. It was pretty fun to work on, but at the time I was on a trip to Richmond, VA and my car had a huge tree branch land on it and completely bust the windshield, so thank god the Safelite had wifi otherwise I probably would’ve been screwed. It kind of forced me into this fight or flight ‘woman up and make it awesome’ or ‘fail and get crushed under all the stress’ mode.

When I got the call that they wanted me, I was outside the design agency’s office and had to duck into an alley to start jumping around with excitement (which is huge for me because I’m a pretty calm and level individual). I was completely thrilled. I felt like I had made it big time as someone who started with no design degree, no internships whatsoever and zero experience, and worked my way up from a practically no-name development shop to a well-known and highly respected local agency to a very well-known startup that a lot of people in the design and development world were actively using at the time.

About six months later I came to the realization that I didn’t actually like living in DC, so I put all my stuff into storage in my parent’s basement and got a sublet for three months in Seattle. My thinking was that I’d go live in a bunch of different cities for a few months at a time and then settle down in the one I liked the best, but I loved Seattle so much that I never left.

I’ve had two more remote jobs after I left Treehouse, at Vox Media and currently at CodePen. Seattle’s a great city for tech opportunities and both times I switched jobs after I started working remotely, I was also interviewing for on-site roles. It just happened that the better opportunities were the remote ones.

What is your typical day like?

I really hate having a set schedule, so I don’t keep a regimented routine. I don’t have any special productivity hacks. I don’t wake up at 5 am. I don’t have a strict morning ritual. I rarely ever journal or keep todo lists. So if you’re looking for the key to doing super productive remote work, I don’t have anything to say other than do the work and make it fun but challenging.

Regardless, there are still patterns to my day and I typically wake up with a narrative in my head of how my day will look. Today I took the water taxi across Elliott Bay into downtown Seattle to work out of my coworking space. I like to do this a couple of times a week because our house is pretty isolated and it’s nice to see faces, actually talk to human beings, and be surrounded by the hustle of downtown. It’s a short walk from our house to the water taxi, but I get to see some adorable dogs along the way and the view of downtown is one of the best in the entire city. It’s calming starting my day with a ride across the water, and even more magical when Mt Rainier or the Olympic Mountains are out. It’s just a great feeling to start my day connecting to nature and seeing beautiful scenery.

If I’m not going into the city, I’ll usually just stay at home and start work immediately. Or do yoga and then start work depending on how I’m feeling. We have an office, but I’ve gotten used to not working at a desk with a large monitor with travelling and simply not having space for a desk for so many years. I usually just have a bunch of windows open on my laptop and work in an area that has the most natural light. I’ve had a lot of people make fun of me for not using an external monitor all the time, but I think adjusting your mental state to fit within the resolution of a MacBook Pro opens you up to the flexibility of working from many different locations.

We typically have meetings at 11:00 am on Mondays and sometimes Wednesdays, and then a 1:1s with one other person on Fridays at CodePen. That’s usually it. Since our team is small enough, we don’t really need weekly check-in meetings for each project. Most of that gets handled ad-hoc with Slack communications and updates in Notion. Because there aren’t that many meetings, there’s a lot of focus time.

We were releasing a few different features this week, all of which I needed to give design feedback on or clean up the UI for. A lot of my morning was spent editing code on a few different branches to put the final touches on our releases.

If I’m home, I’ll usually cook something for lunch. If I’m coworking, I’ll usually bring my lunch in or occasionally meet up with friends who also work downtown. Yesterday I made some beef with bok choy, spinach, and kimchi. Cooking most of my meals at home helps me feel a lot healthier and eat a ton more vegetables.

This afternoon, I was creating some speculative designs on how we might redesign our homepage to integrate a new feature and solve a lot of issues we discovered from user research. I sometimes write up the planning docs for these projects as well to outline their user and business impacts, functional requirements, and break large projects apart into smaller feature releases.

I usually stop working between 5-6 and rarely ever continue past that. I’m a firm believer that you need to let your mind decompress from the day by not looking at a screen for a while. Most of the time I go for a walk or read a book or work out. Since I’m finishing my Master’s degree, one day a week I don’t have that time at all and have to commute to campus for four hours of class. My brain gets pretty fried towards the end of class and it’s hard to do anything but want to fall asleep.

How do you stay efficient and engaged while working remotely?

One of the biggest ways I stay engaged with a project is by framing it as an interesting challenge I want to solve or understanding what outcomes can either help me grow or lead to bigger challenges. Increasing my motivation usually helps get me into a flow state.

I like to view “distractions” as opportunities to take a break. You know how you always solve a problem when you get up and go do something else? Or after you stop working and try to go to sleep? Sometimes getting up and putting the clothes in the dryer is the perfect way to back away from a problem and see if an ‘aha’ moment appears. Having space doesn’t seem efficient, but it’s certainly helped me solve problems faster than forcing a solution.

I also highly value personal accountability. If I say I’m going to show someone mocks tomorrow morning, I’m setting a time and delivering. If I wake up and mentally list two problems I need to solve and one bug I need to fix today, I’m addressing all of those things.

What are the tools and workflow that you’re using to get things done?

  • Notion – We keep everything in here. Our weekly status meetings, all our projects and their active kanbans, our “idea empire”, design research, and documentation.
  • Zoom – We use it for all our meetings.
  • Slack – All our other ad-hoc communication.
  • Google Cal – Our meetings and blocking off vacation time.
  • CodePen – I actually use CodePen to create CodePen. I’ll usually use it to animate illustrations I’m planning on using for new features or designs. I have a bunch of our CSS files as Pens that I’ll use import as external resources to speed up designing in code.
  • Figma – We mock out ideas in here. They’re usually used as jumping-off points to code up an idea. Once that idea is in code, the code becomes the up-to-date source. We also use the collaboration features on meetings or may leave asynchronous comments.
  • Illustrator – I use it sometimes to make SVGs if they’re a bit more complex.
  • VS Code – We all use this as our primary editor.
  • Terminal/Git – I do all my Git related things in Terminal.
  • GitLab – This is where we have our code and track/manage bugs.

 How do you think remote work will evolve in the future?

I hope more companies open up remote positions, especially in non-developer roles. I think for a while there was this misconception that designers had to be in the same room putting post-its on whiteboards and printing out mockups to pin up on a moldboard or process wall. And while some of those walls can be cool and inspirational (especially if there’s access to a giant blotter), not having it isn’t a barrier to doing good work. On the other side, the stereotype was that developers were heads-down in code all the time and didn’t need to be as communicative. That’s also not at all true (and I work with an entire team of devs).

I conducted a qualitative research study last year studying collaboration experiences in remote work. We found that video chat was necessary and came with its own culture and expectations, isolation was ubiquitous, and every person has their individualized own tools, techniques, and habits for organization and self-sufficiency. The latter is usually due to having low management oversight. Almost everyone we interviewed said that while working remotely can be challenging (namely through it being isolating), the benefits far outweigh the costs. One of the more interesting findings we saw was the use of emoticons to overcome communication barriers, especially language barriers. That’s backed up with Slack and Notion’s choice to rely heavily on emoticons as a conscious design decision. I think we’ll see more tools and techniques to overcome communication and emotional barriers in the future.

How to you stay in touch with your team?

We’re usually communicating throughout the day asynchronously on Slack. I rarely ever use my email. A lot of what makes communication successful with remote work is speaking up and asking about whatever is on your mind or immediately when you have an issue. I work with really smart people, so I’m pretty positive someone will have an answer faster than I can get it on my own.

Besides that, we always have a one-hour long meeting on Mondays at 11 am to talk about what we did last week, what we’re going to work on this week and some project status updates. If we feel like we need to dive deeper into a project, we’ll have a project planning meeting on Wednesdays (also at 11 am) for about an hour. We also have rotating 1:1s with a different person on the team each week on Fridays to talk about whatever we want.

What do you enjoy most about working remotely?

The flexibility of being able to work from wherever I want is the best thing about it. I like having the option of changing my working locations if I need a mental shift. Or deciding I want to or don’t want to commute on any day. Or having a meeting at the University of Washington and working out of a maker space for the rest of the day while watching things be laser cut. Or flying to visit my friends and family in other cities and not have to take a vacation. Or travelling with my boyfriend to the Space Coast, working all day and then seeing some rockets (because space is cool). Being able to choose where I work from frees me up for a lot of great personal opportunities I didn’t get when I worked all day in an office.

What is your office/workspace look like?

My boyfriend and I share an office in our house, but I rarely use it unless I have to test something out on a large monitor. It doesn’t get much natural light in the winter (and it can get very dark in Seattle in December). I usually work in our kitchen instead.

What are the challenges of being a remote worker?

As it also came up in the remote study last year, isolation is the biggest challenge. As much as people love to say they’re introverts and could go forever without interacting with another human being, we all need social interaction to be happy.

Do you have any side projects? Can you speak about them?

My biggest “side project” right now is finishing my master’s degree in Human-centered Design and Engineering. We’re working on understanding volunteer engagement and retention for non-profit community organizations at the Granite Curling Club, so some of my weekends are just spent hanging out at the club watching people curl.

How do you combat feelings of loneliness, isolation and burnout?

Getting enough social activity was something I actively decided to pursue when I started working remotely. I realized that most people get a lot of socialization throughout the day working in an office and then feel extra ‘introverted’ when they come home because they’re overloaded. I’m the exact opposite of that and have begun to crave socialization after work to balance things out. If I don’t see people regularly enough, my social anxiety starts to creep up in a big way and it gets really hard to not be a hermit.

What is special about the place where you live?

Seattle isn’t at all a cheap city to live in, but I still love it here. Besides the great coffee and beer, there’s a lot of outdoor activities that we all do even if it’s a little rainy out. It’s nice to be a short drive to experience nature in the mountains and being close to the water has a soothing effect. Whenever I get back from a trip, I’m always excited to be back home and love seeing the entire city and mountains as my plane lands. It’s just so pretty.

Besides work, how do you like to spend your time?

I read a ton. I’ve finished close to ten books and it’s still the beginning of the year. I usually like to hike on the weekends. We have amazing trails, some that give big expansive views of the region, some that are literally hiking a mountain, some with beautiful waterfalls, and some that are just lush forests even in the winter. I have some ambitious hikes planned this year, so I’m training to be in great shape to easily do them this summer.

Do you have any recommendations for those who want to work remotely too?

I’ve had a lot of people who haven’t tried it before have told me that you have to be very dedicated to working remotely. I don’t believe that it requires any special traits or more focus to do a good job as a remote worker. I think it just requires a desire to do a good job, challenging projects, and recognizing that you may need to be more active about communicating than you would’ve otherwise. You end up learning a lot about self-sufficiency, but I also think that’s attainable for most everyone.

  1. Awesome interview and many insights!
    Can’t wait to find out from where will be the next person.

    1. Thank you, RMS. Keep an eye on Remote Makers site, because a new interview will be published on April 6. 🤫

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