Designing My Path Jonah Bitautas A personal walk-thru of my professional career.

“A Designer must be part engineer, part businessman, part salesman, part public-relations man, artist and almost, it seems at times, [a] Chief.”Henry Dreyfuss

OriginThe Story Unfolds

The Internet was this amazing world with endless amounts of information and the ability to connect with people that I otherwise might never have met.

I’ve been using computers for as long as I can remember, easily more than half my life. My Dad always had them around and bought his first Macintosh when I was in grade school. I have fond memories of my brother and I taking turns playing the first “Flight Simulator” for hours on end. Like most kids, games initiated my interests in computers, but when I learned about the Internet, my love for computers grew in leaps and bounds.

Many hours were spent on this machine playing “Flight Simulator” and “Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego?”

In my early teenage years, the Internet was this amazing world with endless amounts of information and the ability to connect with people that I otherwise might never have met. It was fun, freeing and empowering. At that time, there was nothing like it, it was truly a whole new world.

Some of my first attempts at blogging and creating websites were in high school. They were very basic sites about skateboarding and music, but little did I know that those hobby projects would turn out to be what would become the foundation of my life’s work.

It started with Art.

One of my freehand digital illustrations from earlier this year (2016). Still drawing!

My first successful attempts at entrepreneurialism happened when I was in elementary school. I used to sell my art for lunch money or used it to barter with my friends for comic books or video games they owned that I wanted.

Because art always played a huge role in my life since I was old enough to pick-up a pen, it made a lot of sense to go to art school.

What I didn't realize was that going to Art school combined with my knowledge of computers would lead me deeper into the world of Design.

I was part of a large-scale illustration project in 2010 called the “The Sketchbook Project”. My sketchbook is part of the permanent collection at The Brooklyn Art Library.

College YearsThe Foundation

I attended The Illinois Institute of Art and received my degree in Applied Sciences for Design and Multimedia (audio, video, web/interaction design) in 2002.

When I first started at AI, I was still under the impression I was going to do something with art professionally. But by the end of my major, I completely shifted my focus to Design and Development for the Web.

I was learning how to think creatively and began honing my mental tools from Typography, Composition, Visual Communication, Color Theory down to the processes of conceptual thinking and learning how to present and critque work in addition to the various software of the industry.

When I graduated in 2002, it was not easy breaking into the field. To give some perspective, 9/11 had just happened the year before I graduated and the dotcom bubble was still fresh on businesses mind. Looking back now, it seems like web was the obvious bet, but at that time not too many businesses in Chicago were putting their money on it.

It took a lot of hustle, determination and some bad experiences, like bounced paychecks from shady business owners and doing full websites from design to execution for $200 a pop, just to start building out some semblance of a "professional" portfolio.

D3SIGNLAB was my first attempt at starting a web design business with some friends around 2003.

Around the end of 2003 I was fortunate enough to land my first agency job. From that time through 2009 my work varied from large agencies to small boutique Design shops. This variety allowed me to work with very talented folks on some very large brands. This wide range of experience not only made me better in multiple disciplines, but perhaps even more important, it is where I learned to appreciate and hone my skills of a users journey and experience online. It's where I really began to refine my skills and thoughts as a Designer.

Agency LifeIn the Beginning

DRAFTFCB (now FCB)

October 2003 – April 2007

When I first started at (then) Draft Worldwide, our team comprised of 4 people (including me) and grew close to 30 people when I left in 2007. I was hired as a Digital Production Artist and was quickly promoted to Digital Art Director within a year. I participated in strategy, concepting, design and development involving our Fortune 500 clients digital portfolios. It's where I gained the foundation for my digital marketing background and dove deeper into programming. The work ranged from ad campaigns, websites, web apps and of course, new business RFPs. Draft helped launch my career and it was my first experience helping grow a small team into a much larger one.

He continues to push the boundaries of his own education and apply those learnings on a daily basis. — Jim Higgins, VP of Digital

J. Walter Thompson

April 2007 – May 2008

My time at Draftfcb allowed me to get deeper into programming, specifically Flash Development. I took a role as Lead Flash Developer at then RMG Connect (now defunct marketing division of JWT) and because of my past experience, doubled as an Art Director on web projects. Because our team was so small, I was able to work directly with the Creative Directors from concept to development. I led the Front-End Development for creative along with participating in design.

...self-driven and always learning, with a creative curiosity that defines his design. — Jon Grondahl, Creative Director

The Royal Order of Experience Design (acquired by Ogilvy & Mather in 2012)

May 2008 – August 2009

There's more to an experience than what can be seen.

After many years at two large agencies I wanted to try something other than another large agency, so I joined The Royal Order of Experience Design as their Interactive Designer & Developer. It was a small boutique Design shop with no more than 10 people that was situated within the Chicago offices of Ogilvy & Mather. It was during that time that I worked on two award-winning sites, The Footprint Chronicles and The Tin Shed for one of our clients Patagonia. I led the redesign for NEC Display Solutions and managed the Front-End Development. I also played a pivotal role in the redesign for Kohler Engines that is still online to this day.

Two award-winning sites for Patagonia in one year (2008). The Webby award-winning, The Footprint Chronicles and The FWA SOTD, The Tin Shed.

Unlearn what you have learned.

It was here that I gained a solid foundation for User Experience and Information Architecture and gained an appreciation for the fact that there's more to an experience than what can be seen. It's also about a human's interaction with various systems and how that affects both the structure and design from the content up.

...understands the integrity of design, and that's really valuable when bringing projects to life. — Aaron Shimer, Associate Creative Director

FreelanceGoing it Alone

In Fall of 2009, I quit The Royal Order of Experience Design and travelled for two months straight. When I returned, I went 100% freelance and travelled for weeks at a time around the country and the world. In my time as a Freelancer (2009-2012) I travelled to 16 different cities in 5 different countries.

My personal favorite locations that I've visited around the world.

This is also the period where I began focusing more on User Experience. I was still doing Front-End Dev work, but was beginning to work on projects that put more thinking towards designing the interactions rather than shipping final products.

Motorola XOOM

Around 2010, I was brought into Motorola as an external consultant. I recently finished some product design work for them on their Motorola Media Link software for Windows.

The work I did on Motorola Media Link influenced the UI related to device connection and music playback.

The XOOM project at the time was very secret, all I knew was that it would become Motorola's first tablet. I worked directly with the XOOM's product team to create a prototype of the first-time experience a user would have with the tablet. It was over a year later when I actually found out what I was working on after their official announcement of the Motorola XOOM.

McDonald's Champions of Play

Champions of Play was a kids initiative that promoted healthy activities for children as a partnership for the then upcoming 2012 Summer Olympics.

I was brought on as an external consultant for what would become a 7-month long project.

Children were able to create an account and a custom avatar thru the web app. They would then login during the duration of the 2012 Summer Olympics unlocking new challenges weekly with different Olympic athletes.

Each week brought a different set of activities and children would be able to unlock badges, avatar gear upgrades and achievements based on how many activities were completed.

Children were able to customize their avatar with custom gear won from achieving their fitness goals.

Parents were also given the ability to create a separate account where they would be able to monitor their childs progress.

As the main external consultant, I led the Front-End and collaborated on the sites Information Architecture, interactions and motion design. I reported directly to the Director of Digital and Project Manager and acted as the liaison between various team members around the world.

We launched the project on-time for the 2012 Summer Olympics, using an agile approach, to over 60 markets around the world with over 30 different languages and dialects in a single codebase.

workFuncStarting a Business

Up to this point, I had been successfully freelancing for about 4 years and developed some great client relationships during that time. Having a customer base with a consistent need for my expertise combined with my desire at that time to create a business with great potential to grow was exciting and captured my interest.

workFunc was my first official business that I started and ran for 3 years.

Towards the end of 2012 I started workFunc and officially incorporated the business early 2013. workFunc was a full-service Design-focused` studio specializing in User Experience. Within the first two quarters it became a profitable company and maintained so during its whole life cycle.

Most of my time was spent client-facing helping guide my clients digital brand and marketing strategies into consistent meaningful user experiences. But being the owner of a studio with a humble full-time Team of One meant that I had to wear many hats. Sometimes that meant playing Art Director, managing timelines, client training, managing freelancers and contractors, as well as sometimes digging in, rolling up my sleeves to design and code the front-end. And as I mentioned, this was all in addition to things I had to do as the owner, like client meetings, calls and workshops, presentations, proposals, new business and account management. It was more than I bargained for.

Things Change.

It took some time to realize that the business side of things would ultimately take me away from my passion of doing the work. I entertained the idea of bringing on a partner or selling the business off, but both options would require me to remain on as part of the business, which I was no longer interested in. I think I had been doing clients services for so long that I needed a real change.

So I wound down a profitable business and dissolved workFunc at the start of 2015. This decision allowed me to invest in myself and focus on the next chapter of my life.

Jonah is not only well versed in emerging technology; he’s also full of ideas and brings entrepreneur grit to the conversation that I appreciate. — Brian Walker, CEO

Home ChefJoining a Startup

After shutting down workFunc, I ended up going back to freelancing temporarily until I figured out my next move, working on-site at a couple different agencies during that time.

Having that entrepreneurial side myself, Startups always interested me, because of their disruptive nature and immense opportunity to see a company grow (or die) very quickly based on that product's market fit.

I joined Home Chef in mid-September of 2015 as the UX Lead and Design team hire #2.

It was about August when I began talking with Home Chef and met with the Founder, CTO, CMO and Creative Director. Not only did it feel like a good fit personality-wise, but the company still felt small enough where I could have an impact.

At that point, the company definitely hit product-market fit, but the overall online experience and design aesthetic was lacking. In all honesty, that was what compelled me to join.

If all the difficult problems had been solved I probably wouldn't have been very interested in accepting their offer. I was looking for a good challenge and the opportunity to use my whole skill set, and this felt like the perfect fit.

Taking the Leap.

Since joining Home Chef in September 2015, I've shipped 3 new features and redesigned 4 pre-existing features. I am currently wrapping up the ground-up redesign of our mobile app (version 2.0.0)—we are currently awaiting App Store approval (Woooo!).

This is the main interaction (made with Framer.js) that a customer would use to manage their weekly deliveries in the redesigned mobile app. Give it a try!

Besides being the second Design hire, I was the first user-centered Design Lead to join the company. Everyday is different, but I tend to work closely with the CRO, CTO, Design Director, Support Team and various Dev's from the Tech Team to ship features based on our roadmap and address immediate user needs.

A couple quick wins since joining:

  • Introduced a user-centered process into our sprints.
  • Redesigning our sign-up funnel led to a 12% lift in conversion with a very high statistical significance from the original funnel.
  • Redesigned the interaction model of how customers found specific information about individual meals, thereby surfacing desired information for easier access.
  • Changed the whole experience of how a customer manages their deliveries for the current week and weeks in advance. So far, this has reduced skips and pauses along with increasing referrals.
  • Solely responsible for bringing user testing to the company.
  • Managing all qualitative studies conducted and partnering with internal BI Team to conduct surveys.
  • Managed the complete redesign of our mobile app (v2.0.0) from business requirements to App Store review process over the course of two months.

Some of my duties have been:

  • Coming up with design solutions based on user needs and business requirements.
  • Designing features from wireframes to mock-ups
  • Conducting competitive user research over the marketplace to help inform different areas of the business.
  • Using Google Analytics and other demographic tools to define potential issues, pose questions and define points of friction in our product or service.

Where We're at Now

The journey is still early, but the path feels right. I've seen our "corporate" office at least double since my time here. We were just featured in TechCrunch detailing our Series A and recently expanded our operation to cover the west coast, bringing the total amount of employees to over 400 across the country.