A Q&A with Katana’s Chief Creative Officer and Head of Product Design about taking creativity seriously

An interview with Katana’s Chief Creative Officer and Head of Product Design about how the Series B investment will affect the team and its plans, and why creative work is taken very seriously in Katana.

Last updated: 09.01.2023 4 mins
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Hot on the heels of Katana’s Series B investment, our blog shone a light on the Product Engineering Department within the company via conversations with our CPO and Head of Product Engineering. In this blog, it’s time to delve into Product Design with two of the finest creative minds in Katana.

First off, tell me a bit about what you do in Katana

Brett: I’m Katana’s Chief Creative Officer, which means I’m running teams who work with visuals and words — product design, design systems, brand (including visual comms, copy, content and video). Day-to-day I’m involved with the big picture and high-level strategy of those teams.

Janis: I’m the Head of Product Design in Katana, and I’d say my main role is removing obstacles to make sure our designers can do their jobs to the best of their ability. I also have regular one-to-ones with all our designers, to make sure they have what they need, and see how their projects are progressing.

Having a creative force on the management team – do you see that as a big attraction for creative talents who might consider joining Katana?

Brett: Definitely. It has shown through our hiring, particularly in Product Design, that people are afraid that they’ll be forced into a tiny little box and won’t be taken seriously at an organizational level. However, early on, we decided that ease of use, including easy onboarding, would be part of our product strategy. These both directly relate to design and having a human brand as the face of Katana for the outside world. This meant putting creative at a management level, equal with product, engineering, and marketing.

It elevates everyone on the team and encourages brand, communication, and product consistency.”

All creative workers, both in product and marketing, work differently to more technically-minded people, and I’m a strong believer in having a creative community that works well with other teams but comes together to share knowledge and support one another. It elevates everyone on the team and encourages brand, communication, and product consistency. Having people work closely together allows work and processes to be intertwined – you can’t have the product without design and copy, and there’s a crucial synergy between the creatives in that way.

How do you feel the Series B investment will affect Product Design in the coming months and years?

Brett: The core elements of the team will stay the same. Our product strategy won’t change as we have the key differentiator that we’re easy to use and have a human brand.

Series B naturally helps us deliver more features, but from the Product Design and copy side, we’re able to do more cross-team initiatives and cross-product improvements. Series B offers the resources to help us execute bigger initiatives and ensure product consistency, quality, and user experience.

It also definitely helps us to go more in detail, and in-depth, and as the team grows, to work more on cross-team projects.

Our product strategy won’t change as we have the key differentiator that we’re easy to use and have a human brand.”

Janis: Obviously there’s the growth of the team aspect, which can’t be ignored. This applies to both the Product Design team and the wider company.

I think there’s also a nice financial and metaphorical ‘cushion’ for the company in the current uncertain political and social climate which allows us to stay focused on delivering our roadmap without any financial worries.

Yearning to have your creative mind cherished?

Check out Katana's open positions, and apply today to come and help us build a better life for manufacturers.

Are there any upcoming projects or initiatives you’re very excited about?

Brett: I wouldn’t say individual projects, but we have initiatives starting to take shape. Katana is becoming more serious about quality as our user base grows. We’re not working only with early adopters anymore, we’re further along our journey and as we move upmarket, bigger customers will expect better quality.

I think what’s starting to take shape is the process for larger design initiatives on the roadmap level. An example of this would be that we offer several ‘views’ inside the product, and these need to be consistent. Right now, our product is adding features and more information, but the design we currently have doesn’t serve the user very well anymore. It’s becoming overcrowded.

This has been under discussion for a while and is being led as a design initiative. We’ve taken our information to product leadership, and we feel we’ve reached a tipping with the existing design, so we’re now moving a step ahead of the roadmap.

Katana is becoming more serious about quality as our user base grows.”

Janis: I’d pick up on the consistency Brett mentioned in her answer. I’m excited to be working on design initiatives where we’re building consistency through the product and making Katana both accessible and safe to use.

I’d also add in bringing clarity to what could easily be a complex product. Making a manufacturing ERP software which is easily understandable reinforces the human brand we’re building.

What’s the growth plan for the product design team going forward?

Brett: So far, what we strive for is that each product team has its own dedicated designer. I think it’s important as an ERP is a very complex product as mentioned above, with many different user personas to understand in order to deliver a good user experience. And that’s the pace we’re hoping to meet as we grow, that all full product teams have their product designer, as part of a close-knit unit including the product manager, developers, and QA. The product designer is an expert in their area who can pass on their knowledge to the members of that team.

I think in terms of the process — each product designer isn’t solely in their product team doing their work there, they’re also working collaboratively with the rest of the design team. This happens in weekly design reviews, and through Slack channels, so everything we’re working on is visible to all our designers and they can give and receive feedback freely. This then makes design more consistent throughout the product.

Janis: I’d agree with Brett’s initial statement, that we’d like a dedicated designer for each product team. However, this is only looking at things from the vertical perspective. With all our design initiatives, which more horizontally affect the business, we need designers who can contribute as part of the whole design team rather than just on one individual product.

What are we looking for when people come to apply for the creative roles within Katana?

Brett: One of the main things is a good understanding of the design process, so how you get from an idea, or a task on the roadmap to an actual feature. I think this is the starting point of a designer’s role in Katana.

As our designers are doing a lot of user research together with their product manager, or cross-team with other creatives, I think a good understanding of getting from 0-100 is very important. As a designer, you should be capable of evaluating where you are in the process, asking yourself “Do I have the necessary information to complete the design? Where should I be looking for more information?” Sometimes that will be as simple as educating yourself about ERP software online. From a professional side, that’s something we’re looking for in product designers.

There’s also the important quality of being open, to presenting your ideas and giving and receiving feedback in a manner that’s helpful, and that creates a positive energy in the team. A designer is a positive member of a team, not a solo superstar.

Finally, as we work with design systems, an understanding of how to navigate within these systems, so when we don’t do something out-of-the-box, justifying why this needs a different approach, why it’s better for the user, and requires more effort or even breaks the consistency.

To join Katana, you also need to be prepared to ask a lot of questions.”

Janis: For me, I’m always excited to see curiosity from designers, an openness and a desire to learn. Crucially, they also need to have a good understanding of both UX and UI and the differences between them.

To join Katana, you also need to be prepared to ask a lot of questions. As we mentioned earlier, an ERP is a complex product, and your education doesn’t stop at any point. This is true for design as well — as our systems evolve and develop, you need to stay on top of things and be ready to adapt your approach to ensure consistency within the product.

What is it that Katana does, in terms of our product design and overall creative approach, that sets us apart from other start-ups?

Janis: It’s an interesting question, and it’s hard to give a specific answer. In general terms, the culture within the company is a massive differentiator. Also, the unseen level of transparency is unique in my experience.

The well-defined roadmap, which has been mentioned previously, and the clear communication around it — where we’re going, why we’re doing things a certain way, laying out our entire plan over the next 2 years.

Also, the fact that, particularly in the creative team, we work together as a team. We have productive discussions, and we have great cooperation between copywriters and designers on projects where it’s required. Finally, the systematic weekly meetings that we have, both as a creative team and specifically among the product designers. We have regular meetings where we discuss projects, initiatives, research work, and where everything stands.

Each creative in Katana is supported by the belief that the brand and user experience are very important in Katana.”

Brett: For creatives, having a Chief Creative Officer, so someone focused on that area of the business who’s working at a management level, it sets us apart. It means we take the core of what creatives have to offer more seriously. I’m a strong believer in process, libraries, and guidelines — I think that’s the way that we make Katana look and feel the same across all the channels that we have and the creative team is responsible for developing, maintaining, and updating those guidelines and making sure that they’re followed across the business. When new people join, we can easily explain everything to them and why we chose to do things in a certain way.

Each creative in Katana is supported by the belief that the brand and user experience are very important in Katana.

Thank you to both Brett and Janis for taking the time, and if you like what you’ve read, you can check out our open positions on our careers page right now.

Patrick Johnson

Conversion Copywriter

Patrick is Katana’s Conversion Copywriter, and a lover of creative wordsmithery. With a background in acting and performance, he tries to tell the story of Katana with a sprinkling of comedy, drama, and hopefully a massive dollop of success.

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