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Visual Studio, VS for Mac, and VS Code

Principal Design Manager, Developer Division, Microsoft
Project Overview
Visual Studio, VS for Mac, and their younger, slimmer sibling VS Code are massive products, with more than 20 million monthly active users among them. Their users spend 10+ hours a day using them, and their livelihood depends on being able to know, quickly, how to use all of the hundreds of features available to them. VS users have invested thousands of hours becoming adept at using their tool of choice, which was first released in 1997. Developers are passionate about the tools they use, and react very negatively to design changes that feel arbitrary or slow them down in any way.
My Contributions
I managed all of the UX designers on all 3 products. The team was relatively small considering the number of features we supported, with 10 designers spread across Europe and the US. My manager was based in the UK. Our focus was always on simplicity and harmonizing the UX of all 3 products, being consistent but not slavishly so, adhering to the specific needs of each products platform and foundational tech.

Below are 3 of the many features that my team worked on. All of these features were designed primarily by the talented design leads who I managed.
Focused Git Experience
UX Manager
Visual Studio is home base for our customers, who spend 10+ hours a day using the tool. Our product team saw an opportunity to create a Git client that improved upon what we already had and allowed developers to have end-to-end control over their codebase without ever needing to leave Visual Studio. The product's earlier Git integration was very poorly received, with an NPS score of 6.

My role in the project was to provide creative feedback and light creative direction, help with sensemaking from customer interviews, and manage feedback from the highest executive level (the EVP of Developer Division had taken a personal interest in this feature and was asking for regular updates). Additionally, the talented Senior Designer who was lead on this project needed to take an entire month off in the final lead-in to launch. So a big part of my contribution to the project was to prioritize this project over other in-flight work, and pair a talented Junior Designer with the lead for 4 months in the lead-in to his time off. This allowed us to respond to last-minute feedback on the work without needing to delay shipping.

As of 12/20, when it was in public preview, the focused Git experience had achieved an NPS score of 47, a 41 point increase over the earlier Git implementation, with 748k users. 64% of those were active daily users.

As a result of his contributions to the focused git experience, our Senior Designer was promoted to Principal UX Designer, a process that I began before switching teams.
A sampling of screens that were a part of the design process for the focused Git experience in Visual Studio.
Iconography Update, VS Code
UX Manager
Our DevDiv design team operated under the guiding principle of "design in the open". All of our design efforts were as transparent as we could possibly make them. Doing this allowed our customers to offer feedback before we shipped, which allows them to feel a sense of ownership and involvement in the work. It also allows customers to understand the logic behind the changes we're making so design updates don't feel needlessly arbitrary.

As an open source project, VS Code is able to be completely transparent about new features and design updates. Our design lead took advantage of this and created a GitHub repo for the specific purpose of sharing our updated iconography, giving interested customers a chance to give feedback before we shipped.

The updated icon set struck the correct balance between a fresh new look without losing the glance-ability and familiarity of the older icons. Customer feedback was very positive, with over 12 million installs, 3.4k favorites on GitHub and 255 individual contributors to the repo.
UX Manager
Our VS Mac product was an acquisition of a product called Xamarin Studio. The Xamarin team were fully remote, with team members throughout Europe and the US. As a result, the team were always looking for ways to streamline the design-develop-test pipeline. During an organizational hack week, one of the designers on my team partnered up with a VS Mac developer to create FirmaSharp, a tool which exports designs in Figma as code.

The project also included a previewer tool which allows designers to view functional versions of their changes without needing to recompile. Designs created in FigmaSharp also respond to system theme changes. The team used FigmaSharp to develop numerous redesigned screens that shipped with the 2022 update of VS for Mac.

My role on this project was to socialize and evangelize the project with senior leadership within DevDiv and throughout the company, to provide ongoing feedback to the designer, make sure that product management was on board, and get alignment with engineering management so that we wouldn't lose our engineering partner. I also helped drive open-sourcing the project.

In 2019 the VS for Mac team began work on a complete, bottom-up rewrite of the codebase to improve performance. The goal was to move the product off of GTK, an outdated and sluggish Mac platform, and onto Cocoa. Doing this meant that every view in VS for Mac would need to be rebuilt on the new codebase. Figmasharp significantly sped up development of the most recent version of VS for Mac and allowed us to rebuild 100% of the views in VS for Mac. As a result of his work on this project, our designer received a promotion.
A sampling of screens from VS for Mac which were recreated from scratch using FigmaSharp. All screens are taken from the shipping product.