Simple, Yet Significant: Meet James Richman, the Award-Winning Designer Behind FloQast’s User Experience
Here’s how an Emmy award-winning art director ended up at a Los Angeles technology company designing close management software for accounting teams.
Mar 20, 2019 | By John Siegel
When we say that FloQast was built for accountants by accountants, we mean it.
FloQast was founded by two former CPAs who worked as Big Four auditors, and every department at FloQast boasts at least one former accountant or auditor who can offer their teammates insight into what it’s really like to be a part of a busy accounting team struggling to close the books month in, month out.
That’s important because when James Richman joined the company in late-2016, he knew little about the world of accounting and even less about FloQast.
An art director and product designer by trade, James’s portfolio speaks for itself: Stops at companies such as NBC, Disney, and Tribune Publishing, not to mention a Webby Award and three Emmys for his work on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and Jay Leno’s Garage.
Recently, I spoke with James about his day-to-day, collaborating with the product and engineering teams, and his fateful decision to join an accounting software technology company.
As FloQast’s Art Director, what does your day-to-day look like?
My day-to-day is always different but there are four things that I try and stick to each day. The first, coffee. The second is research. I set time aside each day to improve my accounting knowledge, discover new trends, or see what others in our space are doing. The third is making sure I talk with the teams for each of the projects I am working on. Even if there are no important decisions to be made, the face-to-face time brings teams closer. The last is time where I can just put my headphones on, blast some music as loud as possible, and work through page layouts, prototypes, user flows, or whatever problem I need to solve.
What attracted you to FloQast?
Actually, I had no idea what FloQast was. My previous experience as a creative was at companies like Disney and Tribune Publishing. I had never heard of the financial close. I was looking for a new challenge and had a chance to speak with [Co-founder and COO] Chris Sluty. I found myself in one of the better product conversations I had in a long time. After that, I came in and met Cullen [Zandstra, Co-founder and CTO] Mike [Whitmire, Co-founder and CEO], and Carlos [Avila, Software Engineering Manager]. There was really no turning back at that point. I wanted to be a part of the team.
What were your thoughts of the UX when you joined FloQast?
“This company needs a designer.” Not that what was happening was bad, but you had an engineering team and the head of product focusing on figuring out design, which took time away from writing code and making product decisions. There was no way this was scalable. I could see the need for someone to not only focus on the design challenges of the “right now,” but the need to plan into the future. It’s really easy to paint yourself into a corner. Also, I could see how beneficial a design language would be to create new products and iterate on existing ones.
What sort of work went into improving the existing user experience?
First was understanding the problem we were solving, which included some serious Accounting 101. After that, we conducted a complete audit of the app and how users were interacting with each component. From there, it was creating a roadmap of UX [user experience] improvements that would make the month-end close faster and more transparent for our users. There is always a lot of care given to making the changes subtle and not jarring. No one wants to come into an app they use for work and see that everything has changed, no matter how cool it looks. I took a lot of inspiration from consumer based apps. Today, everyone has a smartphone and has experience using top-tier designed apps from companies like Google, Intuit, and Slack. The biggest mistake a lot of people in our space make is thinking that if someone has already paid for the app, the appearance and function isn’t important. I think one of the reasons we are successful is because we treat our users like people as opposed to sales numbers.
How would you describe FloQast’s present user experience?
Our entire user experience mission can be summed up as “Simple Yet Significant.” This motto is so important to us we have a 10-foot version of it on a wall in our kitchen area.
What’s your collaborative process like? How closely do you work with the product and engineering teams?
I sit in the middle of the product and engineering team and talk with — they may say harass — them several times a day. We will go through analytics, talk with users, and dive into what we are working on. Everyone has voice in the project. Doing this daily really saves a lot of time and frustration. Making great products is really a team sport — an engineer may have a great idea on a user flow or the UX designer may have a great idea on modifying code (that last part has never happened, but I can dream right?).