In this installment of the Employee Spotlight Series, meet our new Director of Experience Design, Doug Hopkins. Doug talked to us about his background and career in user experience (UX) design; the critical role of communication and collaboration in digital product strategy and development; and about some of his favorite things. Starting at Cloud in May 2022, Doug is a new member of the Cloud team, and we are excited for you to get to know him!
Cloud Construct: Tell us a bit about your career prior to joining Cloud Construct.
Doug Hopkins: I’ve had the good fortune of a long career in digital design and product development, pre-dating the Internet even (in terms of mainstream consumer access). I started my career in 1990 at a small start-up in Los Angeles that was developing a network of kiosks for customizable greeting cards that customers could configure and print in retail stores – I was about full-time employee number 5, brought on as an artist and writer for their greeting cards. The startup was acquired by American Greetings after about 3 years and became the cornerstone of their interactive division, which is when I first started getting more exposure to user experience design. For many years I worked at several digital agencies, with a few stops in UX design and leadership roles for organizations like Progressive Insurance, Vanguard Investments and most recently, Highmark Health. A common throughline in my experience has been complex digital systems and products: several ecommerce implementations, online insurance quoting and policy purchasing, the mobile app for Alamo Rental Car, retirement and investing experiences for Fidelity, and most recently Vanguard’s new stock and ETF investing platform for individual investors. I have so many experiences with so many brands and digital service categories that my previous co-workers were always amazed by the variety of “prior experience references” I could share with them when the situation called for it.
CC: Where is your hometown?
DH: I was born and raised in a town near White Plains, New York, about a forty-minute train ride north of New York City. At age 22 I worked several jobs to save up enough money to move out to Los Angeles. When American Greetings bought the company I was at, that I mentioned previously, I relocated to Cleveland, Ohio. I’ve lived there ever since, but with a couple of moves too (and back from) Philadelphia, PA.
CC: Before working at Cloud Construct, what was the most unusual or interesting job you’ve ever had?
DH: What has been most interesting to me is seeing the degree of change and advancement in digital technology and design over the course of my career. I’ve seen and worked with everything from non-networked kiosk PCs getting software updates with Techs manually installing CD-ROMs, to home consumer software products purchased at retail, to the dial-up internet era to today, which includes what is emerging and coming tomorrow. It has been fascinating to see it all evolve, as well as to understand certain aspects about rock-solid design and product execution that are evergreen in nature, just smart methods and approaches that will always ensure great outcomes, regardless of the specific technologies involved. If this answer is a little too corporate, my first job out of college was doing hand color separations for a small company in Yonkers, NY that created the special ceramic decals for those “limited edition” collector’s plates, or the patterns on cookware.
CC: If you had to eat one meal, every day for the rest of your life, what would it be?
DH: Breakfast on the weekends – not because it is a favorite to eat, but I love preparing breakfast for and feeding my family, even more so now that my children are all young adults and no longer live at home with us. Its very satisfying to spend those opportunities together. Alterative answer: if I knew my health wouldn’t completely crater from it, a steady diet of chili cheese dogs would be my go-to, I think.
CC: If you could only drink one beer for the rest of your life, what would it be?
DH: Shiner Bock from Texas. I love beer, and I’ve had lots of beers, both fancier and lower end, but Shiner Bock is my favorite, go-to beer, assuming I’m living near a place that stocks it! Pair that with the chili cheese dog from the prior question, you’ve got yourself a Michelin Star dining experience in my opinion.
CC: What drew you to join Cloud Construct?
DH: For the past several years, I have spent much more time in the areas of digital strategy and digital product planning, as well as service design, primarily in large, enterprise environments and teams. So Cloud was a great chance for me to get back to the kind of culture I enjoy most – a digital product consultancy. Within very large organizations, the degree of potential risk – regulatory, brand reputation, financial, systems, etc. – is extremely high, so things are much more deliberate and slow-moving. I found the prospect of joining a place that is smaller, faster, and mightier – in terms of moving from initial vision to deployed final product– and for working with early-stage start-ups to be very exciting. I also understood that the people and the culture here is special – seasoned, smart collaborators who know how to execute really well. I was also interested in going back to a more hands-on role in Design, as well as helping to support smart, sustainable growth of the organization. My main focus is meeting the high standards set by my predecessor and contributing in ways that my peers find very value-add to their personal work experience.
CC: Describe what you were like at age 10.
DH: Wow, well that is like a millennia ago, around 1976. As a kid I loved to read and draw, lots of drawing. I also really loved comic books – some of my fondest memories are with my grandmother, who lived with us at the time, taking me once a week to buy comic books, which were like twenty-five cents each, I think? Man, I totally sound like a grandpa right now. And in 1976 the United States had a whole bunch of bicentennial events, so I was likely running around in my back yard with a terrible haircut – because 1970s – and toy musket pretending I was Paul Revere or something.
CC: Do you have a favorite newspaper, blog?
DH: I am a bit of a news and current events junkie, so I have a bunch of favorites in my bookmarks that I cycle through, probably way, way too frequently. I stay connected to my New York roots with subscriptions to the New York Times and New Yorker magazine. But when I want information that is lighter and weirder, I go to BoingBoing.net.
CC: What would you do (for a career) if you weren’t doing this?
DH: Well for a little bit there I was doing the thing I had dreamed about, being a cartoonist. But it wasn’t at the level I had dreamt of – being a weird, subversive underground cartoonist, writing and drawing comic books, most likely combining themes of humor and horror. I lived and breathed Mad Magazine growing up, it was my North star influence growing up and to this day.
CC: What advice do you have for prospective Cloud Construct candidates?
DH: If you want to stretch yourself and your skills across a wide variety of problems to solve, with an exceptionally smart group of people that value experience and self-actualization over lots of layers of “over your shoulder” management, I would say this is a great fit. And you will learn a lot – the very nature of the kinds of clients that seek out Cloud means it will be a diverse set of digital products that involve more leading-edge technologies and approaches.
CC: Any favorite line from a movie?
DH: An all-time favorite is Rutger Hauer’s final monologue near the end of Blade Runner:
“I've seen things you people wouldn't believe... Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion... I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.”
I saw that movie as a teenager in the movie theater and it just blew me away, like nothing I had seen or experienced before. Every time I watch that movie, I mouth that monologue along with Hauer’s character.
CC: Best vacation you’ve been on?
DH: Visiting my stepdaughter when she studied abroad in Florence, Italy, with my wife. Seeing a culture, architecture and artwork from a time, the Renaissance, where that city was “the” center of it all. Plus seeing things like Michelango’s David, in person, after studying works from that era in my art history classes when I was in undergrad. And the food – amazing. Going back to Italy to explore more of the country is definitely on my bucket list.
CC: When was the last time you laughed so hard you cried?
DH: My wife and I became grandparents for the first time about nine months ago, a grandson. When we see him, he does stuff that makes us laugh – or I end up laughing at my wife about all of the goofy things she does to try and get him to laugh.
CC: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
DH: Ideally right here at Cloud Construct, involved with a roster of clients and projects that have led the organization to be recognized as a “go to” partner to bring initial digital product and service visions into reality, especially from a design and UX perspective. And I would love for the team to have grown and gotten larger – not for the sake of just “getting bigger,” but because our track record has resulted in Cloud being sought after by so many interesting and novel clients.
CC: You’re happiest when?
DH: When I can capture that creative energy from the earlier parts of my career – the Internet and Web was just happening, and there were few rules about how to do it. Just an insane amount of possibility, and small groups of people super jazzed about pooling their talents to create things from whole cloth. Technology will endlessly create those kinds of opportunities, but organizations can frequently get in their own way when it comes to unbottling and unleashing that entrepreneurial creative spirit. And I say that as a strong believer that creativity is not the domain of one group or skillset. I’m talking about the kind of fully involved, passionate problem solving where work doesn’t feel at all like work. That is my happy place.