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Automattic Women: Vanessa Riley Thurman

“The ability to explore my ideas and watch others do the same makes work feel joyful.”

Vanessa Riley Thurman and partner in the woods. It is Autumn and the leaves are colorful. Vanessa’s partner embraces her. Both people are smiling.

Welcome to Automattic Women—conversations with some of the remarkable women working all over the world to design and develop Automattic software and make the web a better place. Today’s interviewee is Designer Experience lead Vanessa Riley Thurman. 

Who are you, and what do you do?

I work in Design at Automattic, leading the Designer Experience team. We focus on giving structure and support to the designers who work across our various teams and providing them with resources to do their best work. 

I was interested in moving into design operations after working as a visual designer. I feel lucky to have found my way into a role that encompasses those responsibilities as well as the “people” side of great design work. 

What’s a typical day like for you?

Vanessa Riley Thurman, wearing shorts and a jacket, explores nature at the foot of a waterfall.
Exploring nature at the foot of a waterfall.

Every day starts with me reviewing the task list that I made for myself the day prior. I’ll pop into our team chat and say hello, and check for anything that I might need to help with before making progress on my own tasks. 

As a lead, I have 1:1s with my team and leadership meetings to attend, but also have time to stay hands-on with various projects. Currently, I’m facilitating some design skills workshops and organizing a peer learning group for UX writing. I’ll coordinate the planning and development of that work across Slack and our collaboration platform, P2, with other designers and stakeholders at Automattic. 

I scribble shorthand into my notebook all day long, then digitize what’s important at the end of the day, setting reminders and marking things in my calendar. I typically don’t check my email until the end of the day either, which I love being able to do here because we barely use it.

What drew you to Automattic and what keeps you here?

Designer Experience lead Vanessa Riley Thurman at her home-based workstation.
Designer Experience lead Vanessa Riley Thurman at her home-based workstation.

Some of my earliest memories as a designer involved building WordPress sites, for myself and my friends. I liked the idea of working at a company that was personally meaningful to me, with a mission that I believe makes the world a little bit better. I was further intrigued by the asynchronous and distributed nature of the company, and thought the idea of working with so few constraints would be energizing and fun. Luckily, I was right! 

What’s your favorite guilty pleasure?

Houseplants. I have over 100, and although I’ve (…mostly) stopped buying new ones, they continue to multiply because I propagate them all the time. I’m extremely protective of them and super particular about their care. If I’m not watering the plants, I’m misting, cleaning, watching YouTube videos, running experiments, even redesigning parts of our house so that I can fit more of them in here. I would build a greenhouse, but we live near downtown in Cincinnati, OH, and there’s no space. Someday! 

What motivates you most?

Designer Experience lead Vanessa Riley Thurman performs at one-handed headstand in front of a monumental plaque in Indiana.
One-handed headstand at a monument in Indiana.

I have ALWAYS loved working with other creatives and feeding off of their energy, and this works especially well at a place like Automattic where we’re encouraged to be very experimental and self-driven. The ability to explore my ideas and watch others do the same makes work feel joyful. 

I also just think that design is a fascinating and important discipline. As long as we’re continuously trying to make better things and solve problems, I’ll never be bored. 


Connect with Vanessa on LinkedIn.

That’s it for this edition of Automattic Women. Follow Developer Resources and Automattic Design to meet more great women of Automattic. And if you’d like to do more than just read about these great people, consider working with us! Join our team of diverse, global perspectives building a better web, and connect your career to the power of Open Source.

By Vanessa Riley Thurman

Proud midwesterner, maker, writer and wanderer.

By Jeffrey Zeldman

“King of Web Standards”—Bloomberg Businessweek. Dad, Designer, Author, Founder, Publisher. Employer Brand at Automattic. An Event Apart, A List Apart & A Book Apart. He/him.

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