SolarCity is the nation’s largest solar power provider with more than 14,000 employees. It was founded by Elon Musk, Lyndon Rive, and Pete Rive and has more than 40% of the market share for solar energy in the US.
SolarCity wasn’t meeting its goal of recruiting 1000 new employees per month. It wasn’t telling a compelling story and attracting new talent.
Design a new careers website that has a stronger recruiting funnel and better tells SolarCity’s unique story and mission
What will success look like?
- More qualified applicants
- Employees who feel proud of where they work and share info about it with others
- Clearly defined value propositions on why candidates should work for SolarCity compared to competing solar companies.
Who were the collaborators?
Myself (lead design & art direction)
Executives (CMO & COO)
Chronos (engineering team in Colorado)
Garth (Filmmaker, designer)
How it all came together
Using design to solve business goals
In the spring of 2015 SolarCity had the daunting need of recruiting over 1000 solar panel installers per month in order to keep up with their growth and expansion rates throughout the country. The company was struggling to meet this quota and was often loosing potential candidates to competing solar companies. After talking with Tanguy Serra, the Director of Operations for SolarCity, I put some thought into what design could do to help with this problem. I scoured over the current careers page of the website and realized the serious lack of luster that the website carried, especially compared to the feeling of brotherhood, camaraderie and teamwork that the actual crews out in the field displayed. The website wasn't clear, had competing calls to action, didn't highlight the benefits of working at SolarCity, lacked emotion, and it wasn't obvious how to find available jobs in your area.
One evening I crafted a lengthy email critiquing the current website and I provided a prototype with designs showing how things could be improved. I pitched Tanguy the idea of creating a bold recruiting website that really captured what it means to work for SolarCity and compelled users to see why SolarCity is their best choice when making future a career decision. He loved the concept and the next morning I received an email from him and the rest of the executive team saying that the project had a green-light to begin. I was directed to put a small team together and lead the project and that they wanted the site up and live within 8 weeks.
This was the careers page that I critiqued and said that it was failing in helping achieve the business goal of recruiting 1000 new employees per month.
The main user pain points were:
- Difficult to find/sort jobs
- High user drop off-rate
- It wasn't clear how this company is different than other solar companies
- Site wasn't responsive for mobile
- Lacked emotional feel and didn't convey the culture of the installer crews
- This page was buried under several layers of navigation and didn't contain anything interesting to share or refer to potential canditates
Research from the field
We kicked off the project by going to New York. Garth and I traveled throughout the state meeting with solar installer and taking pictures of them at work. Our goal here was to gather content and imagery for the website but also to really try and get into the minds of our target audience. We wanted to learn what they cared about, why they chose to work for SolarCity, what motivates them to get out there and work even when it's possibly freezing cold outside. We chose to go to New York because SolarCity was opening up a lot of new offices back East and were struggling to recruit talent there. We wanted to make sure this site initially really catered to them and spoke perfectly to what they would want to hear. I took pictures and Garth shot video (and yes, we froze the entire time).
My role as the design lead
As the lead designer on this project it was my role to ensure we met our deadline and that the project achieved it’s intended outcomes. I teamed up with an engineer and a remote development agency based out of Denver, Colorado. Along with designing the website, it was also my role to oversee content creation for the site such as video assets, photography, and copy. We began the design processwith a face to face meeting with the dev team from Denver and then regularly held remote stand-ups and reviews twice per week from that point on. It was my role to interlay between engineering, design, and the executive team.
Working with constraints
My little team and I had a super fast timeline to work with. We not only had to design and build the website in six weeks but we also had to gather content to fill the site. The executive team explicitly said that they wanted this site to be more than just a landing page and to act as the central hub for everything happening within the operations side of the business. I led the team and we mapped out on sticky notes the main pages that this site required:
- Why SolarCity
- Meet a crew
- Where we are
- Job postings
- News (blog)
We had an upcoming trip already planned to New York where we blocked out some time to shoot photos and video of the crews back east. We didn’t have a lot of time to explore a various design options so I started off by grey-boxing out the homepage and then I went from there, trusting on lots of happy accidents that would come throughout the process.
After we came back from our trip we reviewed some of our notes and experiences. In an effort to make sure I wasn’t designing something that merely looked cool but failed at working well, I built the entire design around several user stories, which we had gathered while in the field.
- Jim is a construction worker but is considering making a job change. His friend works for SolarCity so he goes to their website to learn more about the benefits of working at SolarCity and to see if any positions are available.
- Adam works for SolarCity already and he wants to easily let others know about the great work environment and culture he experiences. He goes to the website looking for great content to share that really captures what its like to be an installer.
- Tyler hasn’t ever heard of SolarCity but he’s being recruited to go work for another solar power company. Before he commits he begins googling to see what other companies are in his area and he stumbles across SolarCity.
Mapping out the user experience
I started off with sticky notes, mapping out the user flows, and then on to quickly sketching out ideas. Since I had already shown a concept to the executive team, I was slightly constrained in going with a similar approach to what they already saw and agreed upon. After wireframes and grey-boxing I went about defining the visual style of the homepage so that it could carry across to the other pages. The website is intended to look visually different than the consumer facing site of SolarCity.com because it is targeting a different audience than that of SolarCity’s main demographic. The visual difference was a challenge that we had a lot of discussion around because we wanted the site to speak to a different audience, yet still feel like it lived within the SolarCity ecosystem.
A design challenge I faced early on was creating a navigation that could make it clear that this was SolarCity’s website, but that it was a career’s page. The user needed to be able to return back to solarcity.com, or remain in the recruiting. It also was a challenge to build this site in a way that allowed it to be scalable and replicated not just for recruiting installers but also for the sales, engineering, and headquarters departments. The best solution I found was to create a secondary navigation that had a drop down with links to the other website. This would apply similarly in the mobile version as well.
Applying the visual design
After the user experience was mapped out, prototyped and tested on several employees at SolarCity I then did several explorations with the visual design. I wanted the visuals to be bold, impactful, and carry the same amount of grit and intensity that so many of these construction-working installers displayed. I also wanted the visual design to enhance the user experience and push the user towards applying so that we could effectively be solving our problem.
The homepage solved several user needs as articulated in the job stories.
- It provided highly visual content that emotionally captured the users attention.
- It clearly articulated the three main reasons why a user would want to work for SolarCity (compensation, career, and impact).
- It acted as a hub for news and stories that could be shareable, in order to bring new users to the site.
- It had a clear CTA that guided users toward applying.
Built to Be Responsive
I recognized that many of our target demographic were searching for job while on a mobile device. It was incredibly important to us to create a site that looked good on all devices, maintained it's goal-oriented design, and followed a strong grid structure to keep everything tight and organized.
Emphasizing the Impact of the Organization
There are countless construction companies out there who are building amazing things but there are very few companies that are having the kind of impact that SolarCity has. We intentionally focused a lot of the imagery and text on communicating that impact. We want the viewer to get the sense that this isn't just a "another job" but a mission and cause worth fighting for.
SolarCity also runs a non-profit foundation called GivePower that provides power to schools in developing countries. For ever 100 Mw of solar power installed in the US, SolarCity installs power on a school in need. We felt it important to showcase that on the website and to leverage it as a tool for recruiting.
Making the job search clear
One of the main user pain points was that the job search itself was cluttered, difficult to search, and unhelpful in aiding the user solve the problem he/she faced. I changed that by making the job titles easily readable and the jobs could be sorted by location, type, and date posted. Users could also search by entering their zip code.
Making the Employee the Hero
Rather than boasting about how great the company is and about all of the many wonderful things it is accomplishing, we felt like it was really important to focus in on the individual and showcase him/her for their great work. We used images and videos to elevate the role of a construction-working solar panel installer to that of a planet-saving, world-changing hero.
Communicating the message
When SolarCity speaks to it's customers it focuses it's message on saving money, how the solar panels will look on the home, etc. When SolarCity speaks to it's employees it needs to share messages of impact, potential, and teamwork. The employees of the company feel like they are called to a higher cause and are not working to simply lower a customer's utility bill but to instead play one of most influential roles in climate change that this planet has ever seen.
Above: Filmed and edited by Garth Pratt.
Since the launch of the website SolarCity has seen tremendous results. Not only does the website look beautiful but it has proven to be incredibly effective as well, driving 80% of its traffic into the conversion funnel. I couldn't be more pleased with how it turned out.
- First month after launch had an 80% increase in qualified applicants
- Increased brand presence on social media from passionate employees
- Clear difference between working at SolarCity vs competing solar companies