Zuley Clarke




Carnegie Mellon, BS, Mechanical Engineering

Georgia Tech, MS, Informational Design and Technology

As the director of user insights at Shutterstock, Zuley Clarke is responsible for understanding the company’s customers better than anyone else: who they are, what they like, what motivates them, how they behave and why, and perhaps most importantly, what ails them. “It sounds cheesy, but I really do feel our customers’ pain when something isn’t right!” she says.

That’s why Zuley is especially proud of the moments where she’s able to turn customer feedback into positive change. And why parsing data, conducting ethnographic research and working to communicate with her international audience feels like much more than “going through the motions” — a result achieved by Zuley once she started following her interests, instead of her strengths. “I firmly believe if you follow your passion, you can shape a career out of something you love.” 

Follow your passion. When I was younger, I’d make decisions based on what I was good at, but not what I was interested in.

How did you discover your current job?

Interestingly enough, I wasn’t actively looking for a new job when my friend, a tech recruiter, told me about the position. I was happy in my role at the Economist, but after I met with a few people at Shutterstock, I got really excited about working there. The people I met with were great and the problems the company was tackling were intriguing. I’ve been here for three years now and am very happy with my decision. 

What responsibilities do you have in your role?

Essentially, my primary responsibility is to understand how people use and interact with our product. I need to understand who our customers are, what motivates them, why they behave the way they do and what they think of our brand, our products and our competitors. I collect this information primarily through customer interviews, surveys and behavioral data. From there, I distill the information into actionable insights with the ultimate goal of creating a better experience for our customers.

What is the key to consistently providing the creative content that your global users need, or might not even know they need yet?

A technique we frequently use to understand our customers’ evolving and unmet needs is ethnographic research. We observe customers using our product in a real-world environment and map out their entire experience. When we spend time with our customers in that way, we always uncover something unexpected. After each session, we brainstorm ways in which to make that customer’s life easier. Those ideas are often the seeds of new product innovations.

What qualities does it take for someone to be successful at analyzing and communicating key consumer insights that affect the overall business strategy?

To be successful analyzing data, you first need to be successful at collecting it! Being organized, empathetic and quick on your feet are the most important qualities when collecting qualitative data. Once you have key insights you need to communicate, I find that being clear, concise and persuasive come in handy.

What do you believe is the next chapter for Shutterstock?

Shutterstock is a global company and a majority of our customers are not in the U.S. I believe the next chapter for Shutterstock is ensuring our global customers are well served by our products and features. This includes localizing the experience by surfacing the right content, offering local currencies and translations and making sure the site experience works well internationally. I anticipate that research will play an integral role in these initiatives.

What challenges keep you awake at night?

A new and interesting challenge for me has been making sure I create connections with our global customers. Since I only speak English and live in the U.S., I have to come up with creative ways to navigate the language barriers, time zones and cultural nuances. The process of regularly getting feedback from our international customers is something I need to figure out in order to ensure we’re meeting the needs of a majority of our customers.  

Is work/life balance ever a problem with you? If so, what is one no-fail tactic you use to create balance?

It can be. I find that setting personal goals every month and sticking to them helps me create balance. For example, this month my goal is to start CrossFit and go to a class three times a week. The classes force me to create a schedule for the week so I can plan ahead and stick to it.

I also have a fitness app I developed called Thirty Day Fit. It’s my passion project and I work on it on the weekends. I definitely like having a lot on my plate, so planning my weeks and days keep me focused and balanced.

What have been the most rewarding career moments for you, and why?

Any moment where we created, changed or removed something based on customers’ feedback has been pretty rewarding for me. It sounds cheesy, but I really do feel our customers’ pain when something isn’t right! I also know the development process and time it takes to make a change. So when we’re able to make a change based on our findings, it just feels good.

What are some of the rules you live by?

  • Be curious. If you don’t know something, ask. If you don’t understand something, go out and seek the answers.
  • Don’t ask. Don’t get. If you never ask for what you want, the answer is always no. 
  • Plan ahead. Start your year, month or day with a plan of what you want to accomplish.
  • Make memories. Say “yes” to trying new things. Challenge yourself to do something out of your comfort zone.   

What one piece of advice do you wish you could tell a 21-year-old version of yourself?

Follow your passion. When I was younger, I’d make decisions based on what I was good at, but not what I was interested in. (My undergrad major is proof of that.) I was good at math and science and picked engineering because I knew I’d be good at it. There were aspects I liked, but overall, I was just going through the motions. Luckily, I didn’t veer off course for too long and went to get my masters in an area that I was interested in and ended up loving. I firmly believe if you follow your passion, you can shape a career out of something you love.