From Professor to Product Architect: Brian Robinson

June 9, 2021 Mary Anne Connolly

When Brian Robinson, Watermark’s Vice President of Product, was acting Director of Academic Advising for McCoy College of Business at Texas State University in 2010, he helped develop a QEP (Quality Enhancement Plan) for accreditation in SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) focused on career exploration, helping students better understand themselves to make better decisions. 

So as the product leader for Watermark, when he talks about product design, he speaks from experience. He’s walked in our clients’ shoes. He knows, for example, that focusing just on compliance is missing the point for most administrators. 

Image of Brian Robinson

“There’s a lot to get done in higher ed to hit compliance goals,” he said. “But what motivates me daily is that the work we’re helping clients do has a much nobler cause, like continuous improvement to meet the needs of their students and serve their communities.”

In his academic experience, he felt that technology could play a bigger role in this cause, so he joined Tk20 in 2011, (which would eventually become Watermark). He started as Product Consultant, advancing eventually to his current VP of Product role. He has focused on enhancing and improving user experiences across all product teams and design while helping to navigate the company through multiple product acquisitions to unify the Watermark suite.

“I’m a big believer in user experience and product design as a discipline,” he says. “This is why we have a pretty sizeable team of 10 product designers which speaks to our investment in products evolving to meet our clients’ needs.”

Robinson and his team created design principles which guide Watermark’s daily decision-making. They focus on three main tenets which put the user at the center of every decision to make educators and administrator’s jobs easier, while the focus remains on continuous improvement. They are:  1.) Resemble the User’s World,  2.) Support a Positive Improvement Culture and 3.) Guide and Support.

“I’m continually reminding our 30+ product team members to put our everyday users at the center of all their thinking, to really focus on their problems and empathize with them. This is what I draw from every day — that we can solve the problem better, mirror day-to-day workflows and ‘wow’ our clients.”

Robinson’s prior experience in higher-education as both lecturer and administrator gives him “natural empathy about what they are going through.” He feels developing that same empathy in each Watermark team member is important to how they feel about their everyday work.

About what’s next, he says, “I’ve been inspired by the vision of the founders of each of the companies that came together to form Watermark. Our products currently make the jobs of leaders, faculty, and staff easier, facilitate mission-critical processes, and directly support students as they work towards a degree or professional licensure.

“Our solutions will only get better,’ he said. “I envision a day when Watermark will be the first thing that comes to mind for those who tackle the hard, day-to-day work of improving higher education and leading it into the future.

“In a sense, I’m living my dream job at the intersection of higher education and technology. Knowing that many of our products facilitate change and improvement like I once led inspires me to create the best products possible.”

Don’t miss Brian at the opening session of Engage, where he joins CEO Erin Shy and Chief Product & Technology Officer Darren Bauer Kahan for “Insights Inspire Progress” on June 16, 2021. Register for Engage today — our signature client user event is all virtual and totally free.

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