Conference Review: UX Strategies Summit 2014, Part 2

April 6, 2015

The Global Strategic Management Institute (GSMI) launched the first UX Strategies Summit on June 10–12, 2014, which took place in San Francisco, California, at the Marines’ Memorial Club & Hotel. In Part 1 of my two-part review, I covered the organization of the conference, the “Adaptable Product Roadmaps” workshop that I attended, and Day 1 of the “General Summit.” Now, in Part 2 of my review, I’ll cover Day 2 of UX Strategies Summit 2014 and complete my overview of the conference, reviewing its proceedings, venue, hospitality, and community.

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Day 2 of the Conference: Highlights

For Day 2 of the conference, the audience was happily united in a single track. The sessions included the following:

I’ve linked the session titles to the PDF presentations on the UX Strategies Summit site.

Opening Keynote: UX-Driven Innovation

Presenter: David M. Hogue

David is a UX Design Manager at Google, where he leads the UX team for Travel Products and Services, comprising designers, researchers, and prototypers. David began his excellent talk on UX-driven innovation and strategy by saying, “UX! … Everybody is talking about it right now. Everybody thinks it’s highly desirable. … There are a lot of hopes being pinned on UX right now. UX is much, much more than just interfaces. We’re not talking about digital design. It also goes far beyond products and services. … What these companies are focused on is producing an experience and delivering those emotional, memorable, enjoyable experiences to people. So that’s why everybody is talking about user experience. …

“We’re not going to be talking about [UX] from a designer’s perspective. Nor are we going to be talking about UX from a business perspective. We’re going to be talking about it from a strategic perspective. … UX is not something that one person does. UX is something than an entire team is responsible for. So we’re going to be focused on: How do we get UX into an organization? How do we get everyone thinking about how to become responsible for it? So you don’t have just one person … [in a UX role] … saying, ‘I can do everything.’ Because it really does take all of us.”

David wove a case study on his long-term consulting relationship with Jeld-Wen Windows & Doors into the remainder of his talk, telling us that the company had had a “very weak digital presence. … They had a very diverse audience” and “needed digital services that could serve architects, builders, designers, and homeowners. … The problem was, they weren’t competing very effectively.” Jeld-Wen had identified its “key business goals:

  • Tell the product story.
  • Sell products.
  • Support collaboration.
  • Improve the brand.”

But the company was “less clear about the users’ needs. There were opportunities to innovate:

  • smartphones and tablets
  • in-store experiences
  • reaching homeowners directly
  • mass customization”

But Jeld-Wen did not know how “to accomplish any of this innovation because we really didn’t understand the user.” This was the context in which David’s engagement with Jeld-Wen began.

David digressed from the story of his case study to define some terms relating to innovation. “When we talk about innovation, we often think that it means something else,” observed David.

  • inventing—“Doing something that has never been done before. We’re talking about newness.”
  • incrementing—Nudging “something that we’ve already got. Making incremental improvements. … Changing gradually over time.”
  • innovating—“Doing something that is significantly better. It’s not necessarily new. It’s just better.”

“So we’re going to focus on innovation as being better,” said David. “How can UX actually lead to innovation? What do we do? What do we bring?

  • UX focuses on the user.
    • understanding—“We spend time trying to understand the people, their needs, their expectations.”
    • advocating—“We are an advocate for the user. We represent them in the business and in technical discussions. We’re on their side.”
    • optimizing—“And everything we do is an optimization exercise to make it better for [users], while still trying to achieve the business needs and operating within the technical constraints that we have. How can we make it as best we can for all parties involved [and] maximize the value of the product?”
  • UX solves problems.
    • identifying and defining—“We spend most of our time identifying and defining what the problem is. What are we actually trying to solve? What is the problem we should be solving?”
    • framing—“What is the proper perspective to best understand the problem? Framing the problem is an important component. What perspective do we need to take? How do we understand it? Do we really grasp what the problem is, and are we solving the right thing?
    • representing—“What is the best way to clearly communicate the problem? How do we represent it? There’s a huge communication component to what we do. … What is going to be the best way to convey our understanding of the problem and our proposed solution to that problem?”
  • UX translates. We’re also translators.”
    • liaising—“We work as liaisons, and we connect many different parties. [We] communicate among users, business owners, and technologists. We work with the business strategy folks and the business analysts. We work with the technologists. We work with the marketing and content people. We work with the end users. Manufacturers, advertising channels, vendors. All of them. … We’re listening to everyone.”
    • driving consensus—“[We] drive toward a shared understanding of the problem. Because we’re listening to everyone, we are often focused on trying to achieve consensus. Getting everyone to understand problems the same way and getting them to come to agreement about the best ways to address them and to solve them.
    • bringing value—We’re focused on bringing value—not just to the end user, but to all of the business units … as well. Acknowledge the benefits to users and the business.

“There always seem to be things that hold us back in UX,” remarked David. “It’s all a matter of perspective. … Is it an opportunity, or is it a limitation? It’s all in how you frame it. … Everything’s an opportunity. It’s just a problem to be solved. But the key thing here about perspective is: UX does not need to drive innovation. This is the misperception here. UX should facilitate innovation. UX is the path, the conduit that helps make it happen; not the driving force behind it, but the way it emerges. The way it happens through the efforts of the team. … The best solutions always emerge from collaboration. … UX is the combination of design, technology, business. If you’re working within the organization, it is a collaborative effort.” This message was at the core of David’s presentation.

“But,” questioned David, “if it takes a team to do this, why, sometimes, is it so difficult for UX to get a seat at the table? Why do we struggle to make the argument and to persuade people that we should be involved? That we’ve processes and methods and ways of working that are beneficial to everyone?

“In the past 15, 16 years, or so, I’ve identified what I think are some buckets of reasons why UX is not incorporated in [organizations]. There are different approaches to how we can address these problems. We’ll talk about just a couple of them in terms of the Jeld-Wen case study. …

  • ignorance—The first problem is ignorance. Lack of understanding about the role and contributions of UX. They just don’t know what UX is. … They really don’t understand what it is that UX does, so they don’t know how to make a place for it or how to incorporate it into the organization.
  • poverty—We have no money, no resources, … no processes, no people, no time. We just can’t do it. The deadline is tomorrow. We can’t bring in another person to help us now.”
  • subordination—“We have UX, but they are just told what to do after the key decisions have been made. Here are the requirements. Here’s the strategy doc…. You’ve got three weeks; I want to see a prototype on Friday. Make it happen. But everything’s been predefined. … You … don’t have an opportunity to contribute to how this was defined, so you’re treated as a subordinate.
  • hubris—We already know our customers and what they need. We don’t have to go out and talk to them anymore. … We know what’s going on.
  • misalignment—A lack of communication and engagement among interdependent groups. There are always multiple teams. They are interdependent, but they don’t always communicate well with one another. They’re not always engaged with one another. And, if they’re not in agreement about what they’re trying to do, it’s harder to figure out where UX fits in. UX just becomes another one of those misaligned, partially engaged, somewhat contentious groups within the organization.
  • fiefdoms—The power struggles within an organization. Organizational compartmentalization and … a lack of a holistic culture. … This is my area. I own it. I think it’s really common for a lot of organizations. In fact, you can even tell they’re that way by looking at their Web sites. If their Web site is organized according to the business units within the company, chances are it’s fiefdom incorporated.
  • inward focus—A business has an inward focus. They only make their decisions from the perspective of the business. This is what will drive revenue; this is what will increase manufacturing costs; this is the message that we want to put out about our brand. Users, who? People, what? Buyers, huh? Everything is done from their own perspective—like narcissism.
  • ego—One person in power already has the solution—all of the best ideas and solutions. I know what we’re going to do. I know what’s best. And I’m just going to tell everyone else what to do, and you are going to make it happen. This is rule by fiat.

“So these are struggles for us when we’re in these situations.” At this point, David returned to his Jeld-Wen case study, describing the UX challenges that were characteristic of that company:

  • “no resources, processes, or team
  • focused on the business, not the users
  • no research on the users
  • old technology
  • starting from scratch”

“So it takes a team,” reiterated David. “How do we fit UX into it? What do we so we can start to facilitate innovation?” David briefly touched on several “different philosophical approaches to UX,” shown in Figure 1, then shared a collection of UX process diagrams and identified some similarities across them, as shown in Figure 2. “In a few key diagrams, you’ll see … things like collaboration and strategic planning. And this is what we want to focus on, because the first five steps of this process are fairly well established for us. We know how to do the work. Now, we just have to get the right people involved in the work.”

Figure 1—Philosophical approaches
Philosophical approaches
Figure 2—Similarities across approaches
Similarities across approaches

Looking at the UX process at a higher level, David told us, “We really have processes that focus on identifying problems and creating solutions, or generating ideas and delivering products. So we really can simplify the way that we explain what we are doing. … We don’t have to have complex, loopy diagrams to say this is the way we’re going to do things. If we talk about the value of the process and what we bring at the end of it, it’s often easier for us to explain why we should be involved. So, if it does take a team, what does UX bring to the team? What’s our particular skillset that we are contributing that may be unique to us as UXers?”

David defined a wicked problem as “a problem that does not have a single, optimal solution. It’s difficult. There are many possible ways it can be solved, but all of those solutions are essentially … bringing structure and organization—bringing opportunity.

Then, David covered the value that UX professionals provide in depth: “So, what do [UXers] bring?

  • inquisitiveness—We will take apart everything. … We will focus on minute detail at times. Sometimes the smallest, little things like the timing of [a] transition in the motion design is not properly conveying the feedback for the interaction that was just done, so people missed it. It was too fast. Or there was too much of a delay and they were already looking somewhere else. And we’re thinking, It’s two hundredths of a millisecond! Why are you focused on that? Because it’s the detail that counts. And, of course, we have the big-picture view. We spend a lot of time moving, changing our altitude. Big picture. Low-level detail. Big picture. Low-level detail. We get very facile at changing our altitude. But how is it that the whole experience is going to be greater than the sum of the parts? What we deliver is meaningful to people. …
  • clarity—UXers bring clarity to a process. They bring clarity to a problem.
    • framing—We spend a lot of time framing … problems. What is the best way to think about this? What is the context and perspective of the problem and solution? … You’re going to come up with really different solutions, and it’s all based on how you ask the question. It’s a matter of framing.
    • representation—We spend time with representation. This is the communication component—draw it, speak it, mime it, prototype it, role-play it…. How do we help people understand what we’re doing? What is the best way to communicate the problem and solution?
    • critique—How can we solicit and provide effective feedback? we bring the process of feedback into critique. How is this idea? Where is it strong? Where is it weak? Where can it be improved? How can we get more ideas into this? How do we solicit comments from everyone else? Not everyone is good at feedback. Not everyone understands how to give critique. But most UX people are trained in it, so it’s a skill that they bring to the business meetings. How do we discuss this constructively and critically without it deteriorating into a word battle? We spend a lot of time walking many, many miles in many, many people’s shoes in order to understand what … they need and what is their problem.
  • sensemaking—Another skill that we have—that we bring—is sensemaking. … Sensemaking is … making sense of a whole bunch of things that may seem to be unrelated, but are in fact connected.
    • coherence—What are the patterns, the affinities, the connections among things that we might not realize are connected…?
    • synthesis—What is the process of synthesis? How do we bring things together meaningfully? How do the parts all fit together and join meaningfully? And once again, they may not seem like they are connected, but we find those connections. We find those moments of meaning.

      insight—Are there additional possibilities that may emerge? This is … that Eureka moment. ‘Oh, now I understand it.’ All of the parts that I didn’t realize were connected are connected this way. And we have a new perspective—a new understanding of the problem. … In UX, at that moment of insight, all of these parts come together and, suddenly, the solution presents itself.
  • types of reasoning—There are different types of reasoning that we bring to the process as well. …
    • inductive—What is the one best theory or explanation? Science is obsessed with inductive reasoning and coming up with theories to explain the universe.
    • deductive—What is the one best answer or solution? This is where engineers live. … What is the one best way to do something?
    • abductive—What are all of the possible explanations and answers? Sometimes annoyingly, the designers are abductive [and] will sit around thinking of as many solutions and explanations as possible, knowing full well that some of them are not good or not optimized. The task is to come up with as many as possible. Not the one, but all, and that’s a really different way of thinking.
      • divergence—So abductive reasoning is about divergence. It’s about generativity, creating as many possible things as you can. What are all of the possible solutions?
      • remixing—It’s about remixing the parts and finding ways to put them together in new, interesting, potentially valuable ways. How might the parts all fit together in different ways? Are there any other ways that we could put this together? Is there another way to look at this and maybe turn it into something better? … And that’s really what a lot of UX people are doing. Here’s what we have. Break it into tiny pieces. Look at them, remix them, reassemble them, synthesize them, explore, play—and very often something new and better comes out of it. …
      • exploration—Abductive reasoning is about exploration. Are there additional perspectives and possibilities? What are all of the possibilities? Do I have to obey these constraints or can I ignore them? Can I break the rules? Can we pretend that physics doesn’t exist for a moment and come up with a new way of thinking about something?
      • creating—Abductive reasoning is actually related to creativity. People who are high in abductive reasoning, people who are able to think divergently very effectively tend to be described as more creative. It’s also related to the process of insight and inference. It’s a logical way of making best guesses and leaps of the imagination.
      • challenging constraints—Abductive reasoning helps us challenge constraints. Why is this a limitation? Why these constraints? Can we change the constraints? What if they were different? Let’s change the rules of the game and the solutions will change with it.
      • Eureka moments—It turns out that the Eureka moment is not a moment at all. It only looks that way—it actually took a lot of time and effort, … and a lot of running around in circles, but we got to the moment of insight.

“So UX really is a way of thinking about the world,” observed David. “How do we bring this way of thinking about the world into our business processes?” Figure 3 shows “a common experience [for UX]. … This is the subordinate category…. Business has already done the strategy and requirements. They hand off a PRD to UX. They say, ‘Design it; give it to us. We’ll send it to manufacturing or engineering. We’ll get a product. We’ll monitor the sales and the performance of that product in the business unit, and then we’ll call you back when we have some updates.’

Figure 3—An all-too-common experience for UX
An all-too-common experience for UX

“We want to change the way we work…. We want to become more involved.” David then took us through an evolution of the role of UX within a business, as shown in Figures 4–7: “The first step is to be a contributor. To ask back in return: What if we did this a different way? What if the constraints were different? What if we redefined some of these requirements? Now, we’re starting to have an impact on what we deliver. It’s no longer just a prescriptive thing. Now we’re contributing to what is going to be created,” as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4—UX as a contributor
UX as a contributor

“But we can take it a step farther,” David told us. “We can become a collaborator. We can become part of the team. Let’s try this. Let’s re-scope that. Let’s reprioritize. Let’s redefine this. So, now, we have the opportunity to influence what we measure about the performance—not just the requirements of what we’re going to do, but how we monitor the performance of what we’ve done,” as shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5—UX as a collaborator
UX as a collaborator

“And when we’ve been able to convince them that we’re a good person, we become a partner in that process. … Business and UX join. We’re now a part of strategy and requirements and design, and what we deliver and what we measure is all part of a larger, cohesive process,” as shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6—UX as a partner
UX as a partner

“A lot of … this is really about helping people understand how things are aligned,” said David. Figure 7 shows three possible scenarios for achieving alignment:

  1. “We have a business and we have a product, but if it’s not properly aligned, we’re essentially asking the question: Who is this for? … We’re aiming at … the wrong audience.”
  2. “Sometimes it’s this situation: … We’re this business, and we want to target these users. What do we need to give them? We don’t have something now. What product can we create for them? Or how can we modify what we have in order to target them.”
  3. “When things are in alignment, … when everything comes together, now we have strategy. … The business, the product, and the consumer are all in alignment, and this is something we can help with—the UXers.”
Figure 7—UX without and with strategic alignment
UX without and with strategic alignment

“What are some effective questions we can ask when we are in meetings?” asked David. “This is a very tactical sort of thing.

  1. What’s the problem we are trying to solve? … You’re being told, ‘Do X.’ Just step back for a second. What is X trying to solve? What’s the problem? Because we might have to spend some time talking about root causes or understanding it more effectively. … Frame it in terms of root causes and end goals.
  2. Why are we solving this problem? … Is there a particular value to the business? Is it a priority for the end user? Is it something that has to happen because there are dependencies for us to do more down the line? But Why this, why now? is an important question. Match the user needs with the business needs.
  3. How will we know when we have succeeded? What are our metrics? What are the victory conditions? How are we going to know we’ve won? Not just, ‘Thanks for the direction. I’ll go draw something.’ But, ‘When we deliver it and when we measure it, what numbers are we going to look for to know we’ve been successful?’ Define the baseline, metrics, and victory conditions. Now, you’re starting to talk the businessperson’s language. Now, you’re talking business; you’re not talking design.

“We want to demonstrate success. That’s how we get into organizations. That’s how we become part of the strategic process—by showing that we can make things better. We can be very, very persuasive, but until we have actually shown them value, it’s harder to get in.”

David returned to his Jeld-Wen case study, describing how they created—and other UX professionals can create—“a place for UX within the organization. …

  • Identify internal advocates. Who were the people already in the organization that understood process, understood design, understood what UX was and its value, and could help advocate for us internally? There were a handful of them, so we found them.
  • Understand the business and the industry. We had to spend a lot of time understanding the business and the industry so we could speak their language. We didn’t want to sound like an agency. We didn’t want to sound like disconnected designers. We wanted to sound like window and door manufacturers. We wanted to talk to them the same way they would talk to their competitors. Their language.
  • Find and frame the problems. What really is the challenge and what’s the best way to understand it?
  • Propose viable and valuable solutions. Viable meaning: something you could deliver. Valuable meaning: it is going to return something to you. Not just pie in the sky. … It takes more than design artifacts.”

“Let’s facilitate innovation,” advised David. Figure 8 shows “the opportunities. Within a business organization, how can UX talk and work with people from these different units? … How many times does the word design occur…? There’s a lot of stuff going on…. Design is happening in two places. … So, UX isn’t design. UX is understanding problems. UX is identifying solutions. UX is delivering value. Design is a component of this.”

Figure 8—UX contributions
UX contributions

“I don’t want us to get locked into thinking about UX as a role for design,” cautioned David. “The designer is maybe a gateway, maybe a facilitator, but it could just as easily be a product manager or an engineer or a business stakeholder or a marketing person who does these things and gets people thinking in a UX way.

“So there is a big picture. If we are not engaged and aligned from the beginning, then it’s harder and harder for us to translate those business goals and those consumer needs into great UX. If all we’re doing is taking direction, what you’re going to get is what you asked for. … But, if we’re involved from the beginning and we contribute to the strategy, we’re more likely to get value.”

David described the outcome of his Jeld-Wen engagement, then returned to his discussion of innovation, saying, “UX can be a strategic partner and help facilitate innovation.” Figures 9–11 provide a summary of the content of David’s talk. Figure 9 lists what UX can do. “We can provide value for everyone,” exclaimed David. “This is the list of why I should hire you or why I should fund a new team in the organization. … Maximizing the value, maximizing the experience means making people understand why it is worth it to them, because doing anything new is painful. But if they understand that the value is greater than the pain, they’re going to do it. They’ll be motivated. But if they think the pain is greater than the end value, they’re not motivated, and they’re not going to do it.”

Figure 9—The role of UX
The role of UX

“What does UX bring?” asked David. Figure 10 lists “skills that we bring to the table as designers, as UX people. And they complement the skills of the technology people and the manufacturing and the business and the marketing and the content and the communications and you name it. So these are complementary skills. What are you going to do for us? This is what I’m going to do for you.”

Figure 10—UX skills
UX skills

“What’s the UX process?” queried David. “Well, remember, there isn’t really a UX process. But if we look at it from the big picture, it’s all about clarity and understanding. It’s about moving beyond the design artifacts. It’s rejecting the one-size-fits-all UX method. … It’s optimizing what works best for the organization, the users, and the product.” Figure 11 shows David’s high-level goals for a UX process.

Figure 11—UX process
UX process

“Innovation doesn’t have to be different,” reiterated David. “We’re not defining innovation by new or different. We’re defining innovation by better. We just have to do things better than the way they’re being done now. And, if it’s new—awesome! But don’t feel like that’s one of the criteria you have to meet.”

“The solution becomes obvious when we change our perspective,” concluded David. “When we change the way we think about the problem…, when you look at it from the perspective of the user, you see it differently than when you look at it from the perspective of the business.”

One nugget from the Q&A: “Poverty of a UX team is a business decision.”

David’s speaking style is very conversational and engaging, and he spoke about some of my favorite themes: collaboration and innovation, so I really enjoyed his keynote. His topic and the depth of his content made this one of the most meaningful and important talks of the conference. Most slides in David’s presentation were minimalistic, comprising only a single photo or a brief phrase or sentence, but some key slides presented more complex information. In general, his presentation was well designed. However, I couldn’t read the purple text on a black background with ambient light washing out the screen, and the lightweight font, though elegant, exacerbated this problem. You can listen to the recording of David’s keynote on the UX Strategies Summit Web site.

Hunting Unicorns: What Makes an Effective UX Professional

Presenter: Patrick Neeman

Patrick is Director of Product Design at Apptio. A popular speaker and writer, he blogs at UsabilityCounts and is the organizer of the UX Drinking Game. This was the first time I had the pleasure of hearing Patrick speak. He shared what he has learned in the process of building several UX teams, including a virtual agency: “We want a unicorn. Want to build a great UX design team.” These are common refrains. “What makes an effective UX professional? Be a unicorn,” Patrick quipped and fancifully depicted in Figure 12. End of topic? Hardly.

Figure 12—UX unicorn
UX unicorn

When you’re building a UX team and hiring UX professionals, Patrick told us, “There really isn’t a process. It’s more of a framework. Why is it hard to define what an effective UX professional is? There’s very little material about this.” (Read our Ask UXmatters expert panel’s discussion of this topic in “Essential and Desirable Skills for a UX Designer,” to which Patrick provided a link. Plus, I’ve written “13 Human Qualities You Must Have to Succeed in Work and Life,” which describes essential qualities of UX professionals.)

“There is no front door to UX,” stated Patrick. “That’s part of the problem. We come from all these different backgrounds, so there’s no blueprint for a good designer. That makes it worse. Nobody says ‘When I grow up, I want to be a UX designer.’” Patrick quoted Tim Brown, IDEO CEO, on designers’ having a T-shaped skillset:

“They have a principal skill that describes the vertical leg of the T—they’re mechanical engineers or industrial designers. But they are so empathetic that they can branch out into other skills such as anthropology and do them as well.”—Tim Brown

Patrick also quoted Jared Spool, Founder of the Unicorn Institute, from his article “Ideal UX Team Makeup: Specialists, Generalists, or Compartmentalists”:

“Compartmentalist[s isolate] themselves from the other disciplines around them, not really learning what they do or how they do it.”—Jared Spool

“I don’t like hiring compartmentalists because they don’t understand what goes into building the product,” remarked Patrick. “They want us to be unicorns…dammit.”> Some leaders “think they can hire all the different skills and it will just work.”

“What are the hard skills?” asked Patrick. “The competencies of UX are quite disparate. There are six of them,” according to Nick Finck’s blog, as Figure 13 shows. “There’s no way you can have a person who’s good at all six skills,” declared Patrick. “All of these roles have different skillsets. They don’t have to be an expert. They just have to be at a level where they can get things done.” He then presented a slide showing the competencies of each of four roles: interaction designer, visual designer, content strategist, and design technologist. That for an interaction designer is shown in Figure 14. I found it interesting that Patrick didn’t define the competencies of a UX designer.

Figure 13—UX unicorn
UX unicorn
Figure 14—Interaction designer
Interaction designer

“Every project is like a different Lego set,” said Patrick. “Teams need multifaceted players—their skills fit each other and fit project needs. Figure out what product you’re building and put the players together. The team actually have to rely on each other to get things done. All design the product together.

“But is it really all about the hard skills?” asked Patrick. “The team have to understand what everyone else is doing—have empathy and quickly learn skills at a basic level. Hard skills—you just expect designers to have them. Soft skills let people acquire the hard skills. What are the soft skills?” Figure 15 shows the eight soft skills that all UX professionals should have to be effective in their roles.

Figure 15—UX professionals’ soft skills
UX professionals’ soft skills

Here is how Patrick described the eight attributes, or soft skills, of UX professionals:

  1. empathic—UX professionals tell stories.
  2. curious—“Most UX designers are curious about everything. They want to know about the next new UX process. How does the process work? [Curiosity] is about [finding out] how the world works, and [designers] just want to figure it out.”
  3. methodical, or systematic—“A lot of the best designers are systematic—[are] system designers. They think about things in a very organized, methodical, systematic process. If we have a difficult problem at hand, we can think about how to take it apart. MacGyver could take whatever was available and devise a solution to a problem.”
  4. pragmatic—“You have to be pragmatic. There are deadlines you have to meet. Great artists ship. Great UX professionals figure how to get stuff out the door.”
  5. fearless—“Great UX designers are fearless. They’ll ask for coffee meeting [with a stakeholder]. We don’t have a hard time asking Why? A lot of UX designers don’t see any boundaries. It’s okay to fail. Fail fast; fail often; fail awesome.”
  6. self-aware—“Great UX designers are self-aware. Who are the people on the team who can help you get it done? It becomes a collaboration. If you know who you are, it’s easier to be a designer.
  7. articulate—“[Great UX designers] can articulate ideas and come up with a structure. They can change context. Don’t use terms like ethnographic research when talking to a product manager. They change the words they use when talking to different audiences.”
  8. passionate—“Great UX designers will give away their work if it means getting influence.” Patrick’s UX Drinking Game is an example of this.

Patrick showed the soft skills that UX professional need in several different scenarios, as follows:

  • I have to convince my developer to build a feature.” Doing this requires a UX designer to have empathy and be pragmatic and articulate.
  • I want to understand user needs.” In this situation, a UX professional must have empathy and curiosity and be methodical, self-aware, and articulate.
  • I want to analyze user data.” This UX professional must be curious, methodical, pragmatic, self-aware, and articulate. “I have all of this data. These are the questions I’m going to ask: What do I want to get out of the data? What do I have to learn to analyze the data myself?”
  • I want to sell design thinking within an organization.” To do this effectively, a UX professional must have empathy and be pragmatic, fearless, articulate, and passionate. “When we come into a company, we’re taking away people’s toys, but we can help you build a better product. You have to go back to leaders over and over again. It’s okay. We’re on a journey.” Figure 16 shows this scenario.
Figure 16—Selling design thinking
Selling design thinking

These soft skills “help prepare designers for what they’ll meet in business,” advised Patrick. “No matter what, you have to build a great product. Context matters. Every situation demands different soft skills.

“We need to better define who we are. Hard skills are table stakes. As soon as we talk about hard skills, we have lost the battle. What are the skills that make us superheroes? Soft skills. Just learn them or be able to learn them. Keep practicing hard skills because they’re part of the job. When you put the team members together, they’re amazing and get things done.”

During the Q&A for this session, Klemens Wengert commented, “There isn’t a big enough pool of Senior UX Designers.” This is probably what most companies mean when they say they’re having difficulty hiring UX designers.

Here are some of Patrick’s responses during Q&A:

  • “It’s about building great products.”
  • “It’s about the process”—or rather “a framework, not a process.”
  • When we train designers, “we don’t tell them how to negotiate with stakeholders. The easiest part is execution. The hardest part is negotiating with Product Management or a developer who doesn’t want to build something.”
  • “At Apptio, we have a revolving internship to show them the real world.”
  • When asked, “What happens when a designer doesn’t have the soft skills?” Patrick replied, “Not everybody is meant to be a designer.”
  • “Design is a team sport—a contact sport.” For example, “I want to figure out that tradeoff with the product manager.”

Patrick is a fun-loving fellow and his style of speaking reflects that. The topic of his talk really resonated with me. Patrick’s presentation was beautifully designed, reflecting a simplistic design sensibility.

Designing with Big Data

Presenter: Ha Phan

Ha is a product designer who is now consulting at Go-Pro, but spoke about her “startup journey” at Porch, a home-improvement network and data aggregator. At Porch, she was one of five founders. The “team built a data pipeline from scratch [and] architected an experience from ingested third-party data. That experience was completely different from any other experience I’ve ever had building products and designing applications…,” Ha told us.

“The premise of Porch is basically to connect homeowners with home pros. There are already a lot of solutions out there…. Angie’s List and Yelp, [which] are directory-type solutions; Houzz, [which] is inspiration based, [as is] Pinterest…. Then there are bid-based solutions like Beacon and Task Rabbit. So how do we differentiate ourself from those solutions? … When we talked with users, we found that they can’t connect the dots. When they try to find a pro and they want to gain confidence, they have to go to many different sources. They can’t verify that that pro is really good at what he or she does. They have to … look at the reference. They have to understand the process. There’s no transparency.

“So the idea behind Porch is basically to provide transparency, so if you look at a pro, you can know that they worked on these things; they are who they say they are. We were going to provide a solution … so, when you look at a house, you can see what projects have been done to the house. Or, when you look at a pro, you can … verify that the pro has this history.

“At the beginning, I did a lot of product strategy work. We were just a startup. We had nothing but a slide deck that showed our marketing research. … The hard part about doing product envisioning at the very beginning is that, when you’re a startup, you’re still trying to define who you are. You’re trying to make money and stay afloat. You’re trying to get investors to get your vision.

“A lot of times we, as designers, are building a vision—the happy path—and that’s very difficult when we don’t know yet how we’re going to get our data. So we are, basically, building this utopia—that we don’t know will exist or not—of perfect data.

“So, what is Big Data? We hear a lot of talk about this all over the place, right? It’s going to solve all of our problems. Most people have … an abstract understanding of Big Data. It’s a tsunami of information. But they don’t really get the transformation from raw data into meaning. … The 3 Vs of Big Data…:

  • Volume—We are generating so much data that 90% of all the data we have in the world today was generated in the last two years. It’s exponentially getting more and more and more vast.
  • Velocity—The speed at which we process the data and do things with it.
  • Variety—All the types of data. Things like video from security cameras, Twitter posts, … biometric data, everything.

“We are approaching a world where the UI is the data—the UI is the algorithm. … You have to differentiate the method from the matter, and I think most people don’t get that. When people are talking about Big Data, they’re really talking about smart data.

“If you look at the very beginning of the Internet, Web 1.0 was about translating the physical page onto the digital page. And then, following that, we had the Web of databases. And following that, we had the Web of mashups and services. And here we are at the Web of people, which is social media. After where we’re headed is Web 3.0, the Internet of Things; the Web of sensors.

“So there are really two models for data ingestion,” as shown in Figure 17, “and most of us understand the top-down model because we work to build experiences to ingest data. We’re familiar with building apps [to which users] add data…. Then we collect insights about their behaviors, their content, user-generated content… What we’re not familiar with is the bottom-up model…, [collecting] data from third-party sources. It could be structured or unstructured data. … When you ingest third-party data, you take that data from its original context. And when you extract things from [their] original context, they lose meaning.”

Figure 17—Data ingestion models
Data ingestion models

“If you superimposed this onto a business model, … the top-down model would be something like Airbnb or Eventbrite,” said Ha. “What these companies do is they build this system, this app, and they get users to come on and put their services and products on top of it, and they use that as material to build a marketplace and offer value to consumers. And then you have the bottom-up approach—which company does that? … Zillow … collects information from MLS (Multiple Listing Service) data…, assessor’s data—which is what each city collects when you buy and sell your home, and they actually assess … the value…. They have this timeline all the way back 50 or 60 years. … Zillow aggregates all of this information…. [Consumers] add value to it…, giving more value to Zillow’s product.

“Data gets translated into knowledge. … Where we, as designers, as UX professionals, add value is both at the information level and at the presentation level, because meaning starts at structure. … [Once data has meaning], you can use that information somehow. … Knowledge is information that reveals something that was not known before, [that has value.]

As shown in Figure 18, Ha described, “The reality of working with Big Data: At the beginning, you pose the question. As designers, as UX professionals, we [ask] a lot of what-ifs…, and the question can be posed by UX, product, or business. Then, after you pose the question, the data is acquired. We acquire it from many different sources like other businesses, franchises, data warehouses, software partners, government—open data. And the important thing here: … Sources define terms of use, [which] define how you can display data on the front-end. … Then, it gets ingested. … Then, it’s cleaned and normalized…. Then, it gets contextualized by building data models—entities, relationships, and business models. This is where data starts to have real meaning and purpose. Then it’s made available to other Web services and business units. So we use it in different ways. Basically, we go through this process of hoarding a ton of stuff. Do we use all of it? No, we use just a small amount of it.”

Figure 18—Data management cycle
Data management cycle

“What is User Experience’s role in the data management cycle? … The religion of UX is always to represent the voice of the user. And our role here is to humanize the data—finding and framing the stuff that counts to the user.

  1. Pose questions to frame discovery in data analysis.

“The first thing we do is pose questions, and the reason we pose questions is to frame the discovery effort that data scientists and data engineers go through [in] the data management cycle. I’m arguing that it’s too late for UX to get involved after a data analysis has happened.

“So the question that we asked is: What if homeowners could know which pros worked on their neighbors’ homes? And the reason we asked this question is: when we did user research we found that homeowners what to know what they can afford. And they want to see the work that’s been done. The reason why we used neighbors is because, whenever you live in a neighborhood, most likely your neighbors are going to be in the same economic status as you, and they’re going to have similar homes…. And when you talk to people who are doing home projects, … they’re going to talk to neighbors. … How does this translate into us building a product?

“What we did as a startup, at the beginning, was that we brute-forced getting a lot of these inspirational, photo-rich projects into our system. … The happy path in our heads is that we had projects that are tied directly to pros.

“Every problem is about scaling relevance. … You have this perfect triangle…, [and its vertices are a home, a project, and a pro.] When you pivot on one, you can see the others. So you always have this transparent view, viewing a pro from a home or viewing a project from a home. [You can] see actual projects in homes, actual projects a pro worked on, and the pro who worked on a home.

“We thought, how can we address the problem at a scalable level and get a ton of projects into our system? What if we ingest permit data as a scalable Band-Aid? …

  1. Evaluate and visualize what you’re working with.

“The second part, when data engineers are doing their cleaning: How can I optimize the data to enrich the experience? What does the data really look like? … It’s really important to look at your data. Ask the data engineers for a sample [of the data]. Sampling data [is like] walking through a desert blindfolded, scooping up sand, a little bit at a time. … You don’t have visibility into the entire desert. … You don’t know anything. You just know kind of how it feels.

“Ask the data engineers to run queries to evaluate critical mass of dimensions and properties such as:

  • natural language
  • scale [of the data]—If I were to use some of the text, I want to know: Is it two words or is it 3,000 words? In reality, it’s actually two words to 3,000 words. So how are you going to use that in the UI…?
  • measures—[This] is very important…. All of these things are taken into the information architecture we’re building. The thing that we get from ingesting third-party data is: A lot of times, when we conduct user research, we know we’re looking for these artifacts. We know that this is what we have to accommodate. When we ingest third-party data, we get that automatically. …
  • frequency, temporal dimension—And the last part is actually the hardest thing. You may not be able to do this by sampling. It’s basically looking at the dimension of time. How often was this data collected? … The time dimension [may not be] regular, so if you don’t know that when you get to it, you’re not going to be able to build it.
  1. Architect information.

“The third part, which is the most fun part is information architecting. It’s also the most aggravating. … How can the data best be classified and used in various contexts? [You must] reconcile IA properties [of all the various entities]. … So this is actually a data model in the back-end. As we add more and more ingested data, you can imagine how complex the data models become with all these relationships. So, when you look at gaps [in the data], that will translate into gaps in the experience and meaning. So that’s something that’s always in my mind when I’m moving forward. I know what I have to get to, but I’m facing daily struggles with these gaps. …

  1. Plan for gaps in meaning, coverage, and relevance.

“Quantity, or coverage density, doesn’t equal compelling. … We had a lot of bad data. And another thing … is how spotty the data is. You can’t see these things when you’re looking at a table. You can only see these things when you visualize it. … Even if you have bad data, it’s very awesome to see in displayed in the UI for the first time. …

“I think the lesson here is that you have to pick an engagement point that leverages your data optimally, makes sense in the user’s mental model, and adds value. …

Define fit-for-use rules. So the last step we do as designers—I actually collaborate with the product manager and the data scientist—is that we define fit-for-use rules. So, as the data goes through the pipeline, we set rules for if it qualifies to be displayed in the UI. … We can say, for example, the threshold for photos to be displayed in the UI is that they have to be a certain dimension. Or we can say, if a pro doesn’t have [certain] things such as contact information, some kind of project…, they won’t display in the UI. And these we use as knobs, so if you make the threshold higher, you have better-quality data on the product. If you make these thresholds lower, you’ll have a lot more information on your site, a lot more content, but not as high quality.

[Address] the empty room problem, spotty coverage. Another problem you’re going to face is that you’re going to have a lot of empty rooms—places in the UI where you won’t have enough data. … I felt like my job had to do with filling in empty rooms.” Ha showed a“ tiered coverage report, [structured] by location and type,” which is shown in Figure 19. She created this report to show “how many pros … have a lot of data [on their pages] and how many pros … have less. [In the report,] the denser the color, the better their pro pages are. … This provides us with a tool to see how many tiers of experiences we have to design for. To design for data means to design for several tiers of imperfect data. And this is a tool that we use for content strategy later on. [Designs] for tiered experiences, [evolve] based on data coverage.”

Figure 19—Tiered coverage report
Tiered coverage report

“So far, we’ve only talked about using data as content. We also used data [to inform] relevance.

How does data inform relevance? [This is] one of the questions we always asked. … More is not always better. You have to figure out more specific, smarter rules. So how we interpret the data makes all the difference. It’s a journey of connecting the dots from digital footprints. You’re continually getting more data and gathering digital footprints to make sense and predict and give users new tools and add value to decisions they need to make.

“But all that I’ve talked about so far doesn’t really matter. They’re just things we need to do to figure out how to build a product. This is problem solving. But none of this matters because, in the end, we have to figure out how to differentiate ourselves [from] all these other products in the landscape of the domain we’re working in. How do we define the problem we should work on? There are so many products. How quickly can you differentiate with a credible, compelling solution?

What is your tip of the iceberg? We used the phrase tip of the iceberg. … The tip of the iceberg is essentially relevance. What is the use case that you need to focus on? … Relevance is always what we’re focusing on. Have the best data inform the relevance algorithm for each use case,” as shown in Figure 20.

Figure 20—Tip of the iceberg
Tip of the iceberg

Roadmapping is about enhancing relevance and value
[and] providing deeper engagement.
Product roadmapping is basically roadmapping the tips of the iceberg along the way. But the difficult thing about working with data is that you have to have data initiatives all along the way that map to the product roadmap. You have to have business development that also maps to that, because we need to go out and make relationships with these people to get the data. So all those things have to line up and dovetail with each other. And if you don’t have a leadership team and a process that understands how building a data product works, it’s going to be like ‘Who’s on first.’ …

“In conclusion, … what you want to do is impact product strategy from the ground up. Pose questions. We do that anyway. We can’t stop asking questions. Evaluate how your data informs context. Visualize your data early. If there’s any way to look at the data—by sampling, queries, in spreadsheets. Plan for imperfect data. Then, you prioritize the tips of the icebergs. Relevance is key. Balance top down and bottom up.”

Figure 21—Impact product strategy
Impact product strategy

“I want to leave you with this one quote—and I just love this quote:

“The hidden message of Big Data is that tiny choices, such as those made by software designers, when amplified through the network end up shaping humanity in subtle ways.

“It is up to us to put forth visions of how things could be.”—Jonathan Harris, Co-Creator of WeFeelFine

Ha is a delightful speaker. She has a very enthusiastic and playful style of delivery, and her presentation was one of the most entertaining of the conference. I enjoyed her allusions to TV shows and movies. You might enjoy hearing the recording of her talk in its entirety, which is available on the UX Strategies Summit Web site.

What It Means to Be Strategic (and Create Value)

Presenter: Nathan Shedroff

Nathan is Chair, MBA in Design Strategy, at California College of the Arts. He stepped in to fill an unexpected opening in the schedule due to a cancellation. Although the content of his talk was substantially the same as the keynote he presented at UX STRAT 2013, I actually enjoyed it more, because his delivery of the content was much more engaging this time. This was a great talk—one of the best of the conference.

Nathan began his talk by telling us about his background—the most pertinent information being that he’s the author of several books on business and user experience, has edited a book titled Design Strategy in Action, and recently wrote Design Is the Problem. Here are some highlights from Nathan’s talk:

  • “Business people aren’t trained very well to do their jobs. Once our business peers make wrong decisions, it’s too late. So UX needs to pick up skills and do other people’s work.”
  • “You can’t talk about strategy without talking about value. … Business talks about value in two ways: money and numbers. That doesn’t account for everything we do. We don’t talk about value in the right ways in business and, as people from the more design-oriented side of business, trying to get our points across frustrates us. We get stuck in the squeeze. We are constantly struggling with the idea of value and how it’s measured because most of the value isn’t accounted for in numbers.”
  • “Experience creates value. Lifetime customer value. Brand value. Nobody knows what to do with it. There are no standards for what that is.”
  • “Companies have been trying to assess [real] value for a long time. But none of [their] methods get at the total value, partly because they’re all focused on the quantitative—only the things that can be measured. Designers aren’t comfortable having everything in numbers. You can’t reduce everything down to numbers. For example, in 2012, Facebook bought Instagram for $1.1 billion. … How did they calculate its value? They did this by feel. Nobody really knows how to value a company like this. They don’t even know what they’re buying. [Most of the company’s] value was in the relationships they had created with customers.”
  • “We need to get more involved in business strategy, not just wait for technical specs.”
  • “Our business peers don’t know what to do with goodwill—how to value goodwill. You can call it brand value. Quantitative optimizers can’t deal with the value/benefit ratio. We have to reinvent their thinking around value.”
  • “Design creates value.”
  • “If we add [functional value, financial value, emotional value, brand-identity value, and meaningful value] together, we get the actual total value of a company—one that better reflects the relationships with customers and shareholders. … [Functional and financial value], which are more quantitative, is what most businesspeople see. They’re the tip of the iceberg. … Much of total value is qualitative, which businesses have traditionally ignored. In fact, this is where the highest, more interesting, and most fulfilling value is—the premium value.”
  • “Companies and people who focus on total value create more of it, more often. Those who focus on premium value create more of it, more often.” UX professionals are “good at developing premium value.”
  • “We have to understand the qualitative much better. It’s not taught in business schools. The business world has been notoriously bad at understanding and valuing the qualitative.” They say, “People won’t pay more for the same functional value.”
  • “We can’t ignore the qualitative. This is what designers excel at. We know how to do this, but most of our peers don’t. It’s not quantitative versus qualitative. Both are important. Quantitative has basically ruined the world, but it’s still important. You can’t run out of money. Both quantitative and qualitative are necessary. Either/or never wins for anyone. We need to become comfortable with the quantitative, as well as to help our peers become comfortable with the qualitative.”
  • “Relationships are the only way that value exists. [Value] emerges dynamically, in the context of relationships—all relationships including personal ones. Emotional value is ethereal, which drives businesspeople nuts.”
  • “A few things to remember about value:
    • “It is emergent. You don’t decide on value. You can propose it—which is why we have value propositions—but because much of the most important value is invisible, you can only plan for and create the conditions for value to be exchanged. You can’t make it. This is why experience is so important.
    • “Value is dynamic. It is changing all the time. Most businesses are bad at dynamic situations because plans are usually static, not dynamic. Most strategy isn’t designed to be dynamic. That’s a problem. Services a bit different. They’re designed to be more dynamic. We need a whole new set of tools to create dynamism.
    • “Value is bidirectional. For someone to give us money and pay attention, we have to give them something. Focusing on needs first uncovers opportunities. But there’s often no time to do needs analysis, so experience gets left out.
    • “Value is only exchanged within an experience. Experiences govern the value we create. And, we all create experiences, whether we think we do or not.
    • “Value emerges within experiences.”
  • “You’re in the relationship business—and so are your clients, partners, peers. Features are at a quantitative level of value. Go to the heart of who your customers are. That’s where meaning lies, and there’s a better chance to create value. Business people are counters, but they’re actually in the relationship business. You can measure satisfaction, lifetime interaction, but common business tools don’t measure relationship.”
  • “The stock market is an expectations market, not a performance market. It’s qualitative, not quantitative. For example, Apple’s iPhone and iTunes. Apple doesn’t do user research. The companies who spend the most on UX research don’t have best usability. Apple first partnered with Motorola, whose Razr was not successful.”
  • “What business are we going to be in? That’s strategy. How are we going to make this happen? Tactical.”
  • “Experience is strategic, which means design and architecture are incredibly important. They provide the basis and context for understanding and delivering value. Value emerges from the experience delivered. The better the experience, the better the relationship, and the better the value that emerges. This also means that design is strategic—[because] design is the process of creating experiences.”
  • Strategy means different things to different people.”
  • Nathan shared this definition from Wikipedia: “Strategy—a high-level plan to achieve one or more goals under conditions of uncertainty. Strategy is also about attaining and maintaining a position of advantage over adversaries through the successive exploitation of known or emergent possibilities rather than committing to any specific fixed plan designed at the outset.”
  • Strategy is a high-level plan for action. Product strategy is higher-level than product design. But, technology strategy may be higher still—and end up driving many product-strategy decisions. Marketing strategy and corporate strategy are higher still.”
  • “Design is a plan for action.”—Charles Eames
  • “Strategy is about context. The main difference between strategy and tactics is simply context—your organization’s, its competition, its markets and industries, and the rest of the world around it. And, not everyone in an organization is good at context. To be successful, you need to be able to see both, jump between the two, and know which conversation is happening when. The strategy for one set of tactics is really the tactics for another higher-level business strategy; a pattern in a stream of decisions.”
  • “There are a lot of parallels between strategy and UX.”
  • “Usability is a tactic. Experience design is a strategy. When people in a company talk about usability, they’re talking about features. However, when you talk about experience, you’re talking about relationships—something much more valuable.”
  • “Some things that are strategic: intent, goals, mission, vision, culture systems, and stakeholders—employees, investors, media, communities.”
  • “Some things that are tactical: operational effectiveness and productivity, product and service offerings, features/performance, and price.”
  • “What this really boils down to is: Strategy is what we should be in the business of—the organization. Tactics is how to make, deliver, and support the best offering possible—the offerings.”
  • “Play a role in your company’s strategic decisions. Companies don’t expect you to get involved, but it’s important that you do. You need to get more involved in your organization’s strategy and vision. You can understand stakeholders in a wider way than even businesspeople do.”
  • “The first way you build context is to get to know your many stakeholders”—shown in Figure 22—“not merely shareholders. Traditional business strategy ignores all but those who own shares in the company or, begrudgingly, it might include employees. We know better now.”
Figure 22—Stakeholders
  • Common tools for traditional business strategy include the following:
    • SWOT analysis—[This] is simply a set of lists—the organization’s—or perhaps a product’s—biggest strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats—SWOT. Most businesspeople are taught to simply fill these in, like a form. They list everything they can think of. This is lazy. Where is the rigor, the proof, the research? What’s the point of research if people are just going to fill in the blanks based on best guesses? This is a phenomenon that plagues most of strategy. SWOT should be derived from research, not guessed at, yet this isn’t how it’s mostly done. And beware the tyranny of the 2x2 grid. There are always more than two important variables, but it’s difficult for people to hold [them] in their head. When [you’re looking for a] blue ocean strategy—a place where no one is—the hole in the market may not actually be an opportunity. Decide whether it’s valuable to be in a space.
    • environmental analysis—What are the top concerns in the market environment? We’re already good at much of this, too. Customers seek clarity [or] are afraid of technology [or] are worried about their future. Only when you’ve explored these can you prioritize what matters—as opposed to what’s possible.
      • social issues—customer needs and wants
      • political issues—legal, regulations
      • technology issues—technology trends and opportunities
      • economic issues—market trends and opportunities
      • industry-specific issues
    • competitive analysis—Once you know [what matters], you can compare yourself against your competitors on the issues that matter! (These are known as decision drivers.) Otherwise, you’ll be comparing your organization on issues that don’t drive decisions. Now, you know which issues [to use] to measure your strengths and weaknesses. And, your opportunities and threats work themselves out.
    • positioning statements”—These have the same problems as SWOT analyses. Figure 23 shows “how business schools teach people to create a positioning statement. … These are almost always simply filled in with what people know and not derived from what they learn from customers. Ideally, these items [should be] derived from [qualitative and quantitative] research about … the customer. … And who does this better than everyone else? UX.
    • business model canvas”—Figure 24 shows a business model canvas. “Customer research is at the core of business models, not just corporate strategy. Without it, the plan is set up for failure. Business is about value—what value you can provide, what value people need, and what value you can get in return.”
Figure 23—Positioning statement template
Positioning statement template
Figure 24—Business model canvas
Business model canvas
  • “We get project briefs. Businesses rely on market research, which is 95% trash—worse than garbage. This is quantitative research, but it would be better if they did no market research. Guesses would probably be closer. We usually know better because we’re closer to customers. We have information that’s critical to business strategy. Figure out how to get in the room with the information you know. That’s the only way to get better project briefs and deliver better products to customers.”
  • “When we abdicate our involvement in higher-level decision-making,” shown in Figure 25, “we lose our ability to work on the right things—or be successful or be happy making what we make. In addition, … most of the information used in the strategy phase is based on crappy, quantitative data and doesn’t represent either usability or [user experience]. All of us have an opportunity to play a role not only in product development, but also in the board room, where strategy for the company is set—and needs to reflect better customer understanding—because we know customers in better, deeper, and more valuable ways. This information is missing in nearly all strategy development. We need to get into the room. We need to find ways to get our knowledge into the strategy process to affect what the business thinks it should make and not merely how.” Figure 26 shows “some ways to do that.”
Figure 25—Corporate strategy and product development
Corporate strategy and product development
Figure 26—Business strategy and business development
Business strategy and business development
  • “Myths of business:
    • Cooperation is for wusses.
    • Growth is everything.
    • The free market exists.
    • Markets optimize efficiently.
    • Businesses are more efficient than government.
    • The business of business is business.
    • Rich people create jobs.
    • Corporations are people.
    • The Founding Fathers were pro-business.
    • Leadership is based on authority.
  • “MBAs have essentially ruined the world. Our world. Partly, this is because they’re taught a lot of myths about business, and this is a big problem for those of us who make things for people, whether products or services. MBAs aren’t bad people; they’re just taught that way.”
  • “Experience tools:
    • qualitative research techniques”—such as “interviews, careful surveys, shadowing, laddering, games—You know how to understand customers already! Design research techniques—the qualitative ones, not just the quantitative ones—are the pieces missing when strategy is built. The results from UX research techniques—including some that aren’t as common like laddering—need to inform strategy, and we need to be the people who bring this to the table.
    • triggers—I hate mood boards! … Unless you can explain why each element applies to your solution, they’re a distraction—or worse, delegitimize your value. If you are researching the triggers around sensorial decisions, only these are applicable responses to understand. This isn’t about inspiration.” See the examples of triggers in Figures 27–29; core meaning pairs that derive from triggers, in Figures 30–31; and the Core meaning triggers, in Figure 32.
    • wavelines—We need to think of this journey in emotional, identity, and meaning value, not merely in terms of functional and economic value. A waveline is a technique that comes from the narrative worlds—music composition and screenwriting. Think of it as a journey map with all forms of value listed. The trick is that you map these forms of value first.” See the waveline template in Figure 33.
    • six dimensions of experience—These are the major dimensions of design. All but one, triggers, are invisible. And that’s the only one we traditionally think of as design. All of these are always available to you when creating experiences—products, services, events, environments—whether you use them of not. Value is the other important one [and consists of core meanings, values/identity, emotions, price, and features/performance].”
Figure 27—Accomplishment triggers
Accomplishment triggers
Figure 28—Community triggers
Community triggers
Figure 29—Harmony triggers
Harmony triggers
Figure 30—Core meaning pair: community/accomplishment
Core meaning pair: community/accomplishment
Figure 31—Core meaning pair: beauty/oneness
Core meaning pair: beauty/oneness
Figure 32—Core meaning triggers
Core meaning triggers
Figure 33—Waveline template
Waveline template
Figure 34—The six dimensions of experience
The six dimensions of experience
  • “Significance defines the depth of the relationship, which means it defines the levels of value that emerge in the relationship, and it aligns with what we know about the five kinds of total value.”
  • “Without realizing it, people ask themselves a series of questions when they evaluate choices: Does this do what I need? Does it have the right features? Does it perform well, at a price that’s worth it? These are easy, shallow questions that we’re very aware of. … But, as we move deeper, our questions change: What price am I willing to pay for these functions? Features and price actually [have] low-value, short-lasting connections with value. How does this make me feel? Even deeper, our questions become more intimate and abstract: Does this make me feel good? Or bad? or younger? Or more successful? … Is this me? Deeper still, things get even more personal until the questions focus on our identities, whether we realize it or not. Mac or Windows? Native or urbanite? … Does this fit into my world? Then we reach the deepest point of connection between people—or between products, brands, organizations, movements, and people. You get to these through qualitative research techniques, and they drive the deepest relationships. Meaning is a complex phenomenon but the model is clear.”
  • “To design for meaningful experiences—the highest-value relationships—we use a palette of priorities about the world and how we understand and engage it. Meaning is something we all create, react to, and understand—though we don’t always acknowledge it. The 15 core meanings,” shown in Figure 35, “are universal.”
Figure 35—15 core meanings
15 core meanings
  • “Focus on what relationships and experience strategy [do]. Align the organization—its goals, vision, and operations—with what customers want, need, and value most. … Strategic focus [derives from corporate decision drivers, team decision drivers, competitors’ decision drivers, and customers’ decision drivers]. These are the real drivers of decisions [about creating] value for customers. They allow us to align our strategy around the most valuable opportunities [and are based on] experiential, qualitative research. It can drive the rest of the quantitative decisions, strategically, to better our chances of delivering the most value and the highest value … that the organization can deliver well. … If we can do this, we can help our peers create the very kind of strategy that creates the best kind of value—and makes us important.”
  • “Are you willing to focus on relationships, brave the business-speak, and use your design powers to create meaningful things? We need to do this, because there isn’t anyone else who can.”

During the Q&A, Nathan said:

  • “Most companies don’t track even functional value well.”
  • “Once you put numbers to something, it looks more accurate, but it isn’t.”

Check out the recording of Nathan’s presentation on the UX Strategies Summit site, especially if you’re relatively new to UX strategy. If you want to know still more about Nathan’s thoughts on this topic, you can read my detailed review of his keynote at UX STRAT 2013.

UX in Context: Crafting a User-Centric, Mobile Content Strategy

Presenter: Anton Zadorozhnyy

Anton is a UX Researcher for LinkedIn Mobile and shared some of his findings on the habits of mobile readers and how they impact content strategy. He characterized his talk as a tale of two trains: BART and Caltrain. “Why do people favor phones on BART, and tablets on Caltrain? Context, the relevant constraints of a situation or action,” which include

  • time—What time is it?
  • environment—How does that play into what you read and how?
  • user experience

Anton defined some time constraints for mobile apps:

  • duration of availability—How much time are your users able or willing to devote to your app?
  • onboarding complexity—How long [does it take or] difficult is it to set up your app to its ideal state?
  • delay of reward—How soon after the user launches it does the app deliver value?”

Riding on BART for about 15 minutes, people do quick browsing or scan feeds. On a Caltrain trip of about 45 minutes, they read long documents or saved articles. “People save or curate content beforehand—a reading list—so connectivity isn’t an issue.” As shown in Figure 36, “morning is an important time for mobile content”—also during commutes using public transport, during breaks at work, and when resting at home.

Figure 36—Mobile content consumption
Mobile content consumption

Figure 37 shows that mobile-device and tablet usage predominate from the time a person wakes up through the commute; desktop and mobile at work; and multimedia at home.

Figure 37—Device dominance
Device dominance

As you can see in Figure 38, during the morning, people catch up on things. “At home, reading becomes more of a longitudinal activity that is constantly interrupted. Your phone, or alarm clock, is the first thing in your hand in the morning.” During breaks throughout the day, people seek entertainment. At night, they’re looking for relaxation. “At home, you can delve into the things you’re really interested in.”

Figure 38—Motivations

As Figure 39 shows, consumption modes differ depending on a person’s environment. “Time is very tied to where things are happening,” said Anton. “Modes are correlated to time, but ultimately driven by changes in environment. Environment can be physical, social, or mental.” For example, on BART there are few seats. It’s mostly standing room. Traveling underground, there’s no 4G signal or Wi-Fi. In contrast, on Caltrain, there are plenty of seats, and trains travel above ground.

Figure 39—Environmental consumption modes
Environmental consumption modes

Many people have a “wakeup ritual. As part of waking up, they take a quick look at email and read tidbits from around the Web and social media, looking to catch up on what they’ve missed overnight. Positioning your content as ‘must-not-miss’ can leverage FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) into driving engagement.”

Commute reading habits apply only “to those that use public transport. During the commute, will they have any signal? Will they be able to load articles or must they be cached? Will people be sitting or standing? Be mindful of how rich your content is and its impact on data usage. Consider the saved-article case. People save articles across multiple devices and read them later. Pocket is successful because of this use case!”

“Workday snacking [is] quick, lightweight consumption throughout the workday, either at their desk or on coffee breaks. Short, entertaining, interesting content is key and provides a break. Content should be just work related enough to assuage guilt of reading at work. Be mindful of blatant images or large words that betray non-work material.”

At night, people read to relax—“usually while doing something else. They have a longer span of time to devote to reading, but more distractions. This can mean more opportunity for richer, longer content, but you must mitigate the distractions with place markers”—showing what they’ve read and not read—“and sticky content progress. Heavy readers will often lie in bed and read on mobile to wind down and fall asleep. Don’t forget night mode! Over the course of a day, people exhaust their supply of content.”

Regarding user experience, Anton suggested that we ask these questions: “How do your users discover and engage with the content in your app? How is content presented? How do users take actions? How easy is sharing? How well does your app fit into what they want to do? Content is kind of neutral. What impacts user perceptions of content? What assumptions are you making about what they know?

Anton described “three paradigms of mobile content consumption:

  • feed—The content is endless. You could keep scrolling forever. It’s immediately updated, which implies timeliness. There’s redundant scrolling for new content. How far back should you let people scroll? It’s good for one-handed scrolling. If someone checks a few times an hour and nothing has updated, why should it be a feed? There’s a stopping point where you start to recognize stuff. Using a feed is easy. Be sure to meet the demands inherent in a feed, pulling in everything from everywhere.
  • digest—The content is a finite series of articles and has a potentially satisfying end. It’s content picked for you that someone else has to curate. Since it’s a limited set of content, there’s much more emphasis on each individual story. Why would someone want to have limited content? With a feed, it’s confusing what is from where. It’s a black box. What is it’s relevance? Use digests to target readers at specific times of day.” Communicate “Picked for you by…. How many digests are there? How often do you send them? Yahoo! is 10 plus 10 stories—if you ask for more—then cuts it off there. Send multiple digests a day. Whatever is cut off should be a feed. There’s more focus on each item.
  • list, or flipboard—It’s exponentially more dense than the other two and showcases more things at once. The user has to curate it. (This is huge!) It pulls content in from other sources. You can ask users to create that for you, but most won’t. Horizontal scrolling doesn’t fit mobile affordances. There’s an emphasis on separating items by sources or categories rather than content. If users don’t know what they want, it’s not very helpful.

“Use paradigms that fit the consumption mode. Feeds are great for breaks, but you need enough content to populate them. A digest fits neatly into finite chunks of time and has a targeted objective. A list lets people curate content for themselves.”

Anton talked about “content-centric affordances.” A phone is “easier to hold when standing, not as Wi-Fi dependent, and good for emails, texts, and music. People save content and music locally on a phone.” A tablet is better for “sit-down reading, longer-form reading, and has more potential with Wi-Fi and richer media. There’s more adoption of a client if reading does not depend on having Wi-Fi.

In summary, Anton told us, “Your product does not exist in a vacuum. The context in which it is experienced determines its resonance with your user base. You must cater to the context via platform, design, and feature set. Make strategic decisions in relation to context.

Anton’s talk and presentation were very well structured, and the data he shared with the audience was interesting. However, this was one of the least strategic talks of the conference.

How They Work Better Together: Lean UX, Agile Development, and User-Centered Design

Presenter: John Athayde

John is VP of Design at CargoSense, a logistics product company, and co-author of The Rails View: Create a Beautiful and Maintainable User Experience. He talked about “how to work better with software developers and vice versa.” John started his talk by saying “Experience matters. Experience is everywhere.” In introducing his topic, he provided an overview of various terms and approaches relating to UX design and software development.

“What is UX?” asked John, then answered, “The effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction with which specified users achieve specified goals in particular environments. The promptness with which users learn to use something. The efficiency they attain while making use of it. How easy it is for them to remember how to use it. How error prone it is. The level of satisfaction they attain from using it. The experience of many years—and many mistakes.”

To answer the question: “What is agile software development?” John presented the “Manifesto for Agile Software Development.” “On the left is what they wanted to do; on the right, what they had been doing,” said John.

Agile Manifesto (2001)

“Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools

Working Software over Comprehensive Documentation

Customer Collaboration over Contract Negotiation

Responding to Change over Following a Plan”

John used orienteering as a metaphor for agile software development projects. “Trying to get from point A to point B like in a sprint. Maybe leading others.

  1. Find out and orient yourself to where you are.
  2. Choose a target.
  3. Take a small step toward your goal.
  4. Adjust your understanding based on what you learned.
  5. Repeat.”

This resembles Lean Startup’s “Build, Measure, Learn” process, which “measures the effectiveness of design.” John provided an overview of the “processes and methods of UX design:

  • waterfall—Define, Design, Develop, Test, Deploy—Documentation became irrelevant the day it was made. In a critical-path document, if one thing shifts, everything shifts. Waterfall is all about deliverables. Agencies want this because they charge for deliverables.
  • agile—Product, Design, Develop, QA—In silos, so things are still getting thrown over a wall. Handoffs are problematic and become choke points. QA identifies issues that UX should address.
  • Lean UX—Rapid experimentation. What works and doesn’t work taking an experimental approach.
  • UX process—Concept, Prototype, Validate Internally, Test Externally, Learn from User Behavior, Iterate.”

John characterized Lean UX as overused and misunderstood, but quoted Jeff Gothelf, author of Lean UX:

“Instead of relying on a hero designer to divine the best solution from a single point of view, we use rapid experimentation and measurement to learn quickly how well our ideas meet our goals.”

“Lean UX is the practice of bringing the true nature of a product to light faster, in a collaborative, cross-functional way that reduces the emphasis on thorough documentation while increasing the focus on building a shared understanding of the actual product experience being designed.”—Jeff Gothelf

John quoted Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, on design thinking:

“[Design thinking is] innovation powered by … direct observation of what people want and need in their lives and what they like or dislike about the way particular products are made, packaged, marketed, sold, and supported.

“A discipline that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity.”

—Tim Brown

“Don’t get too locked into solving the process, not the problem,” cautioned John. In discussing the UX process, he recommended “shadowing people using a prototype” and showed examples of personas—“Create just a few. Hit 80%. Personalize them.”—and document flows—“Just sketch them on paper or a whiteboard.” “You don’t really need a formal process.”

Getting to the core message of his talk—how to work with developers—John advised us to:

  • Work in parallel with development. The designer focuses on flows and usability; the developer, on domain objects and functionality,” as shown in Figure 40. “They’re not thinking about use.
  • Sketch and build simultaneously. Do paper sketches.
  • Prototype. [Show] the big picture.
  • Create mental models.
  • Create detailed, high-fidelity concept mockups.
  • Go talk to customers. Figure out what they’re doing
  • Visualize your research data. On big teams, this is handled by a business analyst.
  • Do usability testing. Testing always frightens me. We used Silverback 2.0 for guerrilla usability testing and recorded the tests. Watch interactions.
  • Fix the big painpoints while you rebuild.
Figure 40—Working in parallel with development
Working in parallel with development

John talked about “the intensity of a just-in-time project” like that depicted in Figure 41.

  1. “Big-picture design process—Spike or Sprint 0. Establish a design language.
  2. “Apply the design.
  3. “Codify it into a living style guide. Do designs and build them.
  4. “Revise as you go.”
Figure 41—UX timeline for a just-in-time project
UX timeline for a just-in-time project

Next, John presented three case studies:

  • livingsocial—He showed Bootstrap-derivative guidelines for notifications and buttons, as well as some page designs.
  • various clients—John provided the following advice:
    • “Sketch interactions, not screens. To achieve x, I need to do y.”
    • “Build out your living style guide. Often, you can go straight from paper to code. The style guide was applied.”
  • CargoSense—This project was “a mad dash—a constant spike”—but followed the just-in-time UX timeline that John had outlined earlier. John showed the progression from paper sketches to high-fidelity page designs. They used Pixate to prototype interactions for mobile devices. “A project can be really informal if you have a lot of multi-talented individuals.”

John spoke about some issues that product teams may encounter:

  • “Design drift
  • “Designer frustration—This can be huge with Lean UX. All roads lead to low morale.” To counteract this, “Celebrate releases. Get involved with the developers. Make time to dream. As a company, you have to make time to dream.”
  • “PMO/product—It’s difficult to see in the dark. If you have weak product people, you’ll be wandering in the wilderness and won’t know what’s going on. Are we all on the same page?
    • ‘So we need to build this complex thing, and we are going to wing it.’
    • ‘I want you to focus, so I’m only going to tell you about this sprint’s functionality.’
    • ‘We’re not going to tackle that until Phase II.’
  • “Forgetting the users
  • “Great Rewrites—Customers may be happy because you’ve addressed their painpoints. Involve subject-matter experts and end users. Befriend customer support people.” For Great Rewrite projects, John modified his just-in-time UX timeline, adding a parallel track for existing system fixes.
  • “Usability testing is hard. It often gets dropped by the wayside because you don’t have time. Go guerrilla. Ask open-ended questions:
    • What do you make of this?
    • What would you do here?
    • How would you do [that]?
  • “Multiple devices—Does it respond? Nobody plans time for responsive. Plan time to do cleanup and responsive. You can’t say, ‘I’ve got three breakpoints and that covers everything.’”

In speaking about Great Rewrite projects, John quoted Chad Fowler:

In many cases, these Big Rewrite projects have resulted in unhappy customers, political battles, missed deadlines, and sometimes complete failure to deliver. In all cases, the projects were considerably harder than the projects’ initiators ever thought they would be.”—Chad Fowler

“What should we do?” asked John.

  • “Gear up. You’ll need supplies—paper, pencils, pens—whiteboards, a phone with a camera, and your coding tools. Otherwise, you don’t need software.
  • “Agile is dead. Long live agility. Never say you’re going to do agile. Drop the word and talk about working with agility.
  • “Measure everything. If there’s no data, you’re just guessing.
  • “Love your users.
  • “Secure quick wins.
  • “No more silos or formal handoffs. Work together in real time. Get that integration happening. Sit together. During design facilitation, get everyone working together.
  • “Use a pull request workflow.
  • “Create reusable design solutions codified in a style guide.
  • “Developers should learn UX.
  • “Designers should learn to code.
  • “Most importantly, forgive.
  • “Build the app you can build today. Try something. If it flops, try again.

From the Q&A:

  • Question: If you’re trying to solve big problems with so many pieces, don’t you need time to figure out what to solve and design?
  • John’s answer: Arguably everything is waterfall, just with a short timeframe. Break it down into the smallest component parts that make sense—interactions and flows. Drag developers into the conversation. Do paper prototyping in digital. Ask where you can inject agile into the process? Ensure that you don’t get months down the road and find out you’re building the wrong thing. The UX process is a quiver of tools. Your process should not be rigid and inflexible.
  • Question: How should designers learn to code?

    John’s answer: Learn HTML/CSS. If you don’t understand how things are getting built, it’s difficult to design properly. Get in there and fix things. Take Lynda or Pragmatic Studio courses. Learn to program. The best way is to get a person on your team to teach you. You need to understand the semantic markup. Do code reviews. An experienced lead suggests improvements—a better way to do it.

John gave a good talk on an important topic. His presentation was beautifully designed—with the exception of his use of centered text for a few quotations. Plus, wonderful sketches adorned many of his slides.

Closing Keynote: Clients: How to Educate, Engage, and Delight

Presenter: Scott Runkel

Scott is an independent UX design consultant and delivered a great closing keynote. He started his talk by saying, “The client plays a key role in what it is that we do, and I want to share some observations and … insights from my successes and failures, working with clients. One of the things I observed [working in agencies] is that it seemed like some of our best work or most meaningful experiences were really left by the wayside. … Some of our best work never really saw the light of day. And the pattern across those instances had something to do with a challenge or complexity on the client side. Maybe client politics or a lack of awareness and knowledge of the value of those experiences. So I, like you, believe that design can and does change the world. It makes it a better place. What we do really does work.

“So I thought, I will go to the client side and help clients to become better clients. … Again, through some successes and failures, it seems as though there’s still a pattern of that problem. How do we do a better job of forming relationships with clients so that, regardless of politics and things that will always surface, our best work that we invest so much time and energy in is used by the masses?”

Scott told a story about seeing a classic Eames chair discarded by the side of the road. “I thought that this was really an analogy for some of the things that we feel and experience at times, as designers. … Why was this [Eames chair] discarded…? … Because the owner lacked an awareness of the value of what this beautifully designed object really does and perhaps wasn’t sensitized to its beauty as well.”

Scott observed, “It seems as though there are three modes that we go through in working with clients:

  • Engage
  • Educate
  • Delight

“Obviously, the end game is to delight them. We want them to be passionate champions of our work because the client has a lot to do internally to champion our work, to get internal buy-in. But there are other modes, too, such as education that we do—whether it’s about our process or the value of our deliverables or whatever it may be. Then, obviously, engagement is a key one as well. How do we engage? How do we build and sustain these relationships over time with clients in an engaging way?”


“We begin … with engage,” said Scott. “I believe that, regardless of the medium, every touchpoint with the client is an opportunity to either enhance or diminish the relationship. Whether that’s text, email, face to face, every interaction is an opportunity to take the relationship one way or the other.

  1. It’s not about you. The first principle…. I think this is probably one of the more difficult ones—I know for me. I think, as designers—and I use the term designer very broadly—if you look at how much time we invest in our work, it’s amazing sometimes the lives that we live. We sacrifice our health, our personal relationships, our relationships with our friends and family for the work because it forms an identity for who we are as human beings. It validates us. So it’s very easy for our work to be very self-serving. That it is all about me. And what happens is, the client then feels diminished. If they believe the work is all about you and your points of view, and you don’t give them room to contribute, they’re more likely to try to control the work and handle the work later on in the process. So our best work is ultimately done when design teams and the extended client team really engage as one, and there’s this mutual belief in the value that each side brings to the table. You really can’t have one without the other.”

Scott introduced a brief video of Viktor Frankl—neurologist, psychiatrist, and Holocaust surviver—speaking about “Why to Believe in Others.” “He talks a lot about why there’s value in us believing in one another and what the human potential is in that. … If designers and clients, if both sides look to the work to validate our identity and find a higher meaning and purpose in our lives, this topic is very relevant.”

Here are some highlights from this inspiring video: “[Most students] were concerned about finding a meaning and purpose in their lives. … If we take man as he really is, we make him worse. But if we overestimate him, … if we seem be idealists and are overestimating, overrating man…, we promote him to what he really can be. So we have to be idealists…. If we take man as he should be, we make him capable of becoming what he can be. … So, if you don’t recognize a young man’s … search for meaning, you make him worse; you make him dull; you make him frustrated; you add and contribute to his frustration. … There must be a spark of search for meaning, so let’s recognize this, let’s presuppose it, and then you will elicit it from him, and you will make him become what, in principle, he is capable of becoming.”

Scott’s interpretation of this: “Said in a slightly different way, in each of us, there lives a desire to determine our meaning and purpose in life, regardless of who we are and where we come from. Acknowledging this in others, through collaboration, can enable each of us to reach our full potential.

“If we all just instinctively turn to our work for a higher meaning and to form our identities—if we acknowledge this in one another—it can help us meet our true human potential. That makes our work more meaningful than just another successful launch or another portfolio piece. It heightens the value of what it is that we do.

“The other value of this is that, again, if our work is less on us, selfishly, and more on the client and servicing the business, … it builds a conviction in you to help the client succeed and empathy for their position and role that we need to really form an effective relationship with the client. …

“We can … apply our design methods to the client to understand them better. … Generate a mindmap of the day-in-the-life of the client to better understand what it is that they do…. Contextual inquiry. Ethnography. These are all things that we can apply to the client world to help us better understand what they’re facing….”

  1. Be curious. Studies show that the rate at which we ask questions about the world around us drastically diminishes by the age of five. We hit our questioning peak around that time. … That childlike wonder fades away over time. … In our line of work—I know we’ve talked about the value of asking good questions…, but there has to be a way that we can get back to that childlike wonder, in the work that we do with our clients. It’s yet another way that we can go about engaging them.

“LifeHack had an interesting article on this, ‘4 Reasons Why Curiosity Is Important and How to Develop It.’ It’s important because:

  • Your mind becomes active versus passive.
  • It makes your mind observant of new ideas.
  • It opens up new worlds of possibilities.
  • It brings excitement into your life.

“I think, if we’re all honest with ourselves, if we break down what we do into projects, on every project, there’s a point of pain that you just want to get rid of. There’s a pain and misery. It may last for only a day, but it seems like that spikes at some point in the midst of a project. Curiosity is a way of just making what we do a little more enjoyable, a little more more interesting, and it obviously leads to some interesting insights from a design perspective.

“How to develop it?

  • Keep an open mind.
  • Don’t take things for granted.
  • Relentlessly ask questions.
  • Don’t label something as boring.

“Master the art of asking good questions—obviously, a key component of being curious. …

  • Don’t ask Yes or No questions. It’s a wonderful way of putting an end to a conversation. Ensure, especially when we’re with clients or even with internal teams, ensure that, when we’re in that investigative mode, our questions have who, what, where, when, why, and how.
  • Dig deeper. … When we think we’ve heard enough, when we think that’s the end of a conversation, there’s always something else to be learned. I think that … all the information that we need to build the compelling digital experiences that we want to create, it’s all out there. It’s our responsibility to uncover it. …
  • Use the power of silence. … It’s very easy in conversation to just fill space when there’s a pause.
  • Don’t interrupt. It’s very important within conversations to just let the other person have enough room to think and express themselves.

“Why this matters:

  • It builds empathy to help us form effective client relationships.
  • Asking the most appropriate questions at the most appropriate times uncovers key objective and subjective insights you can use to ensure what’s produced is of value.”
  1. Know when to lead versus follow. … We’re paid to lead. We’re paid to take charge of an engagement, initiative, or project. Yet, the client is as well. Paid to do the same thing. And I think what’s happening now is: we have more and more designers who are going from the agency side to the client side, so what agencies do and what designers do is no longer a mystery. It’s becoming better understood on the client side. … There’s obviously more than enough work to go around. There’s more than enough opportunity for designer and client to lead versus follow. … I think [RACI] works. Whether it’s an internal team or sitting down with a client, understanding who’s ultimately responsible [versus] accountable versus consulted versus informed, it’s a good way of forming some kind of boundary or framework around the relationship—knowing that blurs over time.

“Why this matters: Giving the client room to work and have a point of view shows respect and confidence.”

  1. Always, always go the extra mile. Obviously, work ethic. … Hard work. It’s so much a part of what we do. I think when we talk about how to engage with clients, they see when we put in the extra time. They see when we put in the extra effort and the extra energy. I was working on a project recently at BestBuy—a pattern library for all our digital experiences—and the agency that I was working with knew that I had a presentation coming up to the CEO, and out of the blue, he sent me a structure for that presentation and some additional thoughts. A small, minor detail, but for me, that helped me believe that he’s really invested in my success. It’s not just about the project that he’s engaged in, but he has my back. Those little things really matter.

“Nothing is better, as a client, than receiving a call from a partner to have him or her share their thinking about a problem I haven’t defined.

“Why this matters: Illustrating a strong work ethic creates infectious commitment. That intensity reinforces the value of your time and work.”


  1. Make something. Make it. Break it. I thoroughly believe in the power of rapid prototyping—whether it’s a UI or a process. Any time that we can put something, anything in front of our client and have them engage with it and use it is key. I think long [gone] are the days of the static wireframes and static comps. We get the stuff on devices, in an interactive prototype, in some way, and set a device in front of our client and have a conversation over that versus plastering printouts up on a wall. … It’s all about bringing the client into the process and having them feel invested in the work.

“Why this matters: Bringing clients into the process of making, or using
what you’ve added, creates a bond with the information presented. It becomes memorable.”

  1. Tell the truth. If the client were always right, they wouldn’t need a partner. I just don’t believe that the client is always right. I’ve been a client, and I haven’t been right. I’ve been wrong a lot. We’re paid to tell the truth, as designers. … Telling the truth, especially when we look at political environments, … a passive-agressive culture, telling the objective truth can be disruptive, but at the end of the day, it’s one way that we get around all the politics and really get to the truth that we’re all after.

“Why this matters: To move upstream in the relationship often involves telling the truth, which can be disruptive and productive.”

  1. Have a point of view. … I don’t think I’ve come across a designer in my career that hasn’t wanted to be a strategist. All designers, regardless of how much experience they have, right out of school, want to be in the business conversations, want to be a strategist. Yet some tend to sit in a room silent. They don’t have a point of view. So, especially for younger designers, do the homework before the meeting, come with a point of view, come with questions. Being prepared is extremely important. It’s how you gain that credibility along the way. Clients want participants, not attendees.

“Why this matters: To move upstream in the relationship, you need to articulate an informed point of view.”

  1. Listen. … The value of listening. Our most critical skill is that of listening.
  • Be relentlessly curious.
  • Challenge assumptions.
  • Connect the dots—active listening.

All of that is that investigative mindset.

“Why this matters: Better understanding who you are working for and with enables you to curate your most relevant knowledge.”


  1. Prepare yourself.

“A researcher by the name of Heidi Halvorson believes that most of us … have one of two different mindsets. The first one is the be good mindset—and she claims that most of us have this mindset—where the value that we place on ourselves is based upon the skills that we have, how we perform. It’s the value-based relationships that we form. We’re only as good as the last launch. We’re only as good as the last deliverable. The challenge with that is that it’s impossible to sustain that over time. When you’re relentlessly concerned about others’ perceptions of you and you’re relentlessly trying to prove yourself, you’re on the hamster wheel. You can’t sustain it. A be good mindset [is about] proving, demonstrating skill, performing better than others.

“So Heidi talks about a different mindset that she believes is more productive.” Scott played a video of Heidi talking about this other mindset. She said, “I like to call it the get better mindset. … It’s also called the growth mindset. Different researchers use different terms for it. But the get better mindset is just that. It’s not about being good; it’s about getting better. What do I mean by that? Well, instead of focusing on proving, you focus on improving. I mean that very literally. That you reframe your goals and think not in terms of being the most creative person, but improving in terms of [your] creativity. Getting smarter. Getting to be a better manager. Getting to be more socially skilled.

“When you reframe your goals, when you use this framework to think about everything you do, a really dramatic shift happens. Instead of demonstrating our skills, we focus on developing them. … Instead of thinking about our performance relative to other people, people with a get better mindset know what’s really important is: Am I performing better than I did in the past? Am I learning? Am I getting better? So it’s not, am I the smartest person in the room, it’s am I smarter than I was a week ago, a month ago, a year ago, because I’ve been taking the time to learn. Are my social skills improving? Am I a better manager than I was a year ago? Those are the kinds of questions you ask yourself when you have a get better mindset.

“And they lead to very different patterns. … How do we handle challenges? Challenges happen all the time in life. … People do better when they have a get better mindset when we throw problems at them, when we give them a little bit of adversity. … The point is to learn.” …

“With this [get better] mindset, I think it results in a type of confidence that clients need to see from us,” advised Scott. “There isn’t always so much on the line when you either present or whatever it may be. This results in that quiet confidence that clients need to see from us to believe in what it is that we’re telling them that they need to do.

“As part of delight, I wanted to end with just a handful of more tactical points. But I think they’re really important in terms of delighting.”

  1. Gain extreme clarity on business goals and metrics. I continue to see this issue where either agencies or internal client teams will create work that does not map back to strategic objectives or business objectives and goals. …

Relentlessly connect your ideas and approaches to their potential to meet goals and metrics. We should never, ever show especially a visual design without prefacing it with the business goals, and walking through that work has to be a story about how every element, every component, every system that makes up that design maps back to a strategic objective or a business objective or a metric.

Always be two steps ahead of the client. This is about getting our nose in their business.

Know the client’s business as well as they do. Understanding their business almost as well as they do. I think we need to do that as designers anyway, but again, it helps them to believe that, ‘Wow! I thought designers were just visual, … but he really cares about my business. He … knows it really well.’ And we use that to increase our credibility over time.

No surprises! And the final thing that I’ve learned the hard way over my career is no surprises. When things go south—and they will, at some point—now I don’t hesitate at all in bringing those above me into that problem and helping me solve it. No leader that I know of likes surprises.

Scott has a wonderful, resonant speaking voice. I found his talk particularly edifying, and this was one of the most inspiring talks of the conference. Scott’s presentation was exceptionally well structured, but a bit hard to read because most of the text was centered. You can listen to a recording of Scott’s entire talk on the UX Strategies Summit Web site.


When attendees arrived at the conference, the organizers gave each of them a folio packet that contained the following:

  • welcome letters—One of these letters provided daily overviews of the conference, including a schedule for meals and morning and afternoon conference sessions. Another described the organization of the sessions into tracks and encouraged attendees to fill out the speaker evaluation forms that they provided each day.
  • agenda—This “Agenda at a Glance” provided greater detail about each day of the conference, listing the location, time, title, and speaker or speakers for each session, as well as the times for breaks, mealtimes, and the networking reception.
  • speaker profiles—The profiles included speakers’ photos, making it easy to network with them.
  • attendee list—This list included each attendee’s name, company, and title, which would certainly be helpful in recalling new acquaintances and finding them on LinkedIn. However, it would have been even more helpful if it had included their email addresses.
  • trip report worksheet—This handy worksheet was the first of its kind that I’ve ever received at a conference. It included sections for an executive summary, cost summary, business relationships formed, and exhibitors.
  • session worksheets—These were well organized and comprised several pages, but not enough to capture one’s notes for all of the sessions.
  • invitation—This was for a networking reception.
  • event calendar—This listed GSMI’s many conferences and training events scheduled in the US and Europe, throughout 2014 and 2015, including Mobile App + Web Developer Conferences and Social Media Strategies Summits.
  • a thank you—This acknowledged the event’s primary sponsor.

For those desiring online access to the conference agenda and detailed information about sessions and speakers, the information was available on the UX Strategies Summit’s well-organized Web site.

GSMI recorded several of the conference sessions and has posted these recordings and all of the workshop and conference presentations on the UX Strategies Summit Web site. While it’s absolutely great that all of the conference’s content is available online, viewing SlideShare embeds would have been preferable to having to download sizable PDFs. Hopefully, the recordings and presentations will remain on the site in perpetuity. They’re currently accessible through a redirected Web address, on a page whose title does not reflect its content. Ideally, such content should remain available and at a Web address that does not change.


The Marines’ Memorial Club & Hotel is a beautiful, richly decorated, 1920s beaux arts building in downtown San Francisco. The workshops and conference sessions took place in the Crystal Ballroom and the smaller Crystal Lounge. There was seating at the many large, round tables that filled most of these rooms, as well as in chairs at the periphery of the Crystal Ballroom. Dual screens enabled attendees to see the presentations well from anywhere in the room. Other than a few moments of excess volume at transition points, the audio quality was generally good, making it easy to hear the speakers.

GSMI thoughtfully provided a Wi-Fi network for attendees’ use and included the access information in the printed conference materials. The one big logistical oversight was a lack of electrical outlets in the rooms where the workshops and conference sessions took place. Most attendees had their mobile phones and tablets or computers with them. In today’s world, attendees’ having convenient access to electrical power is essential. By the last day of the conference, GSMI had brought in enough power strips to keep everyone’s devices running.


Each day, GSMI served a continental breakfast and a buffet lunch in the foyer just outside the meeting rooms for attendees’ enjoyment and convenience. The breakfast buffet was pretty much cleared out by the time I arrived in the morning. The lunches looked appetizing—as a vegan, my choices were limited to a baby greens salad and fresh fruit, but people told me the food was quite good. The round tables around which attendees gathered during the conference sessions did double duty for dining. Mealtimes provided opportunities for interesting conversations with the people sharing one’s table.

There were also refreshments at the mid-morning and mid-afternoon breaks.

A networking reception was the social highlight of the conference. This took place on the first night of the main conference, which was early enough to help people to form new friendships during the conference. We enjoyed the cable-car buses that provided our transportation to and from the reception, shown in Figure 42. The reception took place at the Mission Rock Resort, a seafood bar and grill on the waterfront of the San Francisco Bay. There was an open bar, and they served appetizers. The outdoor decks overlooking the water gave us a chance to breathe some fresh air after a long day indoors.

Figure 42—A cable-car bus
A cable-car bus


The UX Strategies Summit drew a great local and international crowd, comprising primarily UX professionals—many of them in leadership roles—but also leaders and individual contributors in product management, software development, engineering, marketing, IT (Information Technology), and project management. This diversity of viewpoints generated some interesting questions and comments during the workshops and the Q&As following presentations.


I really enjoyed this conference—both for its great content and the friendly UX crowd in attendance. I hope to attend the UX Strategies Summit again in the future and recommend the conference to other UX professionals. 

Thanks to Margie Coles for sharing her session notes with me.

Principal Consultant at Strategic UX

Founder, Publisher, and Editor in Chief of UXmatters

Silicon Valley, California, USA

Pabini Gabriel-PetitWith more than 20 years working in User Experience at companies such as Google, Cisco, WebEx, Apple, and many startups, Pabini now provides UX strategy and design consulting services through her Silicon Valley company, Strategic UX. Her past UX leadership roles include Head of UX for Sales & Marketing IT at Intel, Senior Director of UX and Design at Apttus, Principal UX Architect at BMC Software, VP of User Experience at scanR, and Manager of User Experience at WebEx. Pabini has led UX strategy, design, and user research for Web, mobile, and desktop applications for consumers, small businesses, and enterprises, in diverse product domains. Working collaboratively with business executives, multidisciplinary product teams, and UX teams, she has envisioned and realized holistic UX design solutions for innovative, award-winning products that delighted users, achieved success in the marketplace, and delivered business value. As a UX leader, she has facilitated conceptual modeling and ideation sessions; written user stories; prioritized product and usability requirements; established corporate design frameworks, standards, and guidelines; and integrated lean UX activities into agile development processes. Pabini is a strategic thinker, and the diversity of her experience enables her to synthesize innovative solutions for challenging strategy and design problems. She is passionate about creating great user experiences that meet users’ needs and get business results. A thought leader in the UX community, Pabini was a Founding Director of the Interaction Design Association (IxDA).  Read More

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