Notes on Jared Spool’s Infusing Design Into Our Organizations

From Jared Spool’s truly enlightening keynote address at the UX Advantage conference, Infusing Design Into Our Organizations, Aug 19 2015. See a summary about the conference at the bottom of this post. No link available.


Disney recently spent $1B on developing their Magic Bands—more than Apple spent on the Apple Watch

Disney took a service-design approach when developing the Band, realizing their customers’ journeys start long before entering the park gates

The Band arrives, neatly presented in a box, soon after it’s ordered —vacation starts early in customers’ minds!

The Band uses geolocation, among other sensors, to make sure your luggage is delivered to your room, your room door opens sans key, you get express access to rides, purchases throughout the park are easily facilitated etc.

It even signals when it’s your kid’s birthday—their fave character seeks them out by name, they get birthday cake at dinner etc all without the parents’ having to plan it

But most companies aren’t as advanced as Disney



Dark Ages—The organization doesn’t yet consider customer experience a key to their product’s successes and failures. This antiquitated notion is slowly dying out

Spot UX—A few members of the organization sometimes try to inform the product development with some UX techniques. Though they wouldn’t admit it, I think the majority of companies are still in this stage.

UX Effort—UX’s importance is recognized and there are probably company-wide (probably disjoined) efforts to improve the organization’s UX practices. But UX is still the seen as the exclusive purview of Design Priests locked away in their castles. I think a sizable minority of companies (including mine, Guardian Life Insurance) have arrived at this stage

Embedded Teams—Cross-functional teams comprised of folks from all business areas, including UX, work together on projects. Silos are (hopefully, ideally) lowered in the interest of creating create products with great user experiences. I think a small number of companies have evolved this far, and those that have are probably still experiencing evolution pains

Design-Infused Culture—The furthest evolution of enterprise UX yet, achieved by only a select few companies. From the CEO down, all members of the org understand and agree that design will be a distinguishing factor in the survival of their products and their companies



One signal that an org has reached the UX tipping point may be that release dates are rountinely delayed in order to get the design right. Currently, most companies will delay releases due to technical requirements not being met, or “business” (read: money folks’) requirements not being met—but rarely are design considerations afforded this importance



Innovators and early adopters look primarily for features because of their unusually-high level of education about the product category

Early and late majority folks are the masses who judge a product’s success by their experience with it—they don’t bother to parse out feature sets (they aren’t actually interested in the nuts and bolts of a product) but rather rate their experience actually using it

That experience eventually becomes commodified and is becomes a given for success in a product category—without it, a product won’t be considered a serious contender



A comparison of 20 successful/influential companies and their competitors by Jared’s company UIE provides some insight:


1. Exposure to users. Sounds simple, barely ever happens. 

Anyone within the org who wants a say in a product’s development must meet this standard—2 hours of exposure to customers using the product every 6 weeks. Mandatory

Frequent, repeated exposure to users is key to developing empathy for users within an org. Stakeholders’ concerns will evolve from “I think” and “I want” to “I saw users loving” and “I saw users struggling” etc

2. Vision of the experience

Not empty “best of breed” or “world-class” hyperbole

What is the experience today? In 5 years, how will we have improved the experience?

Exercise 1: Hansel and Gretel

Divide a horizontal sheet of paper into two parts. In side 1, have your coworkers tell the story of Hansel and Gretel in bullet-points. On side 2, have them tell the story of your product’s experience in bullet-points

Screeeetch! Side 1 was easy—everyone will tell the same basic story about Hansel and Gretel. How about side 2? How many similarities are there in these stories about a product everyone works most of the day on?

Exercise 2: To the Future!

Divide the paper into 2 again. On side 1, have participants tell the story of the product today. On side 2, have them tell the same story 5 years from now. What are the steps the org needs to make to prepare for and eventually evolve to the future story?

3. Culture of continual learning

Integrate learning into your org’s daily life

Add a new status check to stand-ups: what did I learn since the last stand-up and how will I use this knowledge going forward? This will liven up your stand-ups and quickly evolve into the most interesting and useful part of the meeting

No shame in making a mistake—but a continual cycle of learning allows the org to “only make new mistakes” and learn from the past



Ultimately, a strong UX practice centers around storytelling. Everyone in the org must align around these stories (current and future state) to properly understand and fulfill the org’s goals

Stories of happy—and frustrated—customers

Stories of how the org will move from current state to future state

Try boiling these stories into Twitter-length mantras. Repeat them as often as possible—stories need to be told and retold again and again to become pervasive and ingrained

(Another technique is to create a one-paragraph “mission statement” for your product that’s read aloud before each and every strategy session to make sure everyone’s aligned on the same story)

Stories should have customer problems as their theme—not your org’s solutions and features to ship. The latter may change with iterations and learnings, market changes etc. Focusing on the former allows stories to change while themes remain the same



The best designs disappear behind great experiences. Nobody remembers how perfectly a room is air-conditioned—they only notice when it’s too cold or too hot

Empathy over ego. Speaking of which…..what is empathy?

Empathy is a story which must be written (and updated) from real customers’ experiences, generally by the UX team. The more throughly researched the story, the more currency it gains across the org, becoming the main point of alignment across the org. Individual team members learn to validate the success of their works based on the success of these stories

Jared says we need to design how we make UX a competitive advantage

I’m going to restate this for myself as: Real, earned customer empathy, carefully cultivated and continually updated as we improve our product, gives our product’s UX the competitive advantage—by being aligned on what the customer wants today and tomorrow, and not on feature sets that can quickly become outmoded and ossified

The first UX Advantage conference (held on Aug 18 and 19 2015 in Baltimore) was highly educational, focusing on the most-timely topics related to UX and “the enterprise”—i.e., companies that are managing to reshape their corporate cultures and products using such key UX methods as Agile, continuous deployment, customer-centricity etc. These companies (and their smart employees) have positioned UX as central to the strategic visioning of their futures

The conference’s topics were very cutting-edge; the methods discussed are still constantly evolving and still being validated by customers and companies alike. It’s the Wild Wild West out there! Even the companies with the most most success at this digital transformation are still figuring it out as they go—and the conference offered great insight for those of us whose companies struggle to understand and recognize how to harness the power of UX to help stay competitive in today’s tumultuous business environment.

Jared Spool and Karen McGrane masterminded this year’s conference (see bios below)—thanks Jared and Karen for the hard and important work!

Jared Spool is an American writer, researcherspeaker, educator, and an expert on the subjects of usability, software, design, and research.[1] He is the founding principal of User Interface Engineering, a research, training, and consulting firm specializing in website and product usability, and the largest usability research organization of its kind in the world.[2] He is also an amateur magician. (from Wikipedia)

Karen McGrane is a content strategist and user experience designer with 15 years of experience making big, complicated websites. Currently she’s Managing Partner of Bond Art + Science, formerly VP and National Lead for User Experience at Razorfish. She also teach Design Management in the Interaction Design program at SVA. Her book, Content Strategy for Mobile, was published by A Book Apart. ( from


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