By Joe Welinske, July 17, 2015

This is the text transcript for a video interview between Eric Schaffer and Joe Welinske. 

Joe: Hello this is Joe Welinske. I’m the program manager for Convey UX. I’m talking with some of the many presenters that we’ll be having at our event coming up in February. Today I’m talking with Eric Schaffer. Hello Eric.

Eric: Hey Joe.

Joe: Where are you talking me from today?

Eric: Today I’m in our headquarters in Iowa in the middle of cornfields. I have offices in Mumbai, India, and Pondicherry as well. This is our headquarters.

Joe: All right, great. For the people that may not be familiar with you or your background, why don’t you just give us a little bit of information about you, your company, the types of things that your organization’s involved with?

Eric: I’ve been doing UX work for almost 40 years now. I started out at C.L. Moore & Associates, and then AT&T and Bell Labs. Since ’81 I’ve been on this journey of being a consultant and building the Human Factors International Consultancy, so that’s my history in a nutshell. Being a consultant, doing projects. I’m the CEO here, but I probably spend 5 percent of my time being CEO and most of my time actually doing technical work, leading the HFI Laboratories, leading the advanced UX engineering group.

Joe: I know you’re always involved in a lot of different things, always thinking about new things. Any things right now that particularly have your interest, some new passions related to our field?

Eric: There are two areas that are really exciting for me in the field. About 15 years ago I started to realize that we already knew enough about whether to left justify fields and how big the font should be, and so having the fundamentals of design was important but we needed to go beyond that.

What’s exciting for me is what we’re going to talk about in the session that we’ll do for you. That’s two things: one, is how do we move UX up the value chain? If you think about it UX … If all you’re doing is go on screens, it’s not a very high value activity. You’ll talk to a program manager, and they’ll applaud when they see your screens. It adds value, but we need to move our field up into the board room. To do thaT we need to promote some core capabilities that are being evolved in our field.

The most important is the Omni-Channel, UX Strategy viewpoint. That’s saying looking at the big picture of how digital channels and physical channels integrate, and how they can be optimized from a users viewpoint.

We’re doing project after project around that and find that really, fun and challenging. You’re looking at very large pictures, often, whole countries, whole industries. You’re looking at it on a very long-term which means we have to start worrying about things like future modeling. Thinking about how things are changing so very fast right now, and planning how that human ecosystem will evolve.

Another part that is important and moves us up the value chain is going beyond just usability. Years ago I started saying usability is no longer enough which freaked everyone out. Just making something usable is no longer … and it’s table stakes. You need to have that. You need to have usability. We need to make things that are compelling and engaging. Being able to make something to make something which is fun to use, which stimulates me in an emotional way, gets it at core, drives, blocks, [leaps 00:04:25] and feelings that I care about, and something which is compelling so it will help me convert. That persuasion engineering aspect is something which is very important too. Those two parts are really key.

The other thing I want to talk about is really, my passion. When I’m gone it will be on my gravestone, and that is the question of institutionalization of  the UX. We’ve known in the field for a very long time how to have six people work together and design something well. That’s important, that craftsmanship. You have somebody who’s wonderful. You have some apprentices who work with them, and we pass it. I did that for years and years. I use to wear a long brown coat, and hood and beads. I would carry two tablets. That was part of the way that we did UX long ago. Today, six people is nothing. We know that we need about 10 percent of the design spend going to UX, 10 percent of the head count. If that’s true, and I’ve an organization with 100,000 people, we need 10,000 UX people.

We’re starting to see organizations like … at least talking about, how do we have a 1,000? That’s way different. As we start to build industrial strength, large scale UX practices, there’s a whole other level of approach, it’s different. Just like if you make room big enough you start having new challenges like, it starts raining inside of the room. When you start making the UX team big enough, the way that team works effectively, what you need to do to make effective is very different.

Those are the two things, Joe … I ran on a little bit. Those are the two things that are exciting to me and I want to talk about. What is, how do we move our field up the value chain? We’re in the board rooms, so that we are adding the kind of enormous value that we can. Two, is that appreciation results in executives around the world going, “We want to be customer centered.” They don’t know what it means, but they know to say that. Then, how do we go from that statement to having a mature practice that sustainable, that is appropriate to the scale that our industries going to?

Joe: Let me follow-up with you a little bit. In our field there’s obviously, people doing UX work in a variety of environments. Some people are working for agencies, or they have a number of different clients where they’re doing the work. Many of us work in organizations where internally we have our own UX teams to do things specifically for our organizations. We have organizations of different sizes. How do you see your vision embracing all of these different types of contacts that we might have? Are there some where this is more easily reachable? Or, anyway, just some thoughts you might have along those lines.

Eric: Sure, [little 00:08:00] is easier. If you have one person … HFI has all well-trained, certification program, put them through that, and they’ll go forward and do better work. That’s pretty easy. Working on a small team isn’t bad. The world changes as we go from 6 to 20. Running 20 is the outside … I’ve done all this. I’ve had six people just in teams, 20 person teams. Twenty people, it starts being very different. You’re seeing most UX consultancies are 20 or fewer people. That’s because as you get beyond 20 the world starts changing.

We just did the first [bot 00:08:41] program, to build operate and transfer a 50-person UX team. We’re helping [Telcos 00:08:47] set one up. When you get to 50 people we know how to do it, but it takes a whole set of methods, and standards, and knowledge management and making a process driven organization that isn’t dependent on one person. You can’t hope you have a Steve Jobs in your organization, it’s just not a viable alternative. We need to move towards that professional, industrial strength practice. That doesn’t mean we don’t need brilliant people, we do. Putting them in that kind of practice is what’s really, cool.

For me we know how to go to a 50-person team. At HFI we’re close to 200. As you talk about a 1,000-person team, that’s a whole other level of challenge and concern. We’re just learning how to do that. The forefront is the larger teams. That’s what we’re going to have to do when people realize UX is a survival factor for companies. They literally will live or not live. You look at Apple with Steve Jobs driving it to a great extent. They’re worth what? A trillion dollars. They’re worth more than a whole bunch of countries. Look at Sony. Sony does similar stuff. They do nice design. They’re dying because they don’t understand the higher level UX perspective. They don’t do Omni-Channel strategies. They build individual things that are beautiful, but they’re failing. They don’t have the advance UX capabilities.

As that becomes a key, strategic imperative for companies … Forester ran a study and found 97 percent of companies that they surveyed had UX as a strategic imperative. If that’s true we know that those companies will be investing in UX, it’s great career to be in, and that they will be looking for not six person team in the corner, but integrated operation that creates consistent user experiences, and that works in an efficient way, leveraging what it knows. It will take a very different way of doing things. We know a lot about what that looks like. I’m looking forward to sharing some of that with everyone coming to the sessions.

Joe: All right, it’ll be great to have here in Seattle to talk with all the attendees. They can listen to you during your presentation on our close afternoon. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me today. I’ll see in the start of 2006 in February.

Eric: I’ll see everyone in Seattle.

Joe: Thanks Eric.