– Hi, I’m Joe Welinske and I’m the program manager for ConveyUX, which is Seattle’s annual user experience event put on by Blink. Blink’s really excited that we’re going into our eighth year for this event. We’re looking forward to continuing to host it and grow it. And it is coming up March 3rd, 4th, and 5th of next year. One of the fun things I get to do is to talk to our many speakers that are going to be at the event. Today I have the chance to talk with somebody I’ve known for a long time. Happy to always chat with him, Jared Spool. Hello Jared, how are you doing today?
– I’m doing well, Joe. It’s great to be talking with you, yet one more time.
– Well, it’s great to have you in the program and you’re going to be playing an important role in two different parts of it. We can talk about that later but as I mentioned, I’ve known you for a long time and it’s always a pleasure to be there in the audience and also just to chat with you about things generally. But, for people who maybe aren’t that familiar with you, talk a little bit about some of the highlights or the big things going on right now.
– So the big things that are going on for us right now is we’ve been doing a lot of work around strategy, user experience strategy in particular. Trying to understand how that works and what that is and what design leaders need to do to deliver better products and services through their organizations. And it’s been a lot of fun working on this. A lot of our time is spent actually meeting with people who lead design and organizations of all sizes and really getting to understand what works and what doesn’t for them. We’ve collected up a whole slew of strategies and put together a workshop that we then use for teams to pick out the strategies that work best for them. It’s been really fantastic. It gives me great hope to see all the great people doing wonderful work in this industry. And how much user experience design is playing a bigger and increasing role in every organization, government and schools, non-profits, and businesses. It’s really amazing to see all the changes that are happening.
– And you have some good perspective because you’ve been working in the UX area before we really called things UX and you talked about that a little bit. But maybe mention just a little bit about your perspective of what’s happened over the past couple of decades since this thing has evolved, and continues to, as you mentioned.
– Yeah, so when I started UX was the domain of technology companies. Companies that made computers or made devices, or made software to use on computers that they then sold. Businesses themselves didn’t really think about design, didn’t think about user experience. At best, there might have been one or two people tucked in a corner who were tasked with trying to make things more usable or productive or efficient. That was about it. In the last decade or so we’ve seen this dramatic shift. The company that I like to talk about is a company in Tallassee, Alabama, which is sort of three hours away from Atlanta and four hours away from Baton Rouge, and not really anywhere in what we could consider to be the tech world. Up until recently this would not have been considered a technical company. It’s a company called Neptune Technologies, but just because they have technology in their name, that’s actually new, they used to just call themselves the Neptune Cooperation. Neptune, since the 1860’s, has made water meters. Little mechanical devices that you put on your waterline that measures how much water is coming into your house or your business. That’s what they did. That’s all they did and they sold millions of these things. They were always mechanical, so the only people they had were mechanical engineers, maybe some manufacturing engineers, and that was it. But about a decade ago they started replacing the mechanical wheels that measured water flow with ultrasonic, electronic ultrasonic, devices. And those electronic ultrasonic devices now have digital readouts. Then they started building communications into the water meter itself, so that you could communicate over a cellphone line, or you could communicate over the internet. Now these things are like little internet of things devices that are measuring the water flow to your house. Which means you now need software to control them and you need software to read the data. Because their big customers are municipalities and counties, they have customers like the county of LA which has 11 million residents. So, they need these software systems and suddenly they’re building software, they’re building electronics, and all these things have user interfaces so they have to have user interface capability and all those things need a user experience, so now they have to have user experience capability. It’s a very competitive market. They’re in the middle of Tallassee, Alabama where there are no UX people and there are no UI people. How do they figure out how to build this? That to me is the thing that’s most interesting to me, which is every company is going to need UX people. How do we help those companies find the people? How do we make available the right number of people? How do we help them learn how to manage those people? How to build those things into their systems? That’s what I’m most interested in. That to me is the exciting part of the work that we’re doing. It’s so nice to be outside the tech bubble, in this place where real people do real work. It’s really fun.
– Well, you alluded to some of the things that you’re doing with a strategy and that ties in with the sessions that you’re going to be talking about at the conference. First of all, you’re going to be kicking things off with a talk “Beyond The UX Tipping Point”. Give us a little flavor of what you’re going to talk about in that session.
– That’s sort of the beginning of where we started with this UX strategy stuff. Where we started to ask the questions about how does a company actually mature it’s design. And we’ve had a lot of talk over the years about companies maturing, but how does that actually happen? What does it look like when it happens? In the “Beyond the UX Tipping Point” talk, I actually share two case studies. One is the Disney MagicBand, which is this, frankly it’s the most extensive, most expensive, UX project that’s every been done. Disney paid a billion dollars for these wristbands. They made it all back in the first year. How did Disney pull that off? So we spend a good part time talking about that. Then in the sort of second case study that I look at, I look at the Nest. Parcially because there’s all these state regulations that say if you give a talk on design you have to mention the Nest. So I’m just doing it for compliance purposes. But, the other main reason is that the Nest is a competitor of the Honeywell cooperation. The Honeywell cooperation was making thermostats for 60 years before Nest came along. How is it that Nest beat Honeywell? Why didn’t Honeywell invent the Nest? This is a really important question for all those companies that currently are leaders in their marketplace, but are about to face steep competition. All the hotel chains are feeling the pain of Airbnb. All the payroll processing companies are getting their lunch eaten by a little startup called Gusto. All these little companies are coming in and taking over these businesses that own these markets, and overtaking their market share, because they have a better experience. So, talking about how does that happen? That’s what we’re going to talk about and what you can do to prevent it.
– Well the other place that you’re going to be participating is in our community event. Besides our three days of conference that people register for, we also invite the community to come together on the second evening of the conference. We call it the Super Meetup because the local non-profit meetup groups all get together, we congregate at the ConveyUX, and people are able to get just a ticket for that evening. It’s a lot of fun networking. It includes most of the organizations that make up the user experience activities outside of work in cities all around the world. You’re going to be giving a talk to that group and the title is “Design is a Team Sport”. What’s going to happen in that one?
– So that talk is a little bit of an extension of the “Tipping Point” talk. The direction that we go in is sort of looking at how designers perceive the people they work with. This idea that nobody designs things alone. Design in not done in a silo. That, in fact, design has to be done as a group activity. It’s a fun talk. We start by looking at some work that designers did by themselves and critiquing it. But, critiquing it not from whether it’s good design or bad design, but whether it understood what the users needed and whether they needed to actually make informed design decisions. Then we start to talk about their process. The process that designers have and how we fetish over design process. But, in fact, design process is something we design. It’s something we create and it’s something we have to share. How do we create a collaborative, inclusive process, that takes advantage of the benefit of having a team of designers instead of this lone genius designer that is out there thinking about the brilliant ways the world is going to change. So we’re talking about this fundamental change that’s happened in design where it’s no longer someone sitting at a drafting board, sketching out brilliant ideas and going viola, I’ve discovered the right thing but instead is really done as a team effort. How do we make sure we’re getting the most out of the team when we work with people who we don’t think of as designers?
– Well it’s going to be great to have you visiting Seattle, participating with us for this event. So I’ll look forward to having a chance to meet up with you again in March.
– That sounds fantastic. When we see each other I’ll buy you a beer.
– All right, thanks a lot Jared. Bye.
– Take care, bye.