Organisational user experience

Paul Boag

This week on the Boagworld show we are joined by Jason Pamental to discuss how the shape of our organisations impacts the users experience.

Skip to the discussion or this week’s links.

This episode of the Boagworld show is sponsored by Media Temple and Headscape. Please support the show by checking them out.

Paul: Hello and welcome to the podcast for all those involved in designing, developing and running websites on a daily basis. My name is Paul, joining me as always is Marcus. Hello Marcus!

Marcus: Hello Paul, how are you?

Paul: I’m good, actually. Yeah, yeah, I’m kind of winding down for Christmas.

Marcus: Nice and early. It’s only four weeks away, four weeks tomorrow.

Paul: Wow that’s only a 12th of the year. There’s no point doing any more work now. And of course, today is Thanksgiving. So a huge thank you to Jason who was on the show with us. Hello Jason.

Guest: Hello there. As a nation. We just little bit lonely about things.

Paul: Happy Thanksgiving.

Guest: Well thank you. Happy not Thanksgiving but almost Christmas break to the two of you.

Marcus: We don’t do Thanksgiving, do we?

Paul: Well we are not thankful are we, really as a nation, we just a little bit moany about things.

Guest: You have so many more bank holidays during the year that I feel that this is the least we could do to one up you on one day of the year.

Paul: Well yes we do have loads of bank holidays and of course a lot more holiday than you as well. Although I do think it slightly interesting as nation, you choose to celebrate surviving your first winter thanks to the first native Americans, and then killing them all.

Guest: Well I can’t take credit or apologise any more for that. We have a bit of a dark past although I am fairly certain none of my ancestors were directly responsible for that.

Paul: Of course it’s no more weird than the fact that we celebrate 5 November, which is the time where a terrorist tries to blow up the Houses of Parliament and then we burned him alive at the stake. So to be honest that’s even darker, I think.

Marcus: It’s a little bit different though Paul. I have got my, shall I edit this bit out going on in my head.

Paul: Why? We do celebrate weird things don’t we?

Marcus: I guess we do, yes. Yes, Paul.

Paul: I don’t see what’s wrong with that? Is it a little bit politically sensitive to talk about? But that’s essentially what the 5th November was, wasn’t it?

Marcus: No I was referring to Thanksgiving.

Guest: Smallpox and a pile of blankets? Yes is not really the best bit of history. But it’s there, it happened and there’s not much you can do about it.

Paul: If you look at the British Empire we make you guys look like amateurs at abusing and harassing other people. Have you heard the latest one? India have asked for their big jewel in the Queens crown back.

Guest: I didn’t know that.

Marcus: I hadn’t heard that.

Paul: Yes and there was a really funny interview with George Osborne who is our finance minister, we called him a Chancellor. He went through this long explanation which basically boiled down to, no.

Marcus: We’ve got it and you can’t have it?

Paul: Essentially, yes. And it was really interesting to watch him squirm over it. But it’s a dangerous precedent isn’t it, because if we give back that then were going to have to give back everything else was stolen from people and places like the British Museum would be empty, this big empty hall with nothing in it.

Marcus: Well yes.

Paul: It’s true. So what are you doing for Thanksgiving Jason?

Guest: Well we normally have a big crowd here in our house. My parents live about a half hour away and one of my mum’s sister’s lives close by and everything kind of got upended a little bit because my wife’s parents decided to come up from New York and we all get along very well, but they had decided that they wanted to take us out for Thanksgiving. And so now we are doing it twice we having Thanksgiving with them today and then we are hosting my family and the kids. My wife was married previously and were all actually really good friends with her ex-husband who is the father of our two children and he and his girlfriend are coming and we are having a big crowd here tomorrow.

Marcus: So is it Thanksgiving properly tomorrow then?

Paul: No it’s today, isn’t it?

Guest: It is today. Tomorrow more properly is black Friday. The worst date of the year to ever go to a retail establishment in the United States.

Marcus: We’re getting that plague now as well.

Paul: Yes, you’ve infected us, talking of smallpox.

Guest: You’re welcome.

Marcus: Any time.

Paul: So we’ve now got black Friday over here, which I’m not sure how I feel about that.

Guest: Again, referencing back to a very dark day in our own history about what happened in the stock market, there are all kinds of terrible references going on.

Paul: The underlying principle of Thanksgiving, being thankful is a lovely idea for holiday. Let’s just take a holiday and be grateful for our lives. What a bloodied brilliant idea, really.

Guest: And in most cases, except when you bring up the idea of smallpox, it’s the kind of holiday in the US that you can talk about with anyone and not worry about someone’s religious background or anything. Because generally speaking everyone celebrates that. It’s nice because everyone tends to be really cheerful and it’s just a warm day.

Paul: I am quite pleased you decided to spread out your family over a couple of days because it is reminiscent of a great TV programme over here, called the Vicar of Dibley. And it’s about this female vicar and they didn’t Christmas Special once where, she was far too— like all British people and particularly Anglican vicars— was far too polite to turn down invitations to Christmas dinner. So she had like five Christmas dinners in one day. It was just so funny. Our Christmas dinners are a bit like your Thanksgiving family dinners. I don’t know do you have a big spread on Christmas Day like you do Thanksgiving?

Guest: I think a lot of people do. It’s never been such a big thing for us in my family or my wife’s family. One of course my wife’s family are Jewish so that’s not really a think for them at all, but there are usually lots of family getting together that it’s not the big production that is Thanksgiving. Normally the kitchen started at 7 AM in the morning and were not eating until 5 PM. But there is pie production, there’s potato production, the turkeys in the oven for hours on end.

Paul: I have an important question. You mentioned potato production.

Marcus: This is very important.

Paul: This is very important. Do you have mashed potato or do you have roast potatoes? Are roast potatoes even a thing in America?

Guest: Oh it absolutely is. We have a rotation of potato dishes. Mashed potatoes do happen, but less frequently. Roast potatoes, small ones quartered and then roasted with a little bit of olive oil and salt and pepper, that’s a big hit in the family so we have that often. And the odd holiday one that I know we are doing tomorrow which I’m very happy about, is a dish of sweet potatoes with this maple crumble glaze on it.

Marcus: That really sounds good.

Paul: Yes but that’s the whole thing of mixing sweet and savoury together that Americans like. I have to admit it is really nice but I disapprove of it on moral grounds. I can’t explain it in any other way other than that.

Marcus: Culinary grounds.

Guest: I’m just glad to hear that you have some morals Paul because I have questioned it over the years.

Paul: This is very true and from the sounds of it as well, you’re not quite doing the roast potatoes right. Because the thing is you are cooking them in a little bit of olive oil. Now good roast potatoes, they need to be cooked in the fat of the bird so they soak up all the fat. What you really want to do is parboil your potatoes and then you shake them in a colander

Marcus: We now have a cookery show.

Paul: You shake them in a colander because then you break the surface of the potatoes so they soak up even more of the fat

Marcus: And you’ve done this Paul have you?

Paul: Oi, excuse me. I take exception to that. I have watched my wife carefully do things like this.

Guest: Now the fuller story comes out.

Paul: Anyway.

Marcus: I’ll give you another tip while we are on roast potatoes, Paul. Once you’ve bashed them in the colander you tip them into the goose fat, which is best of all, then start them cooking and then about halfway through say 20 minutes or so, get your potato masher out and just crush the tops of them a bit that lets more of the goose fat in.

Paul: Basically they are a receptacle for fat.

Guest: You’ve got it slightly wrong though for Thanksgiving. Because not many people make Thanksgiving goose.

Paul: Okay, what do you have then?

Guest: It’s a turkey.

Paul: It is here on Christmas Day to the people go out and buy the goose fat just for the potatoes. I’m not kidding you, I know that sounds like we’re making it up.

Guest: I can only imagine. I was imagining the separate oven to cook the goose to get the fat, so this is a better answer really.

Paul: I can’t help sitting here feeling slightly hypocritical that me, an Englishman is giving an American advice on culinary things. Because we are well known for her outstanding culinary abilities in this country.

Marcus: We’re not as bad as we used to be.

Guest: No, that is been borne out by recent experiences. I first came to the UK for work back in 2001 and have been back another time since and I guess the last time I saw you two together was in London last year for The Future of Web Design. I had some really good food wallows over last year.

Paul: Yes, we’re not such a Third World country anymore when it comes to food, which is good. We still can’t do a proper steak.

Marcus: Oo, speak for yourself.

Paul: All right. It’s a lot cheaper in America and it tends to be better cuts in my opinion. There are the occasional exception over here but generally speaking, in my opinion.

Marcus: We should talk to Jason about what he actually does for a living.

Paul: Do we really?

Marcus: All right, no forget it.

Paul: No, I’m joking.

Guest: Well it’s all related to user experience.

Paul: Go on then, I want to hear you twist this to take the conversation about Thanksgiving and cooking and tell it into a related user experience thing. I reckon you can do this Jason. Go.

Guest: This is easy, because it’s all about the experience of being at the table with your family, with all of these things. All these smells that start to permeate the house and the little things that you can nibble on during the day and being scolded by my wife and told to get out of the kitchen.

Paul: It all adds up to the experience.

Guest: It does, it does yes. And that moment when everything rolls out and you have it all on the table and then you realise the dog has pulled the turkey carcass of the counter. It is exceptional.

Paul: You’ve painted a wonderful picture there.

Guest: It’s a true story. It happened a few years ago.

Paul: Oh dear.

Marcus: Really? Same happened to us years ago.

Guest: Thankfully most of the meat had been carved off of it so we were mostly laughing about it. But my parents were a bit horrified.

Marcus: Dogs, bless them.

Paul: This is a fair comment mind that Marcus makes. It would be great to maybe talk a little bit about what you do. So tell us a little bit about yourself and what you are doing these days, who you are working for and all that kind of thing.

Guest: I’ll start off with, I’m a long time listener the first time caller. I’ve been listening to you guys for many, many years now. I feel I am working my way up as I contributed to joke a while back, I got to make fun of you on a stage at a conference last year and now I’ve worked my way up to being on the show.

Paul: Up or down, it depends on your attitude, but yes okay fair enough, will go with that.

Marcus: It’s different.

Guest: So I’ve been involved in web design and development since 1994.

Paul: Oh same time as me.

Guest: Was supposed to relate it to what tags were available then, right? So I guess image tag was kind of new, there was no table tag yet. The first browsers I tested for were Mosaic and Netscape one, so there’s my street cred so I’ve got that covered.

Paul: I don’t know whether that is street cred any more.

Guest: I don’t know, we just the cranky old men now.

Paul: It’s a bit like the music equivalent of saying I went to see the Beatles live. It should have massive cred but young people just look you and go who are the Beatles?

Guest: It would with me. My wife bought me the rereleased set of all of their remastered albums on CD and I promptly imported them all with no compression whatsoever. So I have over 4 GB of Beatles on my laptop and phone at all times.

Marcus: Fantastic.

Paul: Very worthwhile. Anyway, so that’s your history. What are you doing these days?

Guest: Well we’ve come in contact through conferences over the years. I’ve done a lot of writing and speaking about my fonts and web typography, and that’s just been more the passion side of things that I’ve really been interested in for many years. But more recently, early in this past year I started at a company called Fresh Tilled Soil in Boston. And we are a digital product and experience strategy and design company. We’ll come back to all of those terrible buzzwords we just used in a minute. I knew if I didn’t say it, you would. I think that it’s probably best described as specialising in user experience for digital products. And I say digital products mainly because we do work on a lot of product type platforms and applications and also some websites. My role is now the Director of Design and Product Experience and mainly its leading the strategy on some projects but also more importantly, really looking at how we work internally and how we go about our process of working on a project and teaching some new tricks and helping everybody work a little bit more efficiently, a little bit more agile, a little bit more iterative, so teach a lot of stuff to our design team and working with our Development Director in how we do more pairs design development, teach the designers more about working directly with code etc. It’s been great, everyone’s been really excited about it. This role is pretty new for me there over the last couple of months.

Marcus: I like your offices, they are lovely.

Guest: It is a beautiful place to work and it’s very telling for me just personally. I’ve worked in a few different companies, as you can imagine over the years and this is the only one that I’ve liked to be at this much. And so even after nine months that I’ve been there, is about an hour’s drive each way and while I could work from home more I just prefer to be there as it’s a beautiful space, there are tons of really smart and energetic and interesting people and we are working on a lot of neat things. So it’s a joy to be there.

Paul: It looks a lovely place I have to say.

Marcus: You’re not on the list of people, Jason.

Paul: Yes years! He’s in there.

Guest: Yes I’m there.

Paul: He’s on the fourth line.

Marcus: Oh right yes they you are. Sorry I was expecting you near the top Jason.

Guest: It’s somewhat random I think am not exactly sure how they do it. But the order does change around periodically.

Paul: Whoever the person that’s editing the website currently likes the most. So you’re not doing particularly well on that rating. You need to suck up some more.

Guest: I do, I do. The public need to give away more things.

Paul: That’s always good. So before we get into the subject today I just want to give a shout out to our long-term sponsor, Media Temple. They’ve now done the entire season as this is the last podcast of the season. I know, I know, you’re so sad. Holding those tears dear listener.

Marcus: It’ll come back.

Paul: We will come back. You need to be careful with these things sometimes when I say it’s the end of the season people think we’re going off air permanently. They wish. You can’t get away from us that easily.

Guest: The proverbial bad penny.

Paul: Exactly. So Media Temple, thank you guys so much for supporting the whole series and I thought, what’s the one thing that I want to focus on that is the very last chance to get you guys to go and check out Media Temple. What in my humble opinion, is the thing that sets them apart from everybody else is a hosting company? That number one thing without a shadow of a doubt is their support. As I have said many times throughout the season, I host with Media Temple and I have for a long time and I cannot stress how good their support is. I don’t have any special support because they are a sponsor or anything like that, I go through the same processes as everybody else and without fail they have always fixed my problem, even when it’s not their problem which 99.9% of the time it’s my cock-up rather than theirs. I know it’s hard to believe that I make mistakes, but it happens. Especially with hosting for some reason, I seem to be the kiss of death.

You will find cheaper hosting companies out there but you will not find a hosting company that provides you with better support. Inevitably way you go for a cheaper option, that is what gets cut, the support. And let’s be honest the support is what matters. You want to know when your website goes down that it’s going to be fixed instantaneously by magic. And that’s what it feels like half the time. Occasionally I get things through from Pingdom that monitors my website tells me it’s down and actually inevitably by the time I check that my website is down, it’s back up already. When I break my website I can go straight on and get superfast answers by Twitter, email, live chat, you name it. You can get people answering and helping you very fast. I very rarely do email any more as I goes into a ticketing system and takes a little bit longer so I use the live chat and I’m talking to someone straightaway and they fix my problem and you can go back and forth really easily.

There is 24/7 phone support, you can pick up the phone and talk to them. Privacy don’t do that as a don’t like talking to other human beings so I prefer the live chat facility. I’ve also got a great systems incident board where you can go and see whether there are any current incidents going on. It’s a page that I said last time that I hate with a vengeance because it means inevitably it shows that it’s my problem and my mistake this cause the issue rather something wrong with the system. They have extensive self-help resources and amazing community.

But support. If you want to well supported website, go with Media Temple. You can get a special discount as a Boagworld listener using the promo code BOAG which will give you 25% off of your website hosting with them and you can get that by going to and then just entering the promo code when you signup. It is worth every penny, do it. I’ve never come across a better hosting company and I would be saying that even if they weren’t paying me to say it.

Guest: They are not paying me and I totally agree with you, I’ve been using them for years.

Marcus: Ditto.

Guest: And you’ve mentioned their support of the design community and the got to tell you I’ve done a lot of conference talks have little spot in my office were hang up all the badges from the different conferences over the years. It’s just a little fun reminder. But looking at the lanyards, I would say three quarters of them are Media Temple lanyards because they sponsor those events. And a number of them are local events to which I have organised and if you give them a call and say we’re having this small meet up, one-day event that we are doing, can you help me with that, they will send you a box full of stuff. They are so supportive of community efforts to make the web better, they are great people to work with.

Paul: They really are, absolutely. So let’s get on to our topic for today

Marcus: Hang on Paul, I just have to pick Jason up on a continuity issue with the Fresh Tilled Soil website.

[Gasps of horror]

Paul: I don’t think he is personally responsible for this website.

Marcus: Yes, well he can take it back can’t he. In the picture all of the desks are white, in the main picture. But if you go through to everyone’s personal bio there is a picture of their desk, or a desk which is full of stuff that is all relevant to them which is a lovely idea actually because it’s quite hard when you are designing your agency website, but it’s on a brown desk.

Paul: Really? You go to pick up on that?

Guest: And there was never one done for me. So I have a feeling that there is a finite number of images that I used and I’m not exactly certain that it is intentional.

Paul: They are all the same.

Marcus: No they’re not.

Paul: I’ve just gone to 3 and they’ve all been the same at the top. Oh no, no I found different one.

Guest: I think it’s a great idea. The company has over the last three or four years, doubled in size so I also know that we are taking our own medicine and in the process of running a series of designs sprints with our CEO as the client and we have a team internally that is redesigning the agency site and sticking slavishly to our own process to do it. So it’s been an interesting thing to watch. I’m not actually working on it but there are some really good people who are so I suspect that we are going to end up with a really wonderful new site out of this sometime in the New Year.

Paul: No agencies capable of designing their own website.

Guest: Well we learnt our lesson basically kicked the CEO of our project. Richard is a fantastic guy and he’s also of talented speaker and writer and really one of the reasons I wanted to work in the company in the first place, but you can’t be the client and the designer. You just can’t. He’s been relegated to being the client and incoming these meetings and now needs to go away. So the team is working on it.

Marcus: I like that, I like it a lot.

Guest: Yes it’s great.

Paul: Is it all right if we get onto the topic? I mean were only half an hour into the show, so you know, we can talk a bit longer if you want?

Marcus: I have no other comments.

Paul: Good.

Guest: Something Paul would never say.

Marcus: Quite right.

Paul: Jason, you don’t know me well enough to be that rude to me.

Guest: I have listened to the show enough to know that if I want to be a good Guest, that means I have to be snarkier and more fantastic.

Paul: That is true, that’s a fundamental part of being on this show is just to be snarky. I agree.

Marcus: I have got one other thing.

Paul: Oh for crying out loud.


Marcus: This is from your notes Paul, because I was interested. You had a note on the introduction that said ‘mention the great conversation around impostor syndrome that we had in Slack’ which I think is a very interesting thing, impostor syndrome. Because I’ve felt it ever since I’ve been in this industry.

Guest: I think if you don’t feel it then you are not really good at it.

Paul: Good at having a syndrome?

Guest: Good at being in this business. This is a perfectly good thing to talk about because we run an apprenticeship program in our office and Steve Hickey is the guy that runs the program in our company and we have two cohorts of apprentices that come in for three or four months and go through learning all these different things, different challenges they have to work on, coding challenges, design challenges, strategy challenges and they were compliant project as well. And I was giving them a talk yesterday about typography and we sort of ended up on learning, and that’s really the fundamental thing for anyone in this business is that if you don’t keep yourself in the habit of learning new things, if you don’t always feel like you don’t know enough, I don’t think you really good at it. I do think you are good at being in this industry.

Paul: That’s very true. But you know what Marcus, you would need to bring it up on the pod cast if you joined the Slack channel.

Marcus: I am just actually thinking about actually doing that now. Do carry on guys.

Paul: You can go to

Marcus: Already there.

Paul: And it will send an email to me and then I’ll ignore it. I don’t know if I want to my channel.

Marcus: Of course you do.

Paul: Do I?

Marcus: Let me in.

Paul: I might do, I’ll consider it. But yes it’s been really good, we’ve had some really great conversations in it. Very honest conversations as well, the kind of thing you wouldn’t really have in a social media setting. People have opened up bit more.

Oh I just got a notification.

Guest: Was that me or Marcus?

Paul: Jason, I’ll let you in. Oh dear Marcus I don’t seem to have your email, I’m really sorry.

Marcus: Oh has there been some kind of mistake in it?

Paul: Yes, just some terrible error. I’m actually doing this now, what am I doing? Space to be doing a podcast! Is like a pavlovian thing – oh notification, add them to Slack.

Guest: It’s like magpie syndrome.

Paul: Indeed.

Discussing the organisational impact of creating better user experience

Paul: So what we’re going to talk about in this very last show of the season is that we’ve been talking about user experience and about what that means. But one of them biggest components of creating the user experience isn’t the user interface, it isn’t having a mobile app, it’s not even users moving across multiple platforms or any of the other things that we talked about. One of the biggest components of creating a great user experience is the organisational structure that supports that user experience.

Guest: Or the lack thereof.

Paul: Yes, exactly. The lack thereof in an organisation and where the focus of the organisation is. So that’s where we wanted to focus on, on this show and a great starting point I felt for the show with Jason—Jason is just a perfect person to talk about this kind of stuff— is the barriers, the organisational barriers. Let’s give people a taste of the kind of things that can get in the way of creating a great user experience from an organisational point of view. What are the ones that you’ve come across?

Guest: Well there’s one overriding thing that I think that some people have been talking about for a while. I mean you’ve gone at it with the digital transformation or adaptation and I’ve actually written and talked about this before to in the notion of calling it web strategy, but is about within an organisation there’s no one department or group or something responsible for the user, the customer. Everybody has their own bit of business, whether it’s sales or marketing, IT or corporate communications. Those are all internal business functions whereas the end user, the customer actually touches all of those through their life cycle and so the barrier I think is that the efforts are all piecemeal and all motivated in their own self-interest. Essentially is the marketing department’s budget, they think that the public facing website is their property, they are responsible for it and they own it and they don’t really want to share it but they are not stopping to think about the fact that the customer doesn’t really care. They just need to have a good experience using the product working with this company and that’s going to travel across all of these departments from marketing to sales to customer support. Everything has to run well so IT has to make sure that the systems underneath it is working and connected.

We got a client that we are working with now that has this collection of their public website, their customer support area, their partners support area are all different and disparate systems and not connected. And so there’s different logins, there’s different UIs, there’s different content that they can find in all of these different places and that’s separate from what’s in their product. So it’s a real challenge because of that fragmentation.

Paul: Also something else that you touched upon there and I think it was Jared Spool that touched upon it as well is that each of these different departments, they’ve all got their own incentives, their own targets and very rarely are those the target to make customers happy. It’s to meet certain financial targets or bonuses and that kind of thing so incentivising and creating the right targets I think is a big part of it.

Marcus: You come across it time and time again, why isn’t this thing that should be happening, happening? Is because of personal reasons usually, people are trying to set themselves up for the promotion or something like that. Sad but it’s true.

Paul: Well we are all inherently selfish really. We do think about our own self interests in situations so that’s just part of human nature and we need to work around that really.

Guest: Well actually I would say that it’s not something you need to work around, you something you need to work with.

Paul: Yes that’s probably a good way of working it.

Guest: Looking at the notes that are collectively assembled for today was one of the things that really has come up over and over and over again, about how to communicate. I think the design is hugely important for us, or the strategist, the person on our team who is in charge of this project, to be able to communicate to the person responsible in terms they understand. What is the value? Why should this be the way we do something? And so it has to be aligned with their interest. It’s persuasion. You have to nudge people into making better decisions in a way that suits and supports their own best interest.

Paul: And again that something that Jared touched on. This idea that you can’t convince an executive to care about customer experience and user experience but what you can do is demonstrate that user experience actually provides a benefit to the executive to achieve whatever goals or targets they have got to meet. Which is essentially what you’re saying isn’t it?

Guest: Yes, I think you have to find ways to align with the interests they already have. So I think SEO and accessibility is probably a really good example. It’s hard to get people to care about accessibility but it’s hugely important, but it just so happens if you make something semantically well coded and will be well put together, that has a benefit of addressing both issues. So something that’s optimised well for accessibility just so happens that that is generally in line with the things to do to make your content more search engine friendly. See find ways to get these things in under the guise of something else and make sure you educate along the way, so next time you have a little bit more of an easier job of it.

Paul: So I mean the question is what kind of guises can you use to get this stuff into people’s heads?

Guest: Well a lot of it comes down to, I think there are two ways of looking at any project that we might work on or product line development within a company or changes that we want to make. That’s either going to make the company money or save the company money. And ideally both, but any time you can— because we’ve had this discussion at our own Freshly Tilled Soil— my background has generally been in larger websites that have a lot more things going on. So not just a purely marketing website but something that also incorporates business tools for the organisation to connect different departments or enable other kinds of communication that weren’t otherwise there and that makes the cost of making a great website a lot more reasonable when you can also tight to these other benefits. So previously there have been at least the decreasing number but still a present stream of smaller marketing websites. And my feeling is that we should never take that as a job rather say we can do that but in order to actually make it worthwhile let’s at it with a bit of a broader lens and in the process of making this public facing website, what can we do that will ease some of the pain points for you, the site owner, to make your life easier? And inevitably if you talk to them long enough you find things to do that make it worth the effort.

Paul: It’s interesting isn’t it, because a lot of this is about people and psychology rather than necessarily business as such, necessarily even organisational structures. But it’s cultural in no way, it’s the culture that builds up in an organisation. And oftentimes, I was working with an organisation yesterday, and the thing that is holding them back isn’t a lack of desire from anybody, is not a lack of leadership, it’s purely cultural inertia of things that have sprung up that prevents them from making change. Things that have become just the way that they do things. And I wonder whether that’s the kind of thing that you encounter as well, you come across cultural barriers?

Guest: I think that’s present all the time. I think is present in our own company and I think it’s present in everybody that we work with. I think we always have to exercise our own views. This was something else that come up with our apprentices quite a bit, just internal discussions on our own Slack channel about how much we talk about empathy for users and we forget that we have to apply that same empathy to our dealings with our own colleagues, with our clients we have to really look at what makes their day go well or poorly. And we have a good sensitivity to that is designers generally because you just have to remember to apply it. I think it was probably a talk from Whitney Hess a few years ago where I heard her talking about the five whys. And really it’s just asking why enough times to get to whatever it is.

‘So you don’t want to do that because it interferes with other things, so why does it interfere with this other thing?’

‘Well because we’ve always done this because this other thing didn’t work’.

‘Okay that’s another one, so why does that other thing not work?’

We have to excavate, we have to dig down and it is psychology. I think you can’t be good in business without the psychology, you can’t be good at design without the psychology to really dig into the underlying issues and to get people to not give you their assumed solution but to really focus on what is the problem that’s preventing them from being successful at this particular endeavour.

Paul: I remember interviewing Abby Covert once and she talked about it is going down the rabbit hole. You keep following it down. Why, why, why, why until you find what that underlying issue is.

Another client I work with, I was just thing that they could do more on social media and actually actively look for potential people to reach out to. It’s a charity, so people that they could reach out to and help by monitoring social media. And they were really resistant to this. And I kept pushing this, pushing and pushing as to why – what the underlying issue is. It turns out that a few years back they created a mobile app that essentially scanned social media looking for certain keywords and it caused an uproar and he got into the national press and it caused all kinds of issues because people felt it was intrusive, even though it was public stuff that beat they were posting on the Internet and even though brands do it all the time it came back and bit them because they did it probably little bit too early, people weren’t really ready for it and that had scarred the culture of the organisation and they never really kind of got past that. So you need to search out these underlying issues don’t you?

Guest: Yes that’s true.

Paul: So the next question is around this business silo issue. We talked about these different business silos existing with their own agendas, their own isolation. You’ve already talked a little bit about how the fact that you need somebody responsible for the customer experience, the user experience, someone to champion those, but how do you get an organisation to overcome these business silos and start talking to one another and communicating better rather than throwing the customer over the wall so to speak between departments.

Guest: I’ve just got a lovely picture in my mind. When I think there is two different approaches, one is one that I’ve advocated for a long time and I haven’t quite been able to figure out what is the right label, but some kind of high-level executive, chief experience officer, customer officer, that does exist in some companies. But the idea being that their whole role should be focused around the customer and they should then use that role and that budget to help all the other business units do things better to serve that customer. So they become an internal group, almost like an in-house agency that does projects for all these other groups and you can find some way to chargeback an account for it whatever you want to do to help support it, but that group then is always keeping the customer in mind and building out all these things that connect all these different areas of the organisation so that the experience from marketing to get people into the sales funnel and sales to actually complete the transaction and transferring them into support. Again this is another area where marketing wants to communicate with people and some of the best people you are talking to people who are already using one of your products and you’re hoping they might be interested in others, but then that relationship with the current customer is owned by customer support which is a different executive and different budget line a different group. Is better for the customer to have that communication be connected so that you don’t end up with too many emails and you get the right information passed along. But when people are not incentivised to connect those dots then it can’t work so either you have to have somebody responsible for it or you need to work really hard to bring design thinking to all of these executives and help put things in terms that matter to them. That they will have better customer retention if they have better communication through all these other channels. And it’s understanding enough of what drives each of these different groups to find the right terms in which to couch it.

Paul: I mean to some extent is a huge education job, whether you have a chief customer experience officer or whoever does it, it’s a matter of constantly putting the user in front of people’s faces and making them constantly aware of the user’s needs. It goes back to what Leisa Reichelt said when she came on the show and when we were talking about user research. She said 30% of her job essentially doing the research and 70% is communicating that to the rest of the organisation.

Guest: I’m trying to remember who it was earlier in this series that talked about lead with the video. Show the video of the user not being able to get the job done. It’s so powerful.

Marcus: That was one of my favourites, definitely.

Guest: I mean the other thing is there was this great book I read a few years ago by Roger Martin called the Design of Business and it was really about design thinking as he teaches it all was having it taught at the Rotman School of Business in an MBA program in Toronto. He used this term abductive logic which I thought was really great and is just really a fancy way of saying use your gut and look sideways at things. I just thought that was a really great way to bring up that understanding that design thinking in business is really just thinking like a designer does in doing all these other things. We just need to apply it to looking at how an organisation works not just how the project works.

Paul: Absolutely. And it really drives home to me— I’m in the middle of writing a piece for Smashing Magazine—about what a narrow view we have of the role of designers, that we see designers as pixel pushers whereas actually design thinking can be applied that such a higher level than we currently do.

Guest: I think a lot of this has to do with designers and communication. It really is at the heart of it and it’s something that I had a wonderful experience in school with a professor who would require with every project that we write a paper explaining the design decisions we made in the course of working on the project. It could be a short is a paragraph or two or it could be longer but we had to talk about why we made the different choices of colour and typography and overall approach. And that taught me from the very beginning how to communicate design. And how to explain why this decision is the right decision. Why does this typeface relate to this company or this time and place? Why does this colour palette connect better for this target market? And that’s come all the way forward to Mike Monteiro’s book, Design is a Job. I’ve never really loved when I read it the way that he used the term selling but it’s not wrong, it’s just a different framework for thinking. But if the designer isn’t communicating to the client the why behind the design then they’re not designing. It’s making the implication that that is the completion of the act of designing something, is being able to put into plain English or whatever the right languages about why this is the right decision. If you can’t do that simply and clearly to the client, then you’re not understanding it well enough yourself.

Paul: One of the many quotes assigned to Einstein was that if he can’t explain it to a five-year-old you don’t understand it properly. That’s to a certain extent is true, communication is such a crucial part of understanding stuff because you have to understand it before you can communicate it clearly.

Guest: So I think relating it back to that wider problem I think if we can’t easily communicate the why behind the design is hard for us to apply that same level of thinking to a nonvisual problem and articulate it. And again if you can’t articulate it then you are no good to this client, you’re not going to be helpful if you can’t put it into words they understand.

Paul: Who’s doing this well? Who do you look at and think as an organisation they have really got the importance of creating a great user experience?

Guest: There are two really easy ones that came to mind but those are generally from our world of working on the web. I think Media Temple, honestly. I don’t want to pander to the sponsor but they have got it figured out. They know how to talk to the people who make the stuff and they know how to support it and they know how to provide the tools that we need and they know how to handle our needs as well as the client’s needs. We feel just as comfortable setting a client up with MailChimp knowing they can call and get the support thing they need and that’s cool. MailChimp is another fantastic example. I think they’ve really got it down in all ways of communicating with them. But there is an off-line one that I thought was really worth bringing up and that’s a department store here in the US Nordstrom. If you’ve ever shopped there this will stick out and ring true, I think for any store you’ve ever been into. One, they are incredibly curious and when you go through the purchase process there is this one little thing that really stands out. If you have shopped with them often, or if you have a credit card through them you get these reward points the build-up over time with them produce discounts. They will always look that up for you whether or not you have any of your little coupons with you. They will always check and they will do it right away but when you’ve completed the purchase they walk around the sales desk to hand you the bag. And it’s a thank you, have a great day and should you ever have any reason to bring something back you never need to have the receipt. They can always scan it and look it up and they’ll just do that without ever asking or questioning anything. So the whole cycle of interaction with them is just always handled so smoothly. Their point of sale system has recently gotten a lot better. It used to be this really clunky looking, looked like a DOS spaced thing from the 80s, but they tied it together just well enough so that they would always be able to know who you are, know your history and be able to connect it to, one – offering to email just receipt rather than printing it out which was something that was done there long before I saw it in any other store and just another little convenience to not have this strip of paper but not need it because you always have it on your phone and they can always look it up, is just a really good experience there.

Marcus: How long they’ve been around?

Paul: Years.

Guest: A long time. They weren’t in the areas where I was growing up but they certainly seem to have a lot of history and they’ve been around here in the Boston area and New York for a long time.

Paul: What I quite like about those examples there with Nordstrom is the fact that is the kind of thing that involves multiple groups across the organisation working to make happen. So for example going back without a receipt. There has to be an IT system that’s able to look that information up. They’ve got to make sure that all of the items are logged in such a way that there is a logistical back-end system. There is a customer experience element there of the customer service the person you’re dealing with. There’s always different parts that need to come together to create that little nice experience and that’s what really impresses me, where organisations do that. Whether it be Disney’s Magic band that involved everyone from the hotels through to the parks through to the restaurants and all the rest of it working together or whether it be something like Zappos with their 365-day return policy and the fact that they pay shipping both ways but affects the picking system, that affects the accounting system. All these different things are all impacted and that’s why think user experience is at its best where it involves a lot of people coming together to create something special. Because the Nordstrom example makes you feel special doesn’t it? But you’re more important than their own inconvenience.

Marcus: Do you think though that there are companies that are doing it well, companies like MailChimp that are relatively young and come from small beginnings, they live and breathe what we’re talking about. But something like Nordstrom and Disney who have been around for decades would have had to have gone through cultural changes but these things to happen. Do you think that the only way that that can happen, because I bet that this is come from on high, this is basically the directors of those companies think in the way that we are thinking that customers should come first and it’s been driven from on high, this is the way you going to do it from now rather than there being some kind of customer experience director or Department. I suspect it comes from the actual directors of the company.

Guest: I think that’s probably true with regard to a large calcified organisation. And when I say that I mean one where the reef has built out over decades and I think that there needs to be an awareness that it’s a challenge and I also think that that chief experience officer wouldn’t have existed if the board didn’t think it was really important. So I think that there does need to be an awareness there, I think is really difficult to change the course of a company from the bottom up but don’t think is impossible.

Paul: So there’s a good question there which is a question that we probably ought to end on even though I could carry on longer, which is that the people listening to this show generally aren’t senior management because they got better things to do with their lives than listen to 2 old men from Britain waffling on. Not that I’m implying that our listeners have got nothing better to do. Shit. Err, yes.

Marcus: Moving on quickly.

Paul: The people that are listening to this are on the ground, grassroots of the organisation. What if anything can they do in this kind of situation to bring about the kind of organisational change that allows these huge things to happen?

Guest: I think it actually ties together a bunch of things that we talked about. One is the habit of learning needs to extend into the habit of sharing. And you have two also in sharing, communicate the why. So we have an internal Slack channel in our company and I am betting that you guys have seen this in a number of other digital agencies. There were some that really get it and are constantly learning and there are others that have settled and settled into just doing work. They have to build their hours, they need to go in and it’s a real challenge to always be pushing these things out and moving forward. So what we try to do is never just share a link to an article. Share the article with a couple of sentences as to why. So that’s one of those things that gives people a reason to actually read it. So sharing that stuff about the why, why is this a good idea, what are these things that we can do, shows everybody around you that you are thinking about things that are in their terms.

Going back to an old episode with actually one of my near neighbours, Jonathan Stark. We both live in Providence. He was talking about nurturing repeat business, about sending of these emails once a day. Send an email to somebody saying hey this thing really made me think of you because of X. That works inside the organisation too. So you share these things out and give these people a reason why it connects to what matters to them so you lay the foundation there of an appreciation of what good design can do and you find a small project. Something you can undertake and make sure that you can track it and present the win. Be able to do so in terms that resonates the real costs/savings whatever it is that will communicate to your boss and other people in the organisation and then give a little lunchtime talk about it. Find ways to present an edge so people can see that this small thing had this huge impact.

I worked on a tiny little web a bunch of years ago that connected a rebate program. IT helped me get the data uploaded every night and built out this thing so that they would put a postcard out with a product that was being sent out with this rebate and they would be to numbers from that invoice. The customer could put those two numbers into a webpage and look up in this database from the data that gets uploaded every night and gives them a shipping label to send back their old product. That goes back to a fulfilment facility that checks in those same two numbers from the shipping label that looks the same date up in the same database, notes what has been sent back and automatically sends an email over to accounting. Accounting then knows that something is ready to get printed out for the rebate and they go and they have one page to print out with a print stylesheet so it looks nice and easy to look at and understand and they take that over and they send out those rebate checks. It was no more than three days to build and it saved on average 10 to 12 hours a week per person in the accounting department. And it shortened the rebate cycle from eight weeks to 2. So the customers loved it too.

So being able to communicate that and if your boss doesn’t care, take it to the CFO, take it to somebody else who does or publish it somehow so that people can see it. And that’s how you can just tick off these small things. And that’s going to do two things, one it’s going to either help your own organisation understand and appreciate the value of design thinking and acting in this more proactive and collaborative way or at the very least it gives you things to put in your portfolio so that when the organisation doesn’t change and that you decide you can’t stay there, that you can document that and take that with you.

Paul: I love it. That actually is a beautiful way of wrapping up the whole series really. At the heart of UX, if you want UX to grow and to be more appreciated you need to educate and you need to show. You need those prototype projects but you also need to be infusing and communicating what it is you do and how you do it. A brilliant ending Jason, thank you so much.

Guest: Thank you for having me on the show.

Paul: So where can people find out a little bit more about you? If they want to know what you are writing about and speaking on and that kind of stuff?

Guest: You can find me at jpamental on almost anything. I write some stuff on Medium, I post lots of pictures of my dog Tristan on Instagram, I rattle along on Twitter a lot. You could find my book on Responsive Typography from O’Reilly and just check out Fresh Tilled Soil and see some of the other work that we do there.

Paul: Cool.


Paul: Marcus. You get to do the very last sponsored slot of the season.

Marcus: I do. Short, sharp and to the point.

Paul: I am fascinated, dear listener. You know last week we had Seth on the show. He had words with Marcus. Seth is a marketer, a very knowledgeable guy. Afterwards he had words with Marcus about his sponsored slot and pointed out some areas where it might be improved. So let’s see if you’ve learnt anything Marcus. Go.

Marcus: Of course I haven’t.

Paul: I’m expecting something really slick now.

Marcus: It’s actually quite a lot shorter, I have taken that on board.

Paul: Good, right go.

Marcus: I did have a think about it because what he was saying after the show was that I needed to focus on the thing that makes you special as an agency or you personally. The differentiator. And I thought about that a bit and I thought obviously you have to know your stuff, you have to have experience and have worked on various projects that are relevant to the project that you’re working on at the time, all that kind of thing but I actually think with me, me personally, people hire me because I do ramble on. And I’m quite approachable.

Paul: Really? See now Seth’s eyes are going to be spinning, he’s going to be rolling in his grave even though he’s not dead.

Marcus: I think I am quite an empathetic person, they you go.

Paul: You are.

Marcus: That’s just me liking to have a bit of a chat really. But anyway. Focus.

Guest: All business is personal and if you don’t like the person you’re working with you won’t work with them again.

Marcus: Exactly. Back to this bit.

So I’ve talked about design and development and now go to talk about consultancy because web strategies one of the things we do at Headscape. Consultancy, which is a bit of a dirty word to some people. I do remember one of our clients saying to me ‘Oh your consultant. I pay you to take my watch so you can tell me what the time is, is that right?’ which just stuck with me and I thought was particularly good. Fortunately, we proved that not be the case for that particular person.

And I thought again, looking at the word consultancy, what the dictionary say it is? And the dictionary says it’s a professional practice that gives an expert advice within a particular field. Which is okay but I think it’s a bit more than that, I think it’s help as well as advice and it certainly is in our case. We mentioned Jared Spool early on in the show and we discussed with him in the show early in the series that you can’t change senior management mind about UX and digital and that kind of thing. But the conclusion of the discussion was that you can and I’ve mentioned today as long as you do it in their terms. And that’s what we do. That’s what we bring to the table as consultants. We can make organisational change happen that is good for your organisation, its users and its staff. You have to understand what the problems are and you have to talk to people in terms that they understand. And with that I shall shut up. Thanks Paul.

Paul: A very good. I like it, short and to the point and sometimes you just need an outside voice. That’s a big part of consultancy I think.

Guest: I think that you are right, is a challenging word for some people but exactly the right word. And I think it’s our ability as designers and design thinkers to take that abductive logic and turn that critical eye to how an organisation works without bias. And that’s really important, we don’t have the ownership of any particular area because we are looking in and we don’t really know anybody there other than the people we are directly working with so we can be a little bit more free to say it would make a lot more sense if we were to do something to connect here and here rather than do this thing that you think we should be doing.

Paul: It’s that freedom to not be constrained by hierarchies and the fact that you got to turn up to work with this person next week that means that we can maybe get away with saying things that others can’t, which is a huge part of the value of consultancy I think.

Marcus, last joke. I you going to leave us with a goodie?

Marcus: Last joke of the season. Yes, I think so, it’s another one from Ian Lasky. He is coming up with some really good ones.

Paul: He’s on a roll.

Marcus: ‘While attending a marriage weekend Frank and his wife, and listened to the instructor declare,

“It is essential that husbands and wives know the things that are important to each other”.

He then addressed the men.

“Can you name and describe your wife’s favourite flower?”

Frank leaned over and touched Ann’s arm gently and whispered, “Homepride isn’t it?”


Paul: Does that work aboard? Do you have Homepride in America?

Guest: Well I am finally getting it now. It’s probably a brand of flour, right?

Marcus: Yes. When you bake with.

Guest: It took me a while.

Marcus: It was told awfully, as ever.

Paul: But that’s how we work, that’s how we roll Marcus. Or at least I was going to say you, but to be honest good advice badly delivered applies as well.

That should be our new strapline. I’m going to change the home page of my website. Good advice badly delivered.

Guest: Perfect.

Paul: So, next season. This is the last one of this season but we’re going to come back on 28th January because obviously already wound down for Christmas and my Christmas goes through well into January.

Guest: You have to ease back into things.

Paul: What exactly, you slow down and you ease up. It’s got to be that way. So we’re coming back on 28th January. Now I’ve been thinking about what to do for next season and I was a bit undecided because this one has been a very focused season on a specific area, which is generally fine but every now and again you want to let loose and just see what bubbles to the surface – that sounds like fighting in the bath doesn’t it? Sorry just suddenly occurred to me. So next season I’m thinking we’re going to do a season on what makes you passionate? So what we’re going to do is have a different guest on each show and just let them talk about whatever their passionate about. So Jason perhaps we better get you back on to talk about typography for example?

Guest: I’d love to.

Paul: And just let people go with whatever their big passion is and I’m also thinking because we had some great conversations in the Slack channel and there are some people in there that are really passionate about certain subjects and I’m just thinking, let’s get them on the show. Let’s see where the conversations go. So I’ve created this very woolly subject area for next time and I think it should be interesting. Because you always get the best out of people when you get them talking about what they are really into.

Marcus: How wide can we go on this?

Paul: No we can’t talk about cricket. Okay but I remember when Jeremy Keith was last on the show, I can’t remember what the series was about but he talked about sci-fi books for the whole time and it was great.

Paul: Yes perhaps we ought to.

Guest: That was a good one.

Paul: We could just have a season, yes let’s just leave it open. It might be web stuff; it might not be web stuff.

Marcus: Or it might be more than one thing that you are passionate about.

Paul: Yes basically we could even maybe break it down and have a couple of guests on and pre-recorded videos, and shorter little segments.

Guest: You could get Mark Boulton to just come on and talk about cycling and nothing about type.

Paul: There we go. That would seem perfect.

Marcus: We could get Chris Scott on to talk about cycling as well.

Paul: Chris Scott won’t ever come on the podcast. Or if he did he wouldn’t actually say anything, so he’d be sitting in front of a mic. Chris Scott, I’ve worked it out. He is the Stig of web design.


Paul: That’s what he is. He never actually speaks.

Guest: He’s that good.

Paul: An amazing web designer and person, just never speaks. Okay so there we go that’s it for this season. I hope you’ve enjoyed it, I hope you’ve come to appreciate how broad and wide and deep and inspiring user experience is and I hope this is may be turning into your passion as we come on to next season. But for now thank you to all of our guests including Jason. And we will see you again on January 28th 2016. Have a good Christmas people.