Jared Spool: We’re going to start off here with a little bit of a journey through what it means to be an experienced designer. So, to do that, I want to take us to a far away place.

In particular, a city known as Chongming, China. You’ve probably never heard of it. Even though it’s actually a fairly important city in China. It’s about 2,500 years old.

For many years, it was at the apex of the trade routes between the western parts of Asia and the eastern parts of China. Now, it’s turned into quite a modern affair.

It’s a little bit bigger than Los Angeles. It has the feel of Chicago. It is very much a modern city today.

Along those lines, it is also got some beautiful, beautiful real estate. It has the Stone Forest with this giant monastery on top. It’s just one of the amazing sites.

It also has one of my favorite attributes, an Apple store, but not just any Apple store. This is a fake Apple store.

Like the Chinese like to do, it is identical to a real Apple store. Everything about it. The furniture, the signs, even the t-shirts and the badges that the employees wear are exact duplicate of what a real Apple store looks like.

Not only is there this Apple store, there are 41 imitation Apple stores, in just this city of Chongming, all like this. Every single one of them, is identical to an Apple store in every way.


Jared: Almost. I’m fascinated that people would go out of their way to build an identical replica of an Apple store. It’s crazy to me.

It turns out, it isn’t just happening in Chongming, China. It’s happening all over the world. In fact, recently, here in North America, it was uncovered that there are 72 imitation Apple stores.

Just like the ones in Chongming, they look just like Apple stores, including the furniture and the signage, and even the t-shirts and the badges that the employees have. The difference here is that these are run by Microsoft.


Jared: Barnes and Noble, decided to sell their off-again, on-again Nook product. They needed to make the displays look and feel just like an Apple store. JCPenney wanted so much to look an Apple store, that they hired the dude who created the Apple store, from Apple, and made him their CEO, so that their stores could look just like Apple stores.

It’s not the retail industry that’s gotten into this, the liquor industry has gotten into this, too.

[video begins]

Video Narrator: We saw the latest operating system, pumped.

Woman 1: I’m going to run straight in there and grab one.

[background music]

Man 1: So this is Somersby?

Man 2: This is it, this is what all the excitement’s about.

Man 3: 16 pip, 32 pip.

Man 1: This is the 32-pip? Is it wireless?

Man 2: Yeah, yeah, look. Completely wireless.

Woman 1: Single core, dual core.


Man 2: Full of great content. Easy to use.

Man 1: Move towards the mouth, and interface.

Woman 1: It works in your normal docking system?

Man 1: That’s docked?

Man 2: That’s docked, yeah. And, you’ve downloaded.

Woman 1: I’ve downloaded?

Man 2: Yeah. One click, [clink] boom, you’re connected.

Woman 1: It’s amazing.

Man 1: Really good.

Man 2: And it works perfectly in direct sunlight.

Narrator: Somersby Cider. Less apps, more apples.

[music ends]

Jared: What is it about the Apple store? Nobody does this for Radio Shacks.


Jared: What is it about the Apple store? Well, it turns out, there might be a reason for this. If we just look at the foot traffic that Apple stores have, it turns out that the number of people in 2012 who walked through Apple stores was basically the same number of people who walked through all of the Disney parks, combined.

That was 2012. Apple just released their third-quarter results for 2013. It turns out that 84 million people walked through the three months that comprised the Q3, into the Apples stores. Just from a foot traffic standpoint alone, who wouldn’t want to be like an Apple store?

It doesn’t stop there. If we go and look at the financial performance, it’s amazing. The way you measure the financial performance of a retail store is through an old formula called “dollars per square foot.” Just to give you a baseline, the average mall store makes about $341 per square foot.

Tiffany’s, which doesn’t need a lot of space to sell its little expensive things, turns out to come in at about $3,017 a square foot. Where does the Apple store fall in there? At $6,050 per square foot. Twice Tiffany’s, 17 times the average mall store. Of course, everybody wants to be like an Apple store. They’d be nuts to not want to be like it.

That’s what’s driving it. But what is it about the Apple store that does this? One aspect of it is the details. Everything has been thought through. They way they do signs, the actually don’t use signs. They use iPads with software that looks like signs, but is interactive. They don’t have cash registers. Instead, they give their employees little cashier items, these handheld iPods, that can be used to ring up a credit card.

On the off chance you come in and you actually want to spend cash, their employees have some sort of fairy dust that makes the cash drawer just appear out of nowhere, magically.

They have thought through the entire process of the store. Everything about the store is thought through. Everything about the store is intentional. That’s really important because, in essence that’s what we mean when we say design. Design is how we render intent. The Apple store is amazingly designed. That’s why it does so well.

That’s not the only thing about Apple that people are copying. You may remember that last year there was a little law suit between Apple and Samsung, that ended up in Samsung having to pay a billion dollars to Apple. The basic crux of that lawsuit was that Samsung copied Apple. They copied Apple’s design.

To prove this, the Apple lawyers mounted a case to show how they copied it. It came down to two documents. Two documents that actually were what swayed the jury to award a billion dollars—one of the largest lawsuits ever.

The first document was a little map of what phones looked like. They showed how the Samsung phones had evolved. Then they showed what the iPhone looked like, and you can see that the Samsung and iPhone phones look completely different from each other. Even for another couple years, Samsung continued producing phones that looked completely different.

Once the iPhone had really caught on, Samsung’s products started to look more, and more, and more like an iPhone. They just copied the iPhone. Once the jury saw this document, this was really convincing. It turns out this wasn’t the most convincing document. The most convincing document was 132-page QA report. Seriously! A QA report was what caused the jury to award that billion dollars.

The QA report, every page of it showed a comparison between the Galaxy S1 and the iPhone. At the bottom of each page, there were recommendations to improve the Galaxy S1 that basically said, “Make it like the iPhone,” for 132 pages. That’s what caused the jury to award a billion dollars. Imagine being the QA dude who wrote this report.

[audience laughter]

Jared: On the one hand, the report he wrote had just cost his employer a billion dollars. On the other hand, he’s thinking, “Oh my God, people read my report!”

[audience laughter]

Jared: “That’s never happened! And they sort of liked it!” The most expensive QA report ever. Performance review. Stop writing QA reports.

[audience laughter]

Jared: Design is the rendering of intent. At the core of design is intention. Intention falls on a spectrum. The spectrum goes from imitation to innovation. We can decide whether we want to imitate, decide whether we want to innovate, or something in between. Yahoo! Came out with a new home page a few years back. Definitively innovative, compared to all the home pages at the time.

Their design team had done a fabulous job figuring out what this page should be, doing a lot of studies, seeing what’s going on. Six months later, AOL comes out with its own new home page. But it relied on imitation over innovation. Why would they do that? Well it turns out there’s really good reasons. Imitation is a whole lot cheaper. You just figure out who’s got the best thing out there and you copy it!

This is really smart because it eliminates risk, it eliminates cost. If we want to go the innovation route, we have to spend money. We have to possibly fail. Probably fail. So it makes sense that people go the imitation route. There was something else that we learn when we started to study this, which is if the organizations that go the imitation route tend to not value design that much.

They tend to think of it as something that you can just sort of do at the end of the project. Whereas the organizations that value innovation that make that investment, they actually value design. They have senior designers at high levels of the organization. They talk about design as a core strategy, and they see it as a competitive outcome, not just meeting what others have done, just doing what the best is currently.

What’s really interesting, is that there are a lot more organizations today that see design as being competitive than there were five years ago. This is really the legacy of the iPad. Executives walk around with this iPad under their arm, they feel decent design, good design, in some cases great design. Then they look at their own products and services and go, “How come we’re not doing that?” Right?

This is what the iPad and the iPhone and all those products have brought to us, the legacy of great design. Suddenly, people can see the difference. What that means, is that we now know for sure that a business can win when it’s intentionally innovative, when it spends those resources to get to that point. It actually can win its market place. That means, that the business wins when it values designers.

Good news for all of us designers. Now it’s hard to talk to anybody who’s in the business side about anything strategic without taking about disruption. The poster child for disruption is the newspaper industry. Particularly local newspapers for whom their revenue base was primary from the classifieds. They made a ton of money selling all that crap in your basement.

That was great for decades, until a crusty little website showed up that, visually, isn’t much to look at, but design-wise? Is actually pretty brilliant. It changed everything. It changed how we think about selling, and it put the newspaper industry almost under. The design here, which really is very efficient and effective, not very pretty, but really good, played a huge role.

What’s really interesting, is that Craigslist now is in a place where they themselves are under threat of disruption, because other folks, let’s say in the vacation rental business, are coming in with even better designed results that actually do the job even better. So we can see how design contributes to major change in business. It’s not just the newspaper industry.

All the major industries are going through this. Finances, the bread and butter of consumer finances was the ability to swipe a credit card. This was held prisoner by the merchant account system. The people who rented those little machines that went cachunk, cachunk. cachunk, cachunk in the stores. That technology didn’t change for decades.

Suddenly, some little startup, a company that was never in financial services before, in fact didn’t even exist a year before, comes up with this little plastic square thing that plugs into a phone, that suddenly turns any phone into a merchant account charge machine. What does that mean? What does that mean? It means that anybody you know can charge your credit card.

The person who babysits your kids, the person who walks your dogs, the person who sells you your coke, any of them can charge your card. Your coke dealer can now charge your card!

[audience laughter]

[ping noise]

Jared: Anybody! This is completely thrown the financial services industry for a loop. They don’t know how to deal with it, and they’re in a panic. So what do they do? They start imitating. They start doing these crazy things. PayPal. PayPal, what does PayPal do? PayPal thought they owned this space. They don’t own this space. Suddenly, they’re, “OK, what are we going to do? What are we going to do?” “I know, we’ll come out with a triangle!”

[audience laughter]

“That’ll do it! That’s innovation, one less corner!”

[audience laughter]

Rental car industry. Another industry, hadn’t changed for decades. Suddenly, Zipcar comes along. Zipcar has this thing about sharing a car. Cool. That’s always what rental cars were about. What Zipcar’s really about, what makes a huge difference, is getting rid of all those people who were in the process between you and sharing that car.

If you rented in the old days from Hertz, you had to talk to someone on the phone, then you had to talk to someone at a desk, then you had to talk to someone who gave you your keys, then you had to talk to someone at a gate. Then you brought it back and you talked to someone else, then you got on a bus with someone. There were all these different people.

Zipcar has none of those people. You get on a website, you reserve the car, you go. If it needs gas, they give you a credit card, you fill it up with their credit card. It’s done. And it’s changed everything. So much so, that Hertz, in a complete panic has, for years, tried to offer a similar service. But they can’t figure out how to get rid of the people, so it doesn’t work.

Avis also tried for years to get rid of the people. Didn’t work. So what does Avis do? They just go and acquire Zipcar. It was easier. Now, all the Zipcar users, their number one thought is, “Please, please, please. Don’t screw up the experience. Don’t wreck it. Don’t make it worse.”

Why is everybody pushing towards this innovation side now? The reason is that if you get it right, the payoff is huge. Huge! Again, it’s happening in every industry. Take the live entertainment industry. Previously dominated by things like Broadway and major concert series, the live entertainment industry, again, has undergone a complete rethinking. This time in the circus sector.

Which makes sense, because at the time that Cirque du Soleil came about, at the time a couple of street performers said, “Hey, let’s open a circus,” it was the worst possible time to open a circus. The circus industry was in an all-time low, in terms of revenue and audience. They were on their way out, because it was a dying art form.

It would be a stupid time to open a new business in that sector, unless you wanted to do something completely innovative. The way they did it is the most brilliant thing. It started with a decision, a basic design decision. The design decision was to get rid of the animals.

Everybody who’d been in circuses for years, in that business, thought that was the stupidest idea ever, because it was the animals that made their money. Cute animals bring in cute children, and cute children bring cute parents, who carry cute money.


Jared: It turns out that the animals were always seen as the essential part. However, the animals were also the most expensive part. It costs a lot to move animals across the country. Not just the transportation costs, but the veterinary costs, the permit costs, and the dealing with the protester costs, the food costs. All of these things rack up, and are the biggest expense for the circus. You get rid of the animals, you get rid of your biggest expense.

Then what do you do? Cirque du Soleil said, “What we could do is we’ll reinvest. We’ll take the money that we’re saving from animals and we’ll put it into performers and sets and music and staging. We will make this the most well-designed experience ever.” It turns out, there’s a side benefit, because when you get rid of the animals, people stop bringing their kids.


Jared: When they stop bringing their kids, the average ticket sale of $35 shoots up to closer to $200. Now Cirque du Soleil is this magical experience for grow-ups. Tonight, Cirque du Soleil, just like every other night, will bring in more money through all their shows than all of Broadway combined.

That’s intent. That’s design. This is a new way of thinking about design. A few years back, the great designer Milton Glaser said, “I move things around until they look right.” That was basically his answer to the question, “What do you do?” It was what he did. In that age, that era, design was completely about the visual.

Now design is about the business. We’re seeing design as a business tool more and more and more. Take, for example, buying a tablet. Let’s say we want to buy a Samsung tablet at a Best Buy store. What does the business side of that look like?

It turns out that 50 percent of the price that I’m going to pay for that is going to go to Best Buy, 40 percent of that is going to go to Samsung, and 10 percent goes to the people whose job it is to get that tablet from Samsung’s factories to Best Buy’s stores.

This is the business model that has existed in retail for decades. It hasn’t changed. Interestingly enough, even with the Apple store, it hasn’t changed that much. We look at the Apple store, we see that all three of those components—the manufacturer, the distributor, and the retailer—are still there. It’s just the distributions all go to Apple. They get 100 percent.

This means that Apple can actually make a more expensive product than Samsung can make, because Samsung only gets a smaller profit than Apple does, off of every dollar they invest. You can just out-design the product for their competition.

Oh, this number, 100 percent, it’s not quite right. It’s not quite accurate. The reason it’s not quite accurate, you go into a Best Buy, you’ll find out that almost always, they’ll discount. Apple never discounts, which means if we compare an Apple to a Best Buy, we see that Apple actually makes more than 100 percent of what Best Buy makes. That’s magic.

It turns out that business is intentionally designed. Great businesses are highly designed. Now, business needs designers more than they every have before. It’s a great time to be a designer. I will admit, I get accused of being a bit of an Apple fanboy.

I do like Apple products, but I don’t talk about Apple all the time because I love their products. I talk about Apple all the time because they are the third-largest company in the world, and they did it through design. This fascinates me to no end. But there are things that suck about Apple.

Let’s do a little quiz here. Raise and keep it up if you’ve ever bought a product at an Apple store. Now keep your hand up if you’ve ever had to return a product to an Apple store. OK, about half of you. See, they’re not any better than anybody else. Fifty percent is not a great return rate. Things happen, products break. This is known as an Artesianal phone display.


Jared: We’ve all seen them. Unfortunately, many of us have had them. Of course the difference between Apple and almost any other store, is that the person you get to talk when you have a problem with your Apple product has the job title, “Genius.”

Nobody I’ve ever worked for thought to call their employees, “Genius.” I worked for some guys who kept referring to employees “stupid,” but no one’s every referred to them as genius. That was brilliant on Apple’s part. They have a business card that says, “Genius.”

When I was younger, it would have made Thanksgiving such a different experience to have a business card with “Genius.” “So, what are you doing?” “I’m a genius.” “Wow. Honey! Our boy’s a genius.” I can see my uncle now, “So, how much does being a genius pay?” “Minimum wage.”


Jared: Let’s take apart this return thing. This is really interesting. When someone has to return a product, even when the get good customer service, the process of returning the product, it’s really a fascinating process. We’ve all been through it. We can measure it out. We can put the milestones of returning the product up on the wall.

We can take someone who’s had to do it, and we can say, “How would that rate, on a scale of ‘extremely frustrating’ to ‘extremely delightful’?” Then we can start to map out what that looks like. We go and we buy the product, and we’re really excited about that. But then we get it home and it doesn’t work, and that’s really frustrating.

Then, we have to return it to the store. That experience is neutral, but then we have to wait in line for service. That really sucks. Finally, we get our customer service, and even when it’s great, awesome customer service, what’s interesting is is that the two endpoints are delightful, but the space in the middle, not so much.

What’s really neat is that we can now hone in on a piece of this. We can take that frustrating bit and start to take it apart and say, “What’s actually happening here?” Go out in the field and see what that experience is like. See how the spaces that we use to do this are not designed, and how the employees are not efficient, and how the system just doesn’t work.

It was never thoughtfully considered. It was not intentionally designed. It was just what happened with the design of the store, and the design of the space. “Yeah, it really only gets busy for a week after Christmas, and how often does that happen?” [deep voice] “Every year.”


Jared: But don’t think about it. What could we do? If we were going to put on our design hat and say, “Let’s do something intentional,” what would we do? Apple put on their design hat, and guess what? They come up with something—the appointment. Make an appointment.

Now you don’t have to wait in line. Even if you get there a few minutes early, and they’re not quite ready for your appointment, they say, “Don’t worry about it. There’s a display in the back of the store, just watch for your name. In the meantime, go shop.”


Jared: Now they have people shopping in their store, who just bought a defective product, and they’re happy. This is brilliant. This is innovation. Innovation is one of these words that people use all the time.


Jared: The thing is, is that almost always, when people use this word, they use it wrong. I don’t think that word means what you think it means. They mean inventing, but innovation is not about inventing. Innovation is about adding value.

Apple did not invent the appointment. The appointment existed long before Apple even existed. The appointment was invented years ago by dentists.


Jared: Apple put appointments in a place where it had never been used before and created value out of it. On the surface, it’s really simple. The machinery behind that appointment system, really complex, but the idea, really simple, something everybody could get their head around.

What happens to our little map when we add that in? It changes everything, because now, we buy the product, we’re happy, we get it home, it’s defective. What do we have to do? In the new world, we add an appointment to our little map. We’re going to now make an appointment. When we go to make the appointment, suddenly, we have a different vector, a different direction.

We can actually see the difference between what the experience is like when there’s an appointment versus an experience that requires us to wait in line. That is designing experiences. That’s what that difference is. You change the experience. This is really important.

There are those in our field who would insist you cannot design experience. I can show you how the experience is designed. I do that by mapping it out and measuring it, and then changing what we do and getting a different set of maps and measures. Experiences can be mapped, measured, and designed. It’s an intentional act. If we go around saying we can’t design experiences, we’re basically saying we can’t have intention. That’s not true. We very much can have intentions. It’s all about what do we intend.

Could you take the most awful experience in the world and improve on it? That’s the question I always get. What would be an awful experience? I don’t know. Taxes, could we make taxes better? Yes.


Jared: It sucks the letters off the form. Oh, Intuit.

It’s actually a brilliant app, it’s called Snaptax. Here’s how it works. You bring home your W2 from your employer, you fire up your Snaptax app on your phone, it takes a picture or you take a picture of the form, it OCRs the text off the form, puts it into a 1040EZ form, and after you’ve done that with all your different jobs, you press a button and say, “Submit.” and your taxes are filed. That’s it, done. You can fill out your tax form completely accurately in under five minutes if you have a 1040EZ.

It even checks to make sure the earned income credit is applicable and all of that stuff. It’s brilliant. It’s easy. It’s a much more delightful experience for the 60 percent of the Americans who file a 1040EZ.

It turns out that yes, we can do this. Here is the thing. It’s just an app, it takes a picture, OCR’s text, fills out a form, and files electronically. Intuit did not invent taking pictures, they did not invent OCRing forms, they did not invent filling them out, they did not invent filing, they just applied value to some place it didn’t exist before. That’s taxes. What about cancer?

This is an MRI device. It’s made by GE. This particular device is used in hospitals, primarily for pediatric oncology, which means a typical person who has to lie down in this device and stay absolutely still for seven minutes for it to work is a seven-year-old child who probably got something like leukemia.

Imagine being a seven-year-old child in the context of having been diagnosed with childhood leukemia. This is a context where every adult in your life is constantly spontaneously breaking into tears around you. This is a context where people are always on edge. Then you go into this really sterile place with these giant machines, this thing towers over seven and a half feet tall, and you’re told you have to lie absolutely still for seven minutes in this machine.

Look at it, it’s scary. There are Japanese anime movies that have machines just like this that eat entire planets.


Jared: Who would not be scared by this? Let alone a seven-year-old. What does a seven-year-old do? They cry, they scream, they grab on to their parents, they won’t let go. They will not stay still for the seven minutes required to get the machine to do its function, which means that 80 percent of the children, who have to lie down in this machine, have to be sedated. They have to give them drugs in order to get them to stay still for that seven minutes.

The guys who designed this machine, Doug Dietz, within the hospital, witnessing this happening, and say, “We got to be able to do this better. We got to be able to think of something else.” He went out and got a team of people, and they started to rethink the problem. They came up with a different solution.

They came up with this. This is the GE adventure series. This is the Pirate Cove model for Pirate Island. The way that this device works, the whole experience is completely different. In the kid’s experience doesn’t even start in this room, the another room down the hall, which is where the kid has to get into their lab coat for the machine to work.

It’s not your normal hospital gown, it’s a pirate outfit. It seems perfectly normal, because the technician is wearing a pirate outfit.


Jared: The parents were just given pirate outfits. Now, everyone is in their pirate outfits. The technician says to the kid, “You want to go on a pirate ship?” What seven-year-old is going to say, “No.”?

“Yes, yes, I’d like to go on a pirate ship.”

“Come with me.”

Then they walk down the hall in a dock, it extends into the hallway, and they say, “Stay on the dock, don’t fall in the water.”


We get on the dock, and the kid looks back and sees Mom and Dad not playing, “Mom, Dad, get on the dock.” Kids do an act, and then they come in, and the whole room has been intentionally designed. Every sense is tingled. They have lighting, they’re like a mirror ball that makes it look like bubbles are coming out. Then the walls are painted, and the machine is painted, and everything and all these little Easter eggs of cute animals and things all over the building, and there’s music playing, pirate festive music.

There’s aromatherapy. You walk into this room, it smells like pina colada.


Jared: Parents, almost every single one of them, feel exactly the same thing. They walk into the room, they smell the pina colada and go, “Pina colada, I could use one of those right now.” Everybody says the same thing. It’s intentional. That’s the thing. That was done on purpose, because as soon as they say it, the other parent giggles, and the kid picks up on that.

Doug Dietz’ team knew that they could get to the parents, they could get to the kid. If everybody’s giggling, joking around, it’s OK.

Then after they explore the whole room, the technician says, “Want to go on an adventure?”


“We can get in a ship. Then, if you want, you can try and see the flying mermaids. You want to see the flying mermaids?”


“Here’s what you have to do. You have to lie, in the ship, absolutely still. The mermaids only come out when it’s dark, and you’ll hear them coming, because they make a lot of noise, then you’ll see them. You want to see them?”


“You can’t move, because as soon as you move, you’ll scare them away. Can you stay absolutely still?”


They put the kid up the bed of the machine, they go into the control room, they dim the lights, the start the machine up that makes a lot of noise. The machine bed engages, it slides into the device. The scanner drum starts to rotate. On the scanner drum, they place little LED, and on the LEDs, they look like mermaids.

As soon as the lights come on and the mermaids start jumping over the kid, the kid doesn’t move.

“Stay absolutely still.” They say over the PA system.

The sedation rate has dropped from 80 percent to 0.01 percent. That’s design. That’s intention. That’s what a designer does. This is experience design.

Experience design is looking beyond the specific activities of buying something and going to customer service. It’s beyond the activities of sitting in the scanner and getting a reading. It’s thinking about the whole experience, everything in the gaps.

How do we make teams that can do this? Nobody knows how hard it is to get designers these days than the folks in Silicon Valley. They are struggling more than anybody else, because they got all these projects, all these things they want to do, and they know design is their competitive advantage. Everybody in the valley knows this. The little companies, the big companies, everybody knows this.

We see crazy things happening as a result, right? Facebook goes off and buys Instagram for a billion dollars. A billion dollars, they paid for a photo app. At a time when there were 36 photo apps in the iOS app store, 36 including a photo app that had just been released three months before by Facebook. Facebook decided, instead of investing a billion dollars in that, they would invest a billion dollars in this.

Why would they do that? Because they wanted the designers, they wanted the 13 people, primarily designers, who work for the company. It was cheaper to get them for a billion dollars than it was to try to hire them any other way.

We see this story repeating itself all through the valley. It’s crazy how much they are paying. Facebook, again, just bought a place called Hot Studio, 75 designers. They spent millions and millions of dollars on this studio, cancelled all the projects that weren’t Facebook projects and basically said, “You’re all Facebook employees now.” It’s nuts, and it’s not just the valley.

We’re seeing big brand businesses going after designers. In fact, our estimates right now is that there’s probably about 150,000 positions open for experienced designers across the US, 150,000. Just a decade ago, we were trying to explain why you should invest in any of these, and now, everybody wants to invest and they can’t find designers, because where are we going to get 150,000 designers?

For those of us who do this, this is the best time ever. It’s an old Chinese proverb, it talks about the best time ever. It basically says, “Be careful what you ask for.” because it might come true. Now, here’s our problem. They’re hiring us, they want to have designers. Can we actually do the thing they want us to do? Do we have the skills to do that? This has become the thing that I’m just crazy mad about, answering this question.

A couple of years back, we went out to try and figure out what do the designers do, what are the skills that designers have? We want to figure out, what are people hiring? What is it that they want? We focused on this thing, at the time, we were calling it experience designers.

What is an experience designer? An experience designer is about getting everything organized—getting the navigation, getting the content organized, that stuff we call information architecture. It’s about writing great copy, making sure that it’s persuasive, that it says what it needs to say. All the copy, the content, that we have is absolutely critical.

Experience designers have to work in this iterative process. We have to understand how to manage a process that iterates, that constantly is testing out ideas and going forward. On top of that, that means that we have to understand how to get feedback from our users, how to actually learn what we need, whether those iterations are working. We need to have really good user research practice.

There’s all these thing that happens in the design process, so we have to understand hos to make designs work, both on the micro level for micro interactions and on the macro flow and process level. On top of that, we need to take all these information and design it in a way that makes sense and get that data so that we can understand what it’s trying to tell us.

People often confuse this with visual design, which is not as much about the aesthetic but is very much about priorities, how do you make sure the most important stuff shouts its way off the screen while all the stuff you need later is right where it needs to be at the moment you need it.

Then on top of this, we also need to be able to decide what goes in and what stays out. Saying no is probably the most valuable skill a UX designer has, being able to say no to good ideas to make sure there’s room for great ideas. Curating and editing becomes a key skill.

These are the core skills that experience designers have. This is what the companies are looking for. What’s interesting is it doesn’t stop here, because those companies we talked to said, “We also need people to go into the field and talk to our customers and our users and our employees, and understand what they actually need to bring that back. At the same time, we need people who can quickly come up to speed on the field that we’re in.

If we’re making medical devices, they have to understand medicine.If we’re in financial services, you have to understand finance. You have to be able to quickly be able to talk that language and come up to speed on that. Plus, you need to understand how we stay in business, because if you start making design suggestions that are contrary to the way our business works, you’re going to put us out. You have to be able to make that work.

Then on top of that, we got all these data coming into the business, and we have to understand how we’re going to get inside from that data. We’re building all these stuff, and we have to explain the value of that stuff to our users. The technology that we’re building this on is constantly changing, but we have to have all that. Every thing we do cost money, and we have to constantly be asking for more resources, more money. We have to get the return on that investment.

Now, when we do design, everything is social. What happens is, is that you have to be able to deal with the fact that it’s no longer a person dealing with the machine but people dealing with other people with the machine just as mediator. We have to translate that into the instructions that we give the dev team who’s going to be able to implement on our intention. That means we have to understand how they design things and develop things and know their methodology. We have to know all these too.


Jared: I just read you a list, thank you. The list as performance part. I would love to tell you that this was everything. It would be absolutely wonderful to say this, and I thought it was. I really did think it was, but then we’re off to in the study over the last couple of years. Me and Leslie Jensen-Inman, we added this question into the study that, at the time, I thought it was just a simple question.

The question was, do you think of the best designer you every hired? What made them different than all the other designers you’ve ever hired. Everybody is, “I know exactly who it is.” The hardest part was getting them not to tell us the name of the person, who usually wasn’t the people in the room that we were talking to, of the best designer.

Here’s what we thought. When we posed this question, I thought they were going to say, “The best designer do magic with Photoshop layers. The best designer is awesome with responsive design break points. The best designer understands content, as well as design.” Because that’s what I was trained to think. That wasn’t it. No.

What was interesting was everybody we talked to, the dozens and dozens of hiring managers we talk to, told us the same list. The list started with story telling. The best designers can tell great stories about why they’re designing, and what it does. They’re great storytellers. The best designers are amazing at critique. They can receive constructive, affirmative critique. They can give constructive, affirmative critique. The best skill of all, was being able to bring people who’ve never productively done critique before, and have them participate in a critique process.

The best designers can take an idea in their head and render it, so that everybody gets it. Whether it’s on a napkin, or on a white board, or in a prototyping tool, or in HTML, or JQuery, they can get that idea out there quickly and fast, so people can go, “Yeah, that’s what we meant.” Or, “No.” The best designers can stand in front of their peers, stand in front of stakeholders, can stand in front of customers, and give a solid great presentation that gets to the point and clearly communicates what’s going on.

That the best designers can take a group of people and constructively get all the needs, and requirements, and conflicts, and edge cases, and all of that detail out of them in a way where they don’t even know that that’s been retrieved because it’s been a great process of facilitation. This is what an experience designer does. That’s a lot of stuff. I don’t know if you noticed, that’s a lot of stuff. So what happens?

If we were to get in our cars right now and drive 10 miles to the northwest of where we are right now, we would end up in Burlington, Massachusetts. It’s a lovely little villa. In the center of Burlington, is this massive structure known as the Lahey Clinic. On the third floor of the Lahey Clinic in a little office in the corner is this doctor. This is Dr. Steven Margles.

This is the guy you want to go see if you have some crazy issue with your hands or your wrists, because he is one of the world’s leading experts in orthopedic hand and wrist work.

Concert pianists who have smashed their hand in a car door and broken 42 bones come to him to get reconstruction that’s good enough that they can go out and play their circuit and do just as well as before. Tennis pros, who deal with repetitive motion strain, can come to him, get that problem solved, and go out and win championships. He is “the dude” when it comes to hands and wrists.

You know what, what’s cool about him? He’s the nicest guy ever. You can go see him. You can get an appointment with him. Unfortunately, it’s like a six-month wait, because he is up to his elbows in hands and wrists.

He works on a team—a team of 34 doctors, all of whom specialize in some part of the body, some part of the skeleton. They work on that structure. They are the kings of orthopedic surgery. The best in the world.

Here’s the crazy part, right? If we got in our car, and we drove ten miles due west, we would end up at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Massachusetts. A fine hospital. There, if we had a hand or wrist issue, we would see one of their orthopedic surgeons, but it wouldn’t matter which one we saw, because they’re all pretty decent. They all would do a fine job with whatever we’re dealing with, chance are. None of them specialize in hands and wrists, but that’s fine.

If we got in our car, and we drove 175 miles to the northeast, we would end up in Rumford, Maine, and in Rumford, Maine, if we get there on the right day, we’ll see the orthopedic specialist. But he’s only there two days a week, so the other five days, we’re out of luck. The dude who’s going to see us for our wrist issue is probably the same dude who, yesterday, delivered a baby and tomorrow is going to clear out an impacted bowel.

If you think about it, they’re quite similar. On second thought, don’t think about it.

It’s not because the people in Rumford hate specialists. It’s not because they somehow think that they shouldn’t have specialists. It’s because they can’t afford it. There just isn’t enough demand for surgical services to take someone who only does hands and wrists and have them work. Whereas at the Lahey Clinic, Dr. Margels has people coming from all over the world, he can completely keep busy at very high rates. They can pay his salary and then some for that work. It really has to do with economics more than anything else.

It’s the economics that lets him specialize, but not the dude in Rumford. But here’s the other thing to point out, Dr. Margels, when he learned how to be a doctor, he learned how to be a doctor! He goes to the same medical training that every other doctor, including the dude with the impacted bowel goes to. The dude doesn’t have the impacted bowels, the dude that’s dealing with the impacted bowel.

Well maybe he does, but that’s a different problem. He starts as a generalist, and then becomes a specialist. A specialist is someone who has more expertise in one particular area above all the rest. Whereas a generalist is someone who has equal expertise in all areas, they can be just as good if not better in those areas than any specialist. The only big difference is economics.

That’s the medical profession. In the design world, it’s a little different, because we actually have a third category. We had to give it a name. We call it compartmentalist. A compartmentalist is someone who’s only good in one specialized area, and everything else they throw up their hands and say, “I can’t do that.” Being a compartmentalist, is in fact economically career limiting, because organizations really want generalists, and only the best can afford specialists.

We can look at this, we can see what’s going on here. This is a picture of a brain aneurism from the Mayo Health website. What’s interesting about this image is just how much it communicates. If you have a severe brain trauma, if for instance you just collapse and you go to the hospital, and they diagnose you with a brain aneurism. Your life expectancy from the moment you’re diagnosed in that emergency room, is about 30 minutes.

That’s the timer they’re on. So the first thing they do is rush you into the emergency room. If you’ve ever dealt with a friend or family member that’s dealing with this? That’s where you get stuck, it’s like, oh my gosh, the whole emergency room has just gone into chaos because they’re putting together emergency brain surgery, right then and there. It’s crazy.

This diagram, communicates what’s happening in that situation better than anything I’ve ever seen. There’s no way, a paragraph of text would do nearly as good a job as this image. It does a fabulous job of communicating this. But here’s the thing about this diagram. It wasn’t created by a bunch of people, it was created by one person. That person, has really good visual design skills.

They’re a really good visual designer, they understand how to draw stuff. That person knows how to draw the human form. If you ever have done an MFA or a BFA even, you know that the human form is an advanced skill. That in fact, it is something that you have to go and study for a while. If you go to an art school, they don’t let you draw the human form until the second year. First year you have to draw fruit!

[audience laughter]

Jared: Because it’s really hard to do. This person, if you look at the spinal cord, the jaw bone, and the cranial cavity, this person knows something about anatomy. That’s not even in a bachelor’s degree. At best it’s a master’s elective. In many schools it’s not offered at all. This person also seems to know something about medicine, because frankly, understanding how an aneurism works and what happens when it ruptures, they communicated that quite clearly.

That’s basic medicine. This isn’t four people, one is the drawing person who passes it off to the human person, who passes it off to the anatomy person, who passes it off to the medicine person. This is one person doing all the work. This is a single person. This is a generalist. The same thing happens in our work, we call them UX generalists. UX generalists have to have all these skills. UX generalist is a funky term, so we’re just going with experience designer. An experience designer is the person who has to have all these skills combined, just like the person who drew that diagram. But now it turns out there’s another term that’s emerged for experience designer. People are calling them a unicorn.

[audience laughter]

Jared: They call them a unicorn because they’re hard to find, they’re almost impossible, they’re mythical in some states. I don’t believe they’re mythical. I believe unicorns exist, I’ve met them, and I believe that we can create new ones. Now I’m fixated with this idea of how do we make a unicorn? It turns out there are lots of theories. Adam Connor, who is presenting here later today, he has a theory that it’s a love child of a horse and a narwhal and it’s some romantic interlude.

[audience laughter]

Jared: But it turns out, that it’s easy to create a unicorn. In fact, I can make you a unicorn in five easy steps. Here’s what you do, just to go through this, explain this really fast, because it’s easy. First step. You pick something, anything. Maybe it’s visual design, maybe it’s information architecture, maybe it’s user research, something you’ve never done before, something you’re not good at. You go out, and you teach yourself everything there is to know about it.

Turns out that’s easier than ever to do. There’s online course, there’s books, there’s resources galore. UIE has a bunch of virtual seminars, there’s all sorts of things…

[audience laughter]

Jared: …that you can use to do this, it’s very simple to do. You can go off, and you can train yourself. Then you have to practice. Practice means practice. It means going out there, and right? The best baseball players in the world, the highest paid baseball players in the world. They go out every day and they just go into the batting cage and they swing at balls for hours on end.

Two, three hours, swinging at balls, that’s what they do. Ball comes, they swing at it. They do this between their inspections.

[audience laughter]

Jared: Their entire purpose is to practice. Just practice, practice. You can do that. You can just draw things, or practice your script or whatever it is. Then, you go off and you start to see what other people are doing. You start taking apart what they’ve done, and deconstructing it, and saying, “Why did they do it that way? How would I do it that way?”

You rebuild what they do, you learn their technique, and you understand what works and what doesn’t. What effect you get from trying all these things. Then you go find someone who’s actually decent at this, and you start showing them your work, and you seek out feedback, and you find out, what are you doing well, what are you doing poorly, what could you do better? And you listen to it.

Then, the last step, probably the most important one, is you find someone who doesn’t know how to do this and you teach it to them. Because you don’t really learn something until you teach it to someone. That’s it. Those are the five steps. This is how we make unicorns. Frankly, in my opinion, the unicorn is the most important innovation that we have had today.

This is how we’re going to meet that demand. It is so important right now, that we’ve started a project. I mentioned Leslie Jensen-Inman, she and I have founded something called “The Unicorn Institute.” This is actually a project to figure out how do we create unicorns on a massive scale. I don’t have time to explain it right now, but you can go find out all about it, and go to UnicornInstitute.com which I was completely amazed was available.

[audience laughter]

Jared: You can sign up to find out more about the program as we go. But we’re figuring out how to create unicorns across the globe at the scale that industry needs them to fill those 150,000 jobs. This is what I came to talk to you about. Design at its essence is about rendering intent. Experience design can be done by looking for the gaps and applying intention there.

Teams need both generalists and specialists, but it’s really the generalists that are most valuable right now. So getting our skills up, becoming unicorns, is key and you can do it, we can make everybody in this room a unicorn. It’s easy. We just have to make it happen. If for some reason you’ve found this interesting, you don’t for some reason follow me, you can go to UIE.com we’re writing up a bunch of stuff there.

We have a bunch of stuff on the unicorn institute site there too. My email is at jspool@uie.com. If you’re not following me on LinkedIn, please connect to me, because we need to talk. I want to find out more about what you’re doing, and what your organization does. Finally you can follow me on the Twitter where I talk about design and design education, and the amazing customer experience that United delivers on a regular basis.

[audience laughter]

Jared: Before we go out for the break, I want to take a moment and thank our sponsors here. In particular, I want to thank Vitamin T who has been sponsoring us for many years. If you are looking for talent for your organization and you haven’t talked to them, you need to go talk to them, because they are probably the best connected folks in the experience design world with talent.

If you happen to be amazing talent, and you haven’t talked to them, you should go see what they have to say. Because there’s some interesting things there, particularly if you’re ready for something new. I want to see you all at the reception tonight, 5:30 to 7:30. We’ll be done long before the game starts. Actually the game doesn’t start until tomorrow, does it? So long before the game starts.


Jared: But yes, find me and I’ll buy you a drink. Enjoy the rest of the afternoon. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for encouraging our behavior.