- Artwork by Eli Jorgensen
Dr. John Whalen teaches us what it means to design for how people think. He reveals the powerful principals behind what he calls the six minds of user experience, and explains how anybody can harness them to build better products (no doctorate degree required!). He reminds us that it takes serious research to reveal the deep insights that genuinely make our products successful for the user and the business. He also encourages us to understand that no one is more qualified than anyone else in solving unique problems.
John Whalen is the founder and Lead of Psychological Insights & Innovation at Brilliant Experience. He is an international speaker, and author of the recently published book Design for How People Think: Using Brain Science to Build Better Products (O’Reilly). John helps businesses use psychological research to strategically position their products, services, and marketing. He has a PhD in Cognitive Science and 15+ years of experience working in user research and product design with Fortune 500 companies and design agencies including Google, PayPal, Bloomberg, eBay, Cisco, Capital One, and Johns Hopkins. Little known fun filled facts: He’s camped North of the Arctic Circle on 12 feet of ice and he’s a green-eyed, left-handed Psychology PhD, making him (statistically at least) 1-in-a-million.
- Psychology and UX (5:04)
- Six Minds of Experience (8:48)
- Impact of Psychology (10:54)
- Acronym Cheat Sheet (16:03)
- Three Phone Numbers (17:08)
- Dark Psychology (25:21)
- Designing for Delight (31:24)
- Contextual Inquiries (42:50)
- Upside-Down Design (49:37)
- Design Superpower (56:09)
- Design Kryptonite (57:04)
- UX Superhero Name (58:43)
- Habit of Success (59:05)
- Recommended Book (1:08:02)
- Best Advice (1:10:38)
Jason Ogle: Today I have with me and John is the founder, I should say Dr. John, he is the founder and lead of Psychological Insights and Innovation at Brilliant Experience. He’s an international speaker and author of the recently published book, Design for How People Think. It’s an O’Reilly published book as well, and the subtitle is, Using Brain Science to build Better Products. It’s a great book and we’re going to talk all about it today. He also helps businesses use psychological research to strategically position their products, services and marketing. As I mentioned, he has a PhD in Cognitive Science and 15 plus years of experience working in user research and product design with Fortune 500 companies and design agencies.
Fun facts about John is, he’s camped north of the Arctic Circle on 12 feet of ice, brr. He’s a green-eyed, left-handed psychology PhD making him statistically at least one in a million.
So, welcome to User Defenders. John I just want to say I’m super excited to have you on the show today.
John Whalen: Yeah. Thank you so much. Well it’s an honor to be on User Defenders. It’s quite a show. So, I appreciate everything you’ve done over the years. So, thank you.
Jason Ogle: Oh, that means a lot man. Thank you. So, your new book, you wrote a book and I have really enjoyed reading this book. It’s super enlightening. I have my more recent study of behavioral science and as especially as it relates to design, so like I feel like this book was totally for me, and I know it’s for a lot of other people too, but I just really — I felt a connection with it and I learned a ton. Thanks for writing this book John.
John Whalen: Sure, well you know, it takes some work. I can’t deny that.
Jason Ogle: Oh, my goodness.
John Whalen: No, it’s — you know actually I don’t know if I ever told you the story of how I got to writing this. I was doing a South by Southwest talk, which was an honor as well and you know, I had the head of innovation from Wisconsin and all these cool people come up to me and they said, wow, this psychology stuff, we should totally have it in design and innovation and I love what you’re doing, and boy I wish I was a Psychology PhD too, so I could do it. Anyways, see you later, bye. And I was like, no wait, you can too. And so, my message about the interest in psychology was there but how to actually use it in your own work wasn’t, as much as I would hope and I assure you know, South by Southwest talk. So, really the goal with this was to say that yes, you don’t need to be a Psychology PhD and that there are a lot of ways you can apply this practically every day. So, so absolutely, I’m glad that you had the interest too.
Jason Ogle: Yeah absolutely, and this is really kind of nascent in our field, the marriage of psychology and design, it really seems — even though like design, like if you look from the very beginning of time design has always been psychological. It’s always been like marketing is highly psychological right. Like it has always been like that existence, but I don’t think the dots really connected as far as UX goes until more recent years. Like do you know like — how did this happen? How did we get here? What was sort of the origin story of this, like?
John Whalen: Interesting.
Jason Ogle: And I’m just kind of throwing that out at you.
John Whalen: Yeah, no, no, no.
Jason Ogle: This conversation is totally unscripted, I have a couple questions here, but we’re just kind of going off the cuff. So, I am surprising John with all sorts of questions already.
John Whalen: Yeah that’s great. So first of all, I’d say that, you know there are couple things that I think really helped us you know think this way a little more. And one was you know just literally the introduction the iPhone made people realize wow, how valuable it is to have good product design that’s actually really intuitive or more intuitive than what we had before, and also I feel like you know, a shout-out to the Nielsen Norman Group, and they you know for a long time we’re talking about this thing called usability and you know even before that you know, the sort of computer interface design kind of work that was you know, there’s a lot of that that goes on in like the military for how do you get like group dynamics to work. But translating into what we use every day, you know is something different, and I think that I would argue that those two groups were really instrumental in making that change. And actually, to your point too about designers, the way I introduced it in the book actually, and I would think I really believe too thankfully, is that there were many things that great designers do and I think they do it intuitively. They’ve learned over time, they just kind of know but there are other things that I wanted to make sure that they are aware of.
First of all, just be aware of what you’re doing to make a conscious decision about it, and secondly there are pieces of psychology that are so innate and that you don’t have — so for example, wherever you’re looking right now, you’re looking at some object and you just see it, And you’re not saying to yourself, hmm, I wonder where the light and dark is? I wonder if that’s a — those things together make a line? I wonder if that makes three dimensions? It just kind of happens. And so, I felt like one of the things I wanted to share with designers where there are many intuitions they had and we can try to solidify those, but also really get out this idea that there are so many things that your audience can’t verbalize because they don’t even know they’re doing it. You know it’s implicit to their life. And so — but we can look at behavior and kind of catch some of those things. So, it was really — even for designers that probably are doing a lot of what I would ask them to do, to let them know why they were doing that all these years and you know think about it, just in a little more systematically that way.
Jason Ogle: That’s fascinating. I think one of the really neat things ever since I really started diving a lot more into psychology and how the brain works, is that whenever something’s happening, like in an interaction for example, like when I’m talking to somebody, and maybe they do something or say something or maybe their body language, like I’m like understanding all of these things now. Like I understand why they’re doing that or saying that. I understand why I’m reacting a certain way, or what — for example like in negotiations, like the whole principle of anchoring which our wonderful mentor, Dr. Daniel Kahneman brought us to in Thinking Fast and Slow, right? I love that book by the way and I love how you cited it several times in your book as an inspiration.
So, bringing us into your book and how we can use psychology to become better designers, like I want to jump into sort of the six minds of experiences. Your book is really centered around that principle and I learned a lot about what those mean and how they relate to design. When you just — when you read those on the surface, without the context that you provide, you might just go like well, what does this mean? Like how does this relate to a product? You do such a great job of explaining that in your book. But I want to just kind of ask you, what are the six minds of experience, and why are they important to consider in the design process?
John Whalen: Yeah so, first of all, shout-out to anyone who has a neuro-psychological background or cognitive science and I apologize in advance. You know what I did is, I tried to make this sort of you know really something you could connect to without having it perfectly tied to say brain science and stuff. But I wanted to make it so designers could really get it. So yeah, the six — what I tried to say is this big notion of the book is that, when we have any experience like think about the best concert you went to recently, and you know in truth, there are all kinds of pieces to that, like lights, who you were with, what your emotion was, what your recollection was of the last time you went to a band like this, and you know there are all kinds of pieces. And so those six minds or what I argue is that, Truly a Brilliant Experience, the name of my company, is not a singular experience but it’s actually sort of multi-dimensional and multi-modal. And so, what I argue is that you have obviously a vision and intention component, so what draws your attention, what are you looking at, you’ve got a component of navigating around to get to where you need to be, whether it’s real or virtual space, you’ve got the words that you might use both you as the designer and you as the receiver, you’ve got ultimately decisions and things you’re trying to decide on that you’re doing, you’ve got all these emotions that are tied to you know, am I getting — is this the car I deserve, you know all these kind of emotional pieces that are attached to any decisions you make, and then all your memories. So basically, like what you were expecting you know hanging out in the car dealership to be like as an example.
And so, so really those are the six that there is sort of vision, way-finding, so moving around a space, language, decision-making, emotion and memory. And together I would argue that those are some of the biggest pieces to what you experience as a singular experience.
Jason Ogle: And I know you’ve done a lot of research and I really love the emphasis on contextual inquiries in the book and applying these six minds principles, do you have like an impactful story that you can tell us, of something that you’ve observed either in research or the success of a product using kind of these principles and like a psychology-based approach?
John Whalen: Yeah.
Jason Ogle: — in your design process?
John Whalen: Well okay, let me tell you a silly story that’s an example, but I promise to get us to the design side too. Actually, you know I am a small business owner, so I talk to my insurance agent who you know does sort of a yearly review of are you covered in the right ways, and he was like, how’s your pulp? And you know I instinctively like turned my hips and was like you know, how dare you to think about my pulp you know, and it turns out that’s an umbrella policy for your insurance right, and I had no idea. And I was like you know, don’t look at my pulp, that’s none of your business. And so, but it was an excellent example of like, well that language is totally normal to him and to me it’s like Greek and you know I’m like, looking at my body for where is the pulp you know, and is it out of place? And you know but — so anyway that’s a good example of you know a complete disconnect right, where you know if you designed it around this p-u-l-p and didn’t call it an umbrella policy, I would have no clue. And so that’s language, that’s you know one of those pieces and then you can see the emotion you know, immediately I was like completely not thinking about what he wanted me to and distracted and all those kinds of things. So, you know matching people where they are is one of the things that are so important.
Similar to that with language, we were working with the folks at nih.gov we helped design, and a piece of that is the — all the listings of things that could go wrong with you and you know a lot of those are very serious. And it turns out that you know we as humans tend to call them like you know a mini stroke and not a transient ischemic attack. And so, you know, no one could find things on that site because they were using this sort of you know common folksonomy kind of names. And so, what we did is, we actually did pair the — you know the actual thing like a transient ischemic attack to a mini stroke so that people could find things and connect the dots. And you know that the neurologist in that example hated it because they’re like, that’s not accurate. There is no such thing as a mini-stroke. Agreed, but we have to meet people where they are in order to get them to where we want them to be. So, I think that in many cases there is a translation between what the entity or internal group wants and what the you know mere mortal you know is thinking about.
And you know you mentioned buying a car. In those kinds of cases too, there’s so many situations where like well, I want big drink holders and I wanted to go 0 – 60 in 3 seconds. And I was like okay well, you know we’re going to pick one of those, we’re not going to pick two.
Jose Ogle: Unless you can afford a Tesla.
John Whalen: That’s right. I haven’t even checked out the drink holders. I will have to think about that. But my attention was not drawn there when I was sitting in one. Yes, so it’s really you know I think this comes true almost every time, whether you’re — And the other thing is I was going to say is, I very much want all of you who are reading this and thinking about psychology. You know to not only apply it to our end designs that we’re doing, but we’re selling this to our senior executives and their boss’ boss, you know what are they thinking about? You know I often ask people well what’s your boss’ boss’ bonus on? Like it’s high enough up that it’s like publicly available information. And you know most of the time they have no idea and I’m like, well if you design something that makes this guy or woman be able to hand this to that boss and you know they’re hitting their number, wouldn’t they be more receptive to that? And you know we all know it but we don’t think like that. And so, I want us to turn it both ways and so I argue that 40 percent of what I do is you know finding out what an audience or for a product or service really need and you know coming up with ideas for that, and 60 percent is understanding the organization so we don’t make shelf ware, we make something that really comes to life.
I think it’s totally applicable and it makes your even just satisfaction of doing your jobs so much better by having [inaudible 00:13:04] listen to you because you presented in a way that resonates with them.
Jason Ogle: Next time I go into — I’m shopping for insurance right now; the next time I go into the insurance agency I’m going to ask him how much of a cost to insure my PLUP. [Laughter]
John Whalen: What sort of PLUP do you think I should have? Yeah. Think I have the PLUP I deserve? Yeah.
Jason Ogle: That’s awesome. You know another acronym too is GOOB. That’s like GOOB. What the heck? Why are you talking about my GOOB? You know like if I have a bugger hanging out of my nose or something. It’s like, oh no, no. Get out of the building, get it out of the building. Oh okay. So, it’s like that’s another sort of reinforcement of the principle you mentioned of language. As you said, there are so many acronyms like when we go into a new workplace, like I must feel like that in every company that has more than — that has like more than 10 acronyms which most do, like I feel like they should be on one sheet, and if they can’t fit all the acronyms on one sheet then they need to take some away, and/or just pass those out in the onboarding. Like here’s a sheet of our acronyms. Read this over, study this and when you hear this, this is what we mean. Like wouldn’t that be helpful?
John Whalen: Absolutely. Yeah, I actually had one group and you know it was only because one of the junior people kept writing it down themselves that they wound up having something like that. But I’ve had you know dozens and dozens of companies I worked with and only one has given me that sheet and yeah that would be awesome.
Jason Ogle: Wow, memory. All of these things like, even as we’re talking like they’re just they’re totally reinforced by psychology and by psychological laws. Like Miller’s Law tells us that if we’re lucky we can retain seven plus or minus two pieces of information in our working memory, and that is totally tied into a user interface, it’s tied into how much content we have on a screen and I’ll be honest with you, like I strongly believe, the longer we live with our smart phones that number is going down. Because we rely so much on these computers in our pockets, we don’t have to memorize anything anymore. Can you even tell me three phone numbers that are in your contact list right now John? Do you have three phone numbers memorized in your contact?
John Whalen: I have memory — I have phone numbers that no longer exist anymore that you know when I was a kid, when I like [inaudible 00:15:14] phone number but you know that home has been knocked down, there is something else in its place. So, yeah times have changed. So not three useful numbers no yeah, it’s interesting and you know you mentioned Miller’s classic study from the 50s and it turns out that, actually in vision if you’re trying to keep track of things you can only keep track of three or four things in vision, unlike holding whatever and working memory and it isn’t more like sound or representational based. And you know, but the interesting thing about the Miller one that you’re talking about is, you can remember and we keep saying things and we’re very alike you know, it’s a terrible word if you’re a lawyer, right? What’s that thing? And so, and the point is that it’s like sort of entities or ideas. So if I gave you seven you know characters like you know, K L M D F Q R, you were trying really hard you can probably remember those, I’m not going to ask you do them backwards, it won’t work, but I could probably give you, you know FBI, CIA, NHL, NBA and so on, and you could remember seven of those and that’s 21 letters. And so, the point is that you can remember about seven things. So, if you get the right groupings that you can put together, you can be quite powerful that way.
So, I don’t think we’ve totally lost it yet. You’re right that we don’t memorize things like we used to but, the things that we do remember and through the memory you know, we always think of the example that you gave of lesser of working memory and if any of you are not old enough I want you to go back to the old Saturday Night Live to one called Mr. Short-term memory and so you know. And it is true, I have actually worked with stroke patients and other folks where you can tell them a joke, you can leave the room, shut the door and you bang it just a little bit so it kind of refreshes their memory, walk in you say, Hi I’m John. Oh, really, it’s nice to meet you John. He will have like no idea you were in there and you can tell them the same joke that you know they think is funny, and they’re like, oh that’s hilarious. And so — so anyway it is true that you know you really need that working memory.
But you know I want you to think of memory in terms of like all your expectations in the world and you can call them stereotypes or biases or lots of things. But you know, I give the example in the book because it happened in real life. I was a [inaudible 00:17:34] do you want to meet up? We had a hard day at work, let’s meet up for happy hour. And you know I was thinking of like you know this place that you know maybe — I don’t know, there’s spray paint on the walls and you know you get yourself a beer and we’re good and you know, the person says, well I was thinking of you know, a place that had like, you know neon under the counter that sort of glows and drinks with umbrellas that have like you know black — dry ice you know foam coming out of them and it’s like all very swanky. And you know both of us were thinking of the concept happy hour but we had hugely different expectations you know and one place you know, they wouldn’t know what a credit card is and you would expect to get you know wet with beer, and the other one you know is an entirely different circumstance.
And so really what is that expectation that people have about how things are going down and you know even a restaurant is a great example where there’s a restaurant on K Street in Washington DC where you go, you walk in and there are people sitting and eating but there’s nobody there. And I am like oh, okay. Well there are people eating, they must get their food from somewhere. And so, you know, you kind of — you see a tablet off to the right and you’re like oh you know maybe that’s where I order. I’ve seen you know tablets elsewhere to order you know it’s kind of like a lunchy kind of place, not too fancy. So, you know I did that and I was like, I wonder any of you got to pay right there too, and you’re like well I wonder when I’m going to see a human? And it turns out that they have a back wall that has these squares that have handles and they light up at different times. And like it lights up and it shows you a number on there and you’re to go to your number and open the door and there’s your food. So, you actually never contact a human in the store in the restaurant. And so, to my point you know we are expecting either like hey, we walk up and someone seats us and then someone comes and asks for a drink order and like you know. And then you can ask for the rest of your meal and then they bring it to you. Or you go up to a counter and you pay and they give you food and you’re done. And this was like just broke all those expectations, right?
And so how do you — what are those expectations people have of your product or service? And what are they — and this goes actually to you were mentioning designers earlier, and it was like, oh we really want to be different and unique and special and I’m not knocking them in the slightest. However, I’m saying that if we can match expectations to a certain level, we can build trust and gain confidence in what we’re doing and you know, help build a relationship where if all those things are so different, it feels so foreign that it’s very hard for us to get used to it. And I’m not necessarily like saying that you know bring back the flip phone, but I’m more saying that in some cases we want to start with their expectations and just you know move them gently from those to somewhere else. Like it would have been really nice in that kiosk restaurant that they had told me, hey you’re going to have to have a little video saying there’s going to be a door that opens up and like show me my number on the door and then I could have — oh, that’s what you’re talking about.
So anyway, I think that we have a zillion either implicit memories or they were just expectations like I talked about or like imagine today you know, you got up, you know you woke up and you probably sort of like you know, lumbered to the bathroom and brushed your teeth for example. You probably don’t remember like how you opened the door, or how you turned on the lights or you know, that so many of those things are automatic in memory that we use. And so sometimes I want people to — who are the observers, designers to see what all those things are that we don’t even think about and try to match some of those so you use all of that working memory that we need with the seven things for the things that I really need to do and not the like wait, there are doors at the back and there’s no humans? You know which is filling up my working memory. So, I want it to be used for the right reasons.
Jose Ogle: Oh, that’s so good. I was thinking about an emotion too and I love that you touch on that as well. Aaron Walter wrote a great book called Designing for Emotion I think and that — he touches on a lot of the memories that kind of happen when we make somebody feel something. But you — in your book you show like kind of the other side of what that can mean, what the implications are of emotional decisions that are — we’re being maybe pressured to make, while we’re being over stimulated, our brains are receiving a lot of cognitive load. Like you used some really compelling examples too. Like we touched on the car dealership, like how when you’re negotiating for a car, they — you know they — the person you’re talking to, the sales rep is talking to, will go back when you make an offer, he’ll go back into, or she’ll go back into the manager’s desk right, the sort of fish tank and you can see them in there and I swear, they’re probably just talking about sports or that last night score, they’re not talking about your deal. They already know what the threshold is that they’re willing to offer you, but they make you wait a long time and you know you want the car right. If you’re sitting there for over an hour you obviously want the car. Then they come back after making you wait 10 minutes maybe sometimes and you’re like feeling some anxiety, they come back and then they say here’s what we can do. And they have all these numbers on this page and then it’s like they’re pressuring — there’s a pressure right there to make a decision, but you’re not ready, you’re not emotionally ready, you’re over stimulated and like you used that example.
You used the example of casinos like I’ve been in casinos that totally made sense of why there’s flashing lights everywhere, there’s noise, it’s just constant bombardment and it’s because it’s a lot harder to make a sound decision in that environment. And so, what are you going to do? Like well maybe I’ll just play one more slot. Maybe I’ll play one more, maybe I am about to hit the big one you know. And so, it’s like all these decisions that there’s psychology behind this but it’s sort of the dark side, right?
John Whalen: Yeah. So first of all, you’re right on. Thank you for catching that in my book and so in your casino, there is absolutely a reason why you can’t see outside and they can’t tell you know day and night and like you know a sense of time passing and you know those are all because that’s optimal for them and not for you.
Jason Ogle: No clocks.
John Whalen: Right exactly. And it’s interesting, you know I think the other side to that emotional thing that I want to speak to is you know, I give — I think I give the example in the book but if I don’t let me — you know a lot of people say well you know that emotional stuff you know, I do internal systems for my company and you know what you do with emotions, you don’t have to worry about that stuff, we’re good. Let me put you in the shoes of the person that I’m thinking of. So, we were on Madison Avenue literally in New York City and you know, at a big ad agency and we’re helping the group that does — basically, it’s kind of like a Nasdaq system of buying and selling for video ads. So, if you’re CNN, you could sell a space for a video ad and in this case, we were the advertisers and they were doing the buying on behalf of like GE or other people. And so you know the one person that I met, I remember he was you know I don’t know like 24 maybe, you know he’s out of college and he got his first big sort of real job at an Ad Agency, it was like a cool place and it looked cool and he’s like yeah, I am on Madison Avenue, yeah I’m all that and a bag of chips you know, this is cool. I can tell my you know; my parents still help me with my money because I make a little money here.
But anyway, it’s okay. Eventually I’m going to be a big star in this world and you know it was like so much to his you know definition of who he was, right. And it was really cool that he was one of the cool kids and really cool he was an advertiser and so on. Anyway, so his job that day was to buy $8 million in advertising for — I think it literally was like dishwashers. I think it might have been for GE. And so first of all, I don’t know if you know but if you’re — if that’s your job you get in trouble if you don’t spend $8 million that day. But secondly, he was like, oh my God if I spend this wrong right, I put it in totally the wrong place, I just blew $8 million in a day. I only make like 40 grand in a year. You know like, they’re going to turf me to get another kid you know who’s 24 to take my place. You know so, he was like completely stressed out about hitting the actual buy button. You know he’s like looking all over and then like worried and of course it was an internal system so it didn’t give you a like, here’s your check out are you sure? It just said you know go. And so, he was like frozen and panicked and like oh my God, my whole self-definition of myself is going to be gone in an instant, if I just hit the wrong button [inaudible 00:26:03], this drop down it’s not quite set right and so you know, in that case completely internal system also completely emotional. And so, I think that it’s actually really important to see it for what it is in that way. We see that both in the internal space and just you know public space every day, you know who we define ourselves as.
I gave you — you know in the book the example. We work with Capital One on — they were trying to figure out what their next credit card was going to be in a certain circumstance. And so, you know we interviewed some people who were in this case it was like higher net worth kind of target audience, and we were just literally like hey, what’s it you know first question, what’s in your wallet? This card and this card and this card. Then I pretend to use this one, okay cool. Well what do you do on the weekends? Oh, you know gosh, I used to go out a lot but now I — like there is soccer practice and this and this and then you know a little further down, like what do you plan to do you know later this year? Oh wow, well you know I used to go with my husband to this thing but you know, I don’t know. I guess I’m just a mom but you know, I was a lawyer, my mom and my lawyer. Oh my God what am I? Anyhow, by the end of this hour we’re just asking them questions, I think we interviewed 40 people and I had like 18 hugs and like four people in tears, not because I was being cruel, because they were thinking about it right and they’re like what defines me? And it’s really interesting how in everyday life you can just ask people questions about themselves and not be in the slightest judgmental, but really hit on the core of what do they fear the most.
So, you were talking about actually Kahneman. So, Kahneman actually used to work with a guy named Amos Tversky and Tversky and Kahneman really thought that there were things you would lose are so much more a bigger loss than you know $100.00 loss is a massive loss and compares to a $100.00 win. And so — so knowing what people find as what they could potentially lose is really important to think about as we’re designing because we want to make sure that they feel comfortable in that way. And you know design the right way that they’re making the right decisions to your point about the dark arts with user experience you know, we can actually really help them to use that working memory the right ways and to help them know that they are safe in these cases. So, a little bit of just asking questions and listening goes a long way with this kind of situation. And it’s also — it doesn’t take a psychologist is just you know I was literally like, what’s in your wallet? What are you going to do next year? I like to call what I do advance common sense because it really is that.
Jason Ogle: What’s in my wallet? Nothing. This driver has six children. [Laughter] That’s compelling and there are so many things that were swirling around my head and I was getting lost because you’re sparking so many ideas here and thoughts. I was thinking about delight. There are two schools of thought here and you sort of touched on it a little bit when I mentioned emotion. This isn’t the stereotype but typically IT type folks aren’t as concerned about the emotional side of what they built or what they created. It’s more about like, does this work? Does this have bugs? Does this meet the requirements? It’s not — am I delighting the user? But then there’s the other school of thought and typically you know these two gangs — you know there’s a gang war sometimes right, there’s a fight about whether or not we should consider delight or how much emphasis and form over function and function over form, etc. Like should we design for delight or not?
John Whalen: Yeah, so actually one of my favorite projects I did was for a group where well and I really encourage everyone to do this too, where you know if you are the researcher, user experience researcher or take your pick on names, usability person or experience designer who has to go to get out of the building GOOB, I want you to bring a ride along. So, you ride along as one of the developers or one of the senior executives and they come with you and they you know — so we were in — so you get these crazy situations right. So, we were in Denver and we wound up going — and you know Denver, you know Colorado is a little more relaxed on policies marijuana and things. And so, we went up in some —
Jose Ogle: You’re preaching to the choir baby.
John Whalen: Some lower income housing which is fair enough, no problem. But you know the bottom line is, we wound up sitting on the floor in this place that like oh really smelled of like whatever was happening before we were there a moment ago, and it was actually the person you’re interviewing with the team they were fine, it was the mom that was like baked. And the poor teen was like trying to make their way to college to get out of there. But I think the point was you know, they saw wow when they used my app they are you know in this environment and they’ve got this old clunky phone. And the Internet is kind of shaky here and oh you know it’s noisy and you know. So, I think like actually experiencing that in real life helps those product owners or those senior executives like so much more be willing to you know work that little effort you know. So, it’s a product owner’s great example. They got a deadline, will get a bonus if I get the sale out the door by x? And you know we define x plus 2 weeks, do I want to do that? And having that firsthand empathy is really important.
I remember this one — and actually when we would report this back to the team you know we would discuss it or a coffee or something afterwards right to make sure they were framing it right. But anyway, I would mention like, hey did you notice them do this or whatever? Just to make sure they were so — caught everything but, I would get them to do the reporting back of what we found. So, we had a developer for example say, listen, I know you guys think this John guys like full crap. But seriously this is a real problem over here. I don’t care how many [inaudible 00:31:32] points it’s going to take, we need to do this guys. And so, there were men and women in the room but, either is just the way he said it. But I’m think the point is that you know, they were willing to play ball and it was just literally knowing. It wasn’t initially that they’re like, yeah you know well you know I do my typing and we’re good. You know I think that everyone is in it for doing right but they have to see it to really feel like wow, I want to take this bull by the horns and fix it. Because it’s not necessarily a problem in terms of requirements but when you see it in action, you’re like oh it is a real problem. And so, and that’s where absolutely I try to just get us doing the research, I try to get all the people doing it more and more we do video, we do things that are alive so they can see it streamed somewhere. And I think a lot of those cases of doing video and having people show up in person or having it where it’s sort of live streamed so there are other people watching, can be super helpful.
And actually, I can tell you it’s helpful in a completely different context too, more in the golden days of this kind of work, we’d go to a focus group center right, and there would be one way glass and so you got all the clients on the one side and you and the person you’re working with on the other, and actually I learned to check how soundproof is that glass, not because of my participating, but because of people on the other side would be like, oh my god, it’s Control F3, it’s so obvious. And so, you know, or we had these you know ridiculous things that would happen.
Like this one guy I was like — we were in Long Island and dealing with high net worth folks that had you know big, big accounts. You know we do all sorts of folks, we work with all sorts of people but he was like John, do you know how smart I am? And I was like wow, you’re — so of course I was like, Oh God where is this going, in my head, but I couldn’t say that out loud. So, I said you know I’m sure you’re very successful obviously and so you know ‘m sure you’re very impressive. You know there’s no doubt. He’s like, well John you know I’m really fucking smart. In the back I could just hear everybody cracking up in behind the glass, right? And I do you know a totally straight face like wow, yes of course yes oh wow. And so anyway — the only thing is you have to very much teach folks when you’re doing this and I think that actually there are — shoot I am forgetting his name just for a moment. But there’s one of the California researchers that’s done great books on war stories and —
Jose Ogle: Steve Portugal.
John Whalen: Yeah exactly, he’s a great guy. And anyway, one of his things is you have to be completely neutral and it’s really interesting how you have to be agnostic to like you know — I had the guy, I personally I’m not into — I’m Canadian so I’m not into guns as much and you know he was like oh let me show you this gun, oh no, let’s go in the basement I’ll show you some more guns. I was like great, so it’s me and this guy and all his guns. Yeah this is great. And he was just going to show me, he was just really proud of his guns. And —
Jose Ogle: He’s proud of them.
John Whalen: Yeah and you know or someone else was like, check out the [inaudible 00:34:27] under this hood. You know like rrrm, rrrm, like rev it up for me and black smoke is coming out of the back. But you know you kind of roll with whatever that person is thinking though, because what is in their head? How are they representing the information? What are they — what are the decision points for them? What’s emotional for them? You know and you have to get in their world. So, you know good training for this is you should ask all of your trainers for actually, restaurant budget. And they will be like what? Because I want them to go people watching, they need to sit out in their cafes and be like, what is that person thinking about right now? And you know you actually asked me the origin of kind all this stuff and I should tell you a little of how I got into psychology in the first place.
I distinctly remember, I’m going to have to find this person someday. But you know in grade 3 I looked over to the side and you know in class, you know just ordinary grade 3 class and there’s a person named Volda and that mean I didn’t think she was you know hard to my eyes, but I remember distinctly, what is in her head? What is she thinking about right now? What excites her? You know, what does she like to do? What you know and I realized wow, that’s how clueless I am, like I know literally nothing and then b, how interesting it is to think about what people are thinking about. And so, I think from a very early age I was sort of you know introspective about you know what am I thinking but also you know what’s in people’s heads and I think in part because I was so confused by their behavior because I wasn’t expecting it that clearly they had something in their head I didn’t and so let’s learn more about that. And so, I wound up from there you know taking psychology as an undergraduate and you know seeing these different experiments and all these kinds of things and just being really intrigued by what’s in your brain, and what goes on up there.
And you know even this mind, brain, body problem you know of like well, where is existence? I don’t know. And you know nobody else knows either. But I think that there’s lots of really interesting questions about you know what is the essence of a person, what are they — how are they thinking about a situation? How are they representing the information? What are the words they’re using? What decision they think they should be making even if it’s not. There are all these pieces that you can do as a designer, do a great service by really understanding that audience and getting in their heads. Because you know there are lots of things like well, we know we’re not the users, but you know there are a lot of people who are like, well I was a lawyer 30 years ago and I know you walk down into the stacks and then you do this and you know. They weren’t asking Siri a question about that and with that Google search result coming back.
So, I think that really seeing it today is really important and even if you’ve done user research in the past, you know we really have to keep doing it every 2,3 years to stay current on what’s changing, because it’s changing so much. Let me give an example. So, we asked a Gen-Z well you know they actually, they said mention, oh yeah well you know, one of our clients has a large search engine you probably could imagine and top 5 technology firm, and anyway they were looking at how Gen-Z approaches you know getting information, which is a perfectly reasonable thing for them to do. And like this one person like yeah, I mean we were in Atlanta at the time and they were going to go Houston to visit friends and they were thinking about where to go for dinner. And so, how do you think that they tried to find a restaurant? What do you think they did?
Jose Ogle: Google or Yelp.
John Whalen: Right. See those are pretty good answers for us old timers. So, what they did is they went to Pinterest and you’re like, Pint -what? So it turns out that — so it was — first of all they were like well I really know how to use the hash tags there really well, and I can find things that other people who [inaudible 00:38:11] to work and go to Instagram and see pictures people have taken and then I know these are people in my friend group or related to my friend group, they went to this restaurant. I can see pictures of the, you know scene in the restaurant, I can see pictures of the food, I know who they are so I know what they like and therefore I’m getting a very personalized recommendation. And it’s like wow, well that made all kinds of sense actually now that you say it. But you know, you and I didn’t approach it the same way. And so — they’re like well you can trust Yelp, this is full of like you know fake recommendations, you know reviews. And so, this was a way to steer away from that in a way to get to very specifically they wanted TexMex because they’re in Houston and they wanted this and you know the situation and not too expensive and they knew that their friends would be about the same in terms of price range. They made it you know — and it was totally sensible but it totally avoided these traditional tools. And so, the question is for all of your listeners, what are the ways people are totally not using your systems the way you wanted them to or an expected value that your systems have that you didn’t even know they have? And so, it works both — you know there are a positive and a negative to this. And so, this is where I find my work so interesting because we’re always learning and we always discover things that we didn’t expect.
So, they say, well done and you’ve done this a bunch of times. Why you don’t just like give us another one and the answer is because you know, I can absolutely help you search the stacks in a musty basement of books, but that doesn’t exist anymore. And so why don’t we when we try it what people are doing now? And so that’s constantly evolving with you know voice and other things, we’re finding it so interesting and actually I’ll give you one more with we haven’t talked about way-finding and I’ll give you a mix of way-finding and emotion.
Jose Ogle: That’s exactly where I was wanting to go next. But before you go there, I wanted to tell you, one of my questions I was going to ask you why you place so much emphasis on the importance of contextual interviews when gathering user data? You just answered that question. Because we would never know Gen-Z as looking at Pinterest for restaurants, unless you were with them. You wouldn’t know it, so you just answered that question. Thank you.
John Whalen: Yeah, I mean there are hundreds of really interesting things we found I mean I mean I think you can discover this too simply by you know, hanging out near a bus stop with teenagers and watching them or you have to go into I guess a — take your favorite I guess, I don’t know, one of those Chipotle kind of restaurants or you know it depends on your neighborhood you know, in an outdoor or a Toast right. But you’re looking for at the best avocado toast and so but, you’ll watch them use Instagram or no they would never use Facebook, so I am not going to mention that, but Pinterest or Instagram or Snapchat and it’s like and or You Tube and it’s like scroll, scroll, scroll, tap, scroll, scroll, scroll, tap, and one of the interesting things is —
Jose Ogle: Within seconds.
John Whalen: — is the reason why they’re doing so much scrolling is A, because your visual perception is fast enough they can do it. But B, there is no good equivalent of visual search yet in the world. And this is like the next big thing. So, if you want to be the Google killer, or you want to be Google and be the next thing, either way, this is like you know it’s really interesting time where search navigation is going to change with our video and audio and the ways we want to get that.
Like actually I’ll will give you one more Gen-Z example because you may not be as familiar with this, you may be and I’ll be oppressed. But if you’re looking for say just the perfect you know smoky eye for make up for you, it makes total sense that what they want is to see a picture of like the beginning and ending of someone doing that, they would like to see like super-fast like do-do-do, here’s all the things are going to happen in this video so I don’t have to wait through 10 minutes to know if I’m going to get the right thing, and then I want to go on. So, all these ways that you want to work with sound and visuals and cues that are quick, that make total sense, that don’t exist today. So, us in interface land and app land, there are these great opportunities. So, there’s actually spray paint in Montreal that says too many causes without a rebel. And I feel like we have all these opportunities to seize the moment with great, great ways to make better experiences for the ways people now work and live.
And my way-finding example is actually one more Gen-Z thing where I remember coming in, my daughters are wonderful and you know, and the one I’m thinking about is particularly mild-mannered and she came in and was like stomping on the floor like I could you know, like I was downstairs you could hear the boom, boom, boom upstairs and I went up and I was like man what — did she get like hit by the bus or did someone criminally mean to her? And she’s like, I can’t believe it dad, I can’t believe it. I was like what? What happened? And I am like, there was just some you know, horrible thing happened with you know, like someone being racially profiled or a police officer I don’t know what it was. Anyway, she comes out with it, Snapchat changed their interface and so it turns out that the way that she had learned to go you know swipe, swipe, swipe, or you know go this way for this was changed and it was because the person who was the CEO was like, we need to make this more accessible to people who aren’t just 14. And so, we’re going to make it a more traditional interface.
So, man, and that was because us as you know senior citizens who are over 25, we — it wasn’t intuitive to us how you navigate in virtual space there. And I think this is another case that a really interesting problem of how do you represent space virtually? Whether it’s on your Alexa or it’s on that. And so, in this case they changed the, you know interaction design such that space was no longer where it used to be. And so that’s what made her furious and if you Google this, you’ll find all these things eventually they put it back to the way it was pretty much, but they had to back pedal and back pedal and back pedal because it was like a mission critical Snapchat ending you know situation where they tried to do right by, here’s traditional user interfaces and because their audience was so used to this nontraditional one, it was too jarring.
And so, this is again where like let’s try things in advance of getting it and I don’t know what kind of research they did and thought it was a good idea but you know, it was really clear what strong visceral reaction that’s solicited. And that goes back to my like, maybe you should make things consistent with the way people are thinking they would be you know and change it in other subtle ways or change it gradually over time which is ultimately what they did. And that’s to keep up with those expectations and emotions and so on. So, it was really interesting to hear you know, all the things that could make her furious right, it was like the — it was the way they represented virtual space on Snapchat. So, there you go, that’s my story for the day on that one.
Jason Ogle: Yeah, I’m glad you brought that up because I was going to ask you that. My question would be what’s the psychology behind why only millennials can effectively use Snapchat? And so, you yeah, you touched on it but it’s like — I just — I guess you don’t really — it almost seems like a happy accident like, because the patterns that they established for this app are completely non —
John Whalen: standard yeah —
Jason Ogle: They’re non-standard patterns. So — but the thing is that, what they did by creating just these non-standard design patterns, they attracted an audience of young people who’ve just figured it out and loved it and I don’t get it because I’m not a Gen-Z you know, I’m a Gen-X. But I just don’t understand, like how does that happen?
John Whalen: Yeah.
Jason Ogle: How do just young people figure this out and get drawn to it?
John Whalen: Well it’s interesting you know and we all figured out you know that sort of iPhone or Android interface you know so we got there. So then actually, I was just busy telling you well you should keep things the way they were son and then here’s an example that was really successful but here’s why it’s — so let me try and tell you the difference. So, in this case what they did is they specifically were trying to get those dopamine receptors where you get people liking what you wanted and actually the reason for the interface style they had is that you can do it incredibly fast. So, you can get through a lot of — and they had you know the one thing they did above all else is streaks. So, I don’t know if you know about this. But you have to have a streak and if — once you get to the streak level, then you get this other filter and so on. So, you get all these rewards. And so, it’s all about they were masters of building rewards. And so, in that way they did exceptionally well and they made it super-fast to do and it was those two ingredients that made it work.
And you know in general, I think it’s true that you know I remember as a kid you know realizing once I took apart my parents’ stereo and realized that oh, it was a little harder to put back together than take apart, then you know we as you know young people are more willing to experiment and try new things. And so, I think that those three ingredients probably made that successful.
So, to the designers who are like John, you just told me to keep everything the same and now this totally turns stuff upside down that’s super successful? Yes and no. So, it was in the sense that a certain audience was successful with it, but not a broader audience, and that’s why they tried so hard to bring the broader audience in. And then also, once you establish a pattern, we want to gradual transition out of that one or else people will you know basically there’s “Mutiny on the Bounty.” So, we want to be careful.
Jason Ogle: That’s really great insight. When you try to please everybody you please nobody right? That’s kind of the thing it’s like, and we’re in a situation right now where I work, we’re trying to — we’re facing something kind of similar in a way where we’re needing to redesign one of our apps which is it’s kind of a game, but it’s like really geared at fantasy sports people. But we’re trying and those people — that’s a very special niche of people and they get it, they get — I’ll be honest with you. I played the thing I didn’t get it, I gave up after one time. But now it’s like we’re trying to sort of — trying to do the same thing where we’re trying to bring in more of a broader audience, because we have people — like a lot of people signing up, like to the very small percentage are actually playing it more than once. So there — obviously there’s a problem with that and I think maybe the problem is with our targeting. I think we’re targeting the wrong folks is what’s happening. Because the people that are fantasy players love it and they are in it and there are constantly on it. It’s just funny. We have a similar challenge yet for older people.
John Whalen: Yup, I think you’re right on and you know you actually touched on this like, don’t design for everyone or you will design for no one. You know I remember one group that you know are a computer manufacturer of like calculators and printers that you might think of. You know I came in with them and they’re like, so glad you’re here John. Okay, we’ve got 45 personas and we so don’t know how to do is navigation. And I was like absolutely right and the first step is to throw away 40 of your personas and then we’re going to get down to work. And so — and you’re right that you know, and this goes back to you know we make sure — one of the things we do too is to make sure we really, really, understand what the business model is. So, you know we’re talking about being User Defenders and I think a piece to that is this much bigger what makes our company money? What is it that you know — who do we need to draw? Why are we trying to draw people to this? And understand that perspective and then say okay, if that’s the case, then here’s our target audience and who we need to research and so on.
Actually, another little, not sneaky thing I do, but I think a really valuable thing I do that anyone can, is that I meet with each of the senior stakeholders individually so I can hear them say you know, Helen say, well Bob’s an idiot and Bob you know wants to do this. And of course, we know that’s wrong, we need to do this. And then I meet Bob and Bob’s like oh my God, Helen I can’t believe she wants — she’s got this idea that we want to do this of course that’s wrong. But there’s probably a commonality there right. And so if we can help to — and so again if you’re the designers and you’re being you know Bob shows up and is like make it this way, and then he leaves and then Helen shows up and says, make it that way, you know your design is going to be this weird mission — you know I call it a Franken design right, where you know, it’s this mismatch of I don’t know, it’s why you get to gosh, there is this horrible minivan I remember. I will remember the name later but anyway, it was like the example of why not to design by committee, but I think it was really speaking to this you know, let’s be targeted to our audience and think like them. And if we can agree on who the target audience is, then we can say okay great. We, Helen and Bob agreed to here’s the target audience. Now let’s go see what is in their heads and we’ll try to make you money using that. And is that okay? And they’ll both agree to that. So, I think that we can find that commonality in our — internally, so that we can design for this you know the right target, and not for whatever that senior stakeholder thinks.
Jason Ogle: Yeah wow. So yeah two examples of that designed by committee, like you mentioned the van but I would say like the Ford Pinto is definitely one of the main examples, when you put the engine in the back. Anytime there was impact, these things were exploding and catching fire. So that was a problem. And then the Winger Swiss Army knife. [Laughter]
John Whalen: Yes yeah.
Jason Ogle: Oh my gosh. Just Google that Defenders, Google Winger Swiss Army knife and you will see designed by committee. Everything but the kitchen sink is on the darn thing. So, John you have six minds of principles in your book here, the 6 minds process. And I have six special questions that I’d like to ask all my guests at the end of the interview here.
And so, the first one is, what’s your design superpower?
John Whalen: I think it would be that you know when we are seeing — so seeing a future product when there is none. So, like when we start to meet these target audience and like oh, what they really — they — nobody has asked me for this. But what they really would you know, what might be really valuable is this. And everyone was like wait, what’s John talking about? And they start writing stuff down. Somehow, I’m able to like — to see that. And we all get there but yeah, I find that comes pretty natural for me.
Jason Ogle: That’s a great super power. I love that. It’s almost like clairvoyance in there, like product clairvoyance.
John Whalen: Yeah, I think I am not perfect but yeah, I get ideas and so what I say is I get lots of ideas and you know one out of ten is a good idea and so yeah, we’ll get there.
Jason Ogle: That’s awesome. But you know you can’t get to the good idea until you get through the bad ones.
John Whalen: True.
Jason Ogle: — either. So that’s — I think that’s a great superpower and I may have biased your superhero name, I can’t wait to hear it. What’s your design Kryptonite?
John Whalen: You know I think it’s been and actually speaking to design, that last 5 percent of making you know polishing the product or the results stack or whatever it is. You know I love getting the big ideas out and I love getting as close, but that last polishing, dotting the i’s, crossing the t’s, I do it but it’s like, takes so much effort for me to get that last little bit out of me. So, finishing the book my editors at O’Reilly were very patient with me until they weren’t and then we finished it and that’s why we’re here today. [Laughter]
Jason Ogle: I appreciate your vulnerability there, like I think that’s a problem a lot of us have. And then there’s on the other psychological law of — called Parkinson’s Law, which is you know tasks will expand to the time allotted. So that’s why timelines are really great, they’re really important, but it’s also a way for us to go, oh I have more time for that, to get to that.
John Whalen: But I almost — don’t tell my team this, but I almost always give them less time than they really have so that you know, they would be like, this can’t be done in that time. But we have to. But they focus on the core, like the most important things. And then like, great news, we have another 3 days and they’re like, I don’t like you. And then they do great work, so yeah.
Jason Ogle: Yeah, 3 days for that last 5 percent.
John Whalen: Exactly.
Jason Ogle: That’s awesome and I love that that’s great and there’s another use of anchoring I think too.
John Whalen: Right.
Jason Ogle: That’s great. What would your UX superhero name be John?
John Whalen: Yes, so you know, this is why I’m not in the naming business. But I came up with Envisionater because I like — I think I could see what’s around the corner there so — in the future, what we’re going to need. So, you know this visual search tool or something like that so.
Jason Ogle: Ooh I like that, that’s good, that’s awesome. John, what’s one habit that contributes to your success?
John Whalen: Yeah you know, I think it came up before but I think it really is thinking like stakeholders. So, like taking the time to do user experience on your boss and your boss’s boss and so making sure we present things in a way that not just is like here’s the right thing we need to do, but here’s the right thing we need to do in words you understand that you find compelling. And so, I think that’s so — that taking that time is so important and I think that just naturally I try really hard to think about our stakeholders.
Jason Ogle: That is really good. I like that a lot. I want to try to adopt that for myself actually.
John Whalen: And I mean you know I would argue that it’s doing right by our user. So, you know it’s really if we want to do right by the end audience, we know what they really, really, really deserve, then actually not just telling other people this is exactly what they deserve, but telling them this is what they deserve and this is why you want to do it. Or even this is why you want to do it, we’ll figure out the details, we know what to do, you know. I think it’s just you know, you’re ultimately doing user-centered design by being very thoughtful internally in your organization.
Jason Ogle: I like that and you know John, I get this question quite a bit when people sign up for the mailing list, I always ask on the onboarding, I always say, Hey great to meet you, thanks for signing up. Tell me one thing you’re struggling with right now? And I that’s kind of one of my onboarding questions, and I can’t tell you how many times I get this question that says, yeah, my biggest struggle right now is trying to get buy-in for UX from the higher-ups, trying to get these folks to understand the value of UX, and I get that question a lot. And I actually — so much so that I actually have a canned-like email signature that I can that I can select to kind of try to help with that question. But I think one of the biggest — that basically the answer to that question is, what you just said, one of your habits is thinking like a stakeholder. And that means thinking about business. Stakeholders are concerned with business primarily, which makes sense because that’s why we have jobs. If there’s no business, there are no jobs for us to do. So, I really, I really emphasize, like try to think about the business and you said it earlier John, think about what’s the business model here, and figure out what that is. And there’s no better way to get yourself more exposed in the company than to meet with some of these stakeholders and some of these executives and say, I really want to know what our business model especially if you’re newer to the company.
John Whalen: Right.
Jason Ogle: Like I really want to know what our business model is, so I can really help move the needle, to use a corporate speak, move the needle right, and help to kind of make some growth happen here. So, I think really, it’s think like a stakeholder Defenders, like really understand the business aspect of what you’re trying to do and when you can incorporate that and even collect some data that supports your hypothesis, you are going to be able to actually get UX more front and center in your organization.
John Whalen: And you know I’ve also said people so it’s true that we’re a consulting company, we’ve worked with pretty big groups so we get a little — and you know it’s like Dr. John coming in. So sometimes I get a little bit of a free pass and getting access to people who are more senior than other people might, that’s true. But I think in many cases though, you know people don’t realize how sneaky I am in getting to the senior executives. So, it’s just one quick, quick, story.
Jason Ogle: Tell us your tactic.
John Whalen: So, one person I happened to bump into the head of this big group at the lunch room the one day, and I noticed oh it’s 20 after 12 okay. Anyway, it turns out this dude goes to and I’m going to tell you which company, but he shows up at the lunch bar with his security team because he’s that big a deal, at 12:20 every day, and so sure enough what a coincidence! There I am with my wire frames and bump into him at the salad bar. And so, I think my point — and then actually what did he do, he then told the press, this is what we’re going to do with these and which people are — where did you get these wire frames? Like — but I think the point was that you know, he was like oh that’s so interesting that you’re working on exactly the problem that I have told people that we’re going to try to address.
And so, it was a little bit of breaking ranks, but I think the point is that you can get access to these folks if you’re a little bit clever about it and so and I know that sometimes you are in Austin and there and Newark or whatever the case might be. But in other ways there are ways to you know send something to your boss that’s easy for them to share or you know, we always make sure that we have a like — here’s the top 4 things you need to know about our research this week, and there are like fun things right. And so, they’re easy to share and they go kind of internally viral because they’re like oh my god, I can’t believe they did that. And so, there are ways you can get to the end eventually, someone was like, I saw those things, you wrote those? Oh okay, let’s talk. And so, there are ways to you know finagle your way up, so don’t give up. They’re interested, they want — and the last thing I’d say is that you want us to just design on a 3-cappuccino epiphany? Or do you want us to have evidence-driven decision-making and do the research? The choice is yours you know if you don’t want risk, you know what to do, you can make the choice you know, how much you’re willing to risk you know your career, all of our jobs, you know go ahead, what do you want to do? And you know, when you put it that way they’re like well of course I’ll do the research, it’s like you know 4 percent of our budget and you know, and my wife’s vacation she’s been dreaming about is on the balance so — or my husband’s so — you know thinking like that person and representing in a way that’s like, hey do you want to — do you like taking risks? They are like, no I’m in business, I like you know, I follow the numbers. And I am like, what numbers do you have in this decision that we’re making right now? And they’re like, I don’t have any numbers, I guess I’m just trusting you guys. Oh, do you want to do that or do you want to like see if it works? Let’s try that Snapchat interface and see what they think of it? So yeah, I think they’re interesting ways you can do that.
Jason Ogle: So good, so many great takeaways in there John and I was thinking — I love how you said like how, what a coincidence that I happen to have my wire frames ready at 12:20 when I noticed that that’s when this person is in the cafe every day, like what a coincidence. Defenders luck is where preparation meets opportunity.
John Whalen: That’s right.
Jason Ogle: The bottom line right and so that’s a great example of that. And I just got to say like I’ve got a picture of me with Myspace Tom, I worked at Myspace in the good days in Beverly Hills California from 2007-2009, and I would see Tom around all the time around the office, you know standing at the urinal next to him and my — in fact when I first started, we were so — we had blown up so much that I sat in a hallway. They had like computers just in the hallway there and right near Tom’s office, and I remember one day Jessica Alba walked by to go to meet with him for like a movie promo or something, you know just like a normal day at Myspace. I remember I was in the cafe and they gave us a stipend of $50.00 a month which was a neat little perk, to use at the café. So, I was eating my Caesar salad one day and there’s Tom coming into the cafe with somebody an assistant or somebody like that. And I’m like this is my chance, I’m going to get a picture, I’m going to get a picture with Tom, and look, there’s a third person that can take our picture. So anyway, it just you reminded me like that’s one of my favorite pictures of me standing there with Tom eating his grilled cheese sandwich. That was just a little nostalgia there that you reminded me of.
John Whalen: So those people are just humans like you and me too. Like people get worried about they’re like the senior vice president you know, they still have to go to the bathroom. And so, not that I’m saying stalk them in the bathroom, but rather you know if they’re on LinkedIn, they published some news article like there’s probably something where you can gather like oh, they went to University of Honolulu, they probably like surfing you know. Like, so there are few little tid-bits where you can just get a little like, where they’re like hey, how did you know that about me and anything related to them suddenly is the right answer. So, to even asking the right question about things they’re interested in and letting them — the less you talk and the more they talk the more they think that you have — you are full of good ideas because the ideas actually come out of them and they have this source monitoring air, where they think it came out of you, and so let them talk. But there you go.
Jason Ogle: So good, so good man. So, in addition to your wonderful book Designed for How People Think, I want to ask you if you could recommend — because I’m going to recommend that book highly, Defenders pick it up, it’s really great, and just this conversation is just a glimpse of all the depth that’s in there. So, I highly recommend picking it up. There will be a link in the show notes. But John I want to ask you, what would you recommend if you could recommend one book to our listeners and why?
John Whalen: Because you mentioned Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow by Dan Kahneman, he does a great job at talking — so he is a, you know very scientific nerd and yet he writes beautifully for mere mortals. So, it’s I think that’s a great book. I’m going to give it but if you mentioned it, so I am going to use that for — I’m going to give you a different one. So, I want you User Defenders to think big. So, there’s a book called Digital Transformation by Lindsay Herbert and you probably never heard of it and that’s my point. So, you went back to Myspace, we all User Defenders used to be like, hey, do you put the okay on the right and the console the left or the other way around it? And then later we got to hey, can you design this screen for me and then hey can you figure out the navigation of this website? And then hey, can you help us with this customer experience? And my point is that, we’re getting to — and you were talking about talking to senior executives and our values, I believe our value is at the highest level of making decisions about how we should organize our company.
So, we can do, we are increasingly being asked wow, we have all these insurance products from this group we bought, this giant corporation, how do we make an experience for those end audience but also make it so senior executives can represent what’s happening in all these divisions we just bought? And so, we’re helping to redesign how this organization lives at that like big, big, big, design you know, not just service design or service design blueprint. And so, I want you to just never think too small. I want to think big about what you can do as designers because we’re being asked increasingly to design the system, and not just the experience. And so definitely my book, Design for How People Think, it was thinking about individual experiences at that level. But I think we can really think it that bigger level and when you’re done my book and thank you so much for mentioning it, I’d love you to pick up Digital Transformation by Lindsay Herbert. It’s not anything where you’d be super shocked, but it’s a nice way to put it all together. I found it super valuable when we started getting asked questions at that level of what products should we offer? How should we organize our company? How many divisions should we have? How do we get them all to talk to one another? How do we represent the numbers? How do we get people to input the numbers? How do we get people to present the same thing across our company? And it’s really — they are fascinating questions and I think those are questions designers have never got to chew on and that we’re getting. So, I want you to be ready.
Jason Ogle: Wow that’s amazing. I’ve heard of a lot of design books, I have not heard of that one. So, your assumption was correct. What is your best advice for aspiring UX superheroes?
John Whalen: I kind of blurted it out just now in saying thinking big. But I think the point there is we’re all learning you know. Some people are like, oh you know John, you can do this because you’ve got all these years of experience and blah blah blah. No, I mean I am desperately learning as fast as you are too and so — first of all we should keep learning but second of all, there is no expert in what we do. Everything is so new that we are all equally expert and granted I won’t try to build that way, but never feel there’s this notion of you know being afraid to do it because I haven’t got the training or I haven’t got the whatever. And I just want you to know that we are all trying to figure this out just in the same way that we’re all trying to figure out how to live as humans. And so, don’t ever treat yourself as, oh I shouldn’t ask that question because I don’t have the knowledge practiced. I want you to take a shot not that you might not have to learn a ton and buy a bunch of books and see a bunch of videos, but don’t be afraid to tackle the challenging problem, even though you’re quote unquote more junior, because we’re all just as junior on exactly that problem. So, you are as good as anyone else that’s solving that problem.
Jason Ogle: So great. I love it John, I love it. We’re all pioneers that’s Sophia Prater told me that when we were talking recently. We are all pioneers. We are all creating this as we go. There’s no right, quote unquote right way to do this. It’s very contextual. This work is very contextual and you have great examples again in your book about some of the stuff you would have never ever learned unless you were there, unless you were in front of the people using this thing you’re designing for, and you know watching their eyes move, watching their context of what they’re doing when they’re being asked to do something. And like, there’s just so much to this. So, I love it John. Thank you so much again for writing this great book. Thanks O’Reilly for publishing it and John thanks for your time here today. This has been incredible, Dr. [inaudible 01:08:56], I defy you to read any personal growth and psychology book without his name being mentioned, and [inaudible 01:09:05] I defy you. But he mentions and he studied greatly the study of what he calls flow and I just feel like this whole conversation like we’ve just — this has been a flowing conversation and the time has just gone by, it has just been amazing. I’ve learned a ton so I just want to thank you so much John for your time and for your generosity and last but not least, I want to say as always fight on my friend.
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