Jim Kalbach is a respected author, speaker, and instructor in information architecture and UX strategy and currently Head of Customer Success at online whiteboard business Mural. His latest book, Mapping Experiences (O’Reilly, 2016), focuses on the role of visualizations in strategy and innovation and in this talk from ProductTank New York he discusses the roles and duties related to mapping experiences.
Flipping the Equation
Jim quotes Steve Jobs as saying in 1997: “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology – not the other way around.” This was how Steve turned Apple around – he took the software development equation and flipped it. His statement is still true today.
Steve Jobs’ statement was something of a wake-up call to product developers, but it wasn’t new. In 1960, economist Theodore Levitt stated, in an article called Marketing Myopia, that “an industry begins with the customer and his needs, not with a patent, a raw material, or a selling skill… The industry develops backwards, first concerning itself with the physical delivery of customer satisfaction.” Switch “customer satisfaction” for “user experience” and you have something that could have been written yesterday.
What happened in the 40 years between Theodore Levitt’s article and Steve Jobs’ speech? The answer is fairly obvious, says Jim – the market became very one-dimensional, focusing solely on profit. Businesses need profits to prosper, but when a business is optimizing profits at the expense of almost everything else, there is no room for growth.
Now, the market is shifting and the sights are back on user experience. Businesses are realizing that in order to maximize profits, there first needs to be an excellent user experience. Jim compares this shift in business thinking to Copernicus’ realization that the Earth revolves around the Sun, rather than the universe revolving around the Earth.
Start With the Experience
Jim’s first step towards successful strategy is this reversal in thinking. You need to start with the experience, and figure out how to create value from there.
He quotes Michael Porter’s article, Creating Shared Value: “Figure out what your product is and what your value chain is. Understand where those things touch important social needs and problems. If you’re in financial services, let’s think about ‘saving’ or ‘buying a home’ – but in a way that actually works for the customer.”
Jim believes that we can use visualizations as tools to help us reverse our thinking. He refers to a diagram created by Norwegian digital strategist Sofia Hussein. It is an ecosystem map of behaviors around buying a home and features behaviors such as selecting neighborhoods, deciding on a budget, and selling old homes. Visualizations such as this help teams to visualize the value that is being created on a broader scale.
The equation of this visualization involves an individual with a particular need and an organization. The area that those two overlap is where value is created. Examples of this equation already being put into visualizations include customer journey maps, experience maps, service blueprints, mental model diagrams, and ecosystem models. The point of visualization is to get everybody on the same page. You don’t only need the external view of the customer experience, you also need team alignment. You need everyone in the organization working towards the same goal.
Visualizing value creation can be used to shift perspectives and gain team alignment. Diagrams are simply a catalyst for conversation. They are something that everyone can look at and collaborate on to really figure out what it is they are building and to get a common picture of the company’s goal. That conversation can then lead to innovation and creativity. It can lead to the co-creation of not only products, but strategy as well.
The Act of Mapping
Jim’s last point is about mapping. When you map experiences, focus on the verb (mapping), rather than the noun (map), and involve everyone in the organization. Collaboration and cooperation are keys to success, and conversations start from actions.