Tools + Frameworks

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.

Tremis skeete - the Product Agent: Managing Ideas on a Product Team

My journey to product management was not what you might expect, but then again, maybe you would. I studied accounting and computers in high school. At 19 I got a job as a computer technician and by 21 I was a computer science major. I then got a job on campus as a network administrator.

Three years later I became a web application engineer at a startup that built software for military and private industries. I redesigned the internal and public web properties and was promoted into my first “product leadership” role. I became director of communications, leading the development of intranets and web applications.

From Startup to Enterprise

A job at a startup means a lot of responsibility. I found I had to be creative, open-minded and motivated to work outside my job description to succeed. Challenges aside, I enjoyed the close-knit teams and easy access to upper management which enabled quick decision making. So you can imagine the culture shock I experienced when I took a graphic designer position with a large technology organization in New York City.

A Foundation for Data-Driven UX

At ProductTank NYC, Lindsay Silver talked about the challenges of blending the inspiration of fashion and taste with the guidance offered by huge amounts of hard data at Conde Nast, where he is the Head of Data Technology. Specifically, he walked through an internal data product for that leverages UX data to support creative and commercial decisions, making it easier to build digital products. This talk highlights some of the technical specs of their product, as well as the “data usability” factors they discovered and the requirements for an effective UX data infrastructure.

Conde Naste has a staggeringly huge number of users, and a huge number of interactions with each of those users, which obviously generates an overflow of data! Different teams in the organisation have used various 3rd party analytics tools, and they generally work okay . However, those tools are ultimately general tools, and having data in 3rd party repositories slows down the process of getting the data the teams need and doing the exact analysis they need. So, the team decided to built a custom data framework to solve the specific media product challenges they were facing. Going into this project, they knew the data systems would need to be SMART:

  • Scalable – able to expand gracefully
  • Malleable – flexible enough to grow and fit future needs
  • Accessible – Simple enough to be used operationally, and granular enough to answer specific questions
  • Reliable – Exactly what it sounds like!
  • Timely – Provide data in a reasonable time-frame, for a reasonable history, at a reasonable granularity.


Adrian Franks is a design director and creative strategist at IBM, where he worked to design and develop the Creative Toolbox, helping designers and product managers familiarize themselves with the various tools available to prototype and create new products.

Adrian spent about 20 years as a creative professional, and 15 years in the digital space. He was the first in the nation to be awarded the Graphic Design Journeyman and has worked on various Fortune 500 and 100 brands and companies.

What is design?

Adrian explains that IBM has recently taken the initiative to expand their creative team, because the world is heading more and more towards digital experiences. He defines design as the art & practice of planning and projecting ideas and experiences with visual and textual content. He quotes Thomas J. Watson, saying that “good design is good business.” This is still very true today. Design solves problems; if something is designed very well at the start, it won’t require redesigning in the future, and therefore won’t lead to resources being wasted.

Adrian states that the overall notion of design thinking is to understand and have deep empathy for the end user, which leads to powerful outcomes. When designers develop that empathy, they typically start to explore ideas, then prototype those ideas, and finally reevaluate whether or not the ideas actually work for their end users.