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Ep13. Customers Know You Suck with Debbie Levitt

Career development Design leadership & strategy Featured featured-podcast Podcast Process

Debbie Levitt⁠, MBA, a CX leader focused on strategy, research and Human-Centered Design/User-Centered Design. She’s the author of a recently published Customer Know You Suck book which covers actionable CX strategies to understand, attract, and retain customers.

In this session, we discuss her book, the tech industry dysfunctions, how UX professionals are being gaslighted and ideas to correct the course for designers and tech teams alike.

Listen to the episode

Also available on all major podcast platforms and Youtube.


Vy: know most things of like, tell me your story or something like that are like tricky and some people are might not value it. But to me, it’s like, I, I love to know how people get into this. ’cause they also, I know how passionate you are about like, everything, customer experience, but there has to be almost like an origin story to, to, you know, to you as a, as a UX hero or as someone, hopefully a hero and 

Debbie: not a villain origin story.

Um, yeah. Uh, I think that, I think if people are really looking for the origin, then the origin has to be in childhood. I mean, I, I was the kind of kid who was asking questions. I had a tape recorder when I was four. I was constantly interviewing people. Um, I was the type of person trying to solve problems and my father and most of my family were lawyers and they were good lawyers, you know, not your stereotypical lawyers, and my father always taught me, how do you, how do you Help a situation get to a point where everyone feels like they’ve won something.

Like this is like, like it shouldn’t just be this person against this [00:02:00] person and one person takes all. Like, how do you find the best compromises where possible? Um, how do you have the best conversations where possible? How do you ask the right questions? And so I think I was just lucky that for whatever, certainly negatives my childhood had, cause I’m not going to paint it as idyllic and running through a field of flowers.

But, but intellectually, I had a good childhood. Emotionally, another story. Intellectually, I had a good childhood where my family really inspired critical thinking and questions and, and pursuits of truth and what is truth. And so I think that for, for the person people hopefully see me as today is really just the natural outcome of that type of environment mixed with the personality and.

Talents and intelligence or or lack thereof depending upon how you see me that that I was hopefully born with 

Vy: I, I can remember myself, for example, where I was looking at, you know, I always love to draw, let’s [00:03:00] say, and not to kind of take it on on myself or kind of, you know, give you my back story or, or anything like that.

But I remember I was looking at this printed magazine and it was about like digital design. I think it was something to do with web design. And I was impressed that people could craft like digital experiences or just design stuff and actually make a living. This is like decades ago. I don’t even remember what time was.

And that’s where I was kind of like, okay, this is what I want to do. Like, did you have like a very specific moment where you said, okay, UX could be it? I was one of those 

Debbie: people who was doing UX y things before I knew what formal UX was, because, um, I went to university for pre med in music. Okay. And so I wasn’t really thinking about UX.

And then in my third year at university, I dumped the pre med. I said, ah, I don’t want to spend, I wanted to be a laboratory researcher. And I just said, ah, you know what? I don’t think that’s right for me. I’ll dump pre med. I’ll [00:04:00] just keep music. I’ll figure it out later. And so I have a degree in music. And so you always know when someone’s attacking me on LinkedIn and they’re out of ideas, cause they usually go into my LinkedIn, they see the degree in music and they come back and they go, well, you can’t be very good at UX.

You have a degree in music. And it’s like, What? Um, that, that, that’s not going to stand up well to critical thinking. Um, so it was really, what really influenced me was once I dumped the pre med, I started taking psychology classes for fun. And so I was taking all of these psych classes that ended up being what influenced me the most when I started shifting into.

work, um, after university, I worked in the music business a while in New York City, and then I got out of that cause I thought it probably wasn’t a good long term place for someone who didn’t smoke, drink, or do drugs. And, um, and I think I was right though, though, for other reasons as well. And so, um, I, after my music business years, I started a little web design company because I wanted to help people.

Businesses strategize their, [00:05:00] their marketing, you know, what, what, what at the time we thought of as marketing. And now we say, well, hold on, that’s, that’s not totally marketing. It’s also UX. So at the time I thought of it as, this is your face to the world. It’s your website, it’s your online presence. So it’s your brand, it’s your marketing, it’s your, uh, business strategy.

And so I was strategizing with businesses, mostly smaller ones, but then in my second year of business, we got some really big customers and, So from there, my web design business grew and grew, but we always tried to bring to it the perspective of what I’d learned in psychology classes, which is how are people going to perceive this?

How are they going to parse information? So I wasn’t really including users at that time because I didn’t have exposure to formal UX, but eventually I figured, I learned about formal UX and formalized my process a bit more, a lot more. 

Vy: You described, I think, as marketing and psychology and a lot of other commercial bits.

Do you feel like this maybe is what gets us in trouble in a way? Someone who’s listening and I’m sure is [00:06:00] going to be plenty, like probably more than a half of listeners is going to be someone who’s trying to break in and or transition to UX and perhaps they’re just inundated with so many different signals or so many things to do.

And the easiest thing. Is just to focus on UI or like pick up a tool like a Figma and call it a day of everything else. And I feel like that’s where like the reality of UX is so much broader. Maybe we’re kind of like, because we’re so broad with what we, what we need to do or want to do is really causing issues for us.

Debbie: So unfortunately, I think it’s the natural progression. We have what I call job A and job B, and job A is always going to be that more strategic job, more problem finding, problem solving. We tend to put service designer in that bucket. Sometimes we put researchers and designers in that bucket. But when we think about UI designers or people who say, I just need to learn Figma, I think of that as job B.

Very [00:07:00] often your coworkers are not coming to you saying, I Solve this problem. And those are the jobs I used to get. I used to get, Debbie’s here, give her the problem. And I got to solve it however I needed to do that. Now people just say, Oh, this is a designer. They’re here for branding and making things pretty.

And they use Figma. And so tell them your idea and they’ll just make the screens. And while that requires creativity and some knowledge of UX and accessibility and psychology, and it’s best done when you, when you have those skills and that knowledge. In many cases, people just want to see that someone knows how to use Figma and that reverts job B back to what you and I might remember as production designer, not product designer, production designer.

And production designer was someone who was great at the tools, then Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. And someone could say, Hey, we need this marketing graphic, or, Hey, we need this screen or whatever. And while that person was creative, They weren’t necessarily finding or solving [00:08:00] problems. And so the problem is that we’ve been on this slide for probably a good six or so years, especially since the bootcamps kind of became popular around 2017.

That’s where I tend to put some of, of this stuff that, that, that’s when I saw things starting to slide and change. And it was more like, Oh, we just need someone who’s going to make this pretty and wireframe the stakeholder’s idea versus. Oh my gosh, we need you to come in and solve this problem. Just freaking solve our problem.

We don’t want to think about it. Go. Boot camps are, are difficult because they are still quite predatory. Um, boot camps are still using the same marketing language from 2016 that there are more jobs than people. So hurry up and learn how to do this, even at the most basic level, cause there’s a job waiting for you.

And now we know that that’s completely turned opposite. That now we have tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people think they want to get into UX and the old promises are still on the website. Whereas there’s now [00:09:00] hundreds of thousands of people more trying to get into UX than there are jobs.

And so the, in short, the way that I explain it to people is if you thought you were getting into UX because it was stable, it’s not most of, we lost 70 percent of our jobs in 2023 due to layoffs. They’re gone. So it’s not stable. If you thought you were getting into UX because it’s high paid. It’s not, our salaries have been going down the last few years.

Um, if you thought you were going into UX because it’s a fun, wacky job where you’re going to play Twister and run games and do lots of workshops, I hope not, cause that, that to me isn’t UX. I’m not too sure what it is, but it’s not UX. And some of, even some of that is falling out of favor now. My question to all the people looking to get into UX are, Why are you trying to get into UX?

Because it is a thank, often a thankless job with, I think I’m in my first not thankless job now, and I’m 52 years old. It is often a thankless job, um, with a lot of conflict [00:10:00] and, um, and you are often blocked from doing all the things your job description said you would do. So I, I just tell people who are looking to get in to Have that good talk with yourself and look at what do you really want to do all day?

What do you want to work on? What types of situations do you want to have? Because if you’re looking for something lower stress, UX probably isn’t it. Um, if you’re looking for something that is more stable, It’s probably engineering. I think we’re going to, I think there’s more respect for engineers than any other job.

People feel like we can cut UX, but we still need people to code this thing. Um, even though engineers do get laid off as well. So, you know, you have to ask, and that’s going to be up to the individual. Why are you looking for this job? 10 years ago, it was fantastically stable and we were very well paid because there were fewer, you know, Qualified people than jobs.

But then bootcamp started throwing mostly unqualified people at the job. And now companies think a UX [00:11:00] person is this barely qualified low level person cause that’s what companies started hiring. So that, that’s a, that’s just kind of a weird long term effect. So I don’t want to go, I would say edit this to pieces because this is, you know, this is stuff people might already be hearing, but the jobs aren’t there.

No, it’s important. The money isn’t there the way it used to be. And we don’t know what the future of these jobs are going to be because of companies continue. And I think this is something you wanted to talk about anyway, but if companies continue in the direction of not caring about quality, not caring about users and customers, or we could say not is probably too harsh, barely.

Rarely, mildly, slightly caring about users and customers and outcomes. If it’s really just going to be how fast can we do things and deadlines over how good could this be or a good balance between the two, then UX jobs are not going to see an increase in [00:12:00] respect. They’re not going to see an increase in.

Pay, we’re not going to see a lot of new UX jobs being created. We’re going to continue seeing, and maybe we don’t need these people. Maybe the engineers can make the screens. Maybe the product managers can interview people. Maybe a business analyst can decide how this looks and works. And so I think it really comes down to how much does the company or team care about quality and outcomes, because we used to have it where there were no UX people and the developers made screens.

And then everyone said that kind of sucked. And so we brought in. Experts and specialists. Now people claim they act like they want to go away from that. And they want to go back to just have, just tell engineers what to do. And I say, that might be fast, but it’s unlikely to be good. And we’re all, I know this is again, strong, violent American slang, but we are all victims of, of the crappy products and services that companies put out because they want to be fast and cheap.

So we hate using this stuff all day [00:13:00] long. We want to. Cancel stuff and I’m, I’m fighting with companies all day long. It feels like, I don’t know about you, you might feel like you’re constantly in at least one support chat. I think I’m in four right now waiting for them to write back. Stuff is not good.

The quality isn’t there. There’s, there isn’t the attention to the user experience there. I can’t even, I can list all the companies I’m fighting with right now. And they’re all companies you would know. And it’s ridiculous. Why? Because they think they can, they can, you Get away with it because Debbie’s still here.

So it must be good enough. And we continue these cycles of mediocrity. So I think as long as mediocrity and failures are things that are celebrated at companies, UX, problem finding, problem solving, accountability, and outcomes are going to be lower on the list, sadly. 

Vy: Yeah, I’m, I’m with you. I think there is a few things I want to double click file.

The last thing I think is the easiest to also add to, but I think also [00:14:00] the, I guess customer experiences and, and even service design is very skewed towards churn these days. So whereas I have an, a really good example where I was trying to negotiate my car insurance. Where I just said, Hey, I, you know, I, I’m not driving, take me off of a policy and we’re sharing it with my wife.

And the company suggested me cancel it and recreate it instead of passing the ownership to just simply my wife. And I was like, 

Debbie: I bet it was the commission of the person on the phone. I bet the person on the phone makes a commission if they create a new policy. That would have been my natural guess. But of course I’m guessing, 

Vy: but they were very happy to do so.

And when I said. Yes, cancel it. And I went to a different competitor, but it felt very, very disconnected, you know, where it’s, uh, they just seemed quiet, happy. And I was like, That’s very different because I, I couldn’t have imagined this happening even a few years ago where companies would tell you, Hey, we can offer you something or, Hey, we can [00:15:00] support you with a negotiation to keep exactly.

Yeah, it’s, it was a bit more caring. And to me, it seemed like, okay, there is, there is this network of almost like a self fulfilling actions and outcomes and companies almost used to. Losing their customers and then attracting other customers who are not happy from the other companies. Um, 

Debbie: we cover this in my book.

If I can just plug my book a moment. Customers know you suck. We cover this. So we cover the whole idea that in many cases it has to do with how the internal workers are incentivized. If internal workers are incentivized. to save V as a customer, then you start negotiating with him and you start saying, Oh, look, we’ll, we’ll happily keep your wife on the policy and we’ll take you off of it.

And Oh, by the way, we have a special discount for the next three months and let us apply that discount. That was the old days of that. Now people are incentivized in different ways. Sometimes customer support, especially over email and support tickets, they are paid by the email or by the response. And that’s why we sometimes feel like, why am I in the [00:16:00] longest conversation in the world that is slowly crawling towards anything that will someday help me or not, I just had a crappy conversation with, I’ll just name it, NVIDIA, who makes my video card because I’m having a problem updating it.

And the response I got back from the person was, we sometimes make chips for other companies. I said, it’s got nothing to do with it. I have an NVIDIA card. And so. I go, aha, this, and then I learned this from the customer support person, or I interviewed for my book. I didn’t know this. Some people are paid by the email.

So it’s in their best interest to string you along for a longer conversation or, or stuff. So we have to take a look at how people are incentivized. And even within our product teams, sometimes the product manager is incentivized or their performance is judged by deadlines. So we don’t care about. Out process, outcomes, even outputs.

We just say, did we meet the deadline? Did our sprint go well? And we don’t even look at longer term stuff. It’s an [00:17:00] extreme short term ism. And I think for your particular one, I would have guessed just from having thought about these types of things a lot and asked myself critical thinking questions, I would have assumed that the person on the phone makes more money in seeing you cancel as opposed to.

And start a new policy where they get a sales commission for having sold you the policy, then for the customer retention metric of having kept you as a customer. So it’s where people are incentivized. And right now there’s a lot of, let’s just say poop that’s being incentivized. Yeah. 

Vy: You know, my, where my head went to immediately was that, that’s very myopic policies and just that service design itself.

Which is super specific. And it’s clear that, you know, um, all the agents you interact are probably offshore, much cheaper as well, labor and all the other questionable practices, you know, which is just basically contributing to bottom line. But I thought, okay, they probably designed this policy, which has no flexibility.

Oh, we have a guest. 

Debbie: We have a special [00:18:00] guest. Yes. This is Olivia the dog. Oh, hey. Hi, I’m home. I’ve been walking around doing my own thing. 

Vy: Nice. Yeah. But it just seemed to me like, you know, it was a script almost, but I guess there is always more. There’s always more to that picture where if you, I guess, look at broad enough or deep enough, you might understand that there’s other factors.

Debbie: That’s part of why we talk about UX Air. Olivia, go do something else. Now she’s got my headset. Olivia, go do something else. Thank you. And that’s why we talk about, Oh, UX needs to speak the business language more. And UX needs to understand the business more. And I say, you know, that’s not a bad thing. And I think that if we did, we, your conversations like this would go very differently within our companies.

Cause you would say, how dare these people, they didn’t care that they lost We as a customer, blah, blah, blah. I’ve got a story, I think, in my book where I talked to a company and I said, look, you know, our NPS is terrible. Our app ratings are terrible, boop, bop, a beep. And, and we’re [00:19:00] losing B2B and B2C customers.

And their, their thought was our sales team is so great. They’ll just find us new customers. And so if you are more business minded, which is part of the reason why I got an MBA for my master’s degree, rather than going for a UX degree, I felt like I UX. I mean, I knew the business stuff too, but let’s make it official.

I think that if we understood this more, because we do tend to see it from our perspective of how could they not want to keep me at a customer as a customer? Look at this user experience. Look at this customer experience. And I say, cool. Now, look at it from the perspective of. The business, someone thought that if they canceled you, they were going to sell that new policy and probably got rudely surprised when you said, and seen, you know, like, and thank you.

Goodbye. I think I don’t have my clapboard anymore, but anyway, and seen goodbye. So they were taking their chance that they were going to make that sale. And the company says, we want to see new policies written. We want to see more sales. We want to see more conversions. And they thought, Ooh, I’m going to make all those numbers today with, [00:20:00] with this guy.

So we, I think looking at things from the perspective of the business will explain a lot more to us and it could help us have some of those internal conversations where we say, look, we get it. We know you want to convert and sell and whatever, but if you incentivize these reps this way, then you end up alienating some good customers who just wanted to.

Who wanted to stay. You wanted to stay with this company. Yeah, 

Vy: absolutely. I was happy until, until I got that slap, you know, in the face, because quite frankly, to me, that seemed like a simple change, even if I was the creator of a policy, you know, let’s change it. But again, you know, it’s just one of those examples.

Like I want to double click on that, you know, this broader look. Which UX certainly needs, and it doesn’t matter what flavor of UX it is. Is it customer experience, service design, however big or small you’re going to skin it. You kind of need to consider so many things. And I think what ha what has been happening lately, at least in my perception is that.

Designers almost are themselves doing that [00:21:00] production type of work and kind of limiting their view. And I think it’s maybe to do with what you mentioned with engineering, which is super predictable. You know, what you’re going to get to an extent, you have a certain skill sets. You have a lot of languages, a lot of skills.

I’m not going to even do justice defining. I feel like maybe And just maybe a lot of the design leaders took that as an example to kind of say on one hand, I don’t want to fight this fight because it’s very hard to fight. On another hand, we have almost like a blueprint of what engineers do and they’re quite respected.

And on a, on a, I guess, as a third item, you kind of van are squeezed in, in a business and you can do just enough to, I guess, to get a paycheck. And it’s almost like a self fulfilling again, loop. Where the more of that you do, the more of that you’re going to be expected to do. And I feel like, like, where do we find that change?

Or like, how do we even pull back? Like what, what is your thinking behind? Because I’m sure you, you’ve thought about that even [00:22:00] more than I have. 

Debbie: Yeah. And I’m making some notes as you’re talking. So if you see me looking down and writing, it’s like. So, you know, I, I wrote like, did leaders emulate engineering?

I personally think not. I think that it was more that there were a lot of books and methodologies coming out in the last, especially 10 years, cause we’re talking in 2024, would that really just be the case? Pushed speed, like, Hey engineers, you’ve been too slow. You need to go faster. Hey companies, you’ve been too slow.

You need to go faster. Hey companies, look at these cool startups. Don’t you want to be more like cool startups? And, and you’re so, you could be so fast and so innovative, which is total theater with most companies are not innovative and startups tend to fail over 90 percent of the time and go out of business.

So I don’t know why we want to emulate them, but I think it was less about emulating engineering and more the pressure all around us to. lower the quality of our work so that it could go faster. And that really comes from a misunderstanding of our work. But we saw this on the broader scale because we saw [00:23:00] a lot of big companies reduce or fire their R& D teams who traditionally weren’t even CX or UX.

They might’ve been service design, but they were typically your scientists, your researchers, your futurists. You had a team of people who were going to define the present and the future. And people said, ah, that’s too slow. These people want to research for months. They’re not lean or agile. Get rid of them.

And there go some of the best minds your company probably had. And so I think it’s more been the, the wave of. Of let’s just do things fast and who cares if we get it wrong? That’s kind of fun and cool, which of course they don’t teach you when you’re getting an MBA. They do not teach you failing as fun and cool.

They teach you failing is something to analyze and fix. But for some reason we keep telling each other in books and, and stuff. Failing is fun and cool. And Hey, just try again, just come up with another thing and try again. But I do think we have a bit of a self fulfilling loop in, in the UX space where, um, we [00:24:00] started hiring into UX jobs, a lot of people who really didn’t do UX, they were really more on the visual or brand design side, and they were more of using at the time Sketch and later Figma.

And what happened was a lot of us who were doing UX, maybe even you, depending upon your age, we were like, well, this really isn’t the same thing as what we do, but those people were calling themselves UX designers as well. So probably, I don’t know, seven, eight years ago, I started calling myself a product designer.

I said, well, I must be a product, if they’re a UX designer. designer. I must be something else. I’m a product designer. Um, and so we started using that term and then the people who were the visual and brand designer said, no, I’m product designer too. And so we, we are being chased by these people who, who don’t really do what we do.

They do something important. I’m not putting them down, but I’m saying we shouldn’t have the same title because we don’t do the same thing. I’m not an artist by any stretch of the imagination. No one would mistake me for an artist. I’m a [00:25:00] terrible artist. And so you don’t want me doing your UI design or your visual or your brand or your design system, that is absolutely the wrong job for me.

I am firmly in the job A bucket, as I call it, the service design, problem finding, problem solving through research and design, but not through design. visual design. And so I think that we still have that split. And I think it’s important for each practitioner to know where their strengths are. My strengths through job A, when people have tried to put me in job B, it’s been a disaster for everybody.

They think I suck and I think they suck. And so I also tell hiring managers, take a look at who you really need. Do you really just want an order taker who are going to make you the screens that you’re asking for? Then interview, make sure you’re interviewing for that personality and someone who feels fulfilled by accomplishing what they’re being asked to do.

to do that’s a different person than me who feels like, don’t just tell me what to do, give me a problem and leave it open. And so I think that’s where it’s on our [00:26:00] hiring managers and interview process. But you know, I put out a video about this like five years ago, like I’ve been saying this for a long time and it’s something that doesn’t occur to people that they’re so busy looking for Figma or can you talk to customers that they haven’t stopped to think about the personality and whether people are more rewarded or more likely to.

Take orders or, or follow instructions or just make what the people are asking for, creativity included, or not want to do that and want to be told the problems. Like, again, I’m so lucky at my current job, I am given the problems and the questions, and I’m being told. Find that out. Yeah. So my current job is, is as a lead UX researcher and I’m being told, we wish we knew this, we want to make a decision around this, find it out.

Vy: Amazing. Yeah. And I feel like, you know, not, not to interrupt you because I know you. Oh no, I can talk forever. Please interrupt me. It’s kind of like, um, I had actually a podcast session, which likely is going to go after this episode, you know, as it happens, [00:27:00] but it’s, uh, Cal Thompson from. Headspace, um, they are a VP of UX.

I might, you know, botch the title, but, but basically, uh, uh, research and design leader. And what we discussed was, I guess we kind of reminisced off old times or old enough times where you would have. Again, a UI craftsman, you know, what I would call like a, like a very proudly. So someone who just smashes out of the park, the actual interaction design and, and you know, the, the, everything to do with what we now like try to automated design systems and everything, but actual craftsman, which, which is always needed, you know, like brand is everything and the interaction touch points are everything as well.

But then you would have this. Counterpart, which, which I think you are also describing, which is the quote unquote UX architect or someone who’s basically, uh, [00:28:00] balancing out a bit, but production side with a more strategic thinking side, if we should be doing, or what should we doing basically. Um, and we basically just discussed that most teams are still, I think prefer teams or, or that type of UX capability is still preferred capability because you still need someone to do.

Research. You still need someone to synthesize the signals. You still need someone to Companies don’t 

Debbie: think so. Again, if you’re going to dump your R& D team, that’s a big statement. And a lot of companies think we don’t need that long research those people used to do, just run a survey and validate what we think.

And so again, this is why it come, it’s, it’s beyond us. That’s why I don’t want to gaslight UX people. people and go, you did this to yourself. You made yourself look like you have no value. No, this was done to us. We are people with a process. When the process is done well, it’s not short. It’s not hours.

It’s not days. It’s usually weeks and could be months depending upon what this project is. But the [00:29:00] problem is, uh, companies right now want fast over good. And we’re all about good. We’re, we are quality over speed people in a world of speed over quality. So there’s a mismatch there, which means, you know, those of us, especially those old school versions of us, or the new school people who follow the old school people, then like my online community definitely wants to do UX.

The right way and as full of a process as possible, my community usually doesn’t get just do it in a workshop for two hours, people that that’s who I attract, but companies want, what’s the fastest this can go. And I’ll say, but I can go fast, but that doesn’t mean it’s good. And they go, that’s fine. We’ll figure it out later when we, when we experiment with it.

And I go, but that’s not even solid business thinking now. And so to me, None of this really adds up. It’s all incredibly risky and wasteful for companies. And my question is, as we used to say, who’s minding the store, you [00:30:00] know, who’s looking in on this and saying, wow, that team wasted half a million euros last year on wacky crap and bad decisions.

We need to have a talk with that team. This doesn’t happen. So there’s no incentive to be better because you can’t be in any trouble for being the best. Not good. 

Vy: Yeah. But to, to an extent though, I want to challenge you a bit on that, that I guess, and I’m paraphrasing, but you said that, you know, this basically happened to us, I guess, or like, you know, there’s again, you mentioned already obsession with fail fast and fast, you know, there’s like, there’s no risk.

And it’s by the way, it’s very easy to. Have no risk or fail fast if you’re playing with someone else’s money. So that’s where I think, you know, a lot of startups kind of started that way. Both ways of working where they have investors money. It’s, you know, it’s that easier to spend that way, but to, at what point do.

We take accountability, I guess, or like we push back as well, because this is [00:31:00] something I’m, I’m wrestling all, all the time. Um, and, and, you know, it’s, I think a lot of, I guess, people in design and research who are put in design leadership roles, they have to figure out like, like, to what extent do they push back or to what extent do we try to correct the course, to what extent do they try to influence that?

Like, what is your kind of thinking behind that? Like, where do we actually draw the line? And. Especially if we want to correct the course. 

Debbie: Yeah. So we’re not going to correct the course by waiting. And I find that there’s something weird about UX people. They tend to wait for something better to happen. We had a lot of books come out in the 2010s that really hurt us.

And we said nothing. We didn’t go leave these books, bad reviews on Amazon when we should have. They’re books that people generally told me were crap and ridiculous and bad methodologies. And who is even this person? person writing it. They haven’t worked in UX in years or whatever. Which books? Sorry. Are 

Vy: you able to put some fire [00:32:00] on 

Debbie: it?

Uh, let’s circle back to that later. But my point is we, we’ve tended to be very mild and we’ve tended to say, well, let’s just wait for what’s going to happen next. But we do that too much. We’re, we, we wait for everything. We keep waiting for somebody on a white horse to come and fix our problems and save us.

And so I think that it is up to our leadership to be pushing More. A lot of leadership tell me I can’t push more. They won’t listen to me. Blah, blah, blah. Well, then you have to ask some serious questions at your company. How are you a UX leader? And they’re not listening to you about UX matters. They’re not listening to you about UX team composition.

They’re not listening to you about UX process. What is going on there that you are in a position of leadership in in title only where you are not. able to have any effect. Now, some of this could be the way the leader is having those conversations. I’m not saying the leaders are always saying and doing the right thing.

And sometimes leaders don’t want to have those conversations because in an environment [00:33:00] like we have, when you and I are talking in early 2024, they’re afraid of losing their jobs. They’re afraid if they are the squeaky wheel, that they’re going to be among the next layoffs. And so maybe I should just say.

day and tap dance along and say yes to a lot of things. But the problem is we, in UX, we’re constantly gas lit to be, and again, I have an article coming, it’ll be out by the time you put this out probably. Um, and it is called, hold on so people can Google for it. It is called UX, stop believing the gas lighters.

And, um, we are constantly told this is our fault. This is our problem. We’re not a team player. We’re not this, we’re not that. You’re slow. You’re this. And we’re, we’re just set up to fail and I don’t expect a lower level practitioner to fix that. They can say something if they feel like they have the personality or the environment where they can say something and they should be raising it with their manager, but if we don’t have a manager, who’s going to back [00:34:00] us and, and push, then that’s it.

The whole house of cards has fallen. What do we have? Or if we’re in a company that says UX. They’re, they’re nothing. They don’t even need a manager. Have them answer to the director of marketing, have them answer to a product director. You know, as soon as we have that, we are disempowered and I’m trying to tell companies everywhere, whether or not you agree with me or my methods, take a close look at how much you are disempowering the company.

People with CX and UX titles, because once we’re disempowered, it’s very hard for us to make a change. It’s like telling a margin, a person from a marginalized group, pull yourself up. You know, it’s, it’s okay. It’s not equivalent to that. The people in the marginalized groups have it way worse, but it’s, it’s a microscopic, microscopic, unfair comparison, analog where we’re, we’re Super misunderstood, super pooped on, super disempowered, minimalized, circumvented, overruled, [00:35:00] belittled, and then told you did this to yourself and given no power to change that.

Vy: You see, I’m on the side that we did do this. To ourselves to an extent because it’s so much easier to, to not fight and you know, that meme as well, where, um, 

Debbie: The dog in the room on fire. 

Vy: No, well, that is a good one too, but the other one is it’s two worlds, two paths, and there is a designer in between. And one is basically leads to the promotions and doing well, and it’s basically.

Doing what PMs ask to do, like basically doing blind, you know, production work about kind of asking why or questioning and the opposite side is actually doing UX as, as all the UX richness could entail basically, you know, at least doing the user research at the minimum. Um, and it’s, you know, it’s again, gas lit and all the other factors basically.

So it’s like two paths you could take. And again, I don’t want to never wanted to point fingers at anyone [00:36:00] because I’ve been in those situations where. Sometimes you just can’t fight like, you know, in, in certain areas, you just don’t have the variables to fight. Um, and it’s so much easier just to go with a flow.

And even in your book again, which I want to also dig into it by way, you know, like you added this. Specific screenshot of the Reddit, um, I think it was PMFo, it wasn’t the designer, but it’s, it, it 

Debbie: 22 where the PM was basically saying like, why am I even bothering? Why don’t I just do what stakeholders ask me to and I’ll collect my very high paycheck and whatever.

Vy: Yeah. And it wasn’t in rhetoric. It was actually, the person was saying. No, it seemed sincere. I’m, I’m doing this and my life is like a breeze. Um, so that, that’s where I’m coming from. Kind of like where, you know, it’s. Like a lot of the people naturally going to default to the easy and that’s where like, we like, like my, I guess, goal right now is like, how do we spark [00:37:00] the ideas, the momentum to actually make a change and actually stand up to it?

Because I feel like the actual UX is again, you know, it’s trailing off, like we more and more. I think democratize as well, what UX is, um. 

Debbie: Which I’m against, as you know, I think that the, the answer to a lot of these come from business focused conversations. And that’s what I’ve been trying to do for years, rather than don’t you understand UX and UX isn’t UI, you know, I, I don’t die on any of these hills.

In fact, where I worked, they started calling what I did UI UX research. And I was kind of like, I thought to myself, that isn’t a thing, but I’m not going to say anything to these people yet. I like these people and they just. think that’s the right term. Why should I blast them? And over time they noticed I didn’t call it that.

I called it UX research and now they say UX research. And so, you know, you don’t have to blast people over stuff, but I think that this comes back down to having business conversations. Well, the conversations I sometimes have with companies who are [00:38:00] asking my advice is I say, tell me about some of your goals that aren’t being met.

You tell me about your business goals. Uh, we’re not getting as many customers as we want. Our customers aren’t staying as long as we want. Uh, we, we want our customers to be happy, but our NPS is so low and getting lower. Okay, cool. Now let’s expand on that. What else is going on? And, and so I ended up having more of these business focused conversations that eventually get to user and customer experience, but we start with what’s going on here.

And so when you’re on a team and the team says, okay, we want to, you know, the, the people above us have asked us to create more conversions, win more customers, and so we need to design some things that are going to win more customers. As soon as something is unethical or deceptive design, And if nobody cares, create risk documentation.

A lot of people say to me, I’ve never heard of risk documentation. Yes, if you have a good project manager, they’re supposed to have risk [00:39:00] documentation, but so many teams don’t have project managers anymore. So, Go ahead and create risk documentation. What’s the risk here? The risk is that by doing something unethical to create conversions, what, what are the possible outcomes?

We could see short term wins and long term losses. We could see higher complaints to customer support, which costs us money. We could see customers downgrading or leaving when they don’t want to play the game, like you didn’t want to with your insurance company. We could see blah, blah, blah. You have to start showing companies, look, we could do this.

We could. Do a little deceptive design or do some funky things or AB test this page 9, 000 ways until we make people do what we want. But there’s also another way, which is to figure out what would make people naturally want to spend more with us, buy more, do more, come back, license more, whatever it might be.

What if we understood better? Cause we often end up in that guessing lasagna. We don’t know why people do or don’t do things. We guess it, what they need or what their [00:40:00] problems are. Then we guess at the solutions to those things. And we guess at how we’re going to make them do stuff. So I say, have these business focused conversations with people instead of, I don’t think users will like that.

Yes, you’re right. And I’ve given you a whiny character voice, even though you’re right, but that’s the way other people hear it. And so what if we say, unemotionally, um, what are the risks of, of going In that direction, can we document some of the risks? Can we run a future perspective? Can we do a risk mitigation workshop?

What are the possible risks of, of, of, uh, these changes? What are the possible risks of A B testing a page for months until we think we’ve manipulated people into doing something 0. 5 percent more, what’s the risk there? And so, We are not, we are too short term in a lot of what we’re doing. And I think that one place UX people can have better and different conversations is to just take the perspective of the business.

Will we waste the business’s [00:41:00] time and money in cycles of guesses? Will we burn customer trust and make them need our customer support? More with crappy decisions and crappy features and half baked products that were minimally viable, that is going to cost our company money. This is where I tell people, look at Lean Six Sigma’s costs of poor quality.

This is very business headed stuff, but it’s very rational and easy to talk about. And so I think that. We can say until we’re blue, users won’t like that. That’s not good for users. In general, people don’t believe us. They feel like we’ll believe it when we see it, you know? And then my question is, what would we need to see?

You know, every project should have success and failure criteria. Plus all of our KPIs. How do we know this project was a success and it was worth us doing it? How do we know this project was a failure? Failure. What are some things that we can look for that tell us we shouldn’t have done this, or we need to undo this and people say, well, we’ll look for our AB tests to fail and I’ll [00:42:00] say, okay, but then what will let’s, let’s be strategic planners.

Now. Let’s say our A B test fails. That means, that means, first of all, let’s talk about what a failed A B test means. A failed A B test means we understand our users so little that something we were confident was going to be better for them was worse for them. We need to have some really tough conversations about stuff like failed A B tests, failed experiments, failed launches, because it tells us that something we were confident was going to go well or well enough, didn’t even meet that Kind of sad standard.

And that’s where you have to bring it back immediately to the business. Don’t go, see, I told you users wouldn’t like it. Bring it back to the business. Hey, unfortunately, this means there’s a lot of time and money that we wasted chasing the wrong solution. And that can make our team look bad. That can make our project look bad.

That can make a company want to give a, our company might want to give us less budget in the future because we’re the team, right? We’re the team that messes it up. We could be the team [00:43:00] targeted for layoffs. You’re totally right. And so. I say, yeah, if you look at UX people, if we’re really good at what we do, we have the ability to be manipulative.

We just don’t use it. We save it for other things in our lives. And I say, this is an opportunity to, if we are manipulative people, and I grew up in New York where it’s in our blood, where, where we have the opportunity to use it for good, I would rather, if I’m going to be slightly manipulative, I would rather say, Hey, Look at how you just might’ve affected our team, our budget.

We might be targeted for layoffs if we keep having these failures and not achieving the goals the business wants us to see in ethical ways that won’t get us sued later. Come on, let’s save our own asses. So you have to remember that every one around you is operating from a what’s in it for me, as you’ll sometimes see W I I F M.

What’s in it for me thing you have if you can position stuff from the perspective of our team the [00:44:00] business and Balance that with users There’s nothing in agile or lean or other stuff that says you can’t balance these things because you have me saying What’s Let’s balance this stuff. And then you have other people who say UX, UX, UX.

And then you have other people who say product, product, product. And I say, why? I feel like I’m the only person who’s saying let’s balance these, that there is a way to help our business achieve the goals it wants in ethical ways, where we make good stuff that people naturally want. We can all think right now of one or two companies where we feel like, take my money.

Just take it because that company balanced that they balance giving me what I need in the ways that I want to do it with Stuff that’s gonna make them money. So who gets my money? Uh Samsung for a hashtag not sponsored. Oh, I should put up my not I mean, who gets my money? Uh, Samsung, uh, Android phones, uh, Disney world, Florida.

Um, you know, who, who, who do I [00:45:00] give my money to without barely even, uh, thinking twice, you know, because to me, these people get it right. Time and time again, monday. com. I love monday. com. Uh, not sponsored. I pay these people. They don’t pay me. To me, these are companies that get it right time and time again, and they just keep making things that really work the way that I think and need to accomplish my task.

They make it easy to give them my money. Then I think about the companies who I’ve canceled or downgraded in the last year or so for various reasons, who I won’t name since I don’t want to get us in trouble, but we can all think of those too. Who does your company want to be? Which list do you want to be on?

You want to be on the company that is naturally. Awesome. Where, where people want to tell everyone how great you are. You give them the NPS and they go nine, 10. 

Vy: When you were describing those good companies, which you would just give your money, um, in a heartbeat, the one from my mind is physical touchpoint based services [00:46:00] and something I would interact, like things which oddly enough are not that digitally mature yet, let’s say, those are the experiences which are still to me quite honest.

And we have that actually are human centered. I guess they’re not really optimized to churn or to attract new customers. It’s not really thinking just about that. Um, even if the result in the end is the same and the outcomes we seek is the same, but it’s quite ironic that we got to the point where maybe your experiences you truly enjoy are not really the ones that you want.

Which are virtual or which are optimized or AB tested or things of that nature. But one of the things, by the way, I want to kind of hear more, more, more, more from you on this, and maybe this is a bit throwing a spanner in the works or challenging you in a way too, but, um, I feel like a lot of this has to do with, uh, democratization of UX.

Cause you, you know, someone could argue. Well, product managers do that already, or they should be doing that already. We should be accounting for [00:47:00] the success measures, the criteria we said before and after and throughout. And I know it’s also quite wishful thinking, but I think designers and engineers are reliant on their immediate leadership, especially someone who has a bit more stance or gravitas in the business.

And that’s usually to do with a product management. A lot of product managers now are expected to do some of the UX. Do it, try it or not. That’s a different story, but you know, some of the job requirements really list UX in it, or, or some of those things, like even sometimes you join a company and designers are meant to do just production work, no research, because that’s handled by product management.

That’s why I call 

Debbie: them product designer, product apostrophe S. They’re not a product designer, they’re products designer. The product person has their designer assistant and, and that’s the, the production work. So democratization itself is a bad thing. And in fact, we are so gaslit by it that we don’t even use the right word for [00:48:00] it because there’s nothing democratic about.

Any of this, we didn’t ask for this, hands up who went to their job and said, I, you know what I really need? I need product managers to stop doing some of their works just a few hours a week and do my job, you know, said no one ever like that. That’s probably not what happened. And so it, we got, we got gas lit into thinking this is democratic.

Don’t you want a democracy? What kind of weirdo are you that you don’t want a democracy, but it’s all gaslighting because nothing else is being. Democratized. Engineering is not democratized. It’s for specialists and they get to make decisions in their own domain. They don’t ask me for help making decisions on engineering stuff.

Product management wants to be seen as specialized. They don’t hold workshops asking everybody to do the product management work. They see it as specialized. They build a gate around it and they say, do not enter. And we all go, yes, sir. Yes, ma’am. Yes, everybody. And so we’ve been so gaslit [00:49:00] over this stuff that even the term that we’ve been told to use for it is, is gaslighting because this isn’t a democracy.

In a democracy, people vote, but they don’t all rule. So product managers, if you want to have a small vote, go ahead, but I can’t promise you it’ll count. You know, so, so even just call, I call it dilution because ultimately we’re taking something that is specialized. And we’re saying, sure, anybody can do this.

Everybody’s a designer. Anybody can do research. And I say, there’s a word missing from these sentences, which is your adverb. Well, look, anybody can do design. I’m a terrible artist. I can do art, but you won’t be glad I did. I can cut your hair, but you won’t be glad I did. I can try to fix your car, but you won’t be glad I did.

And that’s why we need the word well in there or expertly or some other adverb. So you can say everyone’s a designer maybe, but very few people will do [00:50:00] design expertly or well. And the way that I normally, um, explain this, and I think I still have this triangle, is I talk about how a lot of people just see UX as the, what I call the building blocks and the building blocks are like, Hey, I use Figma.

Hey, I think buttons should have rounded corners. Hey, um, I think I can talk to people. UX research, that just looks like talking to people. I think I could talk to people. These are the little kids building blocks that are some sort of pieces of what we do, but they don’t have science and technique and they don’t have strategy.

And so that what happens is it ends up being a tip of the iceberg thing where people say, Oh, UX talks to people. I could talk to people. Oh, UX makes these wireframes. I could draw a screen, but hold on. These aren’t the same. thing. And so, um, you know, all, most of chapter 12 is about anti democratization and refuting pretty much every reason I’ve heard to be for it.

But, you know, [00:51:00] we only have to look at things like layoffs. Now, yes, there are other reasons why layoffs have been happening. Democratization isn’t the only reason, but I believe it’s a piece of it. Because if I’m a leader or an exec at a company, and I’m looking at a list of who do we think they are? We can get rid of here and still make the same money or more money.

I’m going to look at, I’m going to say, what? We have a whole group of people whose work could be done by anybody else. They’re not like specialists or, or important. Um, yeah, yeah. Get rid of them. Yeah. Who else can do their work? Everybody. Oh, F that. And so this is where that gaslighting and where we’ve been told, Hey, if you don’t share UX work with others, you’re not a team player, you’re not this.

You’re elitist. You’re in a slum. Silo, these were all gas, this is all gaslighting and it’s false because every other job at our company is a specialty product managers are dying to tell you how specialized they are. Marketers specialized, stay out if you’re not a marketer. And so I think we, this is one of those things that we have did to ourselves and [00:52:00] we have allowed to be done.

to us and we didn’t push back enough. We didn’t even push back on the words because the problem is when I go, yeah, I’m against democratization, you’re against something being democratic. And I say, there’s nothing democratic about any of this. And it’s all a lie. And so the bottom line is why were we.

Quote unquote, democratizing. We were quote unquote, democratizing because we need more people doing research. We value research. We didn’t have enough people doing it. We value design. We don’t have enough people doing it. The company evidently doesn’t value it enough to hire. And so that’s the bottom line.

Vy: No, I’m with you. And I agree with you. Especially for the last bit that there is a lot of fault in, in, I guess, how we as design leaders approach this too, but also like how, how like we create this, a lot of that positioning too. But I feel like every company addresses this issue with adding more product management.


Debbie: should apply for those jobs. The bottom line is I want to see every UX person who’s out of work right now, apply [00:53:00] for a product management job they’ll qualify for. Because the bottom line is if you are going to turn product management into UX work, then we qualify for those jobs better than your average product manager.

If product, because what I wrote about in my book, I think it was chapter 21 off the top of my head was about how product management right now is a little bit lost. Their leadership will even admit that. that. What is product management right now? Marketing got peeled off and given to marketing. Sales got peeled off and given to sales.

Engineering management got given to scrum masters and agile coaches and engineering leads. UX got given to UX, UX research got given to UX research. What does a product manager do anymore? And if UX were allowed to be strategic and actually talk to stakeholders. What would product managers do? It’s, it’s a tough question and people don’t have a great answer.

And so product managers were like, well, we better redefine ourselves, but they tried to redefine ourselves right into our backyard. And the problem is we already [00:54:00] live here. And so my thought is product managers, you shouldn’t redefine yourselves right into our backyards. That sucks. It’s going to cause.

Conflicts and problems, and that’s not the right way to do it. But if you are going to do it, I hope we all take your jobs because you are setting up a situation in which you are creating an, an available job that we qualify for better than you do. And so my thought is if someone sees a product management job that is looking for UX research and UX design, and you’re a researcher and a designer, apply for it.

Vy: I didn’t expect that at all. That’s very interesting, uh, pivot on that regard. But it’s interesting. Like, um, I actually had the chat with, um, my wife is a product manager and has been for a long time. And we always, I guess, share a lot of those ideas and challenges and, you know, like almost learn from each other.

And I think one, one time it was some time ago, um, I was applying for new jobs and she just said, you should apply also for product management. Because I [00:55:00] think, I think there is. You know, everybody, even from my own perspective, if I, I’ve seen some product managers who are brilliant people in a lot of different regards.

And I could see, okay, they could make like such a good UXer. And it comes, I guess, from that, I guess, self awareness perspective too, when you realize that if you have appreciation and you have a standard for, you know, how, how that good looks like, you kind of probably wouldn’t mind this transition to product managers who have worked with high caliber UX.

Our stars, they learn to leverage the UX. They learn to basically how to best, because ultimately they’re doing sometimes have, or maybe the better way to phrase it, they’re forced to sometimes to do some of that work because designers might not be proactive or picking up the slack or, you know, gaslighting, 

Debbie: gaslighting, gaslighting.

You know, if here’s the, if you. If your company hired a designer and that designer isn’t proactive, you hired the wrong person. I’m so tired of [00:56:00] hearing about these, these archetypal designers that some company hires and they’re not critical thinkers and they’re not proactive and they’re not strategic, you effing hired them.

Whose fault is that? If you wanted a strategic designer, you should have hired somebody else. Or you should have told them that’s how you’re judging them. So I want us to stop gaslighting these people and saying, Oh, they’re not proactive enough. They’re not critical thinkers. They’re not strategic. They’re not whatever.

Did you hire them to do that? Did you empower them to do that? In many cases, we’re not empowered to do or be that. And then someone goes, see, you weren’t proactive enough. Or gee, you weren’t, you weren’t a strategic critical thinker enough. You didn’t deliver value. Were you empowered? To deliver value, comma, UX person.

And so my thought is if the product manager is the name we’re going to give, let’s imagine this, if I said to you, Hey, there’s a job and it’s a really strategic job where you’re going to do a lot of research and you’re going to do some design and you’re really going to figure out the [00:57:00] right path for things to go so that we can balance business goals and user needs.

I think people like you and me would go sign me up. Um, that sounds great. I would love to have a strategic role where I can interface with users and work with the business and stakeholders and take a strategic approach to, to the direction of things. And we would say, sign me up. I want that job. It’s job a, and then someone goes, yeah, it’s called product manager.

And I would still go. I didn’t blink. That’s fine. If that’s what you want to call me, I’ll take it. You want to call me service designer? I’ll take it. You want to call me strategic UX researcher? I’ll take it. You want to call me UX analyst and architect? I’ll take it. I am so over job titles right now. I’m completely over them.

I just go by what the job says it does because titles are just a wild West right now. There it’s a circus. And so. Take a look at what the job does. I mean, I will sometimes apply for like head of product and of course they’re going to turn me down cause [00:58:00] I don’t have 9, 000 years as a product manager, but everything else I’ve done looks like that.

And so, uh, that’s the weird thing. And so my thought is if these things are going to converge, I think the product managers are going to be the losers here. Cause they’re not going to qualify for their own jobs. They’re going to redefine themselves out of a job. Now at my job now, I have a. technical product manager.

She wants nothing to do with my, she just wants to support me. And, and she’s amazing. And, um, I can’t say enough about her. So to me, there’s lots of room for technical product managers and scrum product owners, and, and even to some extent project managers. But when I look at some. Not all, but when I look at some product managers, my thoughts are sometimes, what is this person doing?

Or my thoughts are, why am I not allowed to do this? And I think that the more many of us are having these thoughts, looking at our product manager, the more these jobs could end up [00:59:00] converging and they might end up calling it product manager. But if that’s a job that’s respected and well paid and given power, freaking take it!

Vy: There is, there is like a good balancing. Act, or at least a good balance between being a SLID. But also I think the flip side to that, you can’t expect a junior or, or entry level UXer. No, of course not. Not saying every UXer 

Debbie: fits into every job or every product management job. Of course, the, the newbie is probably not going to take or get the product.

Manager job, cause they’re not going to be able to show strategy and stakeholder management and all that. It’s definitely going to be more for your senior UXers and above who might slip into the product management space. But the, the question of what jobs are our newbies going to get is a whole other bucket of disaster.

So. You know, pick your topic. 

Vy: Yeah, no, no, that’s great. And I think that convergence is inevitable if you ask me, especially for automation, AI and everything else, like emerging [01:00:00] tech and how it’s all kind of fumbling down. But it’s, I think a topic for a different day. Cause, cause you know, we could literally talk for hours.

We still want to talk about, yeah, about your book. Cause it probably took you a while to write it. And I was, Honestly impressed because I think when I looked at the title, I was like, okay, this is going to be, I guess, less technical, maybe, maybe that’s the right approach. But when I looked at it, it has philosophy, it has strategy, it had tactics.

So it was very deep, deep, deeply written. And you know, 

Debbie: please leave an Amazon review. I will 

Vy: do. I will do. That’s a good call out. But, but it’s, it’s kind of like, I want to hear like how it came to be. Because I think you mentioned as well in our, you know, comms here and there, but it was before the Gen AI too.

So like, I wanna, you know, I wanna, I wanna really find out like, how did you, like, why? I, I, I honestly know why, but I think the audience might want to know like exactly why, why did you want to write the book? But also, What’s next? How does it compare to what we have in the market? You know, even if it’s quite [01:01:00] recent.

Debbie: Yeah. So the book, um, kind of sprung out of a workshop I wrote for Interaction 22. So that was 2022, uh, March, I think it was March of 2022. And it was called Transforming Toward Customer Centricity. And it was a kind of strategic look taking. From the work that I’ve done, that’s been more highly strategic, especially advising companies or consulting at companies and trying to say, like, how can I take some of the things that have worked or not worked for me and bring them to other people so they can try them at their jobs?

Um, you know, teaching you to fish rather than saying, Hire me to give you a fish. And so the, the original workshop was transforming toward customer centricity, and I wrote it and it was like a two hour workshop. And the main response I got was make it longer. So I wrote a four hour workshop and I, I put it out there and I got, I think 35 people came and they said, Oh my God, make this longer.

And you know, I made it a one day workshop and people said, Oh my God, make this longer. And so now it’s a 12 hour workshop over three days. So three F days and [01:02:00] I call it space strategizing products and customer experiences. Um, people can find it at CXCC. to slash space, lowercase. Um, my next one’s April, 2024, and I don’t know when I’ll give it again, but, um, but so the, the workshop kind of turned into the book and then the book turned into the new version of the workshop and they just keep feeding off each other.

So the idea of the book was, look, we knew that. That businesses want to attract, satisfy and retain customers and they want growth. We know that most people working in companies want the customers to at least be a little bit happy. They know that some of the path to the business success is going to be.

Happy customers who, who want to do business with us and give us money and be part of the ecosystem. So how do we balance these two, especially in a world of where books really just highlight books and trainers and models, Heidel high highlight one way to go. You know, [01:03:00] like there are these famous product management books that are just product, product, product, get your product out, get it out fast, be fast.

Research at call a couple of people and ask them what they like. Fast, fast product, product, product, business goals, make the business goals, make the business happy. And my thought was, I think we have to balance these two. And I hadn’t seen too much else really talking from a, a business perspective of that.

So people expect that a book for me is going to be like a UX book, but I see my customers know you suck book as really. It’s a business book aimed at anybody. You could be a product manager. You could be an engineer. You could be a marketer. You could be a strategist or business analyst. It’s really asking you to have a tough talk, at least one in your company about How do we balance achieving our business goals with doing the right thing for our target audience and the diversity within our target audience?

And so, um, it really came from doing the [01:04:00] work and realizing that I, I wanted to, I wanted to get more people thinking about things they might not have been thinking about and, and having some tough conversations that they either never thought to have, or were, Avoiding. So I wanted to give people also, and the workshop is very much also about actionable techniques.

Like, especially chapter 18 goes into like, map this, do this, plan this. 

Vy: Would you make any changes to that? Cause I also, we didn’t go into generative AI at all, but I want to hear your thoughts. 

Debbie: If I change the book for AI, I would just be adding things in places like, don’t forget your critical thinking.

You can ask AI to do a thing, but if it’s not doing it well. So again, it comes back to the same. I can cut your hair, but you might not be happy I did. Generative AI. Can do some stuff, but will we be happy that it did? With, is it doing good work? We know it’s doing something. We can ask it to interview a user.

We can ask it to make a design. [01:05:00] We can ask it to do all kinds of things, but the results in early 2024 are extremely mixed. There are some things that AI is. Um, pretty getting pretty good at and there are some things that it’s still not good at. Um, so for example, in my research practice, I don’t use it at all.

Uh, not at all. Zero. It’s hard to use it. 

Vy: It’s almost hard to find the case where you would. I mean, there is a lot of tools integrate, but. The actual use cases, I don’t know, in your book, you also write about invention of use cases or like. Yeah, we 

Debbie: don’t want to invent use cases. Yeah. And I think a lot 

Vy: of AI use cases have been invented, but.

Debbie: No, I agree. I totally agree. It’s the idea. Well, look, the AI, a lot of the AI use cases come from the idea of someone’s going to want to do this faster and someone’s going to want to do this cheaper and isn’t AI both. But AI isn’t yet better. And so like when people say, Oh, AI could do UX research. It can write the questions.

It can ask people the questions through a chat pod. It can respond to [01:06:00] their questions. It can analyze the data. And I go, okay, but I haven’t seen an example yet of it doing this well. I haven’t seen an example yet. of it conducting an interview as well as I can. Uh, we haven’t replaced police interrogations with AI yet, right?

That’s still being done by people because they have to read the person they’re interrogating and ask them follow up questions and put the pieces together. So, you know, can AI do these things? That’s the question. They could, you know, that’s where I keep invoking an old Saturday night live sketch from the 1990s, which had a driving cat and the whole joke of the sketch was Toonsis the cat can drive a car and at the end of every sketch, cause it was a recurring character.

It was a puppet, a cat puppet. Um, at the end of every sketch, the cat drove people off a cliff and the catchphrase was Toonsis can drive, just not very well. Yeah. And so that, that’s what I keep thinking of, which is generative AI is getting better, but it’s still not at a [01:07:00] place where I would replace a worker with it.

I, I still wouldn’t replace a process with it. I still wouldn’t replace a task with it. I still don’t think it’s better than a person at, uh, product management, strategy, design, coding, and, you know, will it be better than people during my lifetime? Maybe I’m going to be alive another 50 years. 45 years. Sure.

It might, it might be better than people at some point, but then I have to ask what dystopian society have we created where nobody has a job, but then. I think that, um, some people are saying, oh yeah, I love AI to make personas and my, I wanna say, I think I need to see your personas. What exactly have you made?

And are these good personas? Are they actionable personas? Are they behavioral personas or are these just crappy marketing buckets with, with brand names and, and demographics and stereotypes. Bad stereotypes. So people say, oh yeah, I can use AI to make a persona. And my, my immediate thought is. [01:08:00] I want to have a look at that, you know, I, I want to see how you did that.

No. And I don’t, I don’t say that to people because you know, there’s a, there’s a LinkedIn conversation I was part of now where people are like, Oh, I use AI for this and this. And my immediate thought was thing one. Now I won’t hire you. So please do not apply to work for me. If you’re going to have AI do your job for you.

Cause I still hire people to do people jobs. So thing one, I’m never going to hire you. Thing two. I’m now concerned, what, you want to be on the show again, Olivia? I’m now concerned about the quality of the work. We say outcomes over outputs. I’m worried about the output and I’m worried about the outcomes.

And I wrote an article last year called, uh, it had something to do with how long it’s going to take us to know AI. Put it’s in the wrong direction. Let’s say AI says, Ooh, this is the idea your company should run with. Or AI interviews fake users or makes synthetic fake twin users. How long will it take us to know that was wrong?

Six months? A year, because we’re [01:09:00] going to run with that idea, we’re going to design something, we might test it, we might code it, we merge it, we get it out there as an experiment or a launch, we monitor it, by the time we know that AI gave us a bad idea, it could be a year. And the risk and the waste on that to me is quite high as a person with an MBA who gives many craps about the business and its finances and its strategy.

This just doesn’t sound right to me. 

Vy: No, but it’s also, I think it loops back to our initial talks about. Quality. Yeah. And, and that fail fast approach or fail and then learn. And, you know, it’s almost like a, there is no need to do risk until it’s, until we actually have a failure. But we’re not 

Debbie: learning. I wrote an article on that.

Go Google for my, uh, high product failure rates, celebrate or improve. That’s my article title. Google that. FailFast is a myth. Facebook said it, and I’m not sure we want to emulate them, [01:10:00] blah, et cetera. And the, and people say, Oh, it’s really cool to run all these experiments, we’re really learning. And I say, great, what did you learn?

And then there’s a moment where they realized the only thing they learned was that that particular experiment failed. And I, and I say, do you know why it failed? Well, I guess we didn’t have the right idea. We, so we’re trying a variation of it. I go, yeah, but at, at the foundation of this is an assumption that the right answer is close to what you have.

What if it’s not? What if it’s not close to what you have? You are going to keep wasting time and money and customer trust with little variations. Put the button here, make this word, say this, try this over here. Take this button off of here. What if you’re not close? What if it doesn’t just need, we think iteration is.

Is the key to everything. Cause people read cool books about design sprints or, or whatever. And what if it doesn’t, what if it takes more than iteration to get this right? And so we’ve seen companies have to completely redesign their products because, [01:11:00] It, small changes and iterations and optimizations weren’t right.

But again, it all comes back to quality, but we have so many catchphrases about, Oh, fail fast. Oh, well, we’re learning. And I always go, what did you learn? And people go, well, we learned that experiment failed. Okay. Why? Well, we don’t know, we don’t know why people did that or didn’t do that. Okay. Well, why didn’t we stop and find out?

Oh, that takes too long. 

Vy: Yeah. Yeah. That’s interesting. And you know, one of the things which just to pull back slightly, um, where you were describing AI being cheap or quick or things of that nature, it’s also a question for whom is it cheap? Because to run AI models is extremely expensive. Like that’s where I think.

We had a chat with, uh, Dan Saffer, actually an episode before this episode airs, um, which is, which is superb. And I think anyone should, should listen to that because that’s exactly what Dan, because he’s now a professor basically, um, teaching the new upcoming designers of how to [01:12:00] design with AI. Um, and of course, so much more, um, I’m really kind of, you know, uh, playing it down in a way for him, but Dan was basically talking mostly about viability because.

It’s all good. It’s all cheap until it’s isn’t because for us as a customer, as a user, it seems like it’s a five or a month, but reality is that to run that capability and to do it right, it’s going to be much more expensive. And in the end, it’s going to be unsustainable and the service is going to either degrade the quality or we’re going to stop altogether, or, you know, you have so much more considerations of thing with AI technologies right now.

Like you have to dig so deep and project that, you know, that great idea is probably not going to be realistic even more. It’s less about even about what customer wants or user experience. It’s just fundamentally more complex. Um, 

Debbie: I agree. There’s a huge sustainability and [01:13:00] environmental question there as well, that nobody wants to talk about.

There are ethical questions there that people don’t want to talk about. So I absolutely agree with you. When I said AI is cheap, obviously I’m not looking at the bigger picture. I’m looking at someone who, um, adds Miro’s AI to their existing Miro account or adds the AI tool to the zoom tool, or, you know, hashtag not sponsored, you know, or, uh, uh, you know, the people who sign up for these AI, Uh, third party systems versus building or training their own model, which certainly is a lot more, um, expensive, uh, internally and to the environment.

I meant more like, Oh yeah, you can go try some of these AI tools where like, Hey, for three cents, our, our AI tool is going to interview your customers. You don’t even have to talk to them anymore. Um, you know, it’s so funny. We’re so out of touch with our users and customers, and now we want a computer to interview them, like Newsflash, that’s not going to put you more in touch with them.

With them, you see, 

Vy: but that’s where to me, I wouldn’t even sign up for it [01:14:00] because I understand how expensive it is. And I kind of know that even that, that company who’s offering it is going to raise prices at some point, you know, and that’s also, I have no trust of it being good if it’s so cheap either, you know, but that’s so many variables.

Um, In terms of that, and it’s 

Debbie: also not, it’s also not bias for us. I, one thing that I remind people that I had in, in a recent article, um, that I, I think I said something like, AI doesn’t want you to use AI for UX or something like that. And I asked, uh, an AI model, like, should AI be used for UX work? And the answer was mostly no.

Um. But, oh gosh, now I forgot what my point was going to be. Oh, well, anyway, back to you. We can come 

Vy: back to it. No, it’s fine. Um, one, one thing which I want to kind of talk about, and this is maybe a big topic, but we, we, you know, um, I, I value your time as well. But in your book, you mention change agent. As a, as a label.

And I love that because to me, like a lot of the UX [01:15:00] has been at least, especially in leadership roles is change management. Um, and it’s also a lot of influence and things of that nature, because you have to always change like crappy situations for better, especially for your design team or research team, but what is the change agent in your, like, do you feel like change agent is part of a role or is it now something which is, you know, UX role, like, um, what, what, I think 

Debbie: we can easily bake it into what we’re doing.

Like, I definitely call myself a change agent, but that’s not necessarily my job title. Like for example, you know, the job I’m at currently, which I feel extremely positively about and, and is one of the best jobs I’ve ever had from the perspective of they, they appreciate UX. Um, when I came in, they just figured, okay, we have a researcher, let’s them put our.

prototype in front of people and get some feedback, but I introduced them to, well, hold on, let’s try my knowledge quadrant exercise, which I [01:16:00] mentioned in my book. And I teach in episode 196 on my YouTube channel. Um, let’s do knowledge quadrants. Um, and that’s where I gather people’s open questions, assumptions, guesses, you know, what information do they need to make better decisions?

Now I literally have my highest level stakeholders messaging me. Can you please make a knowledge quadrant? We have some stuff we want you to ask in the next. study. 

This is 

Debbie: fantastic. This is better than I could have dreamed. And guess what? I didn’t have to give a PowerPoint. I didn’t have to give a lunch and learn.

I didn’t have to do another presentation on the importance of UX. I just naturally showed how good this was and how you put stuff on this board. At the end of my study, I’m going to tell you the answers to that. And you’re going to make better strategies, priorities, and decisions. And hold on, I’ve got a new graphic for that.

But my point is we can be change agents without having. A change agent, let’s see, did I pick it? No, wrong one. Uh, blue one. Here we go. Strategies, priorities, and decisions. And so we can [01:17:00] be a change agent without that being our official job title. When I can naturally show the value of good research work or good design work.

For example, my designer, when, when my current job, when I got there, I thought they were treating her a bit as an order taker, so I started dropping hints that I thought that she should be more of a strategic. Problem solver. Now I’m not her manager. I’m not her leader. I’m just random woman in this case.

And at that point, new hire. And I just started dropping hints about how I think she should be allowed to, let’s give her more problems and questions and less do this and put this here. And I also checked with her, like. I checked the personality thing that we talked about earlier. I said, you, do you want to be more of a strategic problem solver?

Do you like to just do what people say? Cause then, you know, you’ve, you’ve done what they need. She goes, no, I want to do more of this. So now, even though I have a longer history as a designer than I do as a researcher, when I have my research insights and actionable suggestions, I don’t sketch her wireframes.

I give her the problem to solve. That it’s, it’s so I’m, and I’m [01:18:00] changing the way that they talk to her. And I’ve noticed they talk to her differently. They say, well, let’s ask her. What she would do here and let’s now she’s being invited to more meetings with higher level stakeholders. Okay, and they’re asking her questions.

Okay. So there are things that are happening at my job that are partially because of the great people I’m working with who were open to a shift, but I don’t even know if they noticed that there’s a shift because it’s not like I held up some giant flag and said like a good sign of a change. Yeah. Yeah, by the way, I’m making changes over here.

Like I recently wrote to into a Slack conversation where I swear someone said, Hey, what if we did more experimentation? Well, I wrote a long thing about how experimentation is often this and that, and it’s crappy and garbage and look out for this and that. And I teach this and let me know if I can help.

And nobody wanted my help. And so, you know, they, so when you show up and you go, hi, I’m the change agent. I’m the, I can do this with you and for you. Sometimes people’s reactions kind of like who, who, who asked for that. And so if I can just show up as lead UX [01:19:00] researcher and just work good stuff into this and, and bring that to people and push back a little bit when they go, well, we think we should do this or they, or, oh, you know what?

We’ll decide that at Tuesday’s meeting. We’ll make that UX decision at Tuesday’s meeting. And I go, why am I not in Tuesday’s meeting? Oh yeah. You should probably be in Tuesday’s meeting. Now I get invited to the meetings where the UX decisions are being made because before it was just my high level stakeholders who are not UX going, well, here’s what we think this thing should do.

And they had good intentions and very often I think they made some smart decisions, but now they’re making sure that the designer and I are in most. If not all of these meetings. So I’ve created change without showing up and waving a flag of, hi, I’m a change agent and hi, I’m going to do this. And, and yes, I hope to grow in this role.

I hope to get promoted to a role that is more clearly strategic and, and all about. Making these types of changes. But I think that we can make these changes when you naturally show that value. We get [01:20:00] so hung up on UX isn’t UI. And let me give you a PowerPoint on what we do. Just freaking do it. And when you do it really well, like I believe my team is doing an amazing job and it’s not just me, I’ve got others on my team and then people just go, Oh.

This is great. We need it. In fact, we said to our stakeholders, we think study number four should be about this. And they came back and said, we actually think we need you to do something else for study for get us a knowledge quadrant board so we can start making some notes. And my thought is, yes, yes, this is working.

This is working. Maybe study for doesn’t end up being about what I hoped it would be about. Maybe we have to sneak that in a study five or partner with somebody else to see that piece get done. Cause it was more accessibility, but yes, now these people are saying we need to know this and we want you to find it out for us.

And that to me is the freaking dream. It’s a freaking dream at a UX job. When someone doesn’t say, I’ll let the product manager figure it out, or let’s just run a survey. 

Vy: Yeah, that’s, that’s brilliant. I think, um, like a good metaphor for [01:21:00] that is also like, uh, weaving in. Uh, different color of thread into a fabric slowly and then adding more and more.

It’s almost like it’s that, that when you were describing this, it’s like music to my ears as well, because that’s how a good change happens. It’s not severe. It takes time. It, it kind of becomes like, it’s almost like a red proactive to you kind of reflect back and say. Oh crap, we’re actually doing so much better.

You know, you didn’t even realize how we got there. And that’s, that’s the best thing. Um, Oh 

Debbie: yeah. I want to talk very quickly about, in my book, we talk about a change dependency map, I think it’s in chapter 18. And we talk about how so often we think we’re going to make change at a company from sending everyone to some sort of training or course or telling everybody to read a book, but my, in my book, I remind everybody, and we’ve got a YouTube video on this as well, if you don’t want to buy the book, just look up the change dependency map.

I think I did a YouTube video on it where we talk about, well, wait a minute. You can tell people to read a book and you can teach them a, you can go to [01:22:00] my workshop, you can read my book, but if we haven’t empowered people to try new ways, and if we haven’t planned for the time, trying a new way is going to be going to take and then other stuff.

Do we have the right staff to do the new way if we haven’t mapped? And that’s a little bit of that change management that shows up in the book where we think we’re going to make a change if we just send everybody to Debbie’s training, but did we map out all the things that are going to block it? Cause that’s what I saw when I went into companies, I saw companies bringing in expensive consultants, expensive trainers, expensive courses, more than I was charging, which tells me I’m undercharging, and then the Nobody was empowered to try the new way because they still had the same deadlines.

The VP of so and so still needed the thing done the old way. And they all got these expensive trainings and books and courses and whatever. And then they couldn’t even do it. And so we just have to be careful when we try to be change managers. The answer is not necessarily, you’re welcome to send everyone to my workshop and have them read my book, but if we don’t [01:23:00] empower them to then at least try this a new way.

Everyone’s going to go, why did we read Debbie’s book? Nothing happened after that. And I’m going to go, ah, ah. 


Vy: Last question really before I wrap up, but I think it’s super important, Debbie, at what point would you draw a line and say, this is not war of my time? ’cause I think in your book you also, I think if I’m, I might, I might be misquoting you, so pardon me.

But you said if you Yes. Like on page six, if you didn’t break it, then you know, you can’t fix it or along something like that. 

Debbie: Yeah. The, uh, the, the, one of the key things I tell people is when it’s sacrificing your mental health, let it go. Uh, so I think that if you find that your mental health is suffering because of something about your job or trying to make change or hating so much the way it’s going, I officially give you permission to back off to, uh, you know, I, I wrote another article, people, can you all just follow my medium?

It’s called R before D cause we should be doing R before D, but R before [01:24:00] D. com. So I wrote another article recently where I talked about the difference between the work culture in America and where I am now in. in Italy, and while there’s pros and cons to both of those, your job doesn’t have to define you.

It’s okay if your job is just some money you make and you do your best. And then at five o’clock or six o’clock or whenever this ends, you turn off and you stop thinking about it. If this is getting to your mental health, I’ve had people from my community say, I left an abusive job last year and I’m still struggling with it.

I’m still struggling with bad sleep or bad eating or, or depression. Oh my God, you know, first of all, yes, get out of there if you can. That’s a luxury. I get it. But when, when this is affecting your mental health, when this is seeping into other areas of your life and, and it’s a negative, then maybe you drop that one, my, my policy always used to be, I will try three times and then I will let it go.

And so, you know, there are times at companies where I’ve done. [01:25:00] production designer work, or I’ve built, I’ve sketched the thing that, that I knew shouldn’t be built because I tried three times to tell people why this is the wrong way to go. I documented it. I pointed out the risk and some product manager said, Nope, this is my idea.

And this is what we’re doing. And I said, okay, here’s, here’s the risk of that. Here’s what’s going to happen later. And here’s your wireframes. And funny enough, whatever I said was going to happen later, Always happened later. I don’t know why people bet against me, but I do say in the book that you didn’t break it and you might not be able to fix it.

It still might be worth trying, but I don’t want to see people suffering because of it. That’s where, that’s where you need to either give yourself a break or, you know, make other decisions, but you know, uh, you, you, you didn’t break it. You might not be able to fix it. Do what you can. And look at, at the end of the day, look in the mirror and say, today I did my best.

I didn’t fight every battle. I didn’t correct everybody who said [01:26:00] UXUI. You know, I, I didn’t fight every battle. I still got something done today. I did good work today. I did my best. Now. Turn off, tomorrow’s another work day. We don’t have to take this home. We don’t have to think about it all night. We don’t have to, we do, we don’t have to.

It’s a job and it’s not going to be your last job. You’re going to work somewhere else someday. 

Vy: That’s important. That’s very important to highlight too, because I think people, especially Chang, myself included, I’ve been guilty of it where you think that this is it. But. You know, in tech people change jobs for voluntarily or not voluntarily now, but you change jobs almost like 

Debbie: less than two years, they say, 

Vy: yeah.

So it’s, it’s gonna, it persists of that. So it’s almost like, don’t get bogged down if it’s opportunity because it’s not the last one as well. Especially if you have skills, which are valuable, it’s been a pleasure. Um, thank you so much, Debbie, where can we finally talk likewise? Um, it’s, it’s, it’s been so long, uh, you know, and I wanted to always chat with you, but where can we [01:27:00] guide the people to like, what’s the central place where we can find more about you and what you do?

Debbie: Yeah, usually the central place is going to be the DeltaCX. com website. Cause my company is called Delta CX and on the homepage, I kind of say, why are you here? Are you thinking of hiring us? Do you want to watch our YouTube stuff? Do you want to read the books? And then we kind of take you where you need to go.

There’s also a webpage there called, uh, DeltaCX. com slash. Links, and that gives people a lot of the things they’re looking for. Like, um, when are your YouTube shows? When are your webinars? When is your, uh, next workshop? Um, how do I submit something for you to talk about on your show? Um, how do I join your Slack and Discord?

How do I join your Patreon? You know, so like usually all the things people are wondering about how to get involved with my community or get in touch with me, it’s all on delta CX. com slash links. 

Vy: Awesome. All right. 

Debbie: Thank you.


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