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Ep9. Rethinking Personas in UX with Jennifer Blatz

Career development Design leadership & strategy Design Tool Tuesday Featured featured-podcast Podcast

Jennifer Blatz is a UX leader, strategist, and co-founder of the UX Research and Strategy group. We delve into the world of user personas in UX, exploring their strengths, limitations, and innovative alternatives. Jennifer introduces her latest framework, the Scenario Alignment Canvas, aimed at aiding product teams in fostering a deeper understanding of their users.

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Vy: Hey, welcome back to experience design podcast. I’m your host V and today I have a special guest, Jennifer Blatts, and she’s a researcher, strategist, and designer speaker. She has also co founded a UX research and strategy group, a global, and one of the largest UX groups out there for. meetups and covering a lot of different interesting topics.

But today I’m talking to Jennifer about specifically, I guess, the state of UX as is a bit of a journey, a bit of what it takes to get into a field and break into a field basically, and how to develop 

Jen: the skills, but more so focusing On one specific 

Vy: element of UX. And this is the notorious personas. You love them or hate them.

There’s a lot to be said. And in session, we are unpacking exactly that the good stuff, the bad stuff, what you can do best to actually optimize it where they’re appropriate, but also what could you do instead of them? One of the ideas Jennifer [00:01:00] brings up is scenario alignment canvas, which is a toolkit she’s working on right now, almost like a simplified version to kick off.

Um, your efforts with stakeholders, let’s say, and outline a lot of those messages instead of just coming off a personas. And of course, if you do enjoy this session, make sure to share it with a friend that helps a lot. And without further ado, do enjoy. Like, how did you, I guess, start with UX? Like, why did you even pick UX?

I don’t really ask that much of people who join me in these discussions, but I always keen to understand, like, why. Why UX? Like why research? Why design? 

Jen: Yeah, that’s a great question because everybody’s path is varied, right? Especially if they’ve been in UX a little bit longer, if they’re a little bit older, because there weren’t UX programs and universities and boot camps back when I was, uh, back in the day when I was learning, I actually started in journalism graphics.

So that was my major in college, which was designing for publications. So newspapers, magazines, and my first job. [00:02:00] After college was a designer for a newspaper and that’s where I really learned the discipline of deadline because if you don’t get your work done, there’s going to be a big blank hole in the newspaper the next day.

And that is not acceptable. So that was where I learned how to iterate quickly, adjust things on the fly and really meet tight deadlines. And so, and that’s where I really got my design chops to deep dive into fundamentals and foundations and fonts and all the things that you learned in traditional design school.

And what I find interesting about like the correlation between journalism and, um, and UX is you’re providing information for others. Now, even though I worked at a newspaper, I would not call myself an avid newspaper reader. In fact, I’m like, I’m not reading this whole thing. I was big on providing entry points, information for people who could, um, get a little bit if they didn’t have time to read the whole story.

So I was always kind of thinking of helping the user in a sense. Even back then I’m like, [00:03:00] ah, put a full quote here, a nice graphic, a photo. So that if they don’t have time, at least they can get some value out of this story. And so that’s where that, and it also helped with my writing too. Right. You know, journalism is strong.

Yes. Such 

Vy: an undervalued skill as well for UXers. Um, something we, we don’t, I guess UX copy and, and rise in demand for UX copy of writing. has been massive recently. One of the things which immediately popped into my head, I guess, with the newspapers, you had the deadlines, but also probably very specific stakeholders, just like in UX, right?

Or like product design who could come in and say, Hey, let’s just pivot or, or do some changes. 

Jen: Oh, absolutely. So my main job was the B section, letter B, which was the second section in the paper. And there would be times I’d have that all laid out design. And they’d be like, yeah. We need your lead story and your main image to go on our section.

And I’m like, we’re printing in 10 minutes. They’re like, yeah, good luck [00:04:00] with that. So yeah, there was a, or big news, right? Big news would happen. And there you definitely had to adjust. And, or another example would be, I didn’t have enough room for the story that written in full, or they didn’t like the specs that I designed the headline at.

They’re like, Oh, we need. You know, four lines for the headline instead of three. And I’m like, we don’t have that kind of space. We are physically constrained by the dimensions of the paper. So we can’t fit a whole 20 inch story because there’s only room for 12. So you’re going to have to get your scissors out.

You’re going to have to cut this story down to fit this page. Cause that’s just the reality of newspaper, right? So there was definitely working with. My editors were my, I would say my stakeholders, sometimes the reporters too, cause they come around like, Hey, how much space do you know? They would have not written the story yet.

And they’d be how much space do I have? And I’d be like, Oh, you have 12 inches, which is how they measure a story in a newspaper. They’re like, Oh, I’m never going to be able to tell my story in that. And I’m like, Good luck, because you’re going to have 

Vy: [00:05:00] to. Yeah, it’s fascinating parallels, I guess, to, to UX as like, just like you described, like all the different variables and constraints and everything else, like you have to kind of deal with that.

That’s why you kind of jumped or transitioned to 

Jen: UX? I guess what happened was. So much of the industry, I then became like a marketing designer, a print designer. And so much of the industry was moving into web design and everyone was learning how to code and I’m like, Oh, I can’t, I tried. I mean, I, you know, was learning flash and HTML and CSS.

And I’m like, this is just not me. This is not where my heart is. So I went, I lived in Los Angeles at the time and I went to a meetup. Which talked about design. And that’s where I was introduced to the concept of user experience. I was like, Whoa, what? They use all the tools that I’m already using. They don’t have to code.

They focus on the, the reader. You know, that’s what I was thinking at the time, the [00:06:00] consumer of the product. This is where I want to go. So that’s when I knew this, that UX was the discipline I wanted to be involved in. So I got really involved in the community, networking a lot, learning a lot. That was really what I was networking for.

Not so much for a job, but to learn like, what is this industry like? What do you do? What tools do you use? What challenges do you have? And learning about that from other people in the community. And then as I got into UX design more. I found more excitement into learning about the problem and doing the research than actually the output.

I think what kind of burnt me out was I had to work on a design system at one of the companies. And it was like, Oh, you have to design the hover state and the visited state. And I was like, Oh, I can’t deal with all the states. And so I wasn’t passionate about. Pixel perfection anymore. I was passionate about learning how to solve the problem, learning about what the problem was.

Exposure to [00:07:00] real research was I was working for a company that owns veterinary hospitals across the U S so animal hospitals, right? And I would go into these animal hospitals and observe doctors as they were working on pets and visiting, you know, The patients were their pets and it was fascinating the disconnect between what was actually happening in the hospitals and what the software was doing or should be doing for, you know, I was the software designer, the software they used for medical records and appointments and inventory and just learning about how they work with a.

An animal, if you think about it, you’re a, you’re a veterinarian doctor, you’re holding an animal on a table and hoping that animal doesn’t bite you, doesn’t pee on you, doesn’t jump down. You don’t have time to go into the corner and do a bunch of typing on a medical record. The reality is you’re holding this animal down.

Helping it will chill out and you have to, even our PO [00:08:00] was a veteran, a former veterinary doctor. So he knew, but the disconnect of what that experience actually is, what our software is trying to do was so enlightening to me that I was like, this is where I really am excited about learning about the problem and the disconnect with what we’re building and what the try to solve.

Vy: This is such a common theme to me as well when I talk to like seniors or people who I guess every manager in UX doesn’t matter if they’re researching or designing or kind of like a thing gets through the same journey where they realize that the actual experience happens beyond that UI or the immediate product.

And so many of us, like, especially in the beginning of career, I’m sure you could appreciate it’s kind of, we get so fascinated by the details. Or by the craft itself, we forget exactly what dependencies we are knock ons and things of that nature. And that’s really, really interesting example too, with, uh, that’s too.

And, and I guess. Their [00:09:00] customer is an owner of, you know, of a pet, let’s say, or an animal in, who needs help. And it’s just so many actors too involved, like my personal appreciation for UX happened when I was, um, researching and designing public services, which. It’s just so many people involved, so many parties, so many services, things of that nature.

And that’s kind of like developing that appreciation of, Hey, a simple design might not solve it. Like you have to kind of open it up. 

Jen: Absolutely. Yeah. There’s so many other factors besides the technology. That are overlooked. And I see this a lot every time I do research, when there’s a designer who’s really focused on their one, their one aspect, their screens that they’re designing, and it’s like, we are so insignificant in their world on a daily basis, this little screen is nothing.

It’s going to break 

Vy: some hearts. I tell you that. It does. 

Jen: I’m good at breaking hearts. Believe me. 

Vy: Yeah. Yeah, but it, but it’s true. It’s, it’s, it’s [00:10:00] like, it has to be said. I also, you know, I’m conflicted too, cause, um, we do need, especially in early careers, you kind of have to go through some specificity, I guess, or maybe it’s a rite of passage of sorts.

Um, I don’t know how you view that, but you’re running quite a few network events, um, UX, uh, research and strategy. So I guess you go through a lot of that, but what’s your, what are your thoughts? that of like the natural transition into research and strategy? Yeah, that’s a 

Jen: good question. Because I think I have been a UX team of one in several of my roles and there’s no specificity there.

You’ve got to know all the things. So I think, and I’ve also been where I’ve done very specific. Especially in larger companies where you’re working on one little product, you might be working on one little widget or one interaction, and you can really hone in your skills there and really perfect that.

And I think there’s value to both the broad spectrum and really honing in on the specificity. I personally believe if you get too specific, you lose [00:11:00] that broad view. You lose where that screen interplays in the whole interaction and then the experience of what the A person is going through, for example, just filling in an application for something like what else were they doing before, during and after that application?

That you’re neglecting to address in that application because all you’re focused on is that one little product that you’re working on. You know, there, there’s a lot of debate, right? V that like, Oh, you should, you should not be a generalist. You should be a generalist and Oh, you should really, you shouldn’t do design or you shouldn’t do research.

And I don’t have the answer to all those. We don’t have that kind of time to date is solve that here. I’m sure. But I think. Because I was a generalist, and I was a team of one, and I had to, Oh my god, I gotta figure this out tonight! Go home and read books about it, because I gotta do this tomorrow morning, Helped me to be better owning and knowing that whole picture, And really also discovering what I’m better at than not.[00:12:00] 

Right? Like if I hadn’t done that research and just stayed a designer and interaction designer or a visual designer, I would never have understood that, wow, research is really where my passion is and that’s where I’m a lot better at. So maybe I should pivot and explore that a bit more. 

Vy: And I also feel like that generalist versus specialist angle is quite overused.

Um, depends who you ask. I could ask someone, let’s say. Let’s say parents or, or even older generations, like basically walk backwards and to them, those words are going to mean very different things. The acceleration and tools available and even podcasts or chats like this, uh, LinkedIn posts, tweets, everything else.

Is all the tools which we didn’t have back in the day, podcast didn’t exist, let’s say, uh, courses and things of that nature, events are so little of that, where like, even when you started, you couldn’t kind of become a generalist. You had to pick up very specific craft and married to it. develop it. But now like the paradigm is kind of [00:13:00] shifting or maybe we’re morphing to be both very general, but also quite specific because we can’t avoid being super specialist unless your aim is just to be a manager.

But I never met the person who said outright, I just want to be a manager. Like of what, you know? 

Jen: Right. Yeah. I mean, for me, To transition in from graphic design or art direction to UX, I had to hone in and focus on visual design first, because that’s what I knew the most. And I could sell my skills. I’m a visual designer.

So that’s where I was more specific. So to your point, is that what you do earlier in your career? Are you more specific and showcase one thing? The market has changed a bit where now employers expect you to do, to be the full stack UX person, that, I mean, from research to code, there’s a lot of expectations there, that unicorn, right?

And it’s called a unicorn because they don’t exist. No, 

Vy: but you, you like, I [00:14:00] would challenge it a bit. Like you can get close enough at least to be hireable as that, but it also depends on the market, depends on the industry, like. If you talk about today with the layoffs and so many specialists being available, let’s say, uh, employers, I think are going to get even more spoiled on what they could hire or, or who they could kind of, you know, pick out of a crowd.

Like you, you really have to become very substantial in terms of the skills or like demonstration, presentation, sales. Skills of your actual design products and research skills. It’s like the pressure to me is just going to be growing and not to discourage anyone who might be listening. 

Jen: It’s true. I find that when it comes to a UX skill set, the actual UX part is minuscule compared to the soft skills, the presentation skills, the ability to influence and persuade and collaborate.

Those really aren’t UX skills. Those are just. Workplace skills and life skills [00:15:00] that take up more of your time than actually sitting in a design tool or Figma or whatever that might be. You’re doing so much more of that relationship building and making those connections than I ever expected to do when I was, when you were learning about it or kind of hearing about it.

But what 

Vy: I really wanted to pick your brain on, um, today is. I guess your, you know, your ideas and takes on specifically personas and you know, how we connected behind the scenes as well with your kind of alternative views and ideas for scenario alignment canvas. And, and that’s a tool you develop, but almost like to reel back slightly, like how do you view personas altogether?

Because I think. The, depending who you talk to, every UXer is going to have very specific, the good, the bad, the ugly type of takes and kind of perspectives. Oh, 

Jen: the personas. I do have views on personas. I have built personas many times. [00:16:00] Classic. Persona method described by Alan Cooper and Kim Goodwin and Designing for the Digital Age.

Great book, by the way. And okay, to answer your question, do I like, am I pro persona or anti? I’m going to say anti, and I’m going to tell you a little bit why. And the why is because I have never been on a team who successfully referenced, used, and talked about personas after they were built. They’re like, Ooh, that’s a nice deliverable.

That looks great. Yes. I have empathy. Yes. Blah, blah, blah. And then they’re never ever brought up again. And. There’s a loads of reasons for that. That’s why I don’t like personas. I don’t like the output of personas. I love the research and the understanding about users that go into building personas, but the output just falls flat and doesn’t, it’s just not a tool that’s utilized over and over again.

It’s like that kind of UX theater. And it’s [00:17:00] a checkbox. We need personas, we need them to build empathy. I can’t think of one product partner, designer, developer that’s like, Oh, I feel so empathetic now that you’ve built this persona. I totally get it. Yeah. Like 

Vy: I’m, I’m with you from that standpoint.

However, it’s kind of like, even if you take assist journey maps. Right? Like as one of the big, like to me is undervalued still, even if it’s kind of like a bread and butter, but they see a lot of designers even skipping that or kind of doing mental mapping, but not necessarily putting something or mirror board or, or kind of exploring there, I see it as a, it’s not really about the map itself, but more so the journey of actually, you know, sitting down.

And starting to put the themes, so they actually overlap and you kind of distill something specific. You can uncover some insights. You kind of get to something. Maybe the journey to define the personas is produces more value than the actual outputs. Like what would be your read? 

Jen: That’s a good point. And I, and one thing I have done, and I [00:18:00] find that this could help lead to success.

First of all. You’re going to leave all those demographics, the stereotypical aspects of age, gender, title, ethnicity, those, what car they drive, all those things that you see in marketing personas are not valuable in product personas, because what somebody’s gender is, or You know, their job title is irrelevant into how they’re going to use your product for the most part.

There’s, there obviously are exceptions and there’s a lot of stereotypes. Even when you put a photo of a person, uh, everybody has instant cognitive biases that underlying that their brain is concluding about that person. So even including a photo doesn’t, to me, it doesn’t build empathy. It’s like. I’m not going to build empathy for this stock photo that you stuck on this persona.

Cause it’s obviously that’s what that is. But what I think that can contribute to the journey of understanding your user more is getting with your product team [00:19:00] beforehand and saying, what is valuable to you, what do you need to know about the user to make design decisions or make product decisions?

Because I think that as a designer, you know, in the past, I have a couple problems with personas. And this is where you talk about the scenario alignment canvas. And this was a, this was a big inspiration as to why I did this. Well, for one, I was tasked to write the playbook for how to build personas for my company.

I’m like, Oh, no, I don’t want to question the task. I was like, Oh no. So I came up with this other thing thinking that would solve it, which it didn’t, I still had to write the playbook. But anyway, what this scenario of alignment addresses, uh, canvas addresses is that altitude, that personas often are too high and too generic.

And too broad to make design decisions. It’s like, yeah, [00:20:00] their goal is to be financially stable. How do I, how do I apply that to my designs? Like it’s too general and there, and I’ve had this problem with. All my personas, like that’s nice. I understand their goals, but I don’t know how to apply that to this specific thing I’m designing in my interface.

And so that’s half of it. The, the, the altitude of a persona is just too high, especially if they’re across multiple features or just very general designers don’t know how to use those to make design decisions or, and product owners don’t either. They’re a little bit more applicable to product owners because they’re going more for vision and broader things.

But a designer’s like, I don’t know what to do with that. And then the other half of it is personas take a long time. Like they take weeks of qualitative research, synthesis, analysis. You don’t like put a seed in the ground and tomorrow, poof, the persona comes out. Like it takes time and they feel a little precious because they take that time.

[00:21:00] So all that time, okay, I need to know about our user and it’s going to take you a month or two to get back to me to tell me that. But I need design today. What can you get? I need information now. I don’t need that deliverable. I don’t need that final thing. I need my answer now. So there is a hesitancy that it takes too long to build them because it does.

If you want to build them right and you don’t want them to be proto personas just based on assumptions and what the team thinks. You do need to do that research and that does take time. And 

Vy: I don’t know if it’s the guilt of the market as well or the boot camps, which kind of makes it as a prerequisite.

Okay. You’re going to need to do personas from your experience or if you would agree, but chances are a lot of the people or researchers or designers are. Probably not going to do many personas or, you know, or they shouldn’t even, um, in the day to day scenarios. 

Jen: I agree. I think that there’s expectations.

The same could be said for journey maps or service design blueprints, or some of those deliverables [00:22:00] determining what you, what you need to learn right now, just like as you do with research, don’t come to me and tell me you need to send out a survey because. You think it’ll be fast, come to me with what you’re trying to learn.

And then we’ll decide the method that best gets you that answer. And I think the same goes for some of these outputs that we create as UX people and we learn about them. I mean, I rarely do, to be honest, I rarely do journey maps. What I do more of is service design blueprints because that behind the scenes information, that below the line information tends to be more valuable to my product teams.

And. Then a journey map, now journey map, the top, this top swim lane is the steps in the journey, so it’s there, but it doesn’t have this, you know, the feels and the thinking, seeing, doing, it cuts that because it’s like, I don’t really need to know that right now. I need to know when this person’s doing this thing, what system is involved.

So it, again, making that decision and being [00:23:00] like, Oh, what really the team needs to know about is not that person’s emotions at these stages, but what technology is involved. So therefore, the output should be a service design blueprint to solve this, to get the answer to this question. It’s 

Vy: very interesting.

It’s almost like maybe it touches a bit of what you mentioned with, uh, high altitude of the actual personas. At what level, I guess you view the, you, you view personas as most appropriate. Cause they’re not just a throwaway, right? Like we’re not just saying don’t do personas. Like there is, there is. So where, where do they add most value and at what fidelity?

Um, if I’m even expressing it, right? Yeah, 

Jen: no, I think that’s a, that’s a really legit question. And that’s something that I’m still struggling to understand because I have yet to be on a team where personas have been successful. And referenced, and I even worked with my designers, product folks, like what information is helpful for you to make decisions.

So I was working at a financial institution and for them, [00:24:00] it was important to know what device they were doing research on or what device they were working on, because that would help them design for that, right? What are they mobile first? Or are they desktop first? Because that can be very different experiences.

What altitude is really tricky because they do tend to have longevity, right? Personas can last a year, two, three, they’re not, that’s not specific enough to the feature that you wanted to release this quarter, probably. So what do you do to inform that quarter product that you want to get out the door soon?

And that’s where that scenario alignment canvas is a starting point to understanding, like the. The member or the sorry, the users needs pain points, motivations, that sort of thing really centering around. The user, because what I find is a lot of companies and product teams focus on the solution. We’re going to give them this instead of [00:25:00] what problem are you trying to solve and really understanding that problem.


Vy: in my mind as well. Um, I used to work in, I guess, uh, retail industry where my design teams, like very multidisciplinary design teams looked at like a service design level challenges. with, with a lot of touch points. Like I remember describing it as thousands of touch points and hundreds of products, literally, um, which, and then you could imagine it’s hundreds of roles and things of that nature and there the product teams kind of gave up on personas altogether because we understood that.

They are going to be so limited to a specific challenge or this, um, I guess this specific segment in time, it’s not going to kind of permeate because if every new project you have to kind of unlock and shape the service as a whole. So if it’s super enterprise y level challenges, you might create personas, but they are definitely going to be.

In my head, at least a throwaway if, if it has like a lot of knock ons and kind of permeates across different product [00:26:00] lines. But that to me is kind of like the challenge to, to, you know, come up with her personas and less. Unless they become quite generic, um, you know, or they purposely like abstracted enough that you can, but in that case, we used, um, jobs to be done very specific measures attaches things of that nature.

It’s almost like was a role. And then the jobs, it wasn’t, you know, uh, wishy washy for lack of better term, kind of like, uh, personas, um, to please stakeholders. 

Jen: Yeah. And that’s where this scenario alignment canvas came from. Indie Young talks a lot about a scenario. It’s a story around a person doing a thing, as Donna Spencer would say, right?

So that’s where my concept comes from. Let’s talk about a person trying to achieve a goal. What is that one thing they’re trying to do and maybe some specific things that sets them off from someone else or some, uh, that scenario nuance that we really want to dive into. So, for example, let’s say a person wants to get a [00:27:00] credit card.

Well, there are different motivations and reasons why a person wants to get a credit card. They could get it because they want to build credit. They could get it because they want the convenience of. Not having to carry cash. They could get a credit card because they want the flight miles or the perks or the points, right?

So if you’re thinking about a person who wants to get a credit card to build credit, they have very different motivations, needs. And really exploring those at that level. I’m a person who wants to get a credit card. I want to build my credit. Those design challenges are very different than I’m a person who wants to get a credit card.

I want flight miles or I want cash back. Right. There might be some overlap there, but those are your design opportunities. And that is what the scenario alignment canvas is capturing those nuances and those details that the person’s motivated by this. They need this? Their pain points are [00:28:00] this? That is how we are going to execute our design.

Vy: To me, like the best bit about the actual canvas was, I guess I immediately could see how I could apply it, which, which is always a great thing. It’s like, it’s not quote unquote overcooked or like, you know, has too many, like if you take lean UX canvas, business canvas, you could get lost. Cause there’s so much.

Jen: Nine boxes to start with, it had a whole bunch and I kept editing and testing and iterating and slimming it down because I’m like, the idea, you know, thinking about that, the time, right? The time it takes to build a persona. What this is, is a workshop that you do with your team that you can do in an hour or two and really, I call it an alignment.

I think of it as a kickoff document, in a sense, we’re a team. We’re thinking about a person who needs a credit card. And we’re thinking about that specific scenario of they want to build their credit. We’re going to explore that as a team from the user’s point of view, not from the solution we have, not from our product.

[00:29:00] We’re going to really take a deep dive and discuss that person, their needs, their pain points, their motivations. And we’re going to do this in a workshop and a white, a digital whiteboard. And we’re going to really explore that because we don’t, we don’t explore those nuances. That bubble up the design opportunities, because we only focus on, we’re going to give them a credit card to build credit.

We don’t talk about what details do they need to hear and see and learn along the way to convert and to finish that funnel in a sense, right? Like to fill in that application, to go for our credit card. So that is what this scenario alignment canvas does. It gets your team, you know, when you start fee, when you start a kickoff doc, like with the team, you go to your stakeholders.

Tell me what you know. Tell me what problem you’re trying to solve. Tell me about the user of this product. That’s what you’re doing, but you’re doing it, tapping in on others, you know, your stakeholders in a workshop together and really saying, we’re going to [00:30:00] focus on the user today. We’re not going to talk about technology, our product.

Let’s focus on them. Let’s really do a deep dive into them. So that’s where it falls is, this is a kickoff document. This is a way to tap into your team and say, what do we know? I also 

Vy: see it as a, like the power of kickoff, uh, templates and I have my versions of, of it is that to identify what you don’t know in a 

Jen: way.

Sure. So there, there’s the other half of this. There’s the other half of this. So as the team fills in this canvas, they’re going to put assumptions on there. I’m not going to just let them barf their assumptions and call it a day. I, as a facilitator, as the UX person leading this workshop, I’m going to say.

Oh, this is interesting. What data do we have to support this particular point of view? Do, how confident do we feel about this? Do we know this to be true or could we do some investigating and learning more? So from UX perspective, the other like secret sauce of this is I’m building out, [00:31:00] I’m collecting research questions and I’m building out a future research plan.

Cause this isn’t the end. To me, I’m collecting what we know. I’m collecting what we think we know, and I might not have the discussion of every assumption. There might not be time to do that, but I’m collecting it and I’m going to be like, yeah, I’m not quite sure about this. We’re going to investigate this further because somebody thinks that person wants to do ABC because, and I’m not sure.

And so you can ask, what data do we have to support this? What previous research have we done? Do we feel confident? Maybe not. Okay. Maybe we should do a little research around that. And that’s where the want to learn more section of the canvas is. We’re going to start collecting those things we’re not sure about.

Do further research to get the answers to those questions to help designers make decisions faster. And, and get the designs going. Yeah. 

Vy: And, and on that note, like, how do you imagine, I guess, um, actual product designers taking it, like, would they actually take the actual canvas or like what, what, what is their kind of like, 

Jen: [00:32:00] they might, they might take the data from the canvas, but it, it depends on the confidence that we, on the statements they could, it’s really like.

Part of that, like I said, that kickoff, like, what do we know as always with a project, you get what we know, but then you’re like, yeah, we should probably look into that a little bit more. That’s 

Vy: basically 

Jen: right. Or interviews or whatever that might be like, you think that, but I’m not sure. So let’s, let’s investigate that further and make sure that we’re, we’re mitigating risk.

Right. So the canvas isn’t necessarily for designers to start. Building on like, okay, everybody said this, let’s start building on this. It’s just surface. Like, wow, we really have some disconnect too, because that’s another thing. Stakeholders had a lot of stuff in their heads that we think they know. We think we’re aligned.

That’s why it’s an alignment canvas. We think. The same thing, once you write it down, I realize, Oh, we’re thinking differently. So we need to see, Oh, uh, maybe we should get a little closer to [00:33:00] what we think on this particular aspect. So it is, I mean, a designer could run this exercise as well. A product could run this exercise, a product person could do it too.

It doesn’t have to be a UX researcher by any means, but it’s a place to dump things and to collect, here’s what we think we know right now, here’s a point in time. Before we start making product decisions, here’s what we think we know. Let’s start investigating some of this before we move forward with those product decisions.


Vy: could also work in additive way, right? Like as you find out more things you could add to it. Exactly. Just, just to be a bit of a devil’s advocate, I guess, from a buy in perspective, because there’s always like. It doesn’t matter where you go, what firm you join, how mature we are, there’s going to be a difficult stakeholder or maybe a hippo or, you know, like a lot of different types of people who have very strong opinions and hold them very firmly.

What were your thoughts maybe like of how to, you know, shift it from that persona to this? 

Jen: Trading it as a kickoff [00:34:00] document, right? This is the beginning of a conversation. We’re here to learn from you. We’re here. I’m here to tap into you, Smee, because you know a lot. Whether you do or not, I won’t tell you that, but I’m gonna let you think you do.

I need you, I need your brain. I need it here so that I can move forward on decisions. So you kind of spin it as that, like, this is just a beginning. Like this can be a precursor to a persona, right? Because it kind of like, okay, here’s what it’s a proto persona in a sense. If you think of it that way, it’s more aligned to a proto persona because it is focusing on the goals.

The needs, the tasks, the pain points, which is what a UX persona really should focus on rather than demographics. So you, well, I think is helpful is like, it’s a quick way to collect knowledge. I, you’re not going to have to wait weeks. To see something come out of this, you’re going to participate in the workshop and you create that safe space.

I have these like what I call guiding principles that says they’re kind of like [00:35:00] rules for this workshop. And it states, we’re going to talk about assumptions and we’re going to look at this through an assumptive lens. And we’re, we’re going to talk about what data do we have to back this up? Because we want to make data informed decisions.

And you know, your years of experience or you’re a user or, you know, great. We’re going to, we’re going to weigh that in, but we’re also going to consider that that may not be data informed. So we are looking for data informed opportunities. And if we have the data to inform this, great, check that off. We feel confident about this.

We don’t need to mitigate that risk, but this other thing, we’re not really sure. And this could blow up in our face and be a big deal. We should probably look into that before we move 

Vy: forward. Yeah. And it’s such a great pro tip. I mean, it’s a meta point where you said, let’s not fight immediately, but almost like influence stakeholders.

Um, I hope that the audience picked up especially more junior of all. Um, sometimes you use the methods and you tell a stakeholder, yeah, yeah, we’re going to make you [00:36:00] personas, but you do these activities again, the journey itself, and then that could inform like much bigger change and a stakeholder could forget about personas altogether.

If, you know, they get, they understand exactly what’s going 

Jen: on with it. Yeah. Spin this as, I’m very, uh, strong proponent at the, of the apprentice and apprentice roles. I am here to learn from you. Consider me dumb. I probably am going to pretend like I’m more dumb than I am because people like to talk about what they know and I’m here to learn from you and that is the goal of this workshop.

I’m not here to talk about research methods or UX or anything. This is a collective safe space for us to dump what we know. And that’s what this is about. And you spin it that way. Hey, you have a lot of knowledge in your head. You have a lot of experience in this field. I need to pick your brain and it’s easy for us all to get here so that I can collect everything and I can permeate with it and determine like.

You know, we’re not going to [00:37:00] determine all the research questions in this workshop. There’s just not the time to do that. So you say, okay, thank you for sharing. We’ve talked about a few points. There’s a few other things that are really interesting. You can spin it as they’re interesting. You know, they’re BS, but you’re like, Oh, this is intriguing.

I don’t know much about this. Can you tell me more? You take this and you work with your product team to help Priority in your designers and whatnot. Like. To prioritize the next steps in the next research. 

Vy: Like, I was very, uh, surprised that you didn’t include a parking lot as part of a canvas because that tend to help as well, you know, to kind of, I guess, steer away conversations, which might be too big or too political or too inflammatory, or, you know, just kind of like there’s a lot of brewing opinions, which might just not contribute to that.

Jen: You know, it’s funny you say that because I still consider this in the prototyping phase. Um, I’m having my team test it out a lot, you know, we just kind of introduced it to them. I’ve also had some other UX [00:38:00] pros at other financial institutions testing it out. And when we did this workshop recently, I did have a parking lot off to the side because there were some things that were confusing.

For example, building credit. Are they building credit because they’ve never had credit? Or are they repairing their credit? Those are different scenarios. Right? Like somebody who’s had credit cards, went into bankruptcy, defaulted on loans. There are different, there are different situations than someone who has absolutely no knowledge about credit cards.

They, they’ve kind of messed up and they, they have different needs. And pain points than someone who has no knowledge of a credit card. So those, uh, we do, I did create a parking lot. It’s just not part of the canvas, but I do think, I mean, I think with almost any workshop, you’ve got to have that thing on the side to like park the hippos and whoever else needs to go play in the parking lot for a while you go over there, like, because they, they, some people, you know, how it is in a workshop.

They just need to be heard. They need to get their point of view out. So if you want to create that safe space, you have to create. [00:39:00] You know, be ready for that opportunity might happen. So I do encourage you to have a parking lot off to the side. It’s just not officially part of the canvas. That’s 

Vy: what, what I’m always kind of trying to think of every tool or every, every template is how to guide people through, but also regulate a bit of the volume, so to speak, or like the actual intensity or, you know, like however you would want to label it, but even let’s say with bigger challenges or even like bigger services, there could be so many goals.

It literally, or people think that they’re, I don’t know, hundreds of goals, or, you know, like they might have personas in their head and they think every persona is going to have 20 goals or something like that. Like, how could you imagine them applying the scenario alignment? Would you, would you kind of go through all of it?

Or would you try this kind of segment? 

Jen: I think that it’s better to focus and, and, and be small, be specific and be small. And. You know, maybe do the workshop on a few of the goals together in a group, and perhaps maybe do some of those other [00:40:00] goals asynchronously, create a digital whiteboard, maybe once the team has some experience and they kind of get how this goes, I think, because if you go too broad, you lose that opportunity for those nuances of those design perspectives.

If you go too broad, some of it might overlap and it might apply to other goals, like. In the credit card situation, right? Like somebody who wants cash back and somebody who wants travel points. There’s can be a lot of overlap there, but really taking the time to just take a little bit of time to explore those differences and nuances to me that that bubbles up your content, that bubbles up what you’re messaging and really guiding them into success.

Vy: And how do you see, I guess, this overlapping, I mean, we covered personas, but let’s say the likes of jobs to be done or any. Kind of like a peripheral activities, which the teams could be doing already. 

Jen: So how is this compared to like marketing segments, or like you said, personas or journey maps? I wouldn’t call this a journey map because we’re not [00:41:00] going through the steps of the journey.

I have noticed that when you do have something like this, they want to create, like make this the journey map and the service design blueprint and the jobs to be done. It’s like, Whoa, Whoa, Whoa, Whoa. Let’s simmer down because we really want to hone in on the, on the user right now. Right. And so I love jobs to be done theory.

I’m a big fan. I use it quite often. And I think that that this could be a compliment to that. The job they’re trying to get done is the goal, right? Well, let’s really talk about these motivations and their needs at some of these steps. You could, you could do it at some of the major steps if you’re building out a job map, right?

What are the pain points here? I mean, you do get that when you’re doing the, the research for jobs to be done and you’re gathering those need statements, right? So you could, okay, that’s your need. Why is that a need? I mean, you’re getting the same, similar information when you are doing research for jobs to be done.

You’re capturing pain points, but it could be, if you really wanted [00:42:00] to form, formalize that and have it templated and really. Like, I want to know every pain point for this step. You could use this as, as like sub interview questions for all those different aspects of the jobs to be done. Does that 

Vy: make sense?

Yeah, it does. Yeah, it does. And to me, it’s also like, um, all of them fall in, like, I’m trying to like, look at it as a, I guess, the complexity spectrum and maybe putting on more of, um, growing designer has, um, not to say that. We are not growing, but, but kind of like a more junior designer at school, you know, they get introduced to in the bootcamps, um, to proto personas, personas.

I haven’t seen bootcamp of jobs to be done because that’s quite complex and it has to be done right. And that’s where it kind of like it, it stretches away from like very basic, immediate, uh, you know, to dues to, to kind of something that would maybe require way more research, even though you could argue every single thing, whatever you do, whatever framework you use is going to require research.

That’s what. UX is about anyhow, but, but I wonder, like, [00:43:00] how do you view, let’s say, if we would take an example of, of a recent student in UX or perhaps mid weight designer, how do you view them using this? 

Jen: What, what is this like, right? Like I’ve learned about these other things. You’re telling me about this scenario, I’m in Canvas.

What the hell do I do with this thing? I would say it’s similar to a proto persona in the sense that you’re gathering the team’s assumptions and. Trying to understand the user instead of the technology, because that’s what you tend to get out of those conversations is it always kind of slips into their world and what they know, which is just a natural human reaction.

So similar to a proto persona, but you’re building. A research plan off of this, this is also like a kickoff to learning about what your teammates know, because a lot of time a protopersona, you don’t follow up with any further research. It is what it is. You leave it at that, right? But this is like, you’re surfacing the gaps and the opportunities.

To learn more and the [00:44:00] result may be a persona. It may not, it may be, you’re just learning these answers to these questions through research so that your team can move forward with confidence. You’ve got the answers. Now we know let’s make our design decisions based on what we learned. So it’s, it’s a kickoff in a sense, because you’re gathering information from your team.

What do we know about our users and whatnot, but also a similar to a proto persona, because you’re again, gathering those assumptions, but you’re taking it a step further and you’re not going to see, say, this is the end. We’re not going to do a real persona because I don’t have time and whatnot. But we’re going to do some research to validate some of these things we talked about.

Because I have been in situations where I go to the team designers and I’m like, Hey, what are your questions about your design? I get crickets. They’re like, I don’t know, I don’t know what, you know, and I’m like, really? You think your design’s perfect? Well, I wouldn’t say that, but I don’t know what questions to ask.

So the, I’m like, well, I don’t either because I didn’t design it. So I’m not going to go do research just for the sake of it. [00:45:00] I got other things to do. I’m here to research to help you make sure you’re going in the right direction. And so helping the team, it helps like what they think they know is. It’s easier than, Oh, these are the questions I have about people.

It’s kind of like a precursor to, well, this is what I know. Are you sure? No. Okay. That might be a question. You know, it’s a little bit easier to guide a person into research opportunities than say, just what are your questions? What do you want to know? I want to know how much they’re going to use this. I want to know if they like this.

And I’m like. Well, I’m not going to ask that, so what do you really want to learn? Yeah, 

Vy: I guess it comes to that where people like, this is across the board. People don’t know what they don’t know. Um, right. But curiosity does help. And I feel like to me, what I found personally really work well is to put something up and use that as a basis ultimately.

Um, it doesn’t matter what canvas you use or what tool you use, even if it’s a proto persona kind of like for it to act as a, this is what we are today. Um, and then let’s see what are the gaps are to kind of move [00:46:00] forward 

Jen: in a way. Exactly. So I had somebody on my team mentioned, um, why don’t we, there should be a section that says, here’s what we know.

And I’m like. It’s actually what this whole canvas is, is stating, here’s what we know. I don’t think we need to do that because that’s what the canvas is saying. This is what we know right now about their goals and motivations. Here’s what we know about their needs and tasks, whether we’re right or not.

That’s a whole different discussion. But this whole canvas is about, this is what we know right now. Let’s see if. We’re moving in the right direction. Yeah. And 

Vy: I guess if it’s approached with a like very open, cumulative mindset where every project or every big initiative you should to revisit, you should like spark a discussion, you should bring back what you, ideally those things probably wouldn’t become more and more specific over time, right?

Like if you. Talk about like needs and tasks or pain points, I would presume they would look very differently like next year than literally defining 

Jen: [00:47:00] today. They get more comfortable with really getting down into. The weeds, because I know some people struggle with, well, what’s the difference between the goal and the motivation and what’s the difference between a need and a task?

Well, you can have a need, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that there are tasks to do anything about that. You just could have a need, right? Or you could have a need and there could be a lot of tasks that you do to meet that need, right? If you’re trying to say educate yourself, well, let’s talk about all the ways they’re trying to learn about this.

thing, right? They want to feel confident. Yeah. Perfect 

Vy: ground to improve. If you know that you have 20 tasks to fulfill that specific need, how can you show, like, how can you actually make it more efficient? Or I feel like to me at least, and, and, you know, just, just to kind of my, to reflect on my perceptions of the Canvas itself.

First and foremost, like, um, thank you so much for defining something because like the tools need to evolve. And I, I’m always like very like surprised. Like pleasantly so and, and very excited when they see something new or something which is basically simplifies the [00:48:00] things or doesn’t make us, I guess, being stuck with existing like personas and things of that nature, which again are so limited.

Has some, some applications here and there, had better applications historically speaking, but still evolving it. It’s like, it’s very, very exciting. Um, so yeah, I just wanted to, to kind of reflect on that because it’s yet another thing that. Teams can apply basically and use, um, and hopefully adopt successfully.

But yeah. 

Jen: And I just thought, like you asked earlier about jobs to be done. How is it similar? Another thing that I try to emphasize is. Keep it device agnostic. Keep it our company agnostic. This is a person doing a thing. This isn’t about a person using our thing. So think about it broadly because that’s what jobs to be done is, right?

We’re not talking about them using our product. We’re talking about them trying to do a thing. So that’s where I’m trying to get. You know, their perspective out of, I’m like, we’re not solutioning. I better not see a solution on here. Cause I don’t chuck it. [00:49:00] You know, we’re just talking about what they’re trying to do and they may or may not be using our stuff.

You know, if they’re educating themselves, they might be using Instagram, TikTok, articles, right? We’re not doing that stuff. So I do try to, uh, that is one of the principles. Like think about, uh, them not using our things. They’re doing a thing. 

Vy: I want to kind of pivot slightly and I know, you know, I’ll value your time as well on this, but very grateful for you to come in to chat.

Um, talking about the future and I like to, you know, ask almost every guest on, on this podcast, are we in danger in UX? 

Jen: Ooh, that’s a broad question. In danger, are you referring to any specific technology or UX as a discipline? I 

Vy: think both, uh, you know, with ai, rise of AI, I guess, or, you know, even market layoffs and the rate of that grows as well.

And typically, uh, design, uh, recruitment [00:50:00] marketing, like quote unquote softer, uh. Elements to the business kind of gift, but like to kind of zoom out and reflect, like, how do you feel about all of that? And especially like what the feature for discipline looks like. 

Jen: I think I go on a website or an app on a, on a regular basis and find a problem and find it doesn’t work.

And I say, whew, UX isn’t going anywhere if there’s still shit like this floating around. Like, we’re just, there’s still so many poorly designed, poorly executed solutions. And that’s good. And people have. Discerning tastes, and you will lose customers if you do not fix these things. Somebody will find a solution to what you’re doing poorly, and do it better, and snatch out that customer.

So, if you think, oh, they can suck it up, or we’ll throw a widget at them, or, you know, it’s good enough. We’ll see in the long run, if it’s good enough, because once you, this [00:51:00] new competitor, this innovator comes in and takes your customers, there’s your good enough right there. And guess what? They got UX people to do, to solve those problems for them.

It wasn’t just engineers executing on requirements. So I think that there was always ups and flows in the market and the jobs and whatnot, and there’s. Like overhire, and then they’ve got to retract and let people go because there’s, that’s happening in probably every industry at different times. And for different reasons, right?

Like think about the financial industry, the market, right? Like the market crashes, all the investment bankers get laid off, you know, like this happens, the mortgage, the mortgage industry is suffering. So they lay off all their mortgage brokers, right? Like all markets. Take hits at different times. Probably.

I don’t know. I’m not a, you know, a market analyst, but I’m just guessing, but I think that there’s always going to be a need for somebody who can. Make a solution better and, and really point out, I mean, that’s what it [00:52:00] takes. It takes that person to be like, Hey, this is not okay. This is not acceptable. This might be an engineering shortcut, but no, what are you asking me to do here?

I don’t even understand. I’m a human being. I don’t know what you’re saying. This doesn’t make sense to me. I’m going to leave. I have a very short attention span and a short fuse for poorly designed and executed things. And I think as more people are raised, raised digitally and have high expectations.

That’s going to be more prevalent. Like if you just think about enterprise software, I love enterprise software. I love like how ancient and kludgy and yikes it is more and more people who are used to consumer experiences. And then they go and they work in something that’s enterprise. They’re like, Whoa, I just went to a huge time where warp of like 40 years.

This is insane. I’m not working on this. I’m not working here because it sends messages. It sends messages that. We are not invested in you. We are not invested in our company. Suck it up. And I’m like, uh, people don’t want to, they don’t want to work for places that have that kind of mentality. [00:53:00] So I think that there’s always going to be a need.

Because there’s always going to be the pushback of this is not good 

Vy: enough. Yeah, I’m, I’m with you. And I feel like also people maybe project way too in advance as, you know, like when we talk AI, people think maybe about AGI and, you know, the evil AIs running amok and, you know, Terminator scenarios and things of that nature, like, like quiet comically.

So even with the transition and even if it would happen in the next decade. It’s just so much work to be done and so much depth where if every new, new tool or new experiences you describe, like they still need fundamental, I guess, approach for someone to kind of, you know, to do justice to it. And it doesn’t matter even who does it.

Maybe future PMs are going to do that. Maybe future PMs are going to research everything. That’s fine. There’s still going to be the need, right? We just, our titles could change. But in terms of specific skill sets, what do you like, what do you feel? And [00:54:00] maybe this is like a, um, general, but also super specific advice.

But for people who getting into UX, uh, most are the people I think who are the most scared of automation. Like what skills do you think they should double down to become just a bit more future proof? 

Jen: Well, I think what I, where I think technologies like AI aren’t going to. Be a competitor are those soft skills, like critical thinking and emotional intelligence and communication and influence and the skills that UX people bring to the conversations to advocate for the user, but like back it up with data, be informed and be storytelling and influential, like that’s.

Difficult and printed text to, to communicate that tone and the, and the value and the, and you know, those, just those, uh, collaboration skills that we talked about earlier, like AI isn’t collaborating with anybody. It’s [00:55:00] spitting something out. And this is where critical thinking comes in because you have to know, Hmm.

Is this accurate information when to push back and really to know? And I think that that’s kind of the flaw of people who are, some people who are using AI is they just take it and spit it out and make it an article or like, here it is, AI said it, and you know, we know that the data is a couple of years old and it’s not being pushed back enough upon to be like, are you sure?

You know, like the. Those prompting to, to really nuance that and depress it to get to accurate information. I was watching, um, Debbie Leavitt recently, and she was doing something about, uh, flights and it spit out all these flights. She was looking for flight recommendations and it spit out all these flights and flight numbers and times, none of them existed.

And it looked totally legit until she went on and searched them and none of them were real. They were flights from two years old. And you have to be that person in that mindset to be [00:56:00] like, I don’t know what this is. I question this. You have to be curious and skeptical to be a good UX person. And that applies to AI or whatever tool or conversation that you’re in.

I’m very skeptical. I’m always like, I’m not that, or I’m not sure about that. Why is that the case? And you have to do it with any technology that’s feeding you information too. 

Vy: I haven’t thought about this in a while, but it’s such a fundamental thing, which maybe, maybe not many UXers focus on as well, like kind of question everything and even yourself, like that’s probably even the best, you know, if a cognitive biases and presumptions or even people solutionizing too quick.

Uh, everybody’s guilty of that. Like I, I have ideas for things, you know, if you give me a problem, I’m going to come up with a solution, but it doesn’t mean it’s going to work for someone else. So it’s kind of like reflecting on that, but this is, this is awesome stuff. And I’m really grateful for you coming in.

Um, thank you so much, Jen. And, um, where can we direct? People who are [00:57:00] listening or watching. Um, is there one central place where 

Jen: we can LinkedIn is probably the best place to connect with me. Um, you also mentioned, uh, UX research and strategy. That is a international meetup group that I co founded. And we, we have a lot of regular events, monthly events and a Slack community.

So you can find UX research and strategy on LinkedIn as well. And, um, those are probably the best places to connect with me. Awesome. 

Vy: Well, thank you so much.


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