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Which is the better athlete: the marathoner or the sprinter? Both focus on hitting the finish line but possess far different skill sets. Yet any successful track and field team needs both types of athletes to win awards and recognition. Having a collection of overlapping and complementary skill sets makes any group better able to confidently achieve desirable outcomes.

This same principle holds true when contemplating partnerships between giant management consultancies like Accenture, McKinsey & Co., Bain & Co., or Boston Consulting Group, as well as boutique design consultants like my own, MU/DAI. Although both types of entities have their niches, they gain tremendous value from working in tandem to move projects forward.

Management consultancies often employ rapid design sprints, driving immense value for their clients. But these sprints can be more effective and less risky overall by partnering with a smaller design consultancy. Whether the major consultancy white-labels or acknowledges its smaller partner doesn’t matter; what matters is that both organizations, as well as the client, gain valuable benefits from the relationship.

Different points on the same continuum

At their core, management consulting firms and design consultants aren’t different. Where they diverge is in scale and scope.

Having worked at large consultancies, I opened MU/DAI with the intention of decreasing project durations and moving from seven-figure deals to six-figure deals. Rather than spending time in sales presentations, our team wanted to prototype designs. Joining forces with larger consultancies allows us to do...

As you are reading this, how many times will you check your phone for a text, an email, a shared link, or photo? Some of these moments of attention will be based on alerts, but how many are habitual, simply checking the device for potential updates?

Our minds are continually looking to continue earlier conversations or to start new ones. We have sometimes dozens of ongoing conversations, not to mention the long list of open tabs and draft emails containing trains of thought we intend to follow up on.

We are living in a continual shift of focus, and this article aims to provide some understanding on how our minds are adapting to constant changes in train of thought.

Although the presence of everyday text conversations has become socially and psychologically accepted, it has also led to significant new awareness on how we understand the structure of our minds. Most forms of cognition studies busy themselves with real time communications and interactions, but it is the unpredictable responses and the unforeseen delays in textual interactions that bring light to new forms of cognition.

Each individual experiences a different set of processing patterns during the dialog of a text interaction, whether the text is an informal chat, meeting plans with a potential lover, a detailed work email mail, or interactions with entertainment.

These differences in individual experience provide great insight into the mind, because our normative understanding of physical space...

Editors’ note: This “Book in Brief” feature here on Boxes and Arrows is from Kevin Hoffman’s Meeting Design for Managers, Makers, and Everyone.

We’ll publish an excerpt, up to 500 words, of your book. The catch is that we’ll only publicize one book a month; first come, first serve. Other rules will certainly occur to us over time. Hit us up at idea at

How to Design a Meeting

When hundreds of hours of his design team’s sweat, blood, and tears seemed to go up in flames in a single meeting with a group of vice presidents, Jim could have easily panicked. So that’s what he did.

Jim is a creative director at a successful and highly respected boutique design agency—let’s call it “Rocket Design.” He found a fantastic opportunity for Rocket through a former coworker’s new job at a Fortune 100 client—they were ready to spend half a million dollars to build the best website expe­rience possible in a competitive market: online meal delivery. After several weeks of discovery, his team had assembled a design direction that they believed could be effective. Baked into a collection of mocked-up mobile screens were strategies...

What is a UX designer?

I recently saw a great ad for a senior UX specialist from MathWorks. Some excerpts:

  • Work with the development team to follow a user-centered design approach as you work collaboratively to brainstorm and design innovative solutions to complex problems.
  • Make recommendations to team members about which usability methods to use to answer their questions about users and design directions based on projects’ needs, goals, and constraints.
  • Work closely with team members to conduct user research, identify pain points, develop user profiles, and create task lists.
  • Collaborate on paper and functional prototypes.
  • Run usability tests, conduct interviews and site visits, organize surveys, and perform other usability assessments you think are appropriate.

It outlines exactly what I would expect in a UX job. We learn everything we can about a project from stakeholders and competitive products, find ways to research what users want and need, evaluate those needs with stakeholders, modify the project plan, and create solutions which are validated with users before finalizing the product.

But when I was looking for a new gig, that was the exception. Many of the job descriptions I saw asked for a wide array of UX skills, with some even asking for more than listed above. But it seemed that they really wanted a visual designer who could prototype.

From a senior UI/UX designer ad:

  • Experience with testing and usability labs and rapid prototyping experience
  • Ability to create clear and engaging visualizations
  • Deep knowledge in understanding what engages and motivates users

Sounds like they are looking for someone well versed in research,...

Most software user experience and product management teams have similar questions: How do users feel about our products? How is our product experience changing over time? How do users feel about a recent change we’ve made in the product?

Our user experience (UX) and product teams are no different, so we set up a system that provides an ongoing stream of data that answers these questions and does much more.

In this case study, we describe our user experience monitoring system at Qualtrics.[1] With data collected through this system, we are able to monitor the overall UX of our software-as-a-service (SaaS) products, share dashboards and reports with stakeholders, and send automated messages to individuals and groups based on key performance indicators. This system complements our existing traditional UX research initiatives (such as interviewing, surveying, usability evaluations, and reviewing telemetry data) with an actionable stream of high quality user experience data collected with very little ongoing effort from our team.

This case study is therefore useful for any researcher, designer, or product manager interested in creating a similar monitoring system for their eCommerce, website, app, or SaaS products (and potentially useful for non-digital contexts as well).

We start our case study by describing our system; from there,
we’ll share our process for creating this system and share some advice.

Who we are

First, here’s some context on our company: Qualtrics is the leader in experience management software and offers the Qualtrics Experience Management Platform. The...

Just as you had mastered SEO, social media, and original content, along come platforms that threaten to disrupt all previous branding experiences.

According to a survey by Greenlight Insights, 53% of respondents said they would be more inclined to purchase from a brand that used virtual reality compared to one that did not.

Although we are now relatively more familiar with augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), it is still quite a challenge to understand how to design effective brand experiences with them.

You don’t want to invest in technology for it only to be a gimmick that does not significantly bolster your branding activities. And yet, there is the pressure to not get left behind while everyone else seems to be using cutting edge technology.

Most major brands today—The New York Times and Mercedes, as two examples—have used augmented reality and virtual reality experiences to engage customers.

How can your brand leverage AR/VR for best results?

But first, some background

Briefly, AR lets you add a layer of digital content to real, physical environments; VR entails an entirely digital immersive space.

As I stare down the tiny leaf-shaped fruit well of my yogurt container, I stop to think, why can’t I ever get ALL of the fruit from this little reservoir?

There is always some fruit left over. My spoon is too wide to reach the corners. After trying other options in the silverware drawer, a closer look at the back of my spoon reveals the solution; the small and narrow curve of the spoon handle turns out to be a perfect fit to fulfill my fruity yogurt need! Using the handle of the spoon to dig out the fruit bits from my yogurt container is a great example of a workaround—an unintended solution to a problem.

That’s what this article is about: Workarounds as not just solutions but also as opportunities to innovate on an existing solution. How can we identify workarounds and assess their value in order to come up with an even better solution?

Why workarounds exist

Workarounds exist because users identify a shortcoming in the existing solution and are looking for a better way to get something done.

As a user experience researcher, when I observe a study participant using a product in an unusual way, there’s a good chance that it is a workaround and possibly—though not all of the time—a better way to get the job done.

Donald Norman once said workarounds are “the soul of innovation…where the answers lie.”[1] Users who create workarounds are articulating an unmet need in the existing solution. Their goals are blocked.


Gamification, or the addition of game-like elements to anything that isn’t a game, pops up all over the design world.

In my last post for Boxes and Arrows, I focused specifically on gamification in mobile app onboarding. The moment when users first open your app is critical to the app’s success, and you can use gamification as a tool to get a new user through the learning curve.

But gamification doesn’t just fit with onboarding. It’s possible to apply gamification to any part of app design, or even design an entire app—that is not a mobile gaming application—around it.

I’ll examine Forest, a productivity app, as a case study of gamification embedded so deeply into an app’s framework that gamification becomes the entire reason to use the app in the first place.

What is Forest?

In 2015, Shaokan Pi, a Taiwanese mobile app publisher, released an app called Forest. Tech-oriented media outlets latched onto Forest immediately, and it appeared in articles like “Top 10 Productivity Tools to Maximize Your Efficiency” and “Curb Tech Dependence With an App That Plants Trees as a Reward.”

For all that praise, Forest doesn’t do very much. It has a single goal: Grow virtual trees. When you plant a tree in your personal forest, you have to leave your phone alone for a time of your choosing (25 minutes, typically). If you use any other app during that time, the tree dies. Should you succeed, though, you start a customizable grove. That’s it. You...

Like a superhero created when the contents of two beakers accidentally combine, a powerful hybrid has emerged in the software development world: the user champion.

In this origin story, the beakers would be labeled “agile” and “user experience (UX)” because the user champion borrows some of the best ideas from both disciplines. From agile, it takes the idea of the product owner (or in this case, product champion). From UX, it takes a conviction in the value of user feedback.

This role of user champion may be the distinctive product of a distinctive design process—our shop focuses on highly knowledgeable, highly engaged business users—but it seems to have broader application.

As you might expect, the hybrid reflects its components.

The product owner  

Kenneth S. Rubin, in The Essential Scrum, defines the product owner as “the empowered central point of product leadership.”

She is responsible for ensuring that “good economic decisions are continuously being made,” joining the development team and the scrum master in planning, helping shape the vision of the product, planning its next release and grooming its backlog, defining acceptance criteria, and collaborating with both the development team and key stakeholders to advance the project.  

According to Rubin—and according to anyone who’s ever attempted to move a Post-It from doing to done—agile product ownership requires some serious skills. She must be a flexible visionary, a practical expert, a skilled...

Playing games is a human impulse. People get a kick out of competing, collecting things, and finishing tasks. You can apply game design elements to anything, which is called gamification.

Mobile app onboarding is a useful place for a touch of competition or goal-setting. Whether as small as a progress bar or as major as a tutorial for a mobile game, these elements help users finish onboarding and come back to the app again.

As a content developer at Clutch, I got the chance to delve into a research survey on the mobile onboarding process. The results support gamification as a resource UX designers can and should turn to. According to the survey, 44% of app users download an app “for fun,” which is more than any other reason. Designers should play to that desire and make onboarding itself fun.

In addition, 72% of respondents said that completing onboarding in less than a minute is important in their decision to keep using the app. Users aren’t willing to spend much time on onboarding, so designers should add elements that convince these users to stay.

This article explores the origin and definition of gamification and provides three specific UX elements you might include as you’re designing a mobile onboarding experience.

Gamification and mobile app development

The word ‘gamification‘ first appeared in 2002 and was popularized in 2010. Since then, it’s become a buzzword as industry after industry has hopped on the gamification train.

A common misconception holds that gamification is only applicable to games and...

Stepping into an artificial world is an exceptional experience, but just how do you gauge the success of a virtual reality (VR) experience?

Well, there are many different methods to gauge success, and each method gives different results. VR is used in a variety of industries—primarily in gaming—but it has been used for informative 360-degree videos and tours of buildings. Despite the different purposes, the success of these experiences can be gauged using the same methods.

Within this article, we will go through the different ways the gaming industry gauges the success of a VR experience.

What is VR?

Through a combination of computer technology, good programming, and expert level design, VR puts its users in a simulated environment.

They can look around them, interact with what they see, and move around. The environments created in these VR universes simulate different senses, including touch, hearing, vision, and even smell (recently added to the new “South Park: The Fractured But Whole” game).

VR is available on different platforms, affording different experiences on each.

The simulated environment and the platform on which the VR is experienced lead to some limitations and considerations.

The platform or device will impact the appeal of the VR experience. Weak computing power means the game might not be able to run or will only run very poorly. A mobile VR experience differs greatly from that of...

Don’t laugh. I’m sure you’ve done this before. At the office, there’s a refrigerator cleanup every two weeks. At least I think it happens every two weeks. The office administrator sends out an email or posts a note on the fridge, warning you that things will be dumped if they’re not labeled. You’ve seen these long-forgotten food containers of who-knows-when science experiments pushed up against the back of the fridge. Same with those things that start growing in your pantry…. Don’t ask. I won’t continue. Please don’t tell my mother I had so many potatoes left.

When it comes to explaining governance, the one in the kitchen is the best example to illustrate exactly what happens when you take a taxonomy for granted. Not only do you see it, you smell it. You’ll feel it if you consume the foods way past its best by or expiration date. You’ll taste the food quality deteriorate if the ingredients used are not as fresh as they could be. What better way to illustrate ROT analysis than the five senses? This kitchen analogy doesn’t stop at organization.

Previous articles in this kitchen taxonomy series went through outlining the business case for building a taxonomy, card-sorting to generate labels, and tree-testing to assess findability. At this point, it’s an overhead project at most companies.

However, this is an important reminder: Once you’ve developed and applied that taxonomy to your content, the project is far from done. Establishing a taxonomy governance is a...

I cannot count how many large-scale projects my team has been a part of where we’re scrambling last-minute to take care of some seemingly small but integral task necessary for launch. I’ve talked to others in the web design and marketing industry; my team is not alone in this launch frenzy. But does that make this odd ritual okay or even acceptable?

The risk when things are missed prior to launch

The worst case scenario? Once live, a project stakeholder notices the missteps and calls out the project team, damaging trust, credibility, and ultimately the relationship.

Scratch that.

The worst case scenario for missed items prior to a project launch are when the end user stumbles upon them. This can result in a lost purchase, a drop in satisfaction, and a big impact on the bottom line and perception of the product and/or company. And only 21% of internet users give a brand another chance after a negative experience (Harris Poll, 2017). We cannot afford to get it wrong the first time.

Only 21% of Internet users give a brand another chance after a negative experience (Harris Poll, 2017)

If launch tasks are integral, then why are they commonly overlooked?

What we need is accountability, but accountability cannot exist when there is not a great grasp of what is needed. Many launch tasks are missed not because of their importance but for a myriad of reasons that, when combined, make them hard to spot.

  • Minimal, small in duration
  • The task was not accounted for in the project...

Email unsubscribe is one of the most dreadful things for any email marketer. After all the hard work you put into a campaign, it is particularly annoying to get your emails unsubscribed.

According to Mailjet, if your unsubscribe rate is below 1%, you are said to be within the industry norm. However, emails sent to new lists—to subscribers who have not received an email from you before—are not included in this calculation because they usually have more unsubscribes. Your industry also influences the number of unsubscribes you get. An agreeable unsubscribe rate is below 0.5%, and you should work on creating better emails if your unsubscribe rate exceeds that.

It is worth noting here that purchased lists will have more unsubscribes because you do not have the permission to send emails to those addresses. Unsubscribes also contribute to a drop in your sales if unsubscribes surpass the number of new signups.

It’s not even remotely possible that you don’t have any unsubscribes. However, having unsubscribes is almost a double-edged sword.

What compels people to unsubscribe from emails?

People usually unsubscribe because they lose interest in your emails. Cluttered inboxes, irrelevant content, and poor email design are the top reasons for unsubscribes.

Too-frequent emails are likely to scare away your subscribers. Employ A/B testing to understand what works the best for your email marketing. Whether it’s the send time (the specific day of the week an email is sent or even a specific time of the day as per the geo-location of the subscriber...


User experience (UX) teams have many types of data at their disposal to ascertain the quality of a digital product’s user experience. Traditionally, these sources have focused on direct customer feedback through methods such as interviews and usability studies, as well as surveys[1] and in-product feedback mechanisms. Beyond survey methodologies, however, it can be time-consuming to create a recurring channel of in-depth UX insights through these traditional UX research methods because they require time to conduct, analyze, and create reports of findings.

Product managers rely on metrics that require little effort to gather and report on to give them a sense of business health. These metrics—conversion rate, renewal rate, average order value, and so on—speak to the overall quality of the business, but they cannot typically pinpoint specific user experience issues.

UX teams can benefit from metrics that are specific to user experience to augment their traditional customer feedback channels. Usage metrics—data captured through product instrumentation as people visit a website, use a web application or SaaS product, or interact with an app—can allow teams to infer user experience issues and understand what customers are doing within a product with little effort after the initial setup.

Usage metrics, for example, can identify a place within a product where customers frequently access online help, suggesting this aspect of the product is problematic for customers. Usage metrics can thus help monitor a product’s user experience and help identify when and where issues may be occurring.

In this article, we describe some...

If an app launches in the app store, and no one hears it, did it really launch?

Today, digital products like apps and sites require marketing. Luckily, this has become easier to do, even a limited budget.

This is also a great opportunity to do market research. Many products fail because they don’t solve a need their customers have or because the customer doesn’t know they themselves have a need for the product. Too often the team gets all the way through building the product to find out they can’t explain the product. Both start-ups and established companies could benefit from a new approach.

Every product has at least one scary question to answer: Is it viable? Does the profit exceed the cost to get customers? It’s not a good sign if you plan to charge $1 per app but your cost of acquisition is $1.50. But how do you find out without building and launching?

Here’s a counter-intuitive idea: Make the commercial first.

Way before starting to code, discover the true value of the idea using tools you probably already have. This article covers techniques to rapidly visualize your idea and get early feedback.

“Design the box first” is a classic design exercise to use constraints to discover the unique value...

As I watched the app go live in across the various app stores I felt exhausted.

The steps leading up to the launch had been intense, involving multiple stakeholders, scores of different user personas, and innumerable iteration cycles spread across a multitude of design teams. We shipped the project on time and shared high-fives all around, but after the dust had settled, I realized how truly tired each step of this project had made me.

After the launch, I was all UX’ed out. Even the sight of a Post-It note felt exhausting. Attributing the fatigue to creative block, I planned to take a few days off to recharge. But because my version of “recharge” also means “process everything,” I also decided to write an article for creatives about how to deal with this kind of block.

But when I sat down to write, something surprising happened. Despite my fatigue, the words flew off the page and my energy levels soared. I could hardly get my flood of ideas down fast enough!

And that’s when I realized: This wasn’t a creative block at all. I had UX burnout.

What is UX burnout?

If you haven’t heard of UX burnout, don’t feel bad—it’s a term I coined for the kind of burnout that arises during key points of the UX process, as opposed to a generalized creative block that occurs when you’ve simply run out of energy and...

Google unveiled progressive web apps around 12 months ago. We’ve now had the chance to look at some of the pioneers of the technology, see how they’ve managed to implement the concepts, and look at their results.

As both a web and Android developer, I’ve been very interested in progressive web apps, not just from a professional point of view but also because this is a technology that I actually believe in.

What are progressive web apps?

The premise is refreshingly simple: bridge the gap between offline and online experiences and gain performance increases, lower bounce rates, and even better conversion rates while doing so.

Progressive web applications—I’ll now call them PWAs—are basically another layer to add on an existing website, one that interacts between the browser and http connection.

Image from Google showing how PWAs have another layer before the web server.

This means that any and all requests first go through the service worker, which is an important part of any PWA.

The service worker then determines whether there is even a need to connect to the internet for the request, or whether it should just serve a locally stored cache of the website the user is currently browsing.

Why use a PWA?

Because a PWA can show pages regardless of internet connectivity, site owners have new possibilities for developing sites which function perfectly online as...

Editors’ note: The second “Book in Brief” feature here on Boxes and Arrows is from Theresa Regli’s Digital and Marketing Asset Management: The Real Story About DAM Technology and Practice. Use the discount code ‘dmambanda’ to add this to your library; it’s good for 20% off.

We’ll publish an excerpt, up to 500 words, of your book. The catch is that we’ll only publicize one book a month; first come, first serve. Other rules will certainly occur to us over time. Hit us up at idea at

Since the turn of the millennium, digital media—photos, audio files, video clips, animations, games, interactive ads, streaming movies, and experiential marketing—have become an increasingly significant part of our everyday experience. The combination of inexpensive, highly functional digital still and video cameras (even as part of mobile devices); increased network bandwidth; decreased storage costs; low-cost, high-performance processors; high-capacity, solid-state memory; affordable cloud services; and the requisite digital media infrastructure has laid the foundation for today’s vibrant electronic ecosystem. Whether you’re browsing the Web, listening to a song on an iPhone, watching a video on a tablet, opening a rich media email on your mobile device, or recording a TV series on a digital video recorder, you’re experiencing digital media.

This digital media expansion creates a challenge for consumers and enterprises alike. Consumers want to organize the experience and...