Why You Should Design Experiences Like Real World Conversations


Does your digital experience feel like a real world conversation?

Yesterday Michaela Hackner, Head of Content Strategy at Capital One, came to talk to us at work about how they’ve used content strategy to improve their user experiences and business outcomes.  She also mentioned that her team is part of the Conversation Design and that they design interactions using “talk bubbles” to imagine what the back-and-forth between C1 and the user will be, as if the person had walked into a retail branch (or in this case, was talking to Alexa).

It got me thinking to how great digital experiences mimic great real-world interactions – they all start with a conversation.  A common place I see startups failing with this is asking users to register before demonstrating value or even understanding what the user is trying to accomplish.  Don’t assume this person read your entire marketing site or your app’s entire description in the App Store or Google Play.

I’ve written about this before (with the shame-on-you example being LetGo).  Asking me to register before even understanding what I’m registering for or the value to me of registering is like:

  • A car salesman asking you to fill out a customer lead form the minute you walk into a dealership, before he greets you or you even tell him why you’re there
  • Asking for my credit card as soon as I walk into a retail store, even if I’m just browsing
  • A banker shaking my hand and immediately asking me for my Social Security Number and address so he can open a new account for me, without even trying to understand why I might be interested in a new account

Instead, imagine if you had a retail store – how would you train your employees to greet a prospective customer when he/she walks in the door?  What types of questions or responses would you expect?  Start there and see how much better the user feedback and business outcomes can be.

Want to talk about making your user experience more conversational?

How to CREATE Experiences that Spur Users to Action


I work with Dr. Steve Wendel, who is our Head of Behavioral Science.  He literally wrote the book on designing software for behavior change.  In that book he outlines his CREATE framework that suggests there are 5 hurdles you need to overcome to get a user or prospective user to take an action, and that at each hurdle, you’re going to lose a few people (hence the funnel shape).  Let’s take a look at the funnel in greater detail.


You’ve gotta prompt your user to take the action you want – be it an email, push notification, or ad.  This is the one I think most product development squads forget.  They focus so much on building a great user experience that they forget how and why the user would come to their product in the first place.  (if you build it, they will NOT come)


As you may have read in books like Blink, our minds use shortcuts to make instantaneous judgements in response to a cue.  You should be aware of how your audience might react to your cue.  For example, if you’re telling them you have the greatest budgeting app in the world, be aware of what people think about the word “budget” (mostly negative reactions, as it implies work or an unpleasant realization that they’re spending too much).


If you can get past the knee-jerk emotional response, then you have to get past a more rational cost-benefit evaluation.  If you’re asking them to switch to your product, this is the point in time in the Jobs to be Done framework where they might decide whether your product is superior to what they’re using today, and whether the switching costs will be worth it.


Your audience has to have the ability to take the action you’re asking them to take.  For example, if you send an email asking them to log in to your app and check on some changes but they’re in a cellular dead zone on the subway, they’re not logging in then (and chances are, they’re not going to remember to log in later, unless they open that email again).


Which brings us to the last step – even if the person can take the action, you have to convince them why NOW is the time to do so.  For example, in my line of work, getting younger employees to save for retirement is hard – there are more immediate financial goals like buying a house or paying off student loans that feel more urgent that something that’s 30 years away.

Here are a couple behavioral techniques that can help create urgency:

  • Scarcity: you might have seen Amazon do this with a message like “only 3 left in stock” under a product’s description.  Or with a limited number of beta invites for an upcoming app launch.
  • Deadlines: you may have seen this on TicketMaster – a clock that counts down saying that the price for those Bieber tickets you’re thinking about buying will only stay locked in for 3 more minutes.  Same idea with limited time offers.


Steve left this one off the visual, but the last step is actually taking the action.  This is where you give your user a virtual high five for taking an action that you both wanted her to.

Want to discuss using behavioral science to spur action with your users? Drop me a line.

3 Tips for Picking KPIs to Measure Your Product’s Success


Of all the items on a new car sticker, which ones should matter most to the car’s product manager?

Product managers, how do you know if you’re doing a good job?  Your manager tells you so? A customer leaves a glowing product review? Your coworker likes the new feature you launched?  Nope. You’ll know if you’re doing a good job if your product is successful.

But what does success means? It depends on your product, but no matter what, if you don’t have a way to measure success, you’ll never know, and neither will your stakeholders – internal or external.  Here are some tips on choosing Key Performance Indicators to measure the success of your product.

Tip 1: Start With the Money

I’ve written about this before: the ultimate measure of success should be a business outcome, so you should have at least one KPI that has a dollar sign in front of it.  Profitability is ideal, but revenue or cost savings for your company are also good.  If you need a shorter feedback loop on a KPI like revenue (because your sales cycle is really long), use a proxy KPI (for example, maybe you know that your sales team closes 80% of deals after 2 meetings with the decision maker – great, use that instead of revenue).

Tip 2: Measure Often

KPIs don’t matter if you can’t measure them easily, especially if you’re releasing frequently as a part of an Agile process.  Make sure you can measure your KPIs within a few minutes, and that the data needed to measure them is updated often – at least daily.  If you need to prioritize time to instrument your product to make measurement easier, do it.  Otherwise you’re either flying blind, or there’s too much of a delay in your feedback loop.  Also, don’t forget to publish your KPIs regularly for internal stakeholders, so that they can also see how your product is doing.

Tip 3: Don’t Pick Too Many KPIs

At most, I’d suggest 2 or 3.  Why? Because if you’re prioritizing changes (or tests) to improve your KPIs, it’s hard to juggle too many.  Don’t forget about the “K” in KPI.  In an ideal world,  you might even assign a KPI to each of your product owners and development squads, so that they know whether their work is resulting in meaningful business value.

Want to discuss your KPIs?

Why Agile and Roadmaps Don’t Mix

I’ve worked in Agile for 6 years now, having worked in waterfall at Accenture for 5 years prior to that. I’ve presented dozens of roadmaps. But now I’m on a mission to kill the phrase “roadmap”, at least internally, at work. Why? Because roadmaps and Agile don’t mix. Allow me to explain.

The visualization

Ever presented a roadmap that looks like this?

Of course you have. And when you do, your stakeholders see a Gantt chart/project plan. If you’re using agile, you probably used some rough estimation to come up with the timeline. Yet the visualization makes it hard to convey the uncertainty around the timeline. No matter how many asterisks you put on the slide, they will see this as a project plan.

The expectations

So your stakeholders see this “project plan.” What do they expect? For you to deliver on it! They judge you, your squad, your parents, your value to the company on your ability to “stick to the plan”. But is delivering features “on schedule” really success? No way. High fives for delivering software features on time/on budget should be left in 2002 with waterfall.

What happens when you’re delayed? When great business opportunities present themselves? When you realize you want to iterate more on something based on feedback? You have to update your “project plan”. Bummer. Everyone was really excited about that thing at the end of your roadmap. Clients were expecting it. Senior execs built revenue projections off it. Someone from customer service Tweeted that it’s coming. Now they’re all scrambling to save face. And they hate you, product manager, for not doing your job! 😞

And you thought it’d be OK to update the roadmap because that’s the point of Agile right?

So what instead?

I’ll dedicate future posts to this topic but here’s a rough overview of what we are trying at work instead of quarterly roadmap updates – quarterly KPI Reviews. Here’s how you can use them too:

Define your KPIs

Start by identifying the metrics that you’ll use to measure success for your product. Business outcomes like revenue/profit are always a good start. Maybe sign ups as a way to measure progress on your mission. Or engagement. Whatever it is, get consensus internally before proceeding. Without agreement, you’ll always be fighting internally about feature X vs feature Y because no one will be able to point to what outcomes you’re trying to deliver. Oh and a tip here: shoot for 2–3 KPIs max. (note the K in the acronym)

Identify what hypotheses you’re planning to test to move each KPI

Once you’ve know how you’re going to keep score, brainstorm with your squad/other folks ways that you can change your product to move the needle on each KPI. Think a new first time experience will improve long term engagement? Write it down. We use this format to express a hypothesis:

IF we (make this change/build X) THEN we will see (this KPI go up or down) BECAUSE (user research/analytics that suggest why this outcome will occur)

Prioritize your hypotheses

Try to find quick wins first – what do you think will be a light lift but really impactful? Then start thinking about what you could do in 1–2 sprints to test the idea. It doesn’t have to be building new features or restructuring your whole app. The point is to get a signal that you’re onto something before investing too much time or effort. Maybe you could send an email survey explaining the concept and ask for users to vote. Or build some buttons to track interest.

Test your high priority hypotheses

Within a sprint or two, you’ve got something in front of users to test your ideas (this doesn’t have to be a full A/B test). Now track how they’re responding by looking for changes in your KPIs. Yes, I’ve assumed you have the ability to track your KPIs easily and as close to real time as possible. Without this feedback loop you’re not using Agile the way it was intended.

Present updates on the KPIs, along with what you learned about your hypotheses since the last update

Now when you get up to present to stakeholders, all you have to do is show whether your KPIs are moving – hopefully they are and if not, hopefully you can explain what you’ve learned along the way. We use a Kanban style board to show where each hypothesis is in the life cycle:

  • To Do is the prioritized list of hypotheses (some might have an ETA on them as a nod to the “project plan” roadmap we left behind, because stakeholders of course love timelines)
  • In Progress are the tests in flight in the field
  • Done are the hypotheses where we’ve done the analysis and either confirmed or busted the hypothesis (or maybe the results were inconclusive). This is where all the learnings are captured.

Don’t get me wrong. This is a huge cultural shift. And it’s not easy. But it’s worth it, because there’s so much business value in Agile if you use it correctly.

And yes, I know that sometimes you have to communicate timelines, both internally and externally. I’ll post some thoughts on how to get clients on board with this model, as well as internal stakeholders. (Hint: they don’t REALLY want features, they want outcomes too. Alignment!)

More on this later…but would love your thoughts in the meantime.

Want to talk about Agile, KPIs or experiments? Drop me a line.

You Only Get One Chance to Make a First Impression: 3 Tips for A Great First Time User Experience


Which of these would you rather take your next Uber/Lyft ride in?

First impressions matter.  Daniel Kahneman reminds us of that in Thinking, Fast and Slow. We’re all wired to make snap judgements – maybe it’s how someone smells the first time you meet her, what the new model of a car looks like, or how a new song on the radio starts off.  If your product doesn’t make a good first impression, you’ve ruined your chance for a great relationship with that user.  So how can you make sure prospective users become users, and that they have a great first time experience?  Here are 3 suggestions:

1. Don’t neglect the discovery experience.

How did a prospective user hear about your product?  This is a critical part of the first time experience because (a) it’s where a prospective user is forming their first impression of your product and (b) it’s likely when expectations are set. Don’t underestimate the power of the smallest detail here: the marketing message you pick for an ad, a landing page hero image, the screen shots and reviews of your app in the App Store, etc.  At each step, prospects are making snap judgements on whether to continue.

Using the Jobs to be Done framework, the focus during the discovery experience should be highlighting how your product can help a prospective user do a job better than what she’s using today.  Think your budgeting app is better than spreadsheets?  Highlight that.  Want them to know that your new social network is subscription based, so there aren’t any ads? Mention it.

Let’s look at an example – an ad I saw recently on Instagram for HotelTonight.


Hmm, I usually only book hotels for work trips, and I usually plan those weeks in advance.  I don’t think this app is for me.  Also, this image is weird – why’s this guy falling into a bed at a luxury hotel?  Maybe they only work with luxury hotels…

I did not tap on Install Now…

2. Demonstrate value quickly.

During the discovery experience,  you’ve set some expectations on the value your product will provide to the user.  Now make sure you follow through on meeting those expectations by delivering value quickly – I mean within a minute, which is probably how much time a new user is going to give your product.

Let’s look at an example of how to NOT demonstrate value quickly – this is the first thing I saw when I opened the Letgo app for the first time:


Ugh, I wanted to sell some of the kids’ toys we don’t use anymore, but I can’t even see if others are posting toys and if so, for how much and whether there are people posting similar items in my area.  I literally deleted the app within 3 seconds of seeing this page because I can’t proceed without registering.

I see this all the time – forcing a user to register before she even knows what she’s gonna get for doing so.  You know what she’s going to get because you think about it every day at work for hours.  She doesn’t.  Instead, create an experience where she can explore the value of your product BEFORE committing to it.  Not doing so is the equivalent of a car dealer forcing you to buy a car the minute you walk in through the door, without a test drive or the ability to walk around the showroom and check out the different models.

Now an example of how to deliver value quickly – the Recolor app, which I found by looking through the top free apps in the App Store (discovery!).  I chose to download it because I’m always looking for new ways to unwind on the train ride home from work, and I’ve found casual games to be good. (if Recolor was on top of their Jobs to be Done game, they would hopefully uncover the insight that they’re competing with Candy Crush and staring at the ads on the El – the others ways I might pass the time on the commute home)



Within 20 seconds of opening the app, I figured out how to select a picture to color and after a brief animated interaction tutorial, I was coloring.  There’s something quite relaxing about coloring in this picture…

3. Let them know what jobs your product can help them with.

Let’s say your app has 5 features but a new user only used one as a part of her first time experience.  How would she know about the other 4 features, which might be really valuable to her?  This needs to be part of the first time experience.

Let’s look back at the Recolor app as an example of how they did this really well:


Within 5 seconds of glancing at this, I noticed a few things that taught me how Recolor works: 1. There’s an Import feature in the top right, which I immediately knew meant I could pull in my own photos and recolor them – nice, a really personal touch. 2. The headline at the top is that new pictures post in 2 hours – now I know that if I get bored of the pictures they have right now, I can come back to the app often to keep myself entertained. 3. The fact that they called out Free as a filter lets me know that I should expect to pay for some pictures at some point. 4. The bottom navigation tabs let me know the key features of the app – a library of photos to color, a gallery (of other people’s work, I presume, since there’s also a My Works tab) and an activity tracker.

Another great example of feature discovery is Amazon Alexa emails.  Every Friday, I get something like this to let me know what’s new with Alexa – this is a particularly great tactic if your product is new and changing often (don’t assume users are using your product that frequently).



Oh nice, I can hear the monologue. I love how they tell me how to activate – and use – this new skill.  


They also do an awesome job reminding me that Alexa herself can tell me about her new skills, just me asking her “Alexa, what new things can you do?”  That’s great, because I can discover and activate new skills as I’m interacting with my Echo.

In Summary

If there’s one thing to take away from this post it’s this: don’t neglect the first time user experience – if you don’t make a great first impression, you’ve likely lost a user forever (it’s really hard to re-engage someone who’s dismissed your product).

Want a free analysis of your first time experience?

Don’t Forget About Quality


Some of your product’s bugs could be as devastating as a safety issue that leads to car fires.

“The FAA prohibits you from plugging your Samsung Note 7 into any outlets on this aircraft.”

I heard this on a recent flight and felt bad for Samsung, a brand I had come to respect for what they’ve done to compete with Apple.  After hearing this, though, I’ve lost all respect and have a great response to my wife’s plea to switch to Android.

You can’t rush a good product.  Quality takes time, because it means the squad took time to understand real-world scenarios, and how to test them before launching your product or a feature.

This doesn’t just apply to software products.  Chipotle had an e. coli scare in the spring, they later reported an 82% drop in profits, compared to the spring/summer of 2015.

Who’s job is quality?  While it’s on the entire squad to deliver a quality product, having a good Quality Assurance team makes it so much easier.  They’re the ones asking “what happens in user scenario X?” and thinking about the best way to thoroughly test the changes.  So if you haven’t already, give everyone on your QA team a hug, high five, or bug zapper.

Want to talk about how to improve your product’s quality? Drop me a line.

Do you need a roadmap?

Not having a roadmap is like off roading. You can certainly get somewhere but it may not be the most comfortable journey.

April 2017 update: my thoughts on roadmaps have changed – if you’re working in Agile, be sure to read Why Agile and roadmaps don’t mix.

Not every product needs a roadmap.  They’re a lot of work to produce but are definitely appropriate for more mature products / organizations. Unless you’re pre-revenue and there entire company is sitting in the same room (as in, there’s no way you don’t know what the product team is working on), you probably need a roadmap to communicate:


Your roadmap should be a reflection of the changes to your product that are most likely going to improve one (or more) of your KPIs, which define what success means for your product. (more on KPIs in this post).   So the highest priority items on your roadmap are the ones that are expected to move the needle the furthest.


When is that change gonna go live?! Timelines are also really important to your customers, whose businesses might depend on the timeline (maybe they need to integrate with your product and need to plan for that or are going to change a business process as a part of a change you are making).

Be careful in presenting these timelines. If you only did t-shirt sizing to estimate the timeline, your estimate might be off (especially towards the end of your roadmap). My recommendation is to remind the audience that these are estimates and that the accuracy of the roadmap should get better as epics come closer to starting.  Also, as the timeline nears, don’t forget to be Agile and demo too customers often – wireframes, comps, half-built functionality, etc. That way you can get feedback and provide status updates on timing.

Even if you don’t have a roadmap, you should still have defined KPIs to measure the success of your product so that you can know whether your changes are meaningful.

Want to talk about your product’s roadmap? Drop me a line.

Breaking Down An Effective Print Ad

I saw this ad on the way to work on the El and thought it was really effective (or at least compared to the other ads on the train). Specifically:

  • Effective layout and content – I glanced at this for 3 seconds and immediately knew what the ad was for.
  • Great imagery – I can see what running in the race downtown would be like. (Bonus points if they had used the behavioral technique of visualizing my future and had an image of people celebrating as they crossed the finish line instead. I know it would have gotten me thinking how great it would feel to finish the race)
  • Call To Action – visit the site!  It’s an easy URL to remember too.
  • Urgency – the $10 discount that expires at the end of the month makes me realize I’d better act soon. And the discount code is easy to remember.

Now, as much as I like this ad, having just had another kid, I’m not gonna register for this race. But kudos to the designers and I’m sure they’ll fill up the 15,000 spots quickly.

Want a free analysis of one of your ads? Drop me a line.

Marketing 101: Always Include A Call To Action


Not having a CTA is like a local car dealership paying for a TV ad without the “Come on down to ______ and see our great deals” at the end.

I like NatureBox – they mail you snacks each month.  I bought a subscription for my wife as a Christmas gift because she works from home and likes to snack between meetings/calls.  They have good food (although I’m not sure it’s so healthy).

I was excited to see they’re now offered in select Target stores – got a coupon to get a free bag in our last NatureBox.  I also got the above flyer to refer a friend.  I would definitely have done it, but there was no Call To Action – no “log onto naturebox.com, visit natureboxreferrals.com” – nothing.  Now I know that I probably need to log onto the site, but at this point, I’ve lost interest.

Key lesson? Include a CTA on all marketing (especially really expensive print materials!) and make sure you’re providing clear, detailed instructions if there are many steps needed for the person to take the action you want them to take.

Want a free analysis of your current marketing campaigns? Drop me a line.


How to Get More Mobile App Users

App makers who don’t optimize the adoption funnel are like car dealerships who still using the same marketing tactics as they did in 1980.

Let’s take a look at the standard adoption funnel for your mobile – the steps a prospective user needs to take to register for your app (or “adopt” it).  The funnel below has some made-up stats for the purpose of this post.  Note that the overall conversion rate is the product of the 3 conversion rates between the 4 steps (50% x 25% x 75% = 9.375%).


Step 1: Discover

This is all about building awareness of your app, and what your marketing team is probably focused on.  The more people that get here, the more users you will have.  But beware: you may not want to drive a bunch of people to this step before your funnel is optimized, as this is perhaps the most expensive step.

Getting People From Discovery To The App Store or Google Play


Channels like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram  are great for targeting and relatively cost effective as a starting point.  The call to action should drive them directly to Step 2 – your page in the App Store or Google Play.  You could send them to a landing page, but you’d be introducing another step in the funnel, which won’t help overall conversion. (but this might be worth A/B testing with your audience)

(Side note: I wouldn’t recommend non-digital ads (TV, radio, print) as a starting point because even though you’ll reach a broader audience to build awareness, you’ll lose a lot of people in the process of getting them to take out a digital device like a phone, tablet or laptop and come to your web site or search for your product.  Most startups can’t afford non-digital ads.)

Get press

If you have something unique to offer, tell the world.  But make sure there’s a story there for reporters.  To learn more, here’s a decent primer on writing a press release from HubSpot. Again, the call to action from the story should be to check out the app in the App Store or Google Play.

Hold events

If your app is specific to a city or region, or you’re initially targeting users based on where they live, holding events like launch parties might be a great idea.  The key is to make sure there is a good reason (like a raffle prize or exclusive feature access) for attendees to fly through the funnel and download the app at the event itself.

Generate referrals

Once you have a decent user base (or a very engaged user base), you can recruit them to help spread the word. Build a referral feature and/or program and make sure your users are incentivized properly to direct their friends and family to Step 2.

Step 2: View in App Store

Once a prospect knows about your app, they have to get to the page in the App Store to download it.

Getting People From Viewing The App To Downloading It

App Store Optimization

A lot of people discover new apps by searching the App Store or Google Play.  Just like you might optimize your web site to appear on the first page of search results (Search Engine Optimization), you’ll want to know that your app shows up at the top of the list when people are looking for new apps.  For more information, read this: Top 10 Ways to Optimize Your App Store Search Ranking and Presence.  In particular, make sure to use screen shots and videos to visually explain the benefits of your app, as well as a good description and solid set of (hopefully 5-star) reviews.

(There are a lot of great apps for creating beautiful screen shots to use in the App Store and Google Play – I like LaunchKit.io)

Test your discovery techniques

Context matters – the way that the person got to the app store may very well influence whether she decides to download your app.  For example, if I ran an ad advertising “the best new dating app”, I’ve set a high expectation – if my app’s description, reviews and screen shots don’t also scream “the best new dating app,” she might not download it.  On the other hand, if my ad read “the hottest new dating app”, she’ll come in with a different set of expectations.

Small changes like these matter – track click through rates on your ads and periodically take a survey of what’s working and what’s not.  Ideally each ad has a unique URL that it goes to, so you can track the download rates on a per-ad (or at least per-campaign) basis.  For more on how that works, visit:

App Store


Google Play


Step 3: Download

Once they get to your app’s page in the App Store, you still have to convince them to download your app. (Side note, this applies mostly to iOS apps – Android is launching Instant Apps, which lets a user download your app without going to Google Play).

Getting People From Downloading The App To Registering

Once someone has downloaded the app, there’s a good chance they’ll open it immediately, but if they don’t, you’ve significantly lowered your chance to get a registered user, unless you’re confident in what cue might later prompt them to open the app they just downloaded. (for example, with dating apps, I know that boredom at home is a prompt that gets people thinking about dating apps).

Talk To Users

Optimizing the conversion rate of people who’ve downloaded the app to the number of registered users probably requires some user research.  Ask random people in your target audience to download your app and talk out loud as they open it and look at your splash screen / registration page.  Look for clues on what might be confusing – what barriers / open questions are there that might prevent people from registering?   Should you hae a link to your FAQs on the registration page? Make sure to address the barriers in the next release of your app (which hopefully isn’t but a month or two away, if you’re using Agile).

Demonstrate Value Quickly

Ideally a prospective user doesn’t even have to register before getting some value from your app.  If it’s possible to let them explore a feature or experience the sweetness that is your app before registering, do it.  Then create a compelling reason for them to create an account after playing around (for example, maybe in a dating app you can let them see potential connections quickly and they register in order to start messaging people that look interesting).

Tracking the conversion rate between steps 3 and 4 isn’t hard – the App Store and Google Play will let you see how many downloads you’ve had during a specific time period, and hopefully you have some kind of reporting dashboard that tells you the date/time that new users registered so you can calculate this conversion rate.

Step 4. Register

Victory!  Nothing sweeter than a new user.  In a future post I’ll write about how the onboarding experience (AKA first-time user experience or FTUX) plays a critical role in determining whether new users continue to use your app.

Want a free analysis of your mobile user acquisition funnel?