An Event Apart: UX Strategy Means Business

by February 17, 2014

In his presentation at the An Event Apart in Atlanta GA, Jared Spool walked through the importance of content and user experience for businesses. Here are my notes from his talk:

Content Maters

  • Great content stands by itself. It doesn't need a lot of embellishment.
  • Sites are filled with content. But what is the "content" that our customers want? How we think about content needs to change. Content is what your needs or wants right now.
  • What are the skills required to design good content? We need information architecture to make things findable and interaction design to make content usable. Visual design can be used to make content more effective and delightful.
  • Everything we design is a combination of content and the experience of interacting with that content and service.
  • Content and user experience cannot be separated. The delivery of content is as important as the content itself.
  • A strategy is a plan to achieve a desired outcome. When things don't work, do we have the right strategy?
  • Content is at the center of many experiences success and failures. Apple's iOS maps had great interaction design but poor content, which made it an overall failure. They underestimated the complexity of mapping content.
  • Google had over 10,000 people years invested in correcting mapping errors. That's quite a head start. Apple did not see the problem in Maps coming. It cost them dearly.
  • If the strategy can't predict outcomes, then the strategy is broken.

Business Models & Design

  • We often don't see things coming before they hit. Why? Because we often don't understand business.
  • In a typical retail environment, the manufacturer, distributor, and retailer take a cut. Apple owns all these parts of the equation and gets 100% on anything it sells directly.
  • Amazon can make money even when they sell products at cost. They turn their inventory every 20 days. Best Buy turns it every 74 days. Standard retail payments are 45 days. Amazon has cash float which earns them interest while others are waiting for payment.
  • Business models are designed. Even non-profits need a business plan and a sustainable business model.
  • When we don't understand the business model, we can't design the right experience.
  • Executives care about 5 things: increase revenue, decrease cost, increase new business, increase existing business, increase shareholder value.
  • Take anything you design and evaluate it through these considerations. What levers is it moving and why?
  • Zappos allows you to easily return things you buy on the site. How does this map to business model considerations? Clear instructions and labels on how to return products allowed them to decrease support costs and to increase the amount of products people keep, which increases revenue.
  • We need to connect the dots between what we do and what executives care about.


  • "Find the Content": go to an advertising supported Website and try to find the content.
  • Everything in an advertising model is designed to give you the experience you don't want. To distract you from what you do want.
  • Advertising may increase revenue, but they don't move other business priorities.
  • There is constant tension between ads and experience and it is getting worse.
  • Out of 1,707 ads you may click on 17 (or less than .1%). 31% of ads are never seen by users (off screen, etc.). 50% of mobile ads are clicked on accident. You are 478x more likely to survive a plane crash than to click on a banner ad.
  • Advertising only increases revenue, it doesn't move any of the other levers in a business model.
  • When we don't pay for the product, we are the product.
  • On Walgreens web site, 58% of the clicks go to elements that take up 3.9% of the space on a screen.
  • Advertising is extortion. We well ads to advertisers then charge users to remove ads from their experience.
  • Can ads work? Yes. But in a specific context only.
  • Seducible moments are when you can get users to take action. Advertising in seducible moments can work. But invasive broad advertising doesn't.
  • Word of mouth is the best kind of ad. It's targeted and integrated. We can't control word of mouth and reviews. All we can do is create great experiences, which in turn create great free advertising.
  • Metered paywalls allow newspapers to earn more money than they do from advertising. To make this model work, you need to have excellent content that people will pay for.
  • Repurposed content is selling content in different formats like blog posts in books.
  • In app sales bring in 3 times the revenue of advertising for mobile apps.
  • Sight tweaks to business models like "pay when you post" vs. "pay when you sell" can have a big impact. These levers allow us to design business models.
  • Business models play with the returns to get the best experience.

Content Adds Value

  • Poor content hurts our business dramatically. But does great content help the business?
  • Good content can add value to products. Participants in a study, spent less of their budget on Walmart but much more at Crutchfield. The difference was custom, well-written content.
  • Delightful content is not free. We need a business model to support it.
  • We can't just think in terms of screens and UIs, we need to understand the business as well.
  • Map user experience and delightful content to the business you are trying to create.
  • The best UX strategists create the right experience by understanding how business works.