An Event Apart: UX Strategy Means Business

by August 25, 2014

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

Content Maters

  • Everything we make has content in it. Everything we make has design. We can't silo these things. 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. Great content plus great design equals great user experience.
  • Content is at the center of many experiences success and failures. Apple's iOS 6 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.
  • Delivering the content is as important as the content itself.
  • We use the word strategy all the time -so what does it really mean? A strategy is a plan to achieve a desired outcome. When things don't work, do we have the right strategy?
  • UX strategy can't predict outcomes. If your strategy can't predict outcomes, then the strategy is broken.
  • We have to go back to basics. With strategy, we have to go back to business models.

Business Models & Design

  • 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. They have to make a profit, they just don't distribute it to shareholders.
  • When we don't understand the business model, we can't design the right experience.
  • What are our business model options?
  • 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. You can see the effect of design on these five business principles.
  • Not everything we do can fit into business priorities. Know how to map what you do to what creates value for your organization. This applies to businesses, academic institutions, government, and more.
  • We need to connect the dots between what we do and what executives care about (5 business priorities). Know what the organization is trying to do so you can support the business.


  • "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%). Banner ads are clicked .04% of the time. 31% of ads are never seen by users (off screen, etc.). 50% of mobile ads are clicked on accident. You are 475x 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.
  • Advertising should be the business model of last resort.

Business Models Beyond Advertising

  • New York Times allows people to read ten articles per month for free. After that, you need to pay for a subscription plan. The NYT now makes more money from the metered paywall than from ads.
  • 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.
  • Re-purposed content, supporting product sales, in-app purchases, alternative channel revenue, content distribution, and more allow you to make money in different ways.
  • 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.
  • Become familiar with different business models, so you know the options your designs can move.

Creating Delightful Experiences

  • Poor content hurts our business dramatically. But does great content help the business?
  • Good content can add value to products.
  • In a study, adding a narrative to products increased their value.
  • Participants in a study, spent less of their budget on Walmart (89%) but much more at Crutchfield (237%). 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.