Toward Unifying UXD and JTBD
authors: Mark Marrara and James Lentz
Over the past 80 years or so, the rate of technological change increased so rapidly that it became necessary to create entirely new disciplines and approaches to ensure that the design of new devices and systems aligns with human motivations, abilities, and limitations. These practices go by many names: Human Factors Engineering (HFE), ergonomics, engineering psychology, Human Computer interaction (HCI), usability engineering, User Centered Design (UCD), User Experience Design (UXD), Activity Centered Design (ACD), design thinking and Jobs To Be Done (JTBD) to mention only a few. Although they may differ in details, they are all based on research and design activities as a means to improve our interactions and experiences with technology. Furthermore, design practices have increasingly recognized innovation as a goal in and of itself that builds brand identities around creative solutions to old problems.
These practices developed over time and drew from multiple scientific and engineering fields, including psychology, cognitive science, anthropology, software engineering, industrial design, marketing and product management. This complex heritage is both a blessing and a curse. Different perspectives have been valuable; however, they also gave rise to a panoply of methodologies, tools, terminologies, and objectives. These are sometimes used together to good effect but relying on a grab-bag of techniques can give stakeholders the perception that design and design research are not serious disciplines.
Furthermore, this complex melange obscures simpler ways to understand and design the human — technology relationship. At its core, this relationship is a function of human actors in situations or contexts who perform activities using technology to achieve outcomes. We believe it is possible to describe a common underlying structure for understanding and modeling actors, their activities, and the desired outcomes as input to design. This structure weaves together the JTBD frameworks with journey mapping and user narratives to identify key activities, understand current and desired outcomes given ideation in technology or approach, and build empathy through storytelling.
In a previous paper (Lentz and Marrara, 2021) we focused on simplifying personas, i.e. actor models, by demonstrating how their outcome-driven activities are more important to the design process than personal details and dispositions. In doing so, we provided a narrative-oriented persona model that meshes with JTBD frameworks.
In this paper, we will extend our unification efforts by developing a simple model for understanding the activities that users perform in order to realize their goals and desired outcomes. We will do this in a way that is consistent with JTBD frameworks and can be integrated with two popular design thinking tools, journey mapping and user narratives. We’ll first cover the basics of each method before discussing our unification strategy (see figure 1).
Jobs to Be Done, activities and tasks
Jobs to Be Done approaches originated in the business management discipline as a way to facilitate new product innovation (Christensen et al. 2016, Ulwick 2016). Its primary contribution was the realization of the importance of knowing the motivations for buying a product or service to the generation of innovative new concepts.
Ulwich’s Outcome Driven Innovation (ODI) framework (2016) is one of the most systematic and elaborate JTBD methodologies communicated to date. ODI describes a job as consisting of a situation, an outcome and an activity that produces the outcome. Ulwich created an elaborate framework that includes a taxonomy of job types (core functional jobs, emotional jobs, etc.), methods for identifying needs (i.e. outcomes), quantitatively prioritizing them, and a complete development life cycle model. However, much of the framework is irrelevant to our current objective of unifying JTBD and design methodologies.
Alan Klemet (2014) advocated using “job stories” to describe the desired human-technology relationship. These are slightly modified user stories as found in agile development processes:
When situation I want to activity so that outcome.
In a job story, the situation (context or condition) and desired outcome (goal) define a person’s motivation for purchasing (or “hiring”) a product or service. The activity portion of the story defines what is needed to transform or “progress” from the current situation to the desired outcome.
The designer’s task is to design a mechanism and/or procedure to easily effect change from the current situation to the desired outcome.
As an example, a car buying scenario could be represented as the following job story:
When my car is old I want to go car shopping so that I can have a new car
It could also be elaborated as a scenario as shown in figure 2.
The importance of JTBD job stories to design can be understood by considering how different motivations influence what the user does. In this context, motivation is defined as the difference between the initial situation and the desired outcome. Different pairings of situation and outcome define different motives.
In addition, each pair of situations and outcomes (i.e.each motive) potentially defines a different set of activities performed by the actor. The activities, challenges, and expectations will differ depending on the actor’s motivation. Returning to the previous car purchasing scenario, the actor who desires to add an additional car to her car collection behaves differently (and completes some different activities) compared to the actor who is rapidly looking to replace his recently wrecked vehicle. At a macro level, both actors share the same objective of buying a car. However, when taking the actor’s motivations into account, the activities and success criteria vary widely (See figure 3).
A set of popular techniques for understanding the activities, impediments and stages that a person experiences while striving to reach a goal are variously called “journey mapping”, “experience mapping”, and other combinations and permutations of user, customer, journey, experience, story and mapping. Some people make distinctions between these terms (e.g. Gibbons, 2017); however, these distinctions are not relevant to this article. For our purposes, we will use “journey map” to mean an (analysis and presentation method) infographic table in which columns denote phases or stages and rows denote activities and emotional responses as well as other embellishments added to suit particular information needs for analysis. Journey maps illustrate end-to-end experiences and often include a representative persona, touchpoints, pain points and goals. Figure 4 provides an example journey map using our car buying scenario.
Journey maps are used by multidisciplinary product teams to achieve consensus about the current experience, to identify areas for improvement, and to prioritize design and development work to build a better resulting experience (typically referred to as the “to-be experience”).
Journey maps are useful for at least the following reasons. First, they are highly efficient formats for presenting a large amount of design-relevant information. Second, they organize a user’s activities into meaningful stages or phases for further alignment and ideation. Finally, the types of information included can be tailored as necessary to describe different types of experiences. In our figure 4, we included activities, mood, and touchpoints, but there are almost endless possibilities of data to include, such as user interfaces, tools, effort, risk, and so forth.
Another highly popular approach for explaining a person’s experience with a product is to simply tell a story about the human-technology relationship (e.g. Spool, 2018). As with experience maps, stories can describe end-to-end experiences that include information about key activities and outcomes. They may be represented semi-visually in a storyboard or as a textual narrative.
Human beings are particularly attuned to stories. They explain why people do what they do. They facilitate empathy and understanding for the needs of others. As an added benefit, they are a highly memorable format for communicating a user’s situation, desired outcome, and activities.
For these reasons, narratives are an ideal vehicle for explaining how users (actors) interact with devices and services. Story details that communicate the setting for the actor, what they are trying to achieve and why, along with all activities completed provide deeper context for collaborators to understand the actors, their objectives, and activities. See Figure 5 as an example. Through a brief story narrative, we set the context of Carl, why he’s buying a new vehicle, and many of the activities he does to complete this task. This brief narrative illustrates Carl’s mindset and challenges in an efficient and memorable way.
Unifying Jobs, Narratives, and Journeys
JTBD, journey maps, and user narratives were developed in isolation in different design practices. Often, which method used on a project is a matter of taste, habit or design ideology. They are typically seen as unrelated tools in a designer’s toolkit. However, it is worth considering how they relate to each other, their similarities and differences. Table 1 shows how each technique includes similar elements labelled by different terms. Notice the overlap between methods in describing and analyzing context, actors, and activities. While different terms are used between methods, they all emphasize the actor and steps taken to accomplish a goal.
Insofar as each approach has advantages and disadvantages, harmonizing them could be beneficial to design processes in the following ways:
- By highlighting similarities between approaches, concepts and terminology could be reused. This would simplify learning and using these approaches as an ensemble.
- By using the strengths of each approach to reduce the deficiencies of others.
- By suggesting when, where and how each approach can be used for maximal effect in the design process.
Although a common thread runs through all, the approaches vary in how effectively they use each element to drive design. All approaches include a beginning, a human component, action, emotional features and an end. They differ in how elaborately these aspects of the experience are described. For example, JTBD works well in concisely identifying motivations while narratives and journey maps primarily describe the activity and many steps included. In the latter two approaches, motives are either implicit or omitted altogether.
As a brief side note, we’re using JTBD methods specifically because of the discovery and identification of motivation. We are not subscribing to or suggesting that folks need to use the entire ODI framework and process. Many methods of generative user research will provide the necessary input into the design process as long as they are gathering and communicating motivation.
To unify the JTBD, journey mapping, and user narrative methods, we recommend starting with the deeper understanding of context and motivations provided by the JTBD method, and then use the context and motives when creating journey maps and narratives. Since the JTBD framework identifies reasons why a person or organization might acquire a product, it presents an ideal starting point for defining and aligning on project focus and scope. Searching for unmet needs and identifying the situations that drive usage provide the basis for ideation, invention, and on occasion, market disruption through new product innovation. These unmet needs depend on the motivations of the actor, which the JTBD framework provides.
Understanding job motivations, common narratives and journeys with current, “as-is” solutions is essential for grounding a design project in reality. Surveys, interviews and ethnographic techniques can be used to build this understanding. Once analyzed, journey maps and narratives can be used to explain the weaknesses of the current solutions. The scope of design should include not only user interfaces but also tasks and activities. As the design solidifies, “to-be” narratives and journeys may be used to demonstrate the magnitude of improvement.
Investigating jobs to be done is the best place to start research. Understanding which motivations (situation and desired outcomes) to pursue in a product sets the direction for the design effort. Researching and analyzing activities in existing solutions will indicate further opportunities to be had by addressing pain points, effort and time to obtain outcomes. Unmet needs can be understood in terms of unaddressed situations, cumbersome activities, and unsatisfactory outcomes. Subsequent ideation around solutions to unmet needs provides fertile ground for innovation.
Journey maps and narratives can be used for exploring and discussing new ideas. These techniques help the design team and stakeholders visualize the story, understand the actions completed by the actor, and gauge the impact of new experiences. In addition, including the essence of the starting situation in a journey map can help contextualize the reasons for undertaking the specific journey as well as decisions made along the way.
Journey maps can also be improved by using the JTBD situation-activity-outcome syntax of a JTBD job story. In Figure 6, the complete Job/Journey is Situation: Car broke down; Outcome: drive off with new car; Activity: the stages from Investigate through Purchase. Furthermore each stage in the journey map can be cast as a sub-job. For example, the investigation stage begins with an initial situation (unsure of finances) and outcome (financial decision), and has activity steps (identify liquid assets, examine monthly budget) interposed between. A design that acknowledges stages in an actor’s situation (often carried over from the outcome of the previous step), activity, and outcome format, helps the user mark forward progress in the journey.
Journey maps often follow a single route (“a happy path” or “golden thread”) through an experience. The reason usually given for this optimistic tact is that it is too difficult or distracting to stakeholders to consider alternative paths. However, designs that fail to anticipate different experiences and motivations in the long run likely produce poor satisfaction.
We included negative outcomes (in blue) in the journey map depicted in figure 6 to demonstrate the feasibility of considering path variability. The use of a situation-activity-outcome format in each stage of a journey also affords a good opportunity for identifying different outcomes that may need to be planned for each stage.
The alternative outcomes constitute branch points to be considered in design explorations. This ensures a more thorough basis for design planning and thinking and helps to guarantee that no experiences fall through the cracks within a project. Furthermore, tracking all outcomes also enables project stakeholders to understand and prioritize where to focus efforts to ensure a meaningful product release and measure return on investment for design focus on a project.
While we recommend starting with JTBD analysis to surface the actor’s motivations and context for the problem, progressing next into journey mapping and narrative building represents a reasonably simple process. Journey mapping and user narrative building are best considered iterative (or frequently done iteratively and in parallel). Journey maps enable further analysis, ideation, and alignment on the steps taken or needed by the actor, whereas narratives provide an effective way to communicate and sell the concept by fostering empathy by stakeholders. Plotting the activities on a journey map and combining this with the actor’s motivations serve as an outline for creating a narrative that communicates the opportunities and desired outcome while building empathy for the actor. Through the processes of composing and discussing a narrative, new ideas and details will emerge and these can be fed back into the journey map.
The evolving design will inevitably alter the narrative as constraints and new ideas emerge through ideation. Using journey maps as the foundation for building a narrative ensures the story accounts for the actor’s motivations and communicates the actor’s primary activities and challenges along the way. Discussions around the narrative can raise questions about the journey and steps included, which encourages these activities to be done iteratively and in parallel. Adjusting the journey to reflect narrative discussions will occasionally be needed to ensure project artifacts remain in sync. An evolved journey map may be valuable for a product’s user documentation, and similarly, a revised narrative may become effective marketing collateral or advertising material.
As designers leverage design thinking activities, such as journey mapping and user narrative creation, to ideate and improve the human-technology relationship, it’s critical that they account for user motivation as part of their process. It’s important to understand the why behind many or all of the steps along a journey. Knowing the actor’s motivation can also enable a better to-be journey to be created because the motivation gives designers a lens for looking at the current journey of steps to understand how much of the existing actions truly support the actor’s goal at hand.
We’ve described a simple approach for unifying JTBD, journey mapping, and user narratives. Start with JTBD analysis to understand the motivations of users. This deeper understanding of the actor’s desired outcomes and motivations frame which journeys to map along with the steps and possible outcomes along the way. We also recommend journey analysis, to-be ideation, and narrative creation to be done iteratively and in parallel following alignment on the actor’s motivations for all steps in their journey. The journey map serves as the foundation to writing the user narrative, and the narrative builds a memorable and empathic view of the actor’s problem and possible opportunities. Iteratively building journey maps along with user narratives provides many opportunities to ideate, communicate, and revise solutions as they mature.
The JTBD framework combined with journey mapping and user narratives enable designers to focus more deeply on the human in the human-technology relationship. We find that starting by understanding the desired outcome and the motivations driving that outcome easily frame which journeys to map and which sub-tasks to prioritize in ideation and product planning.
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