Designing for Engagement: An Interview with Jaimee Newberry


In this interivew, UX coach Jaimee Newberry talks about how to create a more engaging product for your users. She explains why it's so important to connect with customers on an emotional level, as well as how empathy and tone can change how a developer creates software. 

Josiah Renaudin: Today, I'm joined by UX coach, Jaimee Newberry, who will be speaking at our upcoming Mobile Dev + Test conference. Jaimee, thank you very much for joining us today.

Jaimee Newberry: Hi, how are you?

Josiah Renaudin: I'm doing great. How about you?

Jaimee Newberry: Very well, thank you. I’m excited to be here.

Josiah Renaudin: Great. First, could you tell us just a bit about your experience in the industry?

Jaimee Newberry: Oh, boy. I'll try to keep this short, but I do tend to go on and on about this. Basically, I've been in the industry about seventeen years now. I started as a web designer, and way back in the day, like 1998, '99, back then, not just designing but actually coding the stuff I designed. I used to make websites and stuff. Eventually, I was a partner in my own animation and interactive studio. I've taught in universities.

Let's see. What else? Moving forward, I really started specializing in mobile stuff in about 2010 when I did the first mobile applications for Zappos, the company, Our small team of six, we did their very first iPad, iPhone, Android, and mobile web. From there, I just started specializing in the mobile stuff, and I went on to do some really great top-secret work with some of the biggest companies. A lot of them I can't talk about. It's all NDA stuff.

I've grown into consulting actually since I left Zappos in 2011 and helping people make really fantastic products. Our Zappos product was really, really well received by Apple at the time. I forged a great relationship with Apple and a really great relationship with a company called Black Pixel, who's a little independent mobile app development shop. I was with them until 2013. I went back out on my own to pursue more indie stuff.

Josiah Renaudin: I won't ask you to talk about the NDA stuff, I promise. Earlier we were talking before the interview, we were talking about your title, whether you're a coach or a consultant. Can you explain what your current job is and what you really do on a daily basis? You wake up. You get your coffee. Then what?

Jaimee Newberry: I work from home.

Josiah Renaudin: Oh, so nice.

Jaimee Newberry: It really varies from day to day. I am going to be totally honest. I like to wake up pretty early and do writing. Right now with December, right now … I don’t know if you want to note that it's December, but I'm working on a writing project, and it's more of a personal project. It's a gratitude project where I write a post about somebody in my life that I'm grateful for every day for thirty-one consecutive days. I do a lot of personal writing projects.

The coaching thing, over the last year ... and I'll get to my day-to-day, I promise. Over the last year in 2013, I spent a lot of time getting life coaching certification, because what I found as a user-experience practitioner, all the focus was on the user, and I believe in that. I'm a hearty believer in that, but you spend so much time studying user habits and usability and why people make certain decisions, interactions with the software and the stuff we make.

I really started analyzing that we put a lot of focus into the user, and sometimes we forget about the team, who are also human beings, making the stuff for other human beings. We're looking at humans that make stuff that other humans use. The product in the end is really just the connective tissue between these human beings.

My emphasis is really putting a lot of love and care and understanding back in the team and how the team is communicating internally. The better the team is communicating, the more collaborative they are, the better functioning and more understood the developers and designers are, the more harmony there is.

The users feel that in the end product. It translates right through the product. You become a user-experience based mindset as a company. Once you have that, the care invested into the product improves exponentially, and it's just proven time and time and time again.

That's what I do on a day-to-day. My clients, a lot of Fortune 100 clients. I have a lot of individuals as well, folks like writers, developers, designers, CEOs, et cetera; individuals who have come to me now for just improvement on getting unstuck or how do I do this better, or how do I write better contracts and things like that. It's all come in really handy. All of this experience has culminated to make me fairly useful in that avenue, I guess.

Josiah Renaudin: Absolutely. You have a keynote about designing for engagement, which is the name of your keynote.

Jaimee Newberry: Yeah.

Josiah Renaudin: I was reading up on the abstract, and it seems like it's delving into the emotional appeal of products.

Jaimee Newberry: Yes.

Josiah Renaudin: Why do you think connecting with customers on this emotional level is so important?

Jaimee Newberry: Well, I think right now ... and so let me give a little bit of history on the talk itself. I wrote the talk in 2012, and it was specifically for IOS developers. It has a lot of emphasis on the copywriting and the tone and sort of the on-boarding experience; some things that developers often just don't think about.

But then when I was asked to do it for an event apart, and so I shifted it to a bigger audience, I'm thinking let's incorporate the web and then really think about how this could really address any product, whether it's software or web, app or mobile app or whatever it is. Even enterprise, and this is where a lot of enterprise folks are like, no, no, that doesn't apply, we don't need design, we don't need to think about these things, it's just enterprise.

But you really do. You need to think about these things. It doesn't matter. You have no caveat.

The reason it's so important is that again, it's that humans use this. Humans make this. Humans use this, and we need to be considerate and empathetic to what people are experiencing and what their needs are and what their emotional mindset.

We have no way of determining what those things are when we're making things, but if we're at least thinking and considering what situations they might be in, what tone of voice we're using, those are the sorts of things that I really, that's what this talk was designed around is really thinking about how to really generate first attention. We want to grab their attention.

You're competing with millions of other products. Again, this was written for iOS developers to start, but it does apply to me. You're competing with other products that are like yours. How do you stand apart? Show that you care about the person that's going to be using it. You want to grab their attention, "Hey, we're here." You want to win their affection. Then once you've got their affection, you really want to earn their devotion, because once you've got their devotion, that's where you have companies that love products; right?

People who are Apple followers or … You know those guys; right? Everybody knows the people who love Apple and there are Apple followers. That's because Apple, they grabbed their attention, they earned their affection, and they grew to really win their devotion. Once they did that, then people do the marketing for you. You still have a lot of other work to do, but imagine all of the free marketing. Marketing you worked hard to earn. All the marketing that you earned by doing these things.

That's what it's all about is thinking about the attention, affection and devotion and some tips on how to apply that to your product, how to make your product have those things, some of those qualities.

Josiah Renaudin: Empathy and tone and affection aren't usually something that you associate a developer with. It's not something that they ... When they're plugging in code and when they're making an app or a website, they're usually not thinking about the emotional aspect of it, which you can argue is a mistake, it’s not a mistake.

Have you run into a lot of clients who don't feel their product has a personality or tone? That's just not something they're really considering?

Jaimee Newberry: Yeah, actually I would say when I started doing this talk, especially now, I feel like it's really … I'm not the first person to talk about this, by any means, and I'm not claiming to be, but I can see the volume of traction that the topic has built on over the last couple years. It feels like everybody's talking about it.

I do think that a lot of people haven't even thought of their product as a personality or having a personality or needing to have a personality. I think just bringing that to focus and asking that question first, if my product were, we always say celebrity because it's really easy to associate human qualities of a celebrity; right? Like it's really easy to research some brand qualities or personality qualities, that those are the things that we want to capture not only in the design but in animations and transitions.

Developers are a huge part of how those things play out, and I don't think that they realize how important that they are. How many developers do talk to you, they write bug tickets, meeting copy for certain things. They write bug tickets, meeting, alert messaging. They end up writing their own alert messaging from time to time, and I show some examples of that in my talk as well, where it hasn't turned out so well.

Sometimes it's somebody else's job to provide the copy. It's somebody else's job to think about what color this is supposed to be. But all those things work together, and it really is everyone's job to be mindful that these things are coming together.

Some of the best developers I've worked with are the ones that go, "Did you mean for this to be orange instead of purple?" or "Am I misunderstanding ... " The ones that will point out. Sometimes it's a complete oversight, or sometimes I can say, "No, that's very intentionally this, and here's why." The developers that are really thinking about it are the ones that collaboratively, we make the best products.

Yes, think about those things. It's so important. It's so important. Yes, there are tons of clients who have never even considered that absolutely.

Josiah Renaudin: Moving on with this idea of giving something a personality, of giving something a tone … is it hard to give a digital product a personality over a physical one? Without being able to really feel or hold a product in your hands, can it be more difficult to make that engaging to the user on an emotional level?

Jaimee Newberry: I don't think so. In most instances, there's some sort of ... There's colors. There's a lot of psychology around color pallets and how they make us feel and think, even if it's at the subconscious level. Even just the cleanliness of a design; right? Alignment and borders, pixel distances between borders and consistency. There’s things that we don't really think about, but all of those things contribute to a personality coming through. If it's tidy, if it's sloppy, if it's endearing. Then the word choices themselves, literally the word choices.

Again, when I went to write this, specifically I had a developer say, "My app doesn't have any words." I said, "Well, it does have an app description in the app store. It does have alert messages and errors. It does have release notes; right?” He's like, "Oh, yeah. Those, I didn't even think about those." He's like, "All my stuff is just data feed that I'm importing from the client. That's their responsibility." It's like, "Well, no, no, no. There's more to it than just those things that we just kind of gloss over."

Those are the things, if you're giving attention to those details, that's how you connect, because you've been thoughtful in the details. Think about things that you use. I used a website and I use this example in my talk. I use a website called Photojojo, and the first time I had to use it, maybe 2011, 2012, I immediately adored this website because of the thoughtful details, the word choices. There's some silly little things that came up but didn't get in my way of purchasing things.

Then when I purchased something, I get it in the mail, and the packaging is all, "Beware, dinosaurs may be inside." I open it and there’s this little plastic dinosaur in there. Every detail. The email that I got confirming that I placed the order, the confirmation that popped up on the screen confirming that I placed the order.

All of those details had been so thoughtfully considered and were unified across the board. My entire experience with this company was one of delight, and I now use them as an example I rave about every time. I mean, everything. Then when you get into the coding side, the java script and the animations and the timing, those things, down to the detail, are considered, like how we're going to use this website, you know?

There are some fantastic examples of people who do it really well and people that haven't really thought about it, and just say, I'm just going to make this happen. You can tell. You can tell. Even if you're not really thinking about it that much. Something just doesn't feel right. You're not sure what.

All of that is personality, whether it's something you're holding physically or something you're just using on an interface. My focus is interfaces a lot of the time, but, yeah, or have been. I've shifted to the people more so now. Yeah.

Josiah Renaudin: You just mentioned you use these different apps and these websites that it's the details that really stand out and they keep you coming back. You seem to be someone who has a strong attention to detail and knows what makes a website or an app special. I'd like to know, what do you see as the three key elements of a winning mobile product?

Jaimee Newberry: I think that I touched on before, the attention, the affection, and the devotion. If you can accomplish those things, those are what's going to help you stand apart. Now, if everybody's taking these same steps and same considerations, how do you stand apart? You find your unique voice. That's sometimes one of the biggest struggles, and that is actually my favorite challenge to help companies solve is what is your unique voice? How do you stand apart?

There's not a one-size-fits-all or canned solution for that. It's really getting in and looking across the board at what you're competing with, knowing the marketplace and knowing how you can set yourself apart, knowing why you're different and why you're better, and how to communicate that through everything that we've talked about.

The on-boarding experience, the first moment, from the download. That's an icon that they're going to see in the store. How considered is that icon and the artwork in the icon? How considered is the app description text? The screen shots that are used. All of these things. Then the actual product itself. How considered is it? Is it cluttered with too many features? Is it overwhelming for people?

That on-boarding experience where you ease them into understanding what your app's purpose is and how it fits into their life in a useful way. Yeah; attention, affection, devotion. You can accomplish these things. You just have to think about them.

Josiah Renaudin: You just talked about on-boarding. You also mentioned this in your abstract. Can you talk just a bit about your dos and don'ts for on-boarding? I know you just rattled off a few of them, but could you tell us some of your dos and don'ts?

Jaimee Newberry: Some of my favorites, and hopefully folks will come see the talk, because it's explained way better with visuals. Some of the dos and don'ts of on-boarding, I'll be really app specific.

Say you're creating a website as well. I'll use a website example first. Have you ever gone to a website and the first thing that happens is a little sign-up for email box shows up, and most of them, we can dismiss that if you choose not to. Now, I've had a few, and I think most of us have had this experience at some point or another if we use websites for shopping and whatnot, where the email box comes up and you can't dismiss it. You can't even look at the site that you're ...

I got a link from someone that says, oh, you should check out this thing over on this site. I go to the site. This little box pops up. I don't want to sign up for it, because I don't know what the site is about, but I don't want their newsletter cluttering my inbox, and I can't dismiss this window. This is an on-boarding experience for me that's just miserable. It's not just me. I'm not alone in this one. I want to be able to see what you have to offer.

Think of this in a real world experience if this was a store. I'll use eCommerce as the example. It’s for a store, and you walk up to the door, the front door of a store, and they say, "Hey, before you go in, give us your email address so that we can tell you what kinds of specials."

Josiah Renaudin: I would walk away.

Jaimee Newberry: You say maybe, "No, thank you. I'd rather go in and look and see what you have first." But they say, "No, no, no. You have to sign up for our email in order to walk in the door." Imagine how that makes people feel. That's what people are doing with these gateways. It still happens today. It seems like we've been talking about those sorts of things long enough that they shouldn't be still happening, but they are. I ran into one just a couple weeks ago. I was just like, "Ah, still."

Then on the app side, there are these tutorials that we walk through, and I just talk about some ways that you can ... Sometimes you go through these tutorials and it feels like you have to slide through about forty-five screens before you actually get into the app to see what it does and to actually use it. Maybe it's one you want to use. There's no escape. There's no escape. Give people an out.

That's one of my biggest things, whether it's an app or a website guest. You've got to give people a way to ease them in and a way to use it. Different power users may not need the tutorial, and if they need the tutorial, give them an option to skip this and sign in. It's pretty simple to create solutions for not trapping people.

Josiah Renaudin: Great. We've already covered a lot about your keynote coming up. I want to make sure I don't show your entire hand. People should definitely go. There will be a lot more information there.

As a closing question, what one lesson are you really hoping sticks with the audience in San Diego?

Jaimee Newberry: Empathy. I really hope that really sticks with people. Connecting with people emotionally is about trying to put yourself in their shoes and experiencing what they experience. The more that we do that, the better product we're going to make. I do say this in the talk. I worry that empathy is becoming one of those buzz words that's going to get discarded. Don't ever, ever, ever discard the word empathy and the value, the weight that it holds, because it's such an important thing for us to have as people who make stuff that other people use.

Josiah Renaudin: Fantastic. Well, I really appreciate your time, Jaimee, and I'm looking forward to hearing more about designing for engagement in April.

Jaimee Newberry: Thank you so much. It's been an honor. Thanks.

Josiah Renaudin: Thank you very much.

Jaimee NewberryIndependent consultant Jaimee Newberry provides executive and personal coaching, and shares lessons in empathy, communication, experience design, and technology worldwide. Jaimee moved to GUI design and information architecture in the web start-up days; taught management information systems, graphic design, and interface design at UNLV; partnered in Eatdrink, a boutique animation/interactive shop; and led the efforts behind Zappos’ first iPad, iPhone, and Android apps. As Black Pixel’s director of user experience she worked on top secret iOS projects for Fortune 100 companies and promising startups.

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