Designing for Curiosity

Using a 5-dimensional Curiosity Matrix to better understand user motivations and behaviors

by Julian Scaff

In the field of psychology, curiosity is a cognitive and behavioral quality that is critical in the investigation of emotion and motivation. The phenomenology of curiosity has wide-ranging implications on a variety of human-centered fields, particularly UX design, because it is such a powerful motivating factor. People will take great risks and endure negative repercussions just to satisfy urges of curiosity, and thus it is crucial for UX designers and researchers to understand the phenomenon in greater detail.

“Curiosity is a powerful motivator with users…”

Historically there has been a lot of debate on how to define curiosity, with some theorists contending that it arises due to rewards for resolving uncertainty and others asserting that there is innate pleasure derived from curiosity-driven behavior. A new study by psychologists at George Mason University (The five-dimensional curiosity scale: Capturing the bandwidth of curiosity and identifying four unique subgroups of curious people) gives us a greater understanding of the roots of curiosity. The study found evidence of five different types of curiosity and four different types of curious people. This research has enormous implications for UX design, because it creates new opportunities to understand the motivations and desires of users, it offers insights into how to design human-computer interactions that align with users’ natural curiosity.

Our traditional understanding of curiosity is that it is an emotion of wanting to know or learn something. For the past century, psychologists primarily looked only at the behavioral traits of curious people, and observed the following:

  • Asking a lot of unprompted questions
  • Reading to acquire knowledge
  • Examining interesting images
  • Manipulating interesting objects
  • Investigating the feelings, thoughts and behaviors of other people
  • Taking risks to acquire new experiences
  • Persisting at tasks that are challenging

Acting on feelings of curiosity satisfies a drive to expand knowledge, build new skillsets, inspire creativity, and even bolster social relationships. Expanding on the simplified definition of curiosity as a strong desire to know or learn something, these behavior traits suggest that curiosity can be more clearly defined as “the recognition, pursuit, and desire to explore novel, uncertain, complex and ambiguous events” (Kashdan & Stiksma, et al. 2017).

In recent years, researchers have started to identify different facets of curiosity, including those that point to cognitive and not merely behavioral qualities. For instance, in 2009 Dr. Kashdan created a Curiosity and Exploration Inventory that identified two facets:

  • Stretching – the motivation to seek out new information and experiences
  • Embracing – a willingness to embrace the uncertain and unpredictable nature of everyday life

While these facets have their strengths, they don’t describe every aspect of curiosity. For instance, curiosity can also be distinguished as either a desire to know for its own sake (interest), or a desire to know because of the frustration of not knowing (deprivation). This distinction is critical for UX design because in many cases we are designing for users who are not exhibiting curiosity for deriving pleasure, but rather to resolve uncertainty and confusion. These are two very different types of motivations.

There are still other types of curiosity, such as thrill-seeking, creative thinking and social curiosity. These also have important implications in UX design, as the curiosity exhibited by a risk-taking entrepreneur, an artist, or a frequent user of social media may not be driven purely by general interest or deprivation of knowledge.

The objective of the most recent study by Dr. Kashdan and his colleagues was threefold: First was to synthesize the research and build a unified framework to define the qualities of curiosity with specificity. Second was take into account the rapid assessment that individuals perform to determine whether A.) a situation has potential to satisfy curiosity, and B.) any negative consequences of pursuing investigation is worth the reward. Third is to approach social curiosity as a distinct dimension, because social relationships are the fabric of human life. I won’t dive into the specifics of the research methodology and analysis, but you can read it here.

The 5-Dimensional Scale

The study by Dr. Kashdan et al. revealed that curiosity is far more multi-dimensional than previously thought. The results of their study are synthesized into a 5-dimensional scale described below:

  • Joyous Exploration – The recognition and desire to seek out new knowledge and information, and the subsequent joy of learning. We can look at this as curiosity for curiosity’s sake, and we e see this exhibited clearly in the ways in which most children learn, and why they incessantly ask “why?” We also see it in many adults.
  • Deprivation Sensitivity – An emotional curiosity driven more by tension and hard labor than by joy, such as pondering complex ideas, solving difficult problems, and striving to diminish gaps in knowledge. Learning new things and acquiring new skills satisfies a curiosity to continuously master new things. People like this often feel a sensitivity to being deprived of challenges. It’s why people do puzzles, take non-degree adult learning classes, and feel satisfaction in learning new skills.
  • Stress Tolerance – The willingness to embrace the stress and ambiguity of exploring new, mysterious or risky experiences. This is the primary driver of people who love to travel and experience new cultures, or go wilderness trekking, even with the discomfort and stress that comes with it.
  • Social Curiosity – The desire to know what other people are thinking and doing by listening to, talking and socializing with other people. People like this love gossip and love to eavesdrop on conversations and observe behavior. They’re not merely nosy; they’re natural anthropologists. Social media and celebrity gossip, for example, feed social curiosity.
  • Thrill Seeking – The willingness to take physical, social and financial risks in order to acquire new experiences. You can think of extreme sports, but this also applies to serial entrepreneurs and stand-up comedians. You can think of it as curiosity of the thrill.

This new five-dimensional scale sheds far more light on the phenomenology of curiosity. However, it is not complete without also understanding the various types of curious people, because not everyone is curious about the same things, or to the same degree. To do this, the researchers scored participants and conducted cluster analysis by common traits. The result was four different types of curious people, who can be described as follows:

  • Fascinated – score high across all types of curiosity, especially Joyous Exploration.
  • Problem Solvers – score high in Deprivation Sensitivity, and medium across the rest of the spectrum.
  • Empathizers – score high in Social Curiosity, and medium across the rest of the spectrum.
  • Avoiders – score low across the whole spectrum, especially Stress Tolerance. Remember that Stress Tolerance is the willingness to embrace stress and ambiguity to acquire new experiences. Avoiders seem particularly repelled by this.

Some other interesting personality traits emerge from these profiles. For instance, the Fascinated type tends to be extroverted, exhibits low stress levels, and on average has a higher income. Problem Solvers tend to be more introverted, are highly driven and score lowest in apathy of all other types. Empathizers tend to be extroverted and are more likely to be women, and exhibit high usage rates of social media. Avoiders tend to have the lowest education levels and lower incomes, and the highest stress levels.

UX and the Curiosity Matrix

These type of data have enormous implications for user research and UX design. Indeed, as a design tool it may be at least as if not more useful than other common methods of personality analysis such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. To make these findings an effective UX research and design tool, I created a chart that I call the Curiosity Matrix.

Curiosity Matrix by Julian Scaff

This matrix can be used in user research to better understand user personality types and motivations, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Answers to questions in user interviews and surveys can be scored on a 5-point Likert Scale, but qualitative answers should also be recorded as a holistic ethnography. Keep in mind that scores will not always align exactly as indicated in the Curiosity Matrix above as curiosity types are more like tendencies on a spectrum rather than absolutely defined.

Questions that can be used to evaluate a user’s curiosity type may include (but should not be limited to) the following examples. Users should be asked to score themselves on a 5-point Likert scale (1=Strongly Disagree, 2=Disagree, 3=Neutral, 4=Agree, 5=Strongly Agree) as well as give qualitative answers, and the researcher may ask follow-up questions for clarity.

I’ve created sample questions for each of the types of curiosity:

Joyous Exploration Questions:

  • I frequently read or seek out knowledge for no immediate reason.
  • I watch documentaries on topics that are not work or school related.

Deprivation Sensitivity Questions:

  • I enjoy tackling difficult problems that mentally stretch me.
  • I frequently take classes, read or use other methods to learn new skills.

Stress Tolerance Questions:

  • I frequently travel to new exotic locations.
  • I’m excited by a new experience where I don’t know what to expect.

Social Curiosity Questions:

  • I frequently eavesdrop on conversations between strangers.
  • I frequently use social media (i.e. several times per day every day).

Thrill Seeking Questions:

  • I participate in sports where there is some risk involved (i.e. snowboarding, skydiving, rock climbing, etc.)
  • I frequently take risks in business and/or social situations.

By identifying the types of curious people for which we are designing, we can create more coherent and compelling experiences. Curiosity is a powerful motivator with users, whether it’s in the drive to acquire knowledge and experiences, the need to close gaps in knowledge, the desire to understand what other other people are doing and saying, or the thrill of “what will happen if I do this…?”. Due to its importance in understanding human psychology and behavior, the Curiosity Matrix should be a standard datapoint in user research and user persona creation.

I am currently working on case studies that utilize the Curiosity Matrix.

In my next essay, I’ll examine how the Curiosity Matrix can be used to create a user persona that is a blueprint for designing more effective and relatable machine learning algorithms and AI’s.


How Investors Can Use UX to Identify Better Startups

This article is based on a presentation by Erik Wingren and Petra Wennberg Cesario

by Julian Scaff

Startups are cool and exciting, and the opportunity to innovate and build a profitable business (or get bought by a big company for a lot of money) is tantalizing for both the founders and investors. But the stark truth is that about 90% of startups fail. Some of the reasons for this are beyond the control of the people involved in the startup, but many of the reasons for failure are absolutely in their control. It’s critical for founders and investors alike to know what those controllable factors are as early as possible. A large majority of those factors have to do with User Experience, and so below I’m going to look at each one of those factors to see how good UX design done early can help a startup avoid common pitfalls, and help investors better evaluate their chances of success.


CB Insights compiled a list of startup post-mortem failures. Not all the reasons for failure have to do with UX, but most of them are either entirely UX or UX-related. This means that UX is by far the number one reason that startups fail. Let’s examine the top factors along with the percentage of failed startups that cite each as a reason for their failure:

1. No Market Need – 42%

This was by far the number one factor of why startups failed. It’s pretty simple: if nobody wants your product, then you have no business. So how can you find out if there’s a market need for your product or service? User research and user testing are the best methods to find this out, and you should know this before you start building anything. A startup that hires a UX designer (or has a UX designer as a founder) before they hire an engineer is already off to a good start.

If you’re an investor, make sure that a startup has done their UX research before they started building anything.

2. Ran Out of Cash – 29%

Typically a lot of engineering time and money is spent fixing bad features, or re-doing work that wasn’t done right the first time. User research, lean prototyping and testing helps ensure that you’re building the right product with the right features before you start building it. In fact, UX has been shown to reduce development time by 30%-50%. That adds up to a lot of money!

If you’re an investor, you want to look for startups that are using UX to build the right product in the right way and not just wasting development money.

3. Get Outcompeted – 19% / Poor Product – 17%

Getting outcompeted and making a poor product are closely related. Most companies don’t have a unique product or service and have to compete in a crowded marketplace. The factors that give products an edge over their competition are typically superior functionality, ease of use, and a positive emotional experience with customers. Factors that kill a product’s competitive edge are poor functionality, complexity, and customer frustration. A study by Gartner revealed that 90% of companies believed customer experience to be their primary differentiator.

Making a really good product is hard, and nobody gets it right the first time. UX design follows an iterative design process, meaning products are developed in lean cycles of researching, testing and improvement, leading to incremental, data-driven design solutions. If a product has flaws (and all do) it’s very difficult to identify those flaws and how to fix them without using the UX design process.

If you’re an investor, look for startups who are leveraging UX design to ensure high quality and gain a competitive advantage.

4. Poor Marketing – 14%

Knowing who your customer is and what they need leads to a deeper understanding of how to market your product to them. Further, UX design helps to create a differentiated brand and product proposition. The best marketing in the world can’t cover up a poor user experience.

In you’re an investor, look for startups that leverage their user experience as an integral part of their branding and marketing experience.

5. Ignore Customers – 14%

This is a no-brainer from a UX standpoint. The UX design process is also called ‘human-centered design’ because the focus from start to finish is on the people who use the product. If a startup isn’t doing UX research and testing, they’re flying blind.

If you’re an investor, look for startups who pay attention to their customers with UX research and testing.

6. Lose Focus – 13% / Pivot Gone Bad – 10% / Burnout – 8% / Failure to Pivot – 7%

Managing a product and a business through iterations and growth cycles is tricky, and it’s very easy to lose focus on the core customers and/or core business model. With it’s user-centered iterative methodology, UX design helps startups to stay focused on core business objectives, the most important features, and to know when to pivot and how. Keeping good focus and getting positive results prevent burnout because teams won’t waste time building the wrong product or features.

If you’re an investor, look for startups who leverage UX to stay focused and respond intelligently to change.

How do you know if a startup has done “good” UX?

Here is a checklist of key indicators that a startup has done good UX and not just thrown around some buzz words:

  • Have they done User Research? When pressed for time, it’s common for research to be the first thing cut, but this can lead to catastrophic wastes of time and money, and ultimately business failure.
  • Do they understand the entire Customer Journey? The user experience doesn’t just begin and end with the customer using your product. To really understand the user, they need to know their entire journey through deep user research.
  • Do they Prototype and Test before development? The most common mistakes that startups make are building products nobody wants, not being able to compete, and building poor quality products. The only way to know they’re building the right product with the right features is if they prototype and test. This also helps ensure they won’t run out of money building the wrong thing.
  • Do they have Senior Design Leadership? It’s critical that design thinking and usability are core company values. This only occurs when design experts are at the leadership table, in the form of a founder, a Chief Design Officer or VP of Design, or a company that keeps a UX design agency on retainer to serve that same role. Senior Design Leadership is so important that some Silicon Valley investment firms will only invest in startups that have designer founders, and many VC firms are hiring designers to help evaluate opportunities.

If you’re a tech entrepreneur, investing in UX design is the most effective way to boost your chances of success. If you’re an investor, it should be the number one thing you look for in a startup investment. Research definitely shows that UX is the key.


Design Thinking and Social Entrepreneurship Hackathon for South L.A.

Members of a community are too often relegated to being mere spectators of change. How can they instead become active participants and influencers in the changes that affect them most?

In this third annual design hackathon event, participants used design thinking and UX methods in an entrepreneurial spirit to address social, economic, and environmental challenges specific to South LA Participants first learned about these challenges with two kick-off talks: Julian Scaff, organizer of the event and Design Director at the agency Interactivism, talked about economic and environmental challenges facing South LA, focusing particularly on the complex issue of gentrification. Zaneta Smith, director of TEDx Crenshaw and an expert in social work, talked about the socio-economic issues facing local residents, young people, and homeless population. Then participants formed teams to brainstorm and rapidly prototype solutions. At the end of the day all the teams pitched their projects, and a winner was decided by democratic vote. Eventually all the projects will be featured on the TEDx Crenshaw website so that they can be exposed to city officials and private investors to inspire real solutions in the local community.

The winning idea was a smartphone app called “Open Door” designed by Jessica Rahman, Sapphira Dai and Kiki Lowry. Lunch, prizes and space for the event were provided by General Assembly. Below is a description of their project with screens of what the app would look like.

Open Door App Proposal 

There are 44,000 people in Los Angeles County that are homeless. Of these, only 16-20% of adults are employed. There currently is no easy-to-navigate tool for this population to find job and housing opportunities in LA, despite existing resources.

Open Door is a mobile application connecting persons who are homeless and/or formerly incarcerated with employers and home listers, including social enterprises, who empathize with the aforementioned populations.

Loading and sign-up screens.
Job search and apply for job screens.
On left: Confirmation screen. On right: Zaneta Smith, Jessica Rahman, Sapphira Dai, Kiki Lowry, and Julian Scaff.


Special thanks to Miki Reynolds, Kellie Cockrell and Auriel Jimenez at General Assembly for their invaluable help in making this event possible.


On Visioning

Why Purpose and Ethos Lead to a Stronger Vision

“The visionary starts with a clean sheet of paper, and re-imagines the world.” ~Malcolm Gladwell

visioningIn his 2009 TED talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” Simon Sinek famously asserted “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.” This is true for customers of a product or service, but is equally true for an organization’s employees. The consulting firm Imperative published a study in 2016 that revealed that the most important factor in employee job satisfaction is having a sense of purpose. Thus, it is essential for businesses to have a vision and a mission that is effective internally and externally.

Many business schools and online guides advise approaching the vision or mission statement by looking into the future, dreaming big, and expressing ideas with emotion but not too much specificity. (Some organizations have both a vision and a mission statement, the former typically looking more inward and the latter looking outward.) Unfortunately, this has lead to a lot of vague and meaningless mission statements, i.e. “It is our mission to enthusiastically leverage efficiency while generating value for our customers.” That doesn’t inspire employees or customers because it doesn’t really say anything. On the flip side, getting too specific is also counterproductive: “We manufacture the best widgets in the industry at the lowest cost to consumers.” We know exactly what you do, but we don’t really know why you do it.

In this article I’ll analyze some vision and mission statements, and then look at why purpose and ethos are more important and powerful than vision or mission.

Let’s start by looking at some real-world examples for comparison:

Apple’s mission statement under Steve Jobs:

To make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind.

This statement isn’t about a particular product or even computers or operating systems. It’s about why they do what they do. Apple is a technology company, but this broad statement gives their design not only a functional and aesthetic goal but also an ethos, thereby creating a community of shared values. That’s why Apple customers are so loyal.

The downside to this statement is that it’s too broad and overly grandiose. Can a computer, smart phone or operating system really “advance humankind”? Maybe. But the hyperbole runs the risk of making it ring false with customers and employees.

Apple’s mission statement now:

Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App store, and is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices with iPad.

This isn’t really a mission statement, it’s just a list of products, some of which are obsolete. It’s also backwards-looking. You shouldn’t have to update your mission statement just because you release a new product or phase out an old one. The mission statement should have a vision that operates at a much higher level than any particular product. If Apple is only a list of products, even if those products are well designed and of good quality, then it lacks an ethos, and it lacks a vision of why they do what they do.


Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.

Patagonia’s mission statement concisely expresses both the values that have made their business successful as well as the values that drive them to help improve the world. They make and sell products by and for people who love the outdoors. As such, engaging in philanthropic efforts to help the environment is exactly aligned with their ethos of why they make the products they make.


We believe…

  • Everyone is creative. IDEO builds learning platforms and tools to unlock creativity.
  • Creative organizations are more agile. IDEO helps organizations innovate by empowering the people who drive them.
  • Complex problems are solved collaboratively. IDEO brings together networks to act on systemic challenges in education, sustainable food, mobility, aging and death.
  • Innovation in public life starts with people. IDEO creates human centered products, services, spaces, and organizations that empower communities, cities and even countries.
  • Technology moves fast, human needs change slowly. IDEO connects emerging technology to everyday needs and aspirations in fields such as biodesign, life science, health, and data.
  • Venturing is R&D. IDEO helps large organizations move quickly and small companies scale by putting people’s needs at the center.

This is very long winded, but IDEO is also a company that does a lot of things and so they may be justified in going into more detail. Really what this boils down to is that IDEO has six points in its design philosophy. In other words, they have a strong ethos and a strong culture. And it’s that ethos and culture that enabled them to essentially invent design thinking. Perhaps a more concise way to encapsulate this would be:

“At IDEO we believe that innovative solutions for technology, business and public life require human-centered collaborative thinking.”

It doesn’t capture everything, but it expresses enough of the ethos to be a guiding principle and communicate to the outside world why they do what they do.

Purpose rather than a mission

A pattern that emerges is that mission/vision statements are empty if they don’t also have purpose. The branding agency Siegel+Gale published a brilliant manifesto on this titled “It’s time to bury the mission and vision.” In it, David Srere rejects the empty and generic mission statements that many companies feel compelled to publish and instead focuses on their purpose:

“Purpose is a definitive statement of the difference an organization seeks to make in the world. It is a clear, credible, compelling response to a fundamental question: “Why do we do what we do?”” -David Srere, co-president, CEO and chief strategy officer @ Siegel+Gale

The key aspects of a purpose statement is that it articulates the what and why of a company in a way that is both high level and specific. Consider Google’s mission statement:

Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

In one concise sentence Google tells us that they are not just a search engine or a cloud services company and they’re not just another tech product company. Their purpose is the “organize the world’s information” meaning they’re a big data company, “and make it universally accessible and useful” meaning they’re a UX-centric company. That provides a lens through which to assess every product or service they create, and tells us why they do everything they do.


To find your organization’s purpose, start with some simple sentences and keywords. What is your organization’s ethos? What is the characteristic spirit of your organization’s culture that grows from your shared values? And as you explore your organization’s ethos, keep working towards the why. Why do you do what you do? Look inside to find what drives you, and look outside to see where you want to go.


8 Ways Apple Can Save the MacBook Pro (Hint: it’s all about UX)

MacBook Pro dongles
You may have to use up to 17 dongles with your new MacBook Pro.

The Problem

The release of the new MacBook Pro computers with the Touch Bar feature has not gone smoothly for Apple. Chief amongst the problems with this latest iteration of Apple’s flagship portable computer is poor and inconsistent battery life, the primary reason why Consumer Reports for the first time initially did not recommend the laptops. Consumer Reports has since changed their recommendation after Apple released a fix. But even with this problem apparently corrected via a software update, there are other serious usability problems, as well as a user base that is largely underwhelmed with the lack of innovative improvements that could actually improve the user experience.

The reduction of ports down to just two or four Thunderbolt 3 ports on the 13” and 15” models respectively seriously hampers how professionals use the MacBook Pro. There are still too many hard drives and other peripherals and input devices that use USB and FireWire to be thrown away and replaced. Users can purchase expensive adapters for all their externals, but forcing users to buy and use a pile of dongles is clunky, terrible UX.

The Touch Bar was the most vaunted new feature on the revamped MacBook Pro. It’s essentially a second small touchscreen display that replaces the function keys, allowing for customization of the UI for different software applications. Apple calls this “A revolutionary new way to use your Mac.” However cool this may look, it seems to create more usability problems than it fixes. First is that using the Touch Bar for executing certain tasks is slower than using keyboard shortcuts because as a flat touchscreen it has no tactile feel. The user must take her hands off the keyboard and her eyes off the screen to look at and use the Touch Bar, thus disrupting their workflow both physically and psychologically. Ten of my students currently have MacBook Pros with the Touch Bar, and all of them report that they thought the feature was cool at first, but stopped using it because it was slow and not very useful.

Contributing to this degradation in speed and efficiency is the fact that the Touch Bar changes functionality when you switch software applications. While customization might seem like a powerful feature, it’s long been a well known fact in the HCI field that one of the most common causes of user error is what’s called ‘modality changes’, i.e. when the functionality of an interface element with the same look and/or location changes it’s functionality depending on what mode the software is currently in. One of the ways that professional or power users achieve greater speed and proficiency is by committing commonly used functions to subconscious muscle memory, so that for instance a user doesn’t have to think too hard or look at the keyboard to hit ‘Command-S’ to save a document, they just do it automatically. If, however, ‘Command-S’ functioned as ‘Save’ in Pages but in Keynote created a shape then users would be prone to making errors by accidentally hitting ‘Command-S’ in Keynote when they intended to just save their document. Further, users would have to work more slowly and think about what modality the software is currently in. I have observed this with my students: they stop, look at the Touch Bar, and have to think about how to use it every time. A quick ‘Command-Tab’ switches applications, and therefore modalities. That’s why they quickly stopped using the Touch Bar: it’s bad UX, especially for power users.

Some other lower-level annoyances about the MacBook Pro:

  • Standard RAM and hard drive storage is too small for pro users
  • Lost the HDMI port for HD displays and projectors
  • Lost the SD memory card slot used by most professional DSLR cameras
  • No touchscreen display

Collectively, these all add up to the MacBook Pro creating more problems than it solves. So below I’ve outlined features and functionalities the MacBook Pro could have to make it a really innovative, powerful, and most importantly user-friendly portable computer.

But first we need to look at…

Who is the user?

The MacBook Pro, as it’s name implies, is for professional users. This is a pretty broad category, but for this exercise I’m going to focus on a core professional user group that Apple has long catered to: Creative Professionals. This includes designers of all disciplines (graphic designers, illustrators, interaction designers, architects, 3D artists, etc) and media makers (photographers, videographers, film/tv editors, special effects artists, etc). Some commonalities shared between creative professionals include:

  • Use of memory- and processor-intensive software such as the Adobe Creative Suite, Final Cut Pro, Maya and AutoCAD
  • Need for large, fast and local storage capacity (cloud-based storage is too slow for working on very large files)
  • Need to work quickly through complex tasks
  • Often need for tactile input, i.e. via a tablet input device
  • Need to connect external devices for input (graphics table, track ball, video controller), hard drive arrays with fast connections, multiple external monitors for working, external HD displays and projectors for presentations, small memory storage devices such as USB thumb drives for quick file transfers and SD cards for professional digital cameras
  • Need for durability as they are sometimes working in different environments (working remotely in Starbucks, on movie sets, visiting clients, etc.)

And let’s also keep in mind one more important thing: not one single professional user has ever told me that they really need their MacBook Pro to be thinner and lighter. Apple seems to be obsessed with this. Pro users are not.

So now that we have a few insights into the needs of professional users, let’s look at some features that would help solve these user needs:

Eight Ways to Save the MacBook Pro

  1. First of all let’s ditch the Touch Bar. It doesn’t seem to serve any of these user needs, and creates usability problems rather than solving them.
  2. Next let’s focus on memory. Pro users need lots of memory to run applications and store large files, and although Apple wants people to pay for their cloud services, this doesn’t work for how pro users actually work. Let’s make the standard base-level memory 16GB of RAM (upgradable to 32GB or 64GB) and hard drive storage starting at 1TB (upgradable to 2TB or 3TB).
  3. Pro users have evolving storage needs. Let’s make both RAM and HD memory user upgradable.
  4. To help pro users work more quickly and efficiently, Apple should design add-ons for their pro software such as Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro. These can include keyboard overlays that teach keyboard shortcuts (proven efficiency boosters) and different types of mouse-like input devices specific to these softwares.
  5. Many pros use tablets for a more tactile input device experience. Apple should follow the route of Microsoft and others by giving the MacBook Pro a touchscreen display with stylus. They already have something like this with the iPad Pro, but iOS doesn’t run most of the professional software. Let’s bring that iPad Pro functionality to the MacBook Pro.
  6. Speaking of the iPad Pro, let’s make it interoperable with the MacBook Pro by making the iPad Pro a portable dual display option. Let’s allow users to connect an iPad to the MacBook Pro and use the iPad as a second touchscreen display. The Microsoft Surface Pro can’t do that…yet.
  7. Pro users already may have to connect multiple external devices to their MacBook Pro. Let’s not make that even clunkier than it already is by forcing them to stick a bunch of dongles between the computer and the externals. Let’s create a customizable, modular port bay on one side so the user can choose between these two options: three Thunderbolt 3 ports + 1 USB-C port —OR— two Thunderbolt 3 ports + one USB-C port + one FireWire 800 port. And let’s add back the SD card slot for pro photographers and videographers.
  8. Durability is something that is not usually a priority with the industrial design of computers, but so-called ‘Tough PC’s’ have been around for a long time. So let’s really set the MacBook Pro apart from the competition by making it waterproof (to one meter…let’s be reasonable), dustproof and shockproof.


To design great products that are usable AND innovative, Apple needs to use the UX process to understand it’s users, design to their needs, and test extensively. Ultra-thin laptops with Touch Bars are neat, but they don’t solve any usability issues and don’t serve the needs of professional users. Beautiful aesthetics can deceptively mask poor usability as explained in this excellent article on The Aesthetic-Usability Effect by Kate Meyer.  A beautiful, ultra-thin laptop with a not-very-useful Touch Bar and a bunch of dongles hanging off of it isn’t innovative, and it’s not good design.


Designing Resiliency

Climate Change, AI, Cyberesecurity, and Experience Design

We are living during a period of history defined by uncertainty. Global climate change, political and social upheavals, demographic shifts and other large scale changes mean that past trends do not necessarily predict future ones. But this is also a period when design as a field is more prominent than ever, giving us tools to innovate in the face of challenges with uncertain outcomes. A primary design goal with these really big challenges should be resiliency.

Resiliency is a kind of strength. It allows objects to hold their shape, and people and organizations to remain intact under duress. To design resiliency we cannot just devise solutions to current challenges; we must also anticipate future challenges, and this requires futurecasting.

Futurecasting is not about predicting the future. This is a fool’s errand, yielding results that are almost certainly inaccurate. When I was growing up, magazines like Popular Science promised flying cars and personal robots in the 21st century. (I’m still waiting for mine!) Instead, futurecasting is about sketching possible future scenarios based on current trends across a wide range of disciplines including science, technology, social sciences, economics, environmental and energy trends, etc. Instead of viewing the future as a single linear pathway, it uses systems-based thinking to envision multiple possible scenarios from best-case to worst-case possibilities.

For this article, I want to focus on four specific and interrelated trends that will affect organizational resiliency in the next decade:

  1. Climate Disruption
  2. Artificial Intelligence
  3. Cybersecurity
  4. Experience Design

Climate Disruption

Climate change is already happening, and the latest data suggest that it started earlier than previously thought. Many scientists also believe that the recent Paris accord is too little, too late to stop human-caused climate change. While there is promise of technology-based solutions to the problem, these will take time to both come on line and begin to take effect. So we can say with a high level of probability that many of the predicted effects of climate change are inevitable, and some— such as sea level rise, drought in some areas, flooding in others, and increased storm activity— are now unavoidable. Designing resiliency to climate disruption thus becomes of paramount importance.

What this means is that organizations need to be aware of all the possible effects of climate change, and what parts of their business are most vulnerable. For some organizations that means there are value chain risks to physical property, energy supplies or price volatility with raw materials or commodities. There may also be risks of products becoming unpopular due to shifts in the needs or attitudes of consumers, or regulatory risks due to governments taking action to mitigate climate disruption effects. These need to be factors in an organization’s design strategy to improve resilience. (Kem-Laurin Kramer has an excellent book on design strategy and sustainability called User Experience in the Age of Sustainability.)

Artificial Intelligence

Before proceeding on this topic, it’s important to define what AI means. There are different types of AI, and the differences are enormous:

  • Weak (or Narrow) AI is non-sentient and focused on specific tasks
  • AGI or Artificial General Intelligence is sentient and of equal intelligence to humans
  • ASI or Artificial Super Intelligence is sentient and exponentially more intelligent than humans

To be clear, what we are talking about here is weak AI. We are a long way off from building a self-thinking, self-aware, sentient AI, and we really don’t know how long it will take or if it’s even possible. We are held back less by computing power and more by the fact that we don’t have a clear understanding of the inner workings of consciousness or sentience. It’s pretty hard to build something when you don’t know what you’re building.

However, weak AIs are going to have an enormous impact in wealthy countries in the next decade. A new development that is coming quickly is the personal AI avatar, a weak AI that acts as a personal assistant. It will filter information for you, customize your news feed, manage your personal and professional communications, and predict your needs and desires. These personal AI avatars will be gateways to access consumers. Some companies will design and customize the avatars. Others will negotiate with the avatars to deliver ads and marketing materials. Organizations need to understand how this technology works.

Objects with embedded computers and wireless connectivity, the ‘Internet of Things,’ will proliferate, and increasingly these objects will interface with weak AIs that live in the cloud. These will also interact with personal AI avatars. For instance, your avatar will know when you wake up and will tell your coffeemaker to start making coffee. Your printer will tell your avatar that your ink levels are low and then your avatar can order new ink from Amazon without bothering you. Rather than just designing individual products, organizations will be designing product ecosystems, and there will be no difference from a design standpoint between digital and analog experiences.

Another area that is seeing revolutionary change is transportation design. Enabled by weak AI, autonomous self-driving cars will become the norm in the next decade. That doesn’t mean everyone will drive one, but we will all share the road with them. Just like with the Internet of Things, experience design will be critical in how we interact with transportation, from cars to buses, trains and aircraft. Already, companies like Tesla, Hyperloop, SpaceX, Toyota, Honda and others are hiring UX designers to do the design work that used to only be done by ergonomics engineers. This is because people don’t just interact with their car or other vehicle, but are interacting with multiple hardwares and softwares both inside and outside the vehicles. Organizations working with transportation will need to think of their products and services more like digital devices and software-as-a-service rather than traditional transport.


We are in a cyberwar. Right now. The recent hacks of government email servers and the DDoS attacks that brought down sections of the internet in October, 2016 were skirmishes in this war. This war is very complex because some of the players are governments and some are private parties, but it’s often very hard to tell the difference. This war will affect everyone using the internet and connected devices, so organizations need to know what’s going on and have a strategic plan.

The recent DDoS attacks were especially significant because instead of using desktop or laptop computers to launch the attacks, they used other devices, like home internet routers and webcams. All of those Internet-of-Things devices are actually computers with wireless connectivity, and they are all vulnerable to cyberattack.

For decades cybersecurity and anti-virus efforts have always been a step behind hackers. Humans are a bottleneck in these efforts, and so the only way to be able to respond and defend against these attacks quickly enough to be effective is to use defensive Weak AIs. On the flip side, AIs can also be weaponized and used to launch attacks. Again, because AIs have an enormous speed advantage over humans, such an attack could be very damaging.

Hackers know this, and so an attack with a weaponized AI is almost certainly inevitable. Organizations need to have a cybersecurity strategy, and AI needs to be a part of that strategy. For individuals, personal AI avatars will not only be our assistants but also our bodyguards against hacking and identity theft.

With AIs being the new defensive and offensive weapons in the cyberwar, experience design is critical to being able to effectively utilize them and to understand what is happening.

Experience Design

Experience Design (XD), UX, and Design Thinking are becoming the biggest forces in all fields of design and business. This is because they work as effective methods for solving big, complex problems with human-centered solutions. XD/UX combines the creative ideation and sideways thinking of design, critical for coming up with innovative solutions, with the empirical rigor of science, critical to validating whether a solutions works or not and why. Studies indicate that startup businesses fail 80-90% of the time due to XD/UX failures, which include things like lack of a market need, being beaten by competition, poor product design, ignoring customers, etc. XD/UX is critical for business.

Some of the areas that XD/UX is expanding into include:

  • Industrial design
  • Product design
  • Transportation design
  • Fashion tech
  • Medical tech

Increasingly, XD/UX is designing not just single products but product-service ecosystems. The empirical iterative process of XD/UX is particularly well suited for tackling big complex problems using design thinking and systems thinking.


In this time of uncertainty, there are unique opportunities for innovation. The organizations that are best prepared and well positioned will have a distinct advantage in those opportunities. By leveraging design thinking and XD/UX, organizations will have the critical elements to design solutions to climate disruption, AI, and cybersecurity. Futurecasting may at first sound more mystical than meticulous, but only by putting in place a proactive forward-thinking strategy can organizations design resiliency.


The Feminist Tech Company: Ways and Reasons to Build a Culture of Equality and Inclusion

by Julian Scaff / edited by Crystal Scaff

This article is based on my keynote talk at the Wonder Women Tech Conference in Long Beach, California on July 17, 2016.

The tech industry has a problem. For all its progressive leanings and inherent coolness, the industry has a big problem with diversity. This problem is multi-faceted, with sexism affecting women, racism affecting people of non-white and non-Asian ethnicities, and ageism affecting people over the age of thirty. For this article, I want to specifically focus on the issue of sexism.

Women represent nearly 60 percent of the labor force in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. But according to a study by CNET that polled some of the largest tech companies in the world, women only make up a very disproportionate 30 percent of the tech industry labor force. And if you look specifically at technical positions like programmers, engineers and data scientists, the numbers get even more abysmal. The industry giants have some of the worst numbers: at Apple Computer, 20 percent of technical positions are held by women; at Google it’s 17 percent, and at Twitter it’s only 10 percent.


Why is this the case? Are men innately better suited to technical jobs? Let’s look at the evidence.

Computer programming was invented in 1842 by a woman named Ada Lovelace, who was highly skilled in mathematical thinking and developed the analytical engine that was the basis for all electronic computing in the 20th and 21st centuries. In the 1960’s, Margaret Hamilton was one of the world’s first software engineers. In addition to helping develop the essential principles of modern computer programming, Hamilton wrote the software that made the Apollo 11 moon landing possible. Recent data on women in tech includes a study by Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and North Carolina University that found that women coders made fewer mistakes than their male counterparts.

Ada Lovelace and Margaret Hamilton
Ada Lovelace (left) and Margaret Hamilton (right), inventors and pioneers of computer programming.

So isn’t it odd that a field that was invented by women and where women seem to outperform men is so male-dominated? Well, that study of women coders points to the reason for this disparity. The study specifically looked acceptance rates of code on the popular developers’ site GitHub. A low-acceptance rate indicated that code was not accepted due to errors, and the study found that women’s acceptance rates were higher than men’s, but only if the women’s gender was not known. If you take the same female coders and reveal their gender, then the acceptance rates of their code plummets. So there’s a strong and prevalent perception in the tech community that women are worse coders than men, even though the exact opposite is true.

These attitudes indicate that the problem in the tech industry is one of culture. There is a prevalent culture that sees women as inferior, and that culture is so prevalent that it discourages and prevents women from participating in this employment sector.

A study by the American Association of University Women showed that the number of women in computer-related fields has dropped in recent years, even though we know that women excel in these fields and there are jobs available.

Women have gotten the message that the tech industry is not friendly to them. This is a real problem for companies, especially in an economy where innovation is a driving force and access to talent is critical for success. Companies are losing out on critical talent and the attendant opportunities for greater innovation. Multiple studies directly link diversity with innovation, so tech companies are leaving a lot on the table by not hiring more women and minorities, particularly in roles of leadership, ideation, design and engineering.

All of this information is public knowledge. It’s published in sources like Wired, CNET, Fast Company, and the other publications tech insiders read. But entrenched culture doesn’t change unless direct and intentional action is taken to change it.

There are three things companies can do to fix this problem.

1. Change the internal culture.

Most people familiar with the tech industry know the terms “bro culture” and “brogrammer.” All-male technical teams tend to become self-perpetuating bro culture machines, so that even when a woman is hired, she has to either tolerate the hyper masculine, sexist culture or leave. We know from low retention rates of women in these jobs that many women choose the latter.

Companies need to talk about gender issues and gender-discrimination patterns with their employees. Frank and open communication is key to changing the culture. Every employee should be asked to show responsibility and leadership in affecting that change.

Over the course of my 22-year career, I’ve witnessed overt and subtle forms of sexism and discrimination in various forms. Overt sexism and sexual harassment are easy-to-spot legal issues, and while these are serious problems in some organizations, subtle sexism is much more widespread. Many men don’t realize they’re engaging in subtle sexism, so conversations about what it is and how to not do it need to happen.

I’ll give an example. I used to have a male colleague who spoke in markedly different ways to male and female colleagues. He might say to a female colleague in a higher-pitched voice “Good morning, Sally. That’s a very nice dress!” and then turn to me and say in a lower-pitched voice “Hey, Julian, how is that project going?” The more he did it, the more glaring it became. It was clear that on some level he clearly did not respect female colleagues on the same level as male colleagues. At a certain point, I brought this up to him and asked if he was aware of it, and he completely denied that this was the case. He also didn’t change his behavior. It was so ingrained that he didn’t see it, and nobody wanted to talk about it publicly because it was uncomfortable. This is the culture we are up against.

2. Promote women.

Organizations should aim for a gender balance (and diversity in general, defined in terms of ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity) in positions of management and leadership.

Some people will criticize this as a form of affirmative action that goes against the meritocracy model championed in Silicon Valley. But we know from studies like the gender bias against women coders that this “meritocracy” doesn’t apply to women and minorities.

Having more women and minorities in positions of management and leadership helps to change the bro culture in the tech industry, and it’s good for business. As we discussed before, diversity is a critical contributor to a culture of innovation. Therefore, aiming for gender parity and diversity in management and leadership roles isn’t just a nice thing to do; it should be an integral component of an organization’s business strategy.

Industries should also consider changing their policies to support work-life balance. The Harvard Business Review identified work-life balance as one of a number of major obstacles to women advancing in leadership positions. (There are other significant barriers, as well, so I encourage you to read the study linked above.) Organizations need to remove this obstacle and explicitly support employees—both women and men—in not having to choose between personal/family life and work life.

Because the truth is that working more hours per week does not equal more work getting done. A study at Stanford University found that employees working 60 hours per week achieved two thirds of the work completed compared to employees working 40 hours per week. Another study, by the Microsoft Personal Productivity Challenge, found that employees are only really productive about 29 hours per week. Incidentally, that same study found that women were slightly more productive than men.

So promoting work-life balance, and specifically limiting the number of hours employees are allowed to work per week, can not only help boost diversity in leadership positions but also boost productivity for the entire organization.

3. Recruit and communicate externally.

A common complaint from organizations is that they just don’t get enough job applicants who are women and minorities. As a hiring manager I’ve seen this happen: you advertise a job opening, and most or all of the applicants are white men. So what do you do?

If diversity is a key component of your business strategy, this has to be communicated externally. Companies need to communicate not just that they are an “equal opportunity employer” but that they have a gender-equal work environment. This should be front and center on the public employment page of the organization’s website, with an explanation of HOW they are gender inclusive.

Further, companies can demonstrate this dedication by sponsoring organizations that are working for change in the industry. Organizations like Wonder Women Tech, Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code, Girl Develop It, Tech Girlz, and many others.

No, this is not my boyfriend's computer.


It should be part of a company’s business strategy and strategic vision to cultivate an internal culture of inclusion and equality both because it’s the right thing to do and because it gives companies a competitive advantage. A lack of diversity has a trickle up negative effect that spreads from individual organizations to the entire industry to the world economy. The Harvard Business Review put it in blunt terms: having more women in the workforce could boost the GDP of the entire economy by 5 percent, which equals almost a trillion dollars. The tech industry needs to become truly progressive by getting serious about creating diversity. The feminist organization is more effective and more innovative than what we currently see in the tech marketplace, and our collective path toward the workplace of the future is stilted until the feminist company is the norm.