Jared Spool on How NOT to be a Frog

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July 14, 2022

“The number one responsibility of UX leaders is to make their organization the world's foremost experts on their users and what their users need.”

I sat down with Jared Spool, the OG expert in all things usability to talk about how and why UX teams need to influence decision-making in their organizations.

Things you’ll learn in this article:

What customers want

For any company, the most important decision is made when a customer chooses to buy (or not buy) their product. Entire sales teams, feature factories, marketing gurus are set up to support this single decision.

But Jared Spool has a way of simplifying it down for us into a simple binary—it all comes down to price or quality.

Let’s say you’re scrolling through Amazon shopping for pencils. If you’re like most of us, you don’t care too much about which pencils you buy so you just look for a reasonably priced set.


But let’s say your friend sitting next to you is an artist. She’ll be evaluating the same pencils on the quality of the graphite or charcoal used, reading reviews on the richness of the color when you sketch with them.

While you’re buying on the basis of price, your friend cares about a dimension of “quality” for which she’s willing to pay a premium.


To Jared, the decision the pencil manufacturers made on how much to invest in graphite quality is a UX decision—it directly impacts the users’ experience with the product. And if they invest the right amount behind the quality of their graphite, they are able to sell their product to your friend and other artists at a premium price.

In short—the better aligned an organization’s choices are with users' needs, the more likely it is to generate outsized value for their customers and themselves.

Wait but that sounds obvious—why aren’t organizations already doing this?

I asked Jared the very same question and was met with another one in turn: “Have you ever cooked a frog?”
Frogs are put in room temperature water on a lit stove. At first the frog is perfectly comfortable, then in a lukewarm bath, and before it knows it—it’s cooked.


In the same way, companies make a series of small choices, each adding onto the next without realizing that they’re making critical UX decisions along the way—and all too soon, they become the proverbial well-cooked frog.


Let’s say you build a software that is complex to install. It takes a specially trained Customer Success professional to install it for your clients.
That’s not a problem to start with—in fact it’s cheaper to hire one person to install the software than to build an easy to install version. And as long as your customer has the product set up as needed, the user experience will be great.


Over time your company starts doing well (woohoo!)—you hire one more Customer Success person, then another. This is amazing—you’re selling more and more of your product!


Then one day you wake up 2 years later with a 300-person Customer Success team that costs you $60 million dollars a year.
I’m sorry to break this to you—but you’re officially a well-cooked frog. The cost of making your software difficult to install is now $60 million dollars a year.

How to influence stakeholders to think about UX

That $60 million dollar a year cost—that’s a UX decision. It’s also your ticket to help your organization make better choices. Simply put, telling an executive that you can save them $60 million dollars a year by improving a UX decision is a pretty compelling argument.


While this is just an example, any sub-optimal UX decision could result in significant costs to the company. These costs might be caused by features your team built that no one is using, ballooning support organizations, or something else entirely.


Your job as a UX professional is to discover these hidden costs that your “frog” of a company has got used to and bring a UX lens to them, running User Research to discover what your customers actually need and where your company diverges from them.

Everything in collaboration

But as you set out as the crusader of UX, it’s important to remember that your stakeholders are an asset, not the enemy.


For the optimal outcome, you need to get their buy-in, but you also need their input. There are nuances about software installation that that Customer Success person can tell you that no one else in the organization can. Or bugs that a developer will notice that no one else in the room will pick up on.

The more you bring your stakeholders into the process of UX research and discovery, the easier it gets to discover unexpected insights & align your team along the way.

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