Toyota Auris cup holder and HTC P3300_titanas

Elements of Experience Design: Jobs-to-be-Done

Experience Design is one of the biggest and most important trends in the changing automotive landscape. As automakers grapple with the future of an industry that can no longer continue to pursue ‘business as usual’ it’s inevitable that changes must occur. In this second part of our Experience Design series, we explore the jobs-to-be-done.

For over a decade, the experience offered by most cars has sat in the realm of the feature phone. These were the bloated devices, like the Nokia 7600, that filled our pockets before the iPhone came along.

Nokia 7600
The Nokia 7600, a relic of the feature phone era. The in-car experiences of today will date just as well… (Image: Wikipedia Commons)

Each new car brings more features, more ways of interacting, and more ‘innovation’. Yet out of 33 in-car technologies assessed by J. D. Power, a consumer insights organization, 16 are not used by over 20% of owners.

They also identified 23 features that over 20% of owners just don’t want in their next vehicle.

Modern cars, it seems, are a worst-case example of feature bloat.

Infiniti and Jaguar Land Rover introduced dual center stack screens. Volkswagen’s ‘feature-rich’ active driver display is a usability nightmare. And Tesla buries essential controls in sub-menus in its Model 3. Perhaps their creators were thinking of competitive one-upmanship first. Whatever, it’s apparent that usefulness came in a distant last.

Yet we know that excellent customer experiences are useful. So it stands to reason that these useless features erode customers’ sense of value and undermine their relationship with a brand.

Clayton Christensen is a Harvard Business School professor and author of The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail. He has a theory to explain why feature bloat and subsequent value erosion occurs: it’s a failure to understand customers and their needs.

When companies have so much customer data at their disposal, this seems an absurd notion, but there’s a good reason. They’re typically set up to understand correlations in data like 74% of customers prefer this screen design over that one. Statements like this appear to justify all manner of design decisions (especially bad ones), but they conveniently ignore what drives the customer’s preference: their underlying needs.

If we don’t understand why patterns in behavior emerge, we never understand the needs for which we should be designing. Christensen frames these needs as jobs-to-be-done (JTBDs). If your product doesn’t help them complete the job in a meaningful way, they’ll reject your product and find another.

Given JTBDs are so critical to good customer experience design, how do we identify them?

The first step is to review your research. Focus groups, ethnographic research, competitive analysis, and quantitative data sets are all valuable inputs for identifying behavioral patterns.

Next, manufacturers must go behind the patterns. Ask why behavioral patterns occur. Why does a particular type of customer prefer a specific feature, service or experience? What job does it help them get done?

The third step is to find the rejectors. Identify where people refuse to use a product or service. You can learn just as much when people reject something as when they adopt it.

Toyota Auris cup holder and HTC P3300_titanas
Customer’s creativity when it comes to using your products can indicate a job-to-be-done.(Image: Titanas)

Find the hackers. People often break and remake products and services, or find ways around their limitations. This behavior is a strong suggestion that they can’t meet their needs.

Look for the avoiders. What jobs do people want to avoid? Some jobs are a source of value-destroying frustration for consumers. Can you make these sorts of jobs more attractive, or disappear entirely?

Look for customers’ creativity. Do they use your products in unexpected ways? Again, this behavior may point to a new job-to-be-done, to which you’re well placed to respond.

By way of a case study, let’s look at Tesla. Sure, they’re subject to criticism for their interface design, production missteps, and quality issues. Look elsewhere though, and there’s clear evidence that they have successfully understood customers’ JTBDs.

For example, Tesla identified a job to be avoided: a visit to the car dealership.

Call to mind a traditional showroom. Located on the edge of town, the salespeople are more concerned with their sales targets than their customer. A visit to a dealership, for many people, is a job to be avoided, practically and emotionally.

Car dealership - old vs new
Which would you rather visit? (Image: Wikimedia Commons and Paul Swansen)

Contrast this with a Tesla showroom. Located in a high-end shopping precinct, the staff there are discrete and knowledgeable. With no pressure to buy a vehicle, you’re free to look over the car, sit in it and ask questions about it. Staff can initiate the purchase on-site, but if you prefer you can use the website to order a vehicle from home.

Tesla has focused on things that will make a useful and valuable difference to customers’ lives. They’ve successfully identified the jobs-to-be-done in the car buying process.

But a great customer experience is more than just understanding the jobs-to-be-done. You need to understand the customer’s context and a new way of thinking about how you deliver experiences.

We’ll explore this in the subsequent articles in this series.


Founded in 2012, Form Trends tirelessly covers the automotive design industry in all corners of the globe to bring you exclusive content about cars, design, and the people behind the products.