Episode 101 : Understanding the Importance of Human Connection in Your Customer Experience/User Design

Mike Welsh is the Chief Creative Officer at Mobiquity, leading a team of experienced architects, experienced designers and conversational designers to deliver engaging and compelling solutions in collaboration with engineers who bring these solutions to life. He has been doing this for over 27 years, having joined Mobiquity near its beginning. Mike notes that what originally drew him to this role is the ability to transform experiences for companies and their customers. What keeps him on the team engaged is the opportunity to find out what truly transforms human experience and then brings it to life. He’s a firm believer in the power of a team and its ability to create impact derived from insights.

Mike’s time is spent with clients and teams, including working within creative, business and technology fields, bringing many skills to the table including: experience strategy, experience design, product strategy, and product design. His industry knowledge within these functions spans healthcare, retail, ecommerce, and financial services and he has lectured on these topics at the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, Moore College of Art and Design and various conferences.


  • Could you tell us a little bit about your journey, how it is that you got into experience strategy and experienced design. Tell us a little bit about that journey over the 27 years, how it got you to where you are today?
  • We’re in an era, especially since the global pandemic where a lot of organizations are definitely looking to transform their experiences digitally, even if they weren’t in a digital space, they’re possibly looking at a digital transformation strategy, regardless of the industry that they operate in. As an expert in user and customer experience design and strategy, could you maybe share with us two or three things that should be top of mind in making that transition if you’re a company?
  • What are some of the things that need to be done on the backend to ensure that the user feels like it’s personalized to them?
  • How do you stay motivated every day?
  • Could you share with us maybe one personal win that you think working from home has had an impact on your client success? Maybe just one thing that you’ve been doing differently that has had a greater impact on how you are able to show up for your client.
  • Can you share with us, what’s the one online resource, tool, website, or app that you absolutely can’t live without in your business?
  • Can you share with us maybe one or two books that have had the biggest impact on you? It could be a book you read recently or something you read a very long time ago, but it still had a great impact on you to this day.
  • Can you share with us what, one thing that’s going on in your life right now that you’re really excited about – either something that you’re working on to develop yourself or your people?
  • Where can listeners find you online?
  • What’s one quote or saying that during times of adversity or challenge or any obstacle that you may be facing in your life, you’ll tend to revert to to kind of help you to stay on track or just keep going. Do you have one of those?


Mike’s Journey

Mike shared that he went to Drexel University; he got his degree in Graphic Design and a sort of minor in Sociology. And after graduating, he started out a little shop in Manioc, which is a town just outside of Philadelphia and got to work on some interesting projects and got started and thought, “Wow, this is actually exactly what I want to do.” But he thought he needed to learn about all the pieces that surround the design business, the work that they do, not just making pixels and making things pretty, but how do people think about things? And for those that suffer by what they design, what is it like in their experience? So how can you get into that more directly, more fully, and start to explore that?

So, he had lots of opportunities and mentors along the way, and people that gave him guidance and sort of stumbled and fumbled through the first 5 or 10 years of his career. And then sort of hit his stride when the dotcom boom slash bust happened. That’s when he started to get into these entrepreneurial spaces where it was startup time. So he has probably been 4 of the last 6 jobs are startups. And for him, that was the opportunity to really explore how do you actually transform? How do you kind of get up that Maslow pyramid to get unmet need met?

And he thinks a lot of the work that the teams he has been fortunate enough to lead demonstrate that in a lot of different ways, but it’s ultimately, can a customer get, can a user, can a patient have silent utility? You don’t need 5 star experiences. What you need is, the design has to sort of become part of an experience that’s quietly used by folks and it just works, it just works every day. And he thinks that’s been a big portion of the journey leading up to the last 7 years at Mobiquity of taking customers, probably 200 or so projects of how do you get somebody to understand their experience enough, give it to you, and then come back with something that gives them sort of a rich, silent utility experience.

Digital Transformation Strategy to Keep in Mind

Mike shared that one of the main things that companies that have to approach this sort of new normal, new reality structural change that’s going to be with us for a significant period of time is first don’t panic. He knows that sounds maybe not like a design thing to think about, but if you’re a business trying to survive and get on the other side of whatever this is, a global pandemic, civil unrest, governmental change, all sorts of things that are happening in everybody’s country. The first is to not panic and think about how your business grows in an environment like this. In every depression and recession we’ve ever had, most of the truly sustainable businesses are built out of that crucible of collapse. And so, if you are one of those businesses and you can see this with Facebook and Netflix and Spotify all came out of the great recession.

Well, we’re at another point where there’s going to be another set of entrepreneurs and business owners and business people that are going to have opportunities. The second big pitfall or the second big sort of caution is 

“You don’t have to boil the ocean; you shouldn’t have to solve everything at once.”

Mike Welsh

It is sort of the Kaizen model of take a little bit each time that you go to make a change in your business and do some analysis, try it, if it doesn’t work, learn from it and move on. Don’t try to do everything at once, like curbside or contactless payments or things like that. There’s plumbing and systems that already exist, that are already in the world.

How can you adapt these to your business in a simple, straightforward, working with your customer, dealing with your labour way that can also make you able to meet your bottom line. And then to some extent, the third thing is you have to have a grit, so Duckworth wrote all about it, and you have to have passion and perseverance and you need tons of both to be able to sustain yourself through what is essentially a depression and come out of it with a completely new streamlined, more efficient, more customer focused than you’d ever have in any other time.

Me: So, those are definitely valid integrations that we can take into consideration when we’re thinking of our digital strategy. Now, a big part I think of user design and you can correct me if I’m wrong. Seeing that you’re an expert is I think personalization and so using whatever platform whether it’s for a bank or for a supermarket or a spa, or whatever that at the end of the day, I don’t feel like it’s generic to everybody, but it’s specific to me and what I’m looking for. How can you ensure that you achieve that? Is it by ensuring that you’re asking the right questions? Is it maybe from collecting the right kind of customer data?

Personalized User Experience

Mike stated that he doesn’t know if he’s the expert, expert, but we all use experiences like you use the phone, we’re using Skype, we’re doing all these things, and we’re accessing technology and adopting it. He thinks one of the things, one of the principle things people have to do if you’re trying to personalize is to first understand what the human component is.

So for example, that sort of Maslow example he talked about in the beginning was, at the bottom of the pyramid you can just make an app that sits in an app store and it does a thing and you have to log in and that could be Uber, or it could be Amazon. You get to the next tier and you have to understand what desires exist for a person. What are the desires that people want in an experience. If you understand those, you can create interactions they really want, and that may be a tier above.

So, Uber for example, or house party or some of these other experiences that really do get at interactions you actually want in those experiences and then tier above that is you gotta have a fair exchange of value between the human and the system.

And so that means that you have to construct these systems so they’re built around an audience, not around a technology. It’s hard for people to understand that when they go to set out and make an app, because they’re thinking about a technology, that’s looking for a problem, but the reality is you want to make it so that you understand fundamentally what’s at stake for that person so that they can have moments of achievement in that fair exchange of value.

And he thinks when you see the 5 star experiences or you think of the apps that you use yourself, or think of the kiosk experiences that you’ve had, or the experiences with your television set, any technology interaction you have that you feel is meaningful.

Oftentimes, obliquely goes after the unmet need by trying to create fair exchange of value between a human and a system.

The last piece of this and sort of the capper is if you understand how audience management works and how you can steer audiences in different ways, it starts with that one to one knowledge that understanding of the human condition.

Do you really understand anxiety, the uncertainty and powerlessness that people feel today as they go about their business, put on their mask, wash their hands, do these kinds of things are going to fundamentally change the way we act as humans. We don’t know what it is yet because we’re still in the cauldron.

But ultimately, if you think about that anxiety as an equation for how you can address the more certain people can feel, the more power they have in a transaction and that intuitive emotional awareness of the consumer can change the state of anxiety someone experiences when they’re trying to interact with a piece of technology.

And that’s a great way to start your sort of personalization conversation. And then on the technology side, there are a million things out there, AWS, Google, everybody’s got tons of widgets that can quote….unquote, address personalization, but they’re all afterthoughts, it’s not until you understand that equation fully and completely. And then you create that exchange, that fair exchange of value between you and someone else.

Me: So, the person who is doing the designing, they’re not just have to think about just selling a product, they have to think about the end user. And as you mentioned, how does the human element connect with the technology aspect to ensure that you’re actually trying to meet the unmet needs of the client? Because sometimes I guess the customer doesn’t even know what their needs are until it has been met.

Mike agreed and shared that it shows up surprisingly in different ways. So, the way that you bought the microphone that you’re using to do this podcast had a certain set of things, you had some needs, you had to have really good sort of MPR quality audio, and you wanted some high quality production after you do this podcast.

But the reality is, is that you want to make sure that the quality of your audio gets to your audiences in exactly the right way. There’s a sort of a margin that you have, if he understands that, that he’s going to position that microphone in a way that gets you to that end, he’s going to use YouTube influencers, he’s going to use social media, he’ going to have people using the mic mention it. There’s a lot of ways that people can do this, where they can actually personalize the experience and make it so that you’re making the right purchase with the right kinds of information.

Me: I think information is so critical Mike as you mentioned that, I think sometimes a lot of companies, I know, like for example, in sales, they focus on trying to sell the customer the benefits, like how will it benefit me versus the features, because I think that’s where a lot of salespeople go wrong. They’re caught up on all of the features that this particular product or service may offer, but maybe some of those features I don’t need, I’m not interested, let’s say I was buying a car, I’m not interested in the fact that the RPM can go to whatever number, I’m probably more interested in the softer features, does it have a dashboard with a podcasting app? Does it have bluetooth that it will sync with my phone because those are things that I actually value and use on a daily basis when I’m driving.

And so, it’s to understand who you’re serving and what the benefit would be to them. For example, you’re selling a vehicle to a mom with three children versus a single, a single man who is a bachelor. Clearly your pitch would be a little bit different because she’s probably looking for something that will have enough space to accommodate her family, if she has to go on a trip or a vacation, or just up and down every day to take them to soccer practice and ballet recital, you want to know that you can travel with them in comfort. And of course, if you have to carry groceries that there is enough trunk space to facilitate all of that. So, I do think that you really have to focus on the benefits of the product and then knowledge is critical in getting that information across.

How Mike Stays Motivated

Mike stated that that’s a good question. He shared that there are days he will tell you that we’ve all been having on lockdown that are difficult, but he thinks two things. He has three daughters and they’re teenagers and they keep him motivated every day because every day it’s something. But he’s a big fan of sort of audible and listening to audio books and things like that. And he found this one, it’s about the two minute mornings and every morning you fill out a journal, you answer three questions. It takes literally two minutes and it has actually been extremely powerful. He thought it was kind of like, “Oh, whatever, I’ll do it.” But then after he did it for the 90 days, it actually starts to turn into a way that you can control your day and have a good day.

So, that plus a little bit of yoga, plus he runs a bit, those kinds of things will give you something to look forward to. But he also thinks that the work that they get to do for their clients, he used to travel a lot for work, he would travel 50 weeks a year almost doing workshops and meet with clients and doing pitches and things like that. Having to do all of this stuff at home from a sort of remote space, he has been the most creative he thinks. He has been able to help, he has been able to have the most impact he has had since he has been in this job simply because he hasn’t had to go to the airport at 3:00 am in the morning and get home after midnight. It really does put a tax on creativity.

So that motivates him every day. And the fact that hundreds of millions of people use stuff that they’ve designed every day, that’s a huge motivation. Somebody asked him one time for a job search that if you had to tell a candidate coming to work for Mobiquity, what’s the reason you’d come here. And he thinks for him, the motivation is if he told you that you could have an outsized impact and that your design could potentially influence saving someone’s life, for example, that will change your whole outlook on your whole life. Because the thing that you thought you went to art school for, which is designing stuff actually influences healthcare outcomes, or it helps someone have some moment of fulfilment that they wouldn’t have otherwise had, unless you designed that thing. That is an excellent motivator to get up and get going.

Me: All right. So those are some good things that you used to get motivated every day. One thing that sparked my interest while you were sharing just now is you spoke about things that kind of don’t necessarily energize your creativity and definitely traveling, those stressful hours getting to the airport and then getting back. I mean, traveling on a whole is a stressful experience really. But one of the things I wanted to know from you was since you’ve been home, you said for the past 90 days, and you’ve definitely been able to be more creative.

The Impact of Working at Home

Mike shared that the one big thing is, a long time ago he was told by one of his creative bosses that he wasn’t that good of a storyteller.

And that was pretty big, a little bit of a punch in the gut kind of thing. And sometimes that’s the truth, you have stuff to work on and sometimes people just don’t know how to deliver that message nicely. But it was true. And so, what happened was he made that his sort of like, okay, that is going to fuel his hate fire, that is going to make him sort of motivated to be the best storyteller he could possibly be bar none. And so, every day he wakes up in the morning and that for him has been the thing that’s changed the most.

Not only his own storytelling is getting better and his practice of doing that is getting better and the techniques that they use to do it remotely is getting better, but it’s actually affecting his teams. So, his whole design team is getting better at storytelling and getting more efficient at making these messages meaningful. And he thinks that that’s been a big thing for him anyway as a check the box, you’re making some progress.

Me: So, that’s definitely had an impact on you because I think it’s so important for our listeners to realize that even though we’re working from home, we can still put out even better work than we were putting out when we were actually in a face to face environment or just doing the things that we’re accustomed to doing. Human beings generally don’t like change and they put up a lot of resistance to change and I can imagine for an employee who is accustomed to face to face interaction, the up and down busy kind of activity every day. Staying home over and over every day, I guess at the beginning it did seem like a nice thing to kind of get a break from the everyday activities. But after doing it over an extended period of time and now even hearing that this thing is going to continue into 2021.

I was just reading on LinkedIn last night that Google is going to extend their work from home to the end of 2021. And I don’t see why it is that it can’t be a part of our permanent way of operating because if you can literally pull out opportunities out of it and you’re able to see productivity increase, you’re able to see people grow, you’re able to see people develop and your customers are being satisfied even before. If you can find some measurement metric system to identify the level of satisfaction post COVID versus pre COVID with the same people working, but under different conditions and you’re able to prove that it’s a better experience, I don’t see why we would discontinue what we’re doing if it’s working better.

Mike shared that the sort of fun fact is the world isn’t going to get back to normal until 2023, 2024. If you talk to epidemiologists around the world and virologists, they’ll all say, “There is a normalcy bias and a cognitive bias that people have for what’s happening to them.” And some people have been tremendously negatively impacted, lost their livelihoods, loss of their businesses, spouses out of work.

We’re all going to go through a PTSD event. Think of it that way. What you can hope for is that there can be opportunities for people to find a way to express themselves. So, the Maslow that they do for their clients is the same that they do for themselves.

If he can have moments of achievement in his job, in his life and in his work, that’s great. But if he can help others do the same thing, the force multiplication that comes along with that is staggering. The amount of impact that you can have.

One of his teammates had to do a presentation for a client. She didn’t want him on the call; she just wanted him to coach her through it. And she said to him afterwards, because they went back and forth about one of the slides. He said, “Look, I don’t think you should put that on there, but what do I know?” And afterwards she said, “I kept the slide in, despite you not wanting me to.” which he said to her, “It’s fine. You can do what you want.” But she had to own the story and she came back afterwards, the client was super excited.

She did a fantastic job. And as a result, she said, “Look, I really appreciate all your coaching and everything. And I kept the slide in, like I said, but a lot of the points that you made ended up in my talk track. And for that I’m grateful.” And she said, “At some point you got to let us spread our wings, boss.” And so, he’s humble enough to know that he’s only good at a very small number of things, the things that he’s terrible at isn’t is an extensively long list. And he imagines others have the same sort of imposter syndrome and things like that. So, if you can have focus enough to help somebody else get through this thing and help them have a moment of achievement, it can change that person’s impact on the world that they live in. And so there is a little bit of a multiplication effect of being able to kind of help your team get through the things that they’re struggling with so they can influence others and then it just becomes this self fulfilling kind of thing.

App, Website or Tool that Mike Absolutely Can’t Live Without in His Business

Mike shared that he’ll give one and then maybe a half of another. The one that he really couldn’t live without is the Notes App for his iPad. Now, he wouldn’t have said that in January, but his Apple pencil and his iPad, when he starts doing meetings, and this is going to be one of these storytelling things, is that, that the ability to sketch during a shared meeting, like you’re on Zoom or on Teams or whatever, the minute you start drawing on the screen.

You have the Bob Ross effect, which is sort of there’s a happy tree and you sort of get this soothing feeling of someone drawing a tree on a landscape, his experience has been that that is actually something that is super valuable to con their customers and their teammates.

If they can sort of see the whiteboard, the electronic whiteboard effect happening, they oftentimes are more engaged in the meetings that they’re in, they don’t want to see more PowerPoints or Keynotes, they feel like they’re actively doing something and he’s drawing what they’re saying.

So, he’s literally sketching out while they’re going. Across his own internal teams and with external clients have said in feedback that this was a much more engaged meeting and they felt like they accomplished a lot more because they actually can see a physical result as opposed to a set of slides that he had to spend all week preparing.

So for him, the ability to draw a live in a shared environment with someone or some people has been a ‘Godsend’ for not being physically present, you don’t get physical cueing, verbal cueing, you barely get audio cueing. So, you need some other physical aperture to be able to have an interaction with someone and the Notes App has been fantastic.

Me: Excellent. That’s very dynamic tool, Apple has come a very far way with that application.

And there are other apps out there that do it, but the notes one is super simple and it can be shared with others and stuff. So it’s his default.

Books That Have Had the Greatest Impact on Mike

When asked about books that have had the biggest impact, Mike shared that he’ll share two books. Now, if you would talk to the team, they would say, “Oh my God, that’s the question for you.”

In his presentations with clients, he has a thing called the book slide, and you can find it on his website. He goes through a whole thing about all the books he reads. And so, one book that’s affected his whole career, his whole life is the Tao Te Ching by Laozi. You can find a version of the Tao Te Ching in lots of translations; it’s an ancient philosophy book. And it has spawned lots of different sort of Taoists religion itself and Zen Buddhism came from it.

There are a lot of things that came after, but the Tao Te Ching has been a book that he has been reading over and over again, then audio booking, listening to it over and over again for the last 27 years. And it’s fundamentally changed his entire outlook on his entire life.

The other book and he just finished this book, which he thinks everyone should read this book, it is so fascinating. It’s the Biography of Frederick Douglass.

It’s a long listen on audio on audible; it’s like 40 hours or so but he ran a lot of miles listening to it. But the fact that it’s so long, it gives you insight into a person that you would never otherwise have.

And then it allows you to draw your own conclusions. The way the book’s written, it’s fascinating. It takes his life from when he was child in Baltimore, all the way through to the end. And you always think about these characters of people that you learn about in school, but until you actually get into the detail and you start to see how, you know, they’re not perfect, everybody wants everybody to be binary, and they’re not binary. There’s a gray scale of humanity that this man operated with.

And you just think about how tough your day is, you can take any six chapters out of that book and feel a thousand times better about what you have to do each day. And it’s brilliantly written, it’s almost like when Hamilton was like writing all the time, doing the Federalist papers, he wrote like 50 some odd Federalist papers. Everybody else did a fraction.

This guy was writing constantly, failed newspapers started another one writing constantly the sort of suasion sort of principles, then moving into nonviolent stuff. And then moving through freeing himself from slavery and traveling abroad and becoming a writer and sort of a speaker on the circuit, you really do get a sense that one person could change the world. And he found the book to be just super fantastic and The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass is also his own writings, which he thinks are also good. But you get to see a full picture of a human, which he thought was amazing.

What Mike is Really Excited About Now!

Mike shared that the one about his people is they do in person training. So, one of his team that same teammate he described the story about the slide that she included that he didn’t want her to. She came to him once and said, “Hey, I’m having trouble being confident about how I’m presenting myself and what I’m talking about in the work. And I’d like to be more confident about it. And it seems like my peers and other jobs and other companies have this level of confidence.”

So at that point, he was like, alright, let’s get everybody’s confidence level up or reduce their imposter syndrome. So they brought in an outside firm to give them training every six months or so, they’ll do two classes, one is like how to do UX journey maps and other is how to do usability or heuristic evaluations, expert reviews, how to present UX, storytelling for UX, getting this team certified in each of these areas by a sort of globally known company. Started to build up this confidence level that you would start to see in meetings with clients.

So, that from a rewarding standpoint has been amazing to watch a team of pretty experienced professionals up their games, be more confident about their work, sort of stand on their own two feet. His biggest thing he tells his team all the time is he would love if they had a meeting with a client and they’re doing a presentation and he could just sit in the back.

Being the Chief Creative Officer, isn’t super easy, there’s lots of things about it that are hard, but the most proud moments you can have, or the most rewarding moments you can have is when you see your team have these moments of achievement for themselves, they get up, they do their work and the clients are like people clapping at the end of a meeting come on, that’s amazing.

For himself personally, his parents both passed away in the last 3 years. His mother passed away in February just before lockdown. But his mother probably kept him from traveling and in some ways protected him, probably from catching this COVID thing.

And so, as a result of that, he sort of said, “Alright, from now on, I’m going to try to live everyday like it’s my last.” And he got a teardrop trailer and he’s going tow it across the United States and he’s going to do the 25 top national parks of the United States.

He travels all over the world and have been around the world a bunch of times, but it’s mostly for work so it’s not like he’s vacationing in places, he’s just going into a conference room, but he’s going to take the camper and it’s like a small teardrop, it sleeps one person and he’s going to drag that across the United States and try to see all these wonders that he hasn’t seen, so he’s a big camping fan.

Me: That sounds pretty exciting. It’s amazing the amount of things that you can do and I think I was reading that recently, actually, it was on an Instagram story. A company had asked one of those polling questions, what’s the one thing you’ve learned since COVID and someone wrote that time is so precious and you really shouldn’t take any day for granted, that’s what they’ve learnt since COVID. And I guess it’s because we have so much time to sit still and look at what is really happening. I mean, look at what happened yesterday in Beirut.

We have to be grateful for even the things that we think is standard, breathing, waking up every day, the sun is shining, just having the ability to live and just function. The things that we take for granted that we believe must happen, they don’t most happen. And so, I think at the end of the day, if we all approach life as you said, like it’s your said last, you’ll really live a more fulfilling life.

Mike agreed and shared that most people live their lives on the gross level and you’ll see that in Tao Te Ching. Most people live their lives on a level that doesn’t let them get below the surface of their own existence and that has been broken through for a lot of people in this sort of lockdown.

It’s been difficult isolation, depression, all these things are happening. However, on the other side, the bright spot is you can really see people start to get below the surface, they’re not just constantly consuming, they’re not just sort of keeping themselves distracted or anesthetized from what’s actually happening in their own lives. And that’s been interesting to see and it has impacted him as well.

Where Can We Find Mike Online

Mike shared listeners can find him at –

Twitter – https://twitter.com/mikeswelsh/

            LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.cn/in/mikeswelsh/

            Website – www.mwelsh.com

            Instagram –  https://www.instagram.com/mikeswelsh/

Quote or Saying that During Times of Adversity Mike Uses

When asked about a quote or saying that he tends to revert to, Mike shared that it’s sort of a hashtag that he has been doing since his father passed away. So, a long time ago he went to his dad, he had a problem.

He said, “Dad, this thing’s happening in my life. What do I do about it?” And his father’s advice to him was, you need to keep your head down and you need to keep moving, because if you stand still, everything will take you down. Those things will just eat you alive.”

So, the idea is that you got to keep your head down, you got to keep moving. And that passion and perseverance thing, the grit that you need to have, you need to get it, you’re not born with it, you have to earn that going through these experiences and you just have to keep moving.

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