July 9, 2016

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Meal Planning Confessional

Confession: once a week I sit down at the kitchen table with my husband and we plan.

At this point, it’s a religious habit. Every Saturday after breakfast we grab the notepad and pen and we plan. One of us says, “Okay. Let’s talk about food.”

When we first started cooking together we were passioned, wild shoppers in the grocery store. “That exotic fruit looks amazing! Let’s buy it!” and “We don’t really need this elderflower infused organic spice rub, but let’s get it anyway.” After awhile we ended up with a stocked pantry full of things we’d never use, and a large monthly tab of delivery orders from Seamless.

About a year and a half ago we changed. We both remember the moment well. It was just before the holidays. We had a few friends over for dinner before Christmas and my husband made an incredible meal. Duck confit with parsnip puree. It was divine. One of the best meals we’ve ever made. A few days later we feasted on Christmas Eve: roast pork shoulder with duck fat smashed blue potatoes, and an Italian cheesecake to top it off. And the next day we were ill. We’d finally crossed the delicious, duck-fat-infused line. A few weeks later, as part of a regular health screening at work, my husband learned his cholesterol count was high. Our time had come.

Duck, mid-confit, and ham and swiss omelette. Vive la France!

A photo posted by Katie Koch (@pixelkated) on

This. This is the reason I married @jeremydipaolo #xmasharder

A photo posted by Katie Koch (@pixelkated) on

A couple things happened.

We kickstarted our healthy eating with a hacked food lover’s cleanse. We kinda followed the instructions, generally adding more meat and oils than we were instructed to do. But it was a good transition period. We picked up a ton of new ideas for healthy recipes, and started to understand which foods would add a burst of flavour, or not. Some new ingredients we picked up from this phase of life: cacao nibs, colored rice, walnuts, and chia seeds.

One day my husband brought home a new cookbook, which we jokingly refer to now as “the Bible.” Clean Slate gave us loads of knowledge about why certain foods are good for us. Every recipe in the book uses good, clean ingredients and it’s structured to help you understand what you’re getting from each meal. We often grab this cookbook as inspiration for cooking techniques and pairings. For example: fish + any veggies baked in parchment packets, or mixed salads using any whole grain as a base, and our new favorite classic chicken (any style) + greens (any kind).

Around that time we started planning meals one week at a time. Finally – oh finally! – we had enough inspiration to require a plan for what we’d be eating. And we learned that living in NYC and trying to cook with high quality, healthy ingredients is in fact expensive. Suddenly, throwing away unused rotting food felt like real dollars down the drain. So we started small. We chose a couple of recipes we’d like to try each week and wrote down the ingredients for them. As many cooking resources recommend, we did this activity in our kitchen. We quickly learned what we had on hand in the pantry, and started to plan meals around what was available. Soon enough, our grocery bills started stabilizing. We cooked more because we didn’t come home from work and waste time deciding what to make and how much effort we wanted to spend. We planned leftovers to take to work, and saved money on lunch expenses too.

And it’s stuck. Now that we’re in Sweden our devotion to meal planning has blossomed. Saving money and not wasting food is fantastic, but there are other reasons that really drive us. Each Saturday when we “talk about food,” it’s a way for us to talk about our weeks ahead and share the activities going on in our lives. We get excited about the things we’ll cook together during the week, and after a hard day at work it’s comforting to know there will surely be a good meal at the end of it. The shared activity of planning is what enables the shared activity of cooking: it’s the chain of commitments we make to each other each week.


June 6, 2016

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Service design for product teams

A few weeks ago I had an opportunity to visit Paris and give new life to a talk I originally gave last fall at the Service Experience conference.

When I originally gave the talk Putting Service Design Into Practice, I was concluding my tenure as design director on my team at American Express. The original talk was focused on my team’s work there, and the ways we found to bring elements of service design into our design process for products and services.

In my experiences at Amex, service design was a fantastic way to think about system-based problems over time. Tools like customer journeys, service blueprints, role playing and personas are great for getting groups of designers and stakeholders engaged in the design process and keep them thinking about the user over her lifetime as a customer. But at Amex we found it difficult to get buy in for large scale service design, and we didn’t have a consistent need to reinvent whole services. Most of our work was maintaining and enhancing the service we had already created.

We knew we needed to keep service design in our practice, but we needed a lighter, lower cost way of using it. We wanted everyone on the team to operate with a “service mindset.” A designer with a service mindset can:

• Consider all touchpoints in a user’s experience. If we’re designing a desktop notification, we need to know what the marketing touchpoints are.

• Thinks about UX in context of the service. If we’re creating a contact page, we need to know how the user got there and what happens when they leave and call customer service.

• Engages partners to complete the service vision. It’s not realistic for one designer to be responsible for creating all the touchpoints in an experience. We have to work with partners to get the other pieces made in a way that creates a cohesive experience for our users.

To enable this mindset, we created a toolkit that anyone could use. It’s made of paper cards that can be written on, taped up or thrown around. The kit consists of a couple pieces of documentation:

Capabilities cards show all the functions of our platform – like “reset password” or “write a check” – and can be mixed and matched to create new experiences.

Channel cards highlight each touchpoint a user may interact with – things like app, website, or retail location.


We also included artifacts that tell the story about how our team specifically works:

Engagement journey is a framework for how a user interacts with our service over time. What are the stages of getting familiar with the service and using it? How do we know a user has become an expert?

Engagement journey

Modular personas are a set of cards that take our real personas and break them apart into three categories: traits, modifiers, and drivers. In this way, we can pull a card from each deck to create a new persona each time. Instead of using and reusing 4-5 fixed personas for every project, we can create a richer variety of unique situations for which we are designing.

Modular personas

Design principles were created by the team together and then shared with leadership. Through this tool we were able to bring everyone together and create a shared north star for how we wanted each designed experience to feel.

Design principles

Having a toolkit allowed us to use service design in more ways than we had before. The tools can be used at any time during the design process, and it helped us become more flexible and comprehensive with every project. Designers working on even the smallest projects could quickly access service design tools to keep their thinking holistic and thoughtful.

Today I’m designing experiences at Spotify, where our teams are structured and behave very differently from the world I knew at Amex. Despite these differences, the same challenges exist for service design. I’m looking forward to bringing service design tools into the conversation and finding the right way to get all our teams thinking with a service mindset.

In full: the original talk from the Service Experience conference

April 16, 2016

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Välkommen till Stockholm

We’ve been living in Stockholm for three months.

When my husband and I boarded the plane from New York back in January we weren’t sure what to expect. We were anxious for plenty of reasons: Will we find a place to live? Will it be difficult to make friends? Will we be lost as English speakers in a world of Swedish?

The last few months have been a blur. It’s been both wildly fast and dramatically slow at times. Now is a unique point in our lives, where each day is filled with a hundred new experiences, new inputs, new learnings, and tiny observations added to the mental folder called “Life Experience.”

What have we been up to since January? We’ve:
– Lived in two apartments
– Lived without a paycheck for almost two months
Lived without furniture or a place to sit down for a week
Made three trips to IKEA
Lit a fire in our fireplace only to learn the hard way it isn’t open
Translated and successfully paid our bills in Swedish
Expanded our vocabulary in Swedish to pre-school level
Walked across a frozen lake!
Met hundreds of new people at work and through networks
Traveled across the Nordics to Oslo
Hiked on a fjord island and in our own backyard
Learned how to properly slice Swedish cheese and butter a knäckebröd

So far we love Sweden. It’s clean and friendly, and the city feels accessible, even as a newcomer. I’m excited to keep exploring and building the structure of our lives here, though I have mixed feelings about getting settled. In some ways it will be nice to have some stability, but in other ways it will be sad to lose that brief moment of exciting newness. Will the city be as delightful when it becomes predictable? Time and experience will tell.

January 18, 2016

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See you soon, New York

My husband and I are ex pats. Last week we broke our lease, sold our stuff, and got on a plane for my new job in Stockholm, Sweden.

We’ve been talking about moving away from New York for quite some time. Right after our honeymoon we came home and realized we weren’t loving our lives in Brooklyn. And we needed a new project. So we agreed that in a year we’d start to look at new places to live. Nine months later (instead of announcing a post-marriage baby, as many of our friends had) I started my job search with the intent to leave New York.

When you decide to leave a place, you’d better be already finished with it. Once you make up your mind and say it out loud that you’re going to leave suddenly every experience transitions into the potential “last one.” Going for a slice becomes “this could by my last time going for pizza EVER!” And sitting in a stalled train you proclaim “this could be the last time I sit in train traffic on the subway EVER!” You start counting down, narrowing out mediocre restaurants and experiences and people because you have a limited time left to enjoy everything. The kicker is that you don’t get to enjoy anything. The logistics of moving to another city (and country) fill all those moments you’d rather spend doing things for the ceremonial “last” time. You sacrifice a great meal with friends in exchange for a Seamless order on the couch because that’s all you have energy left to do.

In the end, the entire process of leaving is a blur. The “last” times don’t matter. What matters is the hundreds of times I rode the L train and stood crowded in with my neighbors, hot and angry as we collectively endured a signal malfunction. All the times we hiked up to the MoMA for a superb afternoon of art. The memories we shared at our local ramen spot. The years I spent crammed into my first apartment and the shenanigans I shared with my roommates. I won’t remember the first time or the last time for many things, but instead everything in between that made life in the city wonderful and terrible at the same time.

I read a book – Goodbye to All That – as part of my self-help between our early talks of leaving and actually convincing myself we would go. I can’t help but love New York, and I’m happy to finally have a story about leaving it.

July 24, 2015

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How to review design work

Our team has transitioned into a fairly lean UX process, and that means we’re often having quick design reviews and impromptu shares of our projects.

For some of our designers, they’re happy to shoot from the hip and explain their work freely. For others, it’s a flustering experience to have to stop in the middle of their thinking and explain where they’re at.

I wanted to put together a simple framework for sharing our work so we can effectively communicate with one another and receive good feedback at the right moments in the design process. Even if it’s a short, 15-minute review we all go through the same steps of communicating a design. The framework below can be helpful for short conversations and longer critiques with big groups of stakeholders.

1. Context: Set up the conversation
What is the problem you’re solving?
What work have you done so far?
What fidelity of work will we see today?
Recap any major past decisions for attendees who may have missed them.

2. Content: Show the work
Walk us through a flow and tell a story to illustrate how it works.
Tell us how the design solution is solving the problem or meeting a business goal.

3. Critique: Collect feedback
Come prepared with a few key questions you want to discuss.
If you’re looking to reach a decision about a design direction or detail, say so!
Ask questions about the feedback if you don’t understand it.

4. Continue: Share next steps
Tell us what you’re going to do next.

I’d love to hear other approaches to design critique, especially if you’re team has a totally different way of sharing their work!

March 15, 2015

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The Fast Route to Meaning

I just found out we can take our emoji addiction to another level by adding a keyboard of animated GIFs to our phones.

Check out Riffsy, an extension that adds GIFs to your phone’s keyboard: https://www.riffsy.com/

At first glance, my pragmatic brain was baffled. “Why on earth would we need to send a GIF over text? How lazy are we?!” But then I saw their home page demo and it all clicked.

GIF: The internet’s gift to humanity

GIFs came to life in the days of the nascent web. They were a hack-y solution for a medium that could only hold images and text, before Flash and HTML5 made all our motion-tastic dreams come true. Even though the animated GIF’s original function is obsolete, GIFs are alive and well today. It has been repurposed as a form of art, where artists use its known constraints as a unique advantage. Read the history of GIFs here if you’re interested. There are a million sites devoted to the GIF as the kitschiest of kitsch art forms.

The more common and mass usage for GIFs is as a meme: use a sequence of images plus a non-sequitur phrase to equal new, instant meaning.

srsly guise

In fact GIFs have evolved into a complex form of language. Image + image + image + text = lol meaning. Though the intent of communication is arguably different, these GIFs remind me of Chinese characters. Each character is a complex combination of strokes that represent a bigger idea than one word or one letter alone. Because they’re so graphic, GIFs may have an even stronger relationship to hieroglyphics, the ancient Egyptian language that told stories and described ideas through a series of encoded images placed together.

From Image and Language to Text

Just like the internet has advanced in its technical capacity for moving images, our communications sphere has also evolved. SMS and email (and Facebook messaging, tweets, Snapchat, GroupMe, and anything else digital) are our primary mode of communication with everyone from friends and coworkers to family. This shift has been a source of discussion for many linguists, who’ve observed the rise in emoticon usage in our written communications. The basic premise of each analysis is that this new medium for communication removed much of our emotion, and the formality (and sometimes terseness) of writing causes us to move away from a friendly, colloquial tone. People started compensating for these qualities by inserting a smiley face to make it clear they were excited or happy about the message they were sending.


But why were our messages losing emotion in the first place? Is it the sloppiness of our thumbs on a tiny device? Is it our general laziness to slog through using a digital keyboard? Though I’m a grammar snob myself I have many contacts who prefer to communicate in proper SMS language. “R U coming tonight” “Cant wait 4 dinner with U” “<3 U”

Lately, the use of emoticons has been trumped by emoji, a keyboard of complex tiny images that each communicate a single idea. Avid texters get clever and combine emoji to tell a more complicated story.

emoji phrase

This is the new visual emotional language of the text.

Make it Count

The diversity of digital communications that we have available to us creates a rich landscape for communication. We’re all becoming more adept at talking quickly through the written word, and we’re doing it more frequently than ever before. In response, our language becomes more sophisticated and our tools for communicating become even more complex.

In his book Damn Good Advice, George Lois proclaims “All creativity should communicate in a nanosecond.” This fact is even more true in a 2015 text message, where your piece of creative language has only a half moment for your recipient to glance at it before moving on to the next micro message.

Even though it seems totally excessive to me, the animated GIF keyboard is a masterful execution of image + image + text = meaning. It enables more sophisticated communication that reaches the pinnacle of emotional connection and speed of communication.

February 22, 2015

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From Startup to Stable

I recently had the opportunity to speak at Interaction15 about my team at Amex.

My slides are up on slideshare, video coming soon!

January 10, 2015

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That Unique Pattern That Will Be Your Life

This stood out in an opinion over at the Times:

Gardner goes on in this wise way. And then, at the end, he goes into a peroration about leading a meaningful life. “Meaning is something you build into your life. You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties, out of the experience of humankind as it is passed on to you. … You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life.”

– The Problem with Meaning