The Human Centered Design Podcast with Gerry Scullion

Patrick Quattlebaum ‘Breaking down tribes to enable the orchestration of experiences’

John Carter
August 28, 2018
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Patrick Quattlebaum ‘Breaking down tribes to enable the orchestration of experiences’

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GERRY SCULLION: Hello and welcome to another episode of ‘This is HCD’. My name is Gerry Scullion and I’m a service design principal now based in Dublin, Ireland. In this episode we caught up with the brilliant Patrick Quattlebaum, co-author (alongside Chris Risdon) of the fantastic new Rosenfeld media book ‘Orchestrating Experiences’. Patrick is founder of StudioPQ and former managing director of the service design consultancy Adaptive Path before its acquisition, after of which he was the Head of Service Design and Senior Director of Design at Capital One.

So don’t worry if you haven’t read the book yet, there’s no spoilers in this podcast. It’s just brilliant entrees to the book itself. There’s a lot to go through in this episode so let’s jump straight into the call.

Patrick Quattlebaum, a very warm welcome to ‘This is HCD’ podcast.


GERRY SCULLION: Delighted to have you.

PATRICK QUATTLEBAUM: Yeah thanks for having me.

GERRY SCULLION: So where are you calling from today?

PATRICK QUATTLEBAUM: I’m in Atlanta, Georgia in the States.

GERRY SCULLION: Nice. So I’ve been following your career for a number of years while you were at Adaptive Path and since been acquired by Capital One obviously but let’s go back to the very start and tell me a little bit how you got into design.

PATRICK QUATTLEBAUM: Well I got into design relatively late, I guess. It was a second career. My original passion and degree was in English literature, studied playwriting and film and I had a speciality in Irish and British literature.


PATRICK QUATTLEBAUM: So you being in Dublin, I’ve been there many times. I’ve been there on Bloomsday. I’ve walked the Joyce path.

GERRY SCULLION: Down by the canal.


GERRY SCULLION: Samuel Beckett?

PATRICK QUATTLEBAUM: Yeah so I’ve done that kind of romantic you know went past Beckett’s birthplace, crazy stuff like that. So that was my original passion. I also ran a business with my, family business for a while. Just kind of where I realised in retrospect I got a lot of on-the-job training of what it’s like to provide a service. And then I wanted a greater challenge and was looking back, going to the graduate school in the late ’90s and I narrowed it down to urban design and the type of design I guess I do now. Ironically one of the things that made me go the direction I did was I didn’t know if I wanted to deal with the politics of urban design but you can’t avoid politics I later learnt.

Yeah so I went to the Georgian Institute of Technology here in Atlanta. I did a program that focused on, the college was literature, communication and culture and so I thought that was a good gateway drug to get into design. It was a really interesting program because it focused on a lot of theory of how design and technology can impact culture and vice versa. And so that was my entree into it and almost 20 years later, my career’s changed several times but I’m glad I made that choice.

GERRY SCULLION: Yeah nice. So at the moment you’ve set up studioPQ.


GERRY SCULLION: So tell us a little bit about studioPQ.

PATRICK QUATTLEBAUM: Yeah well it’s me. After spending a couple of years at Capital One, after we were acquired, I really missed consulting and kind of the variety that comes with it and even inside of Capital One I consulted with our international businesses. So I spent a lot of time in London and Birmingham and also in Toronto helping those parts of the organisation mature their design capabilities. But when I decided to move back east from San Francisco and just spend a year experimenting and not really worrying about what was next but just working with interesting people and doing interesting work, finishing the book. But as that year has turned into, I’m passed that year, what I’m starting to collect here in Atlanta is a group of really interesting people that I work with a lot and so later this year I’ll be announcing a new evolution of what I’m doing. So I can’t talk about it yet but…

GERRY SCULLION:  In the future.

PATRICK QUATTLEBAUM: In the future but essentially what I’ve been focusing on in my individual practice which is what I would like to involve more people in is focusing on more strategic design with organisations but in doing so helping organisations build capabilities beyond the original product design. So a lot of the work has been kind of a combination of management consulting to design leaders and their peers or bosses to help broaden their definition of design and what it can bring to the organisation. And then doing side by side projects where I and others teach their employees how to use tools, the service design toolkit, and especially how to work more collaboratively within their organisation and the benefits of doing that. So that’s been the thread I’ve been pulling and want to do more and have a bigger impact than I can have on my own.

GERRY SCULLION: Yeah so introduce and improve the capability internally. How does that differ from say what you’re doing with Adaptive Path and then Capital One; you know going in as a big consultancy versus now like how has it shaped your approach and how has it differed?

PATRICK QUATTLEBAUM: In some ways it’s similar. The time I was at Adaptive Path we were really moving more and more to service design but also had a lot of great proto companies who really wanted us to help them learn how to do these approaches beyond just doing training or coming to our conferences but actually working side by side. So a lot of the projects that I did at Adaptive Path were of that nature and then as we moved into Capital One, while the Adaptive Path was really well known, you were only talking about 18 designers in a company of tens of thousands of people. So, for example, in working with the international parts of the business, it’s a similar model to what I’m doing now is coming in and having two or three people partner with the organisation and work with in some cases you know business agile teams and showing the benefits of having designers as part of those teams, as part of the brain trust of what the strategy for a service can be, about the benefits of looking, even if they’re organised around product. The benefits of looking at things in terms of experiences and how to balance when you collaborate and when you work independently so that you can create something bigger than any one of those teams that has like a little piece of the puzzle; how they can work better together to create a more harmonious experience across all these different touch points and channels.

GERRY SCULLION: Which is a fantastic segue into today’s topic which is breaking down tribalism in the design community. And, as we were chatting before when I explained this was one of the premises for me creating and founding ‘This is HCD’ to really understand how we can work across multiple disciplines such as product management and UX and service design and experience designers and I can only imagine what it’s like being on the internal side of an organisation who’s trying to hire a consultancy and we’re like ‘no, I’m a UX-er, no I’m an interaction designer and so forth. So that tribalism in the design community is something that I’m really passionate about trying to break down a little bit more and understand a little bit better. But maybe I can get your thoughts on that and like do you think tribalism is bad?

PATRICK QUATTLEBAUM: Well yeah. You know to be honest I go back and forth on that and I think as with anything there’s pros and cons to being extremely passionate about a part of what we call design and wanting to passionately put your skills behind it to help it grow in the world. And then sometimes it’s easy to define something by what it’s not than what it is. And so I think that leads to the ‘well yeah that’s what you do but what we’re really doing over here’. But if you zoom out a little bit, a lot of this is about language and even within, take service design, for example, there’s a good debate going on about what even that really means, right? And you know I think it’s interesting, from my view point, you know between say Europe and the US there’s this overlapping circles of, in the US I think user experience meant something bigger than just UX/UI in the beginning and being around for as long as I have I can say that label I felt fit me really well for a very long time. In Europe service design means something bigger and broader than maybe some people in the US think of it as. And then you have design thinking coming in as an interesting term that’s loaded with very problematic if you’re a designer but very great for organisations in terms of you know getting more people interested in what design can for the organisation.

I mean I think one of the problems with the tribes is there’s so much overlap that I think it’s fair to say, say for something like the service design network to be working really hard to define what service design is as a practice and starting certification and it’s like if you’re not inside of that circle then you can’t do those things and how you used to think about what you do within UX or another discipline, we do those things now is a reaction that a lot of people can have after that. But it’s not, like I said it’s so great that there’s so much passion to grow the influence of design in the world and define it more and more sharply but if people lose the spirit of playing with one another towards very similar goals then I think that no-one will get to achieve what they’re hoping to achieve by investing so much in those; their individual tribes.

GERRY SCULLION: Yeah exactly. So to sum up, it’s like a misalignment of goals effectively is the negative side of tribalism is kind of my understanding of it. But how do you think tribalism can affect culture?

PATRICK QUATTLEBAUM: You know I feel for leadership within organisations when I work with them because if you think of yourself, think of someone who’s high up in an organisation and is responsible for you know its ultimate success and where the company spends time. Their heads have to spin on a daily basis about Agile, Lean, Six Sigma, UX, service design, design thinking. None of these things, you know the majority of the people in large organisations probably have MBAs or come from a financial or even engineering background. All of these things probably seem useful and distracting at the same time and I would say the down side is when these groups don’t talk to one another. So I spend a lot of time in my consulting looking to connect those dots, especially you know focusing a lot on service design, I focus a lot on the Lean Six Sigma crowd within organisations and talk shop and talk about their work and how to balance, well both within design and with process design and service design you’re looking at sequencing and so that partnership of really what is the flow that you’re trying to create for employees and customers to engage and play their roles in the service is something that you have to have a lot of dialogue around and in fact coming up with ways to partner together and design things together rather than being in these parallel worlds where process designers are creating their process maps and service designers are creating blue prints and maybe in UX are creating task flows. You know all of these things are really trying to solve the same problem but you end up solving it three different ways.

GERRY SCULLION: Three different ways.

PATRICK QUATTLEBAUM: Yeah but you need to look at it from all those different angles at the same time as well and so the only way to do that is to start looking at how do you break down these lines that were between these groups and start working together towards the problem you’re trying to solve and taking the best out of everyone’s tool kits to do that.

GERRY SCULLION: Yeah I know at the very start of the book there’s a really, it was semi-contentious when the book was released. I saw a lot of people tweeting about you know service design and CX and UX and you were saying ‘hey look it’s not about that. It’s about getting the outcomes which really resonated’. As I say, at the top of the episode, like getting towards and breaking down that tribalism. But what I really like about the book, and this is not a big sale’s pitch for the book – I wouldn’t say this if I didn’t mean it – but it’s an excellent reference book for people who are trying to get into the industry, trying to learn like more about orchestrating experiences, it’s just a fantastic combination of two words, but what I really like is about the pragmatic workshop activities that are related to each stage of the journey. But what I wanted to ask you was, when you’re looking at tribalism, the hierarchy, you know we’re trying to flatten the hierarchy, who decides what workshop to do and when? Is it the service designer or is it the product manager and what do you think?

PATRICK QUATTLEBAUM: Well, obviously it depends partly on that organisation and I would say in many organisations in the US, because that’s what I’m most familiar with, what I see is certainly service design and to some degree still you know more strategic design that’s beyond just designing for the interface. And in many organisations it’s not an expectation of design, it’s where design is looking to sell internally, this is something that we can offer that will make things better. And so in the end if you were looking to do one of these workshops within your organisation it would certainly be partnering with the person who has the most influence in ensuring that the workshop isn’t an academic exercise but actually is going to lead to action. So in some organisations like one I’m working with now, they have owners of specific customers’ journeys. So that would be the partner to work with and say, and in most organisations what I recommend is that person should have service design or design process technology, change management like key partners that are their advisors and then showing how these workshops can help that journey or if you’re working with a product owner who may be pulling together other product owners beyond just what they own to start looking at the bigger picture. They need to be with you and encouraging everyone this is worth their time to contribute. So you’re in service of that person who alternately likely has the budget, the influence to ensure that again that that workshop is part of a flow towards making things and putting them out in the world rather than a feel good experience where everyone got together and thought through you know what are our touch points and then nothing ever happened after that.

GERRY SCULLION: I guess what I’m hearing there it’s really interesting because not always can we be brought into an organisation and looking at that 10.x visibility of the entire ecosystem and the ecosystem and the system’s thinking type of view. Sometimes we’re brought in at like 3x or 2x or 4x or whatever is hovering around and we’re trying to do an ecosystem within an ecosystem that’s maybe like the brother and sister of the projects that are working parallel with that. So you think it’s a service design person that really should be up to championing those other projects to get alignment on what’s possible?

PATRICK QUATTLEBAUM: Yes I mean that’s a big message in the book is you know regardless of your designer, if you see the value and really can take it upon yourself to get people zooming out even one more level than they normally do and to work together and you can help facilitate that, you know instigate it, facilitate it, that is such a valuable skill with an organisation where often people have their heads down on their area of responsibility.

So for example, a few years ago I was working for an organisation that had taken the journey that’s from first touch and perhaps earlier of buying a product or engaging in a service through 90 or 120 days after becoming a customer but they had taken that journey and chopped it up across four different teams so that one team literally owned, when you pushed the button to say ‘yeah I want that product’, through when it is delivered to you. Now that’s essentially, and then setting them as separate business agile teams to then go fast. So my team was brought in to work with that team and they were kind of, they were in the middle of the journey so the first thing I did was held a workshop where we brought in the other teams. Not the entire teams but the leaders of those teams and we said bring a couple more people from your team. And we did essentially walk through what the objectives that the team that we were doing the project for asked to do but we said look when we start to look at this what’s going to happen is we’re going to challenge these divisions that you’ve made.

For example, you have a team looking at on-boarding but on-boarding really begins when you’re first interacting with the customer. You can be smart about introducing them to your company and getting information so that the thing that you now call on-boarding is something that really can spread out across the entire journey. So we don’t want to take these divisions and work within those constraints. And especially when we go out to learn from customers about their experiences, we’re not going to say ‘okay, let’s start with where you push this button’. Like that’s not how we’re going to engage with them. We’re going to learn things that will be valuable to you and your plans.

So in that workshop what we did was we said ‘look you need to start thinking of this as one experience. Let’s do a few exercises to build some hypotheses around that’. So we built a hypothesis, you know said what’s a hypothesis of, what is the actual journey? What are the key touch points? You have four separate teams but let’s workshop some common experience principles; like how are you making decisions? What is the nature of the types of experiences that you want to create for people? And then we talk about okay how do we engage you going forward? You know we invited some of them to come into the research so they could learn firsthand. They were in every workshop after that and what it ended up doing was allowed them to understand that they, while they were organised into these four teams they were essentially one team each with a focus. I would have reorganised them but that was a recommendation but in doing the project they could think of it more holistically and that they each improved their strategies, their backlogs etc. through working more collaboratively but letting this one team kind of take the lead on looking at bigger picture.

GERRY SCULLION: Yeah that’s a really interesting approach and it’s definitely something that I’ve experienced before like not being able to change the world but actually just being able to change what’s in front of you and getting other people and other teams to be part of that conversation is really important.

But another piece in the book that I found really valuable, Patrick, was the workshopping of the experience principles and I know from my own experience over the years it’s very easy to fall into the category of just getting simplicity and ease of use and so forth out of those workshops.

So let’s walk through a little bit more of the steps that you outline in the book on how you can avoid that from happening.

PATRICK QUATTLEBAUM: Sure and as you note obviously the context is really important with especially experience principles. Now in the book the chapter is written as part of a section that’s going through a flow in which it’s assumed that you are leveraging insights from understanding the needs of whoever you’re designing for, customers, employees or both and qualitative research and it assumes also that your organisation has some articulation of what its brand is for good or bad. You see good brand principles, you see poor ones. I’ve seen brand teams put together what they call ‘design principles’.

GERRY SCULLION: Yeah how do they differ ‘brand design’ and ‘experience principles?’

PATRICK QUATTLEBAUM: Well again its, design principles, I think there’s probably something in the book about this but design principles and experience principles to some degree can often be used interchangeably. I’m a big fan and Chris is a big fan of experience principles because it feels bigger than what designers use to make design decisions. So when you put the word ‘design’ in front of ‘principles’ what I’ve found is it can lead to them not being embraced by non-designers.

GERRY SCULLION: It creates an exclusivity. Yeah.

PATRICK QUATTLEBAUM: Yeah, yeah so the spirit of it is is that we’re all making decisions that result in experiences for customers and we’re a steward of those experiences so what are the guiding principles that we use to make decisions, inspire ideas, do detailed work on making the things that, the tangible and intangible things that people interact with and that the hope is that by all following those principles that you mitigate the risk of being schizophrenic. Now that’s the same of, the same goal brand, right?


PATRICK QUATTLEBAUM:  I would say in general, and these are broad strokes. So from a branding sense often that’s coming from a, I see this more and more not as, see more interesting approaches being taken now in the branding world. But traditionally it’s more of an insight out view. So how do we want to be seen by the world? It often starts, it should have a good tie to the culture of the organisation so that you can actually live into that brand. While experience principles, the way that we talk about them, are taking that view of as an organisation here is how we want to be seen and how we hope to interact with people including with that you know here’s how people, what they need when they interact with you and the type of experiences that they’re hoping to have. And the experience principles then look to how do we unite these view point into a common set of principles? Now you know where we started with the question around simple, easy to use, often what doing these workshops or even just beginning to help understand the need for experience principles is to list many of those out and say these are the heuristics, you know what we provide in the service or the product is much more complex than what they should have to worry about; that should be part of the magic of designing something well. Of course we wouldn’t want to create something that is difficult to use unless you know there’s the dark arts that some people…

GERRY SCULLION: Yeah some people practice.

PATRICK QUATTLEBAUM: Yeah but I think it’s like when we’re thinking about our experience principles what we need to think about is putting more language around it and concreteness to say what really matters in the experiences we’re looking to provide and if reducing complexity is an important thing in our organisation for everyone to remember, because they often lean towards complexity, then let’s find a way to communicate that and create a principle that is contextual to us so that when we say something like you know we need to be a guide for someone in the experience, the language with that is critical because you want them to be rememorable. You don’t want people to have to remember entire paragraphs so you want something, naming the principle that’s rememorable but the language that goes with that is really important and then showing examples of what that is or would be like is very important. And then working with parts of the organisation to say if you’re in the call centre and it’s a conversation or you’re designing a product then it’s unassisted, interacting with an interface, going even deeper and additional details and criteria to apply those principles you know within that context, within the larger context of the organisation.

GERRY SCULLION: Yeah excellent.

PATRICK QUATTLEBAUM:  So that’s the, you know I say of course there’s these heuristics in working with companies like there are a set of common heuristics that make services good in those circumstances but as soon as you start to think about your organisation and what you’re trying to accomplish and what your capabilities are and you’re looking at who you’re designing for and their needs, what you should start to find is your specific language and formula for doing that. So you know in film there’s lots of romantic comedies and there’s a formula to them but they’re not all literally the same, right? And so there’s good ones and bad ones and you have to really think about how you do the things that often are successful but then what is what you’re doing making it unique and differentiated and something that really reflects who you are and the needs of the people that you’re trying to meet.

GERRY SCULLION: Absolutely and it also helps streamline the process of when an idea enters the conversation in the business to gain that alignment as in like is this something that we do? Does this fit our principles?

PATRICK QUATTLEBAUM: Yes. Yeah exactly and that’s the real power of them is being used you know they’re a tool and they can be wielded in many different circumstances. Like finishing up an engagement right now where my team is you know there’s a working with a journey team that already has a backlog and not at the product feature level but more at the saga epic level like big things we’re thinking about doing that would be across a large complicated journey and so in working with them one of the things that we’re doing right now is we work with them to come up with principles in addition to their brand principles and therefore doing a deep analysis of that backlog and saying okay here’s where you have great alignment with the principles, here’s where we’re seeing less alignment and then making recommendations about where they should be investing or not investing, how to better sequence some of the things that they’re doing, some of the other work we’ve done in filling in some of the gaps. But the principles are something that we’re using as a litmus test for everything that they’re thinking about and the nice thing about it is that these principles were made with them based off of research in which they were involved in the research directly and so they really feel ownership of that rather than as outsiders helping them like these are what the consultants you know gave us.

Their fingerprints are all over them and that’s going to help them…

GERRY SCULLION: Get adopted.

PATRICK QUATTLEBAUM: Remain viable and be adopted and yeah you know they’re being adopted in the work that we’re doing and that’s always a sign that you’re on the right track.

GERRY SCULLION: Yeah excellent. We’re coming towards the end of the conversation, Patrick, and I don’t know if you’ve listened to some of the other episodes but we always ask three questions towards the end of the episode just to get to know the person a little bit better.

So hopefully I’m not putting you on the spot too much here but I’m going to ask you what is the one professional skill that you wish you were better at?

PATRICK QUATTLEBAUM: Oh so many, so many. I would say always get better at, at my stage of my career I’m trying to get better and better at working with higher levels of the organisation and influencing and really being better at identifying and listening to and empathising with everything that these leaders have to juggle and balance and how complex the decisions they have to make and all the different people that are trying to provide them input and that I’m one of those people.


PATRICK QUATTLEBAUM: And so I feel fortunate in my career that I’m at a stage where I’m consulting at very high levels in organisation. I am still learning how to be better at that and I am naturally an introvert so it’s something that I’m you know I have to get better at the skills of using thirty minutes of an executive over lunch and being on and have clear objectives and all those things. So I try to get better and better at that by just jumping in the deep end.

GERRY SCULLION: That’s a great answer. So the second question is what is the one thing in the industry that you wish you’d be able to banish?

PATRICK QUATTLEBAUM: UX/UI. I think this is, you can tell me if it’s true outside of the US but in the US…

GERRY SCULLION:  I’m going through this at the moment, Patrick, in Ireland and Europe. It’s UX/UI is what they know, it’s really interaction design but they call it user experience so sorry to cut across you. Go on.

PATRICK QUATTLEBAUM:  Yeah that combination has led to, in some ways it’s made it very difficult for practitioners to grow into being, having a greater strategic influence in their organisations. And all the different types of design we do is extremely valuable and if you are amazing at detailed interaction design and very effective at using research and should be partnering with say a product owner to not just execute the backlog but helping them define it and the strategies that are leading to why you’re doing what you’re doing. We need more of you too. It is difficult to do both in organisations because of the way they’re run and how few designers there are and so from what I see, the UI kind of anchors a lot of designers and they have to make a choice.

So I see designers, and interaction designers is what I would call them as well, who will leave the design team and go to research teams in order to have more influence over product strategy and I think that’s unfortunate. So that’s what comes to mind but I think that conflation of those two different things unfortunately means that the roles when you look at what people are doing often it’s more UI focused than what some people would like to be and for the people that focus on that it’s probably less of a barrier.

GERRY SCULLION: Nice. And the last question is what is the message you’d give to emerging design talent for the future?

PATRICK QUATTLEBAUM:  Get a variety of experience and that could be inside of an organisation, that could be outside of an organisation and explore you know, going back to the start of the discussion, explore all those different tribes. And not just from the design world, you know for example if you’re background is say in interaction design and you normally swim in circles of the IXTA or maybe human computer interaction, go to service design meet-ups, go to customer experience meet-ups, go to, I spend a lot of time a few years ago just spending a lot of time with business analysts. I was just interested in how they look at the world and how we could work better together and speaking at a couple of their events and writing a blog post for a blog that focuses on that community. You know get a feel for how everybody approaches solving problems because as you move deeper into your career and the more that companies are wanting to be more collaborative, knowing what your core skills are and working on your strengths, which is what you should always do, everyone has super powers, but the more you can understand who you’re working with, how they look at the world, how you can solve problems with them, how you can be a babble fish within your organisation. That is an incredibly valuable thing you can bring to an organisation in helping connect those dots. And, like I said, often it’s about empathy for others that you work with and understanding their mindset and understanding the words that they’re using and how they connect to what you’re trying to do. So that would be my advice in addition to whatever type of design you do and your passion for it and getting better and better at that, spend some time looking at that bigger picture and understanding who your collaborators are and find ways to get better and better at collaborating.

GERRY SCULLION:  Excellent. Patrick thank you so much for your time. If people want to find you on line, how can they do that?

PATRICK QUATTLEBAUM: You can find me if you type in that will send you to a page about me in the book and I’m on the LinkedIn and Twitter PTQuattlebaum and those are the places you can find me first and …

GERRY SCULLION:  We’ll drop all those links into the show notes as well. Patrick thanks so much for your time.


GERRY SCULLION: So there you have it. I hoped you enjoyed this episode and if you’d like to be part of the conversation or community, hop on over to where you can request to join the Slack channel and help shape future episodes and connect with other designers around the world. Thanks for listening and see you next time.


John Carter
Tech Vlogger & YouTuber

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