An interview with Melora Zaner

Head of Mobile Design & UX, Digital; Executive Director at JPMorgan Chase

This post originally appeared on the marcus evans website.

Ahead of the 3rd Edition: Design Thinking for Banks & Financial Services Conference, marcus evans spoke with Melora Zaner, Head of Mobile Design & UX, Digital; Executive Director at JPMorgan Chase about the main challenges in integrating innovation into everyday lives and the most effective strategies when analyzing emerging value systems, trends, and technologies.

Melora, you are speaking on the topic Analyzing Emerging Value Systems and Treads by Developing Meaningful Innovation from a Multi-Cultural Perspective. What are some key takeaways you are looking to provide? 

I was lucky to have spent over ten years in China and Taiwan before coming to JPMorgan Chase. I say this, because the experience helped me master the art of curiosity and insight from a multi-culture lens. As new technologies emerge and people adapt, adopt or ignore them, we have the chance to understand why this happens based on current value systems and on life stage and culture.

In Asia, I found that the mobile phone is a person’s wallet, ID, map, photo album, diary, friend connection, as well as one’s digital neighborhood. But it is incredibly hard to be invited into a person’s device, unless you can be respectful and valuable to that digital neighborhood. By leveraging design thinking methodologies, my teams and I spent a great deal of time understanding what people valued from this device, from their close relationships and from their community. The experiences that best met their values were the ones being adopted and integrated into their daily life. The experiences that felt like trends, gimmicks or were too much like experiences that already existed fell by the wayside.

I have some stories I am anxious to share, where we almost designed and built the wrong thing because we had not quite gotten the value right and jumped too quickly into assumptions and answers. While I do think Asia is ahead of the terms of the depth that mobile has infiltrated almost every aspect of one’s daily life, the process to understand how it and new technologies might become integrated into one’s life in our country is the same. We must be curious, have a beginner’s mind when observing or interviewing our customers and take the time to continuously bring the customer into our process to ensure each step is grounded in the customer voice and not just our assumptions. Otherwise, we risk not being meaningful to our customer’s life.

What are some of the main challenges in integrating innovation into everyday lives in a natural, meaningful way?

Patience is key. We get itchy to find the answer and go forward and design or make something so that we feel we have made progress. This is a comfort zone for anyone who is part of the product development process. At JPMorgan Chase, we are taking the time to do the upfront understanding of not only the competitive landscape and new technologies, but also to discover what is currently happening with our customers’ values and mental models in regards to finances. We are doing this in an agile way and have found that by slowing down to understand the landscape, we uncover meaningful insights, new opportunities and also discover gaps in our customer experiences. I tell our teams it will feel like we are slowing down, but that it will actually help us speed up and minimize risk.

Be willing to let go of assumptions is another challenge. By bringing the customer into our agile process and getting their feedback on what we’re building, we can often find that some ideas are not working or a design is confusing. This means we might have to start over on this idea, which can make teams nervous that our deadline will be missed. I believe working as a triad of business, development and design, we can be prepared to pivot, are willing to have the hard conversations and decisions and able to rally the team to do the right thing. Better to get it right now than regret it later!

What are some of the most effective strategies when analyzing emerging value systems, trends, and technologies? 

I could talk about this with you for hours! But let me try to express the essence of what I have learned. There is the old saying of “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” We should honor where our customers are now, in regards to their comfort with their current digital experiences. But we can look to where they might be willing to go if we were to push the needle slightly in the future, if we were to identify potential new directions that felt grounded in their values, mental models and behaviors. We can do a little future-telling when we match new ideas and technologies to potential economic, cultural and social trends.

How does having a multicultural perspective aid in your role and responsibilities at JPMorgan Chase? 

Our teams are as diverse as the customers we serve. I think it is important to have a team that feels close and connected to the experiences they are creating for others. Having spent time as a “foreigner” and designer in another country, I had to get very comfortable with putting my own assumptions aside and keep my mind open and curious. But I also learned to deeply trust my designers who understood their culture and customer, and made sure they were able to leverage their expertise on the right projects. For example, as one of the inventors of animated stickers in messaging from my Microsoft days, I learned the importance of having young people design for young people. It ensures an authentic voice and helps the company understand what is meaningful and why. Leading mobile design teams at JPMorgan Chase means I want to be sure I have a healthy mix of age, culture, background and experience so that each project can benefit from who they are as people first. And their designs in turn will feel authentic and trustworthy to our customers. We would like for customers to tell someone cared about their experience and understood them.

What are you looking forward to most about speaking at the 3rd Edition: Design Thinking for Banks and Financial Services conference? 

I am excited to meet others in this field and hear about their experiences. I want to understand how many have had similar experiences and how have they navigated the challenge

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