When Building a Better Mousetrap is not Enough: Shoelaces, Switching Cost & Jobs to be Done | DevsDay.ru

IT-блоги When Building a Better Mousetrap is not Enough: Shoelaces, Switching Cost & Jobs to be Done

UX Planet 13 октября 2020 г. Alex Britez

Knowing that you built a better mousetrap, or in this case a shoelace, why do people fail to switch? In this post, I will try to explain how various types of situational context might serve as a driver for people deciding to persist with a product they are currently using or switching over to something else.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I have loyalty towards Puma sneakers that stems back to my college years when I snagged a project that they were offering in exchange for…you guessed it sneakers! What can I say, they had a low budget and I never liked working for free. Twenty years later, I still only purchase Puma sneakers and have a closet full of colors.

Beyond the brand, one thing that all my sneakers have in common, and likely many of yours, are shoelaces. As a matter of fact, shoelaces date as far back as 3300 BC. Remains of a lacing system were identified on Ötzi “The Iceman”, a mummy that was found in 1991. Not many innovations can compete with the shoelace in terms of longevity, but why? Is it the perfect solution? I don’t think so, but they are everywhere.

Many new lacing innovations have attempted to make their way into our lives, but none has been able to replace the basic shoelace.

Nike even offers a Self-tying Shoes, straight out of Back to the Future!

The list goes on and on, with lacing innovations. What I find to be most notable is that I believe every alternative to the shoelace is probably a better lacing solution in terms of functional process. Laces take seven steps, lock laces take two steps, Velcro and ratchet are one step. While the Nike Self-tying shoe seems to require several extrinsic steps such as requiring a cellphone and opening up an app to tie your shoes, they just created a sneaker that helped Eliud Kipchoge Run a Marathon in Under 2 Hours, so I will reserve my skepticism for now. They win a pass.


Not only are the alternatives fewer steps, but all of those solutions I mentioned would likely reduce or even eliminate the problem of your shoelaces getting untied. Yet, an unprecedented majority of sneakers sold use the same lacing system that was found on a 5000-year-old mummy.

A conclusion we might make here is, factoring the Needs and Satisfaction of the job of tying our shoes, it is possible that both may score high. That is to say, while it may be important to keep my shoes attached to my feet, I am completely satisfied (or satisfied enough) with how I am tying them today, and not willing to change. This means there is a switching cost that is higher than the return I would receive on my investment.

ROI of tying your shoes? WTF Alex?!

To figure out what the cost and benefits are, we need to dig deeper than merely socio-demographic details and task analysis, in this case, “How do you tie your shoe”. In other words, we need to know more than just who and how.

Adding some context

Okay, it’s clear that the simple lace has won the battle of keeping footwear on people’s feet, but did it? In actuality, it has lost miserably in certain scenarios. Here is where context becomes really important. Let’s take two examples.

Scenario 1: Experience

Congratulations, you are a parent to an active toddler that really makes use of their sneakers but has not yet learned how to tie their shoes. In this scenario, there are a few forces at play. You need to buy a pair of new sneakers. What do you buy?

  1. The child needs to learn how to tie their shoes. That equates to training costs. Velcro, has little to no training cost for a toddler. Switch to velcro.
  2. You, or worse their teacher which has twenty other students, needs to tie the child’s laces multiple times a day. That is the effort cost. Switch to velcro.
  3. The child needs to be diligent enough to tie their shoes every time they get untied. That is the cost of governance. Switch to velcro.

The result

In this example, the ROI of switching to an alternate solution far exceeds the cost of staying with the simple shoelace. As a matter of fact, most daycares mandate that all children come in with Velcro sneakers to save the staff time and frustration.

Demand for this alternative for this age-group is so high that it is difficult to find any traditionally laced sneakers on Zappos.

Zappos search result for “Toddler Sneakers”

Scenario 2: Environment

It turns out that along with my fascination with sneakers, I was also an avid snowboarder for many years. There are a few requirements for snowboarding that need to be true in order to be able to participate. First, you need a snowboard. Second, you need snowboarding boots, and lastly, you need a mountain with snow. Everything else is optional.

You could literally wear anything you want, even a Christmas tree

Like any other footwear, snowboarding boots need a lacing system to keep your feet in the boot. In terms of the process in which you lace your boots, snowboarders tie their laces much like any other sneaker. The only difference is that a snug fit around your shin and calf is really important since they press against the boot and help with your steering.

Aside from the boot itself, there is one additional element…snow. As we all know from science class, the snow has two distinct characteristics: it’s wet and it only exists in cold environments (around 32° F and below), otherwise, it melts. Snowboarders spend hundreds of dollars in order to keep themselves dry and comfortable in cold weather. Eventually, the inevitable happens. Their boot gets untied. Trying to tie wet laces snuggly could be a challenge. Trying to tie them with gloves on is impossible. That means you have no choice other than pulling off your gloves in sub-freezing temperatures to grab wet laces and attempt to tie them before your fingers freeze. Not fun at all.

In this scenario, a snowboarder is about to purchase new boots. What forces might influence their decision?

  1. My hands are freezing, I want warm hands. This is the cost of comfort in a specific environment. Switch to Ratchet.
  2. My shoe won’t untie, or even loosen all day. This is the cost of effort and frustration. Switch to Ratchet.
  3. If the ratchet breaks, I am screwed. There goes my $100 lift ticket. I could just buy some laces for a couple of dollars if they happen to break, which is unlikely for shoelaces. This is a risk of changing. Stay with Laces.

The result

In this example, even with a compelling con to using a non-traditional lacing system, snowboarders are flocking to anything other than laces. A quick scan of Burton’s online store shows that only 3 of 20 boots in their catalog use a traditional lacing system. All others are either BOA (rachet) or Speed Zone technologies.

You could checkout BOA and Speed Zone Lacing Technologies in this video.

What might be happening?

If we look at the Jobs-to-be-done literature we start to get a clue on why the simple lace has withstood the test of time. Essentially, there are forces that are at play that feed into the decisions on whether or not to switch solutions and behavior.

Jobs to be Done Forces Diagram illustrates the four forces that promote (push/pull), and hinder (anxieties/inertia) the switch.

Change Promoters

These forces move you toward switching.

Push is about the pain that a market is experiencing in their current situation that is pushing them to seek and adopt an alternate solution in hopes of it being better. The BOA ratchet technology was invented by a dad that was tired of tying and re-tying his kids' snowboarding boots. He didn’t find an alternate solution, so he made his own.

Pull is the attraction to the new way or solution that’s pulling them towards it. This might range from a novel innovation to a slight tweak to a process that better aligns with your context. Keeping your hands warm while snowboarding surely sounded attractive when I bought my first ratchet laced boot.

Change Detractor

These forces keep you away from switching.

Inertia is about anything with a person’s current situation that makes it harder to change. (ie. stuck in a contract, don’t have the cash, etc). While there are only 3 out of 20 snowboarding boots on Burton’s website that use traditional laces, one of those happens to be the cheapest by more than $40.

Anxieties are about the concerns, worry, and uncertainties around the new way or solution. (ie. will have to learn a new system, unsure of the risks, etc). It is quite possible that there might be some social anxiety with adults wearing velcro sneakers since they are most commonly used by toddlers and seniors. It turns out that many jobs have social and emotional aspects to them, that has nothing to do with the functional aspect, yet drive decision making.

About Jobs-to-be-done

Often designers focus all their energy on who is being affected by the problem (actor/performer), what they are trying to do (job), and how they are doing it (process). While important to be user-centric, we also need more than a surface-level understanding of the person and drill down deeper into their motivations and desired outcomes to figure out the “why”. Motivations and solution satisfaction can be highly dependent on situational factors. As demonstrated above, by keeping all other variables the same, and making adjustments in context a solution that has survived 5000 years brakes down when we layer on when and where information. This is how disruption is born.

Tips and tactics

There are several approaches to incorporate jobs based thinking into your workflow, but here are just a couple that I will highlight. At the bottom of the post, I’ve listed several resources that have mountains of information for you to explore and experiment with.

Identify the Switch
If the person has tried a different solution to their problem in the past, you could try to identify the drivers that made them switch solutions. These drivers were strong enough for them to change products in the past. Check to see how well that need is currently being met by asking questions like:

  • What process/product did you use previously? Why did you switch over to this new approach?
  • How does your new solution’s approach to that problem compare to the previous solution you used?

You may start to notice that some of these drivers map into three categories: Attitudes, Background, and/or Circumstance. These categories are taken from Jobs to be Done: A Roadmap for Customer-Centered Innovation. The author presents the chart below and does a really nice job of categorizing drivers to think about as you are exploring what aspects of a person’s context may influence their decision-making process.


In my experience, these categories connect really well to decision drivers. More importantly, it offers an additional perspective to look at a problem through. Additionally, factoring in job drivers into your thought process enables you to refine your segmentation and prioritize the features that reflect their specific needs.

For example, in the first scenario, parents of toddlers have decided to purchase Velcro instead of standard shoelaces for their children. This was likely triggered by the frustration of having to repeatedly tie a child’s shoe, there were also external circumstances that forced them to use an alternative due to the daycare’s not wanting toddlers using shoelaces.

In the second scenario, snowboarders are driven towards alternatives lacing solutions due to circumstances such as weather and an inability to tie their boots with gloves on. We also spoke about the inertia that some snowboarders might feel due to financial reasons.

Looking at these factors we start to understand why one solution has been disrupted at least twice, for two separate segments that have very distinct needs and motivations. This results in what is called a Job Story.

Job Stories introduced by Intercom

Our Job Stories might look like this:

When I am playing in the park with my toddler, I want to not have to worry about him tripping on his laces, So I can relax and enjoy the moment with my kid.


When I am snowboarding on a cold day, I want my boots to stay tied, So I can leave my hand in my warm cozy gloves.

Plot the Journey
During exploratory interview sessions, interviewees touch on several areas of their journey, but there are always gaps in their story that just does not occur to them to mention. Having prompts baked into my script is always helpful. To help guide me, I typically head over to Tony Ulwick’s Job Map and use each step to help me draft up a script.

Mapping the Job-to-be-Done

Using his map as a scaffold, I write up open-ended questions that I may otherwise not think about asking, making sure I prompt interviewees to help me understand what each part of the job map looks like from their perspective. What you ask would depend on what you are researching, but they might include questions similar to these:

  • Define: What are you trying to achieve when performing this job? Why is that important to you?
  • Locate: What materials do you need in order to perform this job? Where do you find these materials? Why those materials and not others?
  • Prepare: What do you do to prepare for this job? Why do you choose to do it that way?
  • Confirm: At what point do you know you are ready to start? Why do you choose to start then?
  • Execute: How do you perform this job? Have you always done it this way? Why did choose to do it this way and not the other?
  • Monitor: What signals are you looking for to see if the job is going well or not? Why are those signals important?
  • Modify: Tell me about a time you had to modify your approach? Did you remediate the situation or completely pivot to a new approach? Why did you choose to do it that way?
  • Conclude: When do you know you are finished? What do you need to do once you are done? When will you know that you need to do this job again?

As you go through your interview, the interviewee will be helping you map their journey through their responses. Empathize with the person’s journey by listening for any pains they may be experiencing in their current process. Take note of where in the map it lives and plot it. If trends emerge, you may uncover a specific part in the journey that is ripe for innovation.

Image Credit: Customer Journey Maps, Session Replay, and the Power of Empathy
Adding empathy lets you go beyond preferences, assumptions and opinions and get a much more practical understanding of why a person is thinking that particular way. It helps the product and executive teams make decisions based on knowledge and not assumptions of how users reason, understand and use the product.
Indi Young, Practical Empathy: for Collaboration and Creativity in Your Work

The end result is a comprehensive user-centered “as-is” job map that you could use, reference, and refine, throughout your product design effort. In a future post, I will talk about a variety of prioritization and decision-making frameworks that might help you take these insights and steer your roadmap in a positive direction.

Understanding ‘how’ and ‘why’, can lead you to ‘what to build’

While I patiently wait to see if any new innovation overtakes the longevity of the shoelace, it is interesting to look at other areas that have also persisted against other innovations. Taking a job-based lens helps to uncover and understand what motivates a person to do a job, and why they choose to do it the way they do. This can be very eye-opening and may lead you towards the next disruptive idea.

Learn more about Jobs to be Done

There is loads of information regarding JTBD. While some of it might conflict (there are various camps), all of it is super useful, and actually complements each other rather well. If you’re interested in these approaches, lace up your combat boots and read some of the links below.

Keep an eye out for Jim Kalbach’s upcoming book on JTBD. I really like some of his thought process on the topic. From what I’ve seen so far, it aligns well with how I think about JTBD. I’ve been sprinkling in some of his ideas, and others that speak about the topic, into our process at Macmillan Learning.

Additional Recommended Links

If you are interested in learning more, here is a head-start to some resources.

When Building a Better Mousetrap is not Enough: Shoelaces, Switching Cost & Jobs to be Done was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Источник: UX Planet

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