Episode 124 | July 01, 2024

How the ‘pulling the thread’ methodology can help solve your complex design (or other) problems

In this Insights Unlocked episode, Toast’s Chief Design Officer Jehad Affoneh describes the ‘pulling the thread’ methodology to solve complex design problems.

How the ‘pulling the thread’ methodology can help solve your complex design (or other) problems

In the fast-paced world of restaurant technology, solving complex problems isn't about tackling everything at once—it's about finding the right loose end and methodically pulling the thread.

In this Insights Unlocked episode, recorded at the UXDX conference in New York City, UserTesting’s Nathan Isaacs talks with Jehad Affoneh, Chief Design Officer at Toast, to discuss an innovative approach Toast took to improve the experience for its 100,000+ restaurant customers.

Toast is a restaurant point of sale and management system that helps restaurants improve operations, increase sales and create a better guest experience.

Too often, Jehad said, “instead of solving complexity, we just learn to manage it. We build processes around it. We learn to figure out how to deal with it. We teach our customers how to deal with it.”

He likens solving complex issues to finding the right thread in a tangled ball of yarn and pulling it to unravel the complexity, rather than just managing it.

“If you think about a complex problem as a ball of thread, how do you find the right edge of that thread ball to pull? And how is pulling that thread enabling you to solve more and more problems until you untangle that complexity?,” Jehad said. 

Toast's Chief Design Officer Jehad Affoneh explains three key steps in his pulling-the-thread methodology for solving complex design problems

He suggests you ask yourself three key questions for identifying the correct thread to pull: 

  1. Do you understand where the pain is today in the journey?
  2. Do you have a primary avenue that works?
  3. Do you have a clear user cohort? 

You begin, Jehad said, by having a deep understanding of the customer journey from both the users’ perspective as well as from the lens of your internal teams. You’ll see what’s working and what isn’t.

From the pain points along the customer journey, you’ll identify themes that will point you to identifying the right thread that can serve a group of your customers (that is scalable in the future to your broader customer base). Next, identify the mechanism you’ll employ to address those problems, such as with an app, website or other process.

As you start pulling on that thread, Jehad said, you begin solving additional problems (the small knots along the way). And as you pull, the complexity of that problem will begin to unravel faster and faster.

Screenshot of the Toast Now app that was developed as part of their pulling-the-thread methodology in addressing some complex design problems related to their customers experience with their products

For Toast, Jehad said, the methodology resulted in changes that positively impacted “the lives of real people, in real communities, trying to do real, honest work.” That included a new app, Toast Now, that’s been a hit with Toast’s restaurant customers.

“It’s awesome to do work every single day. But it’s also amazing to look back 12 to 18 months and look at the impact you've made,” Jehad said. “Sometimes when you're in it, it's a very different feeling. You're doing the work, you're pushing things around. But looking back, it's such an honor to work with an amazing team and to serve customers who, seriously, we have the best customers in the world.”

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