Peace is Waged with Sticky Notes: Mapping Real-World Experiences

Jim Kalbach, Head of Customer Success, MURAL

Framing a user experience map is tricky, as we have to determine what to show from research, as well as what to leave out. How do we determine the best approach to structure and organize our maps and will design have a greater impact beyond a commercial setting? That’s what Jim Kalbach, author of Mapping Experiences, pondered when an organization dedicated to countering violent extremism approached him to facilitate a journey mapping workshop. In this talk, Jim shares his story of applying design thinking techniques and experience mapping to a very real-world problem: hate. He will explore the parallels between dealing with people caught up in business organizational silos and those emerging from violent extremist factions. Each group, whether in a business setting or not, will have their own language, tools, methods and perspectives. Jim will share his approach to communicating through design with these tricky questions to both C-Level executives to ex-violent extremists.

Jim is the Head of Customer Experience at Mural. He has written two books Designing Web Navigation: Optimizing the User Experience (2007) and more recently, Mapping Experiences: A Complete Guide to Creating Value through Journeys, Blueprints, and Diagrams (2016).

Jim has lots of experience working in large companies in the US and Europe, but today he is going to share a story about how he was able to apply some of these design thinking techniques to a real world problem of hate.

As we all know, in order to build rapport in an interview, you try to get the participant to talk about themselves, In Jim’s case, he was interviewing a guy who formed a neo-Nazi group, and when Jim learned about some of the things this guy had done, he just couldn’t think. Twenty-five years ago, Arno was a lead singer in a death metal band, and he used to spew hate and engage in physical violence. Over the course of the interview, he shared how his life changed, and why he had decide to focus on inclusion, peace, and love. There were lots of reasons for that transformation, the birth of his daughter being one. Many from his group were in jail or died. But in spite of all that, the transformation wasn’t over night – he was part this group for eight years. He had a number of hate-based tatoos, including a swastika on his finger. Arno recalled going into a McDonalds, and having a black woman tell him he was better than that. Those small moments mattered.

The guy Jim interviewed is a man named Arno Michaels, who wrote a book called My Life After Hate. His life’s work now is to try to keep people out of hate groups by giving them purpose. He tries to help people get out. He is now the Executive Director of an organization called Serve to Unite. They have youth groups, and they run service programs to keep kids out of trouble. He has changed from a leader of hate to fighting racism around the world.

Jim showed us a video excerpt from the television show The View. Arno Michaels and Pardeep Kaleka (co-founders of Serve to Unite) were being interviewed. After a shooting in his Sikh temple, Pardeep reached out to Arno. They were grieving, but this was on national television; they wanted to put on a brave face to the world, but they really needed to understand why. The killer was a former member of Arno’s group, so he felt partially responsible for creating the environment that guy came from. The fact that he was party to that, and then he helped organize that group – he put that narrative out in the world through the music of his band. Together with Pardeep, they discussed that forgiveness is not about forgetting – there is no getting over that kind of loss. But by trying to make a mission out of it, they draw strength from that pain.

Serve to Unite is based on principles of the Sikh faith, with tenets like all beings are part of the same creation. They work with kids from second grade through college, and connect them to mentors to inspire students to change the world.

Jim asked us: What does this have to do with me, and with you?

He was approached by an organization called Hedayah, which is a group that creates narratives to countering violent extremism (CVE). If you want to understand ‘formers’ you have to map their experiences. Through his work with Hedayah, he met seven people, including Arno. He met Islamic radicalists, former members of ISIS and Al Quaeda, and former Chicago gang members. What experiences did these ‘formers’ have in common? The point was to try to attract them to work for these CVE organizations. They can understand dog whistles. Why Charlottesville? Arno knows what that driver was thinking about. Another woman used to be in gangs, and she is now a violence interrupter. Mubin Shiakh now works for the Canadian government to help them understand terrorism.

As part of this project, Jim flew to Abu Dabi to lead a three-day workshop. There, he used techniques that we all know and use in our enterprises. He did it in part for himself, because he wanted to prove that his book wasn’t just about software design – what we do can be applied to other, very different situations. They did clustering and other design thinking techniques, as well as prioritization exercises. It was a springboard into a larger discussion.

Before the workshop, he used Mural to collect sources and get informed. He read, did two interviews, and from that he created a stakeholder map with formers in the center.

He was concerned about the group’s ability to find commonalities across all of these diverse groups, but through his pre-work he was able to create draft experience as a starting point for discussion. Through his research he had learned that there are entire dissertations about how people get radicalized. But at the time, Hedayah was focused only on the final stage – the integration. Specifically, how do formers decide to get involved?


As designers, we bring so many important skills to this process – empathy / sensitivity, listening, finding patterns. When we creating models like personas, journey maps, interaction models, we help other people make sense of the problem space, too. Finally, telling stories, capturing those narratives. Ultimately, the exercise was really one of communication. How do we facilitate the telling of that narrative?

His final deliverable:


The story arc is from guilt to atonement. Hedayah collects and disseminates information in their reports. At the beginning, formers are not thinking about getting involved – they have just realized they’ve made the biggest mistake of their lives. How do you stop the drugs and alcohol as a way to drown out those feelings? One of the learnings is that formers were always approached – they never volunteered. Through that process they learn that people are going to dig up your past. But if you stick with it, you can feel proud again – and atone. They were clear that this was not about forgiveness. They want to be integrated, and have a balance in their lives, eventually putting as much good back in the world as they did harm.

In a video message from Arno to us, he shares his experience in the workshop in Abu Dhabi. We can optimize conversion rates, and get more stuff into shopping carts – many of us do that kind of work. But what we do can be bigger than that.

The journey map really changed his perspective, helped elevate his thinking about how to build a more peaceful world where everyone is valued and included. What we do in the field of UX is a big an important step in that direction.

Hedayah has reached out again, and now they want to do more work backwards in the journey. In their proposal they are using the language that they learned with him.

The tools and the topics we’ve been talking about are about shaping the human experience more broadly.

The title of Jim’s talk came from a tweet from Arno, about the power of the work they had done together.