Jobs to Be Done in the Student Journey

Everything does a job: a drill creates a hole, the hole holds a screw, the screw helps hold a shelf up, the shelf holds family photos, the family photos hold memories, and the memories make you feel good. The value in these things is in how well they do their jobs relative to alternatives that might come along. The value of owning a drill might vanish for someone who buys free-standing shelves or uses Command strips (made by one of our clients) to do the same underlying job.

To help define and improve the value of what we design and build, many of us who work in UX and product strategy use a notion known as “jobs to be done” (JTBD). The concept was originally explained by Clayton Christensen in an article for Harvard Business Review. Christensen describes product research done by a fast food chain to find ways to sell more milkshakes. Traditional market research failed to deliver improved sales. So they tried a more qualitative approach. A researcher observed and interviewed people at a restaurant to understand how they thought and felt about the milkshakes they were buying.

“The milkshake was hired in lieu of a bagel or doughnut because it was relatively tidy and appetite-quenching, and because trying to suck a thick liquid through a thin straw gave customers something to do with their boring commute.”

While our research methods and questions may vary from one project to the next, this focus on understanding people’s underlying desires and needs is always essential. This is especially true as the scope of digital experience goes beyond selling to become a more integral part of the products and services being offered. Students participating in a participatory user research session. Recently we published a UX Playbook for Post-Secondary & Higher Education that touches on how to apply the “jobs to be done” mindset to public-facing institutional sites. The primary job of a college or university website is to help prospective students select and apply for programs. That usually becomes obvious just by looking at the analytics (which isn’t always the best way to assess value to users, but for this it tends to be overwhelmingly clear).

But it’s tough to reduce a large site to a single job. In order to help prospective students with their primary need, the website must also perform a number of other supporting jobs:

  • Build an emotional connection with students, starting from the first impression through program selection and life as a student.
  • Help prospective students choose a career path by envisioning what their student and professional experiences will be like.
  • Provide useful guidance and resources through the application process, registration, orientation and other services.

These supporting “jobs” are where qualitative user research identifies UX improvements. It starts with a few simple questions. A more detailed map of the student journey will help highlight where critical jobs are overlooked, underserved, or poorly done by the wrong tools.

Find more about user research in’s UX Playbook for Post-Secondary & Higher Education.


UX research Higher education Personas User journey mapping

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