Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries available for pre-order

doorbells-danger-dead-batteries-cover
My new book comes out on December 6!

You can pre-order (with a discount) from Rosenfeld Media (or from Amazon). Also coming soon is an audiobook version! Remember, your review on Amazon really helps drive awareness.

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Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries
User Research War Stories

User research war stories are personal accounts of the challenges researchers encounter out in the field, where mishaps are inevitable yet incredibly instructive. Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries is a diverse compilation of war stories that range from comically bizarre to astonishingly tragic, tied together with valuable lessons from expert user researcher Steve Portigal.

The stories Steve Portigal knits together here have an extraordinary and immediate intimacy, like listening in on 66 researchers’ bedtime prayers. Anne Lamott says there are essentially three kinds of prayers: help, thanks, and wow! Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries covers the whole range, with humor and wisdom.

Dan Klyn, information architect, co-founder of The Understanding Group (TUG)

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Jakob Nielsen said “Most people are stupid.”

Last night, Capital One hosted an event at their new San Francisco labs. It was a packed house, with food and drink, discussion, networking, and two presentations. Catherine Courage gave – as always – an exciting and encouraging talk on storytelling. Jakob Nielsen talked about, I guess, testing, though he used the phrase “user research” extensively.

Anyway, during the Q&A, Nielsen said “Most people are stupid.” He didn’t misspeak, he said this and he meant it. In his example, if you tested a product with someone who knew the product, they would have a certain performance. If you got someone in off the street “…he would be stupid. [pause, chuckle] Most people are stupid.”

I posted about this on Twitter and got reactions from surprise to an utter lack of surprise, given the source. I don’t know about that. I do think that if you think people are stupid, you shouldn’t be working in user experience and you shouldn’t be given a platform to hold forth. Please don’t invite Jakob Nielsen to speak at your event. This is toxicity we don’t need.

A User Research FAQ

In Patterns in design research, Nick Bowmast looks at one of my recent talks and realizes that the Q&A discussion deals with many of the standard questions he often faces. He wrote up a tersely-worded FAQ based on the discussion. Thanks, Nick!

Q: One on one’s or Groups? A = One on ones. (Don’t say the other F word).
Q: How do you know when you’ve done enough interviews? A = Depends, but 30 is a big number.
Q: How do you avoid bias from the client or in the sample? A = Accept and work with it.
Q: When should we do it ourselves vs have other people’s go out and do the interviews for us? A = Depends, and collaboration can work in many ways. [Also see this – SP]
Q: How do you prioritize all the questions to be able to answer all of them right? A = Work with the client to nail it down.
Q: What would be the right team size in the field? A = Two
Q: Can you use something like Skype or Google Hangouts to interview them? A = Yes, but there are significant tradeoffs.
Q: How to deal with users who just keep on talking in an interview? A = Be polite but firm. Cut your losses if necessary.
Q: How do you go about recruiting people / how do you convince strangers to do interviews? A = Use a recruiter. Respect and honour people’s time.

Improve your Soft Skills at UX Australia

I’ll be in Melbourne next month as part of UX Australia, leading my
Soft Skills Are Hard workshop. I’ve been iterating this workshop for the past 18 months and have been very impressed with the people who have come and worked hard to assess their own goals and to work together to design processes, tools and habits for themselves and each other in order to improve those soft skills. I see that people have found it to be a profound experience that has made a difference in how they think about their work and their careers.

We’ve looked at literally hundreds of soft skills, such as

  • Collaboration
  • Permission to fail
  • Communication
  • Pattern recognition
  • Thinking broadly
  • Critical thinking
  • Listening
  • Focus
  • Respect
  • Coping with ambiguity
  • Visual thinking
  • Managing stress

For the areas that people find most relevant, they’ve developed a set of best practices to help improve that skill. For example,
Be More Patient

  • Give another person benefit of the doubt
  • Practice being patient at home or with friends
  • Listening – give others a chance to speak regardless of if you think they’re right or wrong
  • Breathe, pause mentally before offering your own point of view
  • Acknowledge that there are many ways to do one thing
  • Remember that people need/want to be heard
  • Reference past experiences when having patience has worked in your favor

If you’re around Melbourne at the end of next month, please sign up for the workshop!

Bonus: here’s some more examples from past workshops
Be Patient

Time Management

Compassion

Networking

David Isay on selective memory

Krista Tippett interviewed David Isay for her show On Being. He talked about interviewing his father and his story highlights the gap between what we remember from an interview and what actually transpired in that interview.

DI: I remember that I asked him when we were in the StoryCorps interview, “What are you proudest of in life?” And my memory of that was that he said “the books I’ve written.” And I always teased him. I said, “Dad, we’ve done, whatever, 10,000, 20,000, as time went on, 50,000 interviews, and everybody says their kids. And you, the one person, you said, ‘my books.’” And I just endlessly went after him, and the night he died, I listened to the interview, and I said, “What are you proudest of?” And he said “My kids.”

KT: Really?

DI: Yep.

KT: Was that exchange even in there? What you remember? You just didn’t remember it?

DI. ISAY: Yes, and then he said, “I’m also proud of my books.”

Takeaway: Record your interviews and go back to those recordings — don’t rely on your memory!

Keegan-Michael Key on Improv

When I speak about improv, I point out that despite what you may think, improv is not about chaotically doing WHATEVER BLAH WHOO but rather working with highly-constrained problems, with both axes of freedom and axes of constraint. In this video Keegan-Michael Key talks about this concept in a lovely and evocative way, describing a metaphorical notion of the camera pulling back and revealing more context, and as the performer, looking for (and incorporating) more information beyond what you are given.

(Thanks, Ian Smile)

A “first interview” story

Jennifer Kim talks about her experience in preparing for (or not) conducting her first interviews. She is honest about her mistakes, and what she’s learned. I found myself feeling critical of her general neediness: when a participant doesn’t react well to her unprepared interviewing, she is hurt; when a participant gives her feedback and encourages her, she takes that to heart. It’s her job to make the participant feel good, not the other way around. But that lesson may come later, she’s the rawest of beginners and is revealing her own vulnerability in the experience, and I give her full credit for that strength of character.

(thanks to Christina Wodtke)

Series

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