- I am actually doing okay after a week with Google’s Gmail and Calendar, and Evernote. I’ve dipped my toe in cleaning up more than a decade of digital detritus but that is a long road.
- It’s a shortened week here as I host visiting family and take a long weekend.
- This week I’ll be chatting about Interviewing Users with the Denver UX Book Club.
- I’m one of the coaches for MVP Design Hacks and I’ll be taking questions in a session this week. I am very curious to hear what the participants are working on and where they have questions.
- Here’s my pictures from Berlin.
- I’ve alluded before to a stealth project; it’s still stealthy but I will tease by say I’m starting to set up interviews.
- Coming up next month, I’ll be speaking about user research at the HOW Interactive Design Conference in San Francisco.
- Ten years gone: From October 2004 – Pumpkins and pie.
- What we’re consuming: Kale and Chard, Buzz Ballz, coconut mojitos, Transparent.
- I decided to make some changes to my tools, some of which I’ve relied on for more than 10 years. I had been using Notes in Outlook to jot down whatever and syncing them to iOS Notes. I was also using Outlook for my calendar, synced of course to my iPhone calendar, via Google Calendar. I was asked why and I couldn’t answer. So I am using just Google Calendar on the computer, synched to my iPhone. And I shifted to Evernote on both the computer and the phone, although I haven’t done more than move the notes over. I haven’t tried living with it, adding, editing, finding. I also had to say goodbye to Eudora, a long-obsolete email client. I’m planning on living with Gmail (which is where Portigal email comes into anyway) and seeing if that will work for me. But meanwhile I had to figure out how to get my 13 years of email into Gmail. Far too boring to go into here but it’s been a few days and I’m still syncing – e.g., uploading all this email to Gmail. Most terrifying is the realization that between Notes, emails and files on my computer, I’ve got tons of thoughts, articles, sketches for blog posts and other mental detritus that I’d like to go through, extract the bits worth saving and organize them. What set of rabbit holes I’ll be disappearing into!
- Check out our new War Story, The Hidden Persuader.
- I’m one of twenty folks who shared a best practice or tip in 20 Tips for Selling UX to Clients.
- I’ll be chatting about Interviewing Users with the Denver UX Book Club next week.
- Ten years gone: From October 2004 – Restless Leg Syndrome.
- What we’re consuming: Business Live-Action Role-Playing, Peasant’s War Panorama, cab sav, Temple of the Dog 8-bit, We Are The Best!, Ebba Grön.
In 1984, I was 23, and working for a market & social research firm in San Antonio, Texas. They sent me down to McAllen to collect voter opinions on the upcoming national elections. McAllen is a sleepy little town near the bottom tip of the state, just a few miles from the Mexican border, mainly populated with low-to-moderate income Hispanic families.
I was on my second day of door-to-door polling, asking voters their opinions on policy matters, and their thoughts on the state and presidential candidates. The work was progressing well. As usual, I was getting a high rate of interview completions, with lots of useful data. After four years of working in market and social research, I was quite confident in my neutral, non-threatening “aw shucks, I’m just one of you” act, and its ability to deliver great results.
But my confidence was shaken when I met Maria, a shy housewife in her early 30’s.
It was about 4 pm on a warm, dry Thursday afternoon when I knocked on the door of a modest, well-kept ranch house in a suburban section of McAllen. Maria opened the door part way. She was half-hiding behind it, sizing me up like a rabbit peering through tall grass at a coyote in the distance…curious, but poised to flee.
Me: “Hello, my name is Patricia, and I’ve been sent here by (XYZ Research) to gather public opinions on the upcoming elections.”
Maria: “Oh, hi.”
Me (turning on the charm): “May I ask you some questions? Don’t worry, I’m not selling anything!”
Maria: “Uhh, sure, I guess?”&
Me: “Great, thanks! This won’t take long.”
Wide-eyed, Maria flashes a shy smile before her jaw slacks again. This one’s cagey, I thought to myself, but I’ll get her talking.
Me: “Now, thinking about (Candidate X), what comes to mind?”
Maria: “Uhh, I don’t know? Is he a good guy?”
Me (shrinking): “Well, I really don’t have any thoughts on (Candidate X). Besides, my bosses didn’t send me all this way to talk about my opinions. He wants to know your opinion.”
Maria: “I don’t know. He seems okay?”
Now, I don’t think Mary is incapable of forming opinions. I suspect she’s simply never been asked to share her thoughts about such important things, so far from home. And she may never be asked again. But on this day, I was determined to make her opinion count.
Me: “Well, you’ve heard of him, maybe seen him on TV?”
Me: “So, what did you think of him? Is he someone you would vote for?”
Her eyes darted across my face, scanning every crease and twitch, searching for clues. Those big rabbit eyes begged mutely for help. I stared back, apologetically. I took a few slow breaths, trying to ground us both, so she might relax into talking more naturally. Each time she hesitates, I carefully repeat the question, altering the wording and inflection to make them sound as simple and benign as possible.
Me: “Really, we’re just interested in what you think. Whatever you think is fine. Do you think you’ll vote for him, or not?”
Maria: “Uh…yes?” (seeing no reaction from me) “No?”
Me: “Okay, that’s fine. Alright. Now, thinking about (Issue A), is that important to you? Do you think it’s good or bad?”
Maria: “Uhh…I think it’s good?”
The back and forth went on for several minutes. I’m trying to go completely neutral and void of any emotional expression, but my contortions only intensified the awkwardness. The interview was in free-fall. I was failing miserably to collect any genuine responses from Maria. A hot wave of panic washed over me. How can I get this back on track?
In that moment, I just had to let go.
I quit fighting it, and fell back on connecting with Maria as a person. As Maria answered my questions, I began riffing on her responses, affirming and adding detail to them. While trying not to reveal my personal opinions, I offered supportive words and gestures to elevate everything she said, so that she might open up and elaborate. Eventually, she did relax, and her answers flowed a bit more freely.
Me: “So, what about the presidential candidates?”
Maria: “I guess I’ll vote for (presidential candidate B).”
Me: “Great! Is it because he is for (issue B)?”
Maria: “Oh, that’s good. Yeah, (B) is good for us.”
Although Maria was warming up to me, I felt I was way off book. It seemed impossible not to sway her answers. Whatever I wrote down, I feared it might be swept away by the slightest shift in body position, or an eyebrow lift. Well – at least she was talking, I told myself.
Finally, we got to the end. Walking back to my car, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. The hardest interview I’d ever done was over. I went out for a well-earned drink and a tragicomic debrief with my co-workers.
Sometimes you just get a dud subject, and it is what it is. But something about that 15-minute exchange with Maria struck a deeper chord in me. As I drove out of town, troubling questions lingered. What is the value of a skewed interview? Was this the only time I’d failed to be impartial? Or, had this been happening all along, in more subtle ways? How can I ever know that the data I’m collecting is pure?
Maria taught me two important things that day.
1. People make stuff up as they go along. And, we can’t always see the flaws in self-reporting.
2. The observer effect is unavoidable. Interviewers shade their work in unpredictable ways.
I’m as diligent as ever about delivering valuable insights through my research. But ever since that incident in McAllen, I draw my conclusions with a fuzzy border, in humble deference to flawed inputs and shadow projections, on both sides of the clipboard.
Alex Blumberg has a podcast about his journey to start a podcast-related business. A recent episode of This American Life included an excerpt from this podcast (called StartUp), in which Blumberg is half-heartedly pitching his idea to investor Chris Sacca.
They talk for a while, and Alex is having difficulty in explaining his idea and what he’s asking for.
Alex Blumberg: So it’ll take a million and a half dollars, I think. And–
Chris Sacca: Take out the “I think.”
AB: Yeah. It’ll take a million and a half– I’m looking for a million and a half to $2 million in seed-stage funding.
CS: No, no, no, no, no.
CS: You were looking for a very specific amount of money.
AB: I’m looking for– [LAUGHS NERVOUSLY]
Finally, Chris decides he’s just going to show Alex how to pitch his idea and he very masterfully riffs a confident and coherent bit of persuasion. It’s certainly worth listening to, but here’s the excerpt from the transcript.
Hey, look, can I get two minutes from you? So here’s the thing. You probably know me, producer of This American Life, been doing it for 15 years. You know it’s the most successful radio show, top of the podcasts in iTunes, et cetera.
So here’s the thing. I realize there’s a hunger for this kind of content out there and there’s none of this [BLEEP]. It’s just a bunch of jerk [BLEEP] podcasts. Nothing’s out there.
Advertisers are dying for it. Users are dying for it. And if you look at the macro environment, we’re seeing more and more podcast integrations into cars. People want this content. It’s a whole new button in the latest version of iOS.
So here’s the thing. Nobody else can make this [BLEEP]. I know how to make it better than anybody else in the world. And so I’ve already identified a few key areas where I know there’s hunger for the podcast. We’ve got the subject matter. We’re going to launch this [BLEEP]. I know there’s advertisers who want to get involved with it.
But here’s the unfair advantage I have. Because of what I’ve done in my past careers with This American Life and with Planet Money, people are actually willing to just straight-up pay for this stuff. And I’m not just talking about traditional subscriptions. I’m talking– we did this T-shirt experiment at Planet Money where we got $600,000 coming in, where people actually gave us money to buy a t-shirt with our logo on it as part of the content. It was integrated directly. And I know we can replicate that across these other platforms.
So here’s what we’re doing. We’re putting together a million and a half dollars. That’s going to buy us three, four guys who are going to launch these three podcasts in the next 12 months. We think very easily we could get to 300,000, 400,000 net subscribers across the whole thing.
With CPMs where they are in this market right now, I know on advertising alone, we could get to break even. But as we do more of this integration, we get people texting in to donate to this stuff, buying some of this product, doing some of these integrated episodes, I know that we’re going to have on our hands here something that will ultimately scale to be a network of 12, 15 podcasts. The audience is there. They want it. Nobody else can do it like we can. Are you in?
It’s so painful to hear Alex stumble and when Chris takes over, I felt a sense of relief and a certain excitement, to hear an idea presented in a way that was designed to engage and persuade. This is a valuable skill in many aspects of professional life, especially when we’re in the business of sharing ideas. The superlative example in this podcast is quite inspiring.
The relevant section starts at 19:21 in the embedded widget below.
- I’m mostly over my jet lag and back to work after a couple of weeks in Europe. This week is all about following up: active proposals for this year and next, inquiries from teams looking to work together, deferred networking meetings and more. I’m excited, but the to-do list is a long one.
- I’ve got a War Story almost ready to post, with just a bit more info required before I post it. Look for it in the next day or two!
- Just announced – I’ll be speaking at the Warm Gun conference, December 4 in San Francisco.
- Just announced #2 – I’ll be doing a workshop and a keynote presentation at Interaction South America, this November in Buenos Aires.
- Ten years gone: From October 2004 – Roomba precursor offers discount just for telling a friend.
- What we’re consuming: Ramen Dojo, East Side Gallery, Walker Evans, Stadt Land Food Festival.
It’s been well over a year since Interviewing Users came out. Below is a roundup of links to various bits connected with the book. I’ll republish this occasionally with accumulated updates. If you haven’t already, get your copy here! And if you have, it would be great if you wrote a brief review on Amazon here.
- Buy from Rosenfeld Media
- Buy from Amazon
- Foreword by Grant McCracken
- Excerpt from chapter 2
- The cover
- Images and diagrams
- Society for Technical Communications (members only; contact me if you’d like to see this)
- Web Designers’ Review of Books
- How To Interview Your Users And Get Useful Feedback by Garrett Moon, Founder of TodayMade
- Reviews on Goodreads
- QRCA (Qualitative Research Consultants Association) Views Magazine (PDF)
- New: Reviews on Amazon
- Why You Should Read ‘Interviewing Users’ by Steve Portigal
- New: Tuesday #TechHour
- UX Discovery Session
- Wise Talk
- The eLearning Coach
- UX Magazine
- UX Matters
- UIE Book Corner (audio)
- 33 voices (audio) [summary slidedeck]
- UX Booth part 1, part 2
- Business 901 (audio)
- Huffington Post
- Ethnography Matters (and in Spanish)
- Interview with Denise Lee Yohn (audio)
- The User Experience podcast with Gerry Gaffney
- Steve speaks with Jared Spool about field research
- SpoolCast: Steve Portigal’s Interviewing Tips
- IXDA Los Angeles/LA UX Meetup – slides, video, alternate video, tweetstream
- recording of O’Reilly webinar #1
- recording of O’Reilly webinar #2
- A 5-minute talk about The Power of Silence
- All our 2013 writing about Interviewing Users.
- New York book launch party
- San Francisco book launch party
- Answers to questions from readers of the Usabilla blog
- War Stories
- Susan Dray’s reflections on the impact of the War Stories
- I got to Berlin last night, after a successful and enjoyable experience at the EuroIA in Brussels. My workshop went very well and the slides are here. I’m here to explore neighborhoods, take pictures of street art and architecture and funny signs, go to museums, and eat interesting food!
- Ten years gone: From September 2004 – Lapping up dollops of Japanese pudding shake, Gary Cole is a secret rock-star dad, Butt Rub Seafood & Barbeque Rubs and Seasonings.
- What we’re consuming: Leffe, Gaufre de Liège, chocolate, comics.
- I’m just in the office for today, finalizing my workshop for Saturday, finalizing logistics and packing and so on. Tomorrow I’m on a plane to Brussels.
- This week is EuroIA where I’ll be doing a workshop about synthesizing field data.
- Ten years gone: From September 2004 – Foreign grocery museum included in a teacher’s guide to Action Activities for International Business.
- What we’re consuming: Reaching my autistic son through Disney, Dread Zeppelin, Digital tools for design research, Every day Sunday, The German Doctor
I saw this BitTorrent billboard in San Francisco last weekend.
Its specific message is opaque, telling us only that people are greater than servers. Hopefully we knew that already, but now we know that BitTorrent knows that too, via this techno-corporate version of a spray-painted cri de coeur. (Looking online for the image, I found the above on BitTorrent’s blog where it may refer to some peer-to-peer alternative to peer-to-cloud product, but that’s as far as I got).
The New York Times carried this full-page ad for PayPal yesterday.
Beginning with the constitutional We The People , the copy culminates with their new slogan, a graffiti-rendered People Rule.
Maybe there are humanists at both these organizations who are indeed passionate about the people they are trying to serve, but it’s hard not to be cynical about these corporations co-opting the language and aesthetics of rebellion and independence to persuade us to adopt their particular technology product versus some other. More than anything, it looks as if the tech industry is trying (yet again) to humanize its image.
- This week is about connecting with people to talk about what we’re working on, to talk about working together, to get and receive advice, to build up the network and to increase my connection with people I respect and enjoy.
- Next week I’ll at EuroIA in Brussels to do a workshop about synthesizing field data.
- Out on the town this week, I’ll be at Make Your Ideas Stick (sold out) tonight at Google SF. I know I’ll run into some local friends there.
- Ten years gone: From September 2004 – On lead guitar, Spidey.
- What we’re consuming: Only Loves Left Alive, Grampa and Grandmaster Flash, Star Trek in widescreen, talking to strangers, They Came Together
- It’s fantastic to have this week and next week without any travel.
- Beyond just a general gathering of wits, I’m focused on laying the groundwork for a new program, details to be revealed down the road. As well, I’m doing networking meetings and phone calls with colleagues and conversations with prospective clients, laying groundwork for the short- and medium-term.
- Also coming up in a couple of weeks, I’m doing a workshop about synthesizing field data at EuroIA in Brussels (to be followed by a fun side trip to Berlin).
- Ten years gone: From September 2004 – Cream puff heaven.
- What we’re consuming: PizzaHacker, the life cycle of a catchphrase, Go For Sisters, Agony Wagon.
- I’m sitting in the airport lounge, waiting for my flight from Sydney back to San Francisco. It’s Tuesday here, and a holiday Monday in the US. I left my AirBnB in Hobart at 4:00 am to get a flight to Melbourne and then to Sydney. I’ll be spending a good couple of days just trying t recover from a wonderful trip – a great conference with a successful workshop on mindfulness and a well-received talk about the War Stories. A recording is coming soon.
- One last reminder/request for comments (and votes) here for my proposed War Stories talk at SXSW.
This weekend, I’m doing a full-day workshop on user research at UX-STRAT in Boulder.
- Ten years gone: From September 2004 – Why not adopt a Wild Horse or Burro?.
- What we’re consuming: Picklemouse Corner, Lincoln’s Rock, Little Rivers Dark Lager, Museum of Old and New Art, hot chocolate, Julius Popp’s Bit.fall.
I can see my house from here!
- I’m en route to Sydney for UX Australia. I’m very excited to be speaking about presence and mindfulness in my workshop The Designer is Present, and War Stories in my talk Epic Fail. The country is lovely, the people are excellent and the breakfasts are superb. I’ll be taking a day trip to the gorgeous Blue Mountains and then visiting Hobart in Tasmania very briefly, before heading home early next week.
- Last week was Seattle, with Dan Szuc, where we did a workshop and a talk with IxDA Seattle. I spoke about soft skills and my slides are here.
- Please comment (and vote) here for my proposed War Stories talk at SXSW.
- After Australia,
I’m doing a full-day workshop on user research at UX-STRAT in Boulderand a half-day workshop about synthesizing field data at EuroIA in Brussels. Spread the word as there is still room in both workshops.
- Ten years gone: From August 2004 – SF discovers Nanaimo Bars, Verizon adds fees to see your bill, Team America and Thunderbirds.
- What we’re consuming: dim sum, a big-ass warm cookie, Park Chalet, Austin Powers.
I was on Kitchener’s 570 News technology radio program yesterday, invited by the great folks from Fluxible to speak very briefly about user research. I’m on about 15 minutes in. It starts with a rousing discussion of UX’s role, where companies are doing some unpleasant things in the name of “improving the user experience.”
To download the audio Right-Click and Save As… (Windows) or Ctrl-Click (Mac).
I’m taking today off to hang with my family visiting from Vancouver. But here’s the story for this week
- Tomorrow I’m flying up to Seattle. I go from the airport directly to co-host a workshop with Dan Szuc and then share the stage with him for a talk the next night. The workshop is waitlisted but there may still be room for the talk. Details here. I’ll also have the chance to meet up with other friends and colleagues in town, and maybe grab a donut or two.
- I’ll be making my first appearance on AM radio in decades, as part of Tuesday #TechHour, along with the folks from Fluxible. I’ll be talking about UX and interviewing users.
- I’ve proposed a talk at SXSW about the War Stories (a talk I’ve given at CHIFOO and coming up at UX Australia). It’d be great if you could VOTE for it! Please!
- This weekend I’m leaving for Sydney for UX Australia, where I’ll be leading The Designer is Present workshop and as I mentioned above, doing a presentation about the War Stories.
- Also coming up in a few weeks, I’m doing
a full-day workshop on user research at UX-STRAT in Boulderand a half-day workshop about synthesizing field data at EuroIA in Brussels (to be followed by a side trip to Berlin, just for fun).
- Ten years gone: From August 2004 – Exorcist: The Beginning, The Hairiest Man in All of China.
- What we’re consuming: Paul Rand, Saul Bass, Happy Taco, Klean Kanteen, Lemos Farm.