This Week @ Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 10:32 am, Monday April 20 2015

It sure is starting to feel like spring!

  • I’m back from an exhausting and exhilarating week of interviews in Boston. 21 people in 4 days is a more intense schedule than I’d normally plan for but it’s just how things worked out. Back a few days and already the transcripts are pouring in!
  • This week I’m wrapping up conversations with stakeholders and digging into the final details for next week’s workshop (with another organization).
  • The soft skills workshop sold out at Interaction 15 and I’m getting inquiries about running the workshop again in a few different locations. Meanwhile, it’s coming up soon as part of Enterprise UX. Use discount PORTIGAL15 to save when you register for my workshop about Soft Skills coming up in San Antonio in mid-May.
  • I’m finalizing logistics and starting to dig into the detailed content for a two-day training workshop I’m leading for a big corporation in Houston in early May.
  • I’m also planning a program to a really exciting research and strategy project and trying to outline a new article!
  • I will be answering questions about insights and innovation in Ask the UXpert on April 29.
  • Ten years gone: From April 2005 – Budweiser patriotism, Snapple-a-day, portion control packaging.
  • What we’re consuming: We Put a Chip In It!, The Dutch Goose, Silicon Valley, Veep.
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This Week @ Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 8:43 am, Monday April 13 2015

Well, happy Monday to all!

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The Last of The Doodles
By Steve Portigal at 9:45 am, Friday April 10 2015

Today I wrapped up 100 doodles in 100 days. Stay tuned for some reflections on the experience. Below is the last set.

Also see the 80s, the 70s, the 60s and the 50s.

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This Week @ Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 10:09 am, Monday April 06 2015

It’s April, everyone.

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Yet Even More 100 Doodles
By Steve Portigal at 7:52 am, Tuesday March 31 2015

I’ve been doing 100 doodles in 100 days since 2015 started. Here are the 80s. Also see the 70s, the 60s and the 50s.

80

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This Week @ Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 8:56 am, Monday March 30 2015

Howdy Monday!

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This Week @ Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 10:34 am, Monday March 23 2015

Happy Spring!

  • It’s one of those weeks where we wrap up a project. I’m not taking the lead on this, but am dipping into the process constantly to see where the presentation is at, giving feedback and other edits, and checking in with the client to see if we’re tracking on their goals. Phew!
  • It’s a short week I take an extra long weekend in wine country this weekend.
  • One project kicked off last week and we’re now setting up interviews on their campus in April and figuring out what we need to be talking about. At the same time, the team is looking for industry experts and doing some secondary research in the space. It’s shaping up to be a great collaboration.
  • Only a few tickets remain for for Moments of Influence, an interactive talk I’m doing with Dan Szuc and Jo Wong of Apogee.
  • I’ve already had a good conversation today about my workshop Soft Skills Are Hard, part of the Enterprise UX conference this May in San Antonio. Please join me and also spread the word!
  • Check out these video highlights from my World IA Day workshop The Designer is Present.
  • I’ve just posted the latest 10 doodles.
  • On Thursday I’ll be listening to Josh Seiden’s webinar Beyond Brainstorming: Create Breakthrough Ideas for Innovation.
  • Ten years gone: From March 2005 – vivid colors for your pet.
  • What we’re consuming: Birdman, Cookie Monster, Life Coach, Enter Sandman, Cowboy Fishing Co..
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Even more 100 doodles
By Steve Portigal at 9:04 am, Friday March 20 2015

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been working on 100 doodles in 100 days. Here are the 70s. Also see the 60s and the 50s.

70

71

72

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75

76

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79

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This Week @ Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 9:37 am, Monday March 16 2015

  • My agency client is working diligently to get a draft presentation together. I’m helping to shape the insights and implications and to ensure they are well-articulated. We’re in the home stretch.
  • I’m kicking off two projects this week. In one I’ll be guiding a client team as they plan for, conduct, and analyze ethnographic research. In another, I’ll be partnering with a couple of other small consultancies in a project that follows on some work I did with this same client last year. It looks like travel to Boston and Las Vegas will be coming up in the next little while!
  • I’ll also be in Houston in May to lead a two-day user research workshop onsite for a client.
  • Also in Texas in May, I’ll be part of the Enterprise UX conference in San Antonio. I’ll be leading an extended version of my workshop Soft Skills Are Hard. You should join us!
  • Coming up in a few weeks in San Francisco, I’ll be presenting Moments of Influence, in collaboration with Dan Szuc and Jo Wong of Apogee. We’re starting to plot our topics and some exercises as well.
  • Ten years gone: From March 2005 – creaky neighbor car, no sugar – no difference, apple tasting notes.
  • What we’re consuming: Hapa ramen, Chuck Klosterman, Steve’s ice cream.
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More of 100 doodles in 100 days
By Steve Portigal at 7:51 am, Thursday March 12 2015

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been working on 100 doodles in 100 days. Here are the 60s.

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Steve’s War Story: Giggling and Grunting
By Steve Portigal at 7:36 am, Wednesday March 11 2015
Part 72 of 72 in the series War Stories

I originally posted this in 2006, and revised it slightly for Interviewing Users. I thought it was time to add it to the War Stories archive and so here’s the original version.

As we rang the doorbell, my colleague and I unconsciously straightened, preparing ourselves for that all-important first impression, that moment when our research participant would come to the door and size us up. We waited for a moment, looking at each other as we heard footsteps, mustering a smile as the inside door opened.
“Hello,” I offered, “Are you Brian?”

As I began to state the obvious, that we were here for the interview, he grunted, opened the screen door, and as we took hold, he turned around and walked back into the house. We glanced at each other, and stepped into the foyer. What did we know about Brian? Our recruiting screener told us he was 22, lived with his parents, and his brother, and was employed part-time. The rest would be up to us to discover.

It was 7:30 in the morning and we were taking our shoes off in a strange house. Eventually someone beckoned from the kitchen, and we came in. But already we were out of sync. The kitchen was small, with an L-shaped counter, and a small table for dining. The mother was at the end of the L, working with bowls and dishes and burners on the stove. The father was perched against the counter, while Brian, and his younger brother sat at the table. The father was a small man, while the other three were quite large. The room wasn’t intended for the six of us, so we managed to set ourselves up for our interview in the only place we could; at the far end of the counter, at the far end of the table. We wedged ourselves (one behind the other) on small chairs, pulling our knees in, our paraphernalia of notepads, documents, video cameras, tapes, batteries etc. clutched in close. It wasn’t ideal, but we hoped we could make it work.

But then the real challenge became clear – although Brian had agreed for us to meet and do this interview, he was actively disinterested. We were positioned 45 degrees behind him, in his blind spot. With his physical bulk, he managed to loom over his food in a way that eliminated even any peripheral eye contact; somehow this was something a smaller person couldn’t have done. His brother sat across from him, echoing his posture.

We had recruited Brian specifically, but of course, here we were with the entire family. We pressed ahead, explaining our study, and starting in with our planned questions. Since Brian was the person with whom we had the arrangement, we focused our attention on him. He would not respond, beyond one word answers (which sounded more like grunts), and the occasional glance up to his brother, causing them both to giggle.

My colleague and I avoided looking at each other (it may have not been physically possible, given the tight quarters) for fear of displaying our despair at the situation. Sure, we had arranged this interview, but the cues we were receiving were making it clear the arrangement wasn’t worth much. At this point, we had already woke up quite early to do this interview, so there was no point in giving up. If they changed their mind explicitly, they’d let us know, and we’d leave. Meanwhile, what else was there to do but press on? I asked questions, with very little response. I tried the brother, at which point Brian bolted out of the room for a few minutes, without a word. The brother was only slightly more amenable than Brian, mostly interested in make critical comments about his parents (to Brian’s great grunting enjoyment) as much as provide any actual information.

Indeed, the mother and father seemed not to have been warned that we would be coming; although I directed some of the questioning towards the mom, she reacted with pretty serious hostility, informing us (in the context of an answer to a question) that they did not welcome strangers into their house, and (while she was preparing food) highlighted the intimate nature of food preparation as a symbol, and that was even less open to strangers. The message was very clear.

But again, what could we do? Pressing on, until asked to leave, under the explicit agreement we had made, seemed the best approach. We asked our questions, following up on the information they had shared, listening closely, looking for clarification, offering up as much space as we could for them to talk, all in trying to build some flow and dialog. Even though the message was negative, at least the parents were willing to talk to us. And so, the young men faded out of the conversation, and the interview eventually switched over to the parents. Two hours later it turned out that we had completed an excellent interview with them; they each had great stories about our topic area, and revealed a lot of background about their family, about growing up, about their activities, and even their perspectives on what made the United States the country it had become.

Before we left the house, the mother insisted on cooking up some fried bread fresh and hot for us; admonishing us that “no one comes here and doesn’t get food” – reiterating the intimate nature of food she had mentioned at the beginning, but this time as a compliment rather than a shield.

As soon as we left the house, my colleague turned to me and said “I don’t know how you pulled that off; I thought we were done for and would have to leave.” I was very pleased with how the interview turned out, especially because it began at such a low point, but there was little magic to it. I didn’t try to solve the big problem of the complex dynamic we had walked into; I focused (especially at first) on just the next problem; the immediate challenge of what to say next. I was certainly keeping the larger goals in mind of how to cover all the areas we were interested in, but I was focusing my energy as an interviewer on the next thing. And by working at it in small pieces, bit by bit, the dynamic shifted. As interviewers, we had to compartmentalize the social experience of the event – the extreme discomfort and awkwardness of the early part of the interview, and just stick to our jobs. We didn’t handle the situation that differently than any other interview, and it served as a testament to our approach – listening, following up (and showing that we were listening by the way we followed up), building rapport and trust, bit by bit, until there was a great deal of openness and great information.

Years later, it’s obvious that there are better ways to communicate with the participants ahead of time to screen out unwilling participants. For example, the person who is going to be in the field should always speak live to the person they will be visiting before they day of the interview just to get that person-to-person communication started early, so both parties can get a sense of each other and start to feel comfortable (or agree that it’s not a good fit and move on to someone else). But, given the diversity of people, we will always end up interviewing people who are more or less comfortable with the process, and it’s our job to make them comfortable in order to get the information we are interested in. Doing so may make us uncomfortable ourselves, but with practice we must learn to set aside the social dynamics and focus on the question asking and listening that will make the interview a success.

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This Week @ Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 9:48 am, Monday March 09 2015

  • I’m sitting in on a handful of remote interviews today and tomorrow, following up on some diary studies and getting in our last questions as the data collection phase of this project wraps up. I’m advising the team as they work through an outline of what we’ll be delivering; looking for that shift from an amalgamation of findings to a narrative that points the way forward for our client.
  • Coming up in a few weeks in San Francisco, I’ll be presenting Moments of Influence, in collaboration with Dan Szuc and Jo Wong of Apogee
  • As part of the Enterprise UX conference in San Antonio in May, I’ll be leading an extended version of my workshop Soft Skills Are Hard. Hope to see you there!
  • Out on the town: On Thursday evening I’ll be at an sneak-preview event for IDEO U.
  • Ten years gone: From March 2005 – Lord of the Rings, the musical, A Few Tips to Cope With Life’s Annoyances scented bowling balls, Grapple – grape-infused apples.
  • What we’re consuming: Ai Wewei @Large, Suppenküche, Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt, New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest.
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    An update on 100 doodles in 100 days
    By Steve Portigal at 10:19 am, Wednesday March 04 2015

    Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been working on 100 doodles in 100 days. I’ll probably wait for the project to complete before I reflect in more detail but I thought for the last half I’d do a few posts to share the output. Here are the 50s.

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    57

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    59

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    Facilitation and exercises for creativity and presence
    By Steve Portigal at 12:15 pm, Monday March 02 2015

    I run different types of workshops with clients and at events and have built up a number of different activities that invite the participants to have a novel moment and then reflect on it to reveal something potentially profound. I’ve written my current favorites, but welcome suggestions, additions, requests for clarification, and so on.

    1. The Superpower Intro

    • When starting out a group session, everyone introduces themselves in turn, with their name and their super-power.
    • It’s best not to over-constrain what constitutes a super-power. Some will speak about the thing that brings the group together (e.g., work), some will talk about their personal lives, and so on.

    I nicked this exercise from Marissa Louie who used it as a way to kick-off a talk. But you can use this to go in a number of different directions. In my workshops on soft skills, I’ve adopted this warm-up because it often happens that the kinds of things people share as their super-powers are indeed soft skills. It can be a positive way to see all the things that people are good at (actually great at!). Christina Wodtke does a variation where people, in pairs, ask each other for stories about an experience or accomplishment they are proud of, and then tell that person what they think their super-power is.

    2. Doodling

    There are many ways to doodle, but here’s what I’ve been doing as part of my 100 doodles in 100 days project

    • Get a pen and piece of paper.
    • Close your eyes – or look away – and move the pen. Make a scrawl or a squiggle. Don’t try to make anything happen, just get some marks down.
    • Now look at what you’ve got and try to create something out of it. It can be abstract. Or it might look like something. For fun, you might want to draw eyes and a mouth, animal parts (see Dave Gray’s amazing Squiggle Birds exercise).
    • Don’t take too long, but try to think about when the doodle is done.

    This isn’t about producing something good, artistic, or even visually pleasing. It’s about taking an activity that usually is very deliberate, where we are focused on the outcome and trying to do it differently. You can reflect on how it felt to “draw” this way and how you feel about your output.

    3. Storytelling Circle

    This is an improv game played with 6 – 8 people.

    • Get in a circle. If you are doing the game in a larger group, you can make a semi-circle so that the everyone is facing out to the rest of the group.
    • As with many improv games, get three suggestions from the audience. You might ask for a proper name, the name of a place, a household object, something you might find in a purse, etc.
    • The people in the circle are to tell a story (incorporating those elements) one word a time. Go around and around until you are done!
    • Move quickly and aim to have the sentences the group creates come out almost as quickly as if one person was speaking.
    • One trick is for everyone to be ready to start a new sentence. The almost-default of a run-on sentence isn’t much fun to do or to watch.
    • Don’t throw all your story elements in at once, and try to look for the ending to the story.

    I like to do a couple of rounds of this until everyone has gone and then debrief about the experience. What was it like to do this? What were you thinking when you were playing? What did you observe when you were watching?

    There are some common responses when I debrief this activity, but I also hear something new every time.

    I teach an entire workshop about improv (video, slides). And just for fun, you can see some hilarious improv anti-patterns in this clip.

    4. It’s going to be okay

    • Working with a partner, share something you are worried about. It can be something big or something small.
    • The partner says, as authentically as possible “It’s going to be okay.
    • The first person acknowledges that yes, it is.
    • Then switch roles and repeat the exercise.
    • As a group, talk about what happened.

    This simple exercise uncovers a lot of complex individual stuff. My objective is to just give people a chance to play with the notion of “it’s going to be okay” which is maybe not that comfortable for everyone. But worry takes you away from the present moment, into the future when some unwanted consequence may occur. And I hope that by playing with it, and seeing how it does or doesn’t work for the individual, people may have some power to try this themselves.

    When I’ve led a group through this exercise, some people made it a silly activity (“I’m worried about vampires”), others felt that the response wasn’t sufficient to mollify the concerns they had just given voice to and reported feeling worse, others felt that just expressing the worry gave them some relief, others felt like the exchange was calming. I have been challenged by being asked “Well, what if it’s not going to be okay, like what if it’s cancer?” Of course, the process of coming to grips with death does indeed include acceptance. Oliver Sacks wrote a terrific and touching essay about his own impending death from cancer.

    5. Designer is Present

    • People get into pairs and move so that they are sitting directly across from each other. Their knees shouldn’t be touching but they should be close.
    • Without staring, each pair looks quietly at each other for 60 seconds.
    • Without debriefing or discussing, everyone stands up and moves around for a moment to “shake it off” and then sits down to resume for an additional 60 seconds.
    • As a group, debrief the experience.

    This activity comes from the performance artist Marina Abramovic’s The Artist is Present, a show at MoMA where as part of a retrospective of her career she performed a new piece where she sat silently facing individual museum-goers, all day, day after day, for several months. An excellent documentary about the show is reviewed here.

    I have since learned that you can find versions of this exercise in dance and in couples therapy.

    You can also read more about presence in an article I co-wrote about noticing. For more on this workshop, watch the video and check out the slides.

    6. Reframing Bad ideas

    • Each person is given two sticky notes.
    • On the first sticky note, write or draw the worst idea for a product or service. Something that is dangerous, immoral, bad for business. I often give the example of “candy for breakfast.”
    • Pass the sticky note to someone else. It doesn’t have to be a direct swap, as long as everyone has someone else’s bad idea.
    • On the second sticky note, design the circumstances whereby the bad idea you’ve received becomes a good idea. I’ll offer the scenario where colony collapse disorder has disrupted the food supply enough that children aren’t getting enough sugar through regular sources and breakfast candy is the result.
    • Have people share the idea they were given and the way they successfully reframed it.

    I stole this exercise from Mathew Lincez. I use it in combination with “It’s going to be okay” to illustrate our capacity for reframing and as part of a workshop on creativity called the Power of Bad Ideas (article, slides, video).

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    This Week @ Portigal
    By Steve Portigal at 8:33 am, Monday March 02 2015

    Happy March, everyone!

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