Support the War Stories for SXSW and more!
By Steve Portigal at 2:08 pm, Monday August 24 2015

Watch this space for a big announcement about the War Stories coming up after Labor Day. In the meantime, I’ve applied to speak about War Stories in design research at SXSW. You can help here (whether or not you are planning to attend SXSW) by creating an account, voting thumbs up for the proposed talk and even adding a comment.

We’ve got three recent stories, all from the Kitchener-Waterloo area: Jennifer’s War Story: Keeping the Lights on in Vegas, Julia’s War Story: For Want Of A Shoe and Susie’s War Story: A Sigh Is Just A Sigh. And coming up next month at Fluxible in Kitchener-Waterloo, I’ll be presenting Epic FAIL: Takeaways from the War Stories Project.

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This Week @ Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 11:01 am, Monday August 17 2015
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Jennifer’s War Story: Keeping the Lights on in Vegas
By Steve Portigal at 7:28 am, Friday August 14 2015
Part 75 of 75 in the series War Stories

Jennifer Pretti is the Manager of the User Experience Design Team at Christie Digital in Kitchener, Canada.

At Christie Digital, we have a very niche population of users. Opportunities to observe them using our projectors are highly coveted by my UX team. In February 2014, we were invited by a good customer of ours, Staging Techniques, to observe their setup for the keynote address at Microsoft’s SharePoint Conference. The event was taking place at the Venetian Hotel, in Las Vegas, and the keynote speaker was going to be Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton!

Three of us from Christie made the trip: me, Chris (my lead industrial designer), and a software developer, Eric. Although I had conducted many user sessions for Christie before, this was the first time I was going on site to observe a live event setup and I wasn’t sure what to expect. My biggest worry was that, even though we made it clear we were there just to observe, I would be asked to answer a technical question or troubleshoot some problem and not have a clue what to say or do.

Setup was to begin at midnight the day we arrived. Working night shifts is very common for projectionists since it’s the best time to see and calibrate the light as other setup crews are already done and out of the way. The thought of staying up for a night shift wasn’t something I was particularly looking forward to, especially given jet lag was going to make it feel 3 hours later. But I hoped a mix of adrenaline and caffeine would do the trick.

After landing in Vegas, we headed down to the Expo Hall to get our bearings. The scale of everything in Vegas is massive and oversized, and the hall was no exception. It was a gigantic space – at least two football fields long and one football field wide – and it was completely empty and bare. Whatever vision the event planners had for the space seemed hopelessly unattainable in the 5 days left before the show.

When we arrived, big transport trucks were pulling into the hall to start unloading the many tons of equipment that would be needed to run the show. It was clear that they were behind schedule already. Trusses and scaffolding needed for rigging the projectors hadn’t yet been built, so we decided to split up, with Chris covering the first night shift, and Eric and I heading to bed to get some much needed sleep.

Eric and I returned to the site early the next morning to relieve Chris. The first few hours of our observation time were slow and uneventful due to continued delays with the truss work, but eventually things picked up, and soon projectors were being powered on and rigged into position. Excitement peaked when one of the projectors failed to power on. I stood poised to capture an epic story of problem solving and error recovery, but the crew just shrugged, taped an ‘X’ on the top of the projector, and replaced it with a spare one. Even after I got in touch with tech support to help explain the error code (highlighting quite clearly that our error messages need a lot of work), it didn’t change their approach. Time is money and using a functional projector was simply the most efficient option. Whatever the problem was, it could wait until they were back in the office to sort out.

It became clear by the end of the second night that the most interesting portions of the setup would be delayed past our planned departure date. The senior projectionist, Pete, pleaded for one of us to stay a bit longer. I think there was mix of professional pride in his insistence, but (happily for us) a realization of the mutual benefit of our presence, observing their workflows and listening to their wishlists. It was on account of his enthusiasm that I agreed to change my flight and stay an extra night. My fatigued body howled in despair. Another night shift? Are you crazy?!

There is no better place to change your sleeping patterns than Vegas. That city looks the same no matter what the hour: there are always people walking around, always a restaurant open, and enough indoor walkways that it could be any time of day. Hotel rooms come equipped with industrial-strength black-out curtains, whose existence I suddenly appreciated in a whole new light (pun intended), as I tried to convince my body that falling asleep at 10 AM was a totally legit plan.

The little sleep I got left me with major doubts that I could keep up a respectable and coherent state of mind for my last night. However, early into the shift, Pete insisted I help him colour match the displays. Colour matching 26 projectors is a very laborious activity that had us whizzing around on a golf cart, playing with light meters, and debating whether one projector was a fraction more magenta than the other. Shifting from observer to honorary crew member made the night fly by and gave me a more rich perspective of how our products are used.

I didn’t sleep until I was on the airplane later that afternoon. I welcomed the rest, but felt a pang of regret for not extending my trip long enough to see Bill Clinton speak. As social media began to light up with pictures of the event, I cheered for Staging Techniques and Christie for a job well done. And smiled knowing that Bill Clinton was walking on the same stage where I had been, just 24 hours ago.

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This Week @ Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 8:43 am, Thursday August 13 2015

I know it’s Thursday, but I’ve been on vacation all week, so here’s what’s going on for the remainder of this week

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Julia’s War Story: For Want Of A Shoe
By Steve Portigal at 1:34 pm, Tuesday August 04 2015
Part 74 of 75 in the series War Stories

Julia Thompson is a Design Research & Insights Analyst at BlackBerry in Waterloo, Canada.

It all started with a simple question from the dispatcher: “Do you want a call when your taxi arrives?” My nonchalant answer: “No thanks, I should be okay.” was the nail in my coffin. This was my first error in a series of cascading mistakes.

The next morning I was heading out-of-country for in-home interviews. That night, in an effort to be as prepared as possible, I called to arrange a taxi for an early morning pickup. I hung up the phone and proceeded to pack my bags. I considered carefully what to pack. I visualised my next few days: what would the weather be like? What would be my mode of transportation? What clothing would be appropriate for the work – casual enough to fit into a home environment and dressy enough to fit into an office environment? I was sure that I had considered all the details. Unfortunately, the most important detail, my alarm, was what I missed.

Satisfied with my preparation, I went to bed, and slept well. The next morning I awoke feeling refreshed. With birds chirping outside, sunlight filled the room. Yet something felt terribly wrong. What time was it? Why was it so light out? I picked up my phone, checked my alarm, and then checked the time. My stomach fell to the floor. My flight was leaving now. Sheer panic overtook me. I couldn’t think straight. I had never missed a flight before. I felt like I was going to throw up. I was paralyzed, I had no idea what to do. I grabbed my phone and called our corporate travel agent. It felt like hours as I waited on hold to ask my pressing questions: Could I still make my interview? When was the next flight? Could I fly out of a different airport instead? The sound of my heartbeat drowned out every noise as I sat there waiting, palms sweating, phone clutched. The agent came back on the line and said there was a flight leaving from another airport in 2 hours. Could I make it there in time? It’s almost rush hour. It’s an hour’s drive with no traffic. What about parking? Customs? Security? If I took the car, how would my husband get to work? On top of all that the agent still wasn’t sure whether there was room on the flight. We decided, together, that I should start driving and I should stay on the line while she called the airline to confirm availability. I jumped in the car, with my phone on the passenger seat and that awful music taunting me as I continued to wait, on hold. I got about 10 minutes down the road when the agent told me to pull over and go home. That flight wouldn’t be mine. I would settle for another flight, hours later, and hours after my scheduled interview.

Later that day, as my plane came in for its landing, I just felt low. I was tired from the emotional rollercoaster of missing my flight, I was anxious knowing I’d have to tell the people I was working with what had happened and I was sad that I had missed out on an interview and the opportunity to see, first-hand, into the life of one of our customers. The only thing saving me was the fact that I was the client and so, even though I missed the interview, it still went ahead as scheduled.

The following day I awoke, in the right place and at the right time, with a better perspective on life. Our local research partner was gracious enough to include me in an interview that day. I was thankful. I was relieved. But now, that meant there would be four of us attending this interview. Two consultants and two clients; two too many. The consultant had called ahead and confirmed with our interviewee that it would be okay if an additional person (me!) attended the interview. Our interviewee was very accommodating and agreed to have all four of us into her home. I was so preoccupied with resolving my own error that I didn’t consider, until later, how the dynamic of the interview would now be affected.

We all got to the interview, we all walked in, we all sat down in the chairs offered to us by our interviewee. As everyone was setting up I started to look around and take note of the environment. I noticed several pairs of shoes neatly arranged by the front door. I looked over at our host, I looked down: bare feet. My eyes darted around the room, I looked down at all our feet. All four of us had our shoes on, laces tied. Bah! We were the worst guests ever. Weren’t we all, as researchers, supposed to notice something so simple but so important?

I spent the next five minutes cursing myself, my missed flight, the totally wrong and overpowering dynamic of four researchers to one customer, and the miss on basic shoe etiquette. I had to shake it off – all the feelings of shame, all the feelings of doubt – and I had to focus. I had to be in the moment, I had to get the most I could out of the interview and I had to show the interviewee the respect she deserved.

It ended up being a great discussion. It was, by no means, a textbook in-context interview, but we had a nice dynamic emerge nonetheless. My story is not one of a single epic fail, but instead of a series of errors with a cascading effect. “For want of a nail the shoe was lost, for want of a shoe the horse was lost…” Here, we had not a want for a shoe, we had too many.

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This Week @ Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 7:57 am, Monday August 03 2015

Happy August!

  • I’m in Denver doing fieldwork. We’ve already done half of the interviews (fascinating, as always!) and will be finishing up over the next two days. Then I’m back home, doing as much post-fieldwork wrap-up as I can before heading out on vacation, after which I’ll be doing the second phase of fieldwork in DC. Phew!
  • Meanwhile, I’m incubating a number of interesting prospective engagements to follow this, from training and workshops to few different versions of advising to collaborating with another agency on fieldwork in Asia.
  • I’ll be teaching my workshop Soft Skills Are Hard at two upcoming events: in San Francisco at the end of August for UX Week and in London in October for Interact 15.
  • Ten years gone: From August 2005 – Stories about fruit, Herbeau Creations Dagobert Throne Toilet, Wired Glamor
  • What we’re consuming: KD, LaMar’s Donuts, What is Jazz?, Uncle, Doggie DNA testing, MetalCaptcha,
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This Week @ Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 9:29 am, Monday July 27 2015

Howdy, all….

  • The travel is booked. The incentive envelopes are stuffed. The field guide is revised. Now we’re just waiting for the recruiter to fill the slots this weekend and next week. I know it always works out but it’s nerve-wracking having everything but participants.
  • While I wait for fieldwork to kick off, I’m doing the usual mix of prepping for upcoming talks and chatting with clients about future engagements.
  • I’ll be teaching my workshop Soft Skills Are Hard at two upcoming events: in San Francisco at the end of August for UX Week and in London in October for Interact 15.
  • Ten years gone: From July 2005 – Library rhetoric, my rant against the anti-flipchart rant, a visit to Adobe, ABC Stores.
  • What we’re consuming: Jurassic World, Boiling Beijing, Rolling Pin Donuts.
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The Insight at Scale track from Enterprise UX
By Steve Portigal at 12:21 pm, Monday July 20 2015

A couple of months ago I moderated the “Insight at Scale” track at the Enterprise UX conference, which featured three presentations and discussion. The videos for each presentation (and our discussion) are below as well as links to the slide decks. There’s also sketch notes for the whole session.


Insight Types That Influence Enterprise Decision Makers – Christian Rohrer, Vice President and Chief Design Officer, Intel Security (slides)


Data Science and Design: A Tale of Two Tribes – Chris Chapo, Operations at ENJOY (slides)


Emotion Economy: Ethnography as Corporate Strategy – Kelly Goto, author of Web Redesign 2.0 (slides)


Discussion

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This Week @ Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 9:44 am, Monday July 20 2015

Welcome to the week!

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This Week @ Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 9:21 am, Monday July 13 2015

A hearty welcome to the week!

  • We’re finalizing a few reports this weeks: discussions with client stakeholders, a review of our client’s existing research and secondary reports, and finally our own secondary reserach. In addition to giving us a lot of big questions to chew on, it’s also informing who we want to talk to for this study and we’ve got a screener almost finalized and ready to share with recruiters for fieldwork in DC and Denver next month.
  • I’ve been waiting for about 3 months for a contract to make it’s way through the corporate purchasing process; we got one document signed last week and any day now we hope to get the next one signed and then schedule a kickoff meeting. Every week I think that that maybe it’ll happen next week, and then…we wait. Still, we’re all astonished at how long it’s taking!
  • We got a new War Story last week from Susan Simon Daniels. Check it out!
  • In London this October, I’ll be at Interact 15 to teach a workshop, Soft Skills Are Hard.
  • Ten years gone: From July 2005 – Facehugger plushie, the end of free pretzels, squid spam.
  • What we’re consuming: Jersey, PACHI, architectural lattice, bamboo.
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Susie’s War Story: A Sigh Is Just A Sigh
By Steve Portigal at 8:11 am, Thursday July 09 2015
Part 73 of 75 in the series War Stories

Susan Simon Daniels is a Senior Design Insights Analyst at BlackBerry in Waterloo, ON.

In September 2012, I was interviewing people who had recently purchased and set up a smartphone. During the interview, I asked the participants to unbox and set up another, new smartphone to see if any usability problems emerged.

One of the interviews was with a male in his late 40s who worked as a translator for people whose first language was not English (I’ll call him “Rick.”) As he unpacked the box that contained the new smartphone, Rick frowned and sighed. I watched silently and noted that a few moments later Rick sighed again.

At this point, the researcher inside my brain was shouting, “Red alert! There’s a problem! There’s a problem!” After a few more moments, I turned to him and said, “Rick, I noticed you’re frowning a bit and you’ve sighed a couple of times. Can you tell me why?”

I waited, fingers poised to capture the fatal flaw that the participant had discovered in the product set up – something so egregious that it evoked a heavy sigh!

Rick turned to me and instead shared a personal story. Both he and his spouse had recently lost their parents. These major life events, complicated by delays in traveling to another continent for funerals and family arrangements, left a lingering sadness that crept up on Rick during quiet moments.

His sigh was just a sigh – not a signal of a defect or usability issue to solve, but a personal moment I happened to witness. We talked for a few minutes about his loss and how he was feeling and then Rick returned to the task at hand and continued to unbox and set up the phone.

We had passed through an awkward moment. I felt I had rudely probed into an open wound. But I had to ask the question. I couldn’t assume the frown and sighs were caused by the product or process. My job was to get to the why. At the same time, by taking a few minutes to let the person share how he was feeling, I was able to give Rick the time he needed to gather himself together and continue with the task at hand.

In the end, Rick contributed by uncovering a couple of areas of improvement for the product. And I found that taking a moment to pause, to just be human beings who shared a bit of sympathy, allowed us to resume the interview with dignity and purpose.

I’m reminded of a verse from the song “As Time Goes By” (music and lyrics by Herman Hupfeld) from the classic war-romance movie Casablanca.

You must remember this
A kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh.
The fundamental things apply
As time goes by.

And the fundamental things do apply: never assume and always ask “why?”

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This Week @ Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 9:37 am, Monday July 06 2015

Ugh. The Monday after a long weekend is dislocating. The fact that I stayed up until 2:00 am restoring an errant PC is probably not helping.

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Out and About: Steve in Las Vegas
By Steve Portigal at 9:28 am, Wednesday July 01 2015

I was in Las Vegas last week to kick off a new project. Here’s some of my pictures from my time there.

glitter-gulch

warning

mantis

mural

marquee

711

marquee-2

sock

red

hotel

bitcoin

jerky

texture

somers

chapel

motel

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This Week @ Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 9:28 am, Monday June 29 2015

It’s officially summer!

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This Week @ Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 9:14 am, Monday June 22 2015

Monday, Monday, Monday.

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