This Week @ Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 7:25 pm, Monday September 01 2014
  • 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.
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This Week @ Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 8:45 am, Monday August 25 2014

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 Boulder and 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.
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Steve on Tuesday #TechHour
By Steve Portigal at 10:50 am, Wednesday August 20 2014

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.”

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

To download the audio Right-Click and Save As… (Windows) or Ctrl-Click (Mac).

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This Week @ Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 8:24 am, Monday August 18 2014

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 Boulder and 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.
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Vote for my SXSW War Stories talk
By Steve Portigal at 10:50 am, Tuesday August 12 2014

I’ve taking the story of the War Stories on the road lately. I spoke at CHIFOO in June and will be talking at UX Australia in few weeks.

I’ve proposed a similar talk for SXSW 2015. Part of their selection process involves commenting and voting from the public. Please comment on and vote for my talk!

Vote here!

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This Week @ Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 7:57 am, Monday August 11 2014

Greetings from Southern California

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Overcoming bias and developing empathy
By Steve Portigal at 11:35 am, Tuesday August 05 2014

Here are two interesting articles that feed right into the themes of my workshop, The Designer is Present, happening at the end of this month at UX Australia.

bias

An Appeal to Our Inner Judge is about how biases – judgements we make quickly about others – are natural but can be overcome. The excerpt below comes at the end and is applicable to many things, not the least of which is becoming a better user researcher.

Recognize and accept that you have biases. Develop the capacity to observe yourself in action and to notice when certain people or circumstances serve as triggers.

Learning to slow down decision-making, especially when it affects other people, can help reduce the impact of bias. This can be particularly important when we are in circumstances that make us feel awkward or uncomfortable.

quiet

No Time to Think considers our always-on culture and the reluctance we have (as a result?) to be in the off position and (ulp!) alone with our thoughts. In the quoted part below, from the end of the article, it makes the case for what I’m aiming for with the workshop; that presence and mindfulness are essential for the work that many of us are doing.

Studies suggest that [a lack of presence] impairs your ability to empathize with others. “The more in touch with my own feelings and experiences, the richer and more accurate are my guesses of what passes through another person’s mind. Feeling what you feel is an ability that atrophies if you don’t use it.”

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This Week @ Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 11:48 am, Monday August 04 2014

Just another manic Monday!

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Don’t put your garbage here! Please!
By Steve Portigal at 1:17 pm, Thursday July 31 2014

sleep-study

I encountered this box recently at my local medical office. It’s a squat white bin with a wide black opening near the top. It looks a lot like a trash bin. Obviously I’m not the only person that reacted that way, because they’ve tried desperately and ineffectively (with EXTRA SIGNS as they so love to do in healthcare) to communicate that. There are three signs (see the orange pointer) telling you what the box is for (dropping off sleep study equipment) and two signs (the purple pointer) telling you what it’s not for (it’s not for garbage).

That’s five different signs, only two of which even vaguely cohere with each other (the red tape), all requiring English. The net effect is chaotic. There’s no empathy here; each message acts as if its the only one, without awareness of the others.

And still – the thing looks like a garbage bin! That message is loud and clear and no amount of signage will get around that. But the staff who have to pick the garbage out of there have no control over the bin’s design and so they are left with their default tool: signage.

I wonder if they could do better if they went further, such as painting the white surface and/or the black flap to more strongly shift the meaning. Or by having a sleep study device (which comes in a little carrying case) or at least a large icon near the opening. And a garbage bin nearby. The tactic would be to communicate more visually and directly what stuff (sleep study devices, trash) goes where and not rely on words. Until then, they can expect more trash.

See previously Signs to Override Human Nature? as well as other writing about post-design.

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Contextual research from a bygone era
By Steve Portigal at 10:56 am, Wednesday July 30 2014

While listening to This American Life I learned about Roger Barker, a psych professor who turned the small Kansas town of Oskaloosa into a laboratory in the late 1940s.

Barker was one of the most extraordinary — and least known — figures in the history of psychology. Shortly after he became chair of the KU psychology department in the late 1940s, he relocated his family to Oskaloosa to observe and gather data about the residents who lived in the town, population 725.

At that time, psychological research was primarily done in laboratories. “It was the era of running rats through mazes to understand human behavior,” he said. “Barker said you won’t learn about any real human behavior in a laboratory. If psychologists want to understand human behavior in the real world, they must enter the real world.”

More from this article

Among Barker’s more unusual efforts was a 1951 paper he co-wrote under the title “One Boy’s Day.”

It chronicled 14 hours in the life of a local boy with the pseudonym Raymond Birch . He was 7 when Raymond’s parents allowed the Midwest Psychological Field Station to record his every movement, according to Sabar’s book:

7:00. Mrs. Birch said with pleasant casualness, ‘Raymond, wake up. …’
7:01. Raymond picked up a sock and began tugging and pulling it on his left foot. …
7:07. Raymond turned to his dresser and rummaged around among the things on it until he obtained a candy Easter egg for his dog.

The notations, archived at KU, track Raymond on his walk to school. He finds a baseball bat in the grass and swings it, accidentally striking a flagpole.

“This made a wonderful, hollow noise,” researchers wrote, “so he proceeded to hit the flagpole again.”

Barker eschewed academic prose and wanted his charges to record any telling, prosaic detail.

Through the 1950s, Oskaloosans grew accustomed to the sight of a child being shadowed by a note-scribbling adult. In published papers, this was the town of “Midwest,” in keeping with the scientific practice of shielding the identity of the subjects being examined.

Barker’s work differed from other scholarly studies of places such as Muncie, Ind., (Middletown) and Candor, N.Y., (Springdale) in at least two ways.

First, it focused less on class and politics and more on the relationships that made kids feel comfortable.

Second, Barker’s family settled into Oskaloosa as a permanent home. Roger and Louise continued to live there until their deaths, Roger’s in 1990 at age 87 and Louise’s in 2009 at 102.

While Barker used many methods, the part that struck me was his belief that simply documenting in exhaustive detail the ordinary activities throughout the day would somehow provide some additional insight. What would Barker have made of today’s era of personal analytics, data smog, quantified self and beyond?

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Smart stuff that seems dumb
By Steve Portigal at 9:07 am, Monday July 28 2014

Watch and laugh as Stephen Colbert takes on the Vessyl smart cup. While the company’s video patiently explains the features, their benefits and the design rationale, Colbert calls out the ridiculous jargon (e.g,. “real-time” is not something novel for people in their daily lives which of course take place in real time) and – most devastatingly – the lack of a compelling use case.

This is the barrier all Internet-of-Things things will have to overcome – so what? Why does it matter to me that I can do this with that and with my iPhone? This recent review of Belkin’s Smartphone-Controlled Crock-Pot – a product that is currently shipping from a major manufacturer – says that it” feels more like a solution in search of a problem.” While the crock-pot isn’t as ridiculous (as it’s presented without the overblown ego), it shows just how immature today’s products are.

I recommend these companies aim their products at the hobbyist/maker users who will figure out what they might actually be good for and otherwise keep them in the lab until they are compelling to regular people.

[Disclosure: I bought a smart light bulb via Kickstarter a while back. I can change it to any color or brightness using my iPhone. I also have to use the smartphone to turn it off and on (properly) which takes about 35 seconds. I just put it back in our "light bulbs" box in the closet.]

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What we eat and what we trash
By Steve Portigal at 8:45 am, Monday July 28 2014

There’s no end of photography projects documenting an ordinary aspect of life, across diverse individuals, with the hope of throwing some light on who we are and how we live now. Or how others live. It’s art with the frisson of anthropology. Here’s another two in the same vein, each looking at different elements of our consumption.

Dinner in NY by Miho Aikawa looks at people having dinner, in New York (hence the clever title).

cat
couch
mushroom

Also see Dinner in Tokyo and read more at Slate.

With no nod to naturalism, Gregg Sega shoots portraits of people surrounded by 7 Days of Garbage.

one
two
three

Also see the fascinating project frogdesign did back in 2007, where staff blogged about the trash they found themselves accumulating throughout a regular week, and read more about Gregg Saga’s project at Slate.

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This Week @ Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 8:09 am, Monday July 28 2014

A top of the week to everyone.

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This Week @ Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 11:42 am, Monday July 21 2014

Hello y’all!

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The veneer of empathy
By Steve Portigal at 11:18 am, Thursday July 17 2014

14USAToday1-master675

From this article about newsroom practices at USA Today

For Social Media Tuesdays, the staff must act as if there is no other way to get their articles except through sites likes Facebook and Reddit. That means USA Today’s journalists diligently place each of their famously punchy, graphic-rich stories onto various social media platforms. The purpose is to get them thinking like their readers, who increasingly get news through their Twitter feeds instead of the paper’s front page or home page.

“Think like your reader” is a generous framing as it highlights empathy, and who wouldn’t want their company, their products, their staff to be more empathetic? In fact, trying to get attention through social media is an exercise in manipulation (see Harry McCracken’s analysis/history of the “restore your faith in humanity” flavor of linkbait). That’s not empathy.

I’m not sure if this distortion was introduced by the reporter directly or whether they simply took what they were given at face value. Either way, that’s poor journalism (which is ironic in an article about the challenges facing the newspaper industry).

Now, the idea of taking what you know how to do and setting it aside, as a creative constraint, is a fabulous approach, like something from Oblique Strategies (See more about Brian Eno, one of the creators of Oblique Strategies, in this great article about his approach to art and creativity).

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