This Week @ Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 10:04 am, Monday February 23 2015
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Five Questions with Steve Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 8:18 am, Thursday February 19 2015

This Friday I’ll be speaking at 18F in DC about The Power of Bad Ideas. The talk will be streamed here.

In advance of the talk, I answered a few questions about working with clients and planning research projects. Here’s a snippet; more at the 18F site.

SP: I’m intrigued by the user-centered theater — that is to say, people who have a design goal or a strategic need or a hunger for some insights, but who aren’t open to collaborating on how to accomplish that.

You often see this with projects where a client wants to understand something enormously complex and nuanced, and they don’t have any budget or time to do so. This is a big red flag. Sometimes, it’s worthwhile having a conversation to see if they [potential client] are open to feedback on their situation and on alternative ways to work.

In some cases, I’m pleasantly surprised; in many cases, though, I’m usually happy to pass on these projects. The kicker is that many of these folks have often already defined the method they want to use to reach their stated goal. It’s foolhardy to try to help people who have set you up to fail.

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6: Carol Rossi of Edmunds.com
By Steve Portigal at 8:02 am, Wednesday February 18 2015
Part 6 of 6 in the series Dollars to Donuts
Play

Today’s guest is Carol Rossi. She’s the Senior Director of UX Research at Edmunds.com. In our conversation, we discuss her small-but-mighty team, Edmund.com’s collaborative workplace culture, and the personal driver of “doing good.”

We take this business question that’s been given to us…everybody goes into the field, everybody is involved in understanding what the objectives are and laying those out, everybody is involved in regular reports to the executive board…everybody is involved in running the study. – Carol Rossi

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This Week @ Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 9:56 am, Monday February 16 2015
  • It’s a holiday in the U.S., but I’m using this as a work day to try and get caught up. Last week, with the Interaction conference (and my Soft Skills workshop) and my talk at the Design Writing summit, put me behind.
  • I’m headed to DC this Thursday. On Friday I’ll be speaking about The Power of Bad Ideas at 18F, and on Saturday I’ll be leading The Designer is Present at World IA Day DC which will also be streamed.
  • The agency I’m collaborating with is leading a bunch of remote interviews this week; we started last week (in a moment reminiscent of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, the participant took delivery of a pizza during the interview). I’ll be sitting in on a few more this week.
  • Last week on Dollars to Donuts my guest was Kerry McAleer-Forte of Sears. This week we’ll have our final episode of the first series, so stay tuned! If you’ve been enjoying the podcast, you should review it on iTunes.
  • Out on the town: We’ll be at the first Design Museum San Francisco event on Tuesday night.
  • Ten years gone: From February 2005 – My days as a Ticketmaster niterun operator, Forbes on customer input into product development.
  • What we’re consuming: Dungeness crab deviled eggs, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, The Jinx: The Life and Deaths Of Robert Durst.
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5: Kerry McAleer-Forte of Sears Holdings
By Steve Portigal at 8:01 am, Wednesday February 11 2015
Part 5 of 6 in the series Dollars to Donuts
Play

Today’s guest is Kerry McAleer-Forte, the Director of User Experience Research for Sears Holdings. We discuss how researchers need to think like storytellers, getting at the underlying need behind a research request, and the risk of using research to make recommendations.

Tools are important. It’s important to choose the right one, but at the end of the day, they also won’t replace that thing inside your skull, which is your most important tool, which is being able to observe and listen and pull the important story out for your user. – Kerry McAleer-Forte

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This Week @ Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 7:41 am, Monday February 09 2015
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Jenn’s War Story: Burns, Bandages, and BBQ
By Steve Portigal at 9:19 am, Wednesday February 04 2015
Part 71 of 71 in the series War Stories

Jenn Downs is a UX Designer at ShootProof in Atlanta, GA.

I was out of town with a colleague for a full-day customer visit. While getting ready for the day I burned my thumb pretty badly on my hair straightening iron. It was the kind of burn you can soothe for about two seconds before it makes you roll your eyes back and cry out in pain. We’d planned ahead and given ourselves plenty of time that morning, so we had a few minutes to find some burn cream. I ran down to the hotel front desk to see if they had a first aid kit, but they did not. One of the staff offered me a packet of mustard to soothe the burn, perhaps some kind of southern old wives’ tale. I don’t usually believe in food-on-skin remedies, but I wanted it to work. So I let the front desk guy apply the mustard to my thumb.

Two seconds later I was again whimpering in pain, so I just filled a cup with ice water and stuck my thumb in the cup. We sped out to a drugstore. We were staying on the outskirts of a college town and there weren’t many places to find first aid items, but we did finally find the one grocery store that was open before 8 am. I bought everything: burn cream, aloe, bandages, you name it. But nothing worked. Nothing but the cup of ice water could stop me from visibly wincing. We were running out of time and had to head to our meeting, hoping for some kind of miracle.

We found our way to our customers’ office and had to wait for our interviewees to come get us from another part of the building. Fortunately the front desk person was keenly observant and before I could even say anything she’d found a refill of ice water for my aching thumb. And then it was time for the interview. We went in to meet our customers, my thumb fully immersed in the cup of water. We worked for a really creative and weird company and we were visiting a very conservative and traditional southern company, so we were feeling a little out of our element; I thought for a moment that my thumb-on-ice was going to be a disaster, but it was actually a nice ice-breaker (pun not intended).

Then I spilled the cup of ice water all over their conference room table.

In that moment all I could do was laugh at myself and let everyone laugh with me and just continue the conversation as I was cleaning up the mess, calmly and confidently.

It turned out to be a great interview and gave our customers something to joke about with us as we shared a BBQ lunch. Imagine trying to eat ribs with one thumb wrapped up in gauze and burn cream! My confidence through the awkwardness ended up helping them feel comfortable with having strangers in their office all day and we got great information we probably wouldn’t have otherwise. Sometimes you just have to roll with it.

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Jen’s War Story: Bad news turns to couples therapy
By Steve Portigal at 1:55 pm, Tuesday February 03 2015
Part 70 of 71 in the series War Stories


Jen Ignacz is the UX Research Lead at TOPP, a design consultancy focused on helping clients shape future products and services.

I was conducting in-home contextual interviews about home safety and security behaviours. In the recruitment screener, I had found out that a particular participant had experienced a break-in to her home about a year earlier.

When I arrived at her home for the interview, her fiancé was also there and ended up participating extensively in the conversation.

My research partner and I had been with the couple for about 90 minutes and they were obviously feeling quite comfortable; they offered up lots of intimate details about their routines and behaviours and were willing to show us everything and anything. I was pleased that they felt so comfortable with sharing (the woman more than the man).

Part of my protocol was to understand what happened when people find out about bad news about their home, like a fire alarm going off, a break-in, a water leak, etc. So, after 90 minutes of talking about home safety and security routines, I posed the question: “Now I want to talk about what you do when you get bad news. You mentioned that you had a break-in last year. Can you tell me about what happened?”

As I was asking, the couple looked at each other and an awkward silence fell over the room as I finished the question. They held each other’s gaze for longer than was comfortable (for us). Their sudden change in behaviour told me I had hit on a sore spot.

The woman broke the silence, still holding her partner’s gaze, saying “That’s not what I consider bad news. Your child dying is bad news.” Then a whispered “Do you not want to talk about this?” to her fiancé.

My research partner and I froze as if hoping that by not moving, time could stand still for us while they dealt with this incredibly intense personal moment.

The couple started to talk about the experience of losing a pregnancy in the second trimester about a year earlier. (I made the realisation when reviewing the recordings that the break-in happened around the same time as the miscarriage, so asking the question the way I did allowed for a connection between events I could not have anticipated). They spoke quietly and mostly to each other, but engaged me more and more in their conversation as they went along.

As a researcher, this felt way off-topic and I was trying to think of ways to get the interview back on track. But as a human being, I felt the need to let them deal with this issue that seemed difficult for them to talk about. From their conversation, it was quite clear they each were still working through their emotions and likely didn’t speak about it to each other often enough. I wasn’t going to shut down an opportunity for them to make emotional progress just because it didn’t fit anywhere close to my research goals.

So, I let them talk. And I even guided them to share some feelings with each other. I took on a counseling role; a total deviation from the research plan.

After about ten minutes, they turned to me and said “That’s probably not what you meant.”

I was honest with them. I told them it wasn’t the the type of bad news event I was thinking about, but the conversation helped me learn more about who they are; their values, morals, and perspectives on life. Getting a better sense of who they are ultimately helps me understand their motives for their behaviours better.

My response allowed us to carefully ramp back up to the interview protocol. I was very cautious with that transition. I had to ensure that the trust and openness we had established in the first 90 minutes wasn’t harmed by the unexpectedly exposed vulnerability. It didn’t seem to be. I was able to complete the remaining hour of the visit with just as much insights and openness as we had before.

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This Week @ Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 10:24 am, Monday February 02 2015
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4: Nancy Frishberg of Financial Engines
By Steve Portigal at 5:25 am, Wednesday January 28 2015
Part 4 of 6 in the series Dollars to Donuts
Play

My guest today is Nancy Frishberg, the manager of user research at Financial Engines. We discuss recruiting participants in an enterprise setting (where users are customers of your customers), finding the generative in the evaluative and how to think about collaborative workspace as entirely separate from reporting structure.

Everybody in the organization should be interested in user research and care about what our users think and have opinions based in fact, and just not see their own experience as one facet of many people’s experiences. – Nancy Frishberg

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ChittahChattah Quickies
By Steve Portigal at 10:28 am, Tuesday January 27 2015

It’s been a while since I posted short snippets around links I’ve found fascinating, and while that means these stories don’t come out of this week’s news, I think they are all are provocative and worth being aware of.

Marketers change pronunciation in ads to attract shoppers [CBC] – The value of the Z as a cultural indicator when selling products in Canada. Canadian companies remind of their status by highlighting the “zed” while some American companies will create a Canadian-specific ad, replacing “zee: with “zed” (depending on the product and it’s meaning – and cost)

Because cars are so closely tied to image and identity, it’s very important to get that identity correct when speaking to Canadian car buyers. But in the end, it all comes down to dollars and cents. If the product is low-end and utilitarian, marketers will go cheap and run the U.S. product name, commercial and pronunciation in both countries.

But when there’s a risk of offending the identity of Canadian buyers of big ticket items, marketers will spend the extra loonies to do a custom version for Canada.

Threat of Death Makes People Go Shopping [Inkfish] – Here’s a finding that we really don’t want to see in the wrong hands!

Nothing says “Let’s hit the outlet mall” like nearly being wiped out by a rocket. A study of both Americans and terrorized Israelis suggests that certain people respond to the threat of death by going shopping. Because if it’s your time to go, you may as well be wearing the latest from Forever 21 Michigan State University marketing professor Ayalla Ruvio and her colleagues performed two studies of potential shoppers. The first took place in Israel. Questionnaires were handed out at a community center in a town just one kilometer from the Gaza Strip, during six months of daily rocket attacks there in 2007. The same surveys were distributed in a second town farther from the fighting, where residents were aware of the violence but not in direct danger. The questionnaires were meant to ferret out a few different answers about people. Did they experience post-traumatic symptoms such as nightmares or memory loss? Did they cope with negative feelings by buying things? How often did they return from a shopping trip with items they hadn’t meant to purchase? Other questions assessed how materialistic the subjects were-did they place a lot of value on owning nice things? Israelis who were experiencing daily rocket attacks, unsurprisingly, reported more post-traumatic stress. People who felt more stress admitted to more compulsive or impulsive shopping behaviors. And both these effects (feeling stress and going shopping) were stronger in more materialistic people. For their second study, the researchers used a group of 855 American subjects, meant to be demographically representative of the U.S. population overall. Subjects filled out an online survey that measured their materialism, shopping habits, and how much they thought about their own death, as well as other factors. Once again, for people who were more materialistic, there was a relationship between fear of death and impulse buying.

Because the more materialistic Israelis experienced more stress, the researchers think “materialism makes bad events even worse.” And when materialistic people feel threatened, they buy things they don’t really want (or maybe can’t afford). The findings don’t only apply to people living in the Middle East. Events that make people fear for their lives can include car accidents, assaults, and natural disasters. Yet Ruvio puts a positive spin on the ubiquity of trauma. “This presents an opportunity for both manufacturers of impulse items and the retailers that sell these products,” she writes. When a severe storm or a military crisis is brewing, she suggests stores put their high-profit-margin items up front where impulse shoppers will see them.

While retailers may be able to benefit from people’s crises, shoppers themselves won’t. Previous research, Ruvio writes, shows that “most materialistic individuals derive little satisfaction from their consumption activities.” So much for retail therapy.

Weird T-Shirts Designed To Confuse Facebook’s Auto-Tagging [Wired Design] – The space where conceptual art meets technology can be interesting, where working solutions can be produced to comment on the problem without fully solving it, and yet point the way to a possible future where those problems are addressed this way.

How to fight back? Just buy one of Simone C. Niquille’s “REALFACE Glamoflage” T-shirts, a series of bizarre, visage-covered garments designed specifically to give Facebook’s facial recognition software the runaround.

Niquille dreamed up the shirts as part of her master’s thesis in graphic design at the Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam. FaceValue, as the thesis is titled, imagines new design solutions for the near-future, mining the ripe intersection of privacy, pattern recognition and biometrics. The shirts, custom-printed for around $65, are one of three such imaginings–a tongue-halfway-in-cheek tool for pushing back against the emerging trends of ubiquitous, computer-aided recognition. Covered in distorted faces of celebrity impersonators, they’re designed to keep Facebook’s algorithms guessing about what–or more accurately who–they’re looking at.

“I was interested in the T-shirt as a mundane commodity,” Niquille explains. “An article of clothing that in most cases does not need much consideration in the morning in front of the closet…I was interested in creating a tool for privacy protection that wouldn’t require much time to think in the morning, an accessory that would seamlessly fit in your existing everyday. No adaption period needed.”

Promoting Health With Enticing Photos of Fruits and Vegetables [NYT] – Bolthouse Farms created a fanciful website that visualizes food-related social media content.

“It’s not that I don’t have an Oreo every once in a while,” Mr. Putman said. “We just want folks to understand that beautiful carrots have badge value the same way peanut butter, chocolate pie does.” Having badge value means something is interesting enough to deserve a hashtag.

Bitcoin Beauties promotes use of currency by women [SFGate] – If this provides empowerment to someone, then that’s great. But I don’t understand this at all. It seems like Trending Topic + Nekkid Ladies = something.

The company’s slogan is “Beauty, Brains, Bitcoin.” Its logo is a sketch of two voluptuous, nude women, posing pin-up style beside the stylized bitcoin “B.” The company website, yet to be completed, is now a photo collage of women, some topless, silhouetted against a beach sunset. Blincoe refers to members as “our beauties.” For Blincoe, there is urgency in staking a claim for women in the highly lucrative world of bitcoin, a crypto currency that by many accounts has the potential to shape the future of how transactions take place and currency flows online. For now, the main function of Bitcoin Beauties is hosting a small-but-growing weekly gathering where women talk bitcoin.

The Anti-Digit Dialing League [Orange Crate Art] – A mostly-forgotten (and mostly unsuccessful) rebellion against a technological advance. Also see the followup here.

The Anti-Digit Dialing League was a short-lived movement that arose in 1962 and faded, it would seem, in 1964. Founded in San Francisco, the ADDL opposed “creeping numeralism” and fought a losing battle to preserve the use of telephone exchange names.

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This Week @ Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 8:17 am, Monday January 26 2015
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Steve Speaking About The Writing Process At The Design Writing Summit
By Steve Portigal at 2:46 pm, Sunday January 25 2015

Steve will be leading a session about the writing process at The Design Writing Summit on February 12 in San Francisco.

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Dollars to Donuts: Behind The Music
By Steve Portigal at 8:28 am, Thursday January 22 2015

My new Dollars to Donuts podcast features a nifty bit of intro and outro music. In the podcast you just hear snippets of the song, written expressly for the podcast by my brother-in-law, Bruce Todd. I’ve long been an admirer of Bruce’s songwriting and playing and overall musical thang, and it was an absolute thrill to have him create a piece of music for me.

Now you can hear the whole piece!

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.

Since we’re all about digging into creative processes, here’s Bruce’s explanation of how he developed this music.

This song came to light through questions and (heaven forbid) assumptions about what Steve was looking for or better yet – listening for. Based on some email conversations and musical examples, I had a rough idea that the music had to be relatively fast-paced, rocking and attention=grabbing. Since Steve had some alternatives there was no pressure for me to actually produce anything and this allowed me to experiment and take a few small sound risks. Most of this recording was completed through digital amplification or direct line inputs which allowed me to work quietly and at my leisure (everything except vocals). Often when recording instruments with microphones you need a quiet peaceful environment which I don’t always have access to in my (non-soundproofed) home studio.

I began by finding a drum track: a simple upbeat 4/4 rock drum track which I had used on a previous recording (having exported the tracks from a master file and imported to my Tascam DP 32 Portastudio). Then the fun began. Knowing that the end result would be used as a short clip, I laid down about 2 minutes of drums and then pulled out my Fender Telecaster and began to experiment with a riff. This came pretty quickly as it is quite a simple progression in the key of F-sharp. Next, I plugged in my Vox DA5 (5-watt digital amplifier) and located an overdrive sound I liked and added a small amount of delay. I recorded two tracks with the same guitar sound and panned the tracks left and right, which results in creating a thicker overall sound by doubling the part. After the rhythm guitar tracks were completed I worked on the bass part. I ran the bass also through the little digital Vox and added compression which brought out a punchy bass track (this is a discovery I have been using on my other recordings ever since). Once drums, guitar and bass were complete I left the recording for a few days so I could revisit the idea when I was ready.

Coming back, I wasn’t too sure I liked what I had. If this was a more serious venture I would have probably scrapped the idea. Given that I wasn’t overly convinced that the song idea had much merit I thought I would have my young daughters (Talia 8, Arianna, 4) join me and be exposed to the recording process. Regardless of what the end result was I was sure Uncle Steve would get a kick out of his nieces being involved. Talia has a small electronic keyboard which I plugged into the Portastudio, and I gave her some headphones and had her play along with the guitar, bass and drums. Her first track was a keeper as she found a funny sound and played a part that complimented the space that the guitar riff left. Then Arianna played a part with a toy instrument of hers (in the end this track did not make it on the recording). The girls also helped me do a little vocal improvisation which also didn’t make the master mix but helped me get to the next part of the recording.

recording-1
recording-2

Several days again went by until I felt ready to listen to the song and see what was there and what else I could add. I went back to my guitar and found another overdrive tone which I overlaid with the auto-wah pedal sound setting on the Vox DA5. This was a lucky choice as I think it is what gets the attention of the listener at the beginning of the song. The track is pretty much one big lead guitar riff which from time to time stops and echoes the rhythm guitar tracks. This was a fun part for me as was the final vocal tracks. For the vocal tracks I ran a Shure 57 through the Vox DA 5 flanger setting with a lot of flange and overdrive and experimented by saying “Talk it Out” and by making other weird sounds. I mixed the song and sent it digitally via email to Steve – and to my surprise received a very nice response.

And that is how Dollars to Donuts found its music.

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3: Frances Karandy of Citrix
By Steve Portigal at 8:03 am, Wednesday January 21 2015
Part 3 of 6 in the series Dollars to Donuts
Play

Today’s guest is Frances Karandy, a senior manager within the Customer Experience Group at Citrix. We discuss doing product-focused research in a company with a large number of products, what to look for when hiring researchers, and how to select projects that not only support the business but also help team members to develop.

Design goes hand in hand with research.. it’s about solving complex problems. How do we improve not just the UI or the screen, but also the product itself? – Frances Karandy

Follow Dollars to Donuts on Twitter (and Stitcher) and show us some love by leaving a review on iTunes.

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