- 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 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.
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 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.
Greetings from Southern California
- While a week ago it wasn’t clear what would happen, as it turned out I spent most of last week in Southern California, doing field research in and around Los Angeles. Today I begin to dive into the data with my client to see what opportunities we can identify. The fieldwork was fun and provocative and I expect the discussions to be rewarding. I’ll be working with them on-site and then wrapping up everything by Friday!
- Out on the town: I’ll be at the Gizmodo Happy Hour in LA tonight (Monday). Maybe some Angelenos I know will be there?
- Early next week I’ll be in Seattle for a a workshop and a talk (in collaboration with Dan Szuc).
- At the end of the month, I’ll be in Sydney for UX Australia, where I’ll be leading The Designer is Present workshop and doing a presentation about the War Stories.
- In September, 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.
- Ten years gone: From August 2004 – Correlation is not causation, The Bill Dulmage Radio and Television Archive.
- What we’re consuming: Tsujita, The Ladies’ Gunboat Society at Flores, The Tasting Kitchen, Gjelina, Stella Barra, Donut Friend, DK’s Donuts & Bakery, Chocolatier Blue, Huckleberry Bakery & Cafe, La Isla Bonita, Arts District
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.
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.
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.”
Just another manic Monday!
- I had hoped that I would know about this quick project last Monday but it took til mid-week til we actually were able to move forward. It’s a quick-moving project but it’s also a lot of chaos. As of last week I was going to New York tomorrow and working with a local partner. As of this AM I’m spending the week in LA. As of a little later this AM I am spending most of the week in the Bay Area. Very interesting challenge getting participants, getting clients to go in the field, figuring out where the field will be and what we’ll be doing as well as working through procurement departments and all that. It’s not the most relaxing process but I’m impressed with the amount of wangling my client lead is doing to make this go smoothly.
- As soon as this project wraps up, I’m off to Seattle for a a workshop and a talk (both in collaboration with Dan Szuc). Sign up, local folks!
- I’m so excited for The Designer is Present workshop at UX Australia. I’ll also be doing a presentation about the War Stories.
- In September, 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.
- In case you missed it, four blog posts from last week: What we eat and what we trash, Smart stuff that seems dumb, Contextual research from a bygone era, Don’t put your garbage here! Please!
- Ten years gone: From August 2004 – Queen’s music OK’d in conservative Iran, Ofoto Terms of Service.
- What we’re consuming: vanilla rhubarb compote, Pakwan, gruit, O-CEDAR Twitter support, Alice’s Restaurant, Tafoni sandstone.
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.
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.
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?
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.]
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).
With no nod to naturalism, Gregg Sega shoots portraits of people surrounded by 7 Days of Garbage.
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.
A top of the week to everyone.
- Last week I worked with a prospective client to put together an outline for a three-week project. They are meeting this morning to decide who they are going to work with and hopefully finalize the details of the project, which should have begun first thing today (at least in my proposal!). Depending on what I hear, my next few weeks will follow on of two very different paths!
- I’ve revisited and revised my workshop The Designer is Present, and there is still space left for the next session coming up in Sydney on August 27.
- Dan Szuc and I are doing a workshop and a talk in Seattle on August 19 & 20.
- Early September in Boulder, I’m doing a full-day workshop on user research at UX-STRAT.
- Ten years gone: From July 2004 – Cultural misconceptions smashed by one game of curling, One day, 41 rides, Shrek castration lawsuit.
- What we’re consuming: The Staircase, Hello I Must Be Going, chimney cake, European travel advice, Weird Al’s Mission Statement, Uva Enoteca.
- I kicked off the week sharing my strategic analysis and recommendations with my client. It was a short meeting, mostly with time for me to run through what I had to say, but their team leader gave a nice acknowledgement at the end that they need time to process, at the same time addressing how this type of input can be uncomfortable. She really took ownership of that reaction and gave permission to the rest of the team to feel that way. I think that’s healthy and I’m eager for their questions and challenges when we speak again soon.
- Just announced: Two events in Seattle this August. Dan Szuc and I are doing a small workshop about Healthy and Creative Work Environments and then a presentation the next night, Soft Skills Are Hard: A Journey To Healthier Work.
- UX-STRAT has published a brief interview with me in advance of September’s full-day workshop on Immersive Field Techniques.
- I’ll be listening to Chris Pacione, co-author of the book Innovating for People, speaking online about Innovation Tools: Reframing the Problem on Wednesday.
- Ten years gone: From July 2004 – My cool-hunting moment, Terrible survey from HBO for Entourage viewers, The box doodle project.
- What we’re consuming: Little Lucca, Monty Python, Scoop, nopales, Where Danger Lives.
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).