Seventeen ways to not suck at research
By Steve Portigal at 2:13 pm, Tuesday May 08 2007


I spoke recently at Shift, the IDSA conference held at RISD. I outlined seventeen ways to not suck at research:

1. Quit worrying about jargon
2. Think more broadly about which people you want to learn about
3. Garbage in, garbage out
4. Give other people the space to tell their stories
5. Follow up, and then follow up, and then follow up
6. Do you really want to use a survey? Probably not.
7. Collect and use natural language
8. Don’t forget that any research process with real live humans is hard
9. Breathe their air
10. Learning anything new requires rapport, and building rapport takes time
11. Finding insights requires pattern matching, creativity, synthesis
12. Personas are user-centered bullshit
13. Phil McKinney says “You’re probably not listening.”
14. Practice noticing stuff and telling stories (updated: read more here)
15. Do some improv
16. Embrace pop culture
17. Don’t forget about culture and social norms

The presentation was very well received, and I hope to share this material with another group before too long.

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16 Responses to “Seventeen ways to not suck at research”

    links from Technoratitools around it. Maybe they could even innovate something new while they are at it. Are we really at the point where reputable news services can create stories based on MySpace pages and email interviews? What is an email interview anyway? #13 of Steve Portigal’s Seventeen ways to not suck at research is: Phil McKinney says, “You’re probably not listening.” How do you listen in an email interview? I guess there weren’t many follow-up questions.

    Pingback by User Experience Arts 05.16.07 @ 10:46 am


    How about a post on #12? I’d love to hear the story.

    Comment by dennis 05.10.07 @ 6:56 am


    […] Lifted straight from a post by Steve Portigal, the principal in “a boutique firm that brings together user research, design and business strategy”.¬ ¬ Read it. Live it. ¬ […]

    Pingback by Canuckflack / How not to suck at research 05.15.07 @ 1:21 pm


    Kramer auto Pingback[…] Lire l’article original Publié par Gabriel Rodrigue  le mercredi 16 mai 2007 à 10H10 Commentez | Envoyez | Imprimez cet article […]

    Pingback by R?©ussir en groupe de recherche 05.22.07 @ 8:57 pm


    […] I’m not being a research snob here. I understand the timeline didn’t support the teams doing their own research. But Microsoft supplied personals. Aren’t personals proxies for research? Or, are they, (as I’ve said before) simply user-centered bullshit. For all the power they are supposed to have with design teams to keep them focused on designing for the user, they didn’t help at all in this case. […]

    Pingback by All This ChittahChattah : Blog Archive : Dan and Steve write: We express ourselves 06.29.07 @ 12:59 pm


    links from Technoratito make the craft seem “scientific”. But why spend time defining the characteristics of each segment if it turns out everybody is a mix of all of them -“a Straddler . . . with certain Learner/Navigator undercurrents”? Agreed. As I’vewritten before, personas are user-centered bullshit.

    Pingback by Vlakonline 10.07.07 @ 10:54 pm


    Kramer auto Pingback[…] Steve Portigal: “Personas are user-centered bullshit”. […]

    Pingback by Peter Van Dijck’s Guide to Ease » Blog Archive » Personas are user-centered bullshit 12.21.07 @ 8:56 am


    links from TechnoratiAll This ChittahChattah: Seventeen ways to not suck at research

    Pingback by Matkalla: Blog 12.23.07 @ 11:56 am


    Kramer auto Pingback[…] Steve Portigal, whom I’ve met and whom I don’t think is insane, recently said in a presentation that “personas are user-centered bullshit”. […]

    Pingback by Personas and the Advantage of Designing for Yourself - Bokardo 01.21.08 @ 6:30 am


    Kramer auto Pingback[…] Personas sind hip, ohne Frage. Kein Portal zum Thema Informationsarchitektur oder User Experience, in dem das Thema nicht diskutiert wird. In der Forrester Wave EuropeanInteractive Agencies Q4 2007 wird das Arbeiten mit Personas sogar (als einzige Methode) als Kriterium f?ºr die Bewertung von Agenturen verwendet. Ich denke, man sollte den Einsatz von Personas genau abwägen. Auf der einen Seite k??nnen sie helfen, Zielgruppen zu kommunizieren (zum beispiel an den Kunden). Dadurch das abstrakten Research-Daten durch eine konkrete Person dargestellt werden, besteht jedoch die Gefahr, Eigenschaften und Bed?ºrfnisse zu kommunizieren, die sich aus dem Research gar nicht ergeben, die aber durch Abbildung und Beschreibung der Person impliziert werden.Joshua Porter hat einen sehr lesenswerten Beitrag verfasst, den er Personas and the Advantage of Designing for Yourself nennt. Darin fragt er zurecht, warum Personas eigentlich bisher so unscharf definiert sind, und warum so wenige Beispiel ver??ffentlicht wurden. Er stellt zudem verschiedene Meinungen zu Personas gegen?ºber, beispielsweise die von Steve Portigal, der in einer Präsentation meint, “personas are user-centered bullshit” und die von Peter Merholz, der Personas “enormously valuable” findet.Joshua Porter: Personas and the Advantage of Designing for Yourself […]

    Pingback by Integrierte Informationsarchitektur - das Blog von Henrik Arndt 01.24.08 @ 12:06 am


    Kramer auto Pingback[…] Par Eric DI POL, mercredi 30 janvier 2008 :: Méthodologie – Conception :: #202 :: rss Un des sujets du moment dans la blogosph?®re US du design interactif concerne l’utilisation des personas. Steve Portigal a attaqué le premier, déclarant “Personas are user-centered bullshit”. Joshua Porter (Bokardo design) a riposté, suivi de Peter Moholz, Adaptative Path a suivi, Jared Spool a remis une couche…Bref, c’est ce qu’on appelle une conversation animée ;-) […]

    Pingback by Personas or not Personas ? - SuperFiction, le blog ::: marketing interactif, experience utilisateur, conception multimedia 01.30.08 @ 2:46 pm


    Kramer auto Pingback[…] ÁâàÊùÉ£?ÊòéÔºöË?¨Ë??Êó?ËØ?‰ª•Ë?ÖÈìæÊé•Â?¢ÂºèʆáÊòéÊñáÁ´†ÂéüÂßãÂá?§ÑÂíå‰?úËÄÖ‰ø°ÊÅØÂèäÊú¨Â£?Êòéhttp://uiclub.blogbus.com/logs/17806287.html Âú®Á†îÁ©?‰??Ê?°ÊúâË¢´Âê?Êî?ÁöÑ17 ÁßçÊñ?Ê?ï________by Steve Portigal       Ëô?ÁÑ?ËøòÊ?°ÊúâÂú®Â?•‰?ú‰??ÂÖ?‰?ì±ïºÄÁî®Êà?ËßíËâ?ÁöÑʶÇÂøµÔºå‰?ÜÊàë‰?ÄÁõ¥ÂÖ?Ê?®ÁùÄpersonasÁöÑÂèë±ïԺ剪䧩ÁúãÂà?Steve Portigal Âú®Shift‰?äÁöÑÂèëË®ÄÔºåÁ®çÊÑüÂ??Âæ®ÔºåÂÖ?ÂÆûÊàë‰?üÂú®‰?ÄÁõ¥ÂèçÈóÆpersonasÁöÑÂÖ?‰?쉪?Âĺ‰?ïÂú®ÔºåÊÑüÊÄßÂíåÁêÜÊÄßÁöÑÂàÜÊûêËææÊàêÁöÑÁªìÊûúËÉ?ÁªôÊà뉪¨ËÆæËÆ°Â?¶Êù•Ë¥®ÁöÑÂèòÂåñ‰?àÔºü      Âú®IDSAÁöщºöËÆƉ?äSteve Portigal ËÆ?‰?Ü17Êù°‰?ç˶ÅÂê?Êî?ÁöÑÊñ?Ê?ïÔºåÊîæÂà?ËøôÈáå§ßÂÆ?Êù•ËØÑÂ৉?ã„ÄÇ“ÁôæÂÆ?‰?âÈ?£ÔºåÁôæËä±È?êÊîæ”ÊàëÁï•ÂæÆÁøªËØë‰?܉?ãÔºåÂè؉ª•ÂéªÁúãÂéüÊñáÔºöSeventeen ways to not suck at research ÊàëÊúÄËøëÂú®RISD‰?æË°åÁöÑIDSA‰ºöËÆƉ?äËÆ?ËØùÔºåÊàëÁï•Ëø?17ÁßçÊñ?ºè‰?çÂ?îÂú®Á†îÁ©?‰??Ë¢´Âê?Êî?Ôºö 1. ÊëÜËѱÊúØËØ? ÔºàjargonË°åËØù„ÄÅȪëËØù„ÄÅÁ?ó‰øó‰?ãʵÅÁöÑËØùÔºâÁöÑÈ™öÊâ?ÊäòÁ£®Ôºõ 2. ÂØ?‰?†ÊÉ?˶ʼn?ÜËߣÁöÑÂ왉?õ‰??ËøõË°åÊõ¥Â?øÊ?õÁöÑÊÄùÁ¥¢Ôºõ3. ÂûÉÂúæËøõÔºåÂûÉÂúæÂá?ÔºàÊÇñÂÖ•ÊÇñÂá?ÔºâÔºõ 4. Áªô‰ªñ‰??Á©?Èó¥ËÆ?Ëø?‰ªñ‰ª¨ÁöÑÊïÖ‰?ãÔºõ 5. Ëø?Ë?™ÔºåÁÑ?ÂêéËø?Ë?™ÔºåÁªßÁª?Ëø?Ë?™ 6. ‰?†ÁúüÁöÑÊÉ?˶ÅÂÅö‰?Äʨ°Ë?ÉÊü•ÂêóÔºüÊàñËÆ?Ê?°ÂøÖ˶ÅÔºõ 7. Êî?ÈõÜÂ??‰?øÁî®Ëá™ÁÑ?ËØ?Ë®ÄÔºõ 8. ‰?ç˶ÅÂøòËÆ?‰ªª‰?ï‰?éÁé?ÂÆûÁîüÊ¥ª‰??ÁöÑÁ†îÁ©?ËøáÁ®ãÊòØËâ?ÈöæÁöÑÔºõ 9. ÂëºÂê?‰ªñ‰ª¨ÁöÑÁ©?Ê?îÔºõ 10. Â?¶‰?†‰?éÊñ?ÈúÄʱÇÁ¥ßÂØÜÁõ?ÂÖ?Áöщªª‰?ï‰?ãÊÉÖÔºåÂ??‰?îª?Á´ã‰?é‰?ãÁõ?ÂÖ?ÁöÑËé?ÂèñÊó?Èó¥Ôºõ 11. ÂتÊâæÊ¥ûÂØüÈúÄʱÇÊ®°ÂûãÁöщ?ÄËá¥ÊÄßÔºåÂàõÈĆÊÄßÔºåÁªºÂêàÊÄßÔºõ 12. PersonaÊòØÁî®Êà?‰??ÂøÉÁöÑËÉ°ËØ¥Ôºõ 13. Ëè?Â?î·È?¶ÈáëÂ?ºÔºàPhil McKinneyÔºâËØ¥“ÊàñËÆ?‰?†Ê?°ÊúâÂÄæÂꨔԺõ 14. ÂÆûË°åÂÖ¨ÂëäÂÜÖÂÆ?ÂíåÁîüÂä®ÁöÑÊïÖ‰?ã(Êõ¥Êñ?ÔºöËضÁªÜ‰?ÜËߣ)Ôºõ15. ÂÅö‰?ĉ?õÂç?Â֥˰®ÊºîÔºõ 16. Êé•ÂèóʵÅË°åÊñáÂåñÔºõ 17. Âà´Âøò‰?ÜÊñáÂåñÂíåÁ§æ‰ºöËßÑËåÉÔºõ ÈöèÊú?ÊñáÁ´†Ôºö2008Â?¥Âà?Êù•‰?Ü…… 2008-02-06§©ÂçóÂú?ÂåóËØ¥Êñ?ÈóªÔºÅ 2007-12-04Âú®Ë?؉?äÔºø‰??Ëá™Â?äÁöÑÁîüÂ?òԺŠ2007-11-18Ryana(UXstudy)ÁöÑÊù•‰ø°! 2007-10-16PV,PR, 2007-06-02Êî?ËóèÂà?ÔºöDel.icio.us TagÔºö ºïÁî®Âú?ÂùÄÔºö jameguilin ÂèëË°®‰?é14:30:22 | ÁºñËæë | ÁªßÁª?ËØùÈ¢ò | Ë?¨Âèë | Êé®Ëçê […]

    Pingback by Âú®Á†îÁ©?‰??Ê?°ÊúâË¢´Âê?Êî?ÁöÑ17 ÁßçÊñ?Ê?ï - UI‰?êÂõ? - ÂçöÂƢ§ßÂ?¥ 03.28.08 @ 7:54 pm


    Kramer auto Pingback[…] —–æø÷–?ª±ªŒ¸ ’µƒ17÷÷???®-UIéøÕæ´—°(201) ?˜’?£? Steve Portigal ¿¥‘¥£? UI¿÷‘?  ±º‰£? 2008ƒÍ4‘¬1»’ À‰»ªª??ª”–‘?ä?˜÷–æ?ÃÂ’?ø™”?ªß?«…´µƒ??ƒÓ£¨µ´Œ““ª÷±?ÿ?¢??personasµƒ?¢’?£¨?ÒÃÏø¥µ?Steve Portigal ‘?Shift…œµƒ?¢—‘£¨…‘?–·›·Â£¨?‰ µŒ““?‘?“ª÷±?¥Œ personasµƒæ?ú€÷µ?Œ‘?£¨?––‘?Õ¿Ì–‘µƒ?÷Œˆ¥Ô?…µƒ?·??ƒ‹?¯Œ“?«…˺?¥¯¿¥÷ µƒ±‰ªØ?¥£ø ‘?IDSAµƒª·“È…œSteve Portigal ??¡À17Ã??ª“™Œ¸ ’µƒ???®£¨??µ?’‚¿Ô¥Ûº“¿¥?¿?–œ¬°£°??Ÿº“’???£¨?Ÿª®?Î??°± Œ“¬‘Œ¢??“ΡÀœ¬£¨ø…“‘»•ø¥‘?Œƒ£?Seventeen ways to not suck at research Œ“?Ó?¸‘?RISD柖–µƒIDSAª·“È…œ??ª?£¨Œ“¬‘ ˆ17÷÷?? ??ª”¶‘?—–æø÷–±ªŒ¸ ’£? 1. ??Õ— ?”Ô £®jargon––ª?°¢??ª?°¢¥÷À?œ¬¡˜µƒª?£©µƒ…ß»?’€ƒ•£ª 2. ?‘ƒ„œÎ“™¡À?‚µƒƒƒ–©»À?¯––?¸?„??µƒÀºÀ˜£ª3. ¿¨ª¯?¯£¨¿¨ª¯?ˆ£®„£»Î„£?ˆ£©£ª 4. ?¯À?»Àø’º‰?? ˆÀ??«µƒ?  ¬£ª 5. ???Ÿ£¨»ª?Û???Ÿ£¨ºÃ–¯???Ÿ 6. ƒ„’ʵƒœÎ“™?ˆ“ª¥Œµ˜?Ȭ?£øªÚ–Ì?ª±ÿ“™£ª 7.  ’ºØ?¢ ?”??‘»ª”Ô—‘£ª 8. ?ª“™Õ¸º«»Œ?Œ”Îœ÷ µ…?ªÓ»Àµƒ—–æø???ૺ˃—µƒ£ª 9. ?ÙŒ¸À??«µƒø’?¯£ª 10. —ßœ?”Ζ¬–Ë«Û?Ù?‹œ‡?ÿµƒ»Œ?Œ ¬«È£¨?¢«“?®¡¢”Î÷Æœ‡?ÿµƒªÒ»° ±º‰£ª 11. —?’“?¥?Ï–Ë«Ûƒ£–Õµƒ“ª÷¬–‘£¨¥¥‘Ï–‘£¨?€?œ–‘£ª 12. Persona «”?ªß÷––ƒµƒ??Àµ£ª 13. ????°§¬Û??ƒ·£®Phil McKinney£©Àµ°?ªÚ–̃„?ª”–«„Ã?°±£ª 14.  µ––?´?ʃ?»›?Õ…??صƒ?  ¬(?¸–¬£?œÍœ?¡À?‚)£ª15. ?ˆ“ª–©º¥–À±Ì—›£ª 16. ?” ‹¡˜––ŒƒªØ£ª 17. ±?Õ¸¡ÀŒƒªØ?Õ…Áª·?Ê?? ‘?Œƒ¡¥?”£?http://uiclub.blogbus.com/logs/17806287.html ?¸?‡UIéøÕæ´—° £®‘?»Œ±‡º?£? vincent £© ?™‘ÿ«Î?ª“™–??ƒ»Œ?ŒŒƒ?÷Õº?¨¡¥?”–?œ¢ ?¢?˜?ˆ¥¶ ”æ?Õ¨?À […]

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    You rock, Steve! Bold and right-on as usual. I wish more people understood how simple and simultaneously complex those 17 points really are.

    Comment by jzc 05.29.08 @ 5:46 pm


    […] contexts where the products can be debased. This is what Steve Portigal got fired up about (eg http://www.portigal.com/blog/seventeen-ways-to-not-suck-at-research/ ). It seems that this function of personas is one of the biggest […]

    Pingback by personas and typification.exe « Designthinkingbydj's Blog 12.03.09 @ 1:05 pm


    […] Seventeen ways to not suck at research, number 9 was Breathe their air, my response to the increasing desire for remote ethnographic-like […]

    Pingback by All This ChittahChattah | Breathe their air 12.31.09 @ 12:38 pm