War Story: Seeing Ourselves As Others May See Us
By Steve Portigal at 8:39 am, Friday April 18 2014
Part 58 of 58 in the series War Stories

Here we break with tradition and present a story anonymously, to mitigate against mortification of those involved.

Twenty something and fresh out of my MA program I obtained a little consulting job which I completed from afar. The company mailed me a video camera and interview guide and sent me out to discover what people think of dinner food. I was to recruit people who would participate in a video recorded dinner we share and an after-dinner interview. I was instructed to send footage back to the company with the camera along with notes and analysis.

My first interview was with a man about my age who ate convenience foods. He was shy and awkward with me as I was with him. When I got there I set up the tripod and attempted to build rapport beyond our obvious discomfort. In an effort to focus only on him as he opened a can of soup and poured it into a casserole dish I spent very little time adjusting the equipment. He prepared soup-in-a-dish dinner and we ate together and then I went through what was left of the interview content. Perfect recruit for “convenience food eater,” and I was off.

Later at home I looked back at the video to make sure my notes are correct and to complete a partial transcript. To my surprise and immense embarrassment I realized that I set the camera up so that the composition includes only one thing in the foreground completely obscuring the participant’s head. It was a close-up view of my right breast – interrupted only occasionally by my arm each time I raised the fork. The entire dinner and interview video contained nothing more than this view. I had never met the employer or the team in person but I reluctantly packaged up the camera and my notes and sent them away without a word. Later they mention that their view of this video inspired quite a few laughs around the office. Oops.

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This Week @ Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 6:12 am, Monday April 14 2014

The weeketh beginneth, all!

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Lindsay’s War Story: Sexism in the City
By Steve Portigal at 8:11 am, Friday April 11 2014
Part 57 of 58 in the series War Stories

Lindsay Moore is an independent design research and strategy consultant from Colorado.

We were in New York City, on day four of a three-week fieldwork trip. We had had some bumpy interviews the first few days, including a participant who clammed up because her husband was in the room, another who wasn’t comfortable showing us any of the software processes she had been recruited to show us, and a third with whom the conversation was like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, with us hanging on for dear life. But I was finally starting to settle in to the interview guide and was feeling positive about what we were learning. Plus we were getting a great apartment tour of Manhattan!

We were accompanied on each interview by a rotating member of the client team so that they could all experience the research firsthand, and this day was our first with a particular team member. Our morning interview had gone fairly well, but I could tell our client partner was having some trouble staying in the background, as she was used to more actively managing her interactions with customers.

We walked in the door for our afternoon interview, and I made some small talk, saying something like “How is your day going so far?” to our participant, who was an older gentleman. He answered that it was going much better now that we three pretty girls were there, but that it would be even better if we didn’t have clothes on. I experienced a shocked moment of “Did he really just said that???” and took a sidelong glance at my client to see her reaction. She had one of those impenetrable customer service masks of politeness on her face. I tried to shake off the comment and proceeded into the interview.

For the first 30 minutes, I found myself utterly unable to manage the flow with the participant, who would physically turn towards the client to answer my questions, and then turn back to me and say “You understand?” The interviews were about financial behavior, and he made it very clear that he thought I wouldn’t be able to follow what he was saying. Meanwhile, in an effort to be polite, engaged and responsive with her customer, my client was unintentionally making it worse. I realized I needed to gain some kind of credibility and after the umpteenth “I don’t know if you would understand” I told him that I do have some financial background and that I was following just fine. After that I was much better able to lead the interview and he engaged directly with me. Still, for another hour and a half he continued to condescend and make inappropriate/sexist comments (The number of times he suggested we “girls” go shopping at Bloomingdales after the interview? Five. What he wanted us to buy? Blouses.)

After leaving the interview I was hopping mad and said to my client and my colleague that I couldn’t believe what we had just experienced. They agreed but felt like we had still been able to uncover great information in the interview. They also thought that sometimes older men are just “like that” and that I shouldn’t let it get to me. I was bothered but decided to let it go. The interview had been uncomfortable but not unsafe, and the client was pleased with what we had learned. As an interviewer, wasn’t I supposed to be able to set my own emotions aside?

When revisiting the transcripts and coding the interview data, it really became clear to me that I was not overreacting to what we experienced. It was blatantly bad. Still, what should we have done? When I’ve related the story to other friends and colleagues, they’ve said that we should have left the home after the initial no-clothes comment. I want to agree on principle, but I also know that if I never allow myself to experience something uncomfortable, I’ll miss out on the richness and depth that is a part of this kind of work. What I do know is that it’s okay to share and talk about our own emotional responses to difficult research situations and that doing so is an important part of self-care for researchers. In the future, I will also make sure to have a plan in place with my fieldwork partners for when — and how — to end an interview, so that it’s not a process we need to invent in the moment.

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This Week @ Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 9:34 am, Monday April 07 2014

Howdy April. Hopefully it’s spring for you if you live in a spring-in-April part of the world.

  • The key objective for this week is to wrap up the deliverable document for this project. That means I’m working in PowerPoint, trying to actually craft an articulate statement that succinctly expresses the details of what we saw – and why that’s relevant to our client. I took some time this week to make sure that I left paper (and Microsoft Word) and got into PowerPoint – it’s always gratifying to be in the deck, even though the ideas are still sharpening. I’ve got a bunch of diagrams to draw, oh and the details of a workshop to plan. I know that by the time I get on an airplane Sunday morning we’ll be all set, but it really requires focus.
  • I think it’s on hold this week while my main contact is on holiday, but last week I started consulting with a team who have already conducted their own fieldwork to help inform a pretty significant strategic directive to open up new lines of business.
  • I’m so grateful for Cati’s review of Interviewing Users on Amazon.
  • There’s some tantalizing possibilities for great collaborations for our next project. Conversations this week will tell us more about what is happening next.
  • Coming up on April 17, I will be the guest on Mariposa Leadership’s Wise Talk, where the topic will be The Art of Interviewing Users. You can register here. I hope to hear from you!
  • I helped judge two categories (Effective In-House Team and Work Environment for Digital Practitioners: In-House) for the Design for Experience awards.
  • I enjoyed listening to this podcast with Kerry Bodine, not the least for the amazing shout-out she gives to Interviewing Users at 15:45.
  • I’m still waiting for confirmation but possibly I’ll be leading a session on interviewing at SF Civic Design Camp this Saturday.
  • I’ve posted all of my photos from my trip to Australia and New Zealand.
  • On the town this week: On Tuesday, I’ll hope to make it to BayCHI to hear Michael Kronthal talk about building empathy at Yahoo.
  • Ten years gone: From April 2004 – Mourners honor chickens killed in wake of bird-flu outbreak, Faith Popcorn overrated, Parade of 1000 Samurai, So that’s who likes those robot dogs.
  • What we’re consuming: Frances Ha, Google Night Walk, Inside Llewyn Davis, Walking backwards through Tokyo.
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Interviewing Users: Link Roundup
By Steve Portigal at 8:06 am, Wednesday April 02 2014

interviewing-users

Interviewing Users is now available. Get your copy here!

Hi! If you’ve read the book and found it beneficial, it would mean a lot if you would contribute a brief review on Amazon here.

It’s been eleven months Interviewing Users came out! Below is a roundup of links to various bits connected with the book. I’ll republish this occasionally with accumulated updates.

The Book

Reviews

Interviews

Presentations

Other

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It’s the sharing economy all the way down
By Steve Portigal at 12:14 pm, Monday March 31 2014

When things start getting really silly, you know you are in a bubble.

A San Francisco startup called Breeze is renting brand-new Toyota Priuses to people who want to drive for Uber and Lyft. There is huge demand from people who don’t own cars to be part of the ‘ride-sharing’ economy,” said CEO and co-founder Jeff Pang. Breeze now has 25 cars, all fully booked by drivers who answered its Craigslist ads or heard about it from friends. “We don’t buy outright as that’s a capital-intensive, asset-heavy model,” said co-founder Ned Ryan. Instead, Breeze rents the brand-new vehicles from an unnamed partner in the automotive space.

Yes, Breeze rents cars from their source, then rents them out to people who don’t own their own cars who then rent out their unused vehicle capacity to people who also don’t have cars but need rides.

Someone has been watching too much Portlandia.

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This Week @ Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 9:49 am, Monday March 31 2014

It’s the last day of March…

  • I’m in the office on a Monday morning for the first time in forever. I’m not planning any travel for about two weeks, which is quite nice
  • I’m looking at a huge stack of transcripts from the last few weeks of fieldwork, reading through them and marking up bits and pieces that will accrue into key takeaways for my client. We’re planning both a presentation and a follow-on workshop and although there’s a ton to do to get ready for it, I’m really looking forward to it.
  • Assuming the paperwork goes through, I will be starting a small project coaching a team through the synthesis and ideation process for some research they’ve already done.
  • I’m also talking with a few different organizations about work in the US and overseas. That means some time to spend in conversations, planning projects, writing proposals, reaching out to my network of contractors, and so on.
  • I spend a lot of time last week (as frequently happens) coaching people through various stages of their own practices. So it’s nice that this week that a colleague and friend will be kicking off a project helping me look at Portigal Consulting at this stage of its existence (since 2001!) and consider how to evolve and grow.
  • I’m hoping to hear today or tomorrow about a near-term conference workshop slot overseas. I will certainly announce here if we decide to go forward.
  • On the town this week: On Friday, I’ll be hearing Kristian Simsarian talk about Meaning First: Let’s Humanize Technology.
  • Ten years gone: From March 2004 – Cameron Crowe archive, Wrecked Exotics, Goodbye Googie, Family Circus Decon.
  • What we’re consuming: Kathleen Hanna, Men Oh ramen, Malia and Me, Lee Moses.
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Advice for early-career designers
By Steve Portigal at 9:12 am, Friday March 28 2014

Last week I spoke at a fundraising event (Let’s talk design and help a kid with cancer) organized by Jorge Baltazar.

Glen Lipka, employee #1 of Marketo gave the first presentation, with advice about interviewing for a job in UX. In many ways, it was an object lesson in empathy, as he illustrated many ways that applicants fail to understand the mindset, goals or expectations of the person interviewing them. He described reviewing a portfolio with illegible yellow text over a gray background – but that he’s more focused on what transpires when he asks the applicant about it. A bad design choice is something he might expect in a less-experienced designer but the ability to explain a design choice and especially to acknowledge that a design decision could be improved was really what he was looking for. Some of his points are well-captured in How to Pass My UX Designer Phone Screen and his deck is here.

Aynne Valencia is a design strategist. She presented a “field report” from a number of conferences she’d been at in the last while (I remember IxD14, SXSW and some others in Europe), looking at the trends in interaction design that were here now, coming soon, and further out. Some examples included Brad the emotional toaster, and Berg’s Cloudwash. I couldn’t find her slide deck, either, but she continues to document the things she’s seeing on her blog.

Christian Crumlish, the Director of Product at CloudOn, spoke about what makes a great designer, acknowledging that he’s not a designer at the moment and further unpacking the challenging nature of trying to speak to such a big topic from one person’s biased point of view. Meanwhile, he identified three qualities

  • Breadth: Having creative pursuits outside of design that you can uses as sources of inspiration. His ukelele is an example of something he does for fun but will occasionally provide a surprising new perspective or framework. You can read a bit more on this same theme in my review of Debbie Millman’s How To Think Like A Great Graphic Designer
  • Passion: Apply everything to your work, or refocus on new work if your passions leads you there.
  • Restlessness: Never being fully satisfied and always looking for something new or better.

Finally, with some prompting from Glen, he played and sang a bit of “Satellite of Love” on his ukelele.
photo1_425

I was the last presenter. I gave an overview of my own crazy career path (see Disciplinarity and Rigour? My keynote from the 2008 Design Research Society conference and then offered the following thoughts and suggestions

  • Network. Do it online, but do it in person as well. LinkedIn is good for a soft intro, but find people and talk to them. Take a long view about your career and your relationships that are part of that career. Be authentic. Be interested. Don’t think about what people can do for you or you can push people away.
  • As you go out and speak to people, take the approach of prototype and iterate. Figure out your story, your objectives, what you have to offer and your strengths by talking them through. Use informational interviews to live practice of what you have to say and how you want to say it.
  • I can’t really back this up but I suspect that in one era, you’d be told to get a job in an agency because that’s where the good design was happening; and then in a subsequent era you’d be told to get a job inside a corporation because that’s where the design work really was, and then people might be telling you to work in a startup because (although not always the case) startups were really making design part of their thing, and now it doesn’t seem like terrible advice to do your own startup. Given the tools that are available for small teams to design, develop, build and deploy significant pieces of technology whether it’s the App sSore or AWS or whatever, it seems open to almost anyone now. Personally, I never really wanted to make a thing once I discovered facilitating others to be making a thing.
  • Look for your advantage in moments of upheaval. Design is changing; industrial design is really suffering, firms and agencies are suffering, teams are downsizing; UX is increasingly important but where the jobs are and what they entail keeps shifting.
  • There’s also something with increasingly alternative forms of education. Jon Kolko used to teach at SCAD and then he went and started his own school – the Austin Center for Design. Jared Spool is in the process of starting a school in Chattanooga – the Unicorn Institute. These people are seeing the gaps between the jobs that need to be filled and the people that are trained to do them and they are trying to address that. Even if you aren’t seeking education yourself, there are patterns emerging and it’s worth your while to keep an eye on it, keep trying to make sense of it, and keep trying to connect what you are passionate to do with what the opportunities are
  • For me, career has been struggle in various forms all the way along. It’s great to have the benefit of time because then you can have hindsight. Struggle might be another way of saying that it’s about finding the next challenge and pursuing it, because the ground doesn’t stay still beneath your feet. There are plenty of rewards along the way; and the struggle sucks the most in the early days; it is suckiest when you are at the bottom of the Maslow pyramid and are concerned with survival not spiritual fulfillment. Over and over again I keep being reminded that no one will come and hand it to you. I keep waiting to be discovered and given a magic solution but really it’s about moving forward in small ways.

Thanks to Jorge for organizing this and the speakers for some really compelling talks.

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The album will certainly sell out and the band already has
By Steve Portigal at 7:59 am, Friday March 28 2014

Back in October, I blogged about the We Buy White Albums project (where artist Rutherford Chang opened a retail outlet that stocked only the Beatles’ White Album)

He’s taken a precious object that is also a ubiquitous commodity and created a very traditional experience that highlights both aspects. As archaic as the original object is, it has managed to hold onto a good chunk of it’s (non-monetary) value over the decades. It’s a somewhat retro-futurist idea, that we have retail set up to deal with one item and one item only, decades later.

The combination of art/music/commerce/context/ubiquity gets a totally different spin (oh yes I did) with the Wu-Tang Clan’s plan to sell just one copy of their new album.

The Wu-Tang Clan has decided to release an album specifically to be a rarity. Only one copy of “The Wu – Once Upon a Time in Shaolin” – a 31-track double album that the band has worked on quietly for the last six years – will be pressed. It will be “available for purchase and ownership by one individual only.” The plan is for the album to first make a tour of festivals, museums and galleries and tickets would probably sell for $30 to $50.

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This Week @ Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 8:46 am, Monday March 24 2014

Well, howdy hi!

  • I’m headed back later today from a fun long weekend in wine country. Ah, back to reality after some good socializing and eating and drinking!
  • Fieldwork is done! Logistical hell aside, it proved to be very interesting and provocative. The next order of business is to put together the topline summary of the themes and patterns that we had just with the experience of the fieldwork. The deeper dive will come later on, but for this week, we’re all meeting to talk about what we think we heard and what we think it meant. This interaction will really be helpful for guiding the synthesis that comes immediately after.
  • Since I’m actually around for most of this week, it’s networking time, with a lot of calls and other meetings with people I’ve been trying to connect with for a while.
  • I’ve been chatting with several people about different talks and presentations near and far-flung between now and the end of the year. I’ll announce each of them when they go live.
  • Ten years gone: From March 2004 – Swoops, there it is?, Pleix films, Crossing buttons don’t really work, I am Asian, The magnetic-hook bra is here.
  • What we’re consuming: Snacklemouth, Pinot Grigio, bad service, Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, Dr. Katz.
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This Week @ Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 9:48 am, Monday March 17 2014

Greetings friends!

  • Later today I’m flying home from Up To All Of Us in North Carolina. And that’s my only flight this week. It’s been a crazy few weeks with a number of trips separated by 12 hours or so. Looking forward to at least a few days at home (before taking a long weekend with some friends up in wine country).
  • Along with some other local design-type folks, I’m giving a short talk this week at a fundraiser. If you can come out and support the event on Thursday, that’d be great. I’m donating a copy of Interviewing Users as well.
  • With the big project, this week there’s at least one site visit in San Francisco and maybe another one elsewhere. It’s hard to book these, but it does keep a lot of people’s schedules up in the air waiting to finalize them. At that point, it’ll be a wrap for the fieldwork and we can start diving into what we’ve heard more intensively.
  • Two recent reviews of Interviewing Users: from Tammy and Lan. If you’ve read the book please write your own short review as it makes a huge difference for the book’s sales and general awareness. Thanks!
  • Ten years gone: From March 2004 – Foreclosure fear selling, George Foreman’s inspirational musical offering, Gadgets from history.
  • What we’re consuming: Chuck’s, chocolate-chip rice pudding, Meat Raffles, North Carolina Museum of Art.
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Bringing the reframe to cookies
By Steve Portigal at 1:12 pm, Thursday March 13 2014

It’s time for a cookie post, isn’t it? Grab yourself one or two and settle in.

This video is brilliant. It takes the familiar trope of the manufacturing-process video, plays it backwards, and then constructs an overarching narrative that makes sense of what we’re seeing.

The Oblique Strategies offer a set of provocations that can help with a creative or problem-solving block. This video shows an effective use of one of them: reverse.

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This Week @ Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 8:19 am, Monday March 10 2014

Well, hello!

  • I’m getting on a plane to Minneapolis in a very short time. Last week’s fieldwork was very interesting but the whole experience was really hampered by poor communication, a challenging recruit, oh and poor communication. Day by day, I didn’t know what – if anything – was happening the next day and so I wrapped up each day by booking another hotel room for that night. Certainly a draining experience. And while I was pretty clear I couldn’t do this two weeks in a row, I really only found out Thursday afternoon what’s happening Monday. Indeed, it’s still in flux, but it’s not possible – within the scope of the project we negotiated – to make a bunch of last-minute trips around the country. This aspect of things feels tense, but that may just be the exhaustion.
  • I’m a good chunk of the way through posting my pictures of Australia and New Zealand to Flickr. There’s about 275 pictures up there now, and definitely a whole bunch still to come.
  • Later this week, I’m off to Up To All Of Us, a retreat type of event that I was invited to go to. I like the people and the energy but I’m honestly unsure what it’s going to be like and what I’m doing. I took a deliberate leap of faith when signing up, feeling the need to broaden my connections into less familiar places – but now I’m having to deal with that leap.
  • Ten years gone: From March 2004 – Blood dichotomy, the worst salesman in the world, The bento – a scrumptious expression of love.
  • What we’re consuming: House of Cards (Season 1), Douzo Sushi, Global Entry.
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This Week @ Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 8:38 am, Monday March 03 2014

Happy March!

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This Week @ Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 9:41 am, Monday February 24 2014

Here comes the end of February – 2014 is racing along.

  • Our project schedule may be in jeopardy which is the kind of thing that makes me worry. We already lost a week to getting our hospitals scheduled and I haven’t heard much since then (except that they expect it to be difficult). The team is pretty busy with a number of other efforts (specifics unknown to me) so even getting a response to my request for a quick check-in is a challenge. I’m eager for us to start learning but there’s a huge logistics hurdle that needs to be overcome.
  • Really looking forward to an internal corporate summit I’m going to be part of, probably in April. From what I’ve heard so far it should be a pretty exciting event.
  • On the town this week, I’ll be at Arrogance in International Research this Wednesday in San Francisco.
  • Ten years gone: From February 2004 – Franchise Zeitgeist, Pickle Paraphernalia, Li’l G n’R.
  • What we’re consuming: Enough Said, EQ3, Hangman Jury, Tara’s Organic Ice Cream.
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