- I’m here today, giving a talk about The Power of Bad Ideas for the UX students at General Assembly. Then (Juno permitting) I’m off to New York, to attend the NASDAQ Pro/Design conference. On Wednesday, I’m doing a casual meetup in Brooklyn if you want to come and say “hi.”
- Last week on Dollars to Donuts (my new podcast with people who lead user research in their organization) I had a stimulating chat with Frances Karandy. Another episode comes online on Wednesday; you can find them all on iTunes and now also on Stitcher. If you want to hear the whole theme song, the track – and the background story – are here.
- I’m sitting on one War Story that just needs me to edit before it can go up, I’ve seen another draft that is very close, too. Stay tuned for more War Stories!
- I’m continuing to enjoy being an advisor to my agency client and talking them through not only the research tactics but also supporting their interactions with their client. It’s a nice way to add value, for me.
- Other projects coming up include advising a client with their research project and still getting my hands a little dirty with some expert interviews and collaborating on the synthesis work; organizing a networking event with industry leaders; facilitating an internal summit to help different departments look for ways to be more effective in their collaboration. I’ve also got proposals out for a couple of other projects so it seems like there’s a lot happening!
- They’ve fully booked my Soft Skills Are Hard workshop at Interaction 15 ! Looking forward to the whole conference and to the workshop. I’ll be doing a shorter version for a bigger crowd at World IA Day in DC on February 21 as well as a longer version at Enterprise UX in May.
- I will be leading a session about the writing process at The Design Writing Summit on February 12 in San Francisco.
- I’ll be one of several panelists at UX Careers 2015: Where is the field headed and how do you stay current?, February 28 in San Francisco.
- Ten years gone: From January 2005 – FreshMeat #23: Total Recall, logo hell, An amazing job title, The vending machine takes on the obesity epidemic, Crazy Valentine’s Day bear upsets mental health advocates, Your Call (and Rants on Hold) Will Be Monitored, Captured fugitive was living in stores, Wacky Warning Labels.
- What we’re consuming: Ida, Kin Khao, 100 Doodles in 100 Days, Dr. Katz live.
Steve will be leading a session about the writing process at The Design Writing Summit on February 12 in San Francisco.
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!
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.
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.
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
- It’s a holiday today (MLK day) for some folks in the US. But we’re working today.
- Last week on Dollars to Donuts, my new podcast with people who lead user research in their organization, I had a great conversation with Alex Wright of Etsy. Another episode drops on Wednesday; you can find them all on iTunes.
- Video from my talk on Interviewing Users from the HOW Interactive Design conference is now on YouTube and Vimeo.
- My agency collaboration is going well; their client is doing some interesting work and the research is going to help unpack expectations around a few similar-seeming value propositions. This week they’re planning to start screening for participants across the country who will fill out diaries over several weeks.
- I’ve got the green light (at least the green light that means let’s begin the paperwork) from a client team to advise them through some in-home fieldwork. I’ll be doing some interviews with experts at the same time, and we’ll all come together and synthesize the results into…something! It’s a really nice group and we’ve been looking for a chance to work together for a few months now.
- Soft Skills Are Hard, my workshop for Interaction 15 has filled up! Looking forward to the whole conference and to the workshop. I’ll be doing a shorter version for a bigger crowd at World IA Day in DC on February 21.
- Tomorrow is my rescheduled workshop on improv, collaboration and creativity at GreatSchools in Oakland.
- Next week I’m doing a lunch-hour session with the UX students at General Assembly. We’re going to talk about the Power of Bad Ideas.
- Also next week, I’ll be New York to attend the Pro/Design conference.
- Ten years gone: From January 2005 – Dubious pancake mix FAQ, Titan Probe Drops Into ‘Creme Brulee’-Like Surface.
- What we’re consuming: Keep on Keepin’ On, Brenda’s Meat & Three, 100 Doodles in 100 Days, Boyhood.
I was finally able to get my hands on the video from November’s talk (Interviewing Users: Uncovering Compelling Insights) at the HOW Interactive Design conference. Below is the video both on YouTube and Vimeo (in case you have a preference?). Also below are the slides.
Today’s guest is Alex Wright, who is the director of research at Etsy. We discuss the partnership between qualitative and quantitative research at Etsy and how his background in journalism helps him with the storytelling aspects of managing the research function.
Etsy’s not just in the business of trying to generate maximal profits every quarter. Yes, we’d like to be profitable, but we also want to serve the community of sellers; we want to be environmentally responsible; we want to support the local community. – Alex Wright
- Alex Wright
- Follow Alex on Twitter
- Cataloging the World – Alex Wright
- Rob Kalin
- Jill Fruchter
- Roxie Karpen
- I’ve just launched a new podcast, called Dollars to Donuts, where I speak with people who lead user research in their organization. You can find it on the Portigal Consulting site, on iTunes, and on Twitter. Our first episode, an interview with Gregg Bernstein of MailChimp, is getting a great response so far.
- Soft Skills Are Hard, my workshop for Interaction 15 is filling up. If you’d like to be part of it, register for the conference and then sign up for the workshop here.
- We’ve rescheduled my workshop on improv, collaboration and creativity for the folks at GreatSchools in Oakland to next week, after we realized that the last week was not good for people’s schedules.
- I’m kicking off a new project this week, working with an agency in more of a creative director role. Well, that’s probably not the right term, but I don’t think we know what it is. Their staff will be doing the heavy lifting but I’ll be around as a sounding board and general guide on fieldwork, analysis and ensuring we’re meeting the client’s goals. Should be an novel and promising way for me to collaborate with some enthusiastic people.
- Ten years gone: From January 2005 – Ghoulish spam, The Google Pause.
- What we’re consuming: cheese, Episodes, Len Deighton.
Since 2012, I’ve been collecting War Stories, where researchers share the stuff that happens during fieldwork. There are more than 70 stories (start your reading here) and they’ve proven to be a valuable resource for the practice. I’ve been giving a talk over the past few months about the stories and what I’ve learned from the process of curating the stories as well as from the stories themselves. From UX Australia, here’s the audio, the (minimal) slides, and a few sketchnotes.
If you have a story about an experience you had doing contextual research, please get in touch! We want more stories!
To download the audio Right-Click and Save As… (Windows) or Ctrl-Click (Mac)
Welcome to the debut episode of Dollars to Donuts. Today’s guest is Gregg Bernstein, who manages customer research at MailChimp. We discuss how MailChimp uses research to uncover new product opportunities, how the right research artifacts can best provide value to different internal audiences and how humility is an essential soft skill for successful researchers.
We research people and we try to better understand what would make them happy, what would fit into their lifestyle, what would fit into their day-to-day. We don’t go out with an idea for a product in mind. – Gregg Bernstein
- Gregg Bernstein
- Follow Gregg on Twitter
- Laurissa Wolfram-Hvass
- Stephanie Troeth
- Aarron Walter
- MailChimp Snap
- Web Form Design: Filling in the Blanks by Luke Wroblewski
- Jenn Downs
- Urie Bronfenbrenner – Ecological Systems Theory
- The Big Web Show
- Jeffery Zeldman
- Gregg speaking at Tiny GIANT
- MailChimp UX Newsletter
On February 9 I’ll be teaching a new workshop at Interaction 15 in San Francisco. Entitled Soft Skills Are Hard, it’s a deeper-dive that build the interactive talks I’ve done recently that focus on developing the interpersonal, creative, and cognitive skill sets that are essential in innovative work cultures.
Below are the slides and video from an earlier talks. The workshop will focus on identifying individually relevant skills and creating an action plan to strengthen them.
Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream
Note: the talk itself starts around 30:00
Happy New Year! It’s been 2015 for a few days, but this is back-to-work day here and for many of you as well, so I think the greeting still stands. Here’s what’s up as we get things back into gear.
- The semi-stealth project I’ve been working on will launch this week. More to come but here’s a big hint.
- Please sign up for Soft Skills Are Hard, my workshop for Interaction 15. It’s in San Francisco on February 9 and you can register here.
- Tomorrow I am teaching a workshop on improv, collaboration and creativity at GreatSchools in Oakland. I’m looking forward to meeting everyone and having a chance to play together.
- Also this week is circling back with various projects, nailing down schedules for meetings, sorting out invoices and reimbursements, lunch with colleagues, figuring out travel details and generally trying to move forward all the bits and pieces which have been up in the air especially through the holiday.
- From December, there is now a video for Designing the Problem from Interactions South America (also slides and audio).
- Ten years gone: From January 2005 – We don’t remember new products, dress up your vacuum cleaner as a bear, bunny, cat or (ironically) maid.
- What we’re consuming: Lucky Peach, crab rolls, Modern Family, Little Yangon
This NYT Magazine profile of author Laura Hillenbrand explores her writing process and considers the ways it has been impacted by her illness. One section of this excellent article had resonance for me around conducting remote interviews, something I’m frequently asked about.
One hallmark of literary nonfiction is its emphasis on personal observation. But Hillenbrand found that telephone interviews do offer certain advantages. No one appreciates this perspective more than the radio host Terry Gross, who performs nearly every interview on her program, “Fresh Air,” by remote. Gross told me that she began this habit, as Hillenbrand did, by necessity: The cost of bringing a guest to her studio in Philadelphia was simply too high. Over time, she said, she has come to believe that there is intimacy in distance. “I find it to be oddly distracting when the person is sitting across from me,” she said with a laugh. “It’s much easier to ask somebody a challenging question, or a difficult question, if you’re not looking the person in the eye.” Gross also said the remote interview makes it easier to steer the conversation. “I can look at my notes without fear that the interviewee will assume that I’m not paying attention to what they’re saying,” she said. Finally, the distance eliminates nonverbal cues, which can interfere with good quotes. “A hand gesture might be helpful to communicate something to me. It communicates nothing to my listeners.” Hillenbrand, who recorded hundreds of hours of interviews with Zamperini, experienced a similar effect. “I thought it was actually an advantage to be unable to go to Louie,” she said. Because neither of them had to dress for the interviews and they were in their own homes, their long phone calls enjoyed a warmth and comfort that might otherwise be missing. She could pose the deeply personal questions that even her father had trouble answering.
I gave a (remote) presentation, Designing the Problem, at Interaction South America a few weeks ago.
Too often we assume that doing research with users means checking in with them to get feedback on the solution we’ve already outlined. But the biggest value from research is in uncovering the crucial details of the problem that people have; the problem that we should be solving.
As the design practices mature within companies, they need to play an active role in driving the creation of new and innovative solutions to the real unmet needs that people have. In part, driving towards this maturity means looking at one’s own culture and realizing the value of being open-minded and curious, not simply confident. This is a challenge to each of us personally and as leaders within our teams and communities.
We’ve got video, slides, audio and sketch-notes. Enjoy!
The talk is just over 40 minutes and there are two questions (which you can’t hear but which should be obvious enough from my response).
To download the audio Right-Click and Save As… (Windows) or Ctrl-Click (Mac)
Sketchnote by Kat Davis (click for full size)
Sketchnote by Thiago Esser (click for full size)
- I got back yesterday from a fantastic client workshop in Austin and am looking ahead to this holiday week. I’m going to try and gear down over the next few days (which paradoxically means I feel like I have a lot to get done) and hopefully take a step back for the end of the week and some time next week as well. We’ll see.
- There’s now video for Designing the Problem from Interactions South America (also slides and audio).
- Just announced: Soft Skills Are Hard, my workshop for Interaction 15. It’s in San Francisco on February 9 and you can register here.
- Ten years gone: From December 2004 – Bob Dylan Q&A.
- What we’re consuming: Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken, The Problem Is Not The Problem, Torchy’s Tacos, Frank, latkes, Whip In.