Excerpt from Interviewing Users on Core77
By Steve Portigal at 3:58 pm, Monday May 06 2013
Core77 has posted an excerpt from Interviewing Users.
From my introduction to the excerpt:
I’ve talked to a lot of practitioners about their own experiences in doing fieldwork and often they try to address challenges when they experience the symptoms, but that’s usually not the right time. Consider this analogy: if you have insomnia, the best solutions are not those that you roll out at 3am when you can’t sleep. To effectively counteract insomnia you have to make specific choices during the day, before you go to bed. Doing research with people is the same thing and ideally you approach this sort of work with a well-defined perspective that will inform all of the inevitable detailed, specific, tactical problem solving.
Tags: core77, interviewing users
This Week @ Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 9:15 am, Monday May 06 2013
Voila les deets:
Tags: portigal, this week
Interviewing without questions, eye contact or rapport
By Steve Portigal at 9:59 am, Friday May 03 2013
Interviewing Users is now available. Get your copy here!
Here’s a really interesting project about How People Talk to Themselves in Their Heads.
He would ask them to wear a microphone headset attached to a digital recorder and speak aloud their thoughts as he followed closely behind with a camera. He would not be able to hear what they were saying…[The] videos are simultaneously naturalistic and as objective as possible. In the lab, in front of a researcher, people are often reluctant to reveal exactly what they are thinking. Writing a diary of inner speech is somewhat more private, but many people find it annoying to regularly drop everything and make an entry; sometimes it’s difficult to remember what one was thinking about even minutes earlier. In Irving’s videos people are living their lives more or less as usual, walking and talking to themselves as though they were unaccompanied. Of course, people who are not completely comfortable with the scenario sometimes speak into the microphone as though trying to entertain someone else. And getting people’s inner speech on tape captures only linguistic forms of thought, neglecting the kind of thinking that happens in images and scenes, for example.
The notion that unfettered, deeper self-exploration and self-expression can come when not interacting with the interrogator – to the point here of nearly eliminating the interrogation entirely – evokes the (I presume mostly obsolete) approach to therapy where the patient does not face the therapist.
I find the videos compelling (and voyeuristic to the extreme). Check out the other videos at the link – the ones that take place without the strolling seem more like a diary and less like a peek into the stream of consciousness. But for each of them, see if they pass the sniff-test for you: is the person talking the way they are because of the experiment (they know they are being recorded; they feel they need to come up with something to say, they are aware of their own “voice”, etc.) or is it really getting as deep as the researcher claims? I was mostly convinced but a sliver of doubt remains.
In the research we do, we make no claim of naturalism; we certainly want to direct and influence what is being shared, and we build rapport to facilitate openness and honesty. This approach isn’t likely to be appropriate for us, but it’s certainly provocative to look at the output of an opposite approach – where the interviewer is effectively absented and rapport is not a consideration.
Tags: andrew irving, interior monologue, interviewing, New York, observation, pedestrian
Overture, curtain, lights!
By Steve Portigal at 9:01 am, Thursday May 02 2013
Today Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights is finally released! I’m so excited; last night was like the night before my birthday (or at least the way that felt when I was a kid).
I’m grateful for all the enthusiasm and am looking forward to people’s thoughts when they’ve had a chance to read and digest and reflect.
Tags: book, interviewing users, publication, rosenfeld media
Bad Idea: Let’s Eat At McDonald’s
By Steve Portigal at 11:46 am, Wednesday May 01 2013
Great stuff about bad ideas in this post from Jon Bell. First, an everyday application
…when we’re trying to decide where to eat for lunch and no one has any ideas. I recommend McDonald’s.
An interesting thing happens. Everyone unanimously agrees that we can’t possibly go to McDonald’s, and better lunch suggestions emerge.
It’s as if we’ve broken the ice with the worst possible idea, and now that the discussion has started, people suddenly get very creative.
Then he applies this principle to creative work.
I call it the McDonald’s Theory: people are inspired to come up with good ideas to ward off bad ones.
The next time a project is being discussed in its early stages, grab a marker, go to the board, and throw something up there. The idea will probably be stupid, but that’s good! McDonald’s Theory teaches us that it will trigger the group into action…Say, “This is probably crazy, but what if we.…”
The article is short and direct and makes the point so well. This is an area I’ve been exploring over the past year or so (see article on Core77 here and slide deck from SXSW here) and it’s great to see others doing so as well.
Tags: bad ideas, McDonalds
By Steve Portigal at 10:51 am, Tuesday April 30 2013
The ultimate cause bracelet, advocating for itself and indeed all cause bracelets (or “wristbands” if you prefer the more vulgar term).
If the singularity will eventually bring us self-replicating machines then maybe this advocacy movement is the initial landing party establishing a cultural beachhead.
Also see Rob Walker’s classic Consumed piece about the Live Strong bracelet here.
Tags: cause bracelet, self-referential, self-replicating, wristband
This Week @ Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 8:54 am, Monday April 29 2013
Greetings at the head of the week!
Tags: portigal, this week
Out and About: Steve in Baltimore
By Steve Portigal at 12:32 pm, Friday April 26 2013
During last week’s trip to Baltimore, I had just a little bit of time to explore. Here’s what I saw:
I had a really delicious meal at The Food Market in the hip neighborhood of Hampden, but I did snort with laughter when they brought over what I thought was going to be a beet salad.
Have we hit Peak Experience (and not in the Maslovian sense) when donuts are reframed as experiences? Closing the loop on my last visit to the area, this was a total disappointment. Disappointing donuts and a weird experience. Fractured Prune was located in an Italian restaurant but I could not figure out where the donut counter was. It turned out to be shared with the restaurant. I had to ask two people once I was actually in this little restaurant where the donuts were. There’s no familiar visual cue of shelves of donuts, since all are made-to-order. I did have nice chat with a fellow patron who told me they were great donuts. I didn’t let him see me leave the half-eaten ones sitting in the bag on the picnic table outside. Not good.
Street art in Hampden.
Tags: anthropomorphism, baltimore, donuts, experience, fractured prune, magic, noticing, observations, out and about, traffic cone
This Week @ Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 11:13 am, Monday April 22 2013
Tom’s War Story: House Rules
By Steve Portigal at 8:20 am, Thursday April 18 2013
Tom Wood is one of the partners at Foolproof, an experience design firm based in the UK.
About 10 years ago I was trying to understand online poker playing behaviours on behalf of a gaming company. We’d recruited for a study across their various target segments, but the hardest to find were the high-value, semi-professional players. They prized their anonymity and guarded their playing secrets.
One of the respondents I did find was a part-time property developer, part-time drummer, but his passion was poker. He was close with players from the city’s professional soccer team who were happy to lose large amounts of money in order to pick up skills in poker: an important accomplishment for the professional sportsman in the UK.
The interview did not go well at first. The respondent was a regular online player but his behaviour when using the subject site was stilted and he seemed so disengaged that I began to worry that he was out of his depth online. Eventually I decided to reframe and go back the beginning of the discussion, where we had talked about his usage habits on his regular site. This time, because he was getting more relaxed in my company, I suggested doing this by watching him play. The key behaviour this revealed was how he found a table he wanted to join. This involved simultaneously watching a large number of games in progress – an almost incredible skill. What he was studying was the weaknesses of the players at the various tables: their inexperience, bravado, impatience, petulance. His whole demeanour changed, and I had a feeling like being a naturalist watching a lion selecting the impala that it is going to turn into lunch. Compelling but horrifying at the same time. It was clear that the subject site I’d asked him to use had poor affordance for this important process, but because it was a basically unchivalrous activity he had been guarded about discussing it.
This change in tack got me this and other insights which informed our design advice. And resolved me never to take up poker.
Most experience design folk enter the field because they understand that they themselves don’t have all the answers. I’m fond of this story because it was when I properly realised that I didn’t even have all the questions. I suspect that this job made me a better researcher, and certainly made me approach certain types of work in a completely different way. At Foolproof we always preface our discussion guides with words to the effect that the discussion guide is just that, a guide – and that we reserve the right to take any approach we need to in order to meet the research objectives.
Tags: foolproof, observation, online, poker, predator, tom wood, war stories
Elaine’s War Story: They call me Mister
By Steve Portigal at 6:35 am, Wednesday April 17 2013
Elaine Fukuda (@elaine_fukuda) is a design research consultant from California.
I admit I don’t have a lot of experience with children but the opportunity to shadow a patient through an entire day’s hospital visit was one to not pass up. The patient being 13 years old added another layer of consent and assent, a mythical ethnographic research unicorn of sorts.
The goal of shadowing was to understand the experience of the entire visit from start to finish, through multiple provider visits, labs, tests, and the waiting times in between. I met the patient and her mother as they were pulling into the parking garage and started the day with a scan. During the next two hours she patiently laid in a claustrophobic tunnel, and did everything as asked, from changing positions ever so slightly, holding her breath for 30 seconds at a time, and breathing at a specific pace.
Having fasted since the previous evening, she was ready for lunch but wanting to get everything done before their provider visit, she and her mom decided to get a blood test done before lunch.
We arrived in the pediatrics department and her mother stood in line to check in while I joined the patient in the waiting area. After a few minutes, a volunteer came over for what I felt was a break in our somewhat awkward small talk.
The volunteer was a kind elderly man with a book cart offering free books for patients to take home. The patient, tired from the scan and possibly feeling out of place in the bright and cheerful pediatrics environment shrugged and said there wasn’t anything she liked. Determined, the volunteer took out a “magical coloring book” which colored itself with a flip of a page. She was still not impressed.
Then came the pièce de résistance. From the cart the volunteer pulled out a heavy woven rope and introduced the patient to his friend, Mr. Stick. Mr. Stick had a magic ability you see, with a grand gesture he could become taut. In order to turn back into a rope, the patient was instructed to ask, “Mr. Stick, will you go down?”
The shade of red across the teen’s face had long passed lobster and she and I stared at each other in disbelief. Her mother was still in line across the way, and as the adult I felt responsible but conflicted on what to do. Surely the man had no idea what he was implying? Being a very good sport, she complied and sure enough Mr. Stick fell limp.
But the volunteer didn’t stop there. He turned to me, holding the middle of Mr. Stick, now back in its rigid state. He asked me to tell Mr. Stick to go down, which I did. Nothing happened. The volunteer said I must say “please”, which I did. And again nothing happened. He then said, “I guess Mr. Stick doesn’t go down if you’re not a child.”
“Hey, I think they’re calling your name,” I quickly said to the patient. And with that we escaped the somewhat creepy, but good intentioned volunteer.
“That was awkward,” she said.
It wasn’t until after the blood test and during lunch that we were able to debrief and talk about the encounter with the volunteer. I was afraid the mother would be upset that I hadn’t intervened sooner. She was shocked but laughed, wondering if someone could really be that clueless. As I started to explain what had happened, the patient (who been sitting right next to the volunteer) intervened:
“No, its name was Mr. Stiff, not Stick.”
Me: “Oooh, that’s even weirder.”
Mother: “I’m really curious how you’re going to write this up.”
Tags: double entendre, elaine fukuda, hospital, inappropriate, patient, war stories
Ilona’s War Story: First Stop the Bleeding!
By Steve Portigal at 1:59 pm, Monday April 15 2013
Ilona Posner is a User Experience and Usability consultant with more than 25 years of experience. In this story, she is challenged in different ways to leave her participants in relatively good shape.
Around the year 2000, homes with internet service were rare. AOL was plastering the planet with CDs that promised free internet. Modems were uncommon and expensive. Online access usually required a modem card installed inside a computer case by a service technician, at a significant cost. My client, the largest Internet Service Provider in Canada, was redesigning their Self-Installation Package for its DSL service; today this would be called a DIY kit.
The goal of our research project was to evaluate the customer experience. It entailed contacting customers who had just ordered the package, interviewing them about their order experience, and asking to visit their homes to observe the installation of the hardware and setting up the service. We visited many homes and observed people with diverse technical experience trying to install this package. The success rate of the customers completing this self-installation within our allotted 2 hours was very low. We had to suffer silently watching their ordeals: searching among numerous papers and user manuals that accompanied the package for the correct documents and locating the required identification codes; mixing up phone and internet cables; moving their furniture so that the provided cables would reach their destinations; and trying to explain their problems in repeated phone calls with technical support. In some cases, after observing them struggle for 2 hours and realizing they were incapable of completing this task unaided, we felt so sorry for them that before departing we completed the installation process on their behalf. We felt bad that they would have to spend additional days waiting, making additional phone calls to arrange for a technician’s visit, and dealing with the additional costs of assisted installation. That way, we also were able to witness their excitement and gratification of getting online; for some it was their first time.
I clearly remember one participant who actually was able to successfully complete the installation, and it “only” took him 1.5 hours to do it. He was a male in his early 30s, technical writer by profession. His PC had 32 MB of RAM, and was running Windows 95. He already had a modem but was switching to this new High Speed Service. He had to remove the internal ISA modem card from his PC tower in order to install the provided Ethernet card. He was more confident and comfortable at this task than most of our other participants. While our camera rolled, he confidently skimmed documents and manuals, even when they were different manuals from the devices he was dealing with at the time. He opened his PC without difficulty. He proceeded to remove the internal modem card from deep inside his PC case. In the process, he cut his hand on one of the sharp internal edges of the metal case. His hand started to bleed! Blood got on his hardware. We had to interrupt our observations to assist him in stopping the bleeding.
After completing our research, we redesigned the package. We reduced the number of documents and numbered each one for easy reference (unfortunately, this simple and usable solution only lasted until the next rebranding exercise conducted by the marketing department, who did not inherit our design rationale). We rewrote the instructions, using beautiful visuals. We also included a special highlighted warning, “Please be careful when opening your computer case, there are many sharp edges inside.”
I wonder if anyone ever noticed that warning message.
Tags: blood, dsl, ilona posner, installation, observation, war stories
This Week @ Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 10:30 am, Monday April 15 2013
In the US, it’s Tax Day. Happy, er um, whatever…
- If you run a small business, depending on how it’s structured, it can be a very different tax process. Personally, I don’t receive a salary, so I don’t pay income tax every two weeks. That means my income tax is calculated annually and paid in advance, in quarterly payments. Those are usually some significant-sized checks to be throwing down. It’s further complicated by each year’s actual income determining next year’s estimations but because things fluctuate (the economy, the size of the staff, etc.) then those estimates can be way off. Good times!
- I’m off to Baltimore early tomorrow morning. I’m part of an event for the McCormick Design Advisory Panel, intended to spark some conversation – and planning – about how design and insights can drive innovation. I’m looking forward to hearing the team talk about their challenges and how they can address them.
- I’ve received first drafts of two new War Stories. Look for those later this week.
- Ten years gone: From April 2003 – The Life Cycle of a Wash Rag, Obituary: Anita Borg.
- What we’re consuming: Jason Becker, La Strada, Stairways of San Francisco, The Urges.
Tags: portigal, this week
Loss of Context III
By Steve Portigal at 10:37 am, Tuesday April 09 2013
From New York Times Corrections for April 7, 2013 comes another demonstration of a) the importance of context in understanding what interview respondents are saying and b) the necessity of an actual recording of what was said.
An accompanying feature transcribed incorrectly a comment from Callie Khouri, creator of the television drama “Nashville,” about what she would put on her Easter playlist. Khouri said she would include music by Pops Staples, the late patriarch of the singing family the Staple Singers. She did not say she would include “pop staples.”
I share a story of how this confusion can easily happen in fieldwork in Conversational Layers and have some other examples from the media in Loss of Context I and Loss of Context II.
Tags: context, corrections, documentation, interview, pops staples, transcription
This Week @ Portigal
By Steve Portigal at 9:50 am, Monday April 08 2013
It’s a deceptively sunny Monday, despite overnight high-winds that brought the power down in my neighborhood. A strange time of year, indeed!
Tags: portigal, this week