In the final episode of the season I speak with Monal Chokshi, Head of User Experience Research at Lyft. We discuss traditional paths to a user research career, creating routines for meeting different types of users, and the emergence of leadership roles in user research.
13. Kate Lawrence of EBSCO
In this episode I speak with Kate Lawrence, Vice President of User Research at EBSCO Information Services. Our conversation covers where to place user research in the organization, emotions in fieldwork, and empowering others to advocate for information literacy.
12. Pree Kolari of eBay
This episode features Pree Kolari, the Senior Director of Design Strategy and Research at eBay. We talk about the career arc of a researcher, having impact on the product, and breaking down organizational walls.
11. Gabe Trionfi of Pinterest
This episode features Gabe Trionfi, the Manager of Research at Pinterest. We discuss the evolution of user research, collaboration between disciplines and the journey versus the destination.
10. Elizabeth Kell of Comcast
In this episode I chat with Elizabeth Kell, the Senior Director of User Research at Comcast. We talk about the growth of Comcast’s user research practice, essential soft skills for research candidates, and putting a human face on the people that use your products.
9. Kavita Appachu of Kelley Blue Book
Today I chat with Kavita Appachu, the Senior Manager of User Experience Research at Kelley Blue Book. She describes the different roles she’s had in different organizations, moving from design to research, and explains the change effort underway at Kelley Blue Book.
8. Aviva Rosenstein of DocuSign
In today’s episode I speak with Aviva Rosenstein, the Senior Manager of User Experience Research at DocuSign. We explore how to make all types of research actionable, the benefit of doing your own recruiting, and the evolution from building a usability lab to having an in-house research capability.
7. Judd Antin of Airbnb
We kick off the second season with Judd Antin, the Director of Experience Research at Airbnb. Judd and I speak about their model for embedding talented generalists with product teams, skill-sharing among researchers, and just what exactly makes research “sexy.”
6. Carol Rossi of Edmunds.com
Today’s guest is Carol Rossi. She’s the Senior Director of UX Research at Edmunds.com. In our conversation, we discuss her small-but-mighty team, Edmund.com’s collaborative workplace culture, and the personal driver of “doing good.”
5. Kerry McAleer-Forte of Sears Holdings
Today’s guest is Kerry McAleer-Forte, the Director of User Experience Research for Sears Holdings. We discuss how researchers need to think like storytellers, getting at the underlying need behind a research request, and the risk of using research to make recommendations.
4. Nancy Frishberg of Financial Engines
My guest today is Nancy Frishberg, the manager of user research at Financial Engines. We discuss recruiting participants in an enterprise setting (where users are customers of your customers), finding the generative in the evaluative and how to think about collaborative workspace as entirely separate from reporting structure.
3. Frances Karandy of Citrix
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.
2. Alex Wright of Etsy
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.
1. Gregg Bernstein of MailChimp
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.
DDD: Link Roundup
It’s been two months since Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries was released. Here’s links to presentations, podcasts and more stuff related to the book.
- Buy from Rosenfeld Media
- Buy from Amazon
- Foreword by Allan Chochinov
- Excerpt from chapter 3
- Excerpt from chapter 11
Noël’s War Story: Truck Stop
Noël Bankston is a UX Research Lead and Human Factors Engineer at Zebra Technologies, currently living in Queens, NY. She told this story live at the Interaction 17 conference.
“So Jim, what would you like to do for lunch? “My treat!” It was the moment I had been dreading all day, ironic since I am a lover of food. I was trying to sound chipper but I was worn through.
It was 2 pm and I was starving. I was sitting in the cab of a 48’ tractor trailer in Lowell, Arkansas. This was my first “ride along” research trip and I had not come prepared with snacks. I was doing in-depth generative research of the pick-up and delivery process for a freight company and hadn’t known that we don’t have lunch until all the deliveries were completed.
I was also not prepared for the weather as I am from up north and I thought the South would be hot in late May. It wasn’t – it was a constant drizzle and cold. So I was sitting in the cab feeling small and tired in the oversized loaner jacket that the dispatcher had given me. We had been on the road since 8:45 am but I had arrived at the trailer dispatch site even earlier to observe the set-up process. And that should have been fine, because on a normal day, Jim finishes around noon. But today we saw all the exceptions – an unprepared customer, incorrect paperwork, an obstructed delivery dock, and poor routing. As a researcher, it was a gold-mine as I observed where problems occurred and how Jim handled them. But as someone who is mildly hypoglycemic, it meant I was getting hangry. It had been a long morning of climbing into and out of that cab, learning which hand to place where to get the right leverage to pull yourself up as you step onto the step that is only wide enough for half your foot. And I don’t know how many of you have ridden inside of a tractor trailer but it is loud and you feel every bump.
In that moment as I asked about lunch, damp, tired, and hungry, I thought back on the the anxiety I had felt earlier in the day about lunch. A co-worker told me that on his previous ride-along they had eaten a burger from a gas station mini-mart. Even on a normal day that would make me uneasy, as gas stations aren’t known for freshness and hygiene. I knew that this type of research means being available for wherever the subject takes you, but I was really hoping that didn’t include food poisoning.
But at this point, 8 hours from my previous meal and having no idea what part of town we were in, who was I to be picky?
“So Jim, what would you like to do for lunch?”
“I just want a salad. I try to eat healthy.” I gave a huge sigh of relief, accompanied by a rumble of rejoicing from my stomach. It seemed that between the two of us, I would be eating the bigger meal. I found a nearby Mexican restaurant on Yelp. While enjoying the flavor combination of fresh cilantro and lime with nary a fryolator in sight, I realized how I had been making assumptions about “truckers” based on stereotypes rather than letting the research reveal the truth. And those assumptions were also judgments about health and lifestyle. Jim was aware of the health effects of his job and wasn’t going to turn down an opportunity to have a healthful meal, especially when a researcher was paying! One of the reasons truckers eat unhealthy food is both cost and convenience. Truck stops get food fast and are less expensive. Unfortunately, our food system is set up in a way that fresh, whole food costs much more than highly processed, industrially produced food.
I won’t be able to eliminate all my biases or preconceived notions but I can grow in my awareness of them. I have been on many more ride-alongs and other types of research trips since then. You better believe I always have a granola bar with me.
Elizabeth’s War Story: Ramping Up
Elizabeth Allen is a UX Researcher at Shopify, an ecommerce platform based in Canada. She told this story live at the Interaction 17 conference.
A few years ago, I was working at Centralis, a UX research and design consulting firm in the Chicago area. One of our clients was a public transportation agency, and our project involved testing the maps and signage within and between transit stations by accompanying participants as they completed realistic wayfinding scenarios to try to get from station to station and find their correct train or bus.
As part of this testing, my research partner Kathi Kaiser and I included individuals with motor and visual disabilities to make sure they were able to navigate just as well as those who didn’t have these challenges. One participant, Susan, was in a motorized wheelchair, and we began our session with a scenario that had us traveling to a station and accessing an elevated platform where she would wait for a train.
Chicago summers can be very hot and humid, and this was one of the hottest of the year. We were all sweating by the time we got to the station even though it was just a short walk from the coffee shop where we met to start the session. Now, this station had no elevator; instead, outside the station was a very long ramp to reach the platform. This was probably the longest ramp I’d ever seen at a transit station — it had two or three switchbacks just to reach the top!
We started up the ramp, and when we were about halfway up, Susan’s wheelchair started slowing down. “Uh oh”, she said. “I think my battery is about to die. I totally forgot to charge it before I went out, and steep ramps like this always make it run out faster.” Sure enough, a few seconds later, the wheelchair slowed to a halt, completely dead.
At this point, we had to make a decision based on what was best for Susan and for the research: do we end the session early, push Susan’s chair back to our starting point, and explain to our client that we would miss out on gathering valuable accessibility insights, or do we see if we can find a power source and salvage what we can of the session? We explained to Susan that we could either end the session or try to keep going, and luckily, she was still excited about the session and was game to push on — literally.
After wheezing our way up the rest of the ramp, dripping with sweat, we got to the platform and found no electrical outlets in sight. The ticket counter was also closed, but after a lot of roaming around we were able to find the lone janitor. We were very fortunate, because he was extremely kind, and offered to let us plug Susan’s chair into an outlet in one of the back rooms.
This story ends happily. After a half hour or so, Susan’s chair was charged up, and during that time we were able to improvise some interview questions and short scenarios we could talk through with her while we waited. It really helped that we were able to think on our feet and that we had a participant who had a positive attitude and was interested in the session. Overall, we were able to salvage a research session that was difficult to recruit for, and our client was really happy with what we learned.
Listen to Steve on the UX Podcast
A Chat with Steve Portigal by Rosenfeld Media
For the latest Rosenfeld Review podcast, I spoke with Lou Rosenfeld about my journey in collecting user research war stories and how that became Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries. (trigger warning: I’m extremely enthusiastic for the first 15 seconds or so)
(embedded below, or go here)
Why Stories Matter (to the practice of user research)
This post by Sasha Dichter articulates so well what drove me to write Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries – why forwarding a culture of storytelling in user research is essentially to continuing to develop the field.
Storytelling, then, is not simply narrative. It is an opportunity to communicate values in a way that is resonant and memorable, allowing the listener to position herself in the story, see its relevance to her current situation, and then play forward a narrative about her role in the story of now.
How does this happen? It happens through stories in which a human protagonist is presented with an unknown and has to make a choice. At this moment of choice, the listener feels the tension of what might go right and wrong, projects herself into that situation and, in so doing, experiences the values with which the protagonist wrestles.
This is why it our job to find our own stories, to explore the values that move us to act, and to practice uttering words that help others see and feel what we see and feel. This is the work of finding the language to describe the choices we have made and are making in service of our work, so that others can feel the hope that we feel, and so that they can learn to use this hope to deal with their fears, including fear of acting on our behalf.
Five Questions with Steve Portigal
Why is user research so hard to do well?
I talked about this a bit in Interviewing Users—that the assumption we can just use our social defaults because it’s just “talking to people” holds us back from being better at user research. We have to unlearn a lot of patterns (e.g., sharing about yourself) in order to get to a very different outcome (a good session versus a good hangout). In looking at war stories, I’m digging further into the challenges we face in doing research, and hopefully not stating the obvious but research with other people will have massive elements of unpredictability in it. That means we learn what we didn’t know we didn’t know (and would never otherwise have thought to ask about), but it also means that our attempts to plan and control the process are somewhat foolish (and yet, someone who does research without planning is obviously a fool). There’s an element here of temperament, or worldview, that isn’t so natural for everyone. In some of the stories I’ve gathered, people do everything right, and yet things still go wrong. That’s not a welcome truth.
My 2017 UX Research “tips”
- Research is everywhere. I continue to marvel at the growth of research. Back in the day, people would write to ask me if they knew of any research openings; now they write to ask me if I know of anyone who they could hire for their research position. We shouldn’t get cocky, as demand for research can lead to commodification, degrading research to a tactical, evaluative tool rather than the strategic powerhouse it is.
- Research is necessary but not sufficient for innovation. It’s just one of many parts in making business decisions. Research identifies unmet needs but design, technology, service, etc. all figure out how to address those needs. Research assesses solutions but only in certain contexts. Some things can’t be fully evaluated until after they exist (consider the invention of the Post-It, for example). This is an innovation problem, not a research problem.
- Harness storytelling for teaching and learning. Stories take us through a process of an experience, from the beginning, to the middle, through to the end. Crucially for learners, they can highlight mistakes and failures as much as successes. And stories can tell it like it is, providing a level of authenticity that more traditionally presented instructional material can’t convey. And finally, we respond emotionally to stories: drama, suspense, pathos, humor all facilitate engagement and end up sticking around in our memory
Learning from the comic, tragic & astonishing moments in user research (transcript)
Last week I did an online chat with UX Mastery about Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries. See one snippet below, but please check out the entire transcript here.
crystal: Do you think that approaching the interview with some small vulnerability of your own allows them to be more vulnerable as well and open up and give more insight? And have you found that added insight to often add value to the research?
steveportigal: our own vulnerability – that’s fascinating and I don’t have a clear take on that. I think a shallow reading says being vulnerable means sharing about ourselves and I am mostly against doing that most of the time for most researchers but it makes me ponder what’s a richer more nuanced sense of what our own vulnerability is, if by being still, present, focused, listening, and not needing to make it about us, we might convey some vulnerability. I think it’s meeting people where they are, accepting them where they are and not putting ourself into it. Which – to your point – feels DAMN risky to a lot of people. Set aside your agenda and listen but do so in a productive effective you’re-on-the-job way, so you are balancing different forces and risks.
I dunno, is that ‘vulnerable?’
Stories from the field: An interview with Steve Portigal
The idea that some of these ideas are metaphors for life I think is absolutely true and, again, I can sound kind of highfalutin and pretentious here but I think the thinking that I went through in this book is looking at… some of these external factors, right? You know, make sure your camera is ready and you don’t break the cable and you know the sort of “equipmenty” type things that we have to think about. But so many of these are about what do we do when the unexpected happens and acknowledge the unexpected is going to happen and that those are definitely life skills. And I think one of the takeaways that I come back to several times, and I just alluded to it a minute ago, which is know when to walk away. You know and so when you’re in a situation do you keep trying to turn that situation from a failure into a success or do you say “You know what? This isn’t going to work,” and you leave.