Posts tagged “consulting”

Announcing: Pro Bono Management/UX Consulting for Small Businesses

In collaboration with Sarah Rice, we are pleased to announce the launch of our pro bono management/UX consulting service aimed at small businesses in the San Francisco Bay Area.

We’re looking for small business owners who are interested in growing or who are feeling “stuck.” Using what we’ve learned in years of consulting, we can help you think about what’s working, what to improve, and how you can go about making those changes.

With one or two short sessions at your offices or at ours, we can help you clarify business goals, look for ways to improve your customer’s experience, prioritize strategic objectives, identify tactical next steps and so on. Each consultation will be customized to you and your business needs.

As part of the process, we’ll document and share some of your story to raise awareness and inspire others.

If you’re a small business in the SF Bay Area and you’d like to know more, please get in touch with us! Email WeCanHelp@seneb.com or phone 408-315-8961.

About Sarah and Steve
Sarah Rice is principal of Seneb Consulting, a solo consultancy helping companies of all sizes understand and influence customer behavior. Past clients include Microsoft, eBay, PayPal, Princess Cruises, Yahoo! and NetApp.

Steve Portigal is founder of Portigal Consulting, a boutique agency that helps companies to discover and act on insights about their customers and themselves. He’s also the author of Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from Dan_Soltzberg] 35 Movies in 2 Minutes [Drawn! The Illustration and Cartooning Blog] – [I'll admit I wasn't able to name all of the films referenced in this delightful piece of animation, but whether you recognize the films or not, this is a beautiful example of visual communication using a very simple graphic approach.]
  • [from steve_portigal] Scion presents Ed Emberley & Friends – [We had these books around the house as kids and they gave me a sense of UI design meets art before I knew anything about either topic. Nice to see the work has resonance so many years later] Ed Emberley's legendary drawing books inspired a generation of kids to become artists. In this show, Ed Emberley displays his original 1970's mockups alongside five grown-up artists who were influenced by him. Curated by Caleb Neelon, the artists include Raul Gonzalez, Seonna Hong, Matt Leines, Christopher Kline and Saelee Oh. For "Ed Emberley & Friends," each artist will create a six-foot-by-six-foot wood panel that is a mash-up of their own style and that of Ed Emberley's instructional drawing books. The tribute paintings will be exhibited alongside examples of each artist's individual work. After the show, each of the large painted panels will be donated for long-term display in children's hospitals around the United States.
  • [from steve_portigal] wanted: cultural change agencies [Influxinsights] – [Ed Cotton is perceptive as usual. My quibble – there's an opportunity for this type of agency but I don't know there's a market for it. Isn't selling services that don't look like other types of services you've bought before is its own challenge. Meanwhile most consultants I talk to, from insights, to brand, to interactive, to improv training, are all selling "culture change" as a second order effect. IDEO has productized it, of course. So maybe we're already selling this, just not in the way Ed sees it could happen] There's a market for a new type of agency- a cultural change agency. It's a new type of company that helps you work out who you are and doesn't walk away, it stays with you; it helps, it motivates, it inspires and it brings the moving parts of the organization together. Think of this new entity as a entirely new type of agency; one that inspires companies to change and get the best out of themselves by working from the inside out.

From Pain Points to Opportunity Areas

The subtle difference between a knob and a lever.

An unexpected interaction with a familiar object.

At a restaurant in San Mateo, the knob from a stove replaces the toilet flush lever. Each of us who use the toilet that evening come back to the table struck by what an unexpectedly pleasant experience it is to turn the knob.

As a researcher or designer, you are not going get to this surprisingly delightful interaction if you constrain your thinking around the idea of pain points – i.e. what is not working for people. Of course no one is going to buy your company’s toilet if it leaks or doesn’t flush – products need to perform their primary functions reasonably well – and as part of an exploration of user experience it’s necessary to find out whether this is indeed the case. But if you are laser-focused on the question “What’s not working for you?” you’ll miss all sorts of opportunities.

In our research engagements we like to include discussion with people about the things in their lives that are working really well for them – inside and outside the focus areas of the project. By figuring out what’s at the heart of these interactions, we might learn, for example, something about the way a service works that we can apply to the development of a product. Or a person might say “I just love the way the big chunky knobs on my Viking stove feel.” And it might be the transposition of this small finding in an ideation session that helps our client go on and create innovative toilets.

We encourage our clients to move from focusing on pain points to thinking about Opportunity Areas. We use what we learn out in the field to point them in promising directions, with a focus on asking “How can we __________ ?”

Persistence of Vision

I was walking to dinner with a client in Chicago and saw this choice piece of graffiti. I immediately imagined using the image for an end slide in a presentation – “Problem Solved.” Very nice.

It wasn’t until after I had posted the shot on Facebook and seen it uploaded that I realized what it actually said. Which means that I saw the graffiti, composed the shot, took several alternate shots, and processed it in Photoshop, all the while seeing what my mind had interpolated rather than what was actually written there.

We’ve had numerous experiences of clients joining us in the field and saying – after we’ve interviewed someone who was either using or enthusiastic about their products – “She’s not our customer,” because the person didn’t fit their organization’s idea of who their customers are. We’ve also heard, “We already fixed that problem,” even after seeing clearly that the solution was unknown to the end user and the problem was still a problem.

It can be very hard to see something as it is if you come to it with a strongly ingrained idea of what you think it is.

But there is a reality – customers, environments, markets – whether you are seeing it or not. If you’re developing and selling products and services, you’re far better off working from an understanding of what’s actually there, rather than what you think is there.

Reading Ahead: Research Findings

Reading ahead logo with space above

(Updated to include slideshow with synchronized audio track)

We’re very excited today to be posting our findings from the Reading Ahead research project.

Lots more in the deck below, but here’s the executive summary

  • Books are more than just pages with words and pictures; they are imbued with personal history, future aspirations, and signifiers of identity
  • The unabridged reading experience includes crucial events that take place before and after the elemental moments of eyes-looking-at-words
  • Digital reading privileges access to content while neglecting other essential aspects of this complete reading experience
  • There are opportunities to enhance digital reading by replicating, referencing, and replacing social (and other) aspects of traditional book reading

We sat down yesterday in the office and recorded ourselves delivering these findings, very much the way we would deliver them to one of our clients.

Usually, we deliver findings like these to a client team in a half day session, and there’s lots of dialogue, but we tried to keep it brief here to help you get through it. (The presentation lasts an hour and twenty minutes.)

It’s been a great project, and we’ve really appreciated hearing from people along the way. We welcome further comments and questions, and look forward to continuing the dialogue around this work.


Audio

Reading Ahead: Building models

Reading ahead logo with space above

We’ve been hard at work synthesizing the Reading Ahead data. There’s a great deal of writing involved in communicating the results, and sometimes it makes sense to develop a visual model that represents a key idea.

Here are several partial models evolving through paper and whiteboard sketches, and finally into digital form.

We’ll be finishing synthesis soon, and publishing our findings on Slideshare, with an audio commentary.

Stay tuned…

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models

Reading Ahead: Managing recruiting

Reading ahead logo with space above

There’s always something new in every project. Often we encounter a bit of process that we may not know how to best manage it. So we’ll make our best plan and see what happens. We learn as we go and ultimately have a better way for dealing with it next time.

In a regular client project, we write a screener and work with a recruiting company who finds potential research participants, screens them, and schedules them. Every day they email us an updated spreadsheet (or as they call it “grid”) with responses to screener questions, scheduled times, locations, and contact info. It still ends up requiring a significant amount of project management effort on our end, because questions will arise, schedules will shift, people will cancel, client travel must be arranged, etc. etc.

For Reading Ahead, we did all of the recruiting ourselves. Although we’ve done this before, this may be the first time since the rise of social media: we put the word out on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, email to friends, and here on All This ChittahChattah.

While Dan lead the effort, we both used our own networks, and so we got responses in a number of channels, sent to either or both of us, including:

  • @ replies on Twitter
  • direct messages on Twitter
  • Comments on Facebook posts
  • Messages on Facebook
  • Emails (directly to either of us, or forwarded from friends, and friends-of-friends

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A private dialog on Facebook

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Comments on a Facebook status update. Note that Dan is able to jump in and make contact directly

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Direct Messages in Twitter

Some people were potential participants, some were referrers to other potential participants, and some were both. And given the range of platforms we were using, with their associated restrictions (and unclear social protocols), we had to scramble to figure out who could and should communicate with who to follow up and get to the point where we could see if the people in question were right for the study. We didn’t expect this to happen, and eventually Dan’s inbox and/or his Word document were no longer efficient, and as some participants were scheduled or in negotiation to be scheduled, he ended up with this schedule cum worksheet:

schedule

Being split across the two of us and these different media, eventually we were interacting with people for whom we had to check our notes to trace back how we had connected to them, which was great for our sample, since it meant we weren’t seeing a group of people we already knew.

It was further complicated when we had finished our fieldwork and wanted to go back to everyone who offered help close the loop with them, thanking them for help. Technically, and protocol-wise, it took some work (who are the people we need to follow up with? Who follows up with them? What media do they use), basically going through each instance one-by one.

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We haven’t figured out what we’ll do next time; we won’t forget the challenges we’ve had but there’s just not time or need right now to plan for the future. If I had to guess, I’d imagine a Google Spreadsheet that includes where we got people from, who owns the contact, whether they are participant-candidate or referrer, etc.). Despite being very pessimistic about the demands of recruiting, we still underestimated the time and complexity required for this project.

Reading Ahead: Looking for the story

Reading ahead logo with space above

I started today by typing up all of the Post-it notes you saw in our recent blog post on Synthesis.

This activity created a 6-page Word document of bullet points.

The next part of the process is something I always find challenging: taking an incredibly detailed list of observations, particpant statements, hypotheses, and ideas; figuring out what the Big Ideas are (there’s a point in the process where many of them seem Big!), and putting those into a form that tells a cogent story.

First step: make a cup of tea.

Ok, then my next steps were:

  • Categorize all those bullet points
  • Synthesize those categories a bit further
  • Write down in as short a paragraph as possible what I would tell someone who asked me, “what did you find out?”

Then I went into PowerPoint, which is what we use when we present findings to our clients. I’ll continue bouncing back and forth between Word and PowerPoint; each piece of software supports a different way of thinking and writing.

I dropped my synthesized categories into a presentation file, sifted all of the bullet points from my Word doc into the new categories, and then started carving and shaping it all so that it started to follow the paragraph I had written. (I’m mixing cooking and sculpting metaphors here.)

I printed out the presentation draft, and laid it out so I could see the whole thing at once.

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Steve came back from a meeting and I asked him to read over what I’d printed out. He started writing notes on my printouts, pulling out what he saw as the biggest of the Big Ideas.

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We talked about what he’d written, which led to an energetic discussion in which we really started to breathe life into this. Tomorrow, I’ll start the day by iterating the presentation draft based on our conversation.

Reading Ahead: Analysis and Synthesis

Reading ahead logo with space above

Synthesizing field data into well-articulated, data-driven patterns, themes, and opportunities is a big part of our work, but it’s an aspect that generally has less visibility than the fieldwork.

An essential early step in the synthesis process involves going back over the fieldwork sessions. An hour or two-hour interview creates an incredible amount of information. By going back into a record of the interview, we make sure not to leave anything significant behind.

We go through and make notes on interview transcripts (done by an outside service), watch videos of the sessions, and look over photographs, sketches, maps, and participatory design pieces.

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Annotated interview transcript

We made a bulletin board of the people we met, so they’re ever-present while we’re working.

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Yesterday we came together to share the points we’d each pulled out. We present each interview, like a case study, to the team. Sometimes it’s just us, and sometimes our clients join us for part of this process.

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While one of us presented, the other captured the essence onto Post-its. We had a lot of discussion and debate while we did this, pulling together multiple viewpoints.

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When we were done presenting the interviews, the board looked like this:

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Our next step is to take these notes and start grouping them. We’ll look at different ways the information can be organized, and from there, will start refining our work and writing it up clearly and succinctly into a report.

Reading Ahead: Topline Summary

Reading ahead logo with space above

As soon as possible after concluding fieldwork, we write a Topline Summary, in which we capture our first impressions and the ideas that are top-of-mind from being in the field.

We’re always careful to be clear about what the Topline is and isn’t. There’s synthesis that happens from the fieldwork experience itself (which the Topline captures), and synthesis that happens from working with the data (which we haven’t done yet).

In the Topline we go a step further than the field highlights and start to articulate some of the patterns we think are emerging, but these ideas may change once we do a detailed analysis and synthesis of the data we’ve gathered.

In a client project, we’ll have a discussion with the client team around the Topline Summary. We encourage members of the client team to come out in the field with us, and the Topline discussion is a great opportunity for everyone who did so to share their experiences and tell stories. The Topline discussion is also a good time for our clients to let us know if there are any specific directions they want us to pursue as we analyze and synthesize the data we’ve gathered.

We’ve now finished our fieldwork for Reading Ahead. We conducted six in-depth interviews, with photo diary and participatory design activities (more in our next few posts about these methods).

Here’s our Topline Summary:



Portigal Consulting: Reading Ahead Topline Summary

  1. Reading is not just a solo activity; there are significant social/interpersonal aspects for many people
  • Recommendations, book clubs, lending

  • Books facilitate the interpersonal aspects of reading

  • Can be easily lent or given away
  • Given as gifts
  • People can use a book together: parents and kids, showing someone a passage or illustrations, etc.

  • Reading can be a big part of family life

  • Childhood memories, passing books between generations, reading with one’s own children.

  • Connection between home life and outside world (school)

  1. Reading and Books are not always one and the same
  • Erica buys some books because she likes them as objects. She knows she may not read all of them. “I love books. I almost like books more than reading.”

  • Jeff says if you love to read, you’d like the Kindle. If you love books, you should try it out before you buy one

  • The Kindle facilitates types of reading beyond books: blogs, articles, periodicals

  1. Books do more than carry content
  • Books engage the senses: they are tactile, visual objects, with specific characteristics like smell and weight

  • Become carriers of specific memories

  • Develop a patina that carries meaning
  • An inscribed book becomes a record of an event, interaction, relationship

  • There is an art/collector aspect to books (which is absent in the Kindle)
  • First editions
  • Signed copies
  • Galley proofs
  • Typography
  • Pictures and illustrations
  • Quality of paper, printing, etc.
  • Books say something about a person
  • Others can see what you’re reading; like clothes, etc., this carries meaning
  • “Looking at someone’s bookshelves when you go to their house” (Jeff)
  • When people give books as gifts they are deliberately communicating something about the relationship, the event, themselves, and the recipient

  • Books can create a physical record of someone’s reading activity
  • Chris used to line up all the books he had read to get a sense of accomplishment
  • Annotations, bookmarks, tags all convey the reader’s personal history with that book

  1. Books are easily shared
  • Pass them along to others

  • Donate to library

  • Sell or buy at used book store

  • Borrow from the library rather than purchasing

  1. How books are stored and organized carries meaning
  • Emotion, sense of pride, expression of personality, record of engagement

  • Erica organizes her books by how the content/type of book feels to her: “dusty” classics, modern classics, etc.

  • Julie’s extensive shelves are organized alphabetically to reinforce the idea of library

  1. Libraries and bookstores provide specific experiences
  • As a little girl, Erica visited different libraries with her Mom. This was their daily activity, and Erica retains strong and specific memories

  • Julie and her housemate recreated a library atmosphere in their home

  • A quiet, comfortable space
  • Good lighting
  • Alphabetized bookshelves
  • A unified décor

  • For Jeff and others, spending time browsing in a bookstore represents having leisure time

  1. The Kindle
  • For people whose love of reading is bound up in their love of books, the Kindle loses much of the reading experience; it is only a content carrier

  • Julie has a history of wanting to read on electronic devices as well as from printed books, so to her, the Kindle is a big evolutionary step from her old Palm, the iPhone, etc.

  • For Erica, the Kindle signifies “computer,” so it does not let her “unplug” from the fast-paced connected lifestyle that books provide a refuge from

  • Several people described the kinetics of page-turning as an important aspect of reading books that is absent in the Kindle

  • Books afford ways of navigating content that the Kindle does not: flipping, comparing non-sequential pages, looking at the recipes at the end of each chapter, etc.

  • Peter finds it frustrating that when he buys a Kindle book from Amazon, he can’t share it. When he started working in an environment where people were passing books around, he went back to reading printed books

  1. Participant ideation about the “book of the future” and “reading device of the future”
  • NOTE: The first thing a number of the participants said when asked about what the “book of the future” could be and do was that it’s pretty hard to improve on the book-it works very well the way it is. In addition to all the qualities already mentioned, books are

  • Instant on-off
  • Durable

  • But people did have ideas. Here are some of them:

  • Interactive
  • Put yourself in the story
  • Leave the story for more information
  • Choose from alternate endings, versions

  • Size-shifting

  • Able to morph from bigger size for reading to smaller for transporting
  • Retain the book form while adding functionality

  • Book form with replaceable content: a merging of book and device, with a cover, and page-turning but content is not fixed-it can be many different books
  • Books that contain hyperlinks, electronic annotations, multimedia, etc.
  • Privacy

  • Hide what you’re reading from others, hide annotations, hide your personal book list and lend your device to someone (with content for them)
  • Projecting

  • A device that projects words that float above it, so that the reader doesn’t have to hold the device in their hands

Reading Ahead: Figuring out who to talk to

Reading ahead logo with space above

People always ask us, “how do you find the people for your projects?”

Figuring out how to identify appropriate people to interview for a project is all-important. For Reading Ahead, we know we need people who are active readers. What constitutes an “active reader?” We’re defining it as people who read books at least three times a week, in multiple locations. We want people who are engaged in the behavior at a level where they will have lots of experiences from which to draw. We also know that we want to look at how people’s behavior changes/doesn’t change/is supported by/is influenced when reading books in print vs. reading eBooks using a device.

When we have established the criteria for participating in the research, we typically use a specialized recruiting company to find people. We write a screener, which has a series of specific questions to identify people who meet our criteria.

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Screener excerpt, Reading Ahead project, 2009

Finding the right people can be quite complex, and for some projects, we’ve written screeners that are more than 10 pages long. If we’re looking for people who do activities X and Y, in locations 1, 2, and 3, but have never done activity Z-well, you get the idea!

In this project, the criteria are simpler, and we’ll be doing our own recruiting. In fact, if you’re in the Bay Area and an avid reader or Kindle user, let us know and maybe we can talk with you!

Update: We put together a representative screener that is formal enough to be given to a recruiting firm, even though we aren’t doing that for Reading Ahead. You can download it here.

Reading Ahead: Project Launch

Reading ahead logo with space above

We’re very excited here at Portigal Consulting to announce the start of a new self-funded project–Reading Ahead.

In Reading Ahead, we’ll be exploring the evolution of reading and books from a consumer perspective–what it means to be a reader, how artifacts from traditional books to devices like Amazon’s Kindle affect the experience, and what the future might hold for readers, product developers, and beyond.

Over the course of the project, we’ll be blogging both about how we work and what we see and learn.

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Steve Portigal (left) and Dan Soltzberg, project kickoff, July 27, 2009

Understanding our client
One of the first steps in any project is figuring out what the project is really about. So the first piece of research we do is often focused on our client.

As we work with our clients to establish the scope and approach of a project, we also interview key stakeholders in their organization to better understand what they know and what they need to know. (This doesn’t always map to what they think they know and what they think they need to know, and it’s important to suss out the differences.) These interviews help us understand the dynamics of the team and the organizational culture.

In this case, we’re our own client, so we sat down and asked each other some fundamental questions

  • What is it we want to know that we don’t know now?
  • What are we going to do with what we learn?
  • What are the people, places, things, behaviors, etc. that we think we want to focus on.
  • How broadly or tightly do we want to draw the scope of the exploration (at least at the outset-this can change as the project moves forward). In this case, to what extent might we want to be looking at bigger categories like content, entertainment, free time?

The way we answer these project definition questions will have a huge affect on how the work unfolds. As in most projects, we’ll be looking for the sweet spot that is constrained enough to give the project a clear focus but open enough to leave room for the unexpected.

Turn It On Again

Stephen Anderson’s musings on collaboration and attribution reminded me that a project we worked on for BIC has gone live:

From Business Week

[BIC is] designing disposable cartridges for fuel cells, a kind of power supply that could someday eliminate the need to constantly recharge mobile phones or laptop computers. Electronics makers are drawn to fuel cells because today’s rechargeable batteries can’t keep up with the demands users place on portable gadgets.

Bic’s big adventure with fuel cells began in 2002. Ken Cooper, the company’s U.S.-based director of strategic business development, was in a New Haven (Conn.) drugstore and spotted a cordless travel hair dryer with a tiny motor that ran on butane. This got Cooper thinking about fuel cells for handheld gadgets-a hot topic in consumer electronics circles. Few companies in the world package as much fuel every day as Bic does in its butane lighters, he reasoned. So Cooper decided Bic should take a gamble and develop fuel-cell cartridges that are “lighter-like, pocketable, yet safe.”

I know Ken worked with a series of small consultancies over that period. From our workshop, I remember strongly that fuel cells were a key takeway. But was that concept extant before the workshop, or did we generate it? I honestly can’t remember, and ultimately, (as Stephen addresses) it’s not a worthwhile pursuit to frame it that way. In most of our engagements we are trying to inform and inspire talented business people to develop and refine ideas and move them further along, and seeing this story in BusinessWeek 6 years later confirms that indeed we did.

Please wait here. We’ll be right back with some fresh hot insight.

I was interviewed recently for What insight is ethnography delivering? (PDF). It’s a pretty clear piece, and I think we show well in it. Lots of tidbits but the closest thing to controversy is this:

Portigal accepts that while there needs to be conditions, such as a ban on any logos being worn by the accompanying client, and an agreement to undertake some basic workshop training to introduce them to the principles of field work, he is happy to bring along a member of the client’s team. “It’s the 80/20 rule: we ask 80% questions, you ask 20%. It takes them a couple of practices and then I think they can make a really valuable contribution.”

However, for O’Brien, the very thought of having a non-team member accompany out in the field is a non-issue. “We simply don’t believe in it,” he says. “The fewer people, the better. If you start crowding a room out, how is the participant going to feel comfortable? In fact, we have even lost jobs over it.”

It took me many years to come around to this way of thinking, but as our work has become more about facilitating our clients to take action and less about handing off insights, it seems right on for us. I’d love to hear what you think!

Disciplinarity and Rigour? My keynote from Design Research Society conference

I was recently in the UK to give the opening keynote at the Design Research Society’s Undisciplined conference. I detail some of my academic and professional history and talk about the concerns of a practitioner, perhaps an alternate take on what many in the audience (designers from academic settings) are thinking about themselves.

Here are slides and audio in separate widgets. You can start the audio and advance the slides manually to follow along. The talk goes for about 45 minutes and the discussion for another 25 or so.

< Audio [audio src="StevePortigal_DRS2008.mp3"] Also, see my London and Sheffield pictures here.

Series

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