Posts tagged “culture”

Designing the Problem, my keynote from ISA14 (now with video)

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)

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Sketchnote by Thiago Esser (click for full size)
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The personal commitment required for truly immersive research

Alice Goffman’s ‘On the Run’ Studies Policing in a Poor Urban Neighborhood [NYT] describes a sociologist who commits deeply to truly immersive fieldwork. At one level this simply reminds us of the differences between academic and industry work, but beyond that it surfaces just how personally demanding it is to deeply engage in a culture, requiring us to forgo much of ourselves (In Interviewing Users that’s Check Your Worldview At the Door) in order to understand the people we are interested in (Embrace How Other People See the World).

Ms. Goffman comes from a home where intensive fieldwork was something of a family business. Her father, the eminent sociologist Erving Goffman (who died when she was a baby), posed as an employee of a mental hospital for a year to research his 1961 study, “Asylums.” Her mother, Gillian Sankoff, is a sociolinguist at the University of Pennsylvania who has done studies in Papua New Guinea and French Canada; her adoptive father, the sociolinguist William Labov, also at Penn, has done pioneering field research on African-American urban vernacular, among other subjects.

Ms. Goffman, who grew up in the Center City neighborhood of Philadelphia, said she took her first field notes as a teenager, recording observations about the Italian-American side of her family in South Philadelphia. By her sophomore year at Penn, she had moved full time to a mixed-income African-American neighborhood and was hanging out on a tough strip, fully immersing herself in local culture.

She abandoned her vegetarian diet, listened only to mainstream hip-hop and R&B, and adopted local “male attitudes, dress, habits, and even language,” as she puts it in a long appendix, describing her research methods. While drugs, and drug selling, pervaded the neighborhood, she did not use them, she writes, partly because “it hampered writing the field notes.”

By her own account, she lost most of her college friends, and struggled to complete her non-sociology requirements.
It may sound “absurd” now, Ms. Goffman said of her extreme immersion. “But I was trying to take the participant-observer approach as seriously as possible.”

It can be hard to square the very ordinary-seeming academic who recalls her teenage affection for “My So-Called Life” with the young woman of her startlingly confessional appendix, which ends with a moving account of a close friend’s death in a shootout.

Insights into Internet-era blue- and white-collar work

Here are two amazing pieces that expose a great amount of detail about very different types of jobs that are specific to the Internet era. We learn about who is doing the work, what the work is like and what the culture is. There’s so much rich detail in both that I am not summarizing or drawing conclusions but simply pointing you to them for listening/reading.

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(Jerry Bowley/flickr)

Brown Box is a a RadioLab piece about the order fulfillment centers that companies like Amazon and others use. The reporter gets a job in one of these places and describes the physical and emotional toil (although she meets some who really like the work). While you might imagine the way items are stored in those warehouses is incredibly ordered, she describes how it’s essentially random, while “pickers” who are preparing an order carry a handheld device that directs them item after item to each holding bin at random locations through the warehouse, counting down the seconds it has calculated for them to reach the next item. That sounds so stressful!

It used to be, when you ordered something on the Internet, you waited a week for it to show up. That was the deal: you didn’t have to get off the couch, but you had to wait. But in the last few years, that’s changed. Now, increasingly, the stuff we buy on the Internet shows up the next day or the same day, sometimes within hours. Free shipping included. Which got us wondering: How is this Internet voodoo possible?

A fleet of robots? Vacuum tubes? Teleportation? Hardly. In this short, reporter Mac McClelland travels into the belly of the beast that is the Internet retail system, and what she finds takes her breath away and makes her weak in the knees (in the worst way).

Also: a written story by Mac McClelland about the same experience.

code-horror
Programming Sucks is an intensely hyperbolic piece that digs into the state of the art for developing computer code.

For example, say you’re an average web developer. You’re familiar with a dozen programming languages, tons of helpful libraries, standards, protocols, what have you. You still have to learn more at the rate of about one a week, and remember to check the hundreds of things you know to see if they’ve been updated or broken and make sure they all still work together and that nobody fixed the bug in one of them that you exploited to do something you thought was really clever one weekend when you were drunk. You’re all up to date, so that’s cool, then everything breaks.

“Double you tee eff?” you say, and start hunting for the problem. You discover that one day, some idiot decided that since another idiot decided that 1/0 should equal infinity, they could just use that as a shorthand for “Infinity” when simplifying their code. Then a non-idiot rightly decided that this was idiotic, which is what the original idiot should have decided, but since he didn’t, the non-idiot decided to be a dick and make this a failing error in his new compiler. Then he decided he wasn’t going to tell anyone that this was an error, because he’s a dick, and now all your snowflakes are urine and you can’t even find the cat.

So no, I’m not required to be able to lift objects weighing up to fifty pounds. I traded that for the opportunity to trim Satan’s pubic hair while he dines out of my open skull so a few bits of the internet will continue to work for a few more days.

Can you engineer empathy (as part of learning to code)?

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From Engineering Empathy [Re/code]

Dev Bootcamp, an intensive nine-week coding program in San Francisco’s South of Market district, offers a unique “Engineering Empathy” curriculum. About 30 students stood in pairs and spoke to their partners simultaneously: You don’t respond to email fast enough. Why are you checking Twitter — nothing important happens there. You’re too old to be here. You’re faking it. You don’t know how to develop. You have no career. You’re the worst pair partner. Your accent makes you hard to understand. You’ll never get a programming job.

When the cacophony finally subsided, many of the would-be programmers were in tears. Some were holding hands. One man sat down and put his head in his hands. “My superego runs on a disappointment platform,” he said to the room.

The culture of tech (male-dominated, sexist, entitled and so on) has become even more visible as of late. Even the parodies of Silicon Valley, such as HBO’s Silicon Valley, face criticism for not being inclusive enough.

So I’m a bit stuck on how to parse this particular example. Of course it’s good that people are given the chance to develop empathy! I’ve been teaching designers about presence and mindfulness (and will be doing so again later this year at UX Australia). Perhaps it’s just how the writer took something earnest and presented it out of context, thereby making it look ridiculous (in other words, like a scene from Silicon Valley).

I suppose things can be both wonderfully beneficial and hilariously ridiculous at the same time (see rock music or romance, for example). I’ve taught a lot of workshops where you if walked in without context you’d wonder what the hell is going on. I feel trepidation (because I can’t tell how whether this is authentic or just a put-on) but I really want to recognize this as a good thing.

Flavor Combination

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The Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Pint Lock is a simple enough product – a locking mechanism for a standard pint of ice cream. But along with its functionality comes a measure of social performance that’s worth a brief closer look.

The idea is humorous (one side of the lock has the slogan “I’m terribly sorry, but there’s no ‘u’ in ‘my pint'”) – but in that humor is a gentle reminder to everyone that Ben & Jerry’s is precious stuff, worth protecting.

As far as security goes (the ice cream is in cardboard, after all), I’m reminded of what a research participant told me once. When walking around the perimeter of his fast-food franchise, he said “A lock only stops an honest person.” His point was that any security can be broken with some amount of force, and the role of the lock is to make it clear that you aren’t welcome. Social norms keep most of us from bypassing that lock. So while we might pop open the ice cream and take a spoonful or two of our coworker or roommate or partner’s Chunky Monkey, we’re probably not going to cut through the package and make it obvious. So while this lock won’t stop a ravenous freezer rodent, it will protect your ice cream from most of your regular dessert-craving cohabitants.

It’s great design in that it considers the functionality in its cultural context. If they built this by spec-sheet (as one might with a bike lock, say) they would miss the point entirely.

Thanks, Mom!

Creative collaboration with jerks

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I love this great post by Margaret Hagan that looks at a few different ways to deal with a “Yes, and…” collaboration when your partner won’t play by those rules, falling back on “that sucks” a little too often. She suggests three different approaches, which I’ve spun as follows

  1. Redirect – go off on your own or find other people to interact with and bring that good stuff back to the collaboration
  2. Respond – challenge those that challenge you with their stinky negativity
  3. Reframe – do all the design activities you like, but don’t describe them with code words, eliminating one particular generator of pushback.

There’s much more to be said about all of these, but Margaret’s simple post and lively illustrations are a good bit of inspiration

Lowrider: Take a little trip and see

cholo
Image from documentary film South American Cholo

The New York Times, in Lowrider Culture Spreads to Brazil and Beyond, offers up yet another astounding example of globalization meets enthusiast-culture.

The spread of this seemingly distant subculture, with Brazilian followers calling themselves “cholos” and cruising around in their low-and-slow automobiles, is raising eyebrows here in South America’s largest city. Some who cannot afford to buy vintage cars and customize them into lowriders simply roam S?£o Paulo’s labyrinthine streets at the helm of bicycles accessorized with high-rise handlebars and banana seats.

Even when they just strut around in oversize khaki shorts and white muscle shirts, they speak to something larger: the global fluidity of conceptions of ethnicity, identity and style, propelling a street culture once so closely tied to the borderlands of the United States and Mexico well beyond its birthplace.

What the Bieb Means, or Embrace Pop Culture

Earlier this year I gave a talk entitled Skill Building for Design Innovators. One of the “muscles” I encouraged people to develop was embracing pop culture. This led to a fascinating discussion when one person dissented and others jumped in with their own perspective. And of course, Justin Bieber was our placeholder example of pop culture. So I was gratified to see this article in the New York Times: Justin Bieber and Today’s Youth.

One reason Mr. Bieber has captivated our attention, beyond his talent and charisma, is that, alongside Mark Zuckerberg, he is the paragon of the millennial celebrity. Born in 1994, he has hardly known a world without broadband Internet, smartphones, social media and digital imagery (and, yes, public apologies by celebrities through those same conduits). He has exploited – and been exploited by – these tools to great effect, currently ruling the Twitter roost with more than 36 million followers. That’s a lot of people for anyone, let alone a teenager, to have direct access to with a thoughtless swipe of his iPhone.

And because Mr. Bieber is so ambitious and enterprising, he can also be considered an emblem of the overscheduled, future-oriented Generation Y striver. Instead of regimented piano lessons, soccer practice and SAT classes, the entertainer has committed himself to the steady, if largely self-directed, cultivation of singing, dancing and interview skills since he was 12.

Thus, the gleeful reaction by some to Mr. Bieber’s misbehavior may connect to two directives imposed upon children today: the need to overprepare for the demanding and perilous world of work, and the loss of innocence that preparation entails.

When we laugh at his “meltdown” – one that many of us would have suffered much sooner in our teenage years had the global press hounded us, had we put in 16-hour workdays, had millions of dollars rested on our shoulders – we are doing more than merely relishing the downfall of a formerly squeaky-clean (Tiger Woods) moral crusader (Eliot Spitzer) who has a few irksome personality traits (Anthony Weiner). We are channeling our cultural anxiety over the ways we have corrupted and effaced childhood.

ChittahChattah Quickies

What It’s Like to Experience New Technology After 25 Years in Jail [Gizmodo] – From a Quora thread to a Gizmodo post (and there may be a book deal happening?) here’s a real edge-case user type, someone with almost no exposure to current technology.

Prior to my release from prison, I gave considerable thought to a technology strategy. My wife was used to using Microsoft products, but everything I’d read indicated that Apple products offered a much quicker learning curve. On the day she picked me up she handed me an iPhone 4S. During my first week of liberty, we purchased a MacBook Pro and iMac desktop system. I hoped they would all work seamlessly together. But since my wife wasn’t as comfortable with the Apple products, she insisted that I load them all up with Microsoft products so she could rescue me when I had problems. I’ve had a lot of problems coming up to speed with simple tasks like email, or synching all of my computers together. I’ve also had a problem remembering all of the passwords she assigned to me. I keep arguing that we should use only one password, but that only brings forth her arguments on the dangers of identity theft. Since I met many men in prison who served time for identity theft, I trust that my wife has a point.

The Improbable is the New Normal [The Technium] – What are the consequences of spectacle fatigue (and I don’t mean your eyes and nose feeling sore)? And what does that mean for those who intend to entertain us (say, film and television) with more traditional content? (via Kottke)

The internets are also brimming with improbable feats of performance — someone who can run up a side of a building, or slide down suburban roof tops, or stack up cups faster than you can blink. Not just humans, but pets open doors, ride scooters, and paint pictures. The improbable also includes extraordinary levels of super human achievements: people doing astonishing memory tasks, or imitating all the accents of the world. In these extreme feats we see the super in humans.

Every minute a new impossible thing is uploaded to the internet and that improbable event becomes just one of hundreds of extraordinary events that we’ll see or hear about today. The internet is like a lens which focuses the extraordinary into a beam, and that beam has become our illumination. It compresses the unlikely into a small viewable band of everyday-ness. As long as we are online – which is almost all day many days — we are illuminated by this compressed extraordinariness. It is the new normal.

To the uninformed, the increased prevalence of improbable events will make it easier to believe in impossible things. A steady diet of coincidences makes it easy to believe they are more than just coincidences, right? But to the informed, a slew of improbably events make it clear that the unlikely sequence, the outlier, the black swan event, must be part of the story.

Overthinking It subjects the popular culture to a level of scrutiny it probably doesn’t deserve – There’s a lot of things being overthought on the site. This example is one of at least two posts (first, and second) where Law and Order episodes were put into a database and then analyzed and analyzed.

Over the entire run of the show, more than a third of all the episodes ended in Guilty verdicts, while another third ended in plea bargains. 80% of episodes ended in solid wins: either Guilty verdicts, plea bargains, or implied victories. That’s not too shabby, considering that the actual NYPD has a homicide clearance rate of about 50%. (Although you have to figure Law & Order isn’t meant to represent every case these detectives investigated; in 20 seasons, I don’t think there was a single murder that didn’t result in an arrest.)

(UPDATE 12/10/12: One of the commenters on Reddit has pointed out that the “clearance rate” has nothing to do with convictions, only arrests. In that case, Law & Order’s clearance rate would be nearly 100%, since even in the rare episodes without a trial somebody usually gets arrested. I guess I’d know this stuff if I had watched The Wire.)

The Fake Shows from Arrested Development are Now Listed on Netflix [Paste] – I love seeing fake products and brands treated like real ones. Reminds me of the in-production Newsreaders, a fake news magazine TV show that originally aired as a special episode of the parody Childrens Hospital (which also had fake promos for NTSF:SD:SUV::, leading to that becoming a real show as well.

Next spring, Netflix will premiere the highly anticipated and currently in-production fourth season of Arrested Development. Along with the rights to the show come the rights to all of the shows within the show, and to tide fans over until next spring Netflix has featured fake listings of Scandalmakers, Wrench, Boyfights and more. There is no actual footage to watch-the links just take you the Arrested Development season one page- but it’s pretty funny seeing the summaries and poster photos listed on Netflix like they belong to actual shows. Also listed are Les Cousins Dangereux, Girls with Low Self-Esteem: Newport Beach, Families with Low Self-Esteem and Mock Trial with J. Reinhold.

ChittahChattah Quickies

Chick Beer | America’s Beer for Women – Products that claim to be designed especially for women cloak themselves in empowerment and equality. Yet they easily ring false. Beyond issues of feminism, I see this as any type of design failure: not offering a specific understandable benefit that makes your promised experience tangible. In other words, why is this beer for “chicks?” Even if it was made by chicks, that’d be more than what they’re telling us here.

We brew Chick at America’s second-oldest brewery, located in beautiful southern Wisconsin. With over 160 years of experience, we know how to brew great beer. For centuries, beer has been created, produced and marketed by and to men. At Chick, we think that it’s time for a new choice. Chick Beer celebrates women: independent, smart, fun-loving and self-assured women who love life and embrace all of the possibilities that it has to offer. Above all, we think that beer is supposed to be fun! So enjoy! Grab a cool Chick and Witness the Chickness!”

The crayola-fication of the world: How we gave colors names, and it messed with our brains [Empirical Zeal] – Words are a culturally unique approach to categorizations. But some science folks have looked into identifying a universal, cross-culture map of colors.

There are plenty of other languages that blur the lines between what we call blue and green. Many languages don’t distinguish between the two colors at all. In the Thai language, khiaw means green except if it refers to the sky or the sea, in which case it’s blue. The Korean word purueda could refer to either blue or green, and the same goes for the Chinese word qƒ´ng. It’s not just East Asian languages either, this is something you see across language families. I find this fascinating, because it highlights a powerful idea about how we might see the world. After all, what really is a color? Just like the crayons, we’re taking something that has no natural boundaries – the frequencies of visible light – and dividing into convenient packages that we give a name.

Joel Hodgson on ‘Mystery Science Theater’ and Riffs – [NYT] – I love the insight into the process they used. As well, I am sick with jealousy over the folks that got to participate in a class, called RiffCamp2012, led by Hodgson. What could be more fun than that?

If “Mystery Science Theater” was part insult comedy aimed at movies, there was also something congenial in the show’s tone. (Perhaps it was the puppet robots, or that it was all being produced in Minneapolis.) Six writers had to deliver a 90-minute episode every week, Mr. Hodgson said, with 600 to 800 riffs per movie, “when all the pistons were firing.” In devising the lines, no reference (Bella Abzug, Roy Lichtenstein) was too outré or rejected initially, Mr. Hodgson said. As he tried to convey to the students at Bucks, it’s best to brainstorm nonjudgmentally first and figure out what’s funny later.

The Science of ‘Gaydar’ [NYT] – Gaydar is provably real, and the framework used by these scientists describes a couple of different ways that we cognitively process what we see as faces.

It’s widely accepted in cognitive science that when viewing faces right side up, we process them in two different ways: we engage in featural face processing (registering individual facial features like an eye or lip) as well as configural face processing (registering spatial relationships among facial features, like the distance between the eyes or the facial width-to-height ratio). When we view faces upside down, however, we engage primarily in featural face processing; configural face processing is strongly disrupted. Thus our finding clarifies how people distinguish between gay and straight faces. Research by Professor Rule and his colleagues has implicated certain areas of the face (like the mouth area) in gaydar judgments. Our discovery – that accuracy was substantially greater for right side up faces than for upside-down faces – indicates that configural face processing contributes to gaydar accuracy. Specific facial features will not tell the whole story. Differences in spatial relationships among facial features matter, too.

A Peek Inside The CIA, As It Tries To Assess Iran [NPR] – A cultural and process overhaul to help intelligence analysts see beyond the obvious conclusions. Applies to the analysis process in design research as well.

The post-Iraq changes at the CIA also involve new analytic techniques, highlighted in a “tradecraft primer” in use at the agency since 2009. The manual is now used at the Sherman Kent School, the agency’s in-house training institute for new analysts. The manual opens with a section on the “mind-set” challenge. “If you’re only looking at [an issue] through one narrow view of the world, you’re not looking at the whole picture,” says John, who teaches at the Kent School. revealed. “Your biases will get you things like a confirmation bias: ‘I’ve seen it before, so it must be happening again.’ Or an anchoring bias: ‘We’ve come up with that conclusion, and I think it’s true, and it’s not going to change.'” One exercise now in use at the CIA is called “Analysis of Competing Hypotheses.” Analysts who may be inclined toward one explanation for some notable development are forced to consider alternative explanations and to tally up all the evidence that is inconsistent with their favored hypothesis. “You’re looking for the hypothesis with the least inconsistencies,” says John, who’s been at the CIA for 34 years. “We call it the Last Man Standing approach.” Such exercises are employed throughout the CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence. Each office now includes a “tradecraft cell,” staffed by specialists whose mission it is to make sure their colleagues are using all the latest analytic techniques and challenging their own judgments.

To Profile or Not to Profile? : A Debate between Sam Harris and Bruce Schneier [Sam Harris] – Bruce Schneier’s stuff is pretty amazing. His command of logic and skills in debate make his essays and other appearances mandatory for thinking about design, systems, and of course the post-9-11 security- and attendant cultural-issues.

When implementing any human-based system, the interests of the people operating the system often don’t precisely coincide with the interests of those designing it. This is the principal-agent problem, and it manifests itself in your profiling system as the TSA agent who thinks “If I wave this person through without checking out the anomaly and he turns out to be a terrorist, it’s my ass on the line.” Because the cost to the agent of a false positive is zero but the cost of missing a real attacker is his entire career, screeners will naturally tend towards ignoring the profile and instead fully checking everyone. And the screener’s supervisor is unlikely to tell him, “Hey you need to ignore the next old lady that beeps,” because if he’s wrong then it’s his ass on the line. The phenomenon is more general than security; discretionary systems tend to gravitate towards zero-tolerance systems because “following procedure” is a reasonable defense against being blamed for failure.

A Simple Tool You Need to Manage Innovation [HBR] – You may have seen Ansoff’s Product Market Matrix (perhaps like me, without knowing its name); this is a nice evolution of that model.

In the lower left of the matrix are core innovation initiatives – efforts to make incremental changes to existing products and incremental inroads into new markets. Whether in the form of new packaging, or slight reformulations, such innovations draw on assets the company already has in place. At the opposite corner are transformational initiatives, designed to create new offers – if not whole new businesses – to serve new markets and customer needs. These sorts of innovations, also called breakthrough, disruptive, or game changing, generally require that the company call on unfamiliar assets and to develop markets that aren’t yet mature. In the middle are adjacent innovations. An adjacent innovation involves leveraging something the company does well into a new space. Adjacent innovations allow a company to draw on existing capabilities but necessitate putting those capabilities to new uses. They require fresh, proprietary insight into customer needs, demand trends, market structure, competitive dynamics, technology trends, and other market variables.

ChittahChattah Quickies

Innovations Like Instagram Are Tough for Large Companies [NYT] – Large companies try so many different ways to create subsets of their culture that is somehow more free. Ray Ozzie did it at Microsoft, through architecture and interior design. I do wonder how many leaders treat this like a cultural problem, though, and bring the appropriate solutions to bear.

Leica, Nikon, Canon, Pentax and Olympus didn’t build Instagram, either. Michael Hawley, who is on Kodak’s board, said the answer could be summed up in one word: culture. “It’s a little like asking why Hasbro didn’t do Farmville, or why McDonald’s didn’t start Whole Foods,” said Mr. Hawley. “Cultural patterns are pretty hard to escape once you get sucked into them. For instance, Apple and Google are diametrical opposites in so many ways, have all the skills, but neither of them did Instagram, either.” Neither could Facebook. If it could, it wouldn’t have paid $1 billion to acquire the small team of engineers and access to the program’s 30 million users. The challenge of creating something small and disruptive inside a large company is one that many face today.

Thou shalt not commit logical fallacies – A nice library of dark patterns for persuasion, manipulation, and bluster. Available in a printable poster, too.

A logical fallacy is usually what has happened when someone is wrong about something. It’s a flaw in reasoning. They’re like tricks or illusions of thought, and they’re often very sneakily used by politicians and the media to fool people. Don’t be fooled! This website and poster have been designed to help you identify and call out dodgy logic wherever it may raise its ugly, incoherent head. If you see someone committing a logical fallacy, link them to the relevant fallacy to school them in thinky awesomeness.

The Outsourced Life [NYT] – Arlie Hochschild with an insightful and slightly alarming perspective on the consequences of a service society. How does the increasing possibility for outsourcing (also: buying our way into something) change what we bring, expect, or get out of our lives?

The very ease with which we reach for market services may help prevent us from noticing the remarkable degree to which the market has come to dominate our very ideas about what can or should be for sale or rent, and who should be included in the dramatic cast – buyers, branders, sellers – that we imagine as part of our personal life. It may even prevent us from noticing how we devalue what we don’t or can’t buy. A prison cell upgrade can be purchased for $82 a day in Santa Ana, Calif., and for $8 solo drivers in Minneapolis can buy access to car pool lanes on public roadways. Earlier this year, officials at Santa Monica College attempted to allow students to buy spots in oversubscribed classes for $462 per course. Even more than what we wish for, the market alters how we wish. Wallet in hand, we focus in the market on the thing we buy. In the realm of services, this is an experience – the perfect wedding, the delicious “traditional” meal, the well-raised child, even the well-gestated baby.

As we outsource more of our private lives, we find it increasingly possible to outsource emotional attachment. A busy executive, for example, focuses on efficiency; his assistant tells me, “My boss outsources patience to me.” The wealthy employer of a household manager detaches herself from the act of writing personal Christmas-present labels. A love coach encourages clients to think of dating as “work,” and to be mindful of their R.O.I. – return on investment, of emotional energy, time and money. The grieving family member hires a Tombstone Butler to beautify a loved one’s burial site.

Snack makers’ “Red Caviar” Lay’s and “Mango-orange” Oreos appeal more to global tastes [Winnipeg Free Press] – Some possible acquisitions for my Museum of Foreign Groceries.

After noticing sales of Oreos were lagging in China during the summer, Kraft added a green tea ice cream flavour. The cookie combined a popular local flavour with the cooling imagery of ice cream. The green tea version sold well, and a year later, Kraft rolled out Oreos in flavours that are popular in Asians desserts – raspberry-and-blueberry and mango-and-orange…To get a better sense of what Russians like, PepsiCo employees travelled around the country to visit people in their homes and talk about what they eat day-to-day. That was a big task. Russia has nine time zones and spans 7,000 miles, with eating habits that vary by region. The findings were invaluable for executives. In the eastern part of the country, Pepsi found that fish is a big part of the diet. So it introduced “Crab” chips in 2006. It’s now the third most popular flavour in the country. A “Red Caviar” flavour does best in Moscow, where caviar is particularly popular. “Pickled Cucumber,” which piggybacks off of a traditional appetizer throughout Russia, was introduced last year and is already the fourth most popular flavour.

Join me on April 17 for “Championing Contextual Research” webinar

On April 17 I’ll be presenting a UIE webinar about Championing Contextual Research in Your Organization. Sign up here!

To the delight of UX designers everywhere, organizations today increasingly conduct user-centered research methods like surveys, focus groups, and usability testing.

But what can we learn beyond the office environment? Isn’t user observation among the most powerful UX design research techniques we can do?

Yes! So Steve Portigal will describe the techniques, processes, and discussion points you can use to make it happen in your organization. And once you find out how to quell cultural or budgetary resistance to fieldwork, then you can create more analytical designs that make users jump for joy.

You’ll gain user insight before you need it.

  • Identify opportunities to learn about users
  • Conduct specialized interviews beyond just “talking to people”

Advocate for the adoption of contextual research

You’ll become a change agent in your organization.

  • Understand how markets and processes relate to one another
  • Discuss benefits and drawbacks for both stakeholders and users

Maximize the organizational impact of any research you do

You’ll start to establish research agendas from the get-go.

  • Integrate synthesis and analysis in any approved project
  • Create research outputs that are relevant to your stakeholders

Engage the rest of the organization in contextual research

You’ll make your process and outputs more visible.

  • Tackle entrenched belief structures with hands-on techniques
  • Involve teams in identifying patterns and themes

Please sign up here. If you can’t make the scheduled time, you can also get a recording of the event.

Some relevant articles I’ve seen lately that might relate to this topic are
How to tell managers they’re wrong about UX research and Organizational Challenges for UX Professionals

ChittahChattah Quickies

P&G gets innovative [Cincinnati.com] – The process behind Tide Pods includes lots and lots of research such as “talking” to 6,000 consumers. It appears this research was all done in simulated environments. I am bemused by the willing self-deception that if you put a couch in a lab, it makes the research contextual. I’d like to see P&G watching people do laundry in their real, non-idealized, messy, distracted, semi-functioning environment. Because then maybe you’d get takeaways richer than “Most laundry-doers are looking for a way to get it done faster.”

Inside the Beckett Ridge “home,” P&G researchers interviewed regular people as they sat in the comfortable couches of a mock family room or at the counter of a mock kitchen. They did the wash in a fully functioning laundry room. Through it all, they were videotaped and audiotaped, so P&G can capture how the wash gets done in a real-world setting…Back at Beckett Ridge, researchers worked on the packaging and the store display. Inside the “grocery store” with its six aisles, two checkout lanes and a self-scan lane, cameras are everywhere, recording how shoppers shop. The video feed can be streamed to any P&G Intranet site so questions and comments can be called in.

Never Too Early Movie Predictions – Sure, if we care at all, we’re still digesting the most recent Academy Awards. But forgot about 2012, this site has predictions through 2017. Sheesh, I haven’t seen any of these movies! Another moment where the corners of the Internet remind you that everyday life is filled with some genuine science fiction moments.

2015 Oscar Best Picture predictions
1. Noah
2. Citizen Hughes: The Power, The Money And The Madness
3. Churchill And Roosevelt
4. Avatar 2
5. The $700 Billion Man
6. The Color Of Lightening
7. Serena
8. Americana

Young Women Often Trendsetters in Vocal Patterns [NYT] – I had missed the original “vocal fry” hubbub a few months back, but I also enjoy how this article reframes young-female speech into a positive, leading-edge anthropological act.

Girls and women in their teens and 20s deserve credit for pioneering vocal trends and popular slang, adding that young women use these embellishments in much more sophisticated ways than people tend to realize. “A lot of these really flamboyant things you hear are cute, and girls are supposed to be cute,” said Penny Eckert, a professor of linguistics at Stanford. “But they’re not just using them because they’re girls. They’re using them to achieve some kind of interactional and stylistic end.” The latest linguistic curiosity to emerge from the petri dish of girl culture gained recognition in December, when researchers from Long Island University published a paper in The Journal of Voice. Working with what they acknowledged was a very small sample – recorded speech from 34 women ages 18 to 25 – the professors said they had found evidence of a new trend among female college students: a guttural fluttering of the vocal cords they called “vocal fry.” A classic example of vocal fry, best described as a raspy or croaking sound injected (usually) at the end of a sentence, can be heard when Mae West says, “Why don’t you come up sometime and see me,” or when Maya Rudolph mimics Maya Angelou on SNL.

Plastic Surgeons See iPhones Increase Demand for Cosmetic Procedures [Austin-Weston Center for Cosmetic Surgery] – It’s hard not to be cynical about this “press release” in which plastic surgeons tie the need for their services to a particularly hot tech brand. If you do this (the wrong way, at least) in China, you can get into trouble!

“Patients come in with their iPhones and show me how they look on [Apple’s video calling application] FaceTime,” says Dr. Sigal. “The angle at which the phone is held, with the caller looking downward into the camera, really captures any heaviness, fullness and sagging of the face and neck. People say ‘I never knew I looked like that! I need to do something!’ I’ve started calling it the ‘FaceTime Facelift’ effect. And we’ve developed procedures to specifically address it.” (via Kottke)

draw me in – Jeff Johnson’s quest to become a comic book extra. The best summary of the project – yet another example of the collapsing gulf between producer and consumer comes from this Wired article (quoted below).

Popping up in nearly 30 comic books, he has become the industry’s Waldo-a lurking stowaway who has managed to hijack the unlikeliest panels. “It’s the ultimate bragging right to go into a comic store and pick up a book you’re in,” says Johnson, a 30-year-old Kmart electronics clerk from Leavenworth, Kansas. His infamous glasses-and-goatee mug has been zombiefied (The Walking Dead), digitized (Tron: Betrayal), and placed alongside Sinestro (Green Lantern Corps), thanks to his ceaseless lobbying and the cooperation of artists. The idea sprang from a 2006 FHM contest in which entrants sent pictures of themselves in homemade costumes of villains; the winner (if you want to call it that) was drawn into Ultimate X-Men. Johnson didn’t want to dress up, so instead he handed out DrawMeIn flyers at Comic-Con, after which penciler Ryan Ottley worked him into Invincible.

ChittahChattah Quickies

Who Arted? Framing a Curatorial Intervention [Core77] – Steve and I talked about how great it is when street artists build on each others’ work in our Interactions article, Kilroy was Here. The “Who Arted” group has really formalized this idea in parts of Brooklyn, serially framing, thereby curating street art.

But what are we to take away? Is this some counter-establishment commentary? Some kind Dadaism reincarnated or an art project born of a lazy Saturday evening “potluck” that comes in little plastic baggies? Ha! Is it some conservative attempt to contain and sterilize an otherwise loose and “free” art form? Are these frames meant to control and connote a more sanctioned museum-like quality? -OR- More intriguingly, is this a fun, yet purposeful recommendation towards a comfortable middle ground; a less combustible space between tension and expression?

ComScore Study Confirms What We Already Knew: You’re Wasting Money on Ads No One Sees [AdAge Digital] – Many, many apps and web-based services (and concepts we encounter on projects regularly!) are predicated on an advertising-based revenue model, but (as we all know from our own behavior – this study is in the category of things-we-really-didn’t-need-a-study-to-know) these ads are very rarely even glimpsed. If a banner ad falls in a forest, etc…what are the implications to our virtual-economy?

ComScore announced it has developed measurement software it’s calling Validated Campaign Essentials, which includes at its core an analysis of which ads in an online campaign were in-view (50% of the ad must be viewable for at least one second.) The company said at an event this morning that it tested out the software over the last two months on campaigns for 12 big brands, including Kraft Foods, Ford, and Sprint. One of the key findings: 31% of the 1.7 billion ad impressions were never in view.

Buying the Body of Christ [Killing the Buddha] – This is a pretty thorough history of the Cavanagh Company, a 69-year old business that provides a product believed by many to transmogrify into the body of Christ: altar bread. A wide variety of influences cultural, logistical, ritualistic, theological and economic have driven innovation over the years. The company is now faced with bitter bested competitors (nuns!), niche-products (gluten-free wafers) and Polish knock-offs, all of which threaten their 80% market share.

Had production remained the exclusive bailiwick of monastic communities, it is likely that the findings of Vatican II would have prompted some minor changes in Communion-wafer production. Among the guidelines issued by the Church was a directive to “make the bread look more breadlike,” head of production Dan Cavanagh told me. It is a change whose significance may yet be lost on the millions of churchgoers who continue to think of hosts as a form of Styrofoam. Nevertheless, Cavanagh’s more “breadlike” whole-wheat wafer caught on. It became the industry standard, and forced the Poor Clare nuns to follow suit. In fact, the doctrinal changes of Vatican II were only a starting point for innovation. The Cavanagh Co. soon led the way to wholly aesthetic alterations in the host, to marketing campaigns and 1-800 numbers. The ethos of the altar bread industry changed profoundly, which is precisely what the Sisters of St. Clare found so unjust: ‘And they had the audacity to send samples and a price list to every parish in the United States! We were doomed. Priests started calling to say they preferred the “other” breads. Orders dropped. Our spirits drooped.’

ChittahChattah Quickies

The Philosophy of Food Project [University of North Texas] – Food is definitely delightfully deep. This ambitious project covers such ground as Food Metaphysics, Gustatory Aesthetics and Food Identity. Rich fare. For a little mental sorbet, watch a meditative video of Andy Warhol eating a hamburger included on their Links page. Sit back, relax, and ponder the meaning of flat meats and reluctant ketchup.

The Philosophy of Food Project is housed in the Department of Philosophy and Religion Studies at the University of North Texas. It aims to disseminate information about the philosophical investigation of food; increase the visibility of food as a topic for philosophical research; serve as a resource for researchers, teachers, students, and the public; galvanize a community of philosophers working on food issues; and help raise the level of public discourse about food, agriculture, animals, and eating. The role of philosophy is to cut through the morass of contingent facts and conceptual muddle to tackle the most basic questions about food: What is it exactly? How do we know it is safe? What should we eat? How should food be distributed? What is good food? These are simple yet difficult questions because they involve philosophical questions about metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, and aesthetics. Other disciplinary approaches may touch on these questions concerning food but only philosophy addresses them explicitly.

Airline lets passengers choose seat partners based on social media profiles [Springwise] – A clever concept at first glance, and certainly a perfectly understandable, some might even say natural use of social media, right? But I question the utility here, and the ability to produce repeatable positive experiences in real life. Do they realize that on airplanes you are stuck next to that person for the next x-amount of hours? The mind reels with potential horror stories. I for one still want some part of IRL to be uninfluenced by social media. Maybe that’s particularly so for me, as a middle-aged presumed-introvert. I dunno… do others have a different response to this?

KLM are reportedly developing a similar service to enable passengers to choose who they sit next to on their flight. However, unlike MHBuddy, which operates solely through Facebook, KLM’s new Meet and Seat service will enable passengers to access their fellow travelers’ LinkedIn profiles as well. The Meet and Seat service will allow passengers to choose their in-flight neighbors based on their occupation, mutual interests and appearance. By connecting to LinkedIn and Facebook during online check-in, passengers will be able to pick their ideal seat buddy, although both parties will have to choose to participate in the service. KLM believe it will provide an opportunity for networking, though other reports suggest it’s more likely to be used as a matchmaking tool.

The Art of Video Games [Smithsonian] – I am seriously tempted to make a trip to DC to see this exhibit. It takes an art historical approach, considering the video game as a serious art form in it’s own right, both reflecting our culture and in many senses, helping to shape it.

The Art of Video Games is one of the first exhibitions to explore the forty-year evolution of video games as an artistic medium, with a focus on striking visual effects and the creative use of new technologies. The exhibition will feature some of the most influential artists and designers during five eras of game technology, from early pioneers to contemporary designers…Video games use images, actions, and player participation to tell stories and engage their audiences. In the same way as film, animation, and performance, they can be considered a compelling and influential form of narrative art. New technologies have allowed designers to create increasingly interactive and sophisticated game environments while staying grounded in traditional game types. The exhibition will feature eighty games through still images and video footage.

Series

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