culture posts

ChittahChattah Quickies July 27th, 2011

An Uh, Er, Um Essay: In praise of verbal stumbles [Slate] – I love it when something I think of as inarguable, indisputable – like this one: it’s bad to say “um” in speech, especially when public speaking – is outed as a recent invention and/or sham. Also, this is a huge relief.

“Uh” and “um” don’t deserve eradication; there’s no good reason to uproot them. People have been pausing and filling their pauses with a neutral vowel (or sometimes with an actual word) for as long as we’ve had language, which is about 100,000 years. If listeners are so naturally repelled by “uhs” and “ums,” you’d think those sounds would have been eliminated long before now. The opposite is true: Filled pauses appear in all of the world’s languages, and the anti-ummers have no way to explain, if they’re so ugly, what “euh” in French, or “äh” and “ähm” in German, or “eto” and “ano” in Japanese are doing in human language at all. In the history of oratory and public speaking, the notion that good speaking requires umlessness is actually a fairly recent, and very American, invention. It didn’t emerge as a cultural standard until the early 20th century, when the phonograph and radio suddenly held up to speakers’ ears all the quirks and warbles that, before then, had flitted by. Another development was the codification of public speaking as an academic subject. Counting “ums” and noting perfect fluency gave teachers something to score.

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ChittahChattah Quickies June 27th, 2011
  • [from steve_portigal] Short Cuts [London Review of Books] – [The application of number-crunching style analytics to cracking a cultural code.] Spies aren’t known for their cultural sensitivity. So it was a surprise when news broke last month that IARPA, a US government agency that funds ‘high-risk/high-payoff research’ into areas of interest to the ‘intelligence community’, had put out a call for contributions to its Metaphor Program, a five-year project to discover what a foreign culture’s metaphors can reveal about its beliefs…The teams that get funded will collect large amounts of text in four languages, representing four cultures: Iranian Farsi, Mexican Spanish, Russian Russian and American English. With the help of heavy-duty computer analysis, they will spend the first couple of years identifying conceptual metaphors in each language and listing them in a ‘metaphor repository’ along with their associated ‘affect’,
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ChittahChattah Quickies June 24th, 2011
  • [from steve_portigal] New book about recurring technological failures [Pasta&Vinegar] – [Nicolas Nova has written a lot of great articles, presentations, and blog posts about failure, technology, society, and design. Now he's got a book. Let's hope an English version appears before too long?] My new book about recurring technological failures has been released two weeks ago. It’s called “Les flops technologiques: comprendre les échecs pour innover” which obviously means that it’s written in French. Based on the analysis of several cases (the intelligent fridge, the visiophone and e-books), the book describes the notion of recurring technological flops, discusses the very notion of failures and their underlying reasons. It also addresses strategies and design tactics to take them into account.
  • [from steve_portigal] The Art of Garfinkling [Splunderousnoog] – [We tend to conceptualize experiments and research as dispassionate or disconnected endeavors, but there's so much that can happen when we as experiments or researchers risk our presumptions and comfort level in order to get deeper understanding. In describing ethnography, I often refer to the researcher as the "apparatus" who is embedded and gathers data through that experience.] Carry out a simple experiment. When you are on the bus or the train, ask a person to give up her seat. Make sure you're young and fit. To make it easier, ask someone who is as fit or fitter than you. It is a hard thing for most to do. There is emotional distress involved. The fear of opprobrium, the need to be liked, to be nice…This sort of experiment is known as a "breaching experiment". It involves violating social norms. A famous, pioneering exponent of breaching experiments was a chap called Harold Garfinkle. So much so that "breaching experiments" are known as "Garfinkling"!
  • [from steve_portigal] Jeter’s 3,000th Hit Will Bring About as Many Marketing Possibilities [NYTimes.com] – [Merchandising a celebration.] Tablespoonfuls of the dirt will be poured into capsules to dangle on key chains; ladled into disks to be framed with photographs of the hit (in what is called a dirt collage); and glued into the interlocking NY carved into commemorative bats…The selling of Jeter’s hit…is quite a list: T-shirts, caps, jerseys, bobbleheads, decals, cellphone skins, wall murals, patches, bats, balls, license plates and necklaces made by licensees…Jeter will share royalties with M.L.B. and the players’ union; Already, he has designated proceeds from the sale of a silicone bracelet to benefit his Turn 2 Foundation. Everything Jeter touches or wears as he pursues his 3,000th hit carries value. So will the bases he steps on. In deciding what to provide for sale, Jeter controls his cleats, wristbands, bats and batting gloves. The Yankees control what they provide to him, like his uniform, warm-up jackets, and caps, as well as the dirt, the bases and the pitching rubber.
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ChittahChattah Quickies June 13th, 2011
  • [from julienorvaisas] Empty trash. Buy milk. Forge history. [The Boston Globe] – [Of course, I'm a big fan of looking at the seemingly-mundane to examine what it means to be human and bring meaning.] A household list might seem a fairly modest starting point upon which to build a whole theory of economic development. But in fact these types of lists are becoming increasingly important to historians — documents produced not as a message to posterity, like a memoir or diplomatic record, but as a simple snapshot of everyday life. Taken as a group, lists offer a rare window into the building blocks of society, economy, and culture — one that is becoming only more valuable as historians gain the processing power to make sense of them. “Something as innocuous as a list turns out to be incredibly fruitful if you bring both a sense of historical questions and context."
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ChittahChattah Quickies May 31st, 2011
  • [from steve_portigal] The Art of Design Research (and Why It Matters) [design mind] – [Lovely piece by Jon Freach on what design research brings to design and innovation.] And sometimes design teams don't have the patience to see the value in dragging out a study in an effort to make it scientifically or statistically significant. We're just not wired that way; we prefer to make and experiment and then analyze later. So what is research good for? 1. Learning about people's behavior; 2. Understanding and analyzing culture; 3. Defining context; 4. Setting focus…Design research is not "a science" and is not necessarily "scientific." It gives designers and clients a much more nuanced understanding of the people for whom they design while providing knowledge that addresses some of the most fundamental questions we face throughout the process. What is the correct product or service to design? What characteristics should it have, and is it working as intended? "The research" won't necessarily provide cold hard answers. But it will generate some good and feasible ideas.
  • [from steve_portigal] CBS Radio Tells Its D.J.’s to Name Titles and Artists [NYTimes.com] – [Tying together the fortunes of radio and record sales?] Last week the head of a major radio company felt compelled to instruct its programmers to identify more of the songs played on the air, by title and artist name…at some indeterminate point in history ­ the mid-1980s ­ song identification began to vanish from the air as programmers struggled to squeeze out anything considered “clutter.” “You were always conscious about the amount of talk you would put on,” he said. “But the truth is that people tune in and tune out, and it was probably underestimated at the time how much people really wanted that information.” For record companies, having a song’s title and artist’s name mentioned on the air ­ especially if new and unfamiliar ­ is crucial marketing…“At one point in our culture there were well-schooled retailers who could help people figure out what that song was, because they wanted to buy it,” said Greg Thompson, VP at EMI Music. “In this day and age that doesn’t exist.”
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ChittahChattah Quickies May 24th, 2011
  • [from julienorvaisas] Artist Posts Neighborhood Surveys and Infographics on the Streets of Boston [GOOD] – [Together at last, street art and research. redefining guerilla research.] Since March, Devin, an artist based in the Boston neighborhood of Somerville, has been making small posters and taping them up on phone poles and other public fixtures. They come in three varieties (or "flavors," to use his term). "Mappy Facts" show people demographic data, like average income levels by neighborhood, on colorful maps. "Street Surveys" are more participatory, asking passersby questions about their relationship to their neighborhood, with tear-away tabs for them to answer with. A third flavor features poetry. The surveys aren't scientific, of course, but it's possible that people who encounter Devin's art will come away with a better understanding of their city, or be prompted to think about their own relationship to the place they live. You can download and print the survey posters and put them up in your own city if you're curious about how your neighbors perceive their home.
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ChittahChattah Quickies May 23rd, 2011
  • [from steve_portigal] A Scientific View of Why Ideas Go Viral [BNET] – [Refreshing if daunting to be reminded that commonly assumed tropes don't play out] Marketers and executives have no clue what an influencer is. Watts points out we all talk so much about influencers, we’ve accepted the term without knowing its definition. Are influencers ordinary people with extraordinary reach? Are they celebrities or “opinion leaders” as they were named in earlier stages of pr theory? Even if we were to exclude bloggers, media, and Oprah from our definition – how then do we measure how an influencer impacts the opinions of others? Watts says some studies measure an influencer as someone whom at least three people say they would turn to for advice. But that scale — reaching people who are three times better connected than others — does not move the millions of people marketers, political campaigns, and brands need to reach. Stripped of the media spin, an influencer’s clout is limited without the amplifying power of the Internet. [Thanks, @nodesign!]
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ChittahChattah Quickies May 19th, 2011
  • [from steve_portigal] Shit Painted Gold – [Post-modern detachedly-ironic consumerism makes the brain work hard. We'll tell you these products are crap and that we've not added any value by changing the color, but we have transformed them nonetheless. So, we hope you'll be happy to pay a bit extra for them. Now, please exit through the gift shop.] Nothing looks fancier in your home, office or garbage than shit painted gold. these amazing one of a kind art pieces will legitimize your ability to say to people, "why yes, that shit IS gold" [Thanks, Jeannie Choe!]
  • [from julienorvaisas] What comes after One Day for Design? [AIGA] – [Along with many others, we participated and commented on the 1D4D experience. AIGA hints that they are analyzing conversations and data gathered that day to guide their very reinvention. Stay tuned...] On April 13, we reached out through the existing networks of several prolific tweeters who led exchanges on the future of design, the concerns of today’s designers and the opportunities for design communities…Together with our partners in this project, the independent branding collective VSA Partners, we are now synthesizing the comments and discussions generated through this event. We will share the results here as we summarize them and develop ways for AIGA to respond. In June, our national board and chapter leaders will review all of this research from the past year—including the results from “One Day”—and work with us to outline the next steps. This is the year that AIGA will pivot toward new forms of serving the profession and its members.
  • [from steve_portigal] Pink Tools for Women: Learn today, Teach tomorrow, Build forever. – [Had this one sitting around forever. Love the message of empowerment; I'm willing to buy the pink-as-brand and NOT pink-as-shallow-way-of-feminizing-design but what else are they doing (besides Tupperware business model) to make these products specifically for women?] Founded by three women deeply entrenched in do-it-yourself projects, Tomboy Tools was launched in 2000 as the dream-turned-reality of being able to provide women with hands-on education, high quality tools and a fun way to make a living from home. Our Mission Statement: To build confidence and empower women through education, quality tools and an independent business opportunity. Today, while our mission statement rings as true as ever, our slogan is shorter and more concise. Our slogan underscores the power of Tomboy Tools in the marketplace and the value we provide both to female customers seeking hands-on education with high quality tools and Home Consultants looking for a great career.
  • [from steve_portigal] Conversations With Bert: Andy Samberg [YouTube] – [As a fellow introvert, I recognize Bert's slight shift into a more deliberate and mannered "interview mode." While he's not quite Terry Gross (and has a way to go to do the type of interviewing that we do), this short clip is a good source for a number of interviewing techniques, mixing equally between "what to do" and "what not to do." I'll have to use this in my next workshop and ask people to make note of the ways that Bert is successful or unsuccessful as he asks open-ended questions, reveals his own perspectives, redirects the conversation, feeds back, acknowledges what Andy says, and asks follow-ups.] Sesame Street's Bert sits down with comedian and Saturday Night Live cast member, Andy Samberg, to talk about life, literature, cuisine and of course, socks.
  • [from julienorvaisas] Memories destroyed in a flash [The Independent] – [Nice discussion of pros and cons, and implications of the broad transition to digital photos. This cultural shift will have huge implications generationally.] Spend a few minutes watching a Facebook feed and you quickly see it is not just our viewing experience that has changed. The way we store and display our pictures has radically altered the nature and type of photograph we take. A high proportion of photos on social networking sites tend to be posed self-portraits, the telltale arm holding the camera often hoving into view at the side. The breadth and scope of the pictures we display has decreased. We've moved away from Sontag's idea of photos as being accessories to our memories, towards photos as a brag – a way of telling the world what fun we're having, and how good we look having it. "You can guess it's taken for the benefit of an audience: It's not necessarily better or worse – just different. It was never so much the case with your personal album."
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ChittahChattah Quickies May 11th, 2011
  • [from wstarosta] There are no such things as “Insights” [PLH] – [Pretty Little Head contributor, Farrah Bostic, shares her opinion on what an insight is and what it isn't. In doing so, she makes the point that insights are not things that can be gathered. Rather, the best we can hope for is to be insightful through research, immersion, observation and questioning.] I was recently asked to put together some “insight generation” exercises for a training workshop. This is pretty standard fare for a planning director, the person who ‘owns the insights.’ Creative briefs now often feature sections that are titled something like, “What’s the key insight?” – into which, the planner dutifully fills in some text in order to earn her wages. For some reason, on this particular request, I just completely stalled out. I often, at conferences and in client meetings, or with other planners, remark on how “insights” is another crime against the English language that Adland has perpetrated upon corporate culture.
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ChittahChattah Quickies April 18th, 2011
  • [from steve_portigal] No.4 Secret Soles – Rosso Solini [I Am Hiawatha] – [Louboutin shoes start at $300 and go up to several thousand dollars. Their red sole is a distinctive design mark that signifies the wearer's brand choice. A 15-year old student has designed and is marketing an aftermarket red sole that can add that signifier to any pair of shoes.] Rosso Solini ‘Secret Soles’ is a shoe customisation kit that gives you the tools and equipment to turn any high-heel into a red soled, Louboutonesque shoe.
  • [from steve_portigal] WET Design and the Improv Approach to Listening [NYTimes.com] – [Mark Fuller, chief excellence officer of WET Design explains what is unusual about his company’s culture] Improv is really about listening to the other person, because there’s no script. It’s about responding. If you have an argument with [your] wife or husband, you are just waiting for the other person to finish so they can say what they’re waiting to say. So usually they’re these serial machine-gun monologues, and very little listening. That doesn’t work in improv. If we’re on the stage, I don’t know what goofball thing you’re going to say, so I can’t be planning anything. I have to really be listening to you so I can make an intelligent response….You’re sort of in this gray space of uncertainty. Most of us don’t like to be uncertain ­ you know, most of us like to be thinking what we’re going to say next. You get your mind into a space where you say, “I’m really enjoying that I don’t know what he’s going to ask me next, and I’m going to be open and listening and come back.
  • [from steve_portigal] Open Source Electronics Pioneer Limor Fried on the DIY Revolution [Wired Magazine] – [I've long wondered if our experiences consuming software have changed our expectations for the updatability and customizability of all products] People do want very specialized technology, and they just couldn’t get it. Now they’ll be able to get it. When I make stuff, I make it for only one person, myself. And, like, two of my friends. But it turns out that hundreds of thousands of people want the same thing. And I think that’s how good design starts. So instead of having to just put up with whatever Sony comes out with, consumers will have more choices made by people who are more like them. And they’re not just trying to manufacture as Sony; they’re manufacturing as a small company that is trying to fulfill the needs of a small community…We have no idea [where this movement will go]. It’s going to be weird and completely surprising, and we’re going to be just shocked, and it will be awesome.
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ChittahChattah Quickies April 12th, 2011
  • [from steve_portigal] Side View Mirror Project – [Love Erik Dahl's deep dive on the ordinary to find ot the extraordinary, as he has spent years taking pictures of side view mirrors. He discovers some great themes and patterns although he acknowledges he didn't know where it was going to go when he started.] Taking these pictures changed the way I drive. I used to be very end-state oriented when I would drive. When I started taking pictures for this project I stopped thinking about where I was going, and started watching mirrors and looking for red lights. As designers, its important to remember that the goal and orientation of the user dramatically impacts their experiences.
  • [from steve_portigal] Two years after buying Pure Digital, Cisco ditches the Flip [Ars Technica] – [I always thought this was about driving a consumer-facing innovation culture into the org. Let's hope that this persists even without the specific line of products.] Cisco is killing off the line of pocketable video cameras in order to refocus the company around home networking and video. The news was a surprise to even Flip critics, leaving everyone wondering why Cisco bothered to buy Pure Digital (the Flip's former parent company) for $590 million just 2 years ago. The marriage never fully made sense, but we accepted it­most assumed that Cisco was making its own attempt to compete in the handheld market by simply gobbling up one of the hottest little gadget startups at the time. Two years later, Cisco's feelings about the acquisition have changed. Cisco announced that it's expanding the Consumer Business Group, but that the Flip business will no longer be part of it. There was no formal explanation given as to why Cisco chose to shut the group down instead of selling it.
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ChittahChattah Quickies April 11th, 2011
  • [from wstarosta] Status displays: I’ve got you labelled [The Economist] – [Evolutionary biology helps to explain why luxury branded objects, even counterfeit ones, are so appealing.] DESIGNERS of fancy apparel would like their customers to believe that wearing their creations lends an air of wealth, sophistication and high status. And it does—but not, perhaps, for the reason those designers might like to believe, namely their inherent creative genius. A new piece of research confirms what many, not least in the marketing departments of fashion houses, will long have suspected: that it is not the design itself that counts, but the label.
  • [from steve_portigal] The Future of Books. [McSweeney's Internet Tendency] – [As usual, McSweeney's does razor-sharp mockery, but you could read this as straight-ahead prediction and it would sadly almost pass for believable] 2050: Analog Reading Will Be Digitally Simulated. As people spend more and more of time immersed in massively multi-player role-playing games, they will begin to crave some downtime. Virtual simulation worlds will start to include hideaway "libraries" you can lock yourself into. There you'll be able to climb into a virtual bath and lovingly turn the pages of a pixilated representation of one of those dog-eared tomes—reliant on old-school linear narrative— that by this time will have been made illegal in the real world. Perfectly reproduced will be the sensation of turning the pages, the crack of the spine, and even the occasional paper cut.
  • [from steve_portigal] When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink? [Smithsonian Magazine] – [Fascinating cultural history] The march toward gender-specific clothes was neither linear nor rapid. Pink and blue arrived, along with other pastels, as colors for babies in the mid-19th century, yet the two colors were not promoted as gender signifiers until just before WW I—and even then, it took time for popular culture to sort things out. In 1927, Time magazine printed a chart showing sex-appropriate colors for girls and boys according to leading U.S. stores. In Boston, Filene’s told parents to dress boys in pink. Today’s color dictate wasn’t established until the 1940s, as a result of Americans’ preferences as interpreted by manufacturers and retailers. “It could have gone the other way,” Paoletti says..Nowadays people just have to know the sex of a baby or young child at first glance, says Jo B. Paoletti, a historian & author of Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls From the Boys in America. Thus we see a pink headband encircling the bald head of an infant girl. [Via @boingboing]
  • [from steve_portigal] In Sweden’s frigid north, auto testing is hot [SFGate] – [Obvious car companies do a ton of lab and simulation testing, but they are also big advocates of real world testing] Arjeplog, a region in northern Sweden is is important to car makers eager to optimize their vehicles for driving in extreme weather, This winter, temperatures have hovered around -4 F, making ice on the lakes consistently thick enough for driving. About 180 engineers convened at the test center at one point this season to work on making cars more fuel-efficient in cold weather and to optimize their anti-spin function. While Arjeplog is the world's largest winter testing area, rival locations include Ivalo, Finland; West Yellowstone, Mont.; Carson City, Nev.; and Millbrook, England. Francisco Carvalho, an analyst at IHS Automotive, says such tracks provide automakers with "the ultimate test for the little things they can't detect or predict in a lab." Almost 9,000 car industry officials visit Arjeplog each winter, with about 2,800 engineers working on any given day.
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Unfinished Business lecture: Culture, User Research & Design March 21st, 2011

I was recently in Toronto to speak at OCAD (Yes, we were in this awesome building) as part of the Unfinished Business lecture series. My talk looked at the notion of culture and it’s importance for user research, and design.

Culture is everywhere we look, and (perhaps more importantly) everywhere we don’t look. It informs our work, our purchases, our usage, our expectations, our comfort, and our communications. In this presentation, Steve will explore the ways we can experience, observe, and understand diverse cultures to foster successful collaborations, usable products, and desirable experiences.

Slides

Audio

I’ve split out the presentation itself from the Q&A, which was fun, challenging, and filled with big-picture type questions.

Presentation (1 hour, including a quick intro by host Michael Dila):

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Q&A (40 minutes):

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To download the presentation audio Right-Click and Save As… (Windows) or Ctrl-Click (Mac). For the Q&A audio, Right-Click and Save As… (Windows) or Ctrl-Click (Mac)

Note: In the talk (and the Q&A) I refer to my interactions article, Persona Non Grata. You can find that article here.

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ChittahChattah Quickies March 11th, 2011
  • [from julienorvaisas] A Memory of Webs Past [IEEE Spectrum] – [The French National Library is updating their technical ability to archive absolutely everything ever published.] "We have a lot of so-called crap, and we're happy about that," says Illien, an archivist. His colleagues in other countries might turn up their noses at hard-core porn, advertisements, and obscure newsletters, but not Illien. "In a hundred years, what's totally irrelevant or dirty today will end up becoming of extreme interest to historians." The archivists here aren't after just printed material; they're preserving the electronic, too. It's his daunting task to archive French Web sites—all of them, in all their evanescent, constantly changing, and multimedia splendor. "I'm convinced the Web as we know it will be gone in a few years' time. What we're doing in this library is trying to capture a trace of it." Illien sees himself as a steward of an ancient tradition; he believes he is helping pioneer a revolution in the way society documents what it does and how it thinks.
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ChittahChattah Quickies March 5th, 2011
  • [from steve_portigal] Armies of Expensive Lawyers, Replaced by Cheaper Software [HeraldTribune.com] – [Spin in this article is that using computers to manage super-human levels of complex data will have employment consequences.] When five television studios became entangled in a Justice Department antitrust lawsuit against CBS, the cost was immense. As part of the obscure task of “discovery” ­ providing documents relevant to a lawsuit ­ the studios examined six million documents at a cost of more than $2.2 million, much of it to pay for lawyers and paralegals who worked for months. But that was in 1978. Now, thanks to advances in artificial intelligence, “e-discovery” software can analyze documents in a fraction of the time and cost. In January, Blackstone Discovery of Palo Alto, CA., helped analyze 1.5 million documents for less than $100,000. Some programs can extract relevant concepts ­ like documents relevant to social protest in the Middle East ­ even in the absence of specific terms, and deduce patterns of behavior that would have eluded lawyers examining millions of documents.
  • [from steve_portigal] PG&E launches huge paper chase for pipeline data [SF Chronicle] – [You think you have a lot of data to process? Obviously their record-keeping incompetence is just now being surfaced and they have taken on a data task that is beyond human scale. We can create systems that we can't manage!] For the past couple of days, forklifts have been carting pallets loaded with 30 boxes each into 3 warehouses outside the 70-year-old Cow Palace arena in Daly City. Friday afternoon, there were still more than 100 pallets stacked outside the warehouses waiting to go in. "There are 100,000 boxes in there, and you can't believe the papers spread everywhere," one PG&E employee said …"There are records in there going back to the 1920s. "We're looking at all kinds of parameters, and our data validation efforts are going on throughout the service area,…We're doing a 24-7 records search involving at least 300 employees and contractors, and we're working to confirm the quality of our data through collecting and validating our gas transmission pipeline records."
  • [from steve_portigal] Hong Kong, 2011 [Flickr] – [My pictures from our recent trip to Hong Kong for the UXHK Conference]
  • [from steve_portigal] Understanding Culture, User Research and Design with Steve Portigal – [Reserve your tickets now for either Toronto event: a lecture on March 8 and a workshop on March 9. The lecture will focus on culture, insights, and design while the workshop will be a hands-on opportunity to practice synthesizing user research data into opportunities and concepts. Hope to see you there!]
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