Posts tagged “interview”

Steve in conversation with What Users Do

What Users Do has published our conversation about user research and war stories. Below is a tiny excerpt but please read the whole thing here.

Your book ‘Doorbells, Danger and Dead Batteries’ is a collection of war stories from the world of user research, collected from real life researchers. Are there common themes between the stories?

That’s how the book is structured, actually. Each of the 11 chapters considers a particular theme, something that is of particular challenge to researchers. Some of these are obvious (such as participants we have problems with, or the potential to end up in a dangerous situation) and some are less obvious (encountering not-safe-for-work content in the field, or dealing with our own emotions as well as those of our participants). The chapters begin with an essay by me, include a handful of different stories about the theme, and then wrap up with takeaways that researchers can use to develop their own practice.

You say that improving research skills is about coming to grips with our own ‘flawed humanity’ – how so?

Pulling off a research program is an enormous logistics exercise. Coordinating materials, participants, times, locations, stakeholders, incentives, recording equipment, and on and on. When you work inside a commercial enterprise, there’s a desire to optimize processes, create spreadsheets, build checklists, summarize objectives, deliver key takeaways, etc. But the truth we may forget is that research is an activity that researchers perform with participants. People who make mistakes, people who come to the session with something else going on in their lives, people who have emotions, people who have different verbal abilities, people who have different expectations of the session, and on and on it goes.

While the optimizing efforts are important, these will always be person-to-person interactions. You can fight that and always be frustrated or stressed or disappointed, or you can embrace that as part of the joy of doing research and a source for richer learning. Learning to overcome the pull of frustration and to find a way to actually embrace it is where we can personally grow in our practices.

Five Questions with Steve Portigal

Here’s “Five Questions” with me about war stories, user research, and the O’Reilly Design Conference. Click for the whole thing; Below is a short excerpt.

Why is user research so hard to do well?

I talked about this a bit in Interviewing Users—that the assumption we can just use our social defaults because it’s just “talking to people” holds us back from being better at user research. We have to unlearn a lot of patterns (e.g., sharing about yourself) in order to get to a very different outcome (a good session versus a good hangout). In looking at war stories, I’m digging further into the challenges we face in doing research, and hopefully not stating the obvious but research with other people will have massive elements of unpredictability in it. That means we learn what we didn’t know we didn’t know (and would never otherwise have thought to ask about), but it also means that our attempts to plan and control the process are somewhat foolish (and yet, someone who does research without planning is obviously a fool). There’s an element here of temperament, or worldview, that isn’t so natural for everyone. In some of the stories I’ve gathered, people do everything right, and yet things still go wrong. That’s not a welcome truth.

Stories from the field: An interview with Steve Portigal

Gerry Gaffney interviewed me about Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries (which he contributed to) – and user research in general – for his User Experience podcast.

Check out the podcast on iTunes. Or listen via Gerry’s site (which also features a transcript). Or, listen below.

The idea that some of these ideas are metaphors for life I think is absolutely true and, again, I can sound kind of highfalutin and pretentious here but I think the thinking that I went through in this book is looking at… some of these external factors, right? You know, make sure your camera is ready and you don’t break the cable and you know the sort of “equipmenty” type things that we have to think about. But so many of these are about what do we do when the unexpected happens and acknowledge the unexpected is going to happen and that those are definitely life skills. And I think one of the takeaways that I come back to several times, and I just alluded to it a minute ago, which is know when to walk away. You know and so when you’re in a situation do you keep trying to turn that situation from a failure into a success or do you say “You know what? This isn’t going to work,” and you leave.

15 Questions with Steve Portigal

Today, as part of the Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries roll-out, Rosenfeld Media has 15 Questions with Steve Portigal. Check ’em all out!

6. What’s the story behind how you got into user research? I was working at a design agency that was tentatively experimenting with a new service offering—insights that were “left of the idea” (yes, that was actually how they tried to market generative research work). My putative boss literally stopped speaking to me, and wasn’t putting me on projects (the sort of thing that generally requires talking), so the team doing this research work took me in. In the beginning, they had me watch videos and make notes. Then they let me go into the field and hold the video camera. Eventually I got to ask one or two questions, and as time wore on, I began to lead interviews and then plan and manage research. During that time period Don Norman (or was it Don Knotts?) appeared before me in a dream, clad in diaphanous robes. He marked me with the Sigil of Lamneth and bid me sternly to pursue this holiest of professions. That sealed the deal for me.

It’s a wrap for Dollars to Donuts, Season 2

I just wrapped up the second season of Dollars to Donuts, the podcast where I speak with people who lead user research. Check out all the great interviews this season. Links include transcripts and links for each episode.

Grant McCracken on his interview technique and mindset

Another fantastic Grant McCracken post. He conducts a short interview (embedded below) and offers a terrifically insightful reflection on his technique as well the meaning of the overall endeavor. A must-watch/read for interviewers.

Another thing I liked about the interview was the glimpse it gives of city life. In this case, of the invisible distinctions of space that are perfectly clear to Craig and a surprise to the rest of us (if and when discovered by the rest of us). The world is filled with this invisible distinctions. They surround us all the time. The secret of ethnography: keep an eye out. Ask everyone.

Building Rapport With Users Is Building Rapport With People

We use specific techniques to build rapport in user research, but of course those techniques work to build rapport in other situations. Here’s two great examples of rapport in relationships that map quite closely to rapport in fieldwork.

Caution: Stuffed Shirts Ahead [NYT]

Instead, miss no opportunity to chat congenially with your new colleagues — lunch, coffee, the proverbial water cooler, whatever. But remember, these conversations aren’t about you. Though you don’t want to seem evasive, avoid leaping into a happy reminiscence about foosball tournaments with your delightful former colleagues.

Think of the process as the workplace equivalent of politicians’ “listening tours” during the run-up to election season. Don’t ask, “So what’s it like to work here?” or “Do you like it here?” or anything else that requires a point-blank value judgment. Ask neutral questions like, “So how long have you worked here?” Then keep quiet.

People love to talk about themselves, and if you can signal that you’re actually interested in what they’re saying — and not merely waiting for your turn to talk — most will do it all day long. (One of the oldest interview tricks that reporters use is silence: There’s a human tendency to fill a conversational void, so let the other person do it.) In addition to signaling that you’re going to fit in, you’ll likely pick up useful clues to help you do precisely that.

It may take a little patience, but you’ll gradually be able to piece together what you need to know about how this new environment works — and who among your new colleagues has the same kind of sensibility as yours. Remember that even if the company is formal and bureaucratic, chances are that at least some of the people who work there are, in fact, agreeable human beings — the kind who like doughnuts.

5 ways to build a good relationship with anyone [The Week]

I picked up a copy of an underground indie best-seller called It’s Not All about Me: The Top Ten Techniques for Building Quick Rapport with Anyone. The author, Robin Dreeke, is in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s elite Counterintelligence Behavioral Analysis Program. Robin combines hard science and years of work in the field to offer practical tips to build rapport and establish trust.

  1. Ask them questions.
  2. Don’t be a conversation dictator.
  3. Allow them to talk.
  4. Genuinely try to understand their thoughts and opinions.
  5. Leave your ego at the door.

Listen to Steve on the UX Discovery Session podcast

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I was interviewed by Gerard Dolan for the UX Discovery Session podcast. In 30 minutes we spoke about my twisted educational career path, the Interviewing Users book, some products and services I’m struck by and my fantasy of putting on a UX conference devoted to soft skills. You can listen to the interview below, or here (where Gerard has included a nice set of footnote-links).

To download the audio Right-Click and Save As… (Windows) or Ctrl-Click (Mac).

Listen to Steve on Wise Talk

Insights

I was interviewed by Sue Bethanis for Mariposa Leadership’s Wise Talk show. In an episode titled The Art of Interviewing Users we talked about how to see and notice in a different way, being aware of our own filters and biases, and constantly rediscovering what the problem you are trying to solve really is. You can listen to the interview below, or at Wise Talk.

To download the audio Right-Click and Save As… (Windows) or Ctrl-Click (Mac).

Steve interviewed in UX Matters

uxmatters

UXmatters has just published their interview with me. Here’s a snippet; please see the whole thing here.

Jeff: Someone reading the unassuming title Interviewing Users might at first think that you’ve written an impersonal reference book. While there are sample documents and practical tips aplenty, there are also what are almost philosophical passages that refer to the self-control and mindfulness that a successful interviewer must cultivate. For example, you explain how to accept awkward situations and “check your world view at the door.” Do you feel that the many years you’ve spent practicing these skills professionally have bled into your interactions away from work?

Steve: Your question makes me happy. I think that was something I could bring to the book that might take it beyond a catalog of tips and tricks. The work that I’ve done and the opportunity that I’ve had to reflect on it over many years has given me a richer perspective. And you’re right, it comes down to a lot of fundamentals about who we are and how we deal with other people. I don’t mean that one can literally replicate the interviewer persona in every context-and to an introvert like I am, that would be a horrible idea-but what you’re saying is right on. My work has given me a lot of tools with which I can look at myself in other kinds of settings-both in social settings and in other kinds of professional settings. That’s obviously not the thrust of the book, but it’s there for the taking if you want to reflect a little bit on who you are, how you interact, and how that can inform your design work, your creative work, and so on.

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