lecture posts

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 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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ChittahChattah Quickies April 8th, 2009
  • HERMENAUT: Fake Authenticity: An Introduction – Equaled in fake authenticity only by Restoration Hardware, which sells new-but-old-looking pencil sharpeners and fire irons to people who apparently want to live inside a catalog, The House of Blues doesn't bother to lacquer its walls with old Ebony magazine covers, like the recently deceased bluesman Junior Kimbrough did at his juke joint in Mississippi. Instead, Ackroyd & co. just bought Kimbrough's place as soon as he died and carved it up for cufflinks. That might not be exactly accurate, but it is how you feel when you step inside a HoB. They do sell "outsider art" cufflinks, though. Did you know that HoB has its own curator? who's aggressively acquired for that chain the world's largest collection of outsider art? A questionable category anyway, this kind of painting is freely mixed at the Harvard Square HoB with old signs advertising everything from shoeshines to churches, and faux-aged signs entreating you to "Have mercy & say yeah!" and directing you to the T-shirt display.
  • Zara Logue's Contemporary Design class at University of Oregon – This semester's theme is Authenticity. I'll be giving a guest lecture (remotely) on April 29.
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Steve at Shift! IDSA Northeastern District at RISD March 12th, 2007

I will be speaking (topic: Seventeen Ways To Not Suck At Research)) at the IDSA Northeast District Conference, held at the Rhode Island School of Design on April 20-22. My presentation will be on Sunday, April 22. I’m hoping to swing through Boston on my way out to Providence.

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Bruce Sterling at CCA September 30th, 2006


Bruce Sterling gave a talk at CCA last Tuesday. Part of the talk came from Shaping Things (although he didn’t mention SPIMES directly), but much of it was fresh, presumably influenced by his visit that same afternoon to the scenario planners and futurists at the Global Business Network.

I’ve since finished reading Shaping Things and hope to write up something about it before too long, but meanwhile my notes from the talk are posted at Core77.

The day of the talk I was at MarCamp and had to rush to get to CCA in time to hopefully eat and get a seat (after getting lost on Stanford campus and ending up in the back of a crowded and hot room for the Antonelli talk the day before, I was trying to plan). I walked into the school’s cafe thinking I’d grab something and wolf it down and then go to the auditorium. And there’s Bruce Sterling sitting quietly at a table working on his laptop. He looks up and sees me and as I walk over to re-introduce myself (we met once at an IDSA West event where I had recommended him as the keynote) he seems to know who I am and invites me to sit down. And then another man joins us, and Sterling introduces me to Rudy Rucker, telling him how great my blog is. Rucker gets out a pen and paper to write the details down, Sterling tells him to Google me, and I just hand him a business card.

I then start saying really stupid things to Rudy Rucker; remembering that I read one of his books many years ago but I can’t remember what it is (since figuring out that it was probably Wetware). I don’t know why I did that; it’s not like anyone ever wants to hear that sort of thing even when it’s expressed non-moronically. It’s funny now, I guess. They showed me pictures from some crazy vault in the basement of the building that the Global Business Network is in, discussed Web 2.0, asked me to save seats and so on. I see someone else had a slightly similar experience.

Eventually I went in to get seats (though being early meant I had plenty of choice) and looked up Rudy Rucker online, only to realize that I had purchased a few of his books recently! I gave up on one; and am currently about 10% through another, on my bedside table at home. Moron-forehead slap number 2. When Rucker showed up he asked if I could drive him to the train station afterwards, and mentioned he was going to write a story about giant ants with Bruce Sterling (who was sitting and writing away on his laptop, wordsmithing, I presume, the talk he was about to give). Sitting behind us was Brenda Laurel, newly at CCA, but of course I didn’t realize that until afterwards. What a big evening of famous people that I can act like a clueless goofball in front of…it’s all blog fodder, I guess.

Sterling’s talk was entertaining and provocative. His ability to craft phrases for a verbal presentation is unique, and he manages this semi-sarcastic riffing drawl that brings his written prose back into the realm of the spoken. This lets him rant about some techno-groovy possibility and use geeky phrases about “bluetooth-enabled devices crawling through our skin” (not an actual phrase he used) that don’t thunder demandingly but almost mock the idea while still wildly considering the possibility real and even necessary. It’s engaging as hell, sneaking ideas past your defenses with a dry cloaking device.

And maybe that’s why he’s been a Visionary-in-Residence at Art Center – it’s not that his ideas are entirely clear or convincing or that his logic follows simply and persuasively, but he takes on you and a ride and you may notice that you are off the road sometimes, but you’re still along for the ride. [I hope someone is counting the fallen metaphors here].

Rucker ended up sticking around and not riding in the new RX8, and I finally got to eat my dinner sandwhich when I got home later that evening!

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Antonelli at Stanford September 28th, 2006

My thoughts on the Paola Antonelli talk at Stanford are posted on Core77.

Not included in that writeup is my rant about how ridiculous un-navigable Stanford campus is. I’ve been there dozens of times over the years but we still got lost trying to find the building we wanted (and their fancy Internet map website isn’t at all usable, giving you a tiny little window), relying on directions posted on the Stanford site (that proved to be inaccurate). There’s no signage or other wayfinding. Buildings are joined together in a way that makes it hard to see where the “next” building is; an entrance may or may not exist, with small letting on that door (which is 40 feet and up stairs from the pathway) indicating the name of the building and the building number.

We got lost even retracing our steps back to the car afterwards. The campus is poorly lit and every building looks the same; there’s no visual cues to figure out where you came from.

Like so many other things, it’s designed for the people that are already there. It’s not designed for newcomers or even regular occasional visitors such as myself.

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My morning at AD:TECH April 25th, 2005

(click on any picture to enlarge it)

Today I spent a little bit of time at AD:TECH. To set the frame of reference here – this (interactive technology for advertising) isn’t my field; I went out of curiosity and a chance to meet a friend for lunch. I attended the opening keynote and looked around the exhibit hall. There are several days of presentations and seminars that I didn’t experience.

The opening keynote featured John Costello, Executive Vice President, Merchandising & Marketing, The Home Depot, and Mary Meeker, who watches Internet and advertising for Morgan Stanley (I seem to remember a detailed New Yorker profile of her a few years back; perhaps before the bubble burst).

John Costello (all quotes approximate): “I am often asked how many brand managers do we have? The answer is 325,000 – the number of associates we have.” He went on to stress how all the touchpoints for the customer need to work together. You may see a great ad on TV but if you go to the website and it’s difficult to use, it’s no good. This isn’t so trite because as much as it’s a good idea, it’s just not practiced that way. Home Depot certainly isn’t living up to Costello’s idea. My bad experience with their “clinics” here and see here for their non-response when I tried to resolve it.

Mary gave a really dense presentation, but reassured us that the slides were online. They are, and for now you can read ‘em here. I’ll excerpt a few slides that I really liked; I’m not sure what to make out of any of it, just a bunch of factoids that seem provocative and worthy of filing.


Here’s the top five Internet companies (I didn’t know that was the list; interesting) – this slide shows what they were worth before 2000, before they went public, what they were worth at the highest point in the market, what they were worth at the lowest point (and kinda interesting to be reminded of those dates; 3/10/00 and 10/9/02) and here’s what they are worth now – so there is more worth there now than before the crash. It’s one of many angles on ‘recovery’ in the tech sector (hey it feels cool to say “the tech sector”).



These two slides are just some data points to consider when thinking about the various online, mobile, phone, data, wireless, etc. markets around the world. Here’s who the analysts are watching and what they are thinking about…


You’ll need to click on this one to make it bigger in order to see the details; the point here is looking at the number of different services or products (depending on your perspective) that Yahoo has launched in 2003, 2004, and so far in 2005. You can see just by the shape that this year already is as many products as in 2004. This was all under the category of User Experience, but she used that phrase interchangably with other phrases like User Interface, so it wasn’t always clear what exactly she meant. But the slide seemed interesting anyway.


This took a bit of thinking about, looking at different countries, how many PCs do they have and how many mobile phones, and the ratio of the two. The U.S. has the lowest ratio, China has the higest. So the relative prominence of phone vs. PC as platforms for daily info-living, and as opportunities for innovation, etc. are extremely different in these different markets.

Mary, an avid golfer, recounted the recent Tiger Woods dramatic shot at the 16th hole in Augusta, and considered a scenario where someone missed it and wanted to watch it – they’d willingly watch an ad for it, or pay to see it (she suggested $1.00 is what people would pay to see it, but that’s ridiculous). But if you go into Google and Yahoo, you can’t find it. Even if you look in their video search, you can’t find it. You can find it on a blog, where it was turned it into a hypothetical Nike ad. Somehow in this story Mary seemed to imply that it wasn’t really available in that case. She seems to deny blogs (or anything that comes from the consumer side of the equation) as an invalid source of content not to be taken seriously. Yes, there were no rights clearances, but of course, the information gets out anyway. Hello, BitTorrent?! The fact that the only way she could show us this clip was to use the file she found on this blog (and then put into her presentation) seemed to be ignored, since the real problem was that Google and Yahoo didn’t have the clip in their systems. I don’t get that.

In the Q&A there was some emphasis on the future successful companies being those that place the premium on customer service – citing Amazon Prime as an example, but then both speakers seemed to flip between customer service and customer experience. She cited, but couldn’t remember the specifics, a recent book by a professor (Jeff?) in Pennsylvania? who makes the case for the last great competitive advantage being user interface, and she went on to suggest the web is the best user interface, better than an in-store Starbucks experience. Clearly we see why Mary is an online person because her contention, if I understood it, is just silly. I’d be interested in finding out what book she’s referring to, so if you have any ideas, let me know.

The trade show itself was the usual – booths with people in matching t-shirts being extremely extroverted. But it was working – the place was noisy and jam-packed and people were shaking hands and swapping business cards and just being business people in deal-making mode, I guess. There were the usual trinkets – things that flashed, bent, bounced, squeezed, etc. and lots of iPod giveaways. It wasn’t very intersting to me; it was companies with names like AdBrite, AdDrive, AdDynamix, adInterax, Adknowledge, adMarketplace, Adteractive or AdTools; Blowsearch.com and Eyeblaster; Search Engine Optimization, Search For It, SearchAdNetwork, Searchfeed.com, SearchForce.com, SearchIgnite, SearchRev, Findology.com and FindWhat.com; as well as companies that I recognized because they serve the annoying pop-up ads on websites I visit: ZEDO and Undertone.



There were a few of the usual booth babes, and all you really see in this picture is some nice blonde hair, but some women manning booths were obviously models, at least one wore a t-shirt with a slogan across her chest that was something about looking up top. Hmm.

I found this variation quite unusual

A gymnast? Or, a slinky woman in skintight lyrca, twisting her body in interesting ways. Oh, and how’d you like to buy some advertising services?

Looks like she’s in need of some advertising services herself. Cheese!


Attendees engaged in some sort of SMS swordfight.


Google’s booth. Is that a real George Nelson Marshmallow Sofa?

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