Posts tagged “observation”

David’s War Story: The Well-lit Redhead

David Bacon is a UX Designer at Telstra Health in Melbourne, Australia. He shared this story at the UX Melbourne Book Club (see video of the group discussion here).

Standing in front of a house in a quiet suburban street, my phone buzzed and a text from my note-taking partner popped up: “Sorry can’t make interview, something urgent has come up.” We had spent the past week researching allied health professionals who worked from home. This was the fifth or sixth interview, I doubted my colleague would be missing much. I knocked on the door. It opened and a burly man with a soft gaze greeted me in a thick German accent, “Hello, I’m Herman”.

Herman the German invited me inside and led me into his home office. Against the wall was a treatment table. Adjacent to that was a desk with a large computer monitor and in the middle of the room were two comfortable office chairs. Herman gestured for me to sit down and small talk commenced.

Herman had just returned from a visit to Germany and for the first time in nearly forty years he had visited his childhood home. Positive muttering and a small nod of my head was enough encouragement for Herman to spin his chair around and bring up holiday photos on the large monitor behind him. As he gave me a personal tour of castles, forests, and medieval villages. I started to become anxious, I didn’t have a lot of time and there was a lot of ground to cover. Yet Herman was so obviously pleased to be sharing these personal stories, I feared that interrupting the holiday slide show might sour his mood.

I asked Herman if he had studied in Germany before coming to Australia and with that, he turned his back on the computer and faced me. As Herman talked a screen saver flickered to life on the monitor behind him. Photos of forests and castles that would not have been out of place in a fairytale drifted by. Herman proved to be an insightful and honest interview subject.

After a few minutes of Q&A, the photos of natural beauties gave way to photos of natural beauties of another kind. A lovely brunette wearing just a smile drifted across the screen behind an oblivious Herman, who sat with his back to the screen. The images were like classic seventies centrefold pictures: soft focus, demure poses and wave perms. They were the kind of pictures a nosey younger brother would find hidden in his older brother’s bedroom.

As Herman spoke, brunette after brunette drifted behind him. My mind started to race, there was nothing in any how-to-interview-users blogs or books to prepare me for this. “Hey look, a redhead!” I thought to myself, losing some of my concentration.

I wanted to hit pause but I also wanted to keep the interview going, Herman was a great interview subject. To bring attention to this would cause immense embarrassment to this gentle man. What if he turned around? I didn’t know how much longer I could keep my focus. I have a terrible poker face.

“Hmm, that redhead is particularly well lit.”

When at last the castles reappeared on the monitor, my brain relaxed slightly. I asked Herman to show me an example of how he organised his notes on his computer. He spun around and showed me. I can’t remember much of what happened in the remainder of the interview. As Herman walked me out, I handed him his incentive and he invited me to come back anytime.

I walked to my car and collapsed into the seat. I had just survived a potentially awkward situation and importantly, I had not negatively impacted Herman. The relief was extraordinary. But there was this nagging thought. Had I really done the right thing? What if the well-lit redhead popped up when he is treating one of his clients? Should I have mentioned something? When is it okay to intervene? I don’t know if there is a right answer but as a person far wiser than me recently told me, asking these types of questions is what’s important, not finding the answer.

Contextual research from a bygone era

While listening to This American Life I learned about Roger Barker, a psych professor who turned the small Kansas town of Oskaloosa into a laboratory in the late 1940s.

Barker was one of the most extraordinary — and least known — figures in the history of psychology. Shortly after he became chair of the KU psychology department in the late 1940s, he relocated his family to Oskaloosa to observe and gather data about the residents who lived in the town, population 725.

At that time, psychological research was primarily done in laboratories. “It was the era of running rats through mazes to understand human behavior,” he said. “Barker said you won’t learn about any real human behavior in a laboratory. If psychologists want to understand human behavior in the real world, they must enter the real world.”

More from this article

Among Barker’s more unusual efforts was a 1951 paper he co-wrote under the title “One Boy’s Day.”

It chronicled 14 hours in the life of a local boy with the pseudonym Raymond Birch . He was 7 when Raymond’s parents allowed the Midwest Psychological Field Station to record his every movement, according to Sabar’s book:

7:00. Mrs. Birch said with pleasant casualness, ‘Raymond, wake up. …’
7:01. Raymond picked up a sock and began tugging and pulling it on his left foot. …
7:07. Raymond turned to his dresser and rummaged around among the things on it until he obtained a candy Easter egg for his dog.

The notations, archived at KU, track Raymond on his walk to school. He finds a baseball bat in the grass and swings it, accidentally striking a flagpole.

“This made a wonderful, hollow noise,” researchers wrote, “so he proceeded to hit the flagpole again.”

Barker eschewed academic prose and wanted his charges to record any telling, prosaic detail.

Through the 1950s, Oskaloosans grew accustomed to the sight of a child being shadowed by a note-scribbling adult. In published papers, this was the town of “Midwest,” in keeping with the scientific practice of shielding the identity of the subjects being examined.

Barker’s work differed from other scholarly studies of places such as Muncie, Ind., (Middletown) and Candor, N.Y., (Springdale) in at least two ways.

First, it focused less on class and politics and more on the relationships that made kids feel comfortable.

Second, Barker’s family settled into Oskaloosa as a permanent home. Roger and Louise continued to live there until their deaths, Roger’s in 1990 at age 87 and Louise’s in 2009 at 102.

While Barker used many methods, the part that struck me was his belief that simply documenting in exhaustive detail the ordinary activities throughout the day would somehow provide some additional insight. What would Barker have made of today’s era of personal analytics, data smog, quantified self and beyond?

Portigal year in review, 2013

It’s time to sum up some of the noteworthy writings/happenings of the year. Let’s get to it!

All those years ago: 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008.

Out and About: Steve in New York

Last week I was in New York to speak with two groups at SVA and at IxDA (also to see the city, eat desserts and hang with friends). Here’s some of the pictures I took during my trip.

photo1
“I Know A Guy, Inc.”

photo2
The New Colossus by the Bruce High Quality Foundation, public art at Lever House that references the ubiquitous labor action inflatable rats.

photo3
Blue by Anish Kapoor at MOMA, chock full of subtlety.

photo4
DO NOT WALK THRU ELEVATOR.

photo5
The Strand Book Store unloading some similar titles about the women behind the men of the sea.

photo6
Hyperlocal.

photo7
Papa Moozi

photo9
A mini-Jurassic Park seen as street art around sidewalk greenspace.

New York previously: Summer 2013, 2011

Out and About: Steve in Kitchener-Waterloo

I was recently in Kitchener-Waterloo (for the first time in over 20 years) to speak at the marvelous Fluxible conference. I had a little bit of time to walk around and take some pictures. Here are my favorites.

IMG_1602
Lots and lots of tea

IMG_1593
Oh noooooooo!

IMG_1594
Downtown beautification.

IMG_1596
Bathroom paper towel dispenser no longer has rubbish below, instead has a badly worn note pointing you to the new solution.

IMG_1598
Someone in this area is scent-sitive.

Out and About: Steve in Tampa

Two weeks ago I was in Tampa to lead a workshop for a client. I had a bit of time to explore the area – here are some of my photos.

IMG_1688
The ritzier area of St. Petersburg, with huge houses and huge trees.

IMG_1691
Salt-and-pepper tofu at the Yummy House China Bistro. This place was good and rivaled Chinese food I’ve had in San Francisco.

IMG_1692

IMG_1696
Shampoo Me.

IMG_1675
Houston donut fave, thanks to an airport layover.

IMG_1677
Not sure I’m as excited about the elevator upgrade as the hotel wants me to be.

IMG_1682
God hates swag.

IMG_1683
Parking at the Dali museum.

Out and About: Steve in Minneapolis

I was in Minneapolis earlier this week to speak at the MIMA Summit. I hadn’t been in Minneapolis since 1999, so I took a little bit of time to explore – here’s some of my photographs.

IMG_1713
IMG_1704
City icons: Charles Schultz hails from Minneapolis, as did Mary Richards.

IMG_1712
Who needs the Kuik-E-Mark?

IMG_1739
Create your Turkey Masterpiece! Who could resist, when inspired by those nothing-short-of-masterful pieces?

IMG_1719
Inspiring earnest words populate a downtown garden space.

IMG_1726

IMG_1716
No smoking or dipping. No, that’s not an ashtray, it’s a tin of tobacco. You can tell because it’s got the word “tobacco” written on it, pretty much the mark of failure in icon design.

IMG_1736
ATMS are increasing featuring mirrors as safety devices, letting you see whose coming up behind you. This takes it one step further, with a video monitor performing the same function. Is that creeping-featurism?

IMG_1718
Marquette Plaza, constructed somewhat like a suspension bridge.

IMG_1741
Not related at all to Chevron. Really?

IMG_1709
Sawing you in half daily. At Sever’s. Really?

IMG_1729
Mill City Museum

Out and About: Steve in Portland/San Diego/Denver

Last week I hit three cities, doing workshops and fieldwork; in hotel rooms, airports, homes, restaurants and the like. Here are some of my photos from a very busy trip.

help
Hotel restaurant point-of-sale user interface. So many amazingly awful things here. The help button is labeled “HELP!!!!!”; Cobb Salad (I’m sorry, Fiesta Cobb) is $12.00?

raisins
Without raisins? Now with extra raisins!

kiosk
There used to be a baggage kiosk. Now there’s just a sign.

dancing
I found Jonathan Borofsky’s “The Dancers” in downtown Denver to be vaguely unsettling.

wall
Controls removed for your convenience.

Out and About: Steve in New York

I spent a few days in New York last week for the book launch event, also just taking some time to explore, walk around the streets, take pictures, meet with folks, eat interesting food, go to the museum, and so on. Here’s some of my observations from the trip.

IMG_2451
I posted about this hippo truck one of the last times I was in New York. I thought it was a tremendous coincidence or just that way that noticing something helps you notice it again (and taking a picture helps you notice it again even more); indeed I saw the same truck in the background of an indie film I watched right after I got back. Well, I’m told by my New Yorker friends that this company’s trucks are extremely common.

IMG_2510
Party supply trucks, hippo or clown, are common in Manhattan.

IMG_2480
Tomáš Gabzdil Libertíny’s The Honeycomb Vase “Made by Bees” – what he calls “slow manufacturing”, he built a scaffolding in the shape of the base and then had the bees build, over the course of a week, the vase, finally removing the frame and leaving behind a vase, made by bees.

IMG_2483
The typographical conventions brands have to deal with when associating their own brand with those of social networks. I’m not sure it’s entirely successful here to have the Gothic-style typefaces with the contemporary supporting brands of Facebook and Twitter.

IMG_2487
I like the very clear description of the equipment requirements, except for the strange use of the acronym “PPE” (I’m assuming personal protection equipment). I guess all industries are subject to their insider shorthands.

IMG_2496
A scene from the future?

IMG_2500
A really awful piece of “public art” juxtaposed with the much more appealing and authentic graffiti, seemingly an inspiration for the forms used by the “art.”

IMG_2502
IMG_2508
IMG_1397
IMG_1398
IMG_2492

Rethinking Everything About What You Do For Customers

kiss

Rebecca Mead’s New Yorker feature The Sense of an Ending describes some really dramatic (and successful) reframes in care for dementia patients. There’s a number of profound shifts in how the caregivers describe their role and in the kind of experience they seek to deliver for the patient (and their family). The whole article (linked above, but subscribers only) describes those shifts and the cultural and organizational efforts to get there. I’ve included just a portion here

One of the first things Alonzo did, in 1998, was to ask an aide who was born in Vietnam to talk to staff members in her native tongue. “It was the only language I could find that nobody else could speak,” Alonzo recalled. “So we had her tell us very sweetly, in Vietnamese, what she wanted us to do, and we couldn’t understand her.” The staff had to become attuned to the woman’s nonverbal cues.

On another occasion, Alzono underwent a public bed bath, in front of the entire staff, of twenty-seven. She didn’t allow herself to move her limbs, and behaved as if confused. Afterward, she was able to describe the nature of her discomfort, and staff members analyzed their own activity in light of it. “Let me tell you, it sucked – it was incredibly uncomfortable,” she told me. Staff members then spooned food into one another’s mouths and brushed one another’s teeth, in order to be on the receiving end of activities that they performed for their charges every day. “You can find how threatening it is to have something touch your mouth when you have not brought it to your own lips,” she said.

In the most radical experiment, the staff wore adult diapers. “That was kind of life-changing for everybody involved,” Alonzo told me. “We all recognized just how uncomfortable it was to sit in a wet brief. Some of our front-line staff, who really wanted to know how bad that felt, did not change them for a couple of hours.” Previous may residents had been dressed in diapers, as they tend to be in a majority of nursing homes. Not long afterward, aides decided to stop the practice with most residents, instead taking them to the bathroom fifteen or twenty minutes after mealtimes. This made residents happier while making the staff’s jobs easier, because they no longer had to change people who were agitated.

There’s a rich tradition of participating in the experience our customers are having (see this great war story about an adventure in an “old age simulation suit”) and what feels like an increasing mention of empathy. I really like how this story highlights not so much the ergonomic or functional task aspects that are revealed but how this drives to revisiting the fundamental ideas of how the institution conceives of the patient experience it provides. I also like the full-on simplicity of the approach, the people who do this stuff to others now try it themselves and talk about it.

See also Richard Anderson’s blog post from this week about reframes in general and in healthcare specifically.

Pattern-recognition is crucial for sense-making

interviewing-users

Interviewing Users is now available. Get your copy here!




theartofscientificinvestigation


Excerpting from a great post…The Art of Observation and How to Master the Crucial Difference Between Observation and Intuition [Brain Pickings] – Highlights from a 1957 book by Cambridge University professor W. I. B. Beveridge come from the era of the scientific method but are broadly applicable to creative, innovative, design-thinking approaches to problem solving.

Ultimately, Beveridge argues that the art of observation depends on developing the capacity for pattern-recognition, which in turn relies on a broad pool of networked knowledge that allows you to spot the piece that doesn’t fit: “In carrying out any observation you look deliberately for each characteristic you know may be there, for any unusual feature, and especially for any suggestive associations or relationships among the things you see, or between them and what you know. – Most of the relationships observed are due to chance and have no significance, but occasionally one will lead to a fruitful idea.”

Interviewing without questions, eye contact or rapport

interviewing-users

Interviewing Users is now available. Get your copy here!

Here’s a really interesting project about How People Talk to Themselves in Their Heads.

He would ask them to wear a microphone headset attached to a digital recorder and speak aloud their thoughts as he followed closely behind with a camera. He would not be able to hear what they were saying…[The] videos are simultaneously naturalistic and as objective as possible. In the lab, in front of a researcher, people are often reluctant to reveal exactly what they are thinking. Writing a diary of inner speech is somewhat more private, but many people find it annoying to regularly drop everything and make an entry; sometimes it’s difficult to remember what one was thinking about even minutes earlier. In Irving’s videos people are living their lives more or less as usual, walking and talking to themselves as though they were unaccompanied. Of course, people who are not completely comfortable with the scenario sometimes speak into the microphone as though trying to entertain someone else. And getting people’s inner speech on tape captures only linguistic forms of thought, neglecting the kind of thinking that happens in images and scenes, for example.

The notion that unfettered, deeper self-exploration and self-expression can come when not interacting with the interrogator – to the point here of nearly eliminating the interrogation entirely – evokes the (I presume mostly obsolete) approach to therapy where the patient does not face the therapist.

I find the videos compelling (and voyeuristic to the extreme). Check out the other videos at the link – the ones that take place without the strolling seem more like a diary and less like a peek into the stream of consciousness. But for each of them, see if they pass the sniff-test for you: is the person talking the way they are because of the experiment (they know they are being recorded; they feel they need to come up with something to say, they are aware of their own “voice”, etc.) or is it really getting as deep as the researcher claims? I was mostly convinced but a sliver of doubt remains.

In the research we do, we make no claim of naturalism; we certainly want to direct and influence what is being shared, and we build rapport to facilitate openness and honesty. This approach isn’t likely to be appropriate for us, but it’s certainly provocative to look at the output of an opposite approach – where the interviewer is effectively absented and rapport is not a consideration.

Out and About: Steve in Baltimore

During last week’s trip to Baltimore, I had just a little bit of time to explore. Here’s what I saw:

IMG_1272
I had a really delicious meal at The Food Market in the hip neighborhood of Hampden, but I did snort with laughter when they brought over what I thought was going to be a beet salad.

IMG_1276

IMG_1277

photo1
Have we hit Peak Experience (and not in the Maslovian sense) when donuts are reframed as experiences? Closing the loop on my last visit to the area, this was a total disappointment. Disappointing donuts and a weird experience. Fractured Prune was located in an Italian restaurant but I could not figure out where the donut counter was. It turned out to be shared with the restaurant. I had to ask two people once I was actually in this little restaurant where the donuts were. There’s no familiar visual cue of shelves of donuts, since all are made-to-order. I did have nice chat with a fellow patron who told me they were great donuts. I didn’t let him see me leave the half-eaten ones sitting in the bag on the picnic table outside. Not good.

photo2
Street art in Hampden.

Series

About Steve