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 and has included a nice set of footnote-links).
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.
Adam: What do you think people are going to do differently after reading this book?
Steve: I think the book sets people up-it sounds maybe a little trite, but let me try to unpack it a little bit-it sets people up to really hear the people they talk to, their users, their customers, their target, to really hear where they’re at and to understand what’s important to them, as opposed to sort of hearing what we want to hear.
And so this is where I said earlier there’s some philosophy, and there’s some tactics. And the tactics come from the philosophy. I think this is what I’ve seen lacking in practitioners that I meet with over the years, is that it’s sort of easy to ask questions or even ask questions well and hear what people are telling you.
But the broader approach, which is to understand people’s world as it’s organized and kind of structured and labeled from their point of view-it never matches either the frameworks that we have going in or the architectures of tools that we’re providing.
So to take that kind of deeply, completely user-centered approach and understand what the user’s building up their world out of, how they think about it and feel about it and talk about it, I mean, that’s what starts to be where you get towards excellence types of user research.
So that’s not what everyone’s always going to do. That’s not always what the objective is, but I think-I’m hoping that this will start to open up people to be able to do that, to have that kind of be baked into their approach to users. It’s not just collecting responses to questions but really grokking where they are coming from and how they’re operating.
I was interviewed by Joe Dager for his Business 901 podcast. We talked about the process of interviewing users (yes, there is a process), about documenting your interviews, and a lot more, in about 25 minutes. You can listen to the interview below, or at Business 901.
Earlier this week the San Francisco IxDa hosted a talk by Peter Stahl about The Rhythm of Interaction. As part of his presentation , Peter talked about Mih?°ly Cs??kszentmih?°lyi’s notion of Flow – “the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.”
Yesterday I came across a podcast I did a few years ago with the folks from Lunar where we talked about how speed, creativity and innovation intertwine in the design process and about getting results through design research. You can listen to the podcast at the bottom of the post; meanwhile I’ve pulled out a snippet where I describe entering a flow state when interviewing users.
And all the power of noticing and stepping back and slowing yourself down and just disengaging yourself from the need to be making things happen, is just sort of creating that space and t hat’s where insights happen. That’s where creativity can happen. And I’m sure you guys have seen that moment when you’re in the field, where you have all this responsibility to be managing a session and managing the other people in the session and making sure you stick to your time, and it’s a lot of, lot of work. Your brain is just firing on all its cylinders. And then sometimes for me there’s that moment where you kind of – it’s almost like a hyperspace moment where the starts start to just stretch out. Things just get really, really quiet in my head and suddenly, I’m just riding it. Things are sort of happening and I’m riding it, and that can be – it’s, I guess, a flow moment, right? Things can be really insightful at that moment. I don’t know that I’m bored, but if I had to contrast that to the stimulation of trying to run everything and run everybody, that seems to be a really kind of creative moment for me when that happens.
Listen to the podcast:
Steve: Yeah there’s something about interviewing. It is such an individual and it’s such a human activity that we can talk best practices, you know, all day. I think there’s something really great that happens when people make it their own. I think this is one of those “find your own style” things. I like to be dictatorial about best practices but I also have to acknowledge very strongly that what people bring is very interesting and different. Along those lines think about introverts versus extroverts and what’s easier or different for introverts or extroverts in these kinds of situations. Extroverts of course get energy from other people, introverts get energy kind of on their own and so that starts to manifest itself in interesting ways or in silence. But also just how much of yourself do you bring to it? And so I’ve seen extroverts be very successful at establishing rapport by talking about themselves, by being very open and genuine and giving.
My tactic as an introvert is to remove a lot of myself from it and really focus on them, express my interest in them, ask questions, ask questions, ask questions, ask follow-up questions, really drive everything towards my focus on them. So my long answer there is I think there’s a personal style thing that kind of comes out. I think if you reveal things about yourself, regardless of your style, I think it needs to be very deliberate. It’s a great tactic to give somebody permission.
[from julienorvaisas] This Tech Bubble Is Different [BusinessWeek] – [Mathematicians are behind the ad-driven business-models defined in this article as the next bubble. They're tremendously successful in predicting behavior; a fact I find both intriguing and terrifying.] On Wall Street, math geeks are known as quants. They're the ones who create sophisticated trading algorithms that can ingest vast amounts of market data and then form buy and sell decisions in milliseconds. Hammerbacher was a quant. After about 10 months, he got back in touch with Zuckerberg, who offered him the Facebook job. That's when Hammerbacher redirected his quant proclivities toward consumer technology. He became, as it were, a Want. At social networking companies, Wants may sit among the computer scientists and engineers, but theirs is the central mission: to poke around in data, hunt for trends, figure out formulas that will put the right ad in front of the right person. "The most coveted employee in Silicon Valley today is not a software engineer. It is a mathematician."
[from steve_portigal] Steve Portigal – You’ve Done All This Research… Now What? [UIE Podcast] – [A 24-minute podcast for your listening pleasure and edification] Conducting research and gathering data are crucial parts in the process of creating great design. But once you have all of the data, what do you do with it? How do you know you’re extracting the right conclusions and not leaving anything important on the table? Steve Portigal of Portigal Consulting uses the methods of synthesis and ideation to approach this crucial next step. During his virtual seminar, Steve explains that synthesis is the process of turning field data into insights and then how you move to ideation to turn insights into solutions. So many questions came up during the seminar that Steve ran out of time to answer them all. He tackles the remaining questions in this podcast.
[from steve_portigal] Design Research with Sam Ladner [Johnny Holland] – [Looking forward to checking out this podcast. Sam always has smart things to say.] Jill Christ and Andrew Harris talk with Sam Ladner about design research, and the theories behind research design. They discuss how to choose the right research method, the differences between qualitative and quantitative research, and why certain research methods are used at certain times. "What I think designers can learn from sociologists primarily is …for two centuries now, sociologists have been thinking about how people interact with each other. And all of those findings, those theories, that deep research, that deep insight, they are still valid, and they do have a great amount of applicability in the online space. …Designers could learn a lot about this idea of the “Presentation of Self”…or where sociologists have thought about “how do we work in groups together?” …there are all sorts of sociological research and theory that would help designers."
[from julienorvaisas] Nokia Pure Typeface [Design Boom] – [This celebration of their bespoke font will surely reach a very limited audience. Their slow-font approach and aesthetic has appeal but seems a bit misplaced.] Citing the varied but expansive demands of smartphone usage as a design consideration, alongside the potentials opened by the clarity and sharpness of contemporary smartphone screens, Nokia has worked with Maag to develop a sans serif typeface that references the varying stroke weights and more rounded flow of handwriting, creating a more open effect than the classic 'Nokia Sans'. In an interesting return to analogue, Nokia celebrates the release of the font with the commissioning of a woodblock version of the typeface. Documented in the mini-film 'Pure Reversal' the blocks were created and used for a limited-edition print run. Designed specifically for digital and mobile devices, the 'pure' typeface is expected on Nokia devices and in advertisements beginning this year.
[from julienorvaisas] Defend Your Research: Imitation Is More Valuable Than Innovation [Harvard Business Review] – [Shenkar makes some bold statements. Bringing discipline to "imitation" and surfacing it as an form of innovation is intriguing. However, aspects of this phenomena are integrated into most robust innovation initiatives now (competitive analysis, landscapes, reverse engineering). They also occur quite naturally in human behavior (mirroring, transference) and culture (trends, memes). In art, it's known as appropriation and is perfectly acceptable; it may be a more apt analogy for this process than imitation. I do question his characterization here of imitation as taboo.] Q: If copying is so effective, why isn’t it embraced more? A: We’ve been socialized from a young age to treat imitation as undignified and objectionable, something done by those who are unoriginal. Even in companies that embrace imitation, many executives are reluctant to use the “i” word because of its stigma. The result is that imitation is done in the dark without the strategic and operational attention it deserves.
[from steve_portigal] Radio Johnny: Steve Portigal on UX Hong Kong [Johnny Holland – It's all about interaction] – [Very excited about UX Hong Kong, coming up in February] Steve discusses the need for all designers to take more time to understand the mountains of data we are forced to sift through before starting into our various processes and methodologies, including the implications of learning about the value of this data in the context of not just the user, but also our respective teammates. Steve also articulates the need for people to become comfortable with ambiguity and how a workshop setting provides a “new lens for looking at these tools”. "The more mature I feel I become as a professional, the more I feel I need to embrace certain kinds of ambiguity and go towards that; not knowing what the answer is. I think there is a lot of pressure on us in our professional lives to say, we’ve got some data, we did the process, and now we’ve got the answer…it can be very threatening to say, I don’t know what’s going to happen…"
SpoolCast: Steve Portigal’s Deep Dive Interviewing Tips Revisited [UIE Brain Sparks] – Getting out into the world and actually interacting with real people who use, or potentially could use, your product or service is incredibly valuable. We tell our clients this constantly: the organizations who are most successful are the ones who are on intimate terms with how and why their customers use their product. But how? To answer that question, we invited our friend Steve Portigal, principal of Portigal Consulting, to conduct the UIE Virtual Seminar, “Deep Dive Interviewing Secrets: Making Sure You Don’t Leave Key Information Behind”
Steve’s specialty is informing design decisions by getting on the ground and speaking directly with customers. And sharing how you can do the same. Today, we release the interview Jared Spool conducted with Steve after his seminar, following up with a number of additional audience questions.
Essayist Joseph Epstein Exposes Friendship – "Some aspects of friendship had changed, he averred. Women and men could now meet in non-sexual friendship in a way they could not in his father's generation. And through email, chat rooms, and technology, "techno friends" could be friendly without requiring personal presence."
Podcast: Susan RoAne, author of the book Face to Face: How to Reclaim the Personal Touch in a Digital World – RoAne is an author and speaker on communication but she's blissfully ignorant that the issues she's addressing (When do you email vs. make a phone call? Should you use your laptop in a meeting? Can you wear a bluetooth headset at the opera?) are social norms that are evolving rapidly as new interactive media take hold. What kind of expert proclaims "If you are twittering more than 5 times a day, you should get a life"? Especially in the same breath where she declares it as her new addiction. While she's a champion for the value of real personal connection and considers some of these technologies as excellent ways to enhance those relationships, she also has a top-down view of what's right and wrong without really addressing that sometimes our interpretations about new behaviors are arbitrary (i.e., the act of wearing a Bluetooth headset has no inherent moral value, it's only in the way our society at this time consents to interpret it).
Chrysalis by Mary Robinette Kowal – Podcast of a science fiction story in which aliens who go through transformative life stages hire documentary filmmakers to capture aspects of their lives that may be forgotten between stages. The narrator grapples with the tension between being a neutral observer and an active participant.
How do speed, creativity and innovation intertwine in the design process? In this Connections episode, Gretchen Anderson and Lisa Leckie talk with Steve Portigal of Portigal Consulting about getting results through design research.
Listen to podcast:
Given what we’re trying to figure out and plan for here at Portigal Consulting (essentially growth in all the ways one might define that), I enjoyed listening to two brief podcasts about starting and growing (design) consulting firms, one with Chris Fahey and another with Myk Lum. Both are in the category of here’s what I did which is very different than here’s what you should do. That’s not a criticism, of course. Anyone who is has been in similar situations will hear a number of head-nodding-in-recognition moments, and maybe find a few ideas for things to try.