Posts tagged “research”

Making an Impact with UX Research Insights

I wrote a short piece for UX Mastery about ensuring the results of user interviews have the most impact. I’ve included an excerpt below, but you should read the whole piece here.

In your analysis, how do you decide what’s important?

Take time at the beginning of the research to frame the problem. Where did this research initiate? What hypotheses – often implicit ones – do stakeholders have? What business decisions will be made as a result of this research?

What research reveals doesn’t always fit into the structure that is handed to you ahead of time, so knowing what those expectations are can help you with both analysis and communication. Some things are important to understand because they’re part of the brief. But other things are going to emerge as important because as you spend time with your conclusions you realise “Oh this is the thing!”

Whose Job is User Research?

I was interviewed by Laura Klein and we discussed Whose Job is User Research?

Not every research study requires an expert at the helm. Quite a few products would benefit from having somebody on the main product team who could quickly get feedback or answers to simple questions. “Even a newbie researcher should be able to answer some factual questions about what people are doing or might want to do. They also have the opportunity to reflect on what assumptions they were holding onto that were incorrect,” Steve explains. “You’ll always get more questions to go with your answers, but hoo boy–it’s better than never talking to users and acting with confident ignorance.”There are some questions you’re better off bringing in an expert, though. “The more help you need in connecting the business problem with the research approach and connecting the observations to the business implications, the more expert help you need,” Steve explains.

Check out the whole article.

Epic FAIL: Takeaways from the War Stories project

Since 2012, I’ve been collecting War Stories, where researchers share the stuff that happens during fieldwork. There are more than 70 stories (start your reading here) and they’ve proven to be a valuable resource for the practice. I’ve been giving a talk over the past few months about the stories and what I’ve learned from the process of curating the stories as well as from the stories themselves. From UX Australia, here’s the audio, the (minimal) slides, and a few sketchnotes.

If you have a story about an experience you had doing contextual research, please get in touch! We want more stories!


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

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Matthew Magain, UX Mastery

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Guillaume Hammadi

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Suj

Facing Your Fears: Approaching People For Research

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I’ve always found intercepts – where researchers stop people on the street and ask them to participate in a quick study – to be challenging. (I also prefer to have longer interactions with people and even have them prepare for those research conversations, but that is a bit outside the point here). In Facing Your Fears: Approaching People For Research Carolyn Chandler breaks that challenge down into many pieces and addresses each of them. It’s a wonderful article because it gets deeply into the specifics and considers the mindset we bring to the activity and how to reframe that, in many different ways.

Rejection is people’s number one fear when approaching strangers. Hearing no has always been difficult, whether it’s a polite no or an angry no followed by a rant. Either way, it stings. Your response to that sting, though, is what matters. How do you explain the rejection to yourself, and does your explanation help or hurt you?

Martin Seligman, one of the originators of positive psychology, conducted a study in the ’70s that gives insight into the types of mindsets that make people feel helpless. Seligman found that those who exhibit long-term “learned helplessness” tend to view negative events as being personal, pervasive and permanent. In other words, if a person is rejected, they might rationalize that the rejection is a result of their own failing, that everyone else is likely to reject them as well, and that they can do nothing to lessen the likelihood of rejection.

When you prepare to approach someone, consider instead that, if they say no, they aren’t really rejecting you, but rather rejecting your request. It’s not personal. Maybe they’re in the middle of something, or maybe they’re just not in the mood to talk. The rejection is fleeting, and the next person might be perfectly happy to participate.

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.

Interviewing the Interviewer – Steve Portigal talks with Maish Nichani

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UX Booth has published a two-part conversation I had with Maish Nichani of Pebble Road.

In Part 1, Maish interviews me (excerpt below). We explore a few aspects of the research process, including how a project plan is negotiated.

MN: What is an appropriate response to give clients who insist on specifying aspects of your research methodology?
SP: Whenever a client approaches me and has already specified the approach we should take with their study, that’s usually time for a conversation. Sometimes teams create a research plan as a stake in the ground when what they actually want is feedback and a recommended approach. Sometimes, though, their plan is a good one, and we might just suggest one or two changes to see if they are amenable. I can’t count the number of times I’ve received a detailed request, exclaimed “what?!” and then had a really excellent conversation to better understand the reasons behind it. Obviously, no one should take a project where they don’t believe the method is going to produce results. An examination of a prescribed approach is one of the first tests of (the potential for) good collaboration.

In Part 2, I interview Maish (excerpt below). We talk about how to improve the organizational learning user research.

SP: If you could wave a magic wand and create any kind of tool or artifact to support the research process, what would it be?
MN: Research is really all about creating new knowledge and the more people who have access to that knowledge, the better. Currently, our research findings and insights are all locked up in (what Karen McGrane calls) “blobs.” We need it, instead, to be “chunked” (as Sara Wachter-Boettcher says) so that it can travel more freely and be mixed and mashed up to create, again, new knowledge. I don’t know of any existing project or initiative but I was thinking about using a schema (like what is already available on schema.org) for research findings. That way anyone writing up research findings could use the same markup and then search engines and specialist apps could read and move those findings more efficiently.

Steve interviewed by Tomer Sharon

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I was interviewed by Tomer Sharon (as part of his incredible series of interviews for It’s Our Research). Our conversation ranged from about why it’s hard for people to do user research, the collaboration between agency and clients, and how to think about organizational and stakeholder challenges as design problems.

The 22-minute video is embedded below and can also be seen at the first link.

Steve leading a workshop in Barcelona about Making Research Real

Next week I’m off to Barecelona to speak at WebVisions. In collaboration with Kelly Goto, I’ll be running a workshop called Synthesis to Ideation:Making Research Real.

In this hands-on workshop, insight strategists Steve Portigal and Kelly Goto will lead you through a fast-paced, engaging workshop with one requirement: Rethink your research approach and implement new frameworks for collection and synthesis of findings — to create actionable artifacts and outcomes for the real world.

I’ve been leading workshops like this a lot over the past few years, but I’m really excited about the collaboration with Kelly; our approaches are generally aligned but different in interesting ways and we’re using that creative tension to give our participants a broader perspective.

If you’re interested in signing up, use registration code PORTIGAL for a 40% discount.

I’ll also be presenting Championing Contextual Research in Your Organization during the conference itself.

I hope to see you there!

Creativity is a practice (not a perfect)

Being creative ain’t always pretty and it’s rarely easy. Creativity is a practice that brings out the best and worst of us. The articles below have me pondering the shadow side of creative pursuit, how to stay motivated through the highs and lows, and which of these creative calisthenics I should try first.

How Creativity Connects with Immorality [Scientific American] – Citing a number of studies that link creativity to unethical behavior by employees, this article suggests that there is a dark side to creativity. This comes as no surprise to me. The internal tension that pits notions of “accepted” against “unheard of” is one of the most fundamental and key ingredients in creative production. Creative thinking is frequently predicated on a willingness to question the norms and accepted rules. In fact, if you want to practice your divergent thinking a bit today, I invite you to think of a rule at work (i.e. thou shalt not take the sticky notes home) and come up with ten, make that twenty, ways around it.

The authors hypothesized that it is creativity which causes unethical behavior by allowing people the means to justify their misdeeds, but it is hard to say for certain whether this is correct given the correlational nature of the study. It could just as easily be true, after all, that unethical behavior leads people to be more creative, or that there is something else which causes both creativity and dishonesty, such as intelligence.

What Doesn’t Motivate Creativity Can Kill It [Harvard Business Review] – I have a serious creativity crush on Teresa Amabile and particularly value her research contributions in the area of creativity and business. Here she emphasizes the importance of intrinsic motivation for fostering creativity within the organization and the delicate balancing act required when leaders utilize goals, evaluation, reward, and pressure to fuel innovation.

In the end, it’s level, form, and meaning of the motivator that makes for that perfect balance. Being told to do a tough job in a particular way, with no tolerance of failure, little expectation of recognition for success, and extreme, arbitrary time pressure, can kill anyone’s creativity motivation. But being given the same job, in a positive atmosphere where false starts are examined constructively and success is recognized, can drive creativity – and innovation – forward.

The articles above reminded me of an RSA animation for a talk given by Daniel Pink about how intrinsic motivation functions. I love it for both medium (graphic animation) and message (rewards come from within when you do what you love). If you are looking to amplify your creative practice, start with what you love to do already. And then do more of that.

Coarse Art: A 30-day experiment [Scree] – Definitions of creative thinking often refer to the four key skills of originality, flexibility, fluency and elaboration. Fluency is all about quantity- generating as many ideas as possible. Go. Go. Go. The more the merrier! My friend Emily, an Innovation Catalyst at a global corporation, recently undertook a month-long experiment in pursuit of creative fluency by committing to something she calls Coarse Art. Thirty days of making something, quickly, every single morning. No judgment, no reasons, no justifications. She just made something every day, celebrated the practice of it and reflected on all the struggles that this seemingly simple and deceptively challenging practice raised. You can find her article (and her art) on page 38. And if you are looking to develop your own creative fluency, it’s pretty simple. Commit to creating something (i.e. words, poems, assemblage, song, painting, culinary delight) everyday for 30 days in a row. And be sure to celebrate every single day, no matter what.

We readily celebrate the brilliance of a child’s first artistic experiments, noting the highly abstract elements and excitement inherent within their expression, though as grownups we suffer from massive celebration delay.

‘Inspiration is 80% Mental, 40% Physical’: Your Secrets of Creativity [The Atlantic] – Last month Jared Keller asked Atlantic readers how they come up with their best ideas. This article is filled with responses. It is like a pinata of productivity exploded into a shower of suggestions for generating new ideas. Take a look, there is something for everyone here. You will likely find at least one suggestion that resonates with you and inspires you to try a new way to get your creative juices flowing.

Do not silo your brain. I find myself at my most creative when I am connecting disparate things. How should I connect this blog post about reality television with a Congressional Budget Office white paper on home foreclosures? I am envious of designers who draw inspiration from a variety of sources: photography, textile patterns,medieval architecture, 1990s Geocities sites and the like. Inspiration needs room to breathe. I create this space by combining what I am working on with what I like.

Back from UX Lisbon

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting Lisbon and presenting at UX Lx.

I gave an updated version of “Well, We’ve Done All This Research, Now What?” where we did a brief observation of the area around the venue and then developed concepts that spoke to the needs we uncovered. Among the concepts the teams played with was a giant robotic sheep that would provide shade.

The slide deck:

Per Axbom took a series sketchnotes during the session and kindly posted all of them here.

I gave a short presentation on the final day of the conference, exploring the power of user research not only to uncover data that drives product development but to change the way an organization thinks about it’s customers and itself.

The slide deck:

Sketchnotes from LiveSketching.com, Per Axbom, and Francis Rowland. Click on any of them to see the larger original.

(Side note: amusing to see the consistent use of the presenter caricature. The organizers of the conference may have contributed to this; in each attendee packet was a poster showing a funny if awkward scene with cartoon representations of all the different speakers, as well as a set of cards for one of the speakers. Attendees were supposed to trade cards until they got a complete set.)

Video now available from Steve’s talk at Mozilla

Last week I visited Mozilla’s beautiful, dog-friendly offices to talk with their user researchers and designers. They’ve just posted the video from my presentation of We’ve done all this research, now what?. Note that the start is cut off, and it kicks in at 11:47.

Note: the slides are included in the video but for easier viewing check out a similar presentation here.

Steve’s War Story: It’s All Going To Burn

My colleague and I showed up to learn about our research participant’s smart house. In the initial part of the interview, just trying to learn a bit about the family before we learned about the house, the participant (I’ll call him Jon) told me they home-schooled their kids. I was young and naive enough that I didn’t have a clue what other factors that typically signifies. When I asked about why they made that decision, Jon really snarled at me, I think because he was far more interested in showing me his gear than talking about his family, but I just explained that we wanted to learn about him as well. He told me that they didn’t support the school system and their attitude towards alternative lifestyles. That’s when I realized I was in an environment where the values were just really different than my own. Okay, no problem, that’s par for the course for the job. We spent a good long time after that checking out the details of a really incredible smart home system that he had built, cobbled, and coded together. Really incredible. Yet there was a constant theme of monitoring and control, of using the technology to check up on the kids from other rooms. Still, all good information. As we were getting to the reflective part of the interview, wrapping up or nearly so, Jon abruptly changed gears mid-explanation.

Jon: “Of course, none of this really matters because it’s all going to burn.”

Me + Colleague: [Puzzled silence]

Jon: “And now I have a question for you fellas: Have you accepted Christ as your savior?”

In my life in general, this is the sort of question I’m utterly unprepared for. In this interview, I knew it was coming, some part of my body was tense from the discussion of the rationale for home schooling, knowing that I was in a slightly vulnerable situation that was going to emerge at some point. So while I was dreading it all along, perhaps it came as some kind of relief. Watching the video later, I saw the most deadpan version of myself I’d ever seen: “…………Well…..perhaps that’s a question for another time.”

I was stuck, I couldn’t dishonor all the rapport-building and honest curiosity I’d been exhibiting for the past two hours, but now we were trapped. My colleague spluttered helplessly in an endless loop of reflecting back what Jon had said previously (“So…..it sounds like you’re saying…”). I kept waiting for my opening for the “Well, time to go!” but Jon really wanted to talk to us about what we should be doing and thinking, with respect to Christ. It seems this went on for a very long time, but we finally made it to the doorway. Jon asked us to wait, and went off to get something. We should have made a break for it, but we were ensnared by the requirements of politeness in our researcher role. He returned with some bible-related literature and exhorted us – in terms that would make the Glengarry Glen Ross salesmen proud – to follow up. Another eternity (if you will) and we were finally able to step away.

We made it to the car, drove a block and erupted in hysterical, gasping laughter. It was the laughter of relief, the kind of manic giggling you’d get from 10-year-olds who just got away from the angry shopkeeper. We had some choice words about Jon, once we were safe.

The experience was terribly uncomfortable; I could not find a way to follow my own values as a researcher and still protect myself from a conversation that was personally risky (as a Jew, I’ve had my share of proselytizing/Hell/Christ “discussions” and really don’t ever want to have one again). As a researcher, I am interested in and have respect for Jon’s views on his family, his home, education, and the afterlife. But as a person, I just don’t want to have to reveal my own beliefs or defend them, especially in this sort of setting.

This was more than 10 years ago, I wonder how I would handle it now.

Boost your creativity: Booze, barf and boredom

I am always on the lookout for ideas to boost creativity. Below are a few recent insightful readings…

Alcohol Benefits the Creative Process [Psychology Today] – Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago set out to determine if being intoxicated actually helped people think more creatively. They recruited people ages 21-30 and gave half of them vodka cranberry cocktails until their blood alcohol level reached .075. Then both groups completed a Remote Associations Test wherein they were given a series of three words (i.e. tar, arm, peach) for which they had to find a single word that would create two-word phrases with all three (i.e. pit). This kind of task was chosen to assess creativity because it is believed that the most obvious response is often not correct and therefore people must search for other more remote words in order to solve the problem. The findings indicate that the intoxicated participants not only performed better than their sober counterparts, they did so in less time and were more inclined to attribute their performance to a flash of insight; an “Aha!” moment.

Why might being intoxicated lead to improved creativity? The answer has to do with alcohol’s effect on working memory: the brainpower that helps us keep what we want in mind and what we don’t want out. Research has shown that alcohol tends to reduce people’s ability to focus in on some things and ignore others, which also happens to benefit creative problem solving.

I had a great excuse to practice this approach this weekend (admittedly, this was not the first time). I found that a yuzu-infused cocktail from Morimoto in Napa actually did catalyze divergent thinking. In fact, I generated a significant number of ideas for ideation and training sessions that involve yummy bites and liquid concoctions.

Produce First, Sharpen Second: What Dylan’s Vomit Teaches Us About The Creative Process [The Creativity Post] – This article references Bob Dylan’s creative process behind Like A Rolling Stone which involved a massive vomit of verses followed by a period of crafting and sculpting that rambling mass into an exquisitely refined piece of work. Dylan’s experience and other examples from the article illustrate a topic that I believe is profoundly important to understanding what creative thinking is and how to facilitate it. Creativity involves two polarized modes of thinking that can be described as opposites: divergent/convergent, imagination/logic, improvisation/composition, writing/editing, and so on. The key is to keep these two modes, vomit/cleanup, separate. Do not mix! In fact, a recent study at a Dutch university that is cited in this article concluded that taking a break between creating ideas and assessing them actually improves one’s ability to recognize the more promising concepts. Quick tip: The next time you are looking for great ideas, set yourself (or your team) a wildly large goal (i.e. 30-100 ideas) and don’t stop until you reach that number. Then take a break (10 minutes, 24 hours, whatever). Finally, go back and dive in to your ideas to cluster, organize, eliminate and ensure that the best ones rise to the top. Then give them refinement and strengthening that they deserve!

The reason we should “never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down” is because we initially don’t know which of our ideas are worthwhile. It’s only after we get everything down that we are able to recognize what works from what doesn’t. This is the lesson from Ritter’s research: we need to give the unconscious mind time to mull it over so it can convince the conscious mind to make adjustments.

Want To Be More Creative? Get Bored [Fast Company] – If you are looking for something to do between ideaphoria and analysis, a break that Edward deBono calls the “creative pause”, give some thought to not thinking at all. The author reflects on the importance of clearing the mind and the calendar and not doing a thing. Why? Because this space of quiet be-ing (not doing) is a lacuna from the litany of productivity and entertainment. It gives the mind room to breathe. Think of it as mental yoga, a place to pause between the inhale of ideas and the exhale of action.

I know it sounds strange, but I welcome boredom. It forces me to ponder. But to make sure we’re on the same page, when I speak of boredom, I’m not referring to killing time on your smartphone, your iPad, or your laptop. I’m not even talking about paging through a book. I mean bored as in doing absolutely nothing.

 

This Week @ Portigal

You can tell just how busy things are by the dearth of non-This Week postings here.

  • We’ve synthesized, organized, and otherwise pummeled our data into a story. Now comes telling that story!
  • For one client, we’re creating the final presentation, honing ideas, getting feedback, finessing the wording.
  • With another client, we’re nailing down the core of the story and thinking ahead to editing video.
  • I’ll be sharing some stories and pictures from a wonderful trip to Austin.
  • What we’re consuming: Waco Brothers, Cosentino Winery Cigarzin.

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