Posts tagged “shoes”

Elizabeth’s War Story: Nail Polish for Insights

Elizabeth Chesters is a UX consultant based in London, who volunteers for organizations like EmpowerHack and CodeFirst:Girls. She told this story live at User Research London.

I volunteer for EmpowerHack, an organisation dedicated to building technical solutions for refugees. When I joined in 2016, I was working on a project called HaBaby; a mobile app that stores medical records of pregnant refugees and offers symptom cards to help them communicate with doctors. Throughout my time volunteering, I noticed a lot of barriers. One of the biggest was that a lot of people in the organisation did not understand refugees! Many had never spoken to an actual refugee, which led to some wild assumptions (such as how some women had got pregnant or the age they would typically marry).

In April 2016 my team member and I planned a trip to the refugee camps in France. We did not feel comfortable turning up as researchers, as our digital skills didn’t directly help refugees or fit the environment. They needed houses, not interviews. Our plan was to spend as much time as possible observing, in order to better understand issues refugees faced. Our research would then be reported back to the organisation, validating our ideas about what it means to be a refugee and our technical solutions.

The first visit where we were able to talk with refugees was at the Dunkirk camp. Dunkirk was a much cleaner camp than one of the other camps we had been to, The Jungle in Calais. My team member and I met with a volunteer and a group of refugees who were working on an open-source map project. After introductions, we quickly gained the trust of a refugee, who I’ll call “Zach”. We went to his cabin, met the temporary family he had made in the camp and mentioned that we were in the camps to do research.

We walked around the camp, and came across a group of three mothers who were sitting outside with their babies. By the time we communicated to Zach what we were trying to do, so that he could translate for mothers, it was raining. The women looked at us and stood up, gripping their children. Zach explained that the women would not talk to us without trading for makeup. We were testing an app, so we had nothing physical to give them. In the end they went inside to get out of the rain, and we had to walk away… though not without a few marriage proposals from passing men.

On our last day volunteering we were invited to help at a spa day for female refugees in The Jungle. Here we could get close to the women and ask questions in their safe space. This time we also brought makeup to exchange! We turned the top of a donated double-decker bus (with no seats) into a beauty room. Everyone relaxed, leaving their shoes downstairs. We laid out carpet, lined the windows with bunting, and scattered cushions around the room. My friend and I set up our nail polishing stations and settled in for a long day of painting nails.

Throughout the day we were able to meet refugees and ask questions. The women were from all around the world, with the majority from Eritrea, Syria and Afghanistan. Sadly conversations did not flow as well as expected, partly due to my inability to paint nails. Most seemed unamused at my efforts. So, I spent most of my time redoing the same nails and ensuring we still had enough polish for women who would come later.

Halfway through the day journalists from Grazia, a fashion magazine turned up to interview volunteers and refugees about the spa day. They made no effort to ask for help to translate questions. The more questions the journalists asked, the more you could see the women retreat into themselves.

By the end of the day we had no makeup left. I had a makeover done by a little girl and looked like I had two black eyes. My friend also had a bright red face, due to being sat on and having her eyebrows threaded by an Iranian beautician. I walked down to the bottom deck of the bus, to an empty box of shoes. After scanning the whole bottom deck, it became apparent that I no longer had shoes. The other volunteers helped me find something I could wear temporarily. We found a pair of silver slip-on shoes. They were slightly too small, so I had to stand on the back on them. Someone reassured me that I could go to the warehouse to pick a donated pair that fit me. But when I walked outside, the woman we had arrived with (and her car) were gone, our passports along with her. We were now stranded in The Jungle, late in the day, with the warehouse an hour’s walk away. All I could do was pace up and down, frantically phoning volunteers who I knew were at the warehouse. I prayed the woman got my message to stay at the warehouse after dropping off other volunteers, so we could retrieve our passports.

In the end we were rescued by a volunteer called “Superman John”. He drove us back to the warehouse which housed the donations, so we could get our passports back and I could pick out some shoes that fit. I have never been so happy to see that little red book!

Julia’s War Story: For Want Of A Shoe

Julia Thompson is a Design Research & Insights Analyst at BlackBerry in Waterloo, Canada.

It all started with a simple question from the dispatcher: “Do you want a call when your taxi arrives?” My nonchalant answer: “No thanks, I should be okay.” was the nail in my coffin. This was my first error in a series of cascading mistakes.

The next morning I was heading out-of-country for in-home interviews. That night, in an effort to be as prepared as possible, I called to arrange a taxi for an early morning pickup. I hung up the phone and proceeded to pack my bags. I considered carefully what to pack. I visualised my next few days: what would the weather be like? What would be my mode of transportation? What clothing would be appropriate for the work – casual enough to fit into a home environment and dressy enough to fit into an office environment? I was sure that I had considered all the details. Unfortunately, the most important detail, my alarm, was what I missed.

Satisfied with my preparation, I went to bed, and slept well. The next morning I awoke feeling refreshed. With birds chirping outside, sunlight filled the room. Yet something felt terribly wrong. What time was it? Why was it so light out? I picked up my phone, checked my alarm, and then checked the time. My stomach fell to the floor. My flight was leaving now. Sheer panic overtook me. I couldn’t think straight. I had never missed a flight before. I felt like I was going to throw up. I was paralyzed, I had no idea what to do. I grabbed my phone and called our corporate travel agent. It felt like hours as I waited on hold to ask my pressing questions: Could I still make my interview? When was the next flight? Could I fly out of a different airport instead? The sound of my heartbeat drowned out every noise as I sat there waiting, palms sweating, phone clutched. The agent came back on the line and said there was a flight leaving from another airport in 2 hours. Could I make it there in time? It’s almost rush hour. It’s an hour’s drive with no traffic. What about parking? Customs? Security? If I took the car, how would my husband get to work? On top of all that the agent still wasn’t sure whether there was room on the flight. We decided, together, that I should start driving and I should stay on the line while she called the airline to confirm availability. I jumped in the car, with my phone on the passenger seat and that awful music taunting me as I continued to wait, on hold. I got about 10 minutes down the road when the agent told me to pull over and go home. That flight wouldn’t be mine. I would settle for another flight, hours later, and hours after my scheduled interview.

Later that day, as my plane came in for its landing, I just felt low. I was tired from the emotional rollercoaster of missing my flight, I was anxious knowing I’d have to tell the people I was working with what had happened and I was sad that I had missed out on an interview and the opportunity to see, first-hand, into the life of one of our customers. The only thing saving me was the fact that I was the client and so, even though I missed the interview, it still went ahead as scheduled.

The following day I awoke, in the right place and at the right time, with a better perspective on life. Our local research partner was gracious enough to include me in an interview that day. I was thankful. I was relieved. But now, that meant there would be four of us attending this interview. Two consultants and two clients; two too many. The consultant had called ahead and confirmed with our interviewee that it would be okay if an additional person (me!) attended the interview. Our interviewee was very accommodating and agreed to have all four of us into her home. I was so preoccupied with resolving my own error that I didn’t consider, until later, how the dynamic of the interview would now be affected.

We all got to the interview, we all walked in, we all sat down in the chairs offered to us by our interviewee. As everyone was setting up I started to look around and take note of the environment. I noticed several pairs of shoes neatly arranged by the front door. I looked over at our host, I looked down: bare feet. My eyes darted around the room, I looked down at all our feet. All four of us had our shoes on, laces tied. Bah! We were the worst guests ever. Weren’t we all, as researchers, supposed to notice something so simple but so important?

I spent the next five minutes cursing myself, my missed flight, the totally wrong and overpowering dynamic of four researchers to one customer, and the miss on basic shoe etiquette. I had to shake it off – all the feelings of shame, all the feelings of doubt – and I had to focus. I had to be in the moment, I had to get the most I could out of the interview and I had to show the interviewee the respect she deserved.

It ended up being a great discussion. It was, by no means, a textbook in-context interview, but we had a nice dynamic emerge nonetheless. My story is not one of a single epic fail, but instead of a series of errors with a cascading effect. “For want of a nail the shoe was lost, for want of a shoe the horse was lost…” Here, we had not a want for a shoe, we had too many.

David’s War Story: Footloose

Interaction designer David Hoard shares a story where even his best intentions are not sufficient to prevent a perplexing gaffe.

Researcher Chinami Inaishi and I were on a 10-day trip to Tokyo to interview kids and young adults about their video game use. It was 1995 and the console wars were in full effect. Chinami is Japanese, but had lived in the US for many years. So she was the perfect local guide to help me understand the cultural nuances we were witnessing. She also helped us navigate the nearly impossible house numbering system in Tokyo, where house 31 was next to number 6, which was next to 109. This echoed one theme of the trip: squeeze things in wherever you can find space for them. Every square inch will be utilized.

The visits were fascinating and enriching at each stop. We saw small beautiful homes with Western-style furniture next to Japanese Tatami rooms. We interviewed a young man with the smallest apartment ever, a tiny 8′ x 8′ space packed to the gills with Western-oriented magazines, blue jeans, skateboards, and a (unused) full-size surfboard. The kids were impressive, with their beautiful calligraphy work and exacting toy collections. In all cases, no square inch of space was unused, and that made me rethink the design we were considering. A low, wide game console was perhaps out, replaced by a slim vertical unit that could fit in one of their densely packed bookcases.

Before the trip, I had done my best to read up on Japanese culture and manners. There’s no way to learn a culture from a book or two – my goal was simply to avoid making a big mistake. I practiced and practiced the few phrases I would need (Chinami was doing simultaneous translation for 98% of it). I knew my two-handed business card presentation technique, and I nearly understood the rules for bowing.

We’d been through most of the visits, and so far so good. All of the sessions had gone fairly well, and we were learning a lot. But then I did something bad. Something wrong.

We had been visiting a house near the end of a train line, slightly out of the city-center. The session was over; it was time to pack up the camera and notes and head out. We were doing our now-normal goodbye ritual, trying to check off the right etiquette boxes. And then it happened: I misstepped. Near the front door, I stepped my sock foot just off the wood floor and onto the carpet. With one shoe on already. Unknown to me, I just violated an important manner about where you must be (and must not be) when putting your shoes back on when you leave.

Instantly the whole family erupted in hysterical laughter, with everyone pointing at me. Suddenly I was in a mayday situation, with my manners in a dangerous nosedive. Confused, I did my best to get my shoes on as Chinami pulled me out the door and onto the street. She was like a commando extricating someone from an international hotspot.

“What was that??” I asked, once we were out on the street.

Chinami informed me that laughter (apparently hysterical laughter) was how the Japanese cope with a faux-pas or embarrassing situation. Embarrassment was indeed what I created, and I felt it too. Intense embarrassment comes with a whole set of physical sensations. You’re flushed, addled, and dazed. You’ve got great regret, but it’s too late to fix it.

When we go out to do field research, we often feel we are going out to observe a strange species in its native habitat. We are the scientists, they are the creatures to be documented. We go to great lengths to help them feel comfortable with our scientist-like presence. We feel like we are the smart ones.

But guess what? The research participants are in their native habitat, and are experts on their own lives. We the researchers are the weird aliens. We’re the ones not getting their nuance. We’re the ones who are sometimes worthy of mockery.

But it’s all in a days work when you’re out doing research; you’ve got to be light on your feet. Every research session I’ve ever been on has been a dance to cover the material and sniff out insights right below the surface. All while you try to make everyone comfortable and keep the conversation flowing. It’s that dance that makes it exciting; just try to keep your toes in the right place.

ChittahChattah Quickies

Kenny Powers Takes Over K-Swiss [Fox 9] – A hilariously audacious video, by shoe-purveyor K-Swiss, depicting a fictional reality where their company is now run by Kenny Powers, comedic douchebag athlete from HBO’s “Eastbound and Down.” In brainstorming sessions we encourage our participants to come up with bad ideas as a way to feed the creative flow. Here K-Swiss reveals all their bad ideas – more bad ideas than you thought possible, not through a leak of a secret company PowerPoint but in a deliberate marketing campaign. This is some ballsy corporate culture. I don’t care what kind of edgy ad agency put this together, a lot of people at K-Swiss signed off on it and they’ve got to have enormous confidence to be able to toy with the image of the company so aggressively. I don’t know a lot about any K-Swiss precursors (so let me know in the comments!) but I’m suitably impressed with this. It’s very funny, very NSFW, very confident, and actually seems very authentic (i.e., the pitch is pretty low-key and doesn’t get in the way of the funny). It begs the question for all of us, “How willing would you be to pretend to poop all over your brand, in service of your brand?”

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] No.4 Secret Soles – Rosso Solini [I Am Hiawatha] – [Louboutin shoes start at $300 and go up to several thousand dollars. Their red sole is a distinctive design mark that signifies the wearer's brand choice. A 15-year old student has designed and is marketing an aftermarket red sole that can add that signifier to any pair of shoes.] Rosso Solini ‘Secret Soles’ is a shoe customisation kit that gives you the tools and equipment to turn any high-heel into a red soled, Louboutonesque shoe.
  • [from steve_portigal] WET Design and the Improv Approach to Listening [NYTimes.com] – [Mark Fuller, chief excellence officer of WET Design explains what is unusual about his company’s culture] Improv is really about listening to the other person, because there’s no script. It’s about responding. If you have an argument with [your] wife or husband, you are just waiting for the other person to finish so they can say what they’re waiting to say. So usually they’re these serial machine-gun monologues, and very little listening. That doesn’t work in improv. If we’re on the stage, I don’t know what goofball thing you’re going to say, so I can’t be planning anything. I have to really be listening to you so I can make an intelligent response….You’re sort of in this gray space of uncertainty. Most of us don’t like to be uncertain ­ you know, most of us like to be thinking what we’re going to say next. You get your mind into a space where you say, “I’m really enjoying that I don’t know what he’s going to ask me next, and I’m going to be open and listening and come back.
  • [from steve_portigal] Open Source Electronics Pioneer Limor Fried on the DIY Revolution [Wired Magazine] – [I've long wondered if our experiences consuming software have changed our expectations for the updatability and customizability of all products] People do want very specialized technology, and they just couldn’t get it. Now they’ll be able to get it. When I make stuff, I make it for only one person, myself. And, like, two of my friends. But it turns out that hundreds of thousands of people want the same thing. And I think that’s how good design starts. So instead of having to just put up with whatever Sony comes out with, consumers will have more choices made by people who are more like them. And they’re not just trying to manufacture as Sony; they’re manufacturing as a small company that is trying to fulfill the needs of a small community…We have no idea [where this movement will go]. It’s going to be weird and completely surprising, and we’re going to be just shocked, and it will be awesome.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from julienorvaisas] Steve Madden’s Comeback [Barrons.com] – [Steve Madden puts real-time rapid shoe prototypes in front of customers for instant feedback communicated through sales and interest. It's research that asks people to put their money where their mouth is, and provides significant financial efficiencies.] Madden is also responsible for what many think is the shoe merchant's biggest asset—its ability to quickly create cutting-edge footwear. After he and his team come up with a design for, say, new boots, a mini-factory at their headquarters can turn it into a trial product within hours, produce a limited number of the boots by the end of the day, and place them in a few of its own retail stores by week's end. The shoe merchant then gets feedback from the stores. If the footwear is a hit, it can be on retailers' shelves throughout the U.S. in six to eight weeks.
  • [from steve_portigal] TidyPSD – Get your PSDs organized! – [A fascinating example of a service. Upload a Photoshop (PSD) file to this site and they will organize it for you, grouping layers and renaming them in a coherent fashion. You can imagine digital professional organizing services that will clean up your files, organize MP3s or photos, but this is a very specific offer, akin to a professional organizer who sorts out your spice rack only.] It’s very difficult for coders to work with someone else’s PSD files if they’re not organized correctly. We help fix that problem by organizing your PSDs for you.

What Shoes Say

While doing a very straightforward image search for “shoes” the other day, I was presented with these two, side by side. They represent extreme cultural points: one of ultra-consumption (high fashion on the red-carpet), one of unconsumption based in necessity (re-purposed PET bottles). Both pair are ergonomically undesirable, one intentionally. The materials are strikingly similar, the gestures expressed by the feet as different as the footwear design is visually.

I wonder what this juxtaposition brings to mind for others?

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Mark Menjivar's You Are What You Eat – Set of naturalistic images of inside of refrigerators, with brief profile of the owner. Beautifully done.
  • Rollasole – after-dancing semisposable shoe vending – Fact 1: The best nightclubs are notoriously located at either the top or the bottom of a massive flight of stairs.
    Fact 2: The best nightclub shoes are painful, precarious and perilously pointy.
    But fear not, for we at Rollasole have appeared like Prince Charmings (sic) to gently escort you down the stairs, across the kerb and into the back of your carriage – all without falling on your face.
    When you're all danced out, just slip one of our vending machines a fiver and it'll sort you out with a pair of roly poly pumps and a shiny new bag to shove your slingbacks in.

    (via Springwise)

  • Legendary McDonald's failure in the UK – McPloughman – Although vegetarian burgers have failed in the U.S. McDonald's, one of McDonald's most spectacular production failures happened in Britain. This failure can be seen not only as a failure to understand the desires of its primary market, largely for burgers and fries, but also as a lack of understanding of a food product that is tied to British identity. In 1994 McDonald's test marketed the "McPloughman" in Britain. A "ploughman's lunch" is a very traditional British lunch that consists of bread, cheese (British, of course, usually cheddar) and a pickle (also cured in the British style). An attempt to tie the America-based company to such a traditional British product was a "McFlop." The company admitted that the British counter crew were embarrassed both by the concept and by the name itself.

    [Thanks to Stokes Jones for the tip to this one]

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Airwalk footwear – In the mid-90's, Mann left the company. After his departure, the decision was made to "go mainstream" and focus on a more general audience rather than just creating shoes for sport enthusiasts. There was a brief rise in sales, but some people loyal to the brand found the mainstream designs questionable.
  • What happens when underground brands go mainstream – Wharton marketing professors David Reibstein and John Zhang have been exploring how early adopters react when a product goes mass-market. When is there a backlash? When do early adopters switch to new products and when do they stick with the brand?
  • Personas for Firefox | Dress up your web browser – Finally, a definition I can live with: Personas are lightweight, easy-to-install and easy-to-change "skins" for your Firefox web browser.

Trend Ecosystem

It’s fascinating how most successful products lead to an ecosystem of supporting products. The Crocs fad has provided the fan-base to support charms, little decorations that attach to the holes on the shoe’s surface and let the wearer further establish their individual identity within the trend of people who have established a unique identity by wearing Crocs in the first place.

Acknowledging that following a trend has a very different meaning in Japan, we bring you the Crocs family, who we saw on a bus in Kyoto, each with their own charms.

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Dad

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Mom

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Son

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Baby

In addition to aftermarket personalization, many trends also generate a safety backlash meme (iPod muggings, anyone?). In Taipei, it’s dangerous to wear Crocs on escalators.
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Manufacturers like Apple are very savvy about creating/controlling their aftermarket, but I wonder about the backlashes. Are PR people planting those stories or doing damage control or not realizing their significance?

Update: Karl Long on the Crocs backlash (safety and others) here

Imelda Marcos – brand name for new fashion line

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Parody just seems harder when real life is so ridiculous.

The 77-year-old widow of deposed dictator Ferdinand Marcos is still viewed as an icon of class and grace as well as a mindless shoe maven who amassed thousands of pairs of pumps and stilettos while her nation languished in poverty.

But there is a lesser-known side of the flamboyant fashion plate: as a high-couture scavenger who spent nights fashioning outfits with a glue gun and scissors, even stripping the copper wire from telephone lines to get just the right look.

The Marcoses are now poised to capitalize on that fashion-meets-function image. Next month, Imee Marcos, the daughter of Ferdinand and Imelda, and her two sons will introduce the Imelda Collection: a funky, streetwise line of jewelry, clothing and shoes. They hope the fashion line will attract a younger generation not yet born when Imelda Marcos was on the world stage.

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