On February 9 I’ll be teaching a new workshop at Interaction 15 in San Francisco. Entitled Soft Skills Are Hard, it’s a deeper-dive that build the interactive talks I’ve done recently that focus on developing the interpersonal, creative, and cognitive skill sets that are essential in innovative work cultures.
The notion of presence is a critical idea for those of us in user experience. At the risk of sounding like Yoda, presence is tied to self-knowing. During ten years of writing, lecturing and coaching on “interviewing users”, many of the questions that Steve Portigal receives are about controlling or influencing another person’s behavior. Yet these interactions with others are really about ourselves, what’s inside us, who we are.
In this workshop, you’ll tap into a new level of personal authenticity to unlock a powerful boon. Together, we’ll explore this point of view and participate in a range of exercises to learn more about these ideas – and about ourselves.
The experience was a compelling one for all of us. I can not wait to do this workshop again (so hopefully someone will arrange for that to happen before too long). Taking a cue from Marina Abramovic (as well as performance and couples therapy), we tried an exercise where people gazed silently into the eyes of another person for 30 seconds. Which felt like an eternity, especially when done a second time. Everyone in the group was crazy brave and willing to try anything I asked of them, and even better was willing to really share honestly what these exercises revealed for them.
At other points we did a simple improv exercise (something I deal with a lot more in Yes, My Iguana Loves to Cha-Cha) about “accepting offers” – essentially one person waits on stage while another approaches and says something like “Hi, I’m a baker and here’s a loaf of bread.” The initial actor responds with “Thanks, I’ll go get some butter!” or something else relevant, and then walks offstage. That’s it – all we did was a series of saying “yes” to other ideas; ideas we couldn’t plan for. Even that simple and silly activity produced a lot of powerful reflection.
We also explored how reframing (especially bad ideas into good ones; something I deal with more extensively in The Power of Bad Ideas) can help with keeping us in the moment and not letting catastrophizing whisk us away.
It seemed that these ideas had a real impact; several speakers were present and reflected on the workshop in their end-of-event summaries the next day. Konrad Sauer even shared some of his experience in a blog post:
Steve then asked us to turn to the person beside us and for 30 seconds, stare into the other persons eyes. We were all strangers and the experience was amazing. After the exercise, we were asked to describe the experience. Most people had a strong sense of discomfort – this was an incredibly intimate thing to do with someone let along with someone we did not know. Many people found strategies for dealing with the discomfort – to focus on a single feature on the persons face – usually to avoid the eyes. Some people laughed, some people looked away. Some people paid attention to their breathing, the noises outside. But we all observed that we had made a much deeper connection to that person sitting across from us. Throughout the rest of the conference, whenever our eyes re-connected, it felt like seeing a very old friend again and there was a an immediate re-connection. That is how one of the other speakers described it and I think he was bang on. It was very cool.
I put together a reading list with various podcasts, websites, articles and more. You can check it out here.
Finally, I’ve embedded the slides below (although they are really only a pointer to the experience we all shared together).
Interviewing is undeniably one of the most valuable and commonly used user research tools. Yet sometimes we forget that it’s a skill we need to learn, because:
It’s based on skills we think we have (talking or even listening)
It’s not taught or reflected on
People tend to ‘wing it’ rather than develop their skills
Without good interviewing skills, research results may be inaccurate or reveal nothing new, suggesting the wrong design or business responses, or they may miss the crucial nuance that points to innovative breakthrough opportunities.
In this day-long session, we’ll focus on the importance of rapport-building and listening and look at techniques for both. We will review different types of questions, and why you need to have a range of question types. This session will explore other contextual research methods that can be built on top of interviewing in a seamless way. We’ll try some practice exercises for improving your own interviewing skills. Through a homework exercise and a field trip during the workshop, we’ll also practice observation of users in an environment.
This workshop is an evolution of something I’ve been teaching for a number of years (and continue to refine). Over the past couple of years I’ve led forms of this session in Istanbul, Vancouver, Savannah, Toronto, Lisbon, Barcelona, Hong Kong, and San Francisco. Now it’s Australia’s turn.
I believe some of the conference workshops have already sold out, so if you might be going, please sign up soon! I look forward to seeing you there!
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.)
Steve spoke about Discovering and Acting on New Insights at Lift11 (video and slides), Improv in Brainstorming at APDF, Successful Collaboration (slides) at Frontiers of Interaction, Best Practices For Interviewing Users at SXSW (slides and audio), Culture, User Research and Design at OCAD (slides and audio), We’ve done all this research, now what? at UCB and CHI2011 (slides), Uncovering Innovation From The Outside In at the UIE Web Apps Masters Tour, and User Research Analysis in a UIE Virtual Seminar (buy). He also taught full-day workshops including Spinning Data Into Gold (slides) with Rosenfeld Media, and Immersive Field Research Techniques (podcast) at UI16, and We’ve Done All This Research, Now What? at Unfinished Business (slides) and UX Hong Kong (slides).
Julie presented Finding the Right People for the Center for Design Research at the University of Kansas (slides);
Tamara co-presented Big Ideas, Focused Action, Problem Solved at the Oklahoma Creativity Forum (slides)
I’ll be presenting my webinar User Research Analysis: You’ve Done All This Research, Now What on Thursday, April 7. This webinar is based on a workshop that I’ve led in Savannah, Atlanta, Hong Kong, Portland, Vancouver, and San Francisco, among other many other places. I’m always hearing from people who are interested but who aren’t in those cities at those times, but with a webinar, anyone anywhere can participate. I’ve adapted the workshop to suit the webinar format and added a bunch of new content based on what I’ve observed working (or not working) in the workshops, not to mention some of the latest techniques we’re using in our work.
Use the promotion code PORTIGAL when you register and get free lifetime access to the webinar that you can share with everyone in your organization. (A $40 value.) If you can’t make the webinar when it happens (time zone challenges? conflicting meetings?) you can use this code when register and watch it later at your convenience.
[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’s Couples Invited to Wed at McDonald’s [NYTimes.com] – [We did visit a McDonald's in Hong Kong the other week but we didn't see anything like this!] McWedding starts at $1,280, which includes food and drinks for 50 people. The package includes a budget version of the usual trappings: a “cake” made of stacked apple pies, gifts for the guests and invitation cards, each with a wedding photo of the couple. (Hong Kong wedding photos are taken in advance, with the couple in rented finery.) McDonald’s employees dressed in black suits mimic the actions of hostesses at upscale hotels. They greet guests at the entrance, usher them to the signature book and deliver food, even if it is just a Big Mac and fries. McWeddings were devised in line with local customs, particularly Chinese numerology beliefs that determine the best dates for weddings or other important events. The engaged couple was given a photo frame shaped like Ronald McDonald, marked with the “limited edition number” 138, an auspicious figure.
[from steve_portigal] Stalking insights with Steve Portigal [Foolproof] – [Lovely concise report from our UX Hong Kong workshop. Thanks, Tom!] Even a novice UX researcher knows the dangers of moving too swiftly to draw conclusions from fieldwork. It’s important to maintain a state of openness and observation. Leaping to solutions and recommendations can bias your view. This could cause you to miss something really revealing or valuable simply because it doesn’t fit with the way your view is developing. It shouldn’t be true, but in fact the older and more experienced you get the more danger there is that you’ll fall into this trap. Firstly you’re instinctively calling on experiences and patterns in user behaviour that you may have seen before. Secondly, the more senior you are, the more impact your (wrong-headed) views may have on the situation. The antidote? Spend some time with Steve.
[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…"
Our friends at Bolt | Peters hosted their (mostly) annual User Research Friday event last week, bringing together practitioners from the client-side as well as consultants to share stories and discuss best practices. Some of our takeaways from the day are here.
The day before the conference, Steve and Julie co-led a sold-out workshop titled “We’ve Done All This Research- Now What?” for a group of 20 enthusiastic researchers and designers.
Julie and Steve in action
The purpose of the workshop was to practice the process of moving from the data and observations we gather in fieldwork toward opportunities and ultimately to ideas.
We framed this as a research project to inform a neighborhood redevelopment/gentrification effort. Before the workshop, participants first wandered their own neighborhoods…
Thanks to Nick Leggett from Zazz for this aerial shot from their Seattle offices
Noe Valley scene (a San Francisco neighborhood) captured by Julie
…and then when we got together, they the explored neighborhood surrounding Bolt | Peters for more data.
This machine shop just down the street from Bolt | Peters has been there for decades
6th street buzzes, about two blocks from the conference
Break-out groups took the synthesis tasks to heart and, in a very short period of time, collaboratively surfaced promising opportunities and strategies and solutions to address them.
We were humbled by the gentle empathy and creativity of the folks in the room. The morning served as an inspiring reminder of just how much progress a handful of smart, dedicated people can make on seemingly-intractable problems in a very short period of time.
More amazing photos, observations, output, and thoughtful commentary can be seen on the blog we created for the workshop.
I’m thrilled to be invited to speak at the first User Experience Hong Kong, taking place next February. Organized by my good friends at Apogee, the event also features a number of super smart (and super nice!) folks: Steve Baty, Janna DeVylder, Rachel Hinman, and Gerry Gaffney.
I’ll be leading a workshop entitled “Well, we’ve done all this research, now what?”
One of the most persistent factors limiting the impact of user research in business is that projects often stop with a cataloging findings and implications rather than generating opportunities that directly enable the findings. As designers increasingly become involved in using contextual research to inform their design work, they may find themselves holding onto a trove of raw data but with little awareness of how to turn it into design. How can designers and researchers work with user research data to create new things for business to do?