Posts tagged “event”

Breakfast of Champions

Last Friday we opened our doors to a few superheroic leaders from Silicon Valley firms for a morning discussion about championing user research within an organization (thus “Breakfast of Champions”). This event came hot on the heels of Steve’s recent webinar and provided a learning forum for us as consultants and for our guests, who shared insights and questions from the client perspective.

The discussion included trials and triumphs, questions about current challenges, and new frameworks to yield as tools for overcoming obstacles.  We were impressed with the humility and willingness to share evident in the discussion as research champions from diverse departments, companies, and industries swapped war stories and provided each other with encouragement and new ideas.

I captured some of the conversation on our whiteboard. On the left side are successes, questions and ponderings in the middle, and current challenges on the right. See a bigger image here.

We covered a lot of ground during two hours so the list below is not exhaustive, but it does start to hint at the themes that came up.

  • The importance of measuring, benchmarking, and storying research successes
  • The value of taking non-researchers (especially skeptics and critics) into the field
  • The challenge of confronting organizational paradigms and questioning sacred ‘truths’ when framing research questions
  • Success with embedding research in the design process as opposed to making it a distinct, standalone project
  • Overcoming obstacles of apathy with insights that are action-ready and and deliverables that are easy to share
  • Thinking strategically about the relationship between quant and qual, and considering how they feed each other
  • The value of research in corporate strategy and business solutions and the need to frame it as such
  • The changing role of the consultant and research provider
  • The importance of show and tell of research results to various groups, departments, etc.

This was our first time doing something like this and we’re looking forward to doing it again in the near future!

This Week @ Portigal

Monday is well underway and the week is filling up with meetings and work sessions! Away we go!

  • Last week we kicked off a super-rapid project. We didn’t know we were doing the project at the beginning of the week and by the end of the week we had started recruiting research participants. This week we’re lining up our participants and figuring out what we’ll do in the field.
  • I’m calling it “collaborative listening” – thanks to our officemate Olly, we’re experimenting with some networked speakers that lets us all listen to music together instead of individually over headphones. This will mean sorting out some social norms around volume, phone calls, and musical tastes. But so far, so good (oh yeah, because we’re listening to my music right now!)…
  • We’re hosting our first event later this week. We’ve invited a small number of folks for a discussion and will be sharing more once it’s all over. But we’re actively discussing our catering options right now!
  • More conference submissions to prepare, more conference acceptances to announce, and more conference presentations to start getting together!
  • This week we’ve begun reaching out to potential new teammates, partners, and collaborators. We don’t know where we’ll end up but the journey is sure to be an informative one.
  • What we’re consuming: A Visit From The Goon Squad, The Firestarter Sessions, Pizzeria Delfina

Steve speaking at User Experience Hong Kong

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?

Almost related: Pictures from my last Hong Kong trip (2006)

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood says MP3s sound good enough – [In ReadingAheda we explored the "Gold Standard" of previous generations of technology]
    SASHA FRERE-JONES: Is the MP3 a satisfactory medium for your music?

    JONNY GREENWOOD: They sound fine to me. They can even put a helpful crunchiness onto some recordings. We listened to a lot of nineties hip-hop during our last album, all as MP3s, all via AirTunes. They sounded great, even with all that technology in the way. MP3s might not compare that well to a CD recording of, say, string quartets, but then, that’s not really their point.

    SFJ: Do you ever hear from your fans about audio fidelity?

    JG: We had a few complaints that the MP3s of our last record wasn’t encoded at a high enough rate. Some even suggested we should have used FLACs, but if you even know what one of those is, and have strong opinions on them, you’re already lost to the world of high fidelity and have probably spent far too much money on your speaker-stands.
    (via kottke)

  • Yoostar lets anyone act opposite Hepburn, Brando – It's a consumer-level greenscreen system, so you can record video of yourself composited into classic movie footage. While it's amazing that this is being productized at a consumer level, the reviews make it clear that it's riddled with difficulties and limitations.
  • Microsoft tries Tupperware-party-esque promotion for Windows 7 – If you can find 9 friends and provide a decent pitch, you could be chosen to host a Windows 7 House Party and win a free signature copy of Windows 7. There are four pre-defined categories for the party: PhotoPalooza, Media Mania, Setting up with Ease, and Family Friendly Fun.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Robert Fabricant of frogdesign considers whether understanding users means that design is or isn't persuasive/manipulative – How do we decide what the user really 'wants to achieve'? The fact is that there are a host of different influences that come to bear in any experience. And a host of different needs that drive user behavior. Designers are constantly making judgment calls about which 'needs' we choose to privilege in our designs. In fact, you could argue that this is the central function of design: to sort through the mess of user needs and prioritize the 'right' ones, the most valuable, meaningful…and profitable.

    But according to what criteria? These decisions, necessarily, value judgments, no matter how much design research you do. And few designers want to be accountable for these decisions. From that perspective, UCD, starts to seem a bit naive, possibly even a way to avoid accountability for these value judgments.

    [Obviously no easy answers here; even defining the terms for the discussion is challenging, but the dialog between Robert and others is provocative]

  • Dave Blum, treasure hunt designer, offers 100 treasure hunts around the world – I was always a puzzle and a game kid. I had a friend when I was growing up in Millbrae, Mike Savasta, and he and I were just board game and card game fanatics. Monopoly, Life, Sorry, Stratego.

    In college, I played thousands of games of cribbage. I like the intellectual challenge, the analytical challenge. I'm very much a "play-it-by-ear" kind of guy, so I like a game where you have to think on your feet.

    After college, I lived in Japan for 3 1/2 years and taught English. Then I spent 11 months traveling through Asia and Europe, and when I came back to San Francisco, I worked in tourism for a while. I said, "I need to find a career that I really love." I thought if I could combine group work, travel, games and puzzles – that would be the ultimate job. I started Dr. Clue in 1995.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Whitney Quesenbery's workshop on selecting user research methodologies (PDF) – This is definitely an FAQ and this paper gives some good frameworks for choosing. Best stuff starts on page 9.
  • A business will gain from 10 to 50% more customers using a air dancer inflatable puppet. – Drivers tune out the surrounding signs. They are focused on the road and ahead. If a driver was to read and look at each business on every block he or she drives by, they would simply have sensory overload. An air dancer placed within their field of vision, dancing and waving around with your message simply can not be tuned out.

    Only the best air dancer material (1.3 oz coated ripstop), artwork is cut and sewn with boat sail insignia material. We make them right here in our California facility. Unlike other units that last 6 weeks, our unit will last 6 months. Dancer warranty / 90 days and workmanship warranty / 6 months. Fan warranty is one year. The best dancing balloon warranty in the industry. We only use the 18” fan. Some companies use only a 12” fan.

    Including Air Dancer, Arrow Dancer, Fly Guy and 2 Leg Patented Dancing Man

  • Kaboom Advertising – Street Stunts – Whether it’s a huge gorilla chasing a banana through the streets of a major market or a giant smile running and hugging a donor at a major high-end fundraising gala, we create circumstances that attract the attention of the local market and publicity to fuel peer-to-peer recommendations. By inviting or leaking the event to the press, the brand is given a bit more credibility and prolonged exposure to the community at large.

User Research Friday

This past Friday was, well, User Research Friday.

Here’s the obligatory shots of backs of heads and a person and a slide. Comments on the whole thing follow the pictures.
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I am so appreciative of all the work put in by the folks that organized User Research Friday; the constraints of the (un)conference problem are pretty extreme and they struck the best balance they could, given the effort put in (i.e., it was free, and all done by volunteers, and that’s appropriately going to limit what is being created; this isn’t TED). I’m looking forward to the next one, too.

It continues to be amazing what people can do in terms of throwing together an event with little budget, planning, advance notice, etc. And what goes with these unconventional events is a rethinking of the purpose of such a gathering.

We (and this is the collective we, as participants and organizers of events) are still not there yet; I haven’t seen one of these work to its potential (although the effort/payoff ratio is much better than a big expensive event, too, so part of the problem is common across events in general more than the specific approach; I’m more likely to (constructively) critical because these events are at least trying to rethink the approach). There’s a tension between the different goals that people come to these things with, and the way the event is configured to address those needs: content, discussion, and networking being the biggest ones I can suss out.

The content here was so-so. One presentation was a bald-ass sales pitch, complete with a pre-emptive slide for anyone who might disagree with the value of what was being sold, referred to as “that guy” – no one would want to be “that guy” would they? The ones that always asks those (eye roll) questions? Sheesh. Great to address the FAQs that come up, but no need to be such a dick about it. At least one talk went entirely over my head. Others shared some case studies in an informative and direct fashion.

Sadly much of the content dealt with workarounds for the constraints of business today. No time to go see customers, who are too far away and may be in a situation where we can’t go see them at the time of most relevance. Can we get someone else to go see them? Or can we put a piece of technology in place that can intermediate? In general, these are good solutions to real problems, but I fear I’m watching the field drift into a spot I’m not so crazy about. I realize this reflects the Bay Area/Silicon Valley thing and had I attended EPIC or AWF I wouldn’t be struck by the contrast. Any of our local events that are self-generated in terms of content suffer the same techno-drift (see DCamp, etc.).

Only one presentation was designed to elicit some sort of dialog (not that others presenters should have taken that approach; the format didn’t really support it).

The event offered little in terms of discussion. There are tons of people in the room, so as many questions as possible in the short session length were taken. But any large-number-of-participants event will rarely build into any new conclusion, it’s merely clarification after comment after clarification. There was to be a panel session (and I was asked to be a panelist) but the organizers decided to cut it. I am not sure why. Time? Lack of focus for a topic? Too much content? Of course, I wanted my fifteen minutes, so I felt bad and my perspective on the value of the panel is filtered strongly by my desire to have been involved in the panel. Breaks, if any, between presentations were brief and some folks no doubt were reviewing content with each other, while others were just chatting, queuing, and drinking (yeah, there was free wine and beer and eventually champagne)!

The networking was crammed into that time as well. I enjoyed having a printout of the signups ahead of time so (as an introvert, I guess) I could plan for who I could see that I knew; as well as having other brief chances to meet others.

The post-presentations networking (where more food and booze came out) was a bit disappointing; it was Friday so people left to go to their other lives fairly quickly. I imagined it running later than advertised, but it petered out earlier, so I was a bit bummed on that front.

I was struck by how much focus and interest there was on the presentations themselves; I pictured more hallway chatting going on adjacent to the talks, but we all gravitated towards the talks.

I’ve not been involved in anything more salon-like; smaller, more focused, with some intention to produce some result by the end. I’m not sure I’m ready to organize something myself, but I’m definitely interested in that, as a contrasting experience.

User Research Friday

I’ll be joining over 100 people at this event in SF on Friday. It could be mayhem, although I haven’t seen how large the space is, I’m figuring it’ll be pretty cramped. I’ll be part of a panel session; topics TBD, and I’m looking forward to the conversation and hanging out.

What am I in for?

I’m feeling eagerness and trepidation over the upcoming Applied Improv Conference. Eagerness because I find improv has enormous potential for creativity and collaboration (and even connections to ethnography) and discussions of improv can be provocative and intellectually invigorating.

And trepidation over whether this event will be filled with earnest, clowny, extroverted, unprofessional flakes where I’ve just got no common ground.

We have an exciting Plenary Session planned for Wednesday evening with Nika Quirk of InterPlay.
InterPlay means “interaction” and what could be better to kick off a conference? InterPlay is easy, fun, and life changing. It is based in a series of incremental “forms” that lead participants to movement and stories, silence and song, ease and amusement. In the process, we unlock the innate wisdom of our bodies and in our relationships.

Nika Quirk is a lifelong mover and student of dance, starting with her interest in wiggling to TV jingles at age 3. She founded and directed a Dance Choir using authentic movement and a collaborative choreography process she developed. Completing the yearlong InterPlay Leadership Program in 1997, she earned certification in the methodology and has focused her application of InterPlay in small groups, individual coaching, and “labs” exploring business partnership. Nika’s career spans law, business management, non-profit program development, academic teaching and professional coaching. In August, she began a doctoral program at California Institute of Integral Studies and is following her curiosity about the connections between improvisational ability and social creativity.

I guess it’s up to me to bring some open-mindedness back and cover up my cynicism (which I oh-so enjoy). The conference is local, so no travel costs, and is relatively inexpensive, and is an experiment for me. I’m passing on some of the typical conferences my peers are attending this year (and that I have been regulars at in the past) in order to branch out, but I can feel the tension inside me over that decision.

D.C. bound

User Experience Week 2006 is coming up in just 2 weeks. I’m looking forward to the event; I’ve never been to D.C. before, looking forward to seeing Michael Bierut and some of the other presenters. My talk and Jared Spool’s take place simultaneously, so I can expect an (ahem) intimate audience, I guess.

I know some of the folks who will be there (especially other presenters), but I’d love to hear from other folks who will be at UX Week?

interactive city summit

I’m attending an interesting event next week. It’s a two-day summit on the topic of (as far as I can tell) what we want from our cities in the future. There’s an implied (to me) technological bias, but not any assumption that technology is good.

This is not a topic I feel very expert in, not even very well informed, or strongly opinionated about. Given the discussion-based slant the organizers are taking, this could be a risk, but I’m hoping that diving into the issues will unearth some perspectives on, well, living life in the spaces we live in, that I haven’t previously written or talked about.

Tipping the scales for me, therefore, to attend, are the facts that the event is free and local and especially that organizers/presenters include Eric Paulos and Matt Jones, two big-thinking design/culture/technology folks whom I admire.

This summit is part of a larger event going on in San Jose (electronic art, and presumably some other themes; I can’t really parse the details or remember the name of the conference without regular use of the web) – I won’t be part of that.

If you are attending the interactive city summit, let me know!

Good thoughts about Design 2.0

Although I often take the role of curmudgeon, it was a pleasant surprise at Overlap to see others taking that role. That said, I sometimes can be negative about those who are cheerleaders. One notable exception is when they are cheering for me, as in this post from Business Week’s Bruce Nussbaum, who calls me a “a really smart innovation consultant” while talking up the imminent Design 2.0 event where I’ll be speaking.

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