Posts tagged “lunch”

Noël’s War Story: Truck Stop

Noël Bankston is a UX Research Lead and Human Factors Engineer at Zebra Technologies, currently living in Queens, NY. She told this story live at the Interaction 17 conference.

“So Jim, what would you like to do for lunch? “My treat!” It was the moment I had been dreading all day, ironic since I am a lover of food. I was trying to sound chipper but I was worn through.

It was 2 pm and I was starving. I was sitting in the cab of a 48’ tractor trailer in Lowell, Arkansas. This was my first “ride along” research trip and I had not come prepared with snacks. I was doing in-depth generative research of the pick-up and delivery process for a freight company and hadn’t known that we don’t have lunch until all the deliveries were completed.

I was also not prepared for the weather as I am from up north and I thought the South would be hot in late May. It wasn’t – it was a constant drizzle and cold. So I was sitting in the cab feeling small and tired in the oversized loaner jacket that the dispatcher had given me. We had been on the road since 8:45 am but I had arrived at the trailer dispatch site even earlier to observe the set-up process. And that should have been fine, because on a normal day, Jim finishes around noon. But today we saw all the exceptions – an unprepared customer, incorrect paperwork, an obstructed delivery dock, and poor routing. As a researcher, it was a gold-mine as I observed where problems occurred and how Jim handled them. But as someone who is mildly hypoglycemic, it meant I was getting hangry. It had been a long morning of climbing into and out of that cab, learning which hand to place where to get the right leverage to pull yourself up as you step onto the step that is only wide enough for half your foot. And I don’t know how many of you have ridden inside of a tractor trailer but it is loud and you feel every bump.

In that moment as I asked about lunch, damp, tired, and hungry, I thought back on the the anxiety I had felt earlier in the day about lunch. A co-worker told me that on his previous ride-along they had eaten a burger from a gas station mini-mart. Even on a normal day that would make me uneasy, as gas stations aren’t known for freshness and hygiene. I knew that this type of research means being available for wherever the subject takes you, but I was really hoping that didn’t include food poisoning.

But at this point, 8 hours from my previous meal and having no idea what part of town we were in, who was I to be picky?

“So Jim, what would you like to do for lunch?”

“I just want a salad. I try to eat healthy.” I gave a huge sigh of relief, accompanied by a rumble of rejoicing from my stomach. It seemed that between the two of us, I would be eating the bigger meal. I found a nearby Mexican restaurant on Yelp. While enjoying the flavor combination of fresh cilantro and lime with nary a fryolator in sight, I realized how I had been making assumptions about “truckers” based on stereotypes rather than letting the research reveal the truth. And those assumptions were also judgments about health and lifestyle. Jim was aware of the health effects of his job and wasn’t going to turn down an opportunity to have a healthful meal, especially when a researcher was paying! One of the reasons truckers eat unhealthy food is both cost and convenience. Truck stops get food fast and are less expensive. Unfortunately, our food system is set up in a way that fresh, whole food costs much more than highly processed, industrially produced food.

I won’t be able to eliminate all my biases or preconceived notions but I can grow in my awareness of them. I have been on many more ride-alongs and other types of research trips since then. You better believe I always have a granola bar with me.

If only fixing the easy problems was that easy

The problems in getting San Francisco high school students to use the separate line for free lunches in San Francisco is not surprising

Lunchtime “is the best time to impress your peers,” said Lewis Geist, a senior at Balboa and its student body president. Being seen with a free or reduced-price meal, he said, “lowers your status.”

School officials are looking at ways to encourage more poor students to accept government-financed meals, including the possibility of introducing cashless cafeterias where all students are offered the same food choices and use debit cards or punch in codes on a keypad so that all students check out at the cashier in the same manner.

Only 37 percent of eligible high school students citywide take advantage of the subsidized meal program.

Many districts have a dual system like the one at Balboa: one line for government-subsidized meals (also available to paying students) and other lines for mostly snacks and fast food for students with cash. Most of the separate lines came into being in response to a federal requirement that food of minimal nutritional value not be sold in the same place as subsidized meals – which must meet certain nutritional standards.

It’s frustrating to encounter situations when the owners of the system understand explicitly why their target customers aren’t adopting their product or service, but are unable to make the changes necessary to reach those customers. In this case, the schools are morally (and legally, perhaps) obliged to provide this service in an accessible fashion, but politics and bureaucracy get in the way. It’s not as if the schools are noting “hmm, no one seems to be eating our free lunches. We have no idea why that is. And even if we knew, we’d have no idea how to fix it!”

I first learned about wicked problems from Adam Richardson who described simple problems as those where both the problem and the solution are known, and complex problems as those where the problem is known but the solution is not. In wicked problems, neither the problem nor solution is known. Looking at the school cafeteria itself, we see a simple problem. Looking at the educational institution, there’s a likely wicked problem lurking just out of sight…why haven’t they solved the simple problem?

I’ve seen so many design student projects that solve simple problems without acknowledging the wicked problem that has prevented the adoption of similar solutions for so long. Naive designers so often believe that their solutions for simple problems are so fantastic that they will automatically be adopted but the sad truth is that the real problem isn’t about the lack of solutions.

I Need Flunch

Came across Flunch when I was in Paris.

I guess it’s popular enough that two of their locations (above) are on the same block. I was amused at how ugly that name is in English, though. Flubber biscuit? Definitely not appealing to my culturally-based linguistic sense.

Agency “Tour,”

PSFK Agency “Tour”

We’ve started a series of agency visits in New York. If you’d like us to come in and say present at, say, a team meeting we’d be happy to. Our 30 minute conversation includes a break down of PSFK, a look at three critical global trends and a Q&A.

*Flash* Portigal Consulting to launch 4-Star Eatery Tour. We’ve started a series of high-profile power lunches at exquisite restaurants. If’d you’d like us to join you, say, for a meal, such as lunch, or perhaps brunch, we’d be glad to do that. We’d order a selection of appetizers, and regale you with funny (and relevant!) stories from episodes of the Simpsons and Kids in the Hall while we share some dessert after the entree plates are cleared.

If you are an influential player with an expense account, get in touch at steve AT portigal DOT com and we’ll set up our nosh-fest.


About Steve