Posts tagged “noticing”

Facilitation and exercises for creativity and presence

I run different types of workshops with clients and at events and have built up a number of different activities that invite the participants to have a novel moment and then reflect on it to reveal something potentially profound. I’ve written my current favorites, but welcome suggestions, additions, requests for clarification, and so on.

1. The Superpower Intro

  • When starting out a group session, everyone introduces themselves in turn, with their name and their super-power.
  • It’s best not to over-constrain what constitutes a super-power. Some will speak about the thing that brings the group together (e.g., work), some will talk about their personal lives, and so on.

I nicked this exercise from Marissa Louie who used it as a way to kick-off a talk. But you can use this to go in a number of different directions. In my workshops on soft skills, I’ve adopted this warm-up because it often happens that the kinds of things people share as their super-powers are indeed soft skills. It can be a positive way to see all the things that people are good at (actually great at!). Christina Wodtke does a variation where people, in pairs, ask each other for stories about an experience or accomplishment they are proud of, and then tell that person what they think their super-power is.

2. Doodling

There are many ways to doodle, but here’s what I’ve been doing as part of my 100 doodles in 100 days project

  • Get a pen and piece of paper.
  • Close your eyes – or look away – and move the pen. Make a scrawl or a squiggle. Don’t try to make anything happen, just get some marks down.
  • Now look at what you’ve got and try to create something out of it. It can be abstract. Or it might look like something. For fun, you might want to draw eyes and a mouth, animal parts (see Dave Gray’s amazing Squiggle Birds exercise).
  • Don’t take too long, but try to think about when the doodle is done.

This isn’t about producing something good, artistic, or even visually pleasing. It’s about taking an activity that usually is very deliberate, where we are focused on the outcome and trying to do it differently. You can reflect on how it felt to “draw” this way and how you feel about your output.

3. Storytelling Circle

This is an improv game played with 6 – 8 people.

  • Get in a circle. If you are doing the game in a larger group, you can make a semi-circle so that the everyone is facing out to the rest of the group.
  • As with many improv games, get three suggestions from the audience. You might ask for a proper name, the name of a place, a household object, something you might find in a purse, etc.
  • The people in the circle are to tell a story (incorporating those elements) one word a time. Go around and around until you are done!
  • Move quickly and aim to have the sentences the group creates come out almost as quickly as if one person was speaking.
  • One trick is for everyone to be ready to start a new sentence. The almost-default of a run-on sentence isn’t much fun to do or to watch.
  • Don’t throw all your story elements in at once, and try to look for the ending to the story.

I like to do a couple of rounds of this until everyone has gone and then debrief about the experience. What was it like to do this? What were you thinking when you were playing? What did you observe when you were watching?

There are some common responses when I debrief this activity, but I also hear something new every time.

I teach an entire workshop about improv (video, slides). And just for fun, you can see some hilarious improv anti-patterns in this clip.

4. It’s going to be okay

  • Working with a partner, share something you are worried about. It can be something big or something small.
  • The partner says, as authentically as possible “It’s going to be okay.
  • The first person acknowledges that yes, it is.
  • Then switch roles and repeat the exercise.
  • As a group, talk about what happened.

This simple exercise uncovers a lot of complex individual stuff. My objective is to just give people a chance to play with the notion of “it’s going to be okay” which is maybe not that comfortable for everyone. But worry takes you away from the present moment, into the future when some unwanted consequence may occur. And I hope that by playing with it, and seeing how it does or doesn’t work for the individual, people may have some power to try this themselves.

When I’ve led a group through this exercise, some people made it a silly activity (“I’m worried about vampires”), others felt that the response wasn’t sufficient to mollify the concerns they had just given voice to and reported feeling worse, others felt that just expressing the worry gave them some relief, others felt like the exchange was calming. I have been challenged by being asked “Well, what if it’s not going to be okay, like what if it’s cancer?” Of course, the process of coming to grips with death does indeed include acceptance. Oliver Sacks wrote a terrific and touching essay about his own impending death from cancer.

5. Designer is Present

  • People get into pairs and move so that they are sitting directly across from each other. Their knees shouldn’t be touching but they should be close.
  • Without staring, each pair looks quietly at each other for 60 seconds.
  • Without debriefing or discussing, everyone stands up and moves around for a moment to “shake it off” and then sits down to resume for an additional 60 seconds.
  • As a group, debrief the experience.

This activity comes from the performance artist Marina Abramovic’s The Artist is Present, a show at MoMA where as part of a retrospective of her career she performed a new piece where she sat silently facing individual museum-goers, all day, day after day, for several months. An excellent documentary about the show is reviewed here.

I have since learned that you can find versions of this exercise in dance and in couples therapy.

You can also read more about presence in an article I co-wrote about noticing. For more on this workshop, watch the video and check out the slides.

6. Reframing Bad ideas

  • Each person is given two sticky notes.
  • On the first sticky note, write or draw the worst idea for a product or service. Something that is dangerous, immoral, bad for business. I often give the example of “candy for breakfast.”
  • Pass the sticky note to someone else. It doesn’t have to be a direct swap, as long as everyone has someone else’s bad idea.
  • On the second sticky note, design the circumstances whereby the bad idea you’ve received becomes a good idea. I’ll offer the scenario where colony collapse disorder has disrupted the food supply enough that children aren’t getting enough sugar through regular sources and breakfast candy is the result.
  • Have people share the idea they were given and the way they successfully reframed it.

I stole this exercise from Mathew Lincez. I use it in combination with “It’s going to be okay” to illustrate our capacity for reframing and as part of a workshop on creativity called the Power of Bad Ideas (article, slides, video).

Out and About: Steve in Baltimore

During last week’s trip to Baltimore, I had just a little bit of time to explore. Here’s what I saw:

IMG_1272
I had a really delicious meal at The Food Market in the hip neighborhood of Hampden, but I did snort with laughter when they brought over what I thought was going to be a beet salad.

IMG_1276

IMG_1277

photo1
Have we hit Peak Experience (and not in the Maslovian sense) when donuts are reframed as experiences? Closing the loop on my last visit to the area, this was a total disappointment. Disappointing donuts and a weird experience. Fractured Prune was located in an Italian restaurant but I could not figure out where the donut counter was. It turned out to be shared with the restaurant. I had to ask two people once I was actually in this little restaurant where the donuts were. There’s no familiar visual cue of shelves of donuts, since all are made-to-order. I did have nice chat with a fellow patron who told me they were great donuts. I didn’t let him see me leave the half-eaten ones sitting in the bag on the picnic table outside. Not good.

photo2
Street art in Hampden.

Out and About: Steve in Toronto

I was in my old hometown of Toronto last week for Interaction13. Of course, I did spend some time wandering and (shivering and) taking pictures. The Flickr set is taking shape here but meanwhile some faves for you are below.
REAL PEOPLE ARE LIKE THIS!

Homeless memorial

What is dangerous?

Bash Back

Sushi Dry Cleaner

Evan Penny

Tree

Donuts

Steam Whistle

Gretzky

Cold

Guys

Power

Elysa’s War Story: Keep The Swiffer On Your Right

Senior strategist Elysa Soffer heads into the field where an adventure in building rapport awaits.

She’s Caucasian, 75 years old, retired, married with 2 grown kids, lives in Berkeley, and cleans her floors 2 – 4 times a week. This woman fits our qualifications as a participant for our research study. But you never know who you might be talking to and how best to get them to open up to you-a stranger entering their home.

Two of us spent a few hours interviewing this woman in her home for a floor cleaning study. We asked warm-up questions about her and her household. She mentioned that she was a writer and lived there with her husband. She showed us around her house, and pointed out the rooms where she spends the most time cleaning floors.

During the next part of the interview, she demonstrated her cleaning process and we asked her to test a few prototypes we brought along. She showed us everything from how she stores her tools, cleans, and puts everything away. It was as simple as that.

This was one of the last in-home interviews out of about a dozen conducted for this project. It went just as smoothly as the previous ones. We felt like we gathered insights. So, we asked our wrap-up questions and packed up. Once the video camera and recorder were off, we made small talk while heading to the door.

My research partner stopped next to the door to look at a handmade shrine-like structure sitting on a tchotchke shelf. It was made out of bones! Not fake Halloween-decoration bones, but real human-looking bones. We couldn’t resist, we had to ask.

The woman’s face lit up, and she was excited to tell us the story about her adventures visiting a tribe of cannibals in Africa. She explained that she published articles about this tribe and took many trips over the years to study their culture. She also pointed out how the shrine was made of animal, not human bones. To top it all off, she confessed that she “may” have been fed human during some of her expeditions there. Whoa!

We asked a few more questions about her adventures, but unfortunately we had to go. The vibe in the room had completely changed. She was enthusiastic and seemed more comfortable than she did for the previous few hours. Had we noticed the statue on the way in, would the interview had been different? If the camera was still on would she have reacted the same way?

Back in the car, I looked at the recruiter’s sheet again. Cannibal wasn’t listed anywhere. I wondered what secrets the previous floor cleaning participants hadn’t shared.

ChittahChattah Quickies

Mice as Stand-Ins in the Fight Against Disease [New York Times] – Looks like this has been happening in some measure for a while, but some new methods are increasing the usage. The most science-fiction thing you’ll read all week.

In what could be the ultimate in personalized medicine, animals bearing your disease, or part of your anatomy, can serve as your personal guinea pig, so to speak. Some researchers call them avatars, like the virtual characters in movies and online games. “The mice allow you the opportunity to test drugs to find out which ones will be efficacious without exposing the patient to toxicity,” said Colin Collins, a professor at the University of British Columbia.

Australia 2012 [Flickr] – My complete set of pictures from Australia earlier this month.

Chinese families’ worldly goods in Huang Qingjun’s pictures [BBC] – We’ve seen other projects like this, but the focus on China captures a material culture in transition.

Amid China’s tumultuous dash to become rich, one man’s photographs of families posing with their worldly goods will soon seem like records from a distant era. Huang Qingjun has spent nearly a decade travelling to remote parts of China to persuade people who have sometimes never been photographed to carry outside all their household possessions and pose for him. The results offer glimpses of the utilitarian lives of millions of ordinary Chinese who, at first glance, appear not to have been swept up by the same modernisation that has seen hundreds of millions of others leave for the cities. But seen more closely, they also show the enormous social change that has come in a generation. So the photo of an elderly couple of farmers outside their mud house reveals a satellite dish, DVD player and phone.

Four Big Things, a phrase dating from 1950s for most sought-after goods for newly married couples: sewing machine, bicycle, watch, radio. It’s since come to refer to whatever is most fashionable at the time. By 1980s the four big things were: TV, washing machine, rice cooker, fridge. Now, consumer goods flood China’s cities, it tends to be used to describe people’s aspirations for the latest thing.

Must-See Video: How a Woman With No Arms Dresses Herself. What Assistance Can Design Provide? [Core 77] – I love the reaction; that excitement of discovering how current solutions could be improved. Designers are so great at bringing that creativity and know-how to bear to make change for the good. But let’s remember, we don’t need videos to be posted by users to uncover what things aren’t working for them. Are designers waiting for broken products to appear in front of them so they can spontaneously improve them, or are they out there looking at current behaviors and solutions in order to proactively find opportunities. Designers: you don’t need the disabled (or anyone) to post their own videos, go and shoot your own!

I hope that more folks with disabilities make videos like this, not just to share with others what their particular trials are, but to enable us designers to improve upon the objects they use.

FILMography – a Tumblr with an incredible series of images where a printout of a still from a film is held up in the actual location where that scene was shot. It’s a “trick” I’ve seen before but mostly as a one-off; the breadth here is fascinating.

FILM + photography = FILMography.

Out and About: Steve in Brisbane

I got back last week from two weeks in Australia, traveling around as well as speaking at UX Australia in Brisbane and Service Design Melbourne. Here is the third of four posts with some of the highlights (see 1 and 2 previously). All my pictures are making their way to Flickr, as well.


Hmm. Update: Golden Casket is a lottery company, not the store itself. And “casket” more typically refers to something like a treasure chest than a coffin. The language discontinuities wonderfully surprising!


Brilliant idea to highlight a positive so specifically.


Burger King, in some parts of Australia, is Hungry Jack’s.



While the text and icon evoke the fleeing-immigrants signs seen in Southern California and Arizona, this supposedly refers to a traffic island in the middle of the street where pedestrians can wait if they are caught in the road when the light changes. However, this location had no such island.


Dolphin attendance. What can we infer about the dolphins with the dashes in place of checks? Or the dolphins with a line through the week?


Jelly.


Peanut butter.


From the Gallery of Modern Art (or, if you prefer, GOMA), biomorphic scooters.


“I never stopped loving you” reminded me of the iconic “I love you so much” graffiti-cum-icon in Austin. One is in an art museum, and the other is on the side of a building.


The piece is called Distillery: Waveforming. It uses biofeedback, as you clip a pulse oximeter to your earlobe and the iPad display starts to play mellow music and visually echo your heartbeat. It was like a digitally-induced high. I hope we all get one soon.

Out and About: Steve in Sydney (2 of 2)

I got back last week from two weeks in Australia, traveling around as well as speaking at UX Australia and Service Design Melbourne. Here is the second of four posts with some of the highlights. Part 1 is here.

All my pictures are making their way to Flickr, as well.


Nice combination of cultural iconography.


I liked seeing the range of medical services laid out like this. Not very confidence inspiring, however.


Manners poster.


Asian preferred.


A really awful brand name and sign. What does crocodile have to do with thai? And what is added by making him or it senior? It’s a puzzle.


Father’s Day is September 2.


Milk for the workplace. At last.



360Àö Self-Portrait at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Although there are no visual cues, the artist is in some contraption that moves her around, through a complete circle. As she moves, gravity deforms her face slightly while she essentially remains expressionless. The net effect is compelling and disorienting.



The 18th Biennale of Sydney was chock full of astonishing spectacle. Really wonderful. And I only heard about it because I checked in (via Foursquare) at the museum and a kindly person on Twitter suggested I head over to the island and see it.


A crushed car was on display and yet needed to be marked before and after with warning signs so that traffic going by would not be alarmed. Are the signs part of the work or something that is imposed on the artist in order to allow their work to proceed? And what does it mean to have a sign announcing “End Artwork” anyway? Is that an observation or an imperative?

Out and About: Steve in Sydney (1 of 2)

I got back last week from two weeks in Australia, traveling around as well as speaking at UX Australia and Service Design Melbourne. Here is the first of four posts with some of the highlights. All my pictures are making their way to Flickr, as well.


The diminutive is a common Australian form. Toasted sandwich becomes toastie. Football is footy. Breakfast is breaky/brekkie. Motorcycle gang member is bikie. Slot machine = pokie. Self-portrait is selfie. I saw this in advertising, building signage and the newspaper.



I’m certainly impressed to know that Sol Levy is such an esteemed tobacconist. What related line of business does he offer that requires one to be over 18 in order to take a trip down memory lane and reveal treasures? Some sort of vintage tobacco porn? The mind boggles.



The savory pie is an Australian dish, sold in all sorts of stores including the ubiquitous Pie Face, where their pies are decorated with, well you guessed it, faces.


Yet another example of personas (or the aesthetics of personas) turned into customer-facing messaging: “Hi, I’m James. I’m a freelance TV producer. But before you write me off as some sort of knob who owns a fancy European car, think again. I don’t even own a car! Instead, I just use GoGet Cars whenever I need one. So when I’m on a shoot and I’ve got expensive equipment to transport, I’ll use this van.”


I was astonished at how foreign I felt in Australia. Despite a common language, there are so many disconnects around vocabulary. This ad on the back of a bus reads “Grab an iinet Combo. It’s like a showbag for grown-ups.” Sure, I can read that, but what the heck are they talking about? Some Aussies clued me in that showbags are gift bags from the equivalent of state fairs. Whatever – that feeling of cluelessness was a particularly wonderful aspect of the whole trip.


Whether you say please or not, the option of opting out at the mailbox is something I’ve seen in Europe as well.


Prohibited clothing.


And more prohibitions.

Out and About: Steve in Barcelona (1 of 2)

I’m just back from a week in Barcelona for WebVisions, where I led a workshop on fieldwork, synthesis, and ideation, and gave a short talk about championing contextual research within your organization. I’ll be covering similar material coming up in a couple of months at WebVisions Chicago. Meanwhile, I had a bit of time to explore, and found Barcelona to be a beautiful and well-designed city. Here are some sample images, with more to follow in the next day or so (and the complete set on Flickr).


Bounty at La Boqueria market.


Pedestrian safety warning placed in context, as you step from the sidewalk into the street.


Obama British Africa Gin and Rum. Odd description here.







Stickers on the corrugated metal doors pulled down when a business is closed advertise what I assumed was a taxi services but in fact is for locksmiths. Why are locksmith services advertised with such verve?


Gaudi’s La Sagrada Fam??lia, under construction since 1882. Astonishing, even from the outside.


Known in the US as Ice Age: Continental Drift.


Marketing for something via Facebook.


A very modern cinema structure, down by the water, where all the buildings are new and ultra modern. While the whole place is a delicious mix of old and new, classic and modern, this area went just a bit too far into Mall. While this building is gorgeous, its siting and overall vibe is dehumanizing.

Out and About: Steve in Lisbon (1 of 2)

Last week I went to Lisbon to speak at UX Lx (you can see my presentations and more here). We had a great time exploring the city on our own, and courtesy of our kindly hosts. I’ve got some images and observations here, and some more to come tomorrow.


This sign is advertising one of those small bright yellow cars that tourists drive around while a recording guides them from place to place. But here the promotional message is rather ribald. Is this reflective of the local culture and how English is used, or is it an attempt to adapt to visitor norms? My other triangulation point was the frequent t-shirts with rather forward sayings in English, worn by people that maybe didn’t know what they meant? I saw a slender woman jogging with a “Chubby Girls Cuddle Better.” A late-middle-aged man on the subway wore a shirt reading “Rock Out With Your Cock Out.” There was just something off about the wearer and the message, seeing my own culture coming back at me in a completely different way. Was this like Engrish, or something else?


Same idea. This is an advertisement for learning English, from the prestigious-sounding “Wall Street Institute” presumably targeting people who want to improve their careers. But FUCK (and the other side, SHIT) are the reference points for learning English. For sure, these are important words in business 🙂


The reliefs in the base of the statue of St. Anthony.


Friendly key dudes.


Do they sell each of those animals as meat?


Is this frog flashing a gang sign, or suggesting his availability for romance?


Funiculars traverse the steep hills.



Stunning architecture of the Oriente train station.


Nothing says sexy like toilet paper.


At the Vasco de Gama mall, this staircase used the same handrail as the escalator. As you approached it, you’d assume you were about to get on an escalator. But no, it’s stairs. Did some architect insist on symmetry with the design of the adjacent escalator?


Rossio train station.

Observing Dublin (part 2 of 2)

More pictures from my trip to Dublin for tbe IxDA Student Design Challenge. Also see Part 1.


There is a chain called TJ Hughes in parts of Europe, so they swapped out the J for a K in order to prevent confusion.


KitKat deathmatch?


Most charming packaging, ever!


Dublin doors.



The classic, interpreted two ways.


Viking marketing.


Differentiation?


Damn right it hurts.



Local retail aesthetics.


Treasures in the trash.

Observing Dublin (part 1 of 2)

Last week I was in Dublin for the IxDA Student Design Challenge (more on that coming soon). I had a chance to stroll about (in the cold!) and get some pictures, here are a few favorites, with part 2 coming tomorrow.



You can’t understate the prominence (relevance?) of Guinness


The Museum of Natural History. A big, big room crammed with more dead stuffed animals than you possibly imagine.


Rolling advertisements.


Occupy and social media.


Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott.


Aspiration meets reality.


Local hero Colm Meaney.


Why, indeed?


The Liffey at night.


Samuel Beckett Bridge.


Services you didn’t know you needed.


Zipperman.

Out and About: Julie in New York

My aimless wanderings between meetings and meals in Manhattan last week led to observing these collisions of order and chaos.

Cupcakes at Dean and Deluca (Greenwich Village) bear a resemblance to the tiered visuals and colors of the crowd (Times Square).

Impact emerges from the pattern of repetitive elements in street/sidewalk art (SoHo) and tagged signage (Chinatown).

Series

About Steve