Posts tagged “observation”

Observation and empathy

Here’s another proof point for the power of video in user research. Check out this very simple observational video.

If you didn’t watch it, it shows person after person stumbling on poorly designed stairs.

I don’t know about you but I felt increasingly emotional the more I watched this. A bubbling outrage and a sense that something so obviously needs to be done about this. Of course, this is a simple problem, which makes the failure to act even more aggravating.

The goal of user research isn’t always to uncover people’s fail states with the team’s existing products, but when it is, tools like video are impactful on rational and emotional levels.

Update: according to this Tweet, the stairway is now closed.

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

More observations from last week’s trip to Lisbon. See part 1 here





Street art.


Body-enhancing undergarments.


Clooney.


Eat box? Yum!


Y’arr! Pirate Bar! That’s some great neon. Perfect place for Drink Like A Pirate Day.


Scented dolls? They look pretty intense. Perhaps they inch forward menacingly as you pass by their window.


The design museum was redoing its facade with sticky notes. We watched their progress over several days.


This is the take-a-number device for a retail queue. Far more advanced than the familiar North American paper ticket dispenser. And also unrecognizable if you don’t read Portuguese and don’t know to look for this.


Detail of a building exterior. Tiled buildings are ubiquitous, with many different beautiful tile designs of various vintages.

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.

Back from UX Lisbon

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.)

Introverted Observers

We’ve had a lot of good posts – and comments – as of late about extroversion, introversion, talking to strangers, comfort zones, and so on. This brought to mind a story from a visit to New York a while back. In Let’s Embrace Open-Mindedness I tell two stories from my personal life (e.g., not when conducting research) where I explored the edges of my own comfort zone in just slightly unfamiliar circumstances, one situation where I saw the opportunity and couldn’t make the leap, another where I saw the opportunity and convinced myself to take that leap.

Followers of this blog will know I love taking pictures of curious and interesting things that I see everywhere, but it’s much harder – and not always appropriate – to take pictures of the curious and interesting people that I see everywhere. Indeed, in true Heisenberg fashion, you can’t always get the picture you’d want if you have to interact.

Anyway, visiting New York and walking through Times Square, I came upon people promoting Carrie Fisher’s “Wishful Drinking.” They were dressed as parodies of the book cover, with Fisher as Leia. At two separate points, I asked these hawkers if I could take their pictures.

Well, sure. It’s New York. It’s Times Square, thick with tourists, and these people are calling attention to themselves for promotion. All those cues shift the norm and make it reasonable/comfortable/appropriate/possible to do something that we don’t normally do: asking “Hey, can I take your picture?” That’s probably why I have so many photos taken with Shrek, Mr. Peanut, an Animaniac, the Monster.com monster – there’s something delightful and ironic about this staged naturalism, as if yes, I am hanging out here with my arm casually thrown around a 6-foot be-monocled legume. The opportunity to ask for a picture is so built-in to our scripts that it seems a crime to not get the picture!

Also see: The bear that saluted me

Portigal Consulting year in review, 2011

Another year is speeding towards its conclusion and we wanted to share our highlights for 2011.

Really nostalgic? Check out summaries from 2010, 2009 and 2008.

Out and About: Julie in Portland

I visited the great city of Portland, Oregon over Thanksgiving week, and noticed some of the ways its denizens use surfaces to communicate and express. Like Steve did earlier in his recent post, Out and About: Steve in Boston, given our recent interactions article about noticing and documenting street art, Kilroy Was Here, I too wanted to share some snaps!


As elsewhere, the backs of city signage serve as canvas for quick-stick expression. The tiki-figure here is one I commonly see in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco, where I live, which surprised me and gave me a little charge, a feeling of connection to home.


A City of Portland sanctioned sticker, which includes a number to call to report damage to this sign, sits alongside its renegade brethren.


Great juxtaposition of two messages about the dangers of inhaling alongside a DANGER sticker.



I appreciated the friendly, bubbly, colorful style against the rainy, grey backdrop of Portland. Contributors to the collective urban collage here seem respectful of each others boundaries – not much overlapping of images.


And, finally, bunnies!

Out and About: Steve in Boston

I was in Boston earlier this week to speak at UI16. During a bit of downtime, I went for a walk and of course, started taking pictures. Given our recent interactions article about noticing and document street art, I wanted to share some of what I saw.

One tag (bundtcake? budcloth? badclam?) and stickers for a cutesy-brand pet waste removal service, a skater magazine, a web/movement/thingy, and a beer label that seems to be fake and actually points to a local art collective.


There’s that tag again, the Eye of Providence (a local reference?), and a DJ promoting himself with an homage to the locally dominant Dunkin’ Donuts branding.


Some buffing of previous stickers, that same beer cum art sticker, and the random and hilarious Vonnegut and crossbones (I found a better one here).


Much larger pieces, including Andre. I like how you can see a little bit about how these were done, as they emanate from the fire escape.


A number of streetlights near here had these colored plastic blocks in letter-like forms. I felt like it was probably “official” since it was in a vaguely design-y district and consistently placed on city infrastructure, but there was no information about it and so it was hard to be sure. And that moment – trying to determine if this is “legit art” or “street art” or one masquerading as the other – was delicious. I passed by here with my local friend Joe and asked him about this. While he didn’t know, for him it evoked the 2007 incident when 8-bit-graphics promoting Aqua Teen Hunger Force caused a bomb scare in Boston.


Under the bridge. Just a more familiar graffiti scene, one that seemed to typical, unremarkable, and even slightly comforting (despite the broken glass I had to step around to take this picture).

Our latest article: Kilroy Was Here


Our latest interactions column (written by Steve Portigal and Julie Norvaisas) Kilroy Was Here has just been published.

Reviled or celebrated, graffiti is ubiquitous in even the least-urban environments. With roots in the wall-scrawled slogans of ancient Greece, it is a physical yet ephemeral expression of the personality of a neighborhood. It allows us to see a colorful trail of inhabitants’ interactions with public spaces. Graffiti (or street art, or urban art) has been displayed in (and arguably corrupted by) art exhibitions, influenced fashion and pop culture, and generated revenue for municipalities and the paint-removal industry alike. Of course, it’s largely illegal. It’s everywhere, and we are grateful. Perhaps we are drawn to the element of danger that feeds street art, and the rebellion implicit in its enjoyment (probably the same reasons we loved the Fonz!)…We find ourselves considering the street art of one city, or neighborhood, or corner, as a whole, compared to what we know from other cities, neighborhoods, and corners. What elements make them visually distinct? What might these observations say about the culture or history of the location? How does one graffito fit into the larger context of surrounding graffiti? We can channel our inner visual anthropologist, uncovering signs not only of the times but also of the place.

Get the PDF here and let us know what you think. Do you follow street art? What do you like about it? Share your pictures with us!

And, here are some photos to supplement the article

Previous articles also available:

ChittahChattah Quickies

Locker Decorations Growing in Popularity in Middle Schools [NYTimes.com] – Yet another extremely specific product development area opening up. So many that emphasize the customizing (aesthetically, functionally) of environments (or products that represent environments): digital devices, closets, cars, lockers.

At middle schools across the country, metal lockers that were long considered decorated if they had photos of friends or the teen heartthrob of the moment – Shaun Cassidy years ago, Justin Bieber today – have suddenly become the latest frontier in nesting. Peek inside, and find lockers outfitted with miniature furry carpets, motion-sensor-equipped lamps that glow when the door opens, mirrors, decorative flowers, and magnetic wallpaper in floral and leopard-print patterns. It is hard to say whether retailers have merely capitalized on or actually created demand among girls for the accessories.

Related Photo Projects [The Adaption to My Generation] – A photographer who takes a picture of himself every day documents many of the other projects online where people are doing something similar.

Other ‘Passage of Time’ Portrait Projects (Roman Opalka, after every day of painting numbers in his studio, photographs his face. If only we could see documentation of the entire sequence) and Other Obsessive Photo Projects (Adam Seifer documents everything (not really) he eats.

A History of Pizza Hut’s New Product Releases, 2002-2042 [McSweeney’s] – Satirical design fiction, echoing both Idiocracy and Wired’s Postcards from the Future.

2002: Meat Lover’s Pizza
2007: Crust Craver’s Pizza
2012: Fat Person’s Pizza
2017: Overweight Woman’s Pizza
2022: Obese Child’s Pizza
2027: Fat Man’s Surprise
2032: Depressed Couple’s Sad Pizza
2037: Disgusting Pizza, for a Fat Person
2042: Just the Thing for a Sad Fat Guy

Steve Portigal teaching “Immersive Field Research Techniques” at UI16

Join me for Immersive Field Research Techniques coming up November 7 in Boston at User Interface 16.

My session will be pretty similar to the recent Rosenfeld Media workshop in Seattle, which was pretty well received 🙂






If you haven’t registered yet, you can use the code STEVEP for $300 off the whole conference, or $50 of a single day.

I hope to see you there!

ChittahChattah Quickies

Interview with Patricia Ryan Madson on How Improv Can Change the World [Priya Parker] – As often happens, the principles of improv give us a lens towards larger truths about how life – just being in the world – can or should work.

Trying produces tension and misdirects our focus away from what we are doing onto an obsession with the result. We are doomed to fail when we try to be smart or witty or amazing. It you think about it the people who actually are smart, etc. are focusing on what they are doing rather than how they are doing. I can make an average painting, story, etc. And if I put my attention on just doing what comes naturally, just making it the most obvious to me then the result is commonly pretty good. Trying is misplaced attention. The idea of excellence robs us of our common sense intelligence.

Snooping in the Age of E-book [NYT] – There are many reasons we advocate for studying people in their own environment. One of them is the richness of the cues you get from that environment. This short piece articulates those cues nicely.

A bit of gumshoe in someone’s cupboard or closet can reveal far more about them than an entire evening’s worth of chitchat. “Places reflect long series of behavior,” he told me during a recent visit to my home. “If I have a conversation with you, I just get snippets of behavior. Your books, your chairs, your wall hangings represent an accumulation over many years. A space distills repeated acts. That’s why it’s hard to fake.” Of the five major personality traits, three – openness, conscientiousness and extroversion – are clearly revealed in people’s spaces…Snooping, in other words, instead of being an antisocial activity, is actually prosocial. Our spaces are telling others what we’re like even when we’re not. These days, we need such boosts to communication, because as the demise of the bookshelf shows, our true selves are increasingly retreating from public display and disappearing inside our devices. We are becoming, as Ms. Fadiman lamented, more invisible. “Our obsession with privacy is somehow reflected in the fact that our taste is now locked up invisibly inside all of these little boxes.”

Can the Cult of Bang & Olufsen Last? [Wired] – Rob Walker catches up with the 2011 edition of this long-standing audio company, known for out of this world design and out of reach prices, as he says, “audiophiles lost out to audio audio files.” The closing paragraph is telling and compelling.

Mantoni sounds intent on prodding B&O toward a less aloof attitude about the marketplace. “We need to go out and talk to customers,” he says. He recently told 30 of his top executives that they would be working in B&O stores for a while to meet customers face-to-face. There’s a message here about design: Of course the company has to keep producing distinctive wares-but these also have to fit shoppers’ actual lives.

Steve to lead “Interviewing Users” workshop 9/28 in Seattle

As part of the Rosenfeld Media UX Workshops Fall 2011 Tour, I’ll be leading a full-day workshop – Interviewing Users: Spinning Data into Gold.

You can choose up to 3 workshops, including ones from Lou Rosenfeld and Steve Krug. Early registration (with a decent discount) ends September 9.

Bonus: the event will held at the amazing Seattle Central Library!

I hope to see you there!

Steve leading Immersive Field Research Techniques workshop at UI16

I’ll be presenting a full-day workshop on Immersive Field Research Techniques at User Interface 16 this November in Boston.

Registration gives you

  • Two full-day workshops: The UI16 experts will dive deep and get to the nitty-gritty details that make any designer into a pro.
  • One day of short talks: This is where you’ll discover the latest UX ideas and techniques from each of our expert speakers. Don’t forget Jared Spool’s entertaining and educational keynote.
  • Complete conference materials: We’ll send you the PDFs of every session and workshop just before you leave for the conference. Then you can focus on insights and not note-taking.
  • Recordings of the short talks: The benefits keeping coming after the conference. Through the recordings, you can relive every short talk at your office with your entire team.

Right now they are offering 100 registrations at a sneak-preview price of $1349. They are (as of this posting) down to 79 sneak-spots, after that it goes up $300.

I hope to see you there!

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