Posts tagged “process”

Dollars to Donuts: Behind The Music

My new Dollars to Donuts podcast features a nifty bit of intro and outro music. In the podcast you just hear snippets of the song, written expressly for the podcast by my brother-in-law, Bruce Todd. I’ve long been an admirer of Bruce’s songwriting and playing and overall musical thang, and it was an absolute thrill to have him create a piece of music for me.

Now you can hear the whole piece!

Since we’re all about digging into creative processes, here’s Bruce’s explanation of how he developed this music.

This song came to light through questions and (heaven forbid) assumptions about what Steve was looking for or better yet – listening for. Based on some email conversations and musical examples, I had a rough idea that the music had to be relatively fast-paced, rocking and attention=grabbing. Since Steve had some alternatives there was no pressure for me to actually produce anything and this allowed me to experiment and take a few small sound risks. Most of this recording was completed through digital amplification or direct line inputs which allowed me to work quietly and at my leisure (everything except vocals). Often when recording instruments with microphones you need a quiet peaceful environment which I don’t always have access to in my (non-soundproofed) home studio.

I began by finding a drum track: a simple upbeat 4/4 rock drum track which I had used on a previous recording (having exported the tracks from a master file and imported to my Tascam DP 32 Portastudio). Then the fun began. Knowing that the end result would be used as a short clip, I laid down about 2 minutes of drums and then pulled out my Fender Telecaster and began to experiment with a riff. This came pretty quickly as it is quite a simple progression in the key of F-sharp. Next, I plugged in my Vox DA5 (5-watt digital amplifier) and located an overdrive sound I liked and added a small amount of delay. I recorded two tracks with the same guitar sound and panned the tracks left and right, which results in creating a thicker overall sound by doubling the part. After the rhythm guitar tracks were completed I worked on the bass part. I ran the bass also through the little digital Vox and added compression which brought out a punchy bass track (this is a discovery I have been using on my other recordings ever since). Once drums, guitar and bass were complete I left the recording for a few days so I could revisit the idea when I was ready.

Coming back, I wasn’t too sure I liked what I had. If this was a more serious venture I would have probably scrapped the idea. Given that I wasn’t overly convinced that the song idea had much merit I thought I would have my young daughters (Talia 8, Arianna, 4) join me and be exposed to the recording process. Regardless of what the end result was I was sure Uncle Steve would get a kick out of his nieces being involved. Talia has a small electronic keyboard which I plugged into the Portastudio, and I gave her some headphones and had her play along with the guitar, bass and drums. Her first track was a keeper as she found a funny sound and played a part that complimented the space that the guitar riff left. Then Arianna played a part with a toy instrument of hers (in the end this track did not make it on the recording). The girls also helped me do a little vocal improvisation which also didn’t make the master mix but helped me get to the next part of the recording.

recording-1
recording-2

Several days again went by until I felt ready to listen to the song and see what was there and what else I could add. I went back to my guitar and found another overdrive tone which I overlaid with the auto-wah pedal sound setting on the Vox DA5. This was a lucky choice as I think it is what gets the attention of the listener at the beginning of the song. The track is pretty much one big lead guitar riff which from time to time stops and echoes the rhythm guitar tracks. This was a fun part for me as was the final vocal tracks. For the vocal tracks I ran a Shure 57 through the Vox DA 5 flanger setting with a lot of flange and overdrive and experimented by saying “Talk it Out” and by making other weird sounds. I mixed the song and sent it digitally via email to Steve – and to my surprise received a very nice response.

And that is how Dollars to Donuts found its music.

Interviewing the Interviewer – Steve Portigal talks with Maish Nichani

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UX Booth has published a two-part conversation I had with Maish Nichani of Pebble Road.

In Part 1, Maish interviews me (excerpt below). We explore a few aspects of the research process, including how a project plan is negotiated.

MN: What is an appropriate response to give clients who insist on specifying aspects of your research methodology?
SP: Whenever a client approaches me and has already specified the approach we should take with their study, that’s usually time for a conversation. Sometimes teams create a research plan as a stake in the ground when what they actually want is feedback and a recommended approach. Sometimes, though, their plan is a good one, and we might just suggest one or two changes to see if they are amenable. I can’t count the number of times I’ve received a detailed request, exclaimed “what?!” and then had a really excellent conversation to better understand the reasons behind it. Obviously, no one should take a project where they don’t believe the method is going to produce results. An examination of a prescribed approach is one of the first tests of (the potential for) good collaboration.

In Part 2, I interview Maish (excerpt below). We talk about how to improve the organizational learning user research.

SP: If you could wave a magic wand and create any kind of tool or artifact to support the research process, what would it be?
MN: Research is really all about creating new knowledge and the more people who have access to that knowledge, the better. Currently, our research findings and insights are all locked up in (what Karen McGrane calls) “blobs.” We need it, instead, to be “chunked” (as Sara Wachter-Boettcher says) so that it can travel more freely and be mixed and mashed up to create, again, new knowledge. I don’t know of any existing project or initiative but I was thinking about using a schema (like what is already available on schema.org) for research findings. That way anyone writing up research findings could use the same markup and then search engines and specialist apps could read and move those findings more efficiently.

Phoenix Design Summit: Facilitating for good

While we often have the chance to facilitate ideation and strategy sessions for our clients, I recently got to bring those skills to a different context. I had the fortune of facilitating for social good a few weeks ago at the Phoenix Design Summit, an extension of the AIGA Design For Good initiative focused on using design to ignite, accelerate and amplify social change. Previous summits have been held in Birmingham, Aspen, and Savannah.

The Phoenix summit was focused on three different areas that significantly impact our future (broadly) and youth (specifically): Education, Health & Wellness, and the Arts. Three teams of designers and local champions spent three days using design thinking to tackle these challenges. I worked with Team Activating Arts, eight volunteers including designers, arts advocates and conscious entrepreneurs.

On Day 1 all the teams took field trips to organizations and sites related to their topic. We visited three different Arts-focused organizations around the metro area including Free Arts of Arizona that provides healing art experiences to abused and homeless children, the Phoenix Center for the Arts which offers arts and theatre classes in a fantastic old building in central Phoenix, and the ASU Art Museum where we visited the Miracle Report exhibit and Emerge: Redesigning the Future.

The team captured observations, insights, questions, and passions on sticky notes as we debriefed on the visits and identified common strengths, challenges and opportunities for overlap. One idea present at every site we visited was a commitment to the incredible value of art making. Everyone we spoke to emphasized the process of art being just as important as the end product.

On Day 2 we reconvened and set out to make meaning of the mess and clarify the team’s vision: Wouldn’t it be sweet to create systems for Arizona Arts organizations to bring together their unique talents to create opportunities?

Of all three teams, ours clearly had an advantage in delivering a solution that truly modeled community engagement because we had a representative from the Phoenix Center for the Arts on our team. This truly made the difference in being able to create a plan with a champion who has the passion and means to implement it. As the team spent the second day brainstorming what kinds of problems they could solve, they were able to focus on activating alliances and engagement among various arts organizations and citizens with the help of our key stakeholder, Joseph. The end of the day brought convergence and a rapid Pecha Kucha-style presentation by each of the 3 teams about their progress so far. Team Activating Arts offered both long term strategies and short term tactics that were actionable for the local arts community.

Day 3 was all about action and implementation. A key element (and challenge) of the Summit was the concept of community engagement. While our creative team was overflowing with solutions, they understood that the outcome of the summit would be most valuable if it enabled the community to generate their own solutions (rather than a small group of designers determining what they should be). So the team devised a 3-part strategy for facilitating community engagement with Phoenix arts organization that is being spearheaded by Joseph, someone with the resources and passion to see it through.

Part 1: Organize a Phoenix Art Summit in October to engage the local Arts organizations and community (this summit will be hosted by Joseph and is modeled after the very summit we participated in!)

Part 2: Create an umbrella organization for all of the Arizona Arts organizations that allows them to share valuable resources and collaborate more efficiently (potential output of summit)

Part 3: Promote Everyday Art in Phoenix (the team went wild ideating dozens of specific activities for this initiative and even implemented a few of them for their final presentation)

By day’s end the team had created a summit agenda, a detailed “how to host your own summit” workbook and guide for Joseph to use in planning, and a Phoenix Art Summit website to collect information from interested individuals and organizations. In this way the team’s solution resonated with what we heard during our site visits, that the process of art making is just as important as the product. The Art summit is a process, a creative vehicle for generating outcomes that are meaningful and engaging to those they seek to impact, align, and serve.

 

I was extremely impressed with the team’s relentless creative efforts over the three days. I was also inspired as they committed to continuing to help Joseph in the future and being authentic participants in nurturing a cohesive arts community to support the youth of Phoenix and Arizona. If you are in the Phoenix area and in interested in the arts, please check out these organizations and sign up for summit announcements. And perhaps I will see you in Phoenix in October!

*for more eye candy and images of stickie notes, please visit the summit Flickr page here.

Our latest article: Elevator Pitch


Our latest interactions column (written by Steve Portigal and Julie Norvaisas) Elevator Pitch has just been published.

It seems only yesterday that the VCR and its flashing 12:00 was the go-to whipping boy for the interaction field. “Gosh almighty,” the lament would rise. “What does it say about us if we can’t even make a usable digital clock, one that won’t blinkingly admonish us for our failures?” Note to younger readers: The VCR, now obsolete, was an entertainment device that “streamed” video information directly from physical media, not unlike its successor, the nearly obsolete DVD player. We’re stoked to propose an alternative that isn’t likely to be obsolete for a while: the elevator.

Get the PDF here.

Previous articles also available:

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] Delta-Northwest Merger’s Long and Complex Path [NYTimes.com] – [While there's humor at the banality of decisions, the successfully merged experience worships the God who lives in the details.] Airlines have specific working rules, flying procedures, maintenance schedules and computer programs. And all have their own cultures…Pilots at Delta used to ring the cabin bell four times as they began their final approach, while those at Northwest rang it twice. The food catering operations of both airlines had 8,000 pages of one-line codes describing everything from soda orders to the price of strawberries. Each airline had different codes and paid different prices. Delta used to cut its limes in 10 slices while Northwest cut them 16 ways. The lime debate was even mentioned at a meeting attended by the chief executive, who was told it saved Northwest about $500,000 a year. In the end, Delta stuck with its 10 slices. But the airline also realized that it had been loading more limes on its flights than it needed. So it is now carrying fewer limes.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [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.

Because you *want* the words to rhyme

Eminem, interviewed recently in Rolling Stone magazine, reveals just a bit of his creative process, linked to a childhood impulse. While his “compulsion” isn’t one we all share, it evokes other behaviors from that time in our lives. Nice that Marshall has managed to use his to inform, if not define, his art.

How do you go about putting together a verse?
Even as a kid, I always wanted the most words to rhyme. Say I saw a word like “transcendalistic tendencies.” I would write it out on a piece of paper – trans-cend-a-list-tic ten-den-cies – and underneath, I’d line up a word with each syllable: and bend all mystic sentence trees. Even if it didn’t make sense, that’s the kind of drill I would do to practice. To this day, I still want as many words as possible in a sentence to rhyme.

Also important is the idea of a simple activity that will help you develop your creative muscles, an idea I explored in Skill Building for Design Innovators

I also enjoyed this insight about Eminem’s approach because it reminded me of some fun fieldwork a few years ago, where we met a young rapper who demonstrated his process for us, flowing from using looped music to freestyle against, a workbook where he’d write up a ton of lines, picking and choosing based on what worked when rapped aloud.

Sometimes I’ll write a song in just one sit down and it’s perfect, I don’t even touch it. For me, like I’ll feel good about it. Sometimes it’s just crap, and that’s fine, because I feel like you get out the crap and then you can pull the little gems out of it. Or even if it’s just one paragraph of a song I wrote, I’ll take that and piece it into other songs. In this case, I would sit down and open a file and then I’d just listen through it, see if there’s anything worth keeping.

His process (which developed into some exciting design implications for our client’s products) became a bit of a meme around the office, eventually becoming iconified thusly:

See thoughts on creativity, previously from Jack White and Will.i.am.

Ups and downs

After writing recently about managing the adoption of a new type of elevator UI, I found a particularly bad implementation of the norm at my hotel in Austin last weekend.

Unusually, there are two elevators on either side of two rooms.

Beside each elevator is this cautionary/alarmist admonishment:

“This button” refers to “these buttons – those ones down there” despite the horizontal arrow. But we can probably figure that out. The reason for this sign – an obvious afterthought is that there’s no place where you can stand and easily see both elevators at once. You must approach one elevator to press the button, and if you stand there and wait, you are likely to miss the arrival of the elevator if it doesn’t come to that door. There is a standard solution: a light near each elevator door that lights up just before the elevator arrives and the door opens. But (other than in the hotel lobby) they’ve neglected that and instead the hotel guest must be “alert” when doing a basic task like trying to get down for breakfast.

This is a well-known and long-solved situation; why the builders would choose to put the elevators around two rooms and then create such a poor experience would be interesting to explore. What were the design and other decision processes that led to this sub-optimal solution?

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] The opposite of user experience design [Jorge Arango] – [I've experienced the bewildering confusion of bureaucracy in another country but have always assumed implicitly that for "those people" it was tenable. Jorge's tangible frustration and brilliant insight puts the lie to my ridiculous parochialism] One of the advantages of living in the developing world is that I am exposed to a wide variety of UX disasters. If you find it hard to define UX, try dealing with a Panamanian government office. You will quickly see what a lack of UX thinking looks like, and this will in turn aid your appreciation and understanding of good UX. A few weeks ago I had to go to the Panamanian immigration office to take care of some paperwork. When I got there, I found chaos…I’ve come to understand that the opposite of UX design is not shitty design, thoughtless design, or piecemeal design. It is anarchy. Only strong leadership with a clear user-centric vision can transform the organization’s culture and improve the experience of its constituents.
  • [from steve_portigal] Please vote for our SXSW 2011 Panel – Mommy, Where Do Good Products Come From? (with Gretchen Anderson) – [Thanks for your vote!] Business case studies are the ultimate in reductionism: A complex business activity rooted in a specific context of people, company culture, time, and place is boiled down to a few key ideas. People confuse the terms innovation and invention; looking for breakthrough ideas sends companies into a frenzied search for "new" things not great or disruptive things. In this session, we will explore some different pathways to creating great product ideas. As designers and researchers, we're experienced enough to know that design research isn't the only approach or even always the best approach (a point of view that Don Norman vehemently argued in recent writings). For instance, design research wouldn't be sufficient to create a disruptive innovation like Gowalla. We'll outline a framework that looks at different approaches to idea generation, including corporate competencies and culture, customer needs and cultural context, and technological innovation.
  • [from steve_portigal] Please vote for my SXSW 2011 Panel – Diving Deep: Best Practices For Interviewing Users – [Thanks for your vote!] The skill of getting the right information from users is surprisingly complex and nuanced. This session will focus on getting past the obvious shallow information into the deeper, more subtle, yet crucial, insights. If you are going to the effort to meet with users in order to improve your designs, it's essential that you know how to get the best information and not leave insights behind. Being great in "field work" involves understanding and accepting your interviewee's world view, and being open to what they need to tell you (in addition to what you already know you want to learn). 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. We'll also suggest practice exercises for improving your own interviewing skills and how to engage others in your organization successfully in the interviewing experience.
  • [from steve_portigal] The Minds Behind the Mind-Set List [The Chronicle of Higher Education] – [Freshmen in 2010 have never known a world in which a website can't get a book deal. Yes, the Mind-Set List book is coming] Mr. McBride, a professor of English and the humanities, says the list started on a lark back in 1997—some old college hands unwinding on a Friday afternoon, musing on how much freshmen don't know about recent history and culture. But such blind spots are to be expected, they had agreed, given the relative youth of the incoming class. They had concluded that professors should be mindful of how very different their students' life experiences are from their own. With colleagues, they had brainstormed about the cultural touchstones for that year's entering freshman class, whose members would have been born in 1979. That was the year of the Iran hostage crisis, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and Three Mile Island. The resulting list was passed around and eventually found its way into the hands of a Wall Street Journal reporter, who subsequently wrote about it.
  • [from steve_portigal] Beloit College Mindset List 2010 – [The annual list, in time for this year's freshmen, telling us older folks how our view of the world differs in key and/or bemusing ways]. For most of their lives, major U.S. airlines have been bankrupt. A coffee has always taken longer to make than a milkshake.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from julienorvaisas] The Sketchbook Project: 2011[http://www.arthousecoop.com/projects/sketchbookproject] – [For $25 and an output of your own artistic energy, you can be part of this traveling sketchbook project. Choose from themes like "Adhere to me," "Help!" and "Down your street." Great way to practice sketching and story-telling!] Thousands of sketchbooks will be exhibited at galleries and museums as they make their way on tour across the country. After the tour, all sketchbooks will enter into the permanent collection of The Brooklyn Art Library, where they will be barcoded and available for the public to view. Anyone – from anywhere in the world – can be a part of the project. To participate and have us send you a sketchbook that will go on tour, start by choosing a theme.
  • [from steve_portigal] Want Smart Kids? Here’s What to Do [The Chronicle of Higher Education] – [It seems like this confuses correlation and causality, but it is a very actionable finding in that way] Buy a lot of books. That seems kind of obvious, right? But what's surprising, according to a new study published in the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, is just how strong the correlation is between a child's academic achievement and the number of books his or her parents own. It's even more important than whether the parents went to college or hold white-collar jobs. Books matter. A lot.
  • [from steve_portigal] Google Research Director Peter Norvig on Being Wrong [Slate] – We do it by trying to fail faster and smaller. The average cycle for getting something done at Google is more like three months than three years. And the average team size is small, so if we have a new idea, we don't have to go through the political lobbying of saying, "Can we have 50 people to work on this?" Instead, it's more done bottom up: Two or three people get together and say, "Hey, I want to work on this." They don't need permission from the top level to get it started because it's just a couple of people; it's kind of off the books. …Within the company, we're really good at making decisions based on statistics. So if we have an idea—"You know, here's a way I can make search better"—we're really good at saying, "Well, let's do an experiment. Let's compare the old way with the new way and try it out on some sample searches." And we'll come back with a number and we'll know if it's better and how much better and so on. That's our bread and butter.
  • [from steve_portigal] Dangerous Ideas [Big Think] – [When we lead ideation exercises, we often talk about the importance of "bad" ideas and try to empower or teams to be free to come up with bad ideas; it's a way of coming un-stuck, to free yourself from "solving" the problem and just play with the problem. When we suggest trying things that are dangerous or immoral, people laugh, but they are immediately get it. Here's a more serious consideration of the power of "bad" ideas] Throughout the month of August, Big Think will introduce a different "dangerous idea" each day. Brace yourself: these ideas may at first seem shocking or counter-intuitive—but they are worth our attention, even if we end up rejecting them. Every idea in the series will be supported by contributions from leading experts.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] Master Planner: Fred Brooks Shows How to Design Anything [Wired] – WIRED: In your experience, what’s the best process for design? BROOKS: Great design does not come from great processes; it comes from great designers. WIRED: How has your thinking about design changed over the past decades? BROOKS: When I first wrote The Mythical Man-Month in 1975, I counseled programmers to “throw the first version away,” then build a second one. By the 20th-anniversary edition, I realized that constant incremental iteration is a far sounder approach. You build a quick prototype and get it in front of users to see what they do with it. You will always be surprised.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] On the Road – Complaints of Poor Attitude in Airport Body Scans [NYTimes.com] – [Why does a change in process and design generate such a dramatic change in behavior?] By far, most readers wrote to complain about screeners who were rude. Helaine Fendelman said she felt as if she were in a cage as a screener “yelled at me about why I wasn’t paying attention to those who had proceeded me” through the machine. Elizabeth Wiley wrote of the “generally bullying air of the experience.” Melissa Hickey said a screener “barked orders at me as if I were a common criminal.” Bob Michelet agreed with my view that being ordered around was a “boot camp-like experience,” as he put it. Mary P. Koss said she didn’t like being “yelled at” after a screener decided her fingers were not forming a triangle as instructed while she held her hands over her head. “When I exited the machine, I was yelled at again to stand in place,” she said.
  • [from steve_portigal] Starbucks "Olive Way" test store aggregates Starbucks concepts [The Associated Press] – [While I applaud Starbucks for focusing on the quality of their core product – the coffee – I'm not sure that their secondary product – the experience- will benefit from closeness to the baristas. They need to makeover the staff brand before customers will seek them out] What succeeds at Olive Way will most likely be spread to other Starbucks stores around the country. With muted, earthy colors, an indoor-outdoor fireplace, cushy chairs, and a menu with wine from the Pacific Northwest's vineyards and beer from local craft brewers, this 2,500-square-foot shop in the Capitol Hill neighborhood will reopen in the fall with espresso machines in the middle. The machines at Olive Way will be part of what executives call a coffee theater. Counters will be narrower — a slim as a foot in some places — to bring customers closer to baristas; the machines will brew one cup at a time to extract deeper flavor from beans. The store will be the chain's only location that sells beer and wine in the U.S
  • [from steve_portigal] Introducing New Core77 Columnist Steve Portigal! [Core77] – [I'll be writing something monthly for our friends at Core77]

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