Posts tagged “research”

ChittahChattah Quickies

P&G gets innovative [Cincinnati.com] – The process behind Tide Pods includes lots and lots of research such as “talking” to 6,000 consumers. It appears this research was all done in simulated environments. I am bemused by the willing self-deception that if you put a couch in a lab, it makes the research contextual. I’d like to see P&G watching people do laundry in their real, non-idealized, messy, distracted, semi-functioning environment. Because then maybe you’d get takeaways richer than “Most laundry-doers are looking for a way to get it done faster.”

Inside the Beckett Ridge “home,” P&G researchers interviewed regular people as they sat in the comfortable couches of a mock family room or at the counter of a mock kitchen. They did the wash in a fully functioning laundry room. Through it all, they were videotaped and audiotaped, so P&G can capture how the wash gets done in a real-world setting…Back at Beckett Ridge, researchers worked on the packaging and the store display. Inside the “grocery store” with its six aisles, two checkout lanes and a self-scan lane, cameras are everywhere, recording how shoppers shop. The video feed can be streamed to any P&G Intranet site so questions and comments can be called in.

Never Too Early Movie Predictions – Sure, if we care at all, we’re still digesting the most recent Academy Awards. But forgot about 2012, this site has predictions through 2017. Sheesh, I haven’t seen any of these movies! Another moment where the corners of the Internet remind you that everyday life is filled with some genuine science fiction moments.

2015 Oscar Best Picture predictions
1. Noah
2. Citizen Hughes: The Power, The Money And The Madness
3. Churchill And Roosevelt
4. Avatar 2
5. The $700 Billion Man
6. The Color Of Lightening
7. Serena
8. Americana

Young Women Often Trendsetters in Vocal Patterns [NYT] – I had missed the original “vocal fry” hubbub a few months back, but I also enjoy how this article reframes young-female speech into a positive, leading-edge anthropological act.

Girls and women in their teens and 20s deserve credit for pioneering vocal trends and popular slang, adding that young women use these embellishments in much more sophisticated ways than people tend to realize. “A lot of these really flamboyant things you hear are cute, and girls are supposed to be cute,” said Penny Eckert, a professor of linguistics at Stanford. “But they’re not just using them because they’re girls. They’re using them to achieve some kind of interactional and stylistic end.” The latest linguistic curiosity to emerge from the petri dish of girl culture gained recognition in December, when researchers from Long Island University published a paper in The Journal of Voice. Working with what they acknowledged was a very small sample – recorded speech from 34 women ages 18 to 25 – the professors said they had found evidence of a new trend among female college students: a guttural fluttering of the vocal cords they called “vocal fry.” A classic example of vocal fry, best described as a raspy or croaking sound injected (usually) at the end of a sentence, can be heard when Mae West says, “Why don’t you come up sometime and see me,” or when Maya Rudolph mimics Maya Angelou on SNL.

Plastic Surgeons See iPhones Increase Demand for Cosmetic Procedures [Austin-Weston Center for Cosmetic Surgery] – It’s hard not to be cynical about this “press release” in which plastic surgeons tie the need for their services to a particularly hot tech brand. If you do this (the wrong way, at least) in China, you can get into trouble!

“Patients come in with their iPhones and show me how they look on [Apple’s video calling application] FaceTime,” says Dr. Sigal. “The angle at which the phone is held, with the caller looking downward into the camera, really captures any heaviness, fullness and sagging of the face and neck. People say ‘I never knew I looked like that! I need to do something!’ I’ve started calling it the ‘FaceTime Facelift’ effect. And we’ve developed procedures to specifically address it.” (via Kottke)

draw me in – Jeff Johnson’s quest to become a comic book extra. The best summary of the project – yet another example of the collapsing gulf between producer and consumer comes from this Wired article (quoted below).

Popping up in nearly 30 comic books, he has become the industry’s Waldo-a lurking stowaway who has managed to hijack the unlikeliest panels. “It’s the ultimate bragging right to go into a comic store and pick up a book you’re in,” says Johnson, a 30-year-old Kmart electronics clerk from Leavenworth, Kansas. His infamous glasses-and-goatee mug has been zombiefied (The Walking Dead), digitized (Tron: Betrayal), and placed alongside Sinestro (Green Lantern Corps), thanks to his ceaseless lobbying and the cooperation of artists. The idea sprang from a 2006 FHM contest in which entrants sent pictures of themselves in homemade costumes of villains; the winner (if you want to call it that) was drawn into Ultimate X-Men. Johnson didn’t want to dress up, so instead he handed out DrawMeIn flyers at Comic-Con, after which penciler Ryan Ottley worked him into Invincible.

This Week @ Portigal

This is an intense, single-focus week for us

  • We are hosting a dozen or so clients from overseas. They’ve shipped over their working (we hope) science-fiction-like prototype which we’ll be showing to a huge number of people, using a method (for the first time) called Central Location Testing (aka CLT). Over a few days, we’ll also be visiting some of those same people in their homes to talk further about how this product might be used. Probably our most intensive data-gathering three days ever.
  • What we’re consuming: Lucky Peach issue 3, MacGyver, Gary Shteyngart.

Seventeen types of interviewing questions

I’m cited in Developing Your Interviewing Skills, Part I: Preparing for an Interview, with a set of question types. The article suggests those question types are helpful in preparing an interview guide. I think they are also very helpful in the interview itself, as you will often have to probe a number of different ways to get at what you are think is interesting.

Anyway, I’m not sure where the author found that set of questions, but I’ve recently rewritten and restructured them for the book. This seemed like a great opportunity to share them with everyone. I’d love your feedback: What am I missing? Do you disagree? What else would be more helpful for readers?

Questions to gather context and collect details

  • Ask about sequence “Describe a typical workday. What do you do when you first sit down at your station?-Then what do you do next?”
  • Ask about quantity “How many files would you delete when that happens?”
  • Ask for specific examples “What is the last movie that you streamed?” – Compare this to “What movies do you stream?” The specific is easier to answer than the general and becomes a platform for follow up questions.
  • Ask for the complete list “What are all the different apps you have installed on your smartphone?” – This will require a series of follow up questions, e.g., “What else?” because few people will be able to generate an entire list of something with some prompting.
  • Ask about relationships “How do you work with new vendors?” – This general question is especially appropriate when you don’t even know enough to ask a specific question (e.g. in comparison to the earlier example about streaming movies). Better to start general than to be presumptive with a too-specific question.
  • Ask about organizational structure “Who does that department report to?”

Questions to probe on what’s unsaid

  • Ask for clarification “When you refer to “that” you are talking about the newest server, right?”
  • Ask about code words/native language “Why do you call it the ‘Batcave?'”
  • Ask about emotional cues “Why do you laugh when you mention ‘Best Buy?'”
  • Ask why “I’ve tried to get my boss to adopt this format, but she just won’t do it-” “Why do you think she hasn’t?”
  • Probe delicately “You mentioned a difficult situation that changed your usage. Can you tell us what that situation was?”
  • Probe without presuming “Some people have very negative feelings about Twitter, while others don’t. What is your take?” – Rather than the direct “What do you think about Twitter?” or “Do you like Twitter?” this question introduces options that aren’t tied to the interviewer or the interviewee.
  • Explain to an outsider “Let’s say that I’ve just arrived here from another decade, how would you explain to me the difference between smartphones and tablets?”
  • Teach another “If you had to ask your daughter to operate your system, how would you explain it to her?”


Questions that create contrasts in order uncover frameworks and mental models

  • Compare processes “What’s the difference between sending your response by fax, mail or email?”
  • Compare to others “Do the other coaches also do it that way?”
  • Compare across time “How have your family photo activities changed in the past five years? How do you think they will be different give years from now?” – The second question is not intended to capture an accurate prediction. Rather, the question serves to break free from what exists now and envision possibilities that may emerge down the road. Identify the appropriately large time horizon (a year? Five years? Ten years?) that will help people to think beyond incremental change.

This week @ Portigal

It’s a crazy busy week for us, focusing on just a couple of big things

  • Julie and Tamara are in LA with our client team for the rest of the week, interviewing consumers and professionals (we can’t say what type of professionals they are but from what we’ve learned about them in setting up the interviews, they are highly accomplished) – no doubt all the interviews will be utterly fascinating
  • Steve is in Dublin, co-leading a two-day masterclass for the IxDA Student Design Challenge – we’ve got a really great agenda for the class with some special guests – and some really wonderful prizes (thank you generous sponsors!)

This Week @ Portigal

We all survived Friday the 13th last week and are ready to take on another week that certainly promises to end less ominously…

So, what’s happening this week at Portigal? Quite a bit…

  • We are up to our ears in interesting opportunities that require some creative thinking about participant engagement. Our research gears are turning!
  • Steve and Tamara will be giving a curtain-call presentation of findings from a recent study.
  • We continue to prepare for upcoming fieldwork (New York!! Los Angeles!!) and Julie is going to be busy making some tools to catalyze conversation.
  • Steve presses on with writing for his forthcoming book, synthesizing fabulous interviews with change agents who have driven the adoption of user research and pulling together the great suggestions people contributed to Tips to Improve Your Interviewing Skills (and a request for more!)
  • We are percolating some sweet ideas for primary research in 2012 for the Omni project and plan to share them soon. Stay tuned…
  • Steve continues to plug away on various tasks related to the upcoming Interaction 12 in Dublin.
  • We are all eagerly awaiting the arrival of Wednesday so we can get our geek on at Nerd Nite SF!
  • Steve is meeting with a big Silicon Valley player to explore how we can deliver design research training to their teams.
  • We continue to search for (and find!) cool opportunities for learning, teaching, and sharing. Julie and Tamara are currently in the throes of submitting proposals for Agile2012 and a few other gigs…
  • Tamara continues to dive deep into the eye-candy-land of visual thinking, doodling, mind mapping, graphic facilitation, etc. and welcomes suggestions for articles, websites, examples or groups of local SFists who like to get together with colored markers, blank paper, and ideas.

Merry Monday and Happy Week to you!

What did you expect?

‘You Are Not So Smart’: Why We Can’t Tell Good Wine From Bad [theatlantic.com] – In this excerpt from his book, David McRaney cites research suggesting that expectations are as critical as sensation in how we judge and gauge experience. If we expect that a wine will be high-quality, this will not only inform, but over-ride the actual experience of that wine. This has potential implications on how we talk to people about products and services in our research, relying more heavily on expectations as a lens to consider experience.

So is the fancy world of wine tasting all pretentious bunk? Not exactly. The wine tasters in the experiments were being influenced by the nasty beast of expectation. A wine expert’s objectivity and powers of taste under normal circumstance might be amazing, but Brochet’s manipulations of the environment misled his subjects enough to dampen their acumen. An expert’s own expectation can act like Kryptonite on their superpowers. Expectation, as it turns out, is just as important as raw sensation. The build up to an experience can completely change how you interpret the information reaching your brain from your otherwise objective senses. In psychology, true objectivity is pretty much considered to be impossible. Memories, emotions, conditioning, and all sorts of other mental flotsam taint every new experience you gain. In addition to all this, your expectations powerfully influence the final vote in your head over what you believe to be reality. So, when tasting a wine, or watching a movie, or going on a date, or listening to a new stereo through $300 audio cables — some of what you experience comes from within and some comes from without.

ChittahChattah Quickies

The Solo Cup: How the disposable drinking vessel became an American party staple. [slate.com] – Hmm how did this odd red cup become the undisputed centerpiece of the American party scene? The recent redesign provides an opportunity to explore the question. I wonder, will most users even register, or appreciate, the receptacle’s new “distinctive elements?”

How did the red cup become synonymous with good times, keg draughts, and sticky-floored basements? “The history is a little sketchy,” says Kim Healy, VP of consumer business for Solo. “We know we were one of the first to introduce a party cup.” So perhaps first-mover advantage played a role, with followers clamoring to emulate Solo’s technological breakthrough? For surely the quality of the design played a part. From the beginning, this has been the Sherman tank of disposable mealware. Made of thick, molded polystyrene, the Solo party cup could be squeezed in meaty frat-guy paws, dropped to the ground by tipsy highschool cheerleaders, and mercilessly battered by Flip Cup contestants-all while maintaining shape and functionality. It was stiffer and more resilient than competitor party cups like Dixie’s. No doubt the cup’s opacity was a selling point for underage college and high-school drinkers who would prefer not to reveal exactly what they’re sipping. But why red?

Bun-Making Goes High Tech [wired.com] – In other news related to icons that represent our culture’s mass consumption, robots are checking out our buns. The aim here is to eliminate any distinctive elements, to achieve ultimate consistency at scale.

Engineers at the Georgia Tech Research Institute have devised a system for inspecting breadstuffs automatically, using image-processing technology. A camera trained on the production line captures an image of each bun, and software analyzes its color to determine whether it’s over- or undercooked, then adjusts the oven accordingly. The program also checks the bun’s shape and diameter and the distribution of garnishes, like sesame seeds or a cornmeal dusting. Ovenmaker BakeTech is working to commercialize the prototype, which has been saving Flower’s buns for the past year. May you never get stuck with a unique baked good again.

Listen to Steve on the User Experience podcast

I was interviewed by Gerry Gaffney for his User Experience podcast. The topic of the interview was, recursively, interviewing. You can listen to the interview below, and read the transcript here.

To download the audio Right-Click and Save As… (Windows) or Ctrl-Click (Mac).

Steve: Yeah there’s something about interviewing. It is such an individual and it’s such a human activity that we can talk best practices, you know, all day. I think there’s something really great that happens when people make it their own. I think this is one of those “find your own style” things. I like to be dictatorial about best practices but I also have to acknowledge very strongly that what people bring is very interesting and different. Along those lines think about introverts versus extroverts and what’s easier or different for introverts or extroverts in these kinds of situations. Extroverts of course get energy from other people, introverts get energy kind of on their own and so that starts to manifest itself in interesting ways or in silence. But also just how much of yourself do you bring to it? And so I’ve seen extroverts be very successful at establishing rapport by talking about themselves, by being very open and genuine and giving.

My tactic as an introvert is to remove a lot of myself from it and really focus on them, express my interest in them, ask questions, ask questions, ask questions, ask follow-up questions, really drive everything towards my focus on them. So my long answer there is I think there’s a personal style thing that kind of comes out. I think if you reveal things about yourself, regardless of your style, I think it needs to be very deliberate. It’s a great tactic to give somebody permission.

ChittahChattah Quickies

The “Flashed Face Effect” Makes Normal People Look Monstrous – GOOD.is – This demonstration shows pretty dramatically that direct focus creates dramatic distortions in our perceptions of peripheral objects. Specifically here, faces. For me, the faces turned into Second Life-type avatars. The video here proves this optic effect beyond a doubt; the psychological implications are even more interesting. This effect is why it is so important for us to go back to the recordings or transcripts of our interviews to reshift that focus. In the interview itself we are so fully focused on our unfamiliar surroundings and the project objectives and questions, and on responding to body-language, and on all the crazy things that can happen in someone’s home like crazed husbands and bugs, that a lot of interesting stuff in the periphery can easily be lost or misunderstood.

If you’re like most people, you’ll notice that the women you thought had hideous deformities while looking at the center of the screen are actually completely normal looking. Researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia are calling this the “flashed face effect.” How it works is that your brain focuses in on the main differences in each juxtaposition, thereby augmenting that difference to grotesque proportions. “If someone has a large jaw, it looks almost ogre-like,” write the scientists. “If they have an especially large forehead, then it looks particularly bulbous.” The researchers say they don’t yet know why the effect occurs, but they’re attempting to find out now. In the meantime, hard as it may be, remember not to always trust your brain and eyes.

Speaking of crazed husbands and bugs, and surprises in the field, we’ve written of them before: What To Expect When You’re Not Expecting It.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from julienorvaisas] The Sorcerers and Their Apprentices [WSJ.com] – [This review of Frank Moss's new book about the MIT Media Lab includes commentary on Moss's exaltation of "undisciplined" and "antidisciplinary" methods and their single-minded application of science in the service of developing devices and machines, at the expense of more traditional research methods.] Everything looks promising and possible at the demonstration and prototyping stage, when even sponsors may be willing to excuse the recalcitrant model hastily assembled to meet a deadline. But what will be the long-term implications of antidisciplined and undisciplined new technology that might be loosed upon the world? Do either sorcerers or apprentices caught up in the rush of casting spells have the time to ponder the consequences of their magic? Frank Moss appears to be aware of the potential problems with rapidly expanding technology. He has said that "today, society is awash in digital affordances" but admits that "paradoxically, we feel less in control of our lives."

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from julienorvaisas] Facebook Policy Spurs Big Pharma to Rethink Social Media [Advertising Age] – [Beyond challenges such as authenticity, relevancy and voice, social media presence is a regulatory risk for brands in some industries.] Being forced to enable comments on its Facebook pages puts pharmaceutical companies at risk of running afoul of the current FDA regulations, even if it's just consumers making the comments. For instance, if a company has a branded page for an antacid, and a consumer comments that it helped lower his blood pressure as well, that's considered off-label promotion. "The Facebook decision is entirely consistent with what Facebook is designed to be — interactive. A Facebook page with the interactivity turned off is just a static web page residing on an interactive platform. And that isn't what Facebook is all about. It's time for regulated industry to step up to the plate and embrace the powerful tool that is real-time interactivity."
  • [from steve_portigal] Focus Groups That Look Like Play Groups [NYTimes.com] – [The lede, emphasizing focus groups, is misleading. The article explores a range of methods that market researchers are using. Maybe some novel ideas in here but also a good artifact of the popular press discourse about how we work.] Mr. Denari’s agency takes a different tack, interviewing consumers in their homes and leaving them with journals called “Little Truth Books” for a week or two. “It forces people to think a little more deeply than they normally would,” Mr. Denari said. When Ugly Mug Coffee wanted to retool its brand, Mr. Denari’s agency asked consumers to use the journals to draw family trees showing which family members were coffee drinkers. They were also asked to list some of the worst things about coffee, what their coffee “cut-off time” was and why they drank it at all. “The whole goal is the get to the heart,” Mr. Denari said. The research helped Ugly Mug create new packaging and expand distribution. [via @serota]
  • [from steve_portigal] A gelato-less June [Gelatobaby] – [Interesting to see how blogs can structure/support deliberate habit changes.] I wrote an essay pledging to fly less to reduce my environmental impact. (I’m actually only allowing myself one round-trip flight per month, compared to the 23 trips I took last year.) My friend Greg Lindsay, author of the new book Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next pointed out that my air miles were nothing compared to the footprint of my gelato habit. A United Nations report from last year noted that “agriculture accounts for 70% of global freshwater consumption, 38% of the total land use and 19% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.” I’m hoping that I can fill my gelato-less days with facts and information about where my dairy is coming from, how it’s produced, and if­if!­I might even come to love some dairy-free options. Suffice it to say, this is going to be an extremely enlightening 30 days. Especially since I have just discovered that the LA Weekly has embarked upon 30 Scoops in 30 Days project.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] The Art of Design Research (and Why It Matters) [design mind] – [Lovely piece by Jon Freach on what design research brings to design and innovation.] And sometimes design teams don't have the patience to see the value in dragging out a study in an effort to make it scientifically or statistically significant. We're just not wired that way; we prefer to make and experiment and then analyze later. So what is research good for? 1. Learning about people's behavior; 2. Understanding and analyzing culture; 3. Defining context; 4. Setting focus…Design research is not "a science" and is not necessarily "scientific." It gives designers and clients a much more nuanced understanding of the people for whom they design while providing knowledge that addresses some of the most fundamental questions we face throughout the process. What is the correct product or service to design? What characteristics should it have, and is it working as intended? "The research" won't necessarily provide cold hard answers. But it will generate some good and feasible ideas.
  • [from steve_portigal] CBS Radio Tells Its D.J.’s to Name Titles and Artists [NYTimes.com] – [Tying together the fortunes of radio and record sales?] Last week the head of a major radio company felt compelled to instruct its programmers to identify more of the songs played on the air, by title and artist name…at some indeterminate point in history ­ the mid-1980s ­ song identification began to vanish from the air as programmers struggled to squeeze out anything considered “clutter.” “You were always conscious about the amount of talk you would put on,” he said. “But the truth is that people tune in and tune out, and it was probably underestimated at the time how much people really wanted that information.” For record companies, having a song’s title and artist’s name mentioned on the air ­ especially if new and unfamiliar ­ is crucial marketing…“At one point in our culture there were well-schooled retailers who could help people figure out what that song was, because they wanted to buy it,” said Greg Thompson, VP at EMI Music. “In this day and age that doesn’t exist.”

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] My Notes on Steve Portigal’s presentation – Design Fieldwork: Uncovering Innovation from the Outside In [The Pam] – [Pam pulls out the key points from my UIE WAMT presentation that most resonated with her.] The knowledge “You’re not your user” creates empathy, but going out to the field makes you listen and understand what your users are going through. Through fieldwork you can detect unmet business goals. Doing fieldwork can accomplish many research goals at the same time, not only about the users but also about your organizational goals.
  • [from steve_portigal] Web App Masters: Uncovering Innovation with Fieldwork [LukeW] – [Luke's summary notes from my 75-minute talk.] Be a methods-polygamist. Choose, mash-up, or create a methodology based on the problem you are trying to solve. Integrate with other methods. Create a library of methods and artifacts that you can call on and modify as needed. Different methodologies tell you different things. It’s not an either or.
  • [from julienorvaisas] Let’s Be Frank: Divisadero Public Discussion Board [The Bold Italic] – [Building on yesterday's quickie – here's a local example of the use of public space as a form for gathering thoughts of residents.] I think it's cool that people can participate after the event by writing their thoughts on the chalkboards. This neighborhood has evolved so much in the last few years, and I'm sure everyone who lives here has thoughts about the transformation, good and bad. I'm personally worried that the changes will leave out members of the old neighborhood, but I'm hopeful when I see the community come together on projects like these. However you feel about the change, I think it's a positive step when people are asked to voice their opinions in the process. So neighbors of Divisadero, don't be shy, what do you think the community needs?

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from julienorvaisas] Artist Posts Neighborhood Surveys and Infographics on the Streets of Boston [GOOD] – [Together at last, street art and research. redefining guerilla research.] Since March, Devin, an artist based in the Boston neighborhood of Somerville, has been making small posters and taping them up on phone poles and other public fixtures. They come in three varieties (or "flavors," to use his term). "Mappy Facts" show people demographic data, like average income levels by neighborhood, on colorful maps. "Street Surveys" are more participatory, asking passersby questions about their relationship to their neighborhood, with tear-away tabs for them to answer with. A third flavor features poetry. The surveys aren't scientific, of course, but it's possible that people who encounter Devin's art will come away with a better understanding of their city, or be prompted to think about their own relationship to the place they live. You can download and print the survey posters and put them up in your own city if you're curious about how your neighbors perceive their home.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] A Scientific View of Why Ideas Go Viral [BNET] – [Refreshing if daunting to be reminded that commonly assumed tropes don't play out] Marketers and executives have no clue what an influencer is. Watts points out we all talk so much about influencers, we’ve accepted the term without knowing its definition. Are influencers ordinary people with extraordinary reach? Are they celebrities or “opinion leaders” as they were named in earlier stages of pr theory? Even if we were to exclude bloggers, media, and Oprah from our definition – how then do we measure how an influencer impacts the opinions of others? Watts says some studies measure an influencer as someone whom at least three people say they would turn to for advice. But that scale — reaching people who are three times better connected than others — does not move the millions of people marketers, political campaigns, and brands need to reach. Stripped of the media spin, an influencer’s clout is limited without the amplifying power of the Internet. [Thanks, @nodesign!]

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