Posts tagged “trust”

Jen’s War Story: Bad news turns to couples therapy

Jen Ignacz is the UX Research Lead at TOPP, a design consultancy focused on helping clients shape future products and services.

I was conducting in-home contextual interviews about home safety and security behaviours. In the recruitment screener, I had found out that a particular participant had experienced a break-in to her home about a year earlier.

When I arrived at her home for the interview, her fiancé was also there and ended up participating extensively in the conversation.

My research partner and I had been with the couple for about 90 minutes and they were obviously feeling quite comfortable; they offered up lots of intimate details about their routines and behaviours and were willing to show us everything and anything. I was pleased that they felt so comfortable with sharing (the woman more than the man).

Part of my protocol was to understand what happened when people find out about bad news about their home, like a fire alarm going off, a break-in, a water leak, etc. So, after 90 minutes of talking about home safety and security routines, I posed the question: “Now I want to talk about what you do when you get bad news. You mentioned that you had a break-in last year. Can you tell me about what happened?”

As I was asking, the couple looked at each other and an awkward silence fell over the room as I finished the question. They held each other’s gaze for longer than was comfortable (for us). Their sudden change in behaviour told me I had hit on a sore spot.

The woman broke the silence, still holding her partner’s gaze, saying “That’s not what I consider bad news. Your child dying is bad news.” Then a whispered “Do you not want to talk about this?” to her fiancé.

My research partner and I froze as if hoping that by not moving, time could stand still for us while they dealt with this incredibly intense personal moment.

The couple started to talk about the experience of losing a pregnancy in the second trimester about a year earlier. (I made the realisation when reviewing the recordings that the break-in happened around the same time as the miscarriage, so asking the question the way I did allowed for a connection between events I could not have anticipated). They spoke quietly and mostly to each other, but engaged me more and more in their conversation as they went along.

As a researcher, this felt way off-topic and I was trying to think of ways to get the interview back on track. But as a human being, I felt the need to let them deal with this issue that seemed difficult for them to talk about. From their conversation, it was quite clear they each were still working through their emotions and likely didn’t speak about it to each other often enough. I wasn’t going to shut down an opportunity for them to make emotional progress just because it didn’t fit anywhere close to my research goals.

So, I let them talk. And I even guided them to share some feelings with each other. I took on a counseling role; a total deviation from the research plan.

After about ten minutes, they turned to me and said “That’s probably not what you meant.”

I was honest with them. I told them it wasn’t the type of bad news event I was thinking about, but the conversation helped me learn more about who they are; their values, morals, and perspectives on life. Getting a better sense of who they are ultimately helps me understand their motives for their behaviours better.

My response allowed us to carefully ramp back up to the interview protocol. I was very cautious with that transition. I had to ensure that the trust and openness we had established in the first 90 minutes wasn’t harmed by the unexpectedly exposed vulnerability. It didn’t seem to be. I was able to complete the remaining hour of the visit with just as much openness (and gaining just as much insight) as we had before.

Susan’s War Story: The trust dance

Ethnographer Susan Wilhite has a jangly impressionistic story about committing, body and soul, to her participant’s world.

Fieldwork in New York City, this time shadowing a Dominican guy in Queens. Tech-edgy and as proud of his gamer laptop as greasy dudes are about their hotrods. It was early July and I was there to get his story: the what, how, where, when and why – especially the why. The hacked, the black-marketed, the legacy and the shiny new, and all the numerous income streams. In New York, like everywhere, everyday life is all the drama you need.

First off, he had advised me to not stay in a crummy cockroach-infested hotel close to his place. No, I should stay in Manhattan and he would come get me, each and every day. And so he did. 9am, he is at my hotel lobby on the upper West Side to escort me on three subway lines and a bus. His place is his aunt’s and cousin’s house on a street Archie Bunker might have lived on. At 21 he is el hombre de la casa.

I see the situation right away – I need his cooperation if only to get back and forth every day and I can’t tell how long his reliability will last. He has not a clue what ethnography is. So I say to him: for the next three days you’re working for me. We’re pretending we’re making a documentary about you and your devices. We’ll talk and you show me stuff to illustrate your points. He buys it. We’re in business.

He makes a lanyard to wear my digital recorder around his neck, to better capture his comments over the loud air conditioner while he runs Lara Croft through a troublesome Tomb Raider level. We sit at the white wrought-iron patio table out back and discuss his take on every wireless access point in the neighborhood. He demonstrates how he invents ringtones in the front room to sell at one joint or another. He’s a boxer on the side – he knows people.

One morning he packs his virus-infested hotrod laptop and we head to Brooklyn. He’s talked his techie friend into occasionally wiping his hard drive. “Good as new”, he says. By this time I’m spending 7-something hours a day with him, and not every moment pertains to the research. In fact, it’s exhausting for us both to keep running in this acting out-demo mode. So it’s a relief to watch other parts of his life, which sometimes expose incidental intersections into the topic at hand. But on the way to Brooklyn he drops hints about how to walk and look at people to avoid unwanted attention.

His techie friend, it turns out, is less than thrilled about the risks of wiping a friend’s laptop hard drive. Maybe there’s even some unspoken debts and favors between them – I don’t know. I play along. The afternoon is getting long and the air is heavy – this is his mother’s house and the grand furniture and stuffed curio cabinet suggests it’s been in the family for a few generations.

Apparently the subject of our being there must be carefully broached. Veering into distracting topics gives the two parties a chance to modulate the tension. So they ask about me. They’re also looking for reasons to impart respect upon me and maybe be okay with my being female and older than them. I say more than is strictly professional but that was the point – they want to know I’m okay, I’m human, I’m not taking advantage of them. I can be trusted. A few revelations about my video game background convey cred that seems to lubricate the moment; I’m one of them, at least for now. Shortly thereafter it comes to light that while I am in no danger there’s something illegal about the hard drive wiping thing.

The trust dance subsides and now we huddle in a back room. A fluorescent bulb lights the scene and the New York Transit Authority roars outside the barred window now and again. What I witness is ripe stuff but being there, in that room, with these people, in that moment, is mildly warped. But this is the real deal, the reason we research. I avoid shooting the illegal parts even as I avoid endorsing their actions. I’m all objectivity on the inside and going partly native on the outside. Mission accomplished, the ‘high five’ is caught on camera, and my guy and I are outta there.

There are ethical lines in what ethnographers do. To be really committed it’s tough, though, to pull back, to play it safe. To be willing to seek humanity is to push boundaries.

I had meant to bring his gratuity with me on the last day and I just plain forgot. So his girlfriend comes along back to my hotel. As we ride I sense no distrust in my intentions but they are a little anxious. They watch as I sign the traveler’s checks at a grand old table off the lobby, and then they turn out toward a hot night in the vicinity of 89th and Amsterdam. Upstairs, after downloading the media, recharging batteries, and writing fieldnotes, it’s 10pm – time for dinner and a drink. It’s my birthday.

Win Your Subjects Over with Genuine Enthusiasm

Parallels to interviewing users crop up all over the place. Just like us, portrait photographers ask their subjects trust them, as they go on a journey that might be uncomfortable at times. I don’t want to overwork the comparison, of course. You’ll see more differences than similarities in this video, but what struck me was the core notion that your own sincere enthusiasm will serve to build that trust.

(via PetaPixel)

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] Rent a White Guy [The Atlantic] – And so I became a fake businessman in China, an often lucrative gig for underworked expatriates here. One friend, an American who works in film, was paid to represent a Canadian company and give a speech espousing a low-carbon future. Another was flown to Shanghai to act as a seasonal-gifts buyer. Recruiting fake businessmen is one way to create the image—particularly, the image of connection—that Chinese companies crave. My Chinese-language tutor, at first aghast about how much we were getting paid, put it this way: “Having foreigners in nice suits gives the company face.” We were supposedly representing a California-based company that was building a facility in Dongying. Our responsibilities would include making daily trips to the construction site, attending a ribbon-cutting ceremony, and hobnobbing. During the ceremony, one of us would have to give a speech as the company’s director. That duty fell to my friend Ernie. His business cards had already been made. (via @Kottke)
  • [from julienorvaisas] Hey Facebook! Here’s your privacy redesign [] – [The community is now literally begging Facebook to fix this issue. Free design!] We asked several leading user experience designers how they'd overhaul the social network's obtuse privacy settings interface if given the chance. Here, in their own words, are their innovative solutions.
  • [from steve_portigal] For Forgetful, Cash Helps the Medicine Go Down [] – [The challenge of marketing, design & other forms of corporate persuasion is revealed when you see that people need incentive/motivation to take medication] One-third to one-half of all patients do not take medication as prescribed, and up to one-quarter never fill prescriptions at all, experts say. Such lapses fuel more than $100 billion dollars in health costs annually because those patients often get sicker. Now, a controversial, and seemingly counterintuitive, effort to tackle the problem is gaining ground: paying people money to take medicine or to comply with prescribed treatment. The idea, which is being embraced by doctors, pharmacy companies, insurers and researchers, is that paying modest financial incentives up front can save much larger costs of hospitalization…Although “economically irrational,” Dr. Corrigan said, small sums might work better than bigger ones because otherwise patients might think, “ ‘I’m only doing this for the money,’ and it would undermine treatment.”
  • [from steve_portigal] Creativity thrives in Pixar’s animated workplace [SF Chronicle] – At another company, the employee in Payne's position might be a feared corporate rules-enforcer – the guy who tells you not to put tack holes in the plaster or forbids you from painting over the white walls next to your cubicle. But the architect and 14-year Pixar veteran embraces the madness. Among the more creative additions on the campus: One animator built a bookcase with a secret panel – which opens up into a speakeasy-style sitting area with a card table, bar and security monitor. Other employees work in modified Tuff Sheds, tricked out to look like little houses with front porches and chandeliers. "Sometimes I just have to let go," Payne says with an amused sigh, as he walks into a newer building with a high ceiling – where someone has interrupted the clean sightlines with a wooden loft. A couch and a mini-refrigerator are balanced 10 feet above the floor. [Did a mini-ethnography of Pixar a few years ago and the cultural factors around creativity and community were outstanding]

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Inc. Magazine Staffers Works Remotely To Make April Issue – [] – Away from the office, some staff members struggled to adjust, as minor technical hiccups arose and parents working at home had to find ways to separate their work from their children. But in the end, most employees discovered that they could and should work out of the office more often — though they did not want to eliminate the office entirely. Mr. Chafkin found himself working more hours than usual in February and pining for the company of his colleagues. “I was way more productive, but way less happy,” he said. “I think one of the reasons people get into magazines is that it’s collaborative.” The collaboration that did happen needed to be arranged in advance, like setting a time for a conference call, rather than relying on an encounter in a hallway or chatting at a desk. Only once during the month did the entire staff gather, at Ms. Berentson’s home on the Upper West Side. When everyone got together, she said, it was “exactly like seeing old friends.”
  • OgilvyOne Uses Contest to Promote Salesmanship [] – A contest from OgilvyOne asks participants to market a brick so their sales techniques can be judged. The prize is a job at the agency for three months. Participants submit their ads for the red brick via YouTube. The ad agency's contest is a nod to David Ogilvy, who offered straightforward opinions on the high importance of good salesmanship.
  • The Medium – Trust Busting [] – A company shows anxiety on its face — that is, on its Web site, which has become the face of the modern corporation. Visit sites for recently troubled or confused enterprises, including Maclaren, Toyota, Playtex, Tylenol and, yes, John Edwards, and you’ll find a range of digital ways of dealing with distress.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Streisand effect – The Streisand effect is an Internet phenomenon where an attempt to censor or remove a piece of information backfires, causing the information to be publicized widely and to a greater extent than would have occurred if no censorship had been attempted.. Origin is in reference to a 2003 incident in which Barbra Streisand unsuccessfully sued photographer Kenneth Adelman and for US$50 million in an attempt to have the aerial photograph of her house removed from the publicly available collection of 12,000 California coastline photographs, citing privacy concerns
  • NYC replaces automated toilets with staffed restrooms, a signifier of trust – But where the floors of the old restrooms had a tank-tread-like surface that automatically rotated across a scrubbing system after each use, and the toilets themselves were cleaned by a rim-mounted U-shaped traveling brush, the new ones are inspected, mopped and scrubbed — 15 to 25 times a day — by eagle-eyed, uniformed men and women.

    “It’s an attendant who knows what’s going on and has functions that go from sanitation to exchanging a few words with you to generally having a sense of what should be done,” said Jerome Barth, the partnership’s vice president for operations. “People see them, and they know the bathrooms are clean.”

  • Florida judges shouldn’t friend Florida lawyers on Facebook – A new advisory warns it may create the appearance of a conflict. Being a "fan" is still okay.

Paying for ease-of-use/trust

Yesterday’s NYT Magazine article about the check cashing industry offered an insightful anecdote about the sometimes counter-intuitive tradeoffs people make:

I met Oscar Enriquez leaving the Nix branch in Highland Park, a working-class area near Pasadena. He was skinny and just shy of middle age, with a quick grin and tattoos down his sunburned forearms. Enriquez worked in the neighborhood as a street cleaner; he picks up trash and scrubs graffiti. The job paid about $425 a week, he told me, a good chunk of which he wired to his wife, who has been living in Mississippi and taking care of her ailing mother. He told me he tries to avoid debt whenever he can. “If I don’t have money, I wait until the next payday,” he said firmly. “That’s it.” But he pays a fee to cash his paychecks. Then he pays even more to send a Moneygram to his wife. There’s a bank, just down the street, that could do those things free. I asked him why he didn’t take his business there.

“Oh, man, I won’t work with them no more,” Enriquez explained. “They’re not truthful.”

Two years ago, Enriquez opened his first bank account. “I said I wanted to start a savings account,” he said. He thought the account was free, until he got his first statement. “They were charging me for checks!” he said, still upset about it. “I didn’t want checks. They’re always charging you fees. For a while, I didn’t use the bank at all, they charged like $100 in fees.” Even studying his monthly statements, he couldn’t always figure out why they charged what they charged. Nix is almost certainly more expensive, but it’s also more predictable and transparent, and that was a big deal to Enriquez.

Banks (and phone companies, cable companies, airlines, etc.) are institutions that are not easy to use. There’s a lot of fine print, arcane legalese, hidden fees, and a general lack of transparency. Here’s someone with a limited amount of income that makes the calculation and pays a significant amount of that limited income to avoid going through that. The relationship with the bank failed for Oscar, and he’s paying money to avoid dealing with them.

We normally think of the privileged as those who buy their way out of inconvenience and hassle, but really, it’s something we do at all income levels. It’s just that our experiences frame what is and isn’t a hassle. If we’re middle class then we expect to be jerked around by Big Business because we have all our lives-as-consumers. If we’re lower class and we haven’t had those experiences, it may be less likely that we’ll tolerate them.

Headlines from the future

The SF Chron channels Futurama (or else Teen People’s May 2027 edition) with this ridiculous Sunday feature.
The entire paper is turning into a comic book; huge amounts of meaningless visual imagery, and lurid headlines. Robots, should we trust them?

As the Robot Defense League reminds us

Discrimination against Robots is the last socially sanctioned bigotry allowed in this world….Being a Robot is not a crime.

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