Listen to Steve on This is HCD

I had the pleasure of speaking recently with Chirryl-Lee Ryan about user research and more – we got into outcomes versus deliverables, tipping points for the tech industry, and a few other fun areas. The conversation is now live on This is HCD (including a transcript), and embedded below.


Chi shared her own user research war story

We didn’t have a car. We should have hired a car or we should have had a driver because we had no idea what the traffic was like in Manila. One of the team members went to catch their flight back to Australia and the taxi driver kind of kidnapped them because they didn’t have cash – all the things that you don’t think about when you’re going to do research – they happened to us on that on that particular research trip. And so you know, we got great insights and the client was just amazed but at the same time we sort of went through this wild adventure of our own on the back side of what was actually happening on the trip.

Steve on the Service Design Show

Thanks to Marc Fonteijn for having me as a guest on The Service Design Show. The episode, entitled How To Unlock The True Power Of User Research, is online now (Soundcloud, YouTube) and embedded below.

By now we all know that storytelling is one of the most powerful tools in the service design toolbox. But can we also use storytelling to actually improve our own practice? Steve Portigal thinks so and he explains why in this episode.

And how well aware are you of your own biases, beliefs and assumptions when you go into a project? Learning to better listen to ourselves might be a key to get more meaningful work done.

Finally we discuss why the value of deep research is still often not aligned with the value we put on designing solutions. For this we dig into some economic fallacies that might have to do with this.

The big question of this episode is: When has storytelling worked for you (and when did it fail)?

Watch Steve on Like/Unlike

Here’s a twenty-minute conversation with me, for the show Like/Unlike for, in anticipation of Product Camp Poland, coming right up! I talk about three things – something I recently experienced that I liked (our Punk Rock walking tour of the East Village); something that I did not like (an app required to get filtered drinking water), and a perspective on user research that others may not be thinking about.

sorry about the occasionally blurry video

Much Better Than The Original

Comedian Laurie Kilmartin tweeted

Hey aspiring comedy writers, when my brain is foggy or I just need multiple punchlines for the same setup, sometime I consult my transitions list! It’s dumb but it helps

It’s sort of a low-fidelity methods card approach, where a phrase suggests a particular structure, or triggers the writer to generate a certain type of response. As a comedy consumer, I am amazed at how familiar so many of these phrases are. While I do some amount of deconstructing the form as a fan, it is very cool to see how fully she reverse-engineered standup tropes for her own benefit

Listen to Steve on the Conversation Factory Podcast

It was great fun to speak with Daniel Stillman about research, collaboration, communication and facilitation. now live on the Conversation Factory site, and embedded below


Here’s part of how Daniel framed the conversation in his writeup

Steve is a User Researcher, heart and soul. And he talks and writes about it, fluently. Facilitation is something that he *has to do* in order to bring people together. He’s an extremely reflective practitioner about research, but about facilitation, less so. For me, it’s fascinating to see that divide. I think there are a lot of people where facilitation is a means to an end.

Steve illustrates something I coach people on often – you have to be your own kind of facilitator. I can be theatrical and energetic. Steve is more introverted and centered. My way of solving for group work isn’t Steve’s: he’s adapted his own approach that feels natural and gets the job done.

Tad Friend: Interviewing Master

I love this bit from Tad Friend’s New Yorker profile of Donald Glover

Noting that he often spoke about how life would be different if he were White Donald, I asked Glover how our conversations would be different if I were black. He gave me a considering look. “We’d have a language we both understood, and you’d know me better,” he said. “But as Black Tad you’d only be in a position of talking to me because you were good at placating a white audience. As a black person, you have to sell the black culture to succeed. So I’d try to trust Black Tad, but it’s really up to him whether he’d sell us out.”

Glover is an elusive interview, dismissing many expected norms around career, goals, success, creativity. Here, Friend takes a framework that Glover has presented (if Glover were white rather than black) and twists that into a new question (if Friend were black rather than white). He’s extending and adapting what Glover has already told him in order to probe more deeply on that model, by asking Glover to consider a hypothetical. And in doing so, Friend points back to the actual instrument of inquiry – the interview conducted by an interviewer, and asks Glover to examine that relationship.

That is masterful interviewing: hearing to the world view the interviewee is articulating; building a hypothetical evolution of that framework in order to examine the assumptions of that framework more closely; and acknowledging the context of the interview itself in order to probe even more deeply.

Since we are reading an article, and not an interview transcript, we only know about this because Friend put it in his article; in order to make his point he had to reveal the questions as well as the answers. And it’s a delightful reveal.

Listen to Steve on the User Defenders Podcast


Artwork by Eli Jorgensen

I had a wide-ranging and personal conversation with Jason Ogle for the User Defenders podcast. We talked about my professional trajectory, my disdain for Forrest Gump, rapport-building, listening, disgust, and war stories from fieldwork. Our conversation is now live on the User Defenders site, and embedded below



And yeah, that’s me in a black-and-purple cape, but you’ll need to listen to the episode to understand what’s about.

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