Listen to Steve on the Making Things That Matter podcast

Thanks to Andrew Skotzko for a fun conversation on the Making Things That Matter podcast where we talked about improving your user research process.

Our 75-minute conversation is on the episode page, YouTube, Apple Podcasts, and Spotify. You can find a transcript on this page.

#80 Steve Portigal: Improving your user research process

Steve Portigal is a veteran user research leader and consultant who helps companies mature their research practices. He’s the author of Interviewing Users, a classic in the field, and the host of the design leadership podcast Dollars to Donuts. In this conversation, we explore:

• how to use creative practices to develop your voice as a leader and storyteller

• how to be a smart consumer of research findings when you aren’t an expert in the craft of research

• one simple question leaders can ask to set their organizations to make the most of research

• and how to create the conditions for high-impact, effective creative work in your team

Topics discussed

(10:21) Experimenting with writing and finding one’s voice

(15:47) Feedback model: GASP – goals, attempts, successes, possibilities

(19:53) Workshops, creativity, and self-doubt

(27:06) Embrace authenticity, find your unique facilitation style

(28:10) Appreciating different approaches, understanding executives’ skepticism

(34:37) Engage with compassion

(39:29) Research is essential for informed decision-making

(49:01) Compassion and reflection are crucial for leaders

(50:48) Create a safe learning space for engagement

(56:03) Assessing code quality and marketing effectiveness

(01:00:39) Research raises questions, timing and deployment important

(01:10:31) Stay fascinated with the world around you

Save 20% on Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries

Save 20% on my book Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries through the Rosenfeld Media summer sale, through July 15. This book of stories from other researchers examines the bizarre, comic, tragic, and generally astonishing experiences that researchers have out in the field.

Portigal’s collection of war stories illuminates the discipline and improvisation endemic to researching people. Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries is a fitting companion to his landmark Interviewing Users. – Gregg Bernstein

Listen to Steve on the Product Thinking podcast

Thanks to Melissa Perri for having me on the Product Thinking Podcast to discuss of the second edition of Interviewing Users.

Our one-hour conversation is on the episode page, YouTube, Apple Podcasts, and Spotify. You can find a transcript on this page.

Episode 177: The Evolution of User Research: A Conversation with Steve Portigal, Author of Interv...

In this episode of the Product Thinking podcast, host Melissa Perri celebrates the updated ten-year anniversary edition of Interviewing Users with author Steve Portigal.

Join them in this engaging episode as they discuss the importance of user research in product development. The pair also delve deeply into the changing landscape of user research, the impact of increasing reliance on remote interviews, and the difficulties that purely digital interactions pose for understanding the user’s context. Melissa and Steve also touch on common mistakes in interviewing users and the role of active listening.

If you’re interested in learning more about effective user research and its role in creating successful products, this episode is a must-listen.

You’ll hear them talk about:

05:13 – The Change to Remote Research

When Steve wrote the first edition of his book, Interviewing Users, his advice and experience was centered exclusively around the principles of in-person research. The world of work and meetings has changed a lot in the ten years since that edition, and now remote interviews are far more common, especially since the pandemic. Looking to the positives, Steve comments that geographical diversity is now far more possible when conducting research. In the past, you would target a certain place where you’re going to be able to call on a lot of different participants, namely urban metropolises rather than more rural areas. Doing research remotely allows you to look further afield more easily and create a more diverse cast of participants. Though Steve admits that, on the other side of the coin, the need for technology introduces its own new barrier.

19:52 – Interview Pre-Work

Steve makes an interesting distinction between the person and the ‘thing’ being investigated in an interview and he notes the importance of understanding whether you’re looking at the person in the research or their device itself. For more open-ended interviews looking at the person, it can be useful to follow Steve’s lead and send the subject ‘pre-work’. This could consist of one question or multiple but either way, it ought to be a small bit of work that the interviewee can do, without spending too much time, in advance of the interview itself. More than the answers themselves being of vital importance, the act of asking will get the cogs moving in the subject’s brain before the interview and could possibly give you a hand in opening them up.

30:01 – Interview Technique, Letting Go Of Yourself

Judging whether an interview has been conducted in a successful way is hard to gauge because it’s impossible to be sure what would have happened if you’d done it slightly differently. Steve’s perspective is that being a bright, curious, and extroverted person is the first step to being a good interviewer. He recognizes that this is the most natural way to approach this kind of situation; filling air time, talking a lot to show interest, nailing your questions, and putting some of yourself into that conversation. But Steve thinks that the next level up from this requires being comfortable with the unfamiliar task of leaving yourself at the door. Some of the best answers he gets come from saying very little, simply encouraging the subject to continue rather than hit them with the next question, and even saying nothing at all and letting them fill the space.

Dollars to Donuts: Tamara Hale of Splunk

Dollars to Donuts logo

This episode of Dollars to Donuts features my conversation with Tamara Hale, the Director of Product Experience – Research & Insights at Splunk. We talk about the long tail of impact, being an anthropologist of work, and having a creative practice.

The ‘doing the research’ bit is only about a quarter of your job. The rest of it is all the other stuff that goes around it. It’s about storytelling and influence and developing a vision and creating alignment around who the customers are and creating alignment on what actually are the business goals. It’s your stakeholder mapping. It’s your internal research. It’s your knowledge management. It’s improving how we work. All that stuff is part of research, and if you only think of your job as that quarter, you’re missing out on some of the most interesting and also trickiest parts of the job. – Tamara Hale

Help other people find Dollars to Donuts by leaving a review on Apple Podcasts.


Dollars to Donuts: Vanessa Arango Garcia of Delivery Hero

Dollars to Donuts logo

In this latest episode of Dollars to Donuts, I talk with Vanessa Arango Garcia, Director UX Research & Research Operations at Delivery Hero. We discuss creating an engaged research community across a global organization, being accountable for impact, and how today’s challenges provide an opportunity for the research progression to grow.

We care a lot about our craft and we need to keep the quality up, but we also need to be pragmatic in how we are able to optimize that process of doing research to focus in the next stages. We dedicate too much in doing the research, delivering that report. And later, sometimes it’s very difficult to dedicate time to following up, connecting with the team, sitting together, ideating, thinking about the roadmap, because we don’t have time. We are jumping from research to research to research because every research takes time. – Vanessa Arango Garcia

Help other people find Dollars to Donuts by leaving a review on Apple Podcasts.


Dollars to Donuts: Sarah Gregory of Coinbase

Dollars to Donuts logo

This episode of Dollars to Donuts features my conversation with Sarah Gregory, Director of User Research for Consumer at Coinbase. We talk about research comms, archiving user research, and doing research that no one is yet asking for.

Our email is designed for one very specific leadership stakeholder, and it is tailored to how that person likes to consume information. There’s a different stakeholder that hates email. That person, I use Slack. Another stakeholder tends to listen very well when they’re live in a regularly recurring monthly meeting. And so I make sure that research always has one or two slides in that meeting. You have to know exactly who you want to be listening, and you have to change your techniques depending on who that is. Which is really just understanding your user, right? – Sarah Gregory

Show Notes

Help other people find Dollars to Donuts by leaving a review on Apple Podcasts.


Dollars to Donuts: Jamika Burge of Capital One

Dollars to Donuts logo

In this episode of Dollars to Donuts I speak with Jamika Burge, the head of research for Data and AI at Capital One. We talk about her journey through academia, discovering user research, and intersectionality.

Doing good – for me, as a researcher, and as someone who wants to do good in the world, it means understanding people’s needs in context and providing opportunities for them to succeed. That’s what that means for me. Success can mean different things to different people. I can guess what success means from a business perspective. I can even guess what success means from a researcher perspective, but ultimately it’s that end user who tells us whether or not we got it right. I want that person to feel as an end user, free to share with us when we got it wrong, but also when we got it right. – Jamika Burge

Show Notes

Help other people find Dollars to Donuts by leaving a review on Apple Podcasts.


Listen to Steve on the UX podcast

It was great to chat with Per and James (again — 2015 is here, 2017 is here) for their legendary UX Podcast (in support of the second edition of Interviewing Users).

Our 40-minute conversation is on the episode page (with transcript here) and embedded below.

Over ten years have passed since the first edition of Steve Portigal’s legendary book Interviewing Users was released. Together with Steve, we reflect on how user research has evolved during the past decade, and how the importance of user research in order to understand people and their needs is still crucial.

We discuss in-house vs consulting for research practices, research teams and leadership, a rapidly changing and evolving industry, and ultimately the importance of a human connection in order to care about them in our designs and in business.

“I don’t think you can consistently invent your way into success. It does take this understanding, and caring for the human aspect of people.”

– Steve Portigal

Dollars to Donuts: Akshay Verma of Duolingo

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This episode of Dollars to Donuts features my interview with Akshay Verma, the head of User Research at Duolingo. We talk about being qualitative focused in an experimentation-driven organization, research team structures, team rituals, and sharing knowledge between researchers.

I don’t actually want to bemoan or belabor this concept of a room that we’re invited to or not. At Duolingo, I feel it pretty acutely just because we do have a lot of rituals and traditions at Duolingo around how product gets built. And it’s great. It works. It works really well. But, you know, I could spend a lot of time and energy going crazy, being like, “How do I get invited to these rooms?” and then get upset when it doesn’t happen? I actually don’t. I try my best, but I think our energy is probably spent elsewhere.” – Akshay Verma

Help other people find Dollars to Donuts by leaving a review on Apple Podcasts.



About Steve