35. Danielle Smith of Express Scripts

This episode of Dollars to Donuts features my interview with Danielle Smith, the Senior Director of Experience Research & Accessibility at Express Scripts. Something that I’ve really changed the way I thought about since I’ve been at Express Scripts – we are in the healthcare ecosystem. So the experiences we deliver, if they are not […]

34. Amber Lindholm of Duo Security

This episode of Dollars to Donuts features my interview with Amber Lindholm, the Head of User Research at Duo Security. That’s the sign of a really good researcher – it can never be just about research for research’s sake, like this is a cool project, this is a neat thing, I really wanna go in-depth […]

33. Julia Nelson of MOO

This episode of Dollars to Donuts features my interview with Julia Nelson, the Director Of Research at MOO. All researchers say to some degree that they don’t necessarily have a traditional background when they come into the research field. But I think there’s a lot of strength in welcoming people with different perspectives onto your […]

32. Chris Kovel of First Abu Dhabi Bank

This episode of Dollars to Donuts features my interview with Chris Kovel, the Head Of Research at First Abu Dhabi Bank (FAB). I look at needs as proximate needs and ultimate needs. An ultimate need is why the product exists in the first place. And then the proximate need is the experience of using that […]

31. Noam Segal of Wealthfront

This episode of Dollars to Donuts features my interview with Noam Segal, the Director of Research at Wealthfront. Everyone from PMs to designers, researchers, obviously, engineers, data scientists, marketing, we’re all trying to to understand our clients, we’re all taking part in that process in some way, shape or form. And so I view my […]

30. Laith Ulaby of Udemy

In this episode of Dollars to Donuts I speak with Laith Ullaby, the Head of Research at Udemy. I’m really into the idea of questioning what we do. That can be the methods and that conversation about getting out of our comfort zone. It can be thinking about our relationships with stakeholders and trying to […]

29. Kathryn Campbell of Ticketmaster

In this episode of Dollars to Donuts I speak with Kathryn Campbell, the Director of Research & Insights at Ticketmaster. Whenever there is availability of somebody that might normally work on the marketplace side, they might tag team on an account manager project and that helps to inform them about that product. It gives them […]

28. Laura Faulkner of Rackspace

In this episode of Dollars to Donuts I speak with Laura Faulkner, the Head of Research at Rackspace. I’ve never just sat and done just what I was asked to do. I’m always looking for something new, something else. It’s probably just part of how I’m built but it’s also a conscious choice of, of […]

27. Colin MacArthur of the Canadian Digital Service

In this episode of Dollars to Donuts I chat with Colin MacArthur, the Head of Design Research at the Canadian Digital Service. We talk about bureaucracy hacking, spreading the gospel of research throughout government, and embedding researchers in complex domains. Often the idiosyncrasies in people’s research and the sort of surprises that don’t fit within […]

26. Jesse Zolna of ADP

In this episode of Dollars to Donuts I talk to Jesse Zolna, who leads the User Experience Research Team at ADP’s Innovation Lab. We talk about driving change as an experiment, exposing the organization to how customers solve problems, and engineering psychology. One of the challenges we face is getting “credit” for the work that […]

25. Juliette Melton of The New York Times

In this episode of Dollars to Donuts I speak with Juliette Melton, Director of User Insight and Strategy at The New York Times. We talk about updating the old “design research” label, user research in a journalism culture, and the role of coaching. I think that researchers can bring a kind of brightness into a […]

24. Ashley Graham of IBM

This episode of Dollars to Donuts features my conversation with Ashley Graham, a design research leader at IBM. We discuss synthesis as a collaborative, co-located activity, being mission-driven, and building a process that addresses complexity. When I look at the wonderful research community, I don’t see a ton of people that look like me and […]

23. Michele Marut of CBRE Build

In this episode of Dollars to Donuts I speak with Michele Marut who leads user experience research at CBRE Build. We discuss the curation of research repositories, using research to go beyond fixing things, and building processes and tools that can be used by researchers and people who do research. The philosophy is that the […]

22. Vicki Tollemache of Grubhub

In this episode of Dollars to Donuts I speak with Vicki Tollemache, the Director of UX Research at Grubhub. We discuss how to manage incoming research requests, running a weekly research session for testing designs, and why candidates should come into job interviews with a point of view about the company’s product. To me, researchers […]

21. Ruth Ellison of Digital Transformation Agency

In this episode of Dollars to Donuts I speak with Ruth Ellison, Head of User Research at DTA, the Digital Transformation Agency in Australia. We discuss the challenges of user research – and digital product development – in government, embedding researchers into product teams but maintaining a guild model to connect them, and how research […]

20. Leisa Reichelt of Atlassian (Part 2)

This episode of Dollars to Donuts is part 2 of my conversation with Leisa Reichelt of Atlassian. If you haven’t listened to part 1 yet, you can find it here. We talk about corporate versus government work, scaling research, and changing organizational DNA. I love research, I love the way that we learn things and […]

19. Leisa Reichelt of Atlassian (Part 1)

This episode of Dollars to Donuts features part 1 of my two-part conversation with Leisa Reichelt of Atlassian. We talk about educating the organization to do user research better, the limitations of horizontal products, and the tension between “good” and “bad” research. If you’re working on a product that has got some more foundational issues […]

18. Kathleen Asjes of Schibsted Media

This episode of Dollars to Donuts features Kathleen Asjes of Schibsted Media. In our conversation, we talk about what happens when research need exceeds resources, the importance of keeping the knowledge inside the organization, and the benefit of diversity in a research team. It’s not so much about which university do I go to and […]

17. Tomer Sharon of Goldman Sachs

In this episode of Dollars to Donuts, I talk with Tomer Sharon, the Head of User Research and Metrics at Goldman Sachs. We talk about how to assess potential hires for user research positions, infrastructure for capturing and searching a body of data, and developing a practice inside a willing, yet large, organization. Some parts […]

16. Marianne Berkovich of Glooko

In this episode of Dollars to Donuts, I speak with Marianne Berkovich, Head of User Research & Consumer Insights at Glooko. We talk about doing research through leadership changes, setting up opportunities for self-critique, and how to build empathy, especially in health technology, by experiencing some aspect of the condition and treatment yourself. It really […]

15. Leanne Waldal of New Relic

Welcome back to Dollars to Donuts. This episode features Leanne Waldal, Senior Director of Product Research at New Relic. We talk about establishing research in an organization for the first time, building up a diverse set of research collaborators, and the pleasure of taking on certain types of challenges. I’ve seen hopeful examples in startups […]

14. Monal Chokshi of Lyft

In the final episode of the season I speak with Monal Chokshi, Head of User Experience Research at Lyft. We discuss traditional paths to a user research career, creating routines for meeting different types of users, and the emergence of leadership roles in user research.

13. Kate Lawrence of EBSCO

In this episode I speak with Kate Lawrence, Vice President of User Research at EBSCO Information Services. Our conversation covers where to place user research in the organization, emotions in fieldwork, and empowering others to advocate for information literacy.

12. Pree Kolari of eBay

This episode features Pree Kolari, the Senior Director of Design Strategy and Research at eBay. We talk about the career arc of a researcher, having impact on the product, and breaking down organizational walls.

11. Gabe Trionfi of Pinterest

This episode features Gabe Trionfi, the Manager of Research at Pinterest. We discuss the evolution of user research, collaboration between disciplines and the journey versus the destination.

10. Elizabeth Kell of Comcast

In this episode I chat with Elizabeth Kell, the Senior Director of User Research at Comcast. We talk about the growth of Comcast’s user research practice, essential soft skills for research candidates, and putting a human face on the people that use your products.

9. Kavita Appachu of Kelley Blue Book

Today I chat with Kavita Appachu, the Senior Manager of User Experience Research at Kelley Blue Book. She describes the different roles she’s had in different organizations, moving from design to research, and explains the change effort underway at Kelley Blue Book.

8. Aviva Rosenstein of DocuSign

In today’s episode I speak with Aviva Rosenstein, the Senior Manager of User Experience Research at DocuSign. We explore how to make all types of research actionable, the benefit of doing your own recruiting, and the evolution from building a usability lab to having an in-house research capability.

7. Judd Antin of Airbnb

We kick off the second season with Judd Antin, the Director of Experience Research at Airbnb. Judd and I speak about their model for embedding talented generalists with product teams, skill-sharing among researchers, and just what exactly makes research “sexy.”

6. Carol Rossi of Edmunds.com

Today’s guest is Carol Rossi. She’s the Senior Director of UX Research at Edmunds.com. In our conversation, we discuss her small-but-mighty team, Edmund.com’s collaborative workplace culture, and the personal driver of “doing good.”

5. Kerry McAleer-Forte of Sears Holdings

Today’s guest is Kerry McAleer-Forte, the Director of User Experience Research for Sears Holdings. We discuss how researchers need to think like storytellers, getting at the underlying need behind a research request, and the risk of using research to make recommendations.

4. Nancy Frishberg of Financial Engines

My guest today is Nancy Frishberg, the manager of user research at Financial Engines. We discuss recruiting participants in an enterprise setting (where users are customers of your customers), finding the generative in the evaluative and how to think about collaborative workspace as entirely separate from reporting structure.

3. Frances Karandy of Citrix

Today’s guest is Frances Karandy, a senior manager within the Customer Experience Group at Citrix. We discuss doing product-focused research in a company with a large number of products, what to look for when hiring researchers, and how to select projects that not only support the business but also help team members to develop.

2. Alex Wright of Etsy

Today’s guest is Alex Wright, who is the director of research at Etsy. We discuss the partnership between qualitative and quantitative research at Etsy and how his background in journalism helps him with the storytelling aspects of managing the research function.

1. Gregg Bernstein of MailChimp

Welcome to the debut episode of Dollars to Donuts. Today’s guest is Gregg Bernstein, who manages customer research at MailChimp. We discuss how MailChimp uses research to uncover new product opportunities, how the right research artifacts can best provide value to different internal audiences and how humility is an essential soft skill for successful researchers.

Watch/read The Evolution of User Research: past, present and future with Steve Portigal

Kritika Oberoi and Looppanel did a great job editing down a long and discursive exchange into a few key takeaways. The full article is here.

I offered my high-level take on the history of user research, especially in tech.

Phase 1 – Research Consultants (aka the Caveman era): The first cohort of User Researchers in the field were primarily consultants—think IDEO, a particularly successful example emerging at this time. But while research consultants could be hired, in-house researchers were still a rare sight.
Phase 2 – Individual Contributors: As organizations started to realize the power of research, the function began to emerge within companies. But although there were individual contributors running research, they weren’t empowered—no big titles, not a lot of access to senior management, and a limited ability to influence crucial decision-making.
Phase 3 – Empowered Research Practices: Today we’ve entered the third phase—a phase where Research leaders have titles like Head of Research and Director of Insights. These leaders are empowered to build practices—hiring their own teams and influencing their peers in senior leadership to make decisions based on actual user insights.
And while every organization may not be at the same level of maturity, Steve sees the field as a whole headed in the direction of greater empowerment and influence, driven by hunger from verticals like Design & Product.

A dramatic shift in the industry


I talked about the two major drivers that have fed research growth in recent years:

#1 Consistent evangelization by industry leaders: Over the last 20 years, industry leaders have been advocating for research, demonstrating the impact of the practice, and teaching others their trade along the way. This consistent advocacy—speaking, writing books, organizing conferences, and so on—has helped organizations understand the value of research and learn how to run it themselves. Of course, the work is far from complete, but it was definitely effective.
#2 The rise of Design: UX Design has grown rapidly over the last decade, and Design leaders understand the need for research. Design teams have opened the door for Research inside companies, hiring talent and building a practice to enable better decision-making.

What has driven the growth in User Research?


In the final clip I talk about the tension between confidence and crises of confidence that happen in many growing companies.

Gaps start to emerge between the company’s vision and what users actually want and need. At some point in the journey, the reliance on vision instead of insight leads to a major failure—maybe a feature release epically fails, or an unexpected competitor that starts to grab market share.

It’s when the inherent confidence of the organization transforms into a crisis of confidence that a tipping point is reached and research emerges to bridge the gap between the company and its customers.

Where's the tipping point for organizations to believe in research?

There’s more in the full article.

Watch Steve present Stop Solving Problems! at CEDIM

I recently presented Stop Solving Problems! as part of the CEDIM Innovation Talk series. The 40 minute video is embedded below, and on YouTube here.

Webinar: Stop Solving Problems! - Steve Portigal

The old maxim says we should “Find a need and fill it;” while at a one level that is certainly true, even in this era of fetishized disruption, organizations seem to easily fall in love with the idea of being in the problem-solving business.

In this webinar, Steve reviews a number of different mindsets for creating products and services, consider their benefits and risks, and challenge you to go beyond a fixing mentality.

Watch Steve on Good Morning UX

Thanks to Rafael Burity and Rodrigo Lemes for having me as a guest on Good Morning UX. The one-hour episode is embedded below and can also be found on the episode home page and YouTube.

Are we really doing research? With Steve Portigal - Good Morning UX

We usually have this life training to ask questions, but it doesn’t make us researchers, to be honest. Especially when we are talking about learning from users, customers, stakeholders, etc.

As designers and researchers, we have this kind of “power” to help companies to avoid mistakes, bad ideas, and guesses. It has been becoming a huge differential in the industry of digital products, but to really take advantage of this ability is important to have some points in perspective.

This show will pass through some questions like:

Are we doing research well with a real impact on the business?

How a designer can be prepared to do it in the real world, in a short time but with quality?

Is there a difference between leaders with research or design backgrounds?

For this, we invited Steve Portigal a researcher who has interviewed hundreds of people and with a huge experience working in telecommunications, banking, media, energy, and e-commerce industries. He is the author of some important books and host of the Dollars to Donuts podcast. He helps companies to think and act strategically when innovating with user insights.

Listen to Steve on The Informed Life

Thanks to Jorge Arango for a great conversation on The Informed Life podcast. The half-hour episode is embedded below, available at the podcast site, and wherever you get yer podcasts. The episode page also has a transcript.

And I have found, over the last few years, that in addition to providing tactics and kind of mindsets and sort of, “here’s what I advise and recommend for you to be successful in doing this work.” In these interactions that we have in kind of these feedback sessions, the role that I’m often playing is in giving people confidence and being able to say, “oh, the thing that you are describing is very common.” Because I think people have some experience, it feels weird, and they’re like, “well, I’ve screwed this up.” And so I’m working hard to give people confidence and say… to affirm their experience, to validate the uncertainty and struggle they felt in it. And then maybe say, “yeah, here’s a thing that you can try,” or, ” you know, there are tactics to kind of address this.”

But they need the confidence as much as they need the tactics. Because they might get to those tactics on their own, but if they feel like, “this is not the right way to do it, I’m screwing this up,” because it is a weird thing, because you may find yourself feeling like you’re screwing up when you actually are succeeding, because you’re dealing with the absolute uncertainty of another person who you don’t know, who you’re spending time trying to get to know a little bit… it’s entirely unpredictable and uncontrollable. And so, all the ways that we expect ourselves to be successful is to be controlling for all that uncertainty, but it’s inherently uncontrollable to some extent.

So yeah, the more you do it, the more you either make mistakes or feel uncertain about an experience that you’re having and reflect on it, whether it’s through listening to a podcast where people are talking about this or reading a book, or, working with someone who’s more experienced, who can reflect back to you. Those are all ways that we do become more confident with these sort of… surprising or unexpected aspects of what the nature of the work is.

We say we value innovation and creativity…but do we?

It shouldn’t be a big surprise to anyone reading this that the uncertainty of something new and innovative creates a feeling of risk, and can discourage the pursuit of a creative option.

Some research from 2012 (The Bias Against Creativity: Why People Desire but Reject Creative Ideas) delves into that further.

“Prior research shows that uncertainty spurs the search for and generation of creative ideas, yet our findings reveal that uncertainty also makes us less able to recognize creativity, perhaps when we need it most.”

Via the New York Times,

“People actually have strong associations between the concept of creativity and other negative associations like vomit and poison,” said Jack Goncalo, a business professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Agony was another one.”

A new study shows how people unfavorably evaluate others who are described as being creative. It appears that even the mention of their creativity (as opposed to experiencing it directly) was sufficient to cause a negative assessment of the creative person.

Like many biases, being aware of their existence can be a first step to addressing them, but like many biases, their baked-in nature can make for a significant challenge to overcome.

Watch Steve on The Service Design Show

Thanks to Marc Fonteijn for having me back on The Service Design Show. The one-hour episode is embedded below and can also be found on YouTube.

User research - what to do when your company doesn't get it / Steve Portigal / Episode #127

Everything in service design starts with user research. But as you’ve probably experienced often it’s challenging to get the time and resources to do proper research.

And when research is already being done by an organisation it’s often not the type of research that we’d like to see.

It can be frustrating to see that user research isn’t making the difference you know it can.

So what does it take to push user research beyond it’s current limitations?

Author and industry icon, Steve Portigal has been thinking about this topic for some time now.

I invited Steve (back) on the Show to share his thinking and together explore what it takes to take user research to the next level.

And also ask the question: What is that next level in the first place?

Without proper user research you can’t do good service design. So it’s our job to make it more relevant and impactful.

This episode will show you how.

Listen to Steve on the Nodes of Design Podcast

Thanks to Ravi Tej for having me on the Nodes of Design podcast. The 35-minute episode is embedded below and can also be found on the podcast site.

In this episode, Steve shared wonderful insights on user interviews and why we do user interviews in design; we then discussed the framework of interviews using which we can gain great insights from users and few tips on actively listening and note-taking during interviews. In the latter part, Steve recommended five do’s and don’ts that designers/researchers must avoid while doing user interviews

Video of my Delta CX AMA

I recently did an Ask Me Anything session organized by Debbie Levitt of Delta CX. The video is now online.

23 Mar 2021: Office Hours/AMA, special guest Steve Portigal

We went for about 75 minutes and talked about learning to balance all different pressures when leading an interview, encouraging teams to support the need for research, helping teams to act on user research findings, and a lot more. Check it out!

What you asked/What they heard

In this video from 2016, basketball player Taurean Prince, in a post-game press conference, responds to a question about the team’s rebound performance with an explanation of how rebounds work.


I can’t tell from this clip if there’s an actual miscommunication or if Prince is being intentional, and for my purposes here, I don’t suppose it really matters.

It’s not uncommon to ask a question and get an answer to a different question, and while it can throw the conversation off, it can be a visceral reminder that we have different basic assumptions and that we need to work to overcome those, to bridge that gaps. Those miscommunications are awkward but they invite us to make the effort to realign.

The other day I met with a group over Zoom. As happens on video meetings, people adjust their video to communicate something about themselves, manage their privacy, etc. One person stood right in front of a heavily blurred background. Another was in front of a block of color with their company logo in the corner. Another person was clearly in a garage converted to a home office, and one person was in front of (what I assumed was) a painted scene, perhaps from some artwork. We each took turns introducing ourselves.

When we got to the person with the painted scene, I asked a followup question: “Can I ask about your background?”

They proceeded to describe a bit of their educational experience and how it led to the nickname that they go by nowadays.

My question should have been “Can I ask about your Zoom background?” but what they heard was “Can I ask about your personal background?” Given the nature of a video-platform-mediated conversation, I had forgotten that what they are showing of themselves doesn’t actually match how they see themselves (e.g, if they have turned off self-view, they aren’t even seeing that painted scene themselves).

I was mortified because the question they heard might have been too personal, perhaps asking them to explain or justify an unconventional nickname. I’m curious, of course, but I also have no right to start asking personal questions in the first few minutes of meeting someone! This is not how I want to start off our relationship!

I laughed in embarrassment, and tried to create a teaching moment, modeled by me and my own mistake, but even explaining that I asked the question poorly, the other person felt apologetic for misunderstanding me! Perhaps we established some rapport through this misunderstanding, if I’m idealistic I can imagine that we both worked together to find our shared space of understanding after this mistake (my mistake, for sure!).

The answer, by the way, is that what I assumed was “art” was an image from a video game. Of course video games can be art!

About Steve