Posts tagged “baychi”

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • UK teen sex education pamphlet emphasizes sex sex as healthy and pleasurable rather than warning about disease – "Health officials are trying to change the tone of sex education. The new pamphlet, called "Pleasure," has sparked some opposition from those who believe it encourages promiscuity among teens in a country that already has high rates of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases."

    Regardless of what you think of this morally, politically, etc., it's a powerful example of reframing a discussion and challenging closely-held beliefs in order to innovate.

  • Slides and audio posted for “Well, we did all this research … now what?” at BayCHI – BayCHI has relaunched podcasts and my recent BayCHI talk is among the first to be posted. You can listen to the audio, or you can watch the slides with embedded audio."Steve Portigal introduces a framework for synthesizing raw data into insights, and then creatively using those insights to develop a range of business concepts that respond to those insights and integrate a fresh, contextual understanding of a customer's unmet needs."

Now online: summary of “Well, we did all this research – now what?” at BayCHI

Keith Rayner ( has put together a detailed summary of last month’s BayCHI presentation featuring Kate Rutter and I each sharing our approaches for going from research to design. Hit the link for the whole review, but here’s an excerpt:

In a fascinating, interactive pair of presentations on product and services design, the audience gained valuable insights into design thinking and the design process. Both presenting companies, Adaptive Path and Portigal Consulting, help companies with the design process for product and services creation and improvement. The session dispelled any notion that these companies work in an intellectual ivory tower, remote from their clients. We saw how their methodologies effectively engage a client in the process, and how the design concepts get pushed through to final product creation. As an added bonus the audience got to join in, be creative and become part of the design process ourselves.

Steve is often asked by clients to help designers determine what’s going on with their products and services and find out what the future holds. For Steve, conducting research and turning field data into insights consists of two main aspects:

  • Synthesis – turning field data into insights
  • Ideation – turning insights into solutions

I’ll be running a half-day version of this workshop at EPIC later this summer as well a shorter version to be held in an East Coast city late fall (TBA).

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • PETA (hopefully tongue-in-cheek) attempts to rebrand fish as "Sea Kittens" – Sorta reductio ad absurdum re: my latest interactions column, Poets, Priests, and Politicians
  • Rug company Nanimarquina brings global warming to your living room – "If there is an iconic image that represents the natural devastation of global warming, it is the lone polar bear stuck on a melting ice flow. Now eco rug company Nanimarquina has teamed up with NEL artists to create a beautiful ‘Global Warming Rug’ – complete with stranded polar bear floating in the middle of the sea – to represent the most pressing issue of our time. Rugs have been traditionally used throughout the ages to tell stories and communicate messages, and we think this is a lovely, poignant new take on a time-honored tradition." What effect does it have when an issue like global warming gets iconified and aestheticized like this? Does it drive home the seriousness of the situation, or make it more palatable?
  • Asch conformity experiments – (via Eliezer Yudkowsky) Asch asked people about similarity of height between several lines. Confederates answered incorrectly and this influenced the subject themselves to support this incorrect answer.
  • Confirmation bias: the tendency to seek out information that supports what we already believe – (via Eliezer Yudkowsky) The 2-4-6 problem presented subjects with 3 numbers. Subjects were told that the triple conforms to a particular rule. They were asked to discover the rule by generating their own triples, where the experimenter would indicate whether or not the triple conformed to the rule. While the actual rule was simply “any ascending sequence”, the subjects often proposed rules that were far more complex. Subjects seemed to test only “positive” examples—triples the subjects believed would conform to their rule and confirm their hypothesis. What they did not do was attempt to challenge or falsify their hypotheses by testing triples that they believed would not conform to their rule.
  • Overcoming Bias – Blog by Eliezer Yudkowsky and others about (overcoming) biases in perception, decisions, etc.
  • Hindsight bias: when people who know the answer vastly overestimate its predictability or obviousness, – (via Eliezer Yudkowsky)
    Sometimes called the I-knew-it-all-along effect.
    "…A third experimental group was told the outcome and also explicitly instructed to avoid hindsight bias, which made no difference."
  • Planning fallacy – the tendency to underestimate task-completion times – (via Eliezer Yudkowsky) Asking people what they did last time turns out to be more accurate than what they either hope for or expect to happen this time
  • Cognitive Biases in the Assessment of Risk – (via Eliezer Yudkowsky) Another example of extensional neglect is scope insensitivity, which you will find in the Global Catastrophic Risks book. Another version of the same thing is where people would only pay slightly more to save all the wetlands in Oregon than to save one protected wetland in Oregon, or people would pay the same amount to save two thousand, twenty thousand, or two hundred thousand oil-stroked birds from perishing in ponds. What is going on there is when you say, “How much would you donate to save 20,000 birds from perishing in oil ponds,” they will visualize one bird trapped, struggling to get free. That creates some level of emotional arousal, then the actual quantity gets thrown right out the window.

    [I am not sure that's the reason why; I think there could be other explanations for the flawed mental model that leads to those responses]

  • Conjunction fallacy – (via Eliezer Yudkowsky) A logical fallacy that occurs when it is assumed that specific conditions are more probable than a single general one. Example: Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations.

    Which is more probable?

    1. Linda is a bank teller.
    2. Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.

    85% of those asked chose option 2 [2]. However, mathematically, the probability of two events occurring together (in "conjunction") will always be less than or equal to the probability of either one occurring alone.

Two great presentation – art + games; cyberculture as counterculture

Last week’s BayCHI program featured two exciting (if poorly attended) presentations. First, From Counterculture To Cyberculture: How The Whole Earth Catalog Brought Us Virtual Community by Fred Turner of the Stanford Department of Communication, and Be the Ball by Greg Niemeyer and Joe McKay of UC Berkeley.

Fred Turner gave one of those presentations that lulls me into thinking (for a mere moment) that it’d be fun to go back to school and be exposed to fast-moving big-thinking folks who can stream ideas at my head. His talk was a lot of fun and there’s no way to capture much of it. Maybe the associated book (note comments by Stewart Brand) would be the best suggestion? I haven’t read it but will be curious to hear from anyone who has.

Turner provides a highly synthesized historical/social/cultural perspective on the shift in computer technology (and Silicon Valley as the home for said technology) from a military, hierarchical technology to a green, revolutionary, participatory movement. He focuses on a specific set of folks like Stewart Brand, Kevin Kelly, John Perry Barlow and the connections between them, as well as the connections they had to other parts of culture (i.e., Barlow and the Dead scene). He referred to Ronald Burt‘s notion of a network entrepreneur as a better model for thinking about how these people all interacted.

With the Whole Earth Catalog going back to the 60s (basically a large format print publication that would catalog many items that would be useful to those living in a commune, from tractors, to tools, to how-to books, to fiction, and much more – interestingly picked up in Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools) setting some sort of foundation, a catalyzing event was a retreat that Brand convened right after the 1984 “Hackers” conference, spawned in part by Stephen Levy’s Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution (another point was the inclusion of journalists in these networks was very effective in growing them in just the right way), helped transform the public perception of hackers from destructive geeks to techno-revolutionaries.

He continued to described the creation of The Well, an early online forum that attracted much of this same culture – DeadHeads, Burning Man people, artists, hackers, and so on.

Underlying this great story was some interesting points about social forms of power versus rule forms of power. In other words, granting access or opportunity through merit versus who you know that is like you (and likes you). It was interesting to see what this group could build through those connections, but Turner himself acknowledged that he preferred the rules over the social power. All of which raises some big issues for me; that our culture claims to be merit-based, but clearly is hugely dominated by social power. How could children of presidents end up so prominently in politics if that were not true?

A final quote from Turner: “To be cool in America is to be granted the power to speak.”

For more academic seduction, check out the interesting course taught by Greg Niemeyer at Berkeley, including podcasts.

Along with Joe McKay (who seemed to play an engaged-but-thinks-before-he-speaks-slow-talking Paul Shaffer to Neimeyer’s fast-talking-can’t-slow-down-yet-collaborative David Letterman), they talked about games, but not as game designers, rather as artists. They showed a variety of interactive environments that were playful in nature and maybe illustrative of some point (i.e., the container filled with bamboo that monitors the oxygen flow in the space and generates jazz music where the energy level corresponds to the breathing pace of whoever is ihe space). It was a refreshing way to think about games and seemed to dovetail with John Seabrook’s recent profile of Will Wright in the New Yorker.

I enjoyed their quick personal history of the games they played throughout their life (no mention of Hotel Room Olympics, however, let alone the Ungame) and especially the demo they set up of a simple game where one stands on a platform and simply shifts weight (subtly) to move an on-screen paddle and shoot a ball into hoops that encircle it (hence the talk’s title Be The Ball). We got to try the game (something I’ve never seen at a BayCHI presentation).

Joe made a reference to Snakes and Ladders which was gratifying since I had recently been discussing the Chutes and Ladders title (more common with the Americans I know) versus the Snakes and Ladders that I encountered as a kid in Canada (where Joe also grew up). Wikipedia confirms that this is a US vs. UK difference.

And finally, Joe mentioned that his mother discovered “The Google” but is disappointed not to see new hits for him when she looks up, so hopefully Joe’s mom will find this!

Designing for Emergence

A recent BayCHI panel on Designing systems with emergent behavior featured Tim Brown (IDEO), Peter Merholz (Adaptive Path), Larry Cornett (Yahoo), and Joy Mountford (Yahoo), and was moderated by Rashmi Sinha.

My notes are up on Core77

Tim: Contrast that with physical design where you have more chances to test prototypes, with rapidly changing software, it’s too easy to do something new. Seems like a new feature got launched before a design process happened. Maybe they didn’t get to test it a little bit. Not referring to Beta, in videogames they are always testing all the time. It’s part of the design process. He prefers that to the classic Alpha Beta approach

Rambling thoughts on “User Research Strategies: What Works, What Does Not Work”

Last night’s BayCHI event was a good experience. A panel of champions of user research (Director, Manager, Lead, etc.) at key Silicon Valley companies (Google, Yahoo, Adobe, Intuit, and eBay) attracted a large and energetic crowd. The pre-meeting dinner was extremely well-attended. It felt like the discipline is having a good moment in the zeitgeist.

Each panelist gave a 10-minute summary of what’s going on at their firm. What types of methods they are using, how they are feeding design, strategy. How they might interface with market research and other areas of the business. Where they have been, historically, and what may have changed in how they are embraced (or not).

Rashmi Sinha moderated, and only spent a bit of time asking her own followup questions after the panelists finished; and then it was basically an hour (?) of audience questions. Although I stood up and asked a question, I would rather have had more questions from her and less from the audience (that’s my bias, I guess, as someone who’s played that role in the past); the audience questions are not usually about creating conversation, and the moderator is obviously in a role to do that. By the time we finished with questions people were asking about how to recruit participants for studies; a tactical question that had no place in this meeting, if we were there to discuss the practice and how it integrates into corporate America, then let’s not deal with newbie process questions. I’m not minimizing the importance of that question to the person who asked it, but it wasn’t on topic and kinda brought things down for me.

People mumbled afterwards about wanting to see some conflict between the panelists, who represented competitive firms (but maybe didn’t see themselves individually as competitors) and who sometimes expressed different points of view on how to use the tools of user research (it’s hard for me to be specific from memory, but there were several examples from Google about how user research wasn’t always necessary, but they were ridiculous examples, as in, “should we have told people not to build a search interface until they had done years of research” as the strawman questions, when I don’t think anyone was advocating years of research, more so the opposite). It wasn’t in panelists charge to debate what they heard from the others; they were there to tell their own story and they all did that very well.

Perhaps the comments about conflict are proxies for my desire for more conversation; something that (as user reseachers know) takes good questions, and frankly, audience members just aren’t going to ask good questions. This sounds terribly snobby and let me clarify – there are questions that are informational (what type of deliverables do you use? how do you recruit) and there are questions that provoke conversation and interaction.

There’s another panel phenomenon at work here – “question drift” – whoever answers the question first is the most on target; as other answers come from the panelists, we end up hearing about an entirely different question, and we’ve lost the thread. I don’t have a solution to this. Sometimes the drift is interesting, but often it’s just a bit frustrating.

So it was hard to take much specific away from the evening – there was a lot of info; a lot of bits of perspective and insight and jargon thrown out quickly, with something new on the heels, so I felt like it was an immersion more than an education.

But here’s what I took away:

  • this is a mature field; you can see the newer practices (Google) presented as adolescent next to their more wizened counterparts
  • I’ve lived as a consultant for a very long time; there’s a whole set of challenges and benefits that these corporate folks have that are almost alien to me – I felt very aware of how I can deal with some of their situations so much more easily, and how there’s so much more formalized and permanent processes being created that I’m not at all engaged with
  • it’s just tradeoffs and contrast, one isn’t better than the other, we need to be in-house and out-of-house both
  • it’s not clear to me how research is different from design (and I don’t mean Research and Design) – this was my question and I don’t know that I got an answer except a fallback to corporate structures (and one person pointed out that designers and researchers have very different skill sets, but that wasn’t my question – if this is collaborative work, can’t teams of people with complementary skills deliver ONE thing – “design” – rather than breaking it down so much) and formalized processes
  • this is a bit of a hot topic among software/tech/design types right now
  • MORE I REMEMBERED: Christian Rohrer from eBay defined success criteria for user research as impact (which I really liked), and he defined impact as
    1. credibility
    2. consumability
    3. relevance


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