Posts tagged “user research friday”

Recap of Steve and Julie’s URF10 synthesis workshop

Our friends at Bolt | Peters hosted their (mostly) annual User Research Friday event last week, bringing together practitioners from the client-side as well as consultants to share stories and discuss best practices. Some of our takeaways from the day are here.

The day before the conference, Steve and Julie co-led a sold-out workshop titled “We’ve Done All This Research- Now What?” for a group of 20 enthusiastic researchers and designers.

Julie and Steve in action

The purpose of the workshop was to practice the process of moving from the data and observations we gather in fieldwork toward opportunities and ultimately to ideas.

We framed this as a research project to inform a neighborhood redevelopment/gentrification effort. Before the workshop, participants first wandered their own neighborhoods…

Thanks to Nick Leggett from Zazz for this aerial shot from their Seattle offices

Noe Valley scene (a San Francisco neighborhood) captured by Julie

…and then when we got together, they the explored neighborhood surrounding Bolt | Peters for more data.

This machine shop just down the street from Bolt | Peters has been there for decades

6th street buzzes, about two blocks from the conference

Break-out groups took the synthesis tasks to heart and, in a very short period of time, collaboratively surfaced promising opportunities and strategies and solutions to address them.

We were humbled by the gentle empathy and creativity of the folks in the room. The morning served as an inspiring reminder of just how much progress a handful of smart, dedicated people can make on seemingly-intractable problems in a very short period of time.

More amazing photos, observations, output, and thoughtful commentary can be seen on the blog we created for the workshop.

The workshop slides are below.

See previously: Steve Portigal’s presentation from User Research Friday 2008

URF10: Research, Creativity and Astonishment

Many thanks to our friends at Bolt|Peters for hosting an energizing User Research Friday last week! Dan and I heard a recurring theme of research and creativity, both in method and mindset. Dan noted that several people spoke about research and creativity as though they were separate, and that combining them was somehow novel. But research done well, from framing the problem through storytelling, is creative by nature!

In particular I was struck by how Michal Migurski of Stamen (see his annotated slides here and video here) framed his discussion on their creative visualizations of information streams for Digg Labs and the Twitter Track for the Olympics (to name just a couple) as research-free, when we saw their work as a terrific illustration of a pretty standard method: Using stimulus (in this case the visualizations themselves) to do rapid prototyping based on immediate user feedback, all as a way to guide development. He even talked about Digg Labs as a “wide-open playing ground” for this kind of cycle of experimentation.

One of many visualizations on Digg Labs

NBC Olympics Real Time Twitter Tracker

Even beyond that, Migurski implied that Stamen’s visualizations have become research tools that help people to understand, navigate and make use of vast swathes of data, such as the journalist who keeps the Digg example up on his screen as a snapshot of what’s got buzz. So Stamen’s gorgeous visualizations are really a product of research as well as possibly a nascent research method. If their creation doesn’t feel to Migurski like deliberate research methods are being employed that may be because it’s just so embedded in their process. I’d argue that’s the best kind of research: an integral part of the process.

Now, terms like “User Research” are slippery, but I do object to his definition:

“User research, to me, is an attempt to mitigate and control astonishment by determining what an audience believes or expects, and where possible delivering on that belief and expectation. User research promises stability and predictable outcomes, and I think that we’re at a curve in the road where the idea of stability is just not all that interesting.”

This sounds like the objectives of conventional focus group or usability testing, not the front-end discovery methods that are at the core of our discipline. Our goal is not simply to determine what consumers believe or expect and then use those observations as marching orders, but to creatively synthesize these discoveries into insights about what people need and value, in order to drive the development of experiences and products that delight and (why not!) astonish.

Overall, the content at URF10 left us hungry for more discussion about how creative research methods are used as a set of inputs and methods that complement and inform design and business strategy at many stages of the development process.

Finally, a tip of the hat to presenter Ed Langstroth of Volkswagen for telling us about the “Party Mode” button (which turns up the bass in the back of the vehicle) on the new Toyota 4-Runner:

For more User Research Friday goodness, check out Steve’s 2008 User Research Friday presentation: Research and Design: Ships in the Night? (slides, audio, and video here) and the subsequent articles in interactions: Part I and Part II .

User Research Friday: Research and Design, Ships In the Night? (Updated)

(Updated to include audio, video, and interactions article)

Here are my User Research Friday slides, along with audio and video. For me, the discussion at the end (there was a bit of stunned first-talk-of-the-day silence during question period so I turned it around on the audience and asked them to comment on the Escher-esque slide about design->research->design->) was the most stimulating part.

Listen to audio:

I’ve turned this talk into a two-part column for interactions; Get a PDF of the first part here here and the second part here.

User Research Friday

This past Friday was, well, User Research Friday.

Here’s the obligatory shots of backs of heads and a person and a slide. Comments on the whole thing follow the pictures.

I am so appreciative of all the work put in by the folks that organized User Research Friday; the constraints of the (un)conference problem are pretty extreme and they struck the best balance they could, given the effort put in (i.e., it was free, and all done by volunteers, and that’s appropriately going to limit what is being created; this isn’t TED). I’m looking forward to the next one, too.

It continues to be amazing what people can do in terms of throwing together an event with little budget, planning, advance notice, etc. And what goes with these unconventional events is a rethinking of the purpose of such a gathering.

We (and this is the collective we, as participants and organizers of events) are still not there yet; I haven’t seen one of these work to its potential (although the effort/payoff ratio is much better than a big expensive event, too, so part of the problem is common across events in general more than the specific approach; I’m more likely to (constructively) critical because these events are at least trying to rethink the approach). There’s a tension between the different goals that people come to these things with, and the way the event is configured to address those needs: content, discussion, and networking being the biggest ones I can suss out.

The content here was so-so. One presentation was a bald-ass sales pitch, complete with a pre-emptive slide for anyone who might disagree with the value of what was being sold, referred to as “that guy” – no one would want to be “that guy” would they? The ones that always asks those (eye roll) questions? Sheesh. Great to address the FAQs that come up, but no need to be such a dick about it. At least one talk went entirely over my head. Others shared some case studies in an informative and direct fashion.

Sadly much of the content dealt with workarounds for the constraints of business today. No time to go see customers, who are too far away and may be in a situation where we can’t go see them at the time of most relevance. Can we get someone else to go see them? Or can we put a piece of technology in place that can intermediate? In general, these are good solutions to real problems, but I fear I’m watching the field drift into a spot I’m not so crazy about. I realize this reflects the Bay Area/Silicon Valley thing and had I attended EPIC or AWF I wouldn’t be struck by the contrast. Any of our local events that are self-generated in terms of content suffer the same techno-drift (see DCamp, etc.).

Only one presentation was designed to elicit some sort of dialog (not that others presenters should have taken that approach; the format didn’t really support it).

The event offered little in terms of discussion. There are tons of people in the room, so as many questions as possible in the short session length were taken. But any large-number-of-participants event will rarely build into any new conclusion, it’s merely clarification after comment after clarification. There was to be a panel session (and I was asked to be a panelist) but the organizers decided to cut it. I am not sure why. Time? Lack of focus for a topic? Too much content? Of course, I wanted my fifteen minutes, so I felt bad and my perspective on the value of the panel is filtered strongly by my desire to have been involved in the panel. Breaks, if any, between presentations were brief and some folks no doubt were reviewing content with each other, while others were just chatting, queuing, and drinking (yeah, there was free wine and beer and eventually champagne)!

The networking was crammed into that time as well. I enjoyed having a printout of the signups ahead of time so (as an introvert, I guess) I could plan for who I could see that I knew; as well as having other brief chances to meet others.

The post-presentations networking (where more food and booze came out) was a bit disappointing; it was Friday so people left to go to their other lives fairly quickly. I imagined it running later than advertised, but it petered out earlier, so I was a bit bummed on that front.

I was struck by how much focus and interest there was on the presentations themselves; I pictured more hallway chatting going on adjacent to the talks, but we all gravitated towards the talks.

I’ve not been involved in anything more salon-like; smaller, more focused, with some intention to produce some result by the end. I’m not sure I’m ready to organize something myself, but I’m definitely interested in that, as a contrasting experience.


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