Posts tagged “user research”

Listen to Steve on the Why UX? Podcast



Thanks to Helena Levison (“Queen of UX”) for having me on the Why UX? podcast to talk about Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries. The audio (28 min) is embedded above, and available on the episode page.

This was a particularly exciting conversation for me because over the past while Helena has been hosting a online book club where she reads from the book, and even features appearances from some of the authors of the stories themselves!

Read the recap of my Rosenfeld Media AMA

I recently did an “Ask Me Anything” session on the Rosenfeld Media Slack. We touched on subjects ranging from how to handle difficult clients, my favorite band, and recommended reading, to dealing with “heavy topics” in interviews and how to improve your skills. Here’s a recap of the session…

Q: What book except your own would you recommend to read for UX designer? -Natalia H.

A: There are so many things to learn about. For design, I think this recent book by Scott Berkun is a great examination of how design is everywhere and in everything. It’s a quick read, it’s fun, and it’s empowering for designers I think, telling us again about all that we do, we have done, we can do.


Q: I often deal with “heavy topics” such as life, disability, cancer etc in my line of work, so it is not unheard of that we have someone break down and cry in interviews. We try our best to mitigate and avoid unnecessary stress (participants health and safety is our primary concern and we tell them in advance about the topics that we will be discussing), but can you talk about some advice how to mitigate these situations or what to do when this happens? -Fabian B.

A: Of course the stress and the emotion is going to impact all the people involved, say the participant and the researcher. I think researchers need to keep in mind that they aren’t (in most cases) trained for this, and that they need to find ways to take care of themselves. Often we will emote less in the interview than we might want to, so we want to leave space for ourselves to have feelings, to have reactions, to have someone to talk to. Work out what that is going to be. Who are you going to be able to speak with? When will you be able to speak with them?

For the participant, I learned something new to me from Sarah Fathallah at the Advancing Research conference when she talked about referral paths, something that if you are doing academic research that has an IRB ethical review needs to be put in place (someone correct me if I have this wrong) – where you identify things that might come up, like if someone reveals they are being abused, or is going through addiction, or having suicidal thoughts, you already know what your action is going to be.

I don’t know that we need that level if we aren’t doing say specifically traumatic research, but it’s the idea of planning for that. I’m also not saying that we need to DO anything; I think well-intentioned but under-informed do-gooderism is potentially worse than doing nothing in certain situations.

The complexity here is you can’t come up with every possible thing that might come up. But you can come up with SOME. I am also intrigued by sort of a generational shift in how we see our role; from “we need to observe, listen, empathize, not judge” to “all those, but we must also help.”


Q: I suspect a lot of us always did at least some of our research remotely, but now with covid, we’re seeing way more remote/virtual research. What are a couple of your top best practices for doing remote research well and getting high-quality information from respondents? -Amy B.

A: I think it’s worth co-opting that thing I see tweeted all the time “you aren’t working from home, you are working from home amidst a global pandemic.” Same for research, right? All the parties are living through an emergency. So yes, there may be dogs and kids, and construction noise, and someone may be in their garage so they can get some privacy. And as we’ve adapted our tolerance for informality in terms of focus, energy, duration, attention in work, we can apply those to these interactions with strangers. A guy I spoke with yesterday put us on pause as his daughter asked for the car keys, she just got her license the day before. It was fine. I didn’t get ruffled like I might have in another time (no that’s crazy I’m nothing if not entirely cool and rolling with the changes). I don’t have a good answer for how fully remote research locks us out of getting to certain people. I just had a brainstorm with a colleague who was thinking about how to understand how people were or will be using transit, given that we can’t go on transit right now, and that the people who he’d want to learn about are possibly not sitting at home with a room with a laptop and a webcam and a good internet connection that is available all the time for them to just get on a call with us over Zoom. So who are we excluding even more so now (as society is excluding people in those circumstances even now) ? I know people are trying hard to deal with this, but I don’t know?


Q: Which musical group has had an interesting impact on your life and how? -Corey B.

A: I’m going to say The Tragically Hip. Being an expat Canadian, when the Hip would come to town it was always an interesting gathering of the community, at least a bunch of fellow Canucks. You’d go to a show and see hockey jerseys and University leather jackets, and just stuff you don’t EVER see in the US. And as time passed, we all got older, the fans got older, the band got older, and how we expressed ourselves and our identity shifted, gradually. I haven’t really moved through an era of my life as clearly in common with other people, not close friends, just strangers, but to feel it so tangibly through ANOTHER experience has impacted me. And of course the ultimate end of aging is death and the loss of Gord Downie still impacts me every day pretty much. I listen to the band and my many bootlegs and think about them and him, constantly. Perpetually.


Q: Do you have any tested tips/tricks on working with difficult clients? I recently had a challenge of convincing the client to use our approach when they wanted to do something else. Curious to hear what you do in such situations. -Kama K.

A: I don’t know enough about the context, and the power dynamic, as I think it often comes down to that. Two big directions, though: Empathy/Walk away. For the first, and I don’t mean to tell you stuff you already probably know and do in all your relationships, but there is that weird power to detoxify some broken interactions when you just listen, when you ask more, when you acknowledge, etc. Probably this has some buzzword for leadership people, I don’t know what that is. It sets you up to say authentically “Yes, And, and not No, But.”

For the second, if someone is a client, then you aren’t in a full-time job with them. Of course as someone who also provides services to clients, I want to do a good job, I want to be appreciated, I want to bring value, I want to be employed, and brought back in, etc. So I don’t like that framing that design people in agencies sometimes like to espouse which is making the client the enemy. But we can walk away. And even if we just hold in our head that we have the OPTION of walking away can making a less desired choice perhaps more tolerable. I’m CHOOSING to do this which I don’t agree with and which distresses me but I could and may at some point choose NOT to do it.


Q: What are your most counter-intuitive insights about research as it propagates through the product development process? -Scott W.

A: I don’t know that I can claim counter intuitive as a goal, if you agree with me then it’s probably not THAT counter intuitive? I think there’s this desire to create models and visuals that say if you are here do this, if you are here do that. Whether that’s the double diamond model or (VERY HELPFUL) recommendations for methods based on a stage in a process like Christian Rohrer’s.

I just am not that organized, I am just not able to constrain myself to a discrete stage, maybe I’m trees and that’s the forest and I just can’t do the forest well enough. That all being said, I think there’s something about how these processes are a continuum, a gradient, and not stages. I know Software Development Lifecycle Methodologies are all about gates, and stages, and review cycles, and (ugh) sprints, but I think in terms of where we are in terms of certainty, of belief, of ideas, it’s a much more creative process, I can’t control what thoughts I have in the shower in that way we have of considering and being inspired about what it means, what to do, what the opportunity is. Some of that is always happening for creative people – and research is ABSOLUTELY a creative process of sense making and understanding.


Q: Are there any topic(s) or technique(s) you hope more places of instruction cover for individuals entering into research? -Randolph D.

A: As you know, I love storytelling, and I think it’s such a powerful tool, but it’s just kind of considered to be something that is maybe part of your personality, your own personal toolbox. But obviously it can be taught, practiced, developed. Research is about gathering stories and creating new stories, and “story” is of course an ENORMOUSLY broad construct so one can take it however one likes.

I mentioned ethics in another question, I think as a field we haven’t reckoned with it sufficiently. I’d like people coming into the field to have a perspective on it. I know a researcher who wrote up their own research philosophy, not even as a document to publish but as a way of working out what they were trying to do. I was extremely impressed with that.

Research as a practice to me is a constant consideration of who we are in the world, as people, how we relate to other people, how we judge and don’t judge, and just how we move around and exist and perhaps make and help. So, being intentional about what you believe and what you want, damn. It’s a brilliant activity. I haven’t ever done that and hadn’t ever thought of doing it. So philosophy isn’t ethics literally but is adjacent?

I’d like something in training – and I don’t know that the places people are learning about research are the right environments to be considering this aspect – about what the researcher’s role is relative to the rest of the people they work with. I do not like the idea of research as “support” – you hear “oh I support three teams” – I know research is a helping profession like say librarians, and I don’t mean to squelch that strength, but I think we are partners and leaders, and if we don’t believe in the value we can bring in the role we can play, no one else will. I think it’s a hard field to break into and there are a lot of entry level people and so if they are told they have to be subservient, that can set a long running pattern for their career and for the practice.


Q: Someone interested in working with us recently asked how we recommend she improve her interview skills. I recommended your books, but are there any classes or seminars you might recommend as well? -Amy B.

A: I’m going to pitch my upcoming workshop. Also very very good is the cycle of “do, observe, reflect.” (which probably has a smarter name than I’m giving it). Listen to Terry Gross – listen to her technique. Reflect on her technique. Print out a transcript and mark it up. What choices did she make? What other choices could she make?

Listen to your own interviews. Print them out. Listen to a colleague’s interviews. Same same. Have someone ELSE listen to your interviews. Have someone else mark up Terry Gross (or anyone who does a lot of interviews).

I think training will get you further than you are, but practice, man practice is the way. Do a lot of interviews. A LOT. Reflect and analyze!


Q: What are some tips for building rapport in remote interviews? (with camera and without camera) -Erika

A:
One avenue to explore is pointing to the medium, just acknowledging that you are doing what you are doing. And not pretending that you are as smooth as you are when you are in the same room. I did an interview yesterday where I had to share screen from Google Slides (not what I normally use for giving talks) and see speaker notes and it’s just a mess, and so I stopped and said what was going to happen, and then you heard the “unprofessional” sounds of me, saying, “Okay I’m going to hit share screen…yeah I think it’s shared now, okay, now I’m doing this, can you see this?” It just normalizes the interaction so you are both having a similar experience.

One thing I think needs to be explored is around shared sensory experiences. I saw Alice Waters talk recently and she described how she’d meet with people and she’d put a piece of fruit or something else down in between them and they’d just eat it beforehand and it created these interesting connections and well, rapport.

I don’t know how to operationalize this for remote research but I’m imagining having everyone pet their furry animal before starting and just sharing that moment that is about the senses, even though we are having our own experiences, we are having similar ones together. I think there’s probably some work to do to create that in a non-weird-sounding way.

Sign up for either of my new Masterclasses, hosted by Business of Software

I’ll be teaching two Masterclasses in partnership with Business of Software. You can sign up for either one, or both!

The first is User Research – Uncovering compelling insights through interviews being held on Tuesday June 16th and Thursday June 18th (9-11am PT / 12pm-2pm ET / 5-7pm BST).

Following that is We’ve done all this user research, now what?, Tuesday June 23th and Thursday June 25th (9-11am PT / 12pm-2pm ET / 5-7pm BST).

Hope to see you at either of these masterclasses!

Here’s a whole pile of new episodes of Dollars To Donuts

Dollars to Donuts

In the past couple of months I’ve managed to post a raft of new episode of Dollars To Donuts, the podcast where I speak with people who lead user research in their organization.

Here are the latest episodes

You can also find the podcast on Stitcher, Spotify, Google Play, and Apple.

Tamara’s War Story: Piercings, Power and Getting Older

Tamara Hale leads the research practice at Workday. She presented this story live at the Advancing Research conference. (This post will be updated with videos etc. as available)

As a researcher, I’m quite used to changing my appearance and my bodily practices to fit the circumstances. I’ve donned a headscarf when recruiting door-to-door at the Mosques of East London. I’ve traded my butch boots for kitten heels when interviewing scientists who adhere to biblical beliefs of Creationism. I’ve dyed my hair black and acquired a rural accent to better pass as a Peruvian when conducting research in Peru. From Managua to Caracas, I received instruction from my hosts about how to walk the Latin American city with purpose, and how to develop a second pair of eyes in the back of my head. That’s right, in my research experiences, I have literally relearned how to walk.

A few years ago I was about to embark on a research trip to Tokyo. I knew enough about Japanese business culture to consult the interpreter I had hired about appropriate dress for doing business in a large, traditional Japanese company. I wanted to know specifically should I remove the multitude of visible piercings I had acquired in the last few years? Earlier in my career I’d been a consultant, and had done a lot of work for conservative financial services firms and had been part of large sales pitches. But then I joined a California-casual tech company, in an arguably more casual Colorado office. Over the years, what my business suits accumulated in dust, my ears collected in precious metals. It was probably a good idea to remove the piercings, my interpreter confirmed.

Soon I arrived in Tokyo and in the tiny hotel room I proceeded to carefully remove my jewelry. After my sacrificial act of extraction, I made my way to dinner with the team. I’d only met the product manager a few times, mostly over video conferencing tools, and as soon as she walked in, with her gleaming nose stud, I realized that I’d neglected to share my knowledge about piercings and Japanese business attire with her. What to do now?

To some people (perhaps non-researchers especially?) the acts of bodily modification and change to my bodily practices that I have undergone for research may seem inauthentic, maybe even a betrayal of my unique “self”- that which has come to be called “identity”. The reality is more complex. Other people familiar with fieldwork that crosses cultural boundaries, will understand that at times such modification comes from a place of respect, and an attempt to lessen the distance between ourselves and our research participants. Further, women, people of color, LGBTQ folks and other minorities are deeply familiar with having to modify bodies and bodily practices as steps for protection and self-preservation, necessary acts to go about living in spaces that were not designed with us in mind or deliberately designed to exclude us. Yet other acts of bodily modification are ways to enact agency, to question and subvert the social and cultural constraints imposed on some, even while some bodies’ trespassings are scrutinized more heavily than others.

All of these thoughts went through my head over dinner and I was unsure of what to do with them. I chose not to mention anything to the product manager. The next day over coffee before our first customer visit, I fretted with my interpreter, “What should I do?! Should I ask my colleague to remove her beautiful nose stud?!”

He informed me matter of factly not to worry too much about it since it was going to be obvious to our customers that I was the “serious business lady” and that the PM was the “cool, young California kid”. My heart sank. What the f*&?! Clearly this guy didn’t understand – I’m the one working in the Design department! I’m hip! ‘I have an asymmetrical haircut!’ What’s more, how dare he refer to me as a “lady”? I’m a millennial! Just barely, but still!

But then he added that what was important was that in the eyes of the customer, I, an important, formidable, business leader had been sent to listen to their concerns and relay them back to executives in our company – and that I conveyed the part authentically. I was reminded in that moment, that whatever image I had attempted to craft for myself was at best tenuous and always subject to interpretations that I could not control. At the same time, I realized that many of the bodily adaptations I have undergone over the course of my career have allowed me to discover and come into alternate and new versions of myself. Through practicing research over more than a decade and a half, I’ve learned not to hold on too tightly to the ideas I’ve constructed about myself. And so, at once humbled, and feeling a little more powerful than usual (at least for the day) I stepped into the elevator to meet our customer.

Randy’s War Story: Don’t Fall Flat

Randolph Duke II is an Experience Strategist with Cantina. He is always open to connecting on Slack or LinkedIn. He presented this story live at the Advancing Research conference. (This post will be updated with videos etc. as available)

As a researcher, you come to expect the unexpected. But that doesn’t mean you don’t get surprised. I had received my first project as the lead researcher and designer for an internal IT group. The IT group hired me to help them learn about and fix some internal software tool. I agreed to a really tight deadline so the client provided an employee to support and shadow me. We’ll call her “Laura”. Laura was really bright and took well to instruction – the ideal apprentice, if you will. Although I shared some potential questions I might use during employee observations, I warned her that fieldwork could go any which way and that she should try to be ready for anything. I hadn’t realized we were both going to need that advice.

Two days into visiting offices across their different buildings, we were finally scheduled to meet “Carol”. Carol was important to my small data pool; she represented an important team within the company and previously shared unfiltered, critical feedback. Compared to her colleagues more nuanced responses, we knew time with Carol was going to be different. Upon introducing myself and thanking Carol for her time, she immediately responded with “I know who you are and I have opinions.” Before I could even come up with a response I just instinctively smiled and thought I am going to need to bring my A game. I planned to be approachable and responsible in guiding a fruitful conversation instead of just letting her complain. As therapeutic as it might’ve been for Carol, I needed to help Laura and myself understand why Carol felt the ways that she did so we could do something about it later. That’s what I planned, at least.

I first attempted to build rapport by asking Carol to describe how she works which immediately sent us down another path. One of the first things Carol brought up was a coworker she introduced to the company: Flat Carol. Flat Carol was a nearly life-size cardboard cutout of Carol. It was a 10-year old photo of her, smiling and holding a phone to her ear. It had a blank speech bubble encrusted with the remnants of old pieces of Scotch tape. I was caught completely off guard! Was this something that people just did here? I looked to Laura to gauge if something like this was somehow common and the look on her face confirmed that yes, Flat Carol was definitely out of the ordinary. I had warned Laura to be ready for nearly anything but here I was the one who needed to act. I thought to myself: do I find a way to make this conversation more about the software as scheduled or do I show Laura how to react to the unplanned?

In the few seconds I had to collect my thoughts I made my decision: I was going to be as present for Carol as possible. How could I hold onto a well-intended plan of talking about software when Laura and I had the chance to meet “someone” Carol was willing to share? I put down my question guide, and just focused on Carol. She told us how she put Flat Carol in her seat when she was away from her desk, whether she was going on vacation or as far as the restroom. How Flat Carol would have kind words or notes taped to the speech bubble for people passing her desk. We occasionally spoke about company processes connected to the software research, but that wasn’t my priority. Every so often I would look over at Laura to see what she was gaining from this experience and saw several approving nods, smiles, and fervent note taking. By the end, Carol shared that she was grateful for our conversation and Laura was relieved. Once we left Carol, Laura let out a sigh of relief and said “I don’t think I could ever recover the way you did.” That’s what research is about.

In mentoring Laura (who was, after all, still my client), I had spoken generally about being ready for anything, but when we were faced with a real surprise in the field, I had to live up to those words in a way that surely exceeded what either of us had in mind. We all walked away better for it.

Tamara’s War Story: Sea Legs

Tamara Hale leads the research practice at Workday. This story is adapted from Hale, T. 2018 People Are Not Users. Journal of Business Anthropology. 7(2):163-183. She will be telling a completely new story at the Advancing Research conference.

A ferry boat is a place of questionable comfort for conducting research. A ferry boat in a storm is an altogether different matter, as I found out several years ago, when I was researching the experience of travelers sailing across the English channel between Dover and Calais, on one of Europe’s biggest ferry companies.

My objective was to inform a complete redesign of the newest fleet of ships, based on an understanding of the needs of ferry travelers: from queuing, to parking and wayfinding to the deck, to using the facilities on board and deboarding, all viewed through the perspective of service design. I spent a week observing and interviewing couples, families, traveling groups, truckers and staff on the ship. With time I felt I had become part of its very inventory: adapting to the ebb and flow of passengers for their three hour crossing. At each port, the ferry emptied itself of people, cars, buses and trucks and grew quiet, as if the ship sighed in relief and then braced in anticipation for the next wave of passengers. While the staff cleaned up from the last crossing and prepared for the next sailing, I would organize my fieldnotes and change the batteries on my audio recorder (yes, we had those back then). With multiple crossings a day I eventually forgot which port we were at, and it was only by locating a flag on the docks outside that I would know whether we were in Dover or Calais at any given time.

In my second week of fieldwork, just as I became accustomed to the daily routine of life aboard the ferry boat, I found myself suddenly in the midst of a formidable storm. As the waters grew rougher, and the ship floor started responding to the undulation of the tempestuous waves, I gave up on asking passengers to show me around the ship because none of us could walk or stand confidently. Instead I wobbled over onto the luxury travel deck, hoping for some relief amidst the red velvet lounge sofas, oak bar, and unobstructed ocean views. There I attempted to interview a retired couple on their vacation, my audio recorder sliding back and forth on the table between us. But I was soon forced to abort the interview, trying my best not to throw up on the red velvet, or worse, my research participants. The ferry staff, seeing my distress, tried to assure me that this weather did not pose a threat to our lives, while simultaneously scooping up the wine and champagne glasses off the bar into the safety of lockable wooden cabinets. At the end of the night, I stumbled off the ship to my hotel, wondering if I could ever set foot on another boat.

After a few nights of rest, I returned to the ship to complete my research over a span of a few much calmer days, this time focusing on truck drivers who regularly made the crossing with different concerns than my holiday travelers. I attempted to regale my research participants with the story of my storm of Titanic proportions days earlier, an endeavor which sparked pity and laughter rather than admiration. I wrapped up fieldwork as I always do, with a sense of deep humility and an expanded sense of different lifeworlds. This time, however, that humility was less intellectual in nature than corporeal.

The storm had added a new layer of complexity to my role in the project and to my personal and bodily relationship with the site of my research, the ship. Through the storm I became acutely aware that, despite my best intentions, I had treated the ship primarily as a backdrop for my interviews instead of considering it as a space and material object that seemingly possessed its own agency. The affordances of the ship when activated by the storm had challenged my sense of safety, comfort, and routine and replaced it with fear, confusion and malaise. Through my own body I learned of the ship’s potential to make its passengers feel a range of emotions and physical sensations. This attuned me more fully to the ship’s design shortcomings, to travelers’ and staff needs, and ultimately enhanced my ability to shape the decisions in the design and funding of the new fleet. While I never did fully find my sea legs on that research trip, I had reached a turning point in my appreciation of the spaces and environments in which research takes place.

My talk “Great User Research (for Non-Researchers)” at Mind the Product

I recently spoke in front of a 1500+ person audience at Mind the Product. My 25-minute talk was Great User Research (for Non-Researchers). The video is embedded below and is available here. Also below is the write-up by Emily Tate (originally posted here) and some audience sketchnotes.


Researchers often have concerns about what will happen when “other people” go out and do work with users. But the demand for research far outweighs the supply of researchers, and everyone wins when more people are enabled to do research themselves. At #mtpcon San Francisco, Steve Portigal, Principal at Portigal Consulting, tells us how to quickly level up our research skills as product managers across the lifecycle of a research effort.

Steve tells us how to be more effective in the three main elements of research: planning research, conducting research, and acting on research.

Planning Research

Ultimately, our goal is to learn from interactions with our customers. However, we typically focus on researching only if our product is usable or if people like the thing we’re making. In research we should be looking at broader questions, and proper planning will help ensure we are getting the answers that we need.

What are we Trying to Accomplish?

Research planning should include three areas:

  • Business question: What challenge does the business face?
  • Research objective: What do we hope to learn to help us answer that business question?
  • Participant questions: What questions can we ask customers to help us achieve that research objective?

We often skip straight to writing participant questions without addressing the other two areas, and end up with unfocused interviews that don’t fully get us the answers we’re looking for.

How are we Going to Accomplish it?

Steve highlights a few considerations when planning how to go about research.

  • What method of research should I use? It is easy to conflate “research” with “testing” and only focus on validating what we already have. But there are many research methods we can use.
  • Who should I learn from? You don’t have to focus only on the people who are already using your product. Think about who else in the customer journey might have insights that could have an impact on your understanding of the customer’s needs.
  • How should I interact with them? Remote work is easier than ever, so it is tempting to think using collaboration tools like Zoom or Skype are enough. But you learn so much by pushing yourself outside your comfort zone and interacting with people in their environment. Make sure you spend at least some portion of your research in the field.

Doing Research

Steve provides some tips for talking to your customers once you’ve planned your research.

  • Specific questions are better than general questions. The more specific you can be, the better a user will be able to answer.
  • Don’t ask users what they do. Ask them for an example of a time they have done something, and then ask if it was typical.
  • Ask follow up questions to get to specifics. If a user gives you general answers, asking for stories or examples will help you move beyond surface level and into deeper insights.

He also highlights some common mistakes we make in understanding our role as an interviewer.

  • Don’t provide the answer in the question. You may want to try to provide some examples to help guide the user, but this ends up tainting their response.
  • Don’t try to build rapport by telling the participant ways you are just like them. This removes the focus from the user and pulls it back to you. Hold off on sharing your experiences and just continue asking them questions.
  • Don’t become the expert. Users will often ask questions like: “Is this feature going to be in the next version?” Answering this, even if you know the answer, will change your role from researcher to expert and it is very difficult to get back into research mode. Ask: “Why is that important to you?” instead.
  • Don’t correct the user. You’ll have users mispronounce your product name, or ask for features you already have, or any number of things that you will want to correct them. Don’t do it. This, again, makes you the expert and harms the research.
  • Use the language they use. Don’t add acronyms they haven’t mentioned, or try to sound smart by using terminology they’re not using. Let them be the expert.

Your goal in interviewing is to make the user comfortable. Your aim should be to move from “Question-Answer” to “Question-Story”. Continuing to ask questions and follow ups will help you build that rapport.

Steve also recommends recording your interviews. We can’t take notes fast enough to capture everything, so our notes become filtered versions of what we heard. Having a recording to return to gives you the full context and allows you to revisit the interview with fresh eyes.

When interviewing, it is important to avoid bias and try to look to new situations as learning. We also need to have empathy for the people we’re interviewing. But we are all human, and our own feelings can creep into our interactions. When you feel yourself moving into a judgmental mode:

  • Hear your own judgement
  • Refute the assertion
  • Use new data to flesh out your new thinking

Stress also hinders empathy. So make sure you plan your research in a reasonable manner so you’re not trying to do too much in too short a timeframe.

Acting on Research

Once you talk to people and write up your key takeaways, you are not done. Truly getting to new insights is a combination of analysis and synthesis.

  • Analysis is breaking out larger pieces into smaller pieces, such as breaking out the insights you heard in interviews.
  • Synthesis is combining those smaller pieces into larger ones to gain new understanding, such as taking the insights from multiple interviews and bringing together common themes.

When doing synthesis, you should go back to your business problem and what your stakeholders were looking for in the beginning. This will make sure you’re pulling the insights that will help answer the questions you were trying to understand. You should also make sure you’re presenting the information in a way that your stakeholders can consume to avoid research being dismissed.

Research is very important, but also very difficult. Being intentional in how you plan, do, and act on research will help to ensure you are get value out of the time you spend on it, and help you truly to understand your customers, and build products that solve their problems.


Ty Hatch



Mateo Fern

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)?

How To Unlock The True Power Of User Research / Steve Portigal / Episode #52

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.

Like/Unlike #6: Steve Portigal

sorry about the occasionally blurry video

Listen to Steve on Helping Sells Radio

I had a really enjoyable conversation with Sarah E. Brown and Bill Cushard for their Helping Sells Radio podcast.

The episode is posted here and embedded below

Research is sometimes about not doing anything at all

“Sometimes the best thing you can do in user research is to sit on your hands,” Portigal said. For example when talking to someone and they use a product feature in a different way than you intended or mispronounce the name of your product. “Just let them talk, don’t correct them,” he advised.

By sitting back and letting the interview subject take control of the language they use and how they explain things, you’re giving them the power in the session. The power in any interview tends to lie with the interviewer, so by sitting back and letting them speak however they like, you’re giving it back to them.

The bonus lesson here is that interviewers are getting a first-hand look at the customer perspective and they can use that information to shift their own mindset. It can be hard figuring out what customers are thinking about or what they’re looking to get out of your products, so any interview you do with them helps with that. You are so invested in your product and so focused on it that it can be hard to step away and look at it from another view point. User research interview sessions give you that opportunity.

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