Posts tagged “user research”

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.

Highlights from my Ask Me Anything with What Users Do

I did an Ask Ask Me Anything with What Users Do recently. Here’s the recap they put together.

Any tips for interviewing users who work with highly confidential information? Any strategies for incentivising such an audience to be open about which problems they struggle with and how they use our software, when almost everything they do is supposed to be a secret? [Timi Olotu]

I think it’s always good to set expectations clearly when arranging for interviews; perhaps in that situation there might be concern – before even agreeing – about risk. I worked with a bank and they had a standard set of text they used in recruiting bank customers, along the lines of “We won’t ever ask for your bank balance or any information about accounts.” Perhaps that was required for regulatory compliance anyway but it served to be very clear about what we were NOT going to be asking about.

I think managing expectations is more important than incentive; but gaining access is also about understanding their dynamic or their relationship to you. Like, if they use your software, then they have a chance to give input and feedback.

I’d also add, I wonder what kind of anonymized experiences you can create, and I don’t mean that to be so fancy sounding, but how much of the interview could you do on paper, with wireframes.

I don’t mean give them a usability test, but can you give them a set of high-level scenarios and have them pick some and choose which to walk through using a sort of simulated or high level version of your experience.

You wouldn’t want to do that for the whole thing, but it could be a component of an interview.

When generating questions for interviews, how do you reduce bias from pre-existing hypotheses? [Amy]

I think bias is obviously a concern but it comes up so often as the main thing people are concerned about. This is totally biased work! We are humans who are the product of our experiences and meeting other people and exchanging the slipperiest of substances: words! How can we not have bias?

I think that having hypotheses is a great thing when going into research. I mean, you put it exactly right – hypothesis. That’s not a closely-held belief, or an aspiration, it’s an idea of what you think might be happening. That sounds like what we’re supposed to be doing.

If there is a belief or a hope or an expectation – be it implicit or explicit – that seems like something we want to get to in research.

Of course there’s a ludicrous way to do that. “Don’t you agree that it’s better now that we have this feature located in this part of the UI?”

That’s a biased form of inquiry, that’s almost abusive of your power. But trying to understand someone’s framework, expectations, preferences, experiences, mental model, etc. from an open and curious point of view, and having that curiosity informed by what you have been already considering about the problem space, sounds like good research to me.

You writings and talks have been a big influence on many folks working in the area of UX – but who are your influences and inspiration, and why? [Rob Whiting]

Our field is packed solid with great people. I keep thinking about some of the over achievers I get to meet and how accomplished they are.

I love Jess McMullin, he is one of the first people to start doing civic design, like YEARS ago, before it became such a big thing in so many parts of the world.

I am a big fan of Allan Chochinov (he wrote the foreword to Doorbells, Danger and Dead Batteries). He started a graduate program in design at SVA in NYC, called Products of Design that kind of takes a big picture look at what design can do. Mentor, friend, inspires me.

I think Kevin Hoffman is really inspiring. Funny, passionate about pop culture and knows everything, cares about people. His book about meetings is going to come out soon (I can say I saw the cover and it looks really cool).

It’s horrible to try and pick people as I’m using recency to come up with a list.

I’m trying to get user testing ingrained into my company’s process but it’s a struggle. It always seem to be the first element dropped when budgets are tight. Any advice on keeping it a part of the process? [Mike Mellor]

I think you’ve got the #1 FAQ about research… that it isn’t supported. I don’t think there’s a stock answer though. But you might wonder – or seek to understand – why is it being dropped? And why was it even being proposed or considered in the first place?

I mean, it’s one thing to say there’s no budget or time… but if someone chose to put it in to begin with, there was a narrative about its value.

If one could understand that better, one could propose an alternative or advocate, with a bit more information. I’m sure there’s some Rhetorical Studies model here I’m not expressing well, but understanding your adversary’s objections seems like one possible persuasive technique.

I’ve long said don’t advocate for the process “we have to do research” but for the outcomes “we have to make sure we understand this issue or this consequence will happen.”

IU059: Figure 9.4

IU060: Figure 9.5

If you want to get into a discussion of timing, you can use the above diagrams as inspiration – lets say the top one is sort of my gold standard, here’s what it takes to do it “all” – but if you want to do it more quickly, here’s how it’s going to look – it may be more or less appropriate but that way you can have a discussion about tradeoffs.

If we only have a day to find participants, for example, then we can’t be too picky, we can’t go beyond who we know right now at this moment. Maybe that’s sufficient.

So even though your question was about doing it – or not doing it – I think looking at ranges of commitments – where zero is in that range – and encouraging reflection on trade-offs – could be good. It’s not about what YOU need, it’s about what the work requires. So don’t take it on yourself. “I’m not allowed” “they won’t let me” – it’s about us, about our shared goal and your expert advice about how to reach that goal.

I’m wondering what strategies and methods you use to analyse data from your interviews. Would you recap after each interview and write down your observations when they are still fresh and then wait for all of them to be over to listen to transcripts? [Edyta Niemyjska]

You describe my preference pretty well. I separate the “processing the experience” and “processing the data.”

After an interview, I might do a debrief worksheet – but typically not. But at the end of each day, I write up a VERY quick paragraph or two about the interviews we’ve done.

It’s meant to be a storytelling exercise, it’s a forced analysis (take a large thing and pull out some smaller bits) – and it shares the fieldwork with the rest of the team. Here is a PERSON, they have a NAME, they own a THING, they told us an EXPERIENCE. So it helps me make a first pass at distilling and it gets people to think about these real actual people really quickly.

It’s not field notes.

I try to do it in just a few minutes, and do it stream of consciousness.

When we’re done with fieldwork, I like to sort of collate, very quickly pull together a topline – here’s what we think we’re hearing., what did you all think, what did you all hear. We started with questions and we have some thoughts, we have some weak signals, we have some things we’re excited about. Nothing about what to DO with this info, just where we’re at, at the moment.

And then, finally, let’s dig into the transcripts and see what actually happened.

What is the most effective way to ask simple questions to better understand where our users are coming from? Often, the users are ill at ease and want to “help” or are simply biased so they muddle the actual answer. [Karunakar Rayker]

Part of your question is about building rapport. People are often ill at ease at the beginning of a session. They want to do a good job and they don’t really understand what is going on, I mean not to be patronizing, they understand, but they don’t “get” what this exchange is meant to cover.

It’s one reason why super short interviews are challenging because it’s hard to get to a point in the relationship where you have established a smooth dialogue, where the person is not only comfortable but excited, reflective. That takes time, sometimes a huge amount of time – and people are unique, and the way we find a connection is unique to the combination of them and us.

The ways we have to contact with people ahead of time – before the interview – can be rapport builders. Maybe we have a quick phone call and let them ask any questions. Maybe we give them an exercise so we can see something about them. Exercises also prime people – it engages them in thinking about the topic so when we meet they aren’t coming up to it raw and fresh and new, it gets them involved.

Sometimes we make sure in our recruiting process that we screen out people who aren’t already meeting a certain comfort level – “the articulation screen” – if the person can’t answer a question from the recruiter (tell us about a recent experience you had going to the movies) for a few sentences, then they may not be the best participant for the study.

But assuming they are “articulate” – they may not be comfortable. So our job is to keep listening, to keep affirming. I do NOT mean “okay great! Cool! Wow!” etc. I mean listening, I mean, asking follow up questions, expressing interest, validating that their point of view is important because you give it time – that’s a harder way to validate the person because you want to do MORE, but when you do that enthusiastic thing you are actually pushing them to perform for you.

Finally, when you have an uncomfortable person YOU feel uncomfortable, you are sensitive to the cues that this person is feeling weird and I should probably do something different or leave. What if you could ignore those cues – which are about YOUR feelings? And just keep listening and focusing on them?

Can you share examples of what type of exercises you have the user complete when connecting with them prior to an interview? [Anne Jackson]

Come up with something that seems relevant, and so many different ways to go about it. But an approach can be ask them to take a picture of two different things, and send the pictures along with an explanation. Two, because it’s about examples of contrast.

Send us a picture of something in your neighbourhood that you think adds value to the experience people who live there have. And explain why. And send us a picture of something that detracts from the experience.

Send us something you’ve organized well. Send us something you wish was more organized.

These are kind of digging into the theme you suspect the session will get into.

The interview kicks off by getting them to tell you that story again!

It could be fill out a form and give a couple of examples, but the photo stuff can be fun. A screen shot, even.

I am currently in the process of introducing a lot of PMs and Engineers to customer interviews. We are also training a few younger designers to talk to their target users.

What are some basic strategies and tips to keep in mind when introducing non UX researchers to UX research? [Nachi Ramanujam]

I write – well, scribble – on the paper. I might draw a big circle around the quote that is interesting and then write my own thoughts, “Why does she do this” or “they don’t have alignment between their goals and their choices” etc.

This formative UX study is a bit more tactical but might be really helpful – it’s so well explained (not specifically transcripts but at least about analysis in general – I think less about synthesis – where we take small bits and put them into new ideas and frameworks – which is what I think we do with the big mess of annotations I’m producing).

My consulting guide to fieldwork is a one or two pager that is meant to help people do well when they are joining in (NOT LEADING) user research interviews. It is the most boiled down set of points I have. I think it’s like anything, the more you put in, the more you get out.

Here’s a 40 minute presentation that is about doing research. Do they have 40 minutes? http://portigal.com/speaking/ has a bunch of links to past talks so you can see where there are videos and slide decks.

I also do a workshop where I ask people to interview each other and then reflect on what worked and what did not work. Practice – in a safe place – not on a work problem but on a practice problem.

Alexandra’s War Story: When One Door Closes

Alexandra Wills is an ethnographer working at Fuse by Cardinal Health, an innovation center in Columbus, Ohio. She told this story on stage at Midwest UX 2017.

I’ll never forget when I did ethnographic research for a project aimed at helping a car manufacturer learn what Millennials with small children really needed.

The project was hard. Taking on a project at the height of the Great Recession meant navigating a radical change in client engagement from what I had experienced since starting the work two years prior. “It’s Friday at 5 p.m. in Ohio and you want me in Los Angeles on Monday?” Okay. “We’re doing video diaries and in-home interviews and a post-interview ideation session with participants in two cities, all in two months?” Okay.

Added to all that, I had a nine-month-old and simply didn’t want to leave her for days at a time. Over the past few months of work, I had already breast pumped on an airplane and in dirty airport bathrooms. I had already begged flight attendants and fast food workers for ice to put in the cooler carrying pouches of my “liquid gold.” Did I mention it was my birthday?

At one point in the project, I was hanging out with a family in Austin who had a toddler. I knew nothing about toddlers. After all, I had a nine-month-old. Did I mention I am not a ‘kid person’?

We had just returned from running errands in their car. As we got out of the car, they were showing me some specific details about the vehicle. They had a Honda Element – the car with the interesting doors that open and close like a book. I was paying close, close attention to the parents and I had no idea that the little kid was right near me. So I closed the door. Suddenly, we all heard the kid screaming! His parents rushed to his side and looked him over, examining his hands. All I could do was yell impulsively, “I didn’t do it!” I was horrified. I thought, “I hurt a child! This child! A participant’s child! Oh noooooo this is bad. How am I going to fix this? What am I going to tell Melinda (my boss)?” To this day I don’t know if his finger got caught in the door, or if me closing the door just scared him.

There was no blood, no broken fingers. But inside, I wanted to die. I already felt plagued by my own mommy guilt and that feeling spread throughout my body like lava. So, not only did I feel like a horrible mom for leaving my kid, but here I was in Austin, making someone else’s kid cry. What a moment. Needless to say, any rapport I had developed in my time with the family evaporated in that instant.

I stopped recording, stepped back, apologized to the mom and waited for the parents to finish calming down their kid. I waited for them to say, “This is over.” They didn’t. Miraculously, they continued the interview, even if I could feel all their judgment the entire time as we wrapped things up. “Maybe I didn’t traumatize this family,” I thought insecurely.

The icing on the cake was that we used video to capture all our data, so not only did this happen, but my boss got to see the whole thing when she reviewed the video. Later in the project I mentioned the incident and she said, “Yeah I saw that.”

Joel’s War Story: From Moscow with Love

Joel Kashuba has practiced design for nearly two decades, with a career spanning the practices of architecture, industrial design, branding, UX, and innovation consulting. He currently leads the Innovation & Design functions for Fifth Third Bank located in Cincinnati, Ohio. He told this story on stage at Midwest UX 2017.

While working for a major CPG company I was placed with a cross-functional innovation team assigned to write and vet concepts that would take a well-known women’s shaving brand into several other personal care categories. The focus was on serving the needs of young women in several BRIC countries. The theme we had been asked to unlock was “A Day at the Spa” – a theme the company had uncovered in earlier research within the United States and projected as a fruitful area to mine for opportunities and frame our expansion.

Before going out into the field – specifically, to Moscow – the project team undertook countless hours of concept writing sessions, often with heavily resourced vendor partners. We created roughly 25 concepts, each taking unique inspiration from the theme “A Day at the Spa”. Armed with our concepts we set off to Russia and began collaborating with consumers in the field to vet each concept.

By the noon on the first day, none of our concepts were resonating and we recognized our first challenge. The translator we had been assigned by a local agency was an older Russian gentleman who sounded much like a James Bond villain. As he readied each of our painstakingly word-smithed concepts, they each ended up sounding like the dastardly ideas of a dour old man who may like to cross-dress. To fix this, we recruited a spritely young woman who worked as an assistant concierge at our hotel to read the concepts. She was great! Several of our consumers even mentioned that she had the perfect voice for commercials in this category.

Despite this change, our concepts still weren’t hitting the mark we were aiming for and we couldn’t figure out why. These concepts had been exceptionally well received in our early test back in the States – what was going on here in Moscow that made them such tankers?

Finally, near the morning of day three, one of our consumers asked us plainly, “Why are you trying to make me feel old?”

“Old?” we asked her with sincere confusion, “Can you say more? Is there something in the concepts that makes you feel old?”

“Yes,” she quickly retorted, “you keep talking to me about spending a day at the spa.”

“And what does that mean to you?” we had our translator ask her.

She looked surprised and a little pissed off. She explained, “It means the place we send our grandmothers when they are too old to take care of in their homes. It’s the place people go before they die.”

It hit us like a ton of bricks. In Russian culture, a “spa” is what we’d call a retirement home. As we had been pulling out concept after concept trying to get these young women to fall in love with our theme, all they saw was of tone-deaf Americans shoving the idea of products for a retirement home down their throats.

We were horrified. We called off the rest of the day’s consumers and stayed up all night re-writing the concepts. The young concierge we had hired to translate became an adjunct team member. Constrained by time, we changed our strategy and turned consumer research into consumer co-creation. We had consumers work in teams to read and re-write the concepts, which were passed along to other teams of consumers to be refined. By the time we finished we had three great concepts that all resonated well.

Coming back to our home base, we reflected on the experience as a team. What we had set out to do was valid, but how we remained nimble in the field is what made the clear difference in how we would found success.

Nadav’s War Story: Baptism by Tears

Nadav Zohar is a UX researcher at AEP in Columbus, OH.

My first ever user research project was for a healthcare app. Our users were nurses who work with poor and high-risk patients, often called “the under-served.” My supervisor and I had a reserved conference room at the client’s site, and our pre-scheduled users rotated in about one per hour. It was a grueling two days of nonstop interviews. For the first day I took notes while my supervisor moderated.

On the second day, after he moderated the first couple of interviews, my supervisor turned to me and asked if I thought I was ready to take the lead on the next one. I said “Sure” so he handed me the discussion guide. In came our next user, a middle-aged nurse who was very sweet and eager to help us in any way she could. This was my very first user interview and I was ready for a clean, uneventful affair.

As the questions on my discussion guide turned to the technological hurdles she encounters when helping her patients, her frustration mounted. At one point, while discussing how her technology failed to help her manage the stress of the enormous workload placed on her and her colleagues, she mentioned having lost a patient. I watched her relive that pain – she broke down and started sobbing. None of the other users we’d talked to had even come close to that kind of emotional response, even though some of them had lost patients too.

Right then and there I learned there’s an awkward balance between not wanting to seem clinical and cold at that crucial moment, but still wanting to preserve an interviewee’s dignity: I figured weeping in front of strangers at work must be somewhat embarrassing. So I bowed my head and looked down at my notes, or my lap, or at nothing in particular, to give the crying nurse a bit of privacy. I waited a few sobs so it didn’t seem like I was trying to shut her up, and then I warmly and gracefully offered her a box of tissues. I let her know I empathized with her pain (although looking back on it I don’t see how I really could have…but my empathy felt genuine anyway) and she eventually calmed down and we finished out the interview. After that, back at the office I was jokingly known as the guy to call in to make people cry.

I think I deal fairly well with very emotional user research situations and over my career I’ve learned they are not uncommon, but it was interesting to have one right off the bat.

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