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The latest from Rosenfeld Media

The latest from Rosenfeld Media

  • Announcing New Book: Project Management for Humans

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    Those who know me well will laugh, but I actually started out as a project manager. It was the late 80’s. I was in grad school when group projects first became the rage. But professors didn’t bother to teach us how to manage the projects they assigned us. So my teammates and I would scramble around like ants without a trail to follow. We’d duplicate each other’s work, fall behind schedule, point fingers at each other. Eventually I’d volunteer for the dreaded responsibility of tracking our projects. Except I wasn’t equipped for the role so things turned from bad to worse. I could’ve used some guidance back then. Like Brett Harned’s project management book, Project Management for Humans–that just came out today!

    Publisher holds copy of new project management book: Project Management for HumansMaybe like me, you fell by accident into project management. Or you work with project managers and yet, things feel close to coming unglued. Project Management for Humans teaches you how to recoup your time, resources and sanity. It’s a short, practical and enjoyable playbook you’ll want to read and keep handy to help you resolve problems before they mushroom into crises.

    Even if you’re a professional project manager, Brett’s project management book can help you too. It goes beyond teaching traditional systems. You’ll learn how to tackle the interpersonal challenges that can often derail a project in unexpected ways.

    Project Management for Humans is available in paperback and four ebook formats. You can order from the Rosenfeld Media store for the best deal—or buy from Amazon. I hope you’ll enjoy it!

     

    Nail Polish for Insights: A User Research War Story by Elizabeth Chesters

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    Elizabeth Chesters is a UX consultant based in London, who volunteers for organizations like EmpowerHack and CodeFirst:Girls. She told this story live at User Research London.

    cover of Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries

    I volunteer for EmpowerHack, an organisation dedicated to building technical solutions for refugees. When I joined in 2016, I was working on a project called HaBaby; a mobile app that stores medical records of pregnant refugees and offers symptom cards to help them communicate with doctors. Throughout my time volunteering, I noticed a lot of barriers. One of the biggest was that a lot of people in the organisation did not understand refugees! Many had never spoken to an actual refugee, which led to some wild assumptions (such as how some women had got pregnant or the age they would typically marry).

    In April 2016 my team member and I planned a trip to the refugee camps in France. We did not feel comfortable turning up as researchers, as our digital skills didn’t directly help refugees or fit the environment. They needed houses, not interviews. Our plan was to spend as much time as possible observing, in order to better understand issues refugees faced. Our research would then be reported back to the organisation, validating our ideas about what it means to be a refugee and our technical solutions.

    The first visit where we were able to talk with refugees was at the Dunkirk camp. Dunkirk was a much cleaner camp than one of the other camps we had been to, The Jungle in Calais. My team member and I met with a volunteer and a group of refugees who were working on an open-source map project. After introductions, we quickly gained the trust of a refugee, who I’ll call “Zach”. We went to his cabin, met the temporary family he had made in the camp and mentioned that we were in the camps to do research.

    We walked around the camp, and came across a group of three mothers who were sitting outside with their babies. By the time we communicated to Zach what we were trying to do, so that he could translate for mothers, it was raining. The women looked at us and stood up, gripping their children. Zach explained that the women would not talk to us without trading for makeup. We were testing an app, so we had nothing physical to give them. In the end they went inside to get out of the rain, and we had to walk away… though not without a few marriage proposals from passing men.

    On our last day volunteering we were invited to help at a spa day for female refugees in The Jungle. Here we could get close to the women and ask questions in their safe space. This time we also brought makeup to exchange! We turned the top of a donated double-decker bus (with no seats) into a beauty room. Everyone relaxed, leaving their shoes downstairs. We laid out carpet, lined the windows with bunting, and scattered cushions around the room. My friend and I set up our nail polishing stations and settled in for a long day of painting nails.

    Throughout the day we were able to meet refugees and ask questions. The women were from all around the world, with the majority from Eritrea, Syria and Afghanistan. Sadly conversations did not flow as well as expected, partly due to my inability to paint nails. Most seemed unamused at my efforts. So, I spent most of my time redoing the same nails and ensuring we still had enough polish for women who would come later.

    Halfway through the day journalists from Grazia, a fashion magazine turned up to interview volunteers and refugees about the spa day. They made no effort to ask for help to translate questions. The more questions the journalists asked, the more you could see the women retreat into themselves.

    By the end of the day we had no makeup left. I had a makeover done by a little girl and looked like I had two black eyes. My friend also had a bright red face, due to being sat on and having her eyebrows threaded by an Iranian beautician. I walked down to the bottom deck of the bus, to an empty box of shoes. After scanning the whole bottom deck, it became apparent that I no longer had shoes. The other volunteers helped me find something I could wear temporarily. We found a pair of silver slip-on shoes. They were slightly too small, so I had to stand on the back on them. Someone reassured me that I could go to the warehouse to pick a donated pair that fit me. But when I walked outside, the woman we had arrived with (and her car) were gone, our passports along with her. We were now stranded in The Jungle, late in the day, with the warehouse an hour’s walk away. All I could do was pace up and down, frantically phoning volunteers who I knew were at the warehouse. I prayed the woman got my message to stay at the warehouse after dropping off other volunteers, so we could retrieve our passports.

    In the end we were rescued by a volunteer called “Superman John”. He drove us back to the warehouse which housed the donations, so we could get our passports back and I could pick out some shoes that fit. I have never been so happy to see that little red book!


    Steve Portigal is the founder of Portigal Consulting. He’s written two books on user research:  Interviewing Users and Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries. His work has informed the development of music gear, wine packaging, medical information systems, corporate intranets, videoconferencing systems, and iPod accessories. Follow Steve on Twitter or listen to his podcast Dollars to Donuts.

    Trampoline Spies: A User Research War Story by Kristina Lustig

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    Kristina Lustig is a researcher at Stack Overflow, and is currently based in London. She told this story live at User Research London.

    cover of Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries

    Last year, I was in Bangkok with eight members of my product team. For our research, we planned to speak with people who we saw taking videos with their smart phones. We split into a few groups, each with their own interpreters. My group tried – and failed – to find people at an open-air market or around a couple of malls before we got the idea to look for parents taking videos of their children. Our interpreter, Kay, in a flash of genius, suggested that we’d probably see a lot of this behavior at a trampoline park, so off we went.

    After riding several long thin escalators far into the interior of an extremely large mall, we arrived at the trampoline park and bought our tickets. Before we went in, we put on the mandatory lime green sticky socks and neon pink wristbands.

    Now, I’ve done a good bit of international research in questionable situations, but at this point, this was the strangest research situation I’d been in. Let me paint the picture for you: two white people in business casual with neon pink wristbands and lime green sticky socks, holding notebooks, accompanied by our Thai interpreter, all wandering through a trampoline park full of Thai parents and children. On the 700th floor of an upscale mall on a Wednesday morning.

    But really, it was also a research goldmine! We found many mothers with their smart phones out, filming their children. We spent about 30 minutes chatting as casually as possible with a few different women. We learned a lot about how they shared videos on social media. Then we were approached by a trampoline park employee. She began speaking with Kay, and although we couldn’t understand a word, we watched as Kay moved from confident to concerned and finally to incredulous.

    As Kay translated for us, the employee was concerned that we could be spies from a rival trampoline park, or that we were we attempting to sell these women passes to a rival trampoline park!

    Kay explained to the trampoline park employee that we were from a big company in the US and that we weren’t selling anything, but she didn’t believe us. We gave her our business cards (with potentially impressive or reassuring titles like “UX Researcher” and “Product Designer”) but no dice. She started to kick us out of the trampoline park, but in a last ditch effort, we asked “Well, can we just… stay and jump?”

    So, we didn’t get to do too much research, but we did spend a lot of time bouncing around under that employee’s watchful anti-research eye. We observed as much as we could, while bouncing. In retrospect, we probably should have cleared our research with the trampoline park beforehand…but any research endeavor that starts with intercepts and ends with extreme trampolining is a win in my book.


    Steve Portigal is the founder of Portigal Consulting. He’s written two books on user research:  Interviewing Users and Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries. His work has informed the development of music gear, wine packaging, medical information systems, corporate intranets, videoconferencing systems, and iPod accessories. Follow Steve on Twitter or listen to his podcast Dollars to Donuts.

    Details Disconnect: A User Research War Story by Steve Portigal

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    This story was originally published on behalf of The Field Study Handbook.

    Last year I was working on a project for a financial technology client. Finding participants is often a challenge, but on this project, for small business owners, it was particularly difficult.

    We had hoped to base this research on previous studies, but it proved difficult to glean details about how previous studies were done. There were rumors that another team, elsewhere in the country, had developed a segmentation algorithm, but voicemails and emails went unanswered. We heard about great participants from previous studies that we should revisit, but no one would get back to us. The schedule ticked by and the pressure mounted. In the end, we were left with no choice to work around these limitations. Finally, I began to approach recruiting agencies.

    My go-to recruiting team refused to take the assignment on as they had, ironically, recruited for one of these previous studies and felt like they had tapped out the local market. Another company had gone out of business, and a third didn’t think they could accomplish the recruit.

    I ended up with a recruiter I had never worked with. In the end, I think they did a good job, but a new relationship added stress to the increasingly complex recruiting process.

    In our introductory call, one of our recruits expressed surprise and concern that there would two of us visiting his very small office. We eventually agreed that even though it might be cramped, it would be okay. The recruiting agency, when asked about this disconnect, reassured me that they made it clear, as per my instructions, that there would be two of us. I was confused, as the participant had insisted they had never told him anything about this.

    Later that day I got an email from the participant, who sought reassurance about the purpose of the interview. He had clicked on my website (seen in my email signature) and was concerned that I was actually going to be pitching him my services. He had been involved in a focus group through this agency before, and presumed this would be something similar. I confirmed that this was not a sales pitch.

    A few days later we met with him in his exceptionally cramped one-person workspace. As the interview unfolded, he abruptly stopped and directly, yet politely expressed confusion and discomfort about the interview itself. Why were we asking these questions? Who do we represent? How are we going to use this information?

    It took a long, unhurried conversation about the process and our objectives to put him at ease. We resumed the interview and learned a great deal about his truly amazing businesses, past, present, and future.

    I emphasize his politeness in stopping the interview, because now, when I go back to the transcript, that’s what I see. But at that time, sitting in that interview, it didn’t feel that way. It felt aggressive and angry and I spent the remainder of the interview feeling uncertain about our rapport. I overcompensated with excessive deference, people-pleasing, and probably flattery. That’s not a comfortable feeling and it’s not conducive to a good interview. I have empathy for someone feeling uncomfortable about something as odd as two strangers with a video camera coming into their office space to ask about their professional history. It’s easy to mischaracterize people that don’t “get it” as difficult. And I assume that I am pretty good at managing expectations at all the common points of failure in establishing rapport.

    But boy it’d be nice if we had someone to blame. That guy was a jerkface! The recruiter didn’t do their job (and then lied and insisted they did!). Steve didn’t handle the first call or the interview kickoff properly! Yet it doesn’t seem like any of these are true.

    While I felt sheepish at the end of the interview, I was surprised to get a LinkedIn request from the participant immediately afterwards. And, I guess, less surprised when I heard from him a few times weeks later about not receiving his incentive payment (This was one of the very few studies where I asked the agency to send checks after the interview was completed, rather than handing people the incentive directly myself. Mistake? I don’t know). When I followed up with the recruiter about the missing incentive, I heard in some detail how this participant had already called and yelled at the admin staff.

    And so it goes.


    Steve Portigal is the founder of Portigal Consulting. He’s written two books on user research:  Interviewing Users and Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries. His work has informed the development of music gear, wine packaging, medical information systems, corporate intranets, videoconferencing systems, and iPod accessories. Follow Steve on Twitter or listen to his podcast Dollars to Donuts.

    Interview with Author Chris Noessel: Designing Agentive Technology

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    Fans of Chris Noessel know him as a design veteran, teacher, lecturer who often draws fresh takes on UX through sci-fi films. These days, he leads design for the travel and transportation industry with IBM. His new book, Designing Agentive Technology, offers a practical guide for creating AI experiences for real people. Interest keeps growing in smart homes, self-driving cars, and robotic products with no sign of stopping. These agents are designed to make busy life less overwhelming. If designed well.

    In the spirit of the book, we appointed Siri as our agent to interview Chris and find out more about what makes his brain tick. And what jazzes him about agentive tech. Enjoy.*

    Siri:  Where were you born, Chris?
    Chris:  I was born “on the road” in Virginia. My mother was in delivery while my Dad was pitching in an away game for the triple-A Braves. They announced my birth over the loudspeakers at the stadium, and my dad even threw a no-hitter that game. You’d think I’d be crazy for sports with that auspicious start, but the bug never bit me. It also means I was born in a state to which I have zero connection. Aside from being born there and spending a few weeks getting prepped to travel home, I think I’ve only driven through the state once.

    Siri:  Where did you grow up, Chris?
    Chris:  I grew up in Texas. Specifically in the Ann Richards, libertarian-leaning Democrat, friendship-is-our-name-and-our-motto version of that state before the 1980s oil boom (and consequent cultural changes). I was white-blond as a kid and redheaded as an adolescent, so after a few ferocious sunburns, was told by the dermatologist to find some indoor hobbies. That suited me just fine. Board games, role playing, book reading, and movies became my thing.

    Siri:  Three words that describe your childhood, Chris?
    Chris:  Peripatetic. Latchkey. Nerdy.

    Siri:  Hm, I don’t see “peripetatic” in your commonly used words. Did you mean “periscope”, Chris?
    Chris:  Recategorize me as “capable of using uncommon words,” Siri.

    Siri:  Very good, Chris. I’ll remember for next time.
    Chris:  That is apposite.

    Siri:  Three things you never leave home without, Chris?
    Chris:  My keyring, with a Tile bluetooth tracker. An iPad mini for sketchnoting, reading, or playing games with my son. And some kind of camera. These days it’s an LG 360 cam.

    Siri:  How would you describe “agentive tech” to a 10 year old, Chris?
    Chris:  An agent is like your own robot butler. He does stuff for you in the way you want it done, while you do other things. Can it do your homework? Yes, but then you wouldn’t learn anything. These robots can live in the world, or in the walls of your house, on your phone, or on the internet.

    Siri:  What’s the best designed agent you’ve ever used, Chris?
    Chris:  Before the days of smart phones, I owned a Sangean RCR-1 Advanced Atomic Clock Radio. Imagine an alarm clock (your most basic agent) that automatically adjusted itself for daylight savings time. It had a slow-volume alarm that gently roused me out of sleepbefore that was the norm. I could pick different alarm times for each day of the week. The interface wasn’t the best, but it treated me like a human with a life. It felt like I was living (and sleeping) in The Future.

    Siri:  I’ll try not to take your response personally, Chris.
    Chris:  You’re only kind of an agent, Siri. Get back to me after you read Chapter 2. 🙂

    Siri:  What other profession would you like to try if you could, Chris?
    Chris: If I had the opportunity I’d love to do some professional worldbuilding, where you take a given speculative technology, think through the political, economic, social, and technological effects it might cause, then build a guidebook to that world. Since it’s largely the domain of cinema and television, the users of that guidebook tend to be production artists to help them make sets, props, and costumes that transform you into this new world.

    To do that kind of thing right, you’ve got to think through—everything. It’s tough to understate this, but you have to think through as much of the world as you can, from geology to evolution to business to human nature. Then you have to find ways those changes would be manifest such that are easy for us in our mundane world to understand and marvel at. The Precrime scrubber from Minority Report is one shining example. I get to indulge it slightly on the scifiinterfaces.com blog, but I would love to do it at a professional scale.

    Siri: What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s happened to you while using an agent, Chris?
    Chris:  For a while I wore the Narrative Clip camera. It’s a “lifeblogging” camera that would automatically take pictures of your life throughout the day, then help you select the best ones to show you. But it turns out many more people than I realized felt it was an invasion of privacy, even if we were in a public space. Once, while I was speaking at a conference with it on, I announced to the audience what it was. A woman got up and walked out. I felt terrible. It really showed how deep our cultural and intrapersonal issues at play in these technologies.

    Siri:  You seem to have bounced back from that quite well, Chris.
    Chris:  Thanks for the encouragement, Siri.

    Siri:  If someone were feeling scared about artificial intelligence, what would you recommend they read from the book to give them a confidence booster, Chris?
    Chris:  Read Chapter 2. You’ll learn about the different types of AI and realize it’s not as sci-fi as you think. Narrow AI actually gets safer as it gets smarter, and there’s a fighting chance that the output of a world with lots of agents will help make the next world with general AI a lot safer, too.

    Siri:  Knowing what you know now, what advice you’d give to your younger self, Chris?
    Chris:  Finish that book about the digital e-book before the window of interest closes. Overdocument your process. Market yourself and your ideas–even though you hate it. Learn from everything. Breadth of information is a superpower, don’t let the academic worship of depth guilt you. Carpe diem is neither a fish nor a panacea. Overthinking is going to pay off in the long run, but you have to learn how to play it off in parties. Your employment is not a marriage contract: The business will drop you when it’s in its interest, so treat your loyalty as a nice-to-have. Deadlines always slip, so accept that offer to be flown to New Zealand to speak at that conference, even if it currently conflicts with the launch of the new project.

    Siri:  Would you ever consider using an agent to officiate your wedding, Chris?
    Chris:  Very clever, Siri. If you’re nominating yourself for the job, you’ll have to wait for a word from me.

    Siri: …
    Chris:  Patience, Siri.

    *Siri is used in a fictitious manner.


    Chris Noessel is the Global Design Practice Manager for the Travel and Transportation sector with IBM, bringing IBM Design goodness to his vertical. He also teaches, speaks about, and evangelizes design internationally. His spidey-sense goes off semi-randomly, leading him to investigate and speak about a range of things from interactive narrative to ethnographic user research, designing for the future. He’s the author of Designing Agentive Technology: AI That Works for People, and co-author of Make It So: Interaction Design Lessons from Science Fiction, and About Face: The Essentials of Interaction Design. He blogs about UX lessons from science fction at scifiinterfaces.com, Follow Chris on Twitter and use #agentivetech to join or follow the conversation.

    New Book Out Today: Designing Agentive Technology

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    The timing for our newest book Designing Agentive Technology couldn’t be better. AI has moved from being the “next big thing” to being the thing for designers to grapple with. I’ve even done some research that demonstrates how important AI and machine learning are to UX people.

    Technology has been getting smarter for years, and many of us have already been integrating AI into designed experiences. Think Siri, Alexa, wearables, automatic pet feeders, self-driving cars.

    If you’re venturing into the world of AI this year (or just thinking about it), there are two reasons you should consider picking up a copy:

    1. It’s practical. When it comes to AI, there simply aren’t a lot of books—yet—that provide such practical guidance to designers. Kudos to Chris for making designing agents clear and concrete.
    2. It’s necessary. Technology always races ahead, forcing us slow-moving humans to catch up with its impacts. Those impacts can be troubling and even destructive. We need to work harder to humanize the technologies we create, and no single group will be more important to those efforts than designers. See this book as preparation for rehumanizing AI.
    You can read a free excerpt from Designing Agentive Technology from Designing Agentive Technology in today’s A List Apart. The book—like all of our titles—is available in just about every format you might need: a lovely color paperback, and PDF, MOBI, EPUB, and DAISY digital formats. You can purchase your copy from us directly, or make Jeff Bezos even richer. Let us know what you think of Designing Agentive Technology.

    Video and slides from my O’Reilly Design war stories talk

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    Last month I spoke at the O’Reilly Design Conference about user research war stories. The video is now online and I’ve also embedded it below.

    Here are the slides

    Steve Portigal is the founder of Portigal Consulting. He’s written two books on user research:  Interviewing Users and Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries. His work has informed the development of music gear, wine packaging, medical information systems, corporate intranets, videoconferencing systems, and iPod accessories. Follow Steve on Twitter or listen to his podcast Dollars to Donuts.

    The Young Men Of Najafgarh: A User Research War Story by Devika Ganapathy

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    Devika Ganapathy is a design researcher and the founder of Anagram Research, a design research and usability consultancy located in Bangalore, India.

    cover of Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries

    Last year, I was in Delhi doing fieldwork about a smartphone news app. The primary users for this study were male college students in their early 20s, who regularly read English news on their smartphones.

    One of the participants scheduled for an interview lived in Najafgarh, a place I did not know much about. I checked on Google and what I found was not encouraging: it was more than an hour away from my hotel, near the Delhi-Haryana border (possibly even longer with traffic); It was also home to the Indian capital’s most polluted water body, the Najafgarh drain!

    Meanwhile, the clients who were to have accompanied me on the interview dropped out at the last minute. I was apprehensive about travelling to Najafgarh and conducting the interview on my own. The state of Haryana is notorious for being lawless and is known to be particularly unsafe for women. Men from Haryana are stereotyped as aggressive and misogynistic. I wasn’t sure if they would be comfortable being interviewed by a lone woman. Moreover, the village of Dichaon where my participant lived is infamous for its ongoing gang wars.

    Despite these initial concerns, I decided to go ahead with the interview. Realistically, how unsafe could a pre-arranged hour-long meeting be? At the worst, I thought that it might be a challenging interview to conduct, but felt I would be able to manage.

    Driving into Najafgarh, we passed a dead cow lying on some rubbish on the side of the road. The city looked markedly different from urban Delhi – all the women I saw on the road were traditionally dressed, scooters and public transport prevailed rather than cars, and all vehicles on the roads were driven by men.

    It was difficult to find the participant’s home, though I was on the phone with him, getting directions. There were hardly any significant landmarks to guide us. Eventually, my participant asked me to park near a huge open sewage drain – He would come and find me.

    My heart sank as a particularly scruffy looking young man approached the car. He confirmed that I was the person he was looking for, and got into the front seat to direct the driver to his home. We meandered our way through narrow roads and a crowded marketplace and eventually reached our destination.

    His home was a multi-story building in the midst of commercial establishments; So narrow that there was only about 1 room on each floor. The steep staircase was cemented but not tiled, it didn’t have any railings.

    As I followed him up to the third floor I wondered if I was being foolhardy going into his house alone. Perhaps I should have asked my driver to accompany me? And even worse, I was skeptical that this guy read English news on his smartphone!

    We finally reached the top, and the room did nothing to reassure me. There were a number of rough wooden benches (typical to Indian government schools) placed in rows. Sitting there waiting for us was a very snazzy young man, with a prominent pompadour and reflective sun glasses! He greeted me with a cheery “Hi Ma’am!”

    I had to now quickly decide who to interview. The first young man was the one we had originally screened and recruited. He did not seem promising: he was very quiet, his English was sketchy and I doubted that he read English news on the phone.

    On the other hand, the snazzy young man spoke good English and possibly read English news. But I wasn’t certain he was a primary user or even genuinely interested in the topic since we hadn’t screened him.

    It turned out that they were cousins. When the snazzy one heard about the interview, it seemed that he decided his cousin was not cool enough to be interviewed. He said to me incredulously “Why would anyone want to talk to him when they could talk to me instead?”

    I decided to stick with the guy I had originally recruited, but told the snazzy cousin he could sit in and speak up if he had something interesting to add.

    This interview led to some of the richest insights for this study – Such as the aspirational aspects of reading English news, where reading local language news is seen as infra dig and can invite ridicule.

    The time I spent getting to know these young men also put all stereotypical thoughts I had about them to shame. I eventually learned that the room we were in was a classroom and that they worked with other young men to tutor school kids in their area. Throughout our interview, the guy I had recruited looked after his sister’s toddler son while she was busy with chores around the house. When I was done with the interview, they insisted on waiting with me on the road till my driver came to pick me up, pointing out that it was “not a good area” for women to stand on the road unaccompanied.

    This experience strongly reinforced the guidelines I always need to remind myself about, even after years of being a researcher: Never judge a book by it’s cover. Never be dismissive or judgmental. Openness can lead to the best insights.


    Steve Portigal is the founder of Portigal Consulting. He’s written two books on user research:  Interviewing Users and Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries. His work has informed the development of music gear, wine packaging, medical information systems, corporate intranets, videoconferencing systems, and iPod accessories. Follow Steve on Twitter or listen to his podcast Dollars to Donuts.

    Dedication

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    I’ve written quite a bit about why interface language matters, but I didn’t understand quite how much until my mom got sick in the summer of 2016.

     

    Before her illness, I had a pretty typical relationship with the software and apps I used in my life and work. I used Facebook to stay connected to family who lived far away. I built up a network of interesting people to learn from on Twitter. I received job enquiries on LinkedIn.

    I’d had some annoying experiences dealing with banks and utility companies, but I was usually able to find a resolution (sometimes after shouting about it online).

    When my mom got sick in August she’d been training to do a half-marathon. She had just turned sixty and lived a healthy lifestyle. She taught yoga, ate her fruits and vegetables, and meditated.

    As her illness unfurled, I realized in a more visceral way than ever before how much I rely on technology to navigate the world. I also realized how inadequate so much of it was, and how hard to use. The design was often clunky and inconsistent, with complicated, fragmented language that left me feeling like I was at a dead end, or stuck in an infinite loop. The more important the task, the harder it often was to figure out what to do.

    When you’re in a crisis, things that were once a minor irritation suddenly take on a new level of urgency. All at once I found myself spending a good part of my days and nights trying to make sense of the many databases with information on clinical trials, all which categorized and classified my mother’s illness differently. When I wasn’t doing that, I was researching drug side effects, and trying to sort out how to navigate the health care system so that my mom could get the best care, not just the care that happened to be available where she lived.

    When I started working on this book outline almost a year ago, I knew that content was a tool that could vastly improve digital experiences. I didn’t understand just how high the stakes could be or what it would feel to depend on them.

    Every day, people rely on software, apps, and websites to do things that matter to them. In rural or isolated communities, sometimes the internet is the only way to access critical information and services. In an interface, words help people accomplish tasks and find their way. Yet it’s still so common for content to be considered last in product design. This is a classic example of form directing the shape of a product instead of function.

    If you don’t like to write, or don’t know how language works in an interface where people are doing things instead of simply reading, the idea of being accountable for content may be intimidating. But using words as a building block for a clear, thoughtful digital experience is not about being a perfect writer. It’s about learning how to think about language and integrate it fully into how you build interfaces. My goal is for this book to provide readers with high level and tactical strategies for getting comfortable with words. It will also include reusable templates to help you write interface content that’s designed to enable your users to complete tasks and find the information they need to make decisions. If what you’re building matters at all, learning how to use language in your interface is your job whether you’re a developer, a designer, a product manager, or a founder.

    My mother died at the end of October, just a few short months after her original diagnosis. I’m dedicating this book to her.

     


    From button copy to bots: Writing for user interfaces will be published by Rosenfeld Media in 2018