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The latest from Rosenfeld Media

The latest from Rosenfeld Media

  • 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

    What’s Next for UX? Research Results (and New Conference) Revealed

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    We’ve cued up our next virtual conference for Tuesday, April 25 and it’s called To Be Designed. If you’ve been wondering how to keep pace with new trends in design, don’t miss this one.

    To Be Designed will give you a taste of the “near future” of design—the stuff that’s far out enough to be fascinating, but not so far out that you can’t imagine ever working on it in your career.

    What kinds of topics will we cover? Well, like always, we asked YOU. 331 of you responded, and here’s what you suggested:

     
    By popular demand, the presenters will cover aspects of how AI intersects with design, wearables, conversational UI, smart objects, and—perhaps most importantly—the ethics required to navigate the near future.

    And you’ll hear from six speakers we know you’re going to love—because you suggested them! We’ll announce them soon! In the meantime, you can register today at the early bird rate and take it on faith that like our previous conferences, we’ll deliver a well curated program for you.

    Or wait until March 24, when the speaker lineup goes public––and when the regular ticket rate will apply).

    Looking forward to having you join us on April 25!

    Video and slides from Interaction 17

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    Last month I spoke at Interaction 17 about user research war stories. They’ve put the video online and I’ve also embedded it below.

    Here are the slides

    and a sketchnote by Chris Noessel

    The talk features special guests Elizabeth Allen and Noël Bankston.


    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 Well-lit Redhead: A User Research War Story by David Bacon

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    David Bacon is a UX Designer at Telstra Health in Melbourne, Australia. He shared this story at the UX Melbourne Book Club (see video of the group discussion here).

    cover of Doorbells, Danger, and Dead BatteriesStanding in front of a house in a quiet suburban street, my phone buzzed and a text from my note-taking partner popped up: “Sorry can’t make interview, something urgent has come up.” We had spent the past week researching allied health professionals who worked from home. This was the fifth or sixth interview, I doubted my colleague would be missing much. I knocked on the door. It opened and a burly man with a soft gaze greeted me in a thick German accent, “Hello, I’m Herman”.

    Herman the German invited me inside and led me into his home office. Against the wall was a treatment table. Adjacent to that was a desk with a large computer monitor and in the middle of the room were two comfortable office chairs. Herman gestured for me to sit down and small talk commenced.

    Herman had just returned from a visit to Germany and for the first time in nearly forty years he had visited his childhood home. Positive muttering and a small nod of my head was enough encouragement for Herman to spin his chair around and bring up holiday photos on the large monitor behind him. As he gave me a personal tour of castles, forests, and medieval villages, I started to become anxious. I didn’t have a lot of time and there was a lot of ground to cover. Yet Herman was so obviously pleased to be sharing these personal stories, I feared that interrupting the holiday slide show might sour his mood.

    I asked Herman if he had studied in Germany before coming to Australia and with that, he turned his back on the computer and faced me. As Herman talked a screen saver flickered to life on the monitor behind him. Photos of forests and castles that would not have been out of place in a fairytale drifted by. Herman proved to be an insightful and honest interview subject.

    After a few minutes of Q&A, the photos of natural beauties gave way to photos of natural beauties of another kind. A lovely brunette wearing just a smile drifted across the screen behind an oblivious Herman, who sat with his back to the screen. The images were like classic seventies centrefold pictures: soft focus, demure poses and wave perms. They were the kind of pictures a nosey younger brother would find hidden in his older brother’s bedroom.

    As Herman spoke, brunette after brunette drifted behind him. My mind started to race, there was nothing in any how-to-interview-users blogs or books to prepare me for this. “Hey look, a redhead!” I thought to myself, losing some of my concentration.

    I wanted to hit pause but I also wanted to keep the interview going, Herman was a great interview subject. To bring attention to this would cause immense embarrassment to this gentle man. What if he turned around? I didn’t know how much longer I could keep my focus. I have a terrible poker face.

    “Hmm, that redhead is particularly well lit.”

    When at last the castles reappeared on the monitor, my brain relaxed slightly. I asked Herman to show me an example of how he organised his notes on his computer. He spun around and showed me. I can’t remember much of what happened in the remainder of the interview. As Herman walked me out, I handed him his incentive and he invited me to come back anytime.

    I walked to my car and collapsed into the seat. I had just survived a potentially awkward situation and importantly, I had not negatively impacted Herman. The relief was extraordinary. But there was this nagging thought. Had I really done the right thing? What if the well-lit redhead popped up when he is treating one of his clients? Should I have mentioned something? When is it okay to intervene? I don’t know if there is a right answer but as a person far wiser than me recently told me, asking these types of questions is what’s important, not finding the answer.


    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.

    Can Good IA Lead to Brand Failure?

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    Here’s a story about a website I created several years ago that I had considered a success and now, upon reflection, see as a partial failure.

    When it comes to measuring the success of information architecture, I usually think of clearly measurable criteria, such as findability. I ask someone to find something in a website and measure if they can and how long it takes. Easy.

    But what if IA goes deeper than that?

    For several years I did pro-bono work for my kids’ preschool. It started one day when the school’s website disappeared. That’s right, it just disappeared. And it was just a few weeks before their big registration period. Apparently a non-profit that received a grant to make websites for schools had built a reasonably nice site for free. But when the grant ran out, the organization disappeared. And the hosting account and all the website files disappeared too. All the school was left with was their domain name.

    My wife heard about this and volunteered me to save the day. I was used to these sort of client-driven fire drills in the consulting world, so I was able to conduct some geurilla research, gather assets, and build a site based on a purchased template in a little over a week. Success, right?

    Months afterwards, the school scraped together about $16,000 to hire a local agency to build them another site. While my ego stung a bit, this decision made sense: they wanted more functions and a CMS which my site didn’t have. Fair enough. Unfortunately the agency-built site had several “coming soon” sections that were never filled in, used an oddball CMS that was difficult to use, and overall was hard to maintain.

    My version didn’t have these problems. I built a one-page site that was long but one could easily find everything by scrolling down. There wasn’t any superfluous content or navigation. But the biggest problem with it, and why the school replaced it, wasn’t the information architecture’s performance. It was about how the brand was projected by that single page. It didn’t look like a “real” website; it didn’t look “normal.” Normal websites have navigation along the top and maybe the side. The pages aren’t more than 2 screens long (with the exception of articles). And while the school was happy I came to the rescue and gave them something when they needed it, ultimately they didn’t want a site that projected an image that was outside their perception of convention.

    So that’s a lesson I learned: IA is also brand, and brand matters.


    Victor Lombardi is the design director at CapitalOne, and the author of Why We Fail: Real Stories and Practical Lessons from Experience Design Failures. He helped turn around a failing media business at Fox Mobile Group through the development of a new web platform and mobile apps. He walks the walk by developing his own product, Nickel, with the goal of making personal financial planning accessible to everyone. Follow him on Twitter or buy his book

    204 Startup Failure Post-Mortems

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    If you’re starting up a new company or product, it wouldn’t hurt to scan these 204 Startup Failure Post-Mortems to learn what not to do from startups who fizzled.

    One in particular, struck me in a twisted sort of way: this postmortem of SunEdison’s backruptcy:

    SunEdison at its core is a boring construction company, that earns the trust of its institutional investors by being boring and managing risks … [but the company’s senior executives] didn’t want to be boring, they wanted to be a technology company.


    Victor Lombardi is the design director at CapitalOne, and the author of Why We Fail: Real Stories and Practical Lessons from Experience Design Failures. He helped turn around a failing media business at Fox Mobile Group through the development of a new web platform and mobile apps. He walks the walk by developing his own product, Nickel, with the goal of making personal financial planning accessible to everyone. Follow him on Twitter or buy his book

    Ramping Up: A User Research War Story by Noël Bankston

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    Noël Bankston is a UX Research Lead and Human Factors Engineer at Zebra Technologies, currently living in Queens, NY. She told this story live at the Interaction 17 conference.

    “So Jim, what would you like to do for lunch? “My treat!” It was the moment I had been dreading all day, ironic since I am a lover of food. I was trying to sound chipper but I was worn through.

    It was 2 pm and I was starving. I was sitting in the cab of a 48’ tractor trailer in Lowell, Arkansas. This was my first “ride along” research trip and I had not come prepared with snacks. I was doing in-depth generative research of the pick-up and delivery process for a freight company and hadn’t known that we don’t have lunch until all the deliveries were completed.

    I was also not prepared for the weather as I am from up north and I thought the South would be hot in late May. It wasn’t – it was a constant drizzle and cold. So I was sitting in the cab feeling small and tired in the oversized loaner jacket that the dispatcher had given me. We had been on the road since 8:45 am but I had arrived at the trailer dispatch site even earlier to observe the set-up process. And that should have been fine, because on a normal day, Jim finishes around noon. But today we saw all the exceptions – an unprepared customer, incorrect paperwork, an obstructed delivery dock, and poor routing. As a researcher, it was a gold-mine as I observed where problems occurred and how Jim handled them. But as someone who is mildly hypoglycemic, it meant I was getting hangry. It had been a long morning of climbing into and out of that cab, learning which hand to place where to get the right leverage to pull yourself up as you step onto the step that is only wide enough for half your foot. And I don’t know how many of you have ridden inside of a tractor trailer but it is loud and you feel every bump.

    In that moment as I asked about lunch, damp, tired, and hungry, I thought back on the the anxiety I had felt earlier in the day about lunch. A co-worker told me that on his previous ride-along they had eaten a burger from a gas station mini-mart. Even on a normal day that would make me uneasy, as gas stations aren’t known for freshness and hygiene. I knew that this type of research means being available for wherever the subject takes you, but I was really hoping that didn’t include food poisoning.

    But at this point, 8 hours from my previous meal and having no idea what part of town we were in, who was I to be picky?

    “So Jim, what would you like to do for lunch?”

    “I just want a salad. I try to eat healthy.” I gave a huge sigh of relief, accompanied by a rumble of rejoicing from my stomach. It seemed that between the two of us, I would be eating the bigger meal. I found a nearby Mexican restaurant on Yelp. While enjoying the flavor combination of fresh cilantro and lime with nary a fryolator in sight, I realized how I had been making assumptions about “truckers” based on stereotypes rather than letting the research reveal the truth. And those assumptions were also judgments about health and lifestyle. Jim was aware of the health effects of his job and wasn’t going to turn down an opportunity to have a healthful meal, especially when a researcher was paying! One of the reasons truckers eat unhealthy food is both cost and convenience. Truck stops get food fast and are less expensive. Unfortunately, our food system is set up in a way that fresh, whole food costs much more than highly processed, industrially produced food.

    I won’t be able to eliminate all my biases or preconceived notions but I can grow in my awareness of them. I have been on many more ride-alongs and other types of research trips since then. You better believe I always have a granola bar with me.


    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.

    Truck Stop: A User Research War Story by Elizabeth Allen

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    Elizabeth Allen is a UX Researcher at Shopify, an ecommerce platform based in Canada. She told this story live at the Interaction 17 conference.

    A few years ago, I was working at Centralis, a UX research and design consulting firm in the Chicago area. One of our clients was a public transportation agency, and our project involved testing the maps and signage within and between transit stations by accompanying participants as they completed realistic wayfinding scenarios to try to get from station to station and find their correct train or bus.

    As part of this testing, my research partner Kathi Kaiser and I included individuals with motor and visual disabilities to make sure they were able to navigate just as well as those who didn’t have these challenges. One participant, Susan, was in a motorized wheelchair, and we began our session with a scenario that had us traveling to a station and accessing an elevated platform where she would wait for a train.

    Chicago summers can be very hot and humid, and this was one of the hottest of the year. We were all sweating by the time we got to the station even though it was just a short walk from the coffee shop where we met to start the session. Now, this station had no elevator; instead, outside the station was a very long ramp to reach the platform. This was probably the longest ramp I’d ever seen at a transit station — it had two or three switchbacks just to reach the top!

    We started up the ramp, and when we were about halfway up, Susan’s wheelchair started slowing down. “Uh oh”, she said. “I think my battery is about to die. I totally forgot to charge it before I went out, and steep ramps like this always make it run out faster.” Sure enough, a few seconds later, the wheelchair slowed to a halt, completely dead.

    At this point, we had to make a decision based on what was best for Susan and for the research: do we end the session early, push Susan’s chair back to our starting point, and explain to our client that we would miss out on gathering valuable accessibility insights, or do we see if we can find a power source and salvage what we can of the session? We explained to Susan that we could either end the session or try to keep going, and luckily, she was still excited about the session and was game to push on — literally.

    After wheezing our way up the rest of the ramp, dripping with sweat, we got to the platform and found no electrical outlets in sight. The ticket counter was also closed, but after a lot of roaming around we were able to find the lone janitor. We were very fortunate, because he was extremely kind, and offered to let us plug Susan’s chair into an outlet in one of the back rooms.

    This story ends happily. After a half hour or so, Susan’s chair was charged up, and during that time we were able to improvise some interview questions and short scenarios we could talk through with her while we waited. It really helped that we were able to think on our feet and that we had a participant who had a positive attitude and was interested in the session. Overall, we were able to salvage a research session that was difficult to recruit for, and our client was really happy with what we learned.


    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.