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The latest from Rosenfeld Media

The latest from Rosenfeld Media

  • If Texas and England Had a Baby: A User Research War Story by Krispian Emert

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    Krispian Emert has over 12 years experience working in UX. She has worked all over the world: for startups, agencies, and companies like Microsoft, The NFL, Thompson Reuters, ING, etc. Currently, she is lead UX Researcher at TELUS digital. She told this story live at Radical Research Summit.

    cover of Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries

    It was my first field study at my new job in Sydney, Australia. I had just uprooted my family and flown to the other side of the world to work for Australia’s largest user experience consultancy. Did I want to do a good job? You bet. Was I nervous? Hell, yes!

    I had had a couple of weeks to settle in and explore the city, and to get to know my colleagues. My impression of Australian culture was that it was surprisingly similar to Canadian culture: We both have the Queen on our money, we both drink copious amounts of beer, and we both say “no worries” a lot. The only glaring difference I was able discern up to that point was that for a casual greeting Canadians asked “How’s it going?” and Australians asked, “How’re you going?” So I had experienced little culture shock thus far.

    The assignment was for one of the big banks. We were to conduct contextual field studies in the moment while people used the bank’s ATMs. The only problem was that due to privacy constraints we had to recruit people just as they were about to use the ATM. This was made more challenging because the bank gave us very little in the way of official ID.

    This meant that I, an extra polite Canadian, was nervously approaching busy Australians and anxiously stammering the first few sentences of my recruitment spiel. To say that I got turned down by my prospective interviewees is an understatement. The fact that I didn’t look “official” or in any way affiliated with the bank made me seem suspect at best, and criminal at worst. ATM users glared at me as though I were panhandling, and time after time, I was told to “Fuck off!”. I was worried that I wouldn’t complete the assignment. I needed 10 participants and after two hours I had exactly none.

    As I stood in the street in Sydney, miles from home, failing to secure participants and on the receiving end of some choice language, I had a “Dorothy moment.” I was not in Canada anymore. Despite my initial impression that our countries were similar, I was in whole new culture – one where people were not afraid to say the F-word to a complete stranger. I realized I had to stop assuming people would stop and politely listen to my lengthy recruitment pitch, and that I had to just accept Australians for what they were – blunt and direct. I changed my approach, and went up to prospective participants boldly, waving my gift cards at them. I shortened my pitch to state only the benefits of participating in the research. This produced much better results.

    They say that if Texas and England had a baby, it would be Australia. After this experience, I grew to appreciate the unique Australian culture of “wild west gunslinger meets cricket games and meat pies.”

    And despite our differences, I guess we’re pretty similar after all.


    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.

    What’s Impacting Your Work in Enterprise UX?

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    If you work in Enterprise UX, would you take our 3-minute user research survey below? We’re gathering an industry look into what pressing topics and trends impact your UX work in the enterprise.

    Your Input Will Shape the Next EUX Conference. Literally.

    If you check out the programs for past Enterprise UX conferences (here’s 2017’s, 2016’s, and 2015’s), you’ll see that we invest a hell of lot of effort in designing it. Dave Malouf, Uday Gajendar, Lada Gorlenko, and I will use the survey results to tailor the 2018 conference to the topics that you want most.

    One out of every ten respondents will be randomly selected to receive a free Rosenfeld Media ebook. To enter, please respond below by September 29.

    We’ll share the results in a later post so that you can see what top topics are trending right now. Thanks in advance for helping!


    Fill out my online form.

    New Book: The Right Way To Select Technology

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    I quit my career as a IA consultant because I got tired. It wore me out to hear clients gripe about their technology. How, say, SharePoint made it impossible for them to improve the customer experience. I felt bad for them. And even worse for their customers. Because once company picks its software, good bloody luck changing it.

    Book cover image for The Right Way To Select TechnologyThat’s why I’m so happy to get our newest book—The Right Way To Select Technology—out into the world. Organizations must stop falling for marketing pitches and buying the wrong technology. And stop wasting time and money. And I can’t think of better authors to tackle this than Tony Byrne and Jarrod Gingras. Their firm, Real Story Group, has been evaluating software for 16 years. They’re renowned for being technology-agnostic and fiercely independent.

    If you’re helping to choose technology for your organization, Tony and Jarrod’s book will help you make good choices. You’ll also negotiate better deals and make your users happy. It’s short, witty, and available today here at Rosenfeld Media or via Amazon. I hope you enjoy it!

    Interview with Project Management for Humans Author Brett Harned

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    When you think of project management what pops to mind? Overpacked gantt charts? 500 “urgent” emails flooding your inbox? Brett Harned knows another way to move you towards efficient processes and happy coworkers. He’s put his wisdom into a new book Project Management for Humans. I interviewed Brett to get to know the human behind the book.

    Author and new book Project Management for Humans
    Author Brett Harned and his French terrier Maggie relax at home with his new book.

    Meet the Author

    What did your childhood bedroom look like?

    I kept it neat and organized. Even my “messes” were tidy. Like this huge stack of CDs I’d reorganize depending on my mood: alpha by artist, by genre, by favorite, or most played. I pinned things to a cork board rather than the walls.

    When did you first catch the bug for project management?

    Razorfish recruited me for a role as a PM. When they first reached out I didn’t know what that was! I’d been an account director with some project management responsibilities, but it wasn’t a formal role. As they explained what it was to me, I thought, “Oh yeah, that’s totally up my alley.”

    What does everyone need to know about project management?

    Everyone manages their own work in some way. Some people are good at it. Others? Not so much. If you want to be a good teammate, freelancer, business owner, you have to pick up some skills that will help you move things along and complete projects successfully.

    Some folks have told you they’ve never worked with great project managers. Why do you think this is?

    In digital, the role is new and undefined. We’ve always dealt with deadlines and budgets, but no one owned them. Now we’re see more PMs on teams, no standards of practice exist yet. This makes it tough for anyone to be truly good at the job. I want to change that! I wrote this book to help us take a step forward to design the role of PM for the digital industry.

    Have you ever had a project management fail? What happened? What did you learn?

    Where to start? I’ve failed a lot, and learned much each time. Once I managed a website redesign project where the UX team had designed some amazing forward-thinking functionality. It tied to the client’s strategy and took them in the right direction. The client loved it and all appeared well.

    Until I showed the wireframes to my developers and they told me the functionality was completely out of scope.

    I’d failed to double check with the developers before seeing the client. Now, it fell on me to fix it. I was nervous to deliver the bad news back to the client. So I engaged the help of my team and my I to prepare for the conversation. We walked through possible scenarios. If the client gets upset, what do I do? If he doesn’t like the options I’ll present, then what?

    I got the client on the phone and broke the news. I apologized and suggested other options that might work. He was definitely disappointed, but the project ended up doing really well. Most experienced people understand that scope creep happens. The best way to address it is head on—and come with alternate solutions.

    What gets in the way of successful project management?

    Fear. If you’re too nervous or scared to have a needed conversation, or force an issueyou’ll fail. If you ignore minor issues, they’ll get worse. Be confident in your own problem solving skills and invite your team in to tackle issues as soon as you can.

    What’s the biggest benefit of successful project management?

    Good project management makes everything else easy. Work happens more smoothly when you you provide a level of organization and transparency. And communicate in a timely with the people on the project. If a PM runs interference on communications to let the team focus on the work, the team ends up feeling happier and being more productive.

    If members of my team are hopelessly disorganized and resistant to changing their ways how can I help them?

    Remember that not every solution will work for every team member. Be flexible with the way you manage and communicate people. If people are completely resistant, explain to them why organization is important. After they get that, work with them on a solution that makes them comfortable.

    What do you recommend folks read from the book to motivate themselves to dig in?

    The first chapter in the book covers what project management is, and how it applies to everyone. It’s not just about having a PM on a team; it’s about understanding how project management practices can help you get work done. I also think that the personal stories in the book help to relate very basic, non-work interactions to the principles and practices of PM.

    What other profession would you like to try if you could?

    Maybe I’d start a small business like a restaurant, or work outdoors. No matter what I did, I’d be able to use my experience as a PM and consultant to help me.

    Knowing what you know now, what advice you’d give to your younger self?

    Be you. Follow happiness. (Thankfully, I feel as though I’ve done this for the most part)

     

    Clean Break: A User Research War Story by Joe Moran

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    Joe Moran is a product research scientist at Cogito Corporation in Boston, a startup using AI to decode emotion from voice.

    cover of Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries

    Working as an applied cognitive scientist, I was in the field at Fort Bragg, NC, embedded with an airborne military unit. Our group was tasked with learning about typical soldier maneuvers and the surrounding culture. A few of us (along with a couple of ex-Army handlers) had been invited to watch a “movement-to-contact” drill. This is where a single squad marches to an agreed-upon point, followed by a simulated firefight. I thought this was to be a straightforward observation; it turned out to be a learning experience punctuated by hubris, initiation, and a broken bone.

    I had failed to realise what “movement-to-contact” really meant. Assuming we would be safe behind glass surveying a sanitised battlefield, I was wearing a thin jacket, jeans, and decidedly flimsy sneakers. We arrived at the agreed upon start point, and I quickly realised that we were in for a full-on march through woods with no trails (and since it was winter, the ground was muddy and slippery). Nevertheless, I was in reasonably good shape, and confident that I could keep up. After all, how hard it could be to walk and observe at the same time?

    I strode off to follow the soldiers. The squad realised we were in tow, and decided to set a pretty quick pace to show us where we belonged; while the officers had brought us in, the rank and file didn’t seem to have much need for us. No matter, we were not weighed down by heavy gear, and we could keep up, even if it meant breaking into a jog every now and then. As we marched along, I managed to get some great photographs of the soldiers in action. After a while, we came upon a small ravine, eight feet wide, with the side nearest us having two ledges that each descended about four feet. The soldiers marched right across, and we soon followed. I stepped down off the first ledge, directly into soft ground and slid down on my butt those four feet. I got right up, and dusted myself off, wiping my hands on my jacket. I looked down and saw my left little finger pointed about 20 degrees off to the left. It was clearly dislocated, and I was clearly past “observation.”

    At this point, every fibre in my British being was telling me to keep calm and carry on, ‘tis just a flesh wound. I covered the offending appendage in a coat sleeve and thrust out my other hand for a lift up and out of the ravine. I continued on the march, but soon it was clear this situation was untenable. Either I could continue protecting my darkening finger from catching against anything unruly and risk breaking it, or I could call for help, bring the whole exercise to a crashing halt, and end up branded as the scientist who ruined the researchers’ privileges during our very first observation.

    I decided to flag down one of our handlers, who had been a medic. He gave me the classic “Look away, this is going to hurt me more than it does you!”, snapped it back into place, taped it up, and I continued with the observation. I was able to observe the rest of the movement-to-contact, and learned a lot about how this group works.

    But this was only day one of a planned five-day trip! If I went to the Army medic, I risked being sent home and unable to complete the research. When I showed the unit commander my injury, he winced, laughed, and gave a broad smile welcoming me to the unit. By seeking treatment in a way that did not impact the mission, I gained the trust of the commander, and our group was invited back for many subsequent observations, leading to lots of fruitful observations about all aspects of the unit’s work.

    I got an X-ray when I got home and unfortunately my finger was worse than merely dislocated: there was a clean break through the proximal phalange. Next time I showed up to Bragg, my finger was in a cast after surgery, and the soldiers got a good laugh at the return of “that guy”. From this experience I learned to (a) prepare for the unexpected, (b) not be be headstrong and charge in when I’m not prepared, and (c) improvise quickly when thing do not go to plan!


    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.

    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.