During our “Ask Me Anything” with Laura Klein, author of Build Better Products, we touched on subjects ranging from how to define “agile,” whether “scope creep” is something we should really consider a mistake, to recommendations around how to scale an agile team. Read on for a recap of the session, and please join our Slack here to stay informed about when our next #rm-chat author AMA will be!
Q: Scope Creep is what you call a product choice that was a mistake, yet in every other scenario we would call it Innovation and Entrepreneurial. How do we manage that risk and maximize the possibilities? -Arpy D.
A: Thanks for the question. I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to argue with your framing here. I don’t think Scope Creep is a product choice that was a mistake. I think Scope Creep is what happens when we don’t really understand the specific thing that we’re building and we keep just adding things onto it. That has nothing to do with innovation in my opinion. Some of the most innovative products are very small and well scoped. Also, scope creep was specifically more of a pre-agile thing when features were 100% scoped and estimated ahead of time. Then, when we did a bad job of that (as we always did because it’s hard), we would start saying “oh, actually, it also needs to do x” and “oh, now that it does x, it won’t work without y”. Again, that’s not innovation. That’s just bad planning.
Q: What advice and/or book recommendations do you have on scaling product teams and ensuring they remain agile? Also, I saw you recently tweet about design in agile teams. Aside from your article any other recommendations on this topic? – Cynthia C.
A: The trick is that you need to be outcome driven for each of your teams so that teams can remain semi-autonomous. You also need to have a strong commitment to iteration. The thing I’ve learned from research on this is that There is no Agile! There are a lot of models to this. There’s the team of teams and dual track and scrum vs kanban and guilds/squads, etc.
Q: Do you have any insights or advice around how designers can work better on agile teams?
A: I’ve been doing a ton of research on this.The extremely UX answer is that it depends. It turns out that when people talk about “agile” it actually can mean one of about a dozen different things, none of which are really terribly agile. Frequently, people introduce Agile because they just want to go faster, which can be really exhausting and burn-out-inducing for designers and researchers.
If you read the Agile Manifesto, it’s not that complicated. The problem is that it is very high level, and it comes out of a bunch of competing methodologies that have very specific instructions and rituals, and those often get very confusing (ie. kanban vs scrum).
Q: Do you see any reason not to go dual track? -Ben M.
A: Sometimes! First of all, I’ve found at least three different in the wild interpretations of “dual track” which makes this a hard question to answer. A lot of dual track seems to be aimed at developing (and validating) biggish new features. It’s probably overkill if what you need are small, incremental improvements, which is actually true of a lot of products. You also have to be careful that you don’t split things up as “this team gets to do cool new innovative stuff and this other team has to maintain our crappy legacy system!” But that’s more about your particular implementation of it, rather than saying you should or should’t use it. If you do use it, use it responsibly for the things it’s good for. The different types of dual track I’ve seen, by the way, are the ones where there’s a team that’s actually focused on discovery of new opportunities and testing out more risky new things vs one where ux and research are all on the first track. That second one is AgileFall, not dual track.
Join us on Slack for an “Ask Me Anything” with Laura Klein, author of Build Better Products. She’ll be answering your questions live on Tuesday, November 10 from 2-2:45pm EDT in our #rm-chat channel. Join our Slack here.
Join us on Slack for an “Ask Me Anything” with Tomer Sharon, author of Validating Product Ideas. He’ll be answering your questions live on Tuesday, November 17 from 2-2:45pm EDT in our #rm-chat channel. Join our Slack here.
Join us on Slack for an “Ask Me Anything” with Indi Young, author of Practical Empathy and Mental Models. She’ll be answering your questions live on Tuesday, December 1 from 2-2:45pm EST in our #rm-chat channel. Join our Slack here.
Cheryl Platz—Rosenfeld Media author, emcee of our Advancing Research and Enterprise Experience conferences, puppeteer, and Principal UX Designer at Gates Foundation—shares the inspiration that drove her new book Design Beyond Devices: Creating Multimodal, Cross-Device Experiences (due out in late 2020). If you’re an interaction designer, you’ll want to listen as Cheryl dramatically expands our understanding of one of interaction design’s final frontiers.
- Wired for Speech by Clifford Nass and Scott Brave
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We live—and work—in difficult, punishing times, and designers need more support than ever before. That’s why resilience is our theme for DesignOps 2020; we’ll explore design operations’ role in helping individual designers, design teams, and entire organizations adapt, survive, and thrive.
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During our “Ask Me Anything” with Steve Portigal, author of Interviewing Users and Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries, we touched on subjects ranging from how to handle difficult clients, Steve’s favorite band, and his recommended reading, to dealing with “heavy topics” in interviews and how to improve your skills. Read on for a recap of the session, and please join our Slack here to stay informed about when our next #rm-chat author AMA will be!
Q: What book except your own would you recommend to read for UX designer? -Natalia H.
A: There are so many things to learn about. For design, I think this recent book by Scott Berkun is a great examination of how design is everywhere and in everything. It’s a quick read, it’s fun, and it’s empowering for designers I think, telling us again about all that we do, we have done, we can do.
Q: I often deal with “heavy topics” such as life, disability, cancer etc in my line of work, so it is not unheard of that we have someone break down and cry in interviews. We try our best to mitigate and avoid unnecessary stress (participants health and safety is our primary concern and we tell them in advance about the topics that we will be discussing), but can you talk about some advice how to mitigate these situations or what to do when this happens? -Fabian B.
A: Of course the stress and the emotion is going to impact all the people involved, say the participant and the researcher. I think researchers need to keep in mind that they aren’t (in most cases) trained for this, and that they need to find ways to take care of themselves. Often we will emote less in the interview than we might want to, so we want to leave space for ourselves to have feelings, to have reactions, to have someone to talk to. Work out what that is going to be. Who are you going to be able to speak with? When will you be able to speak with them?
For the participant, I learned something new to me from Sarah Fathallah at the Advancing Research conference when she talked about referral paths, something that if you are doing academic research that has an IRB ethical review needs to be put in place (someone correct me if I have this wrong) – where you identify things that might come up, like if someone reveals they are being abused, or is going through addiction, or having suicidal thoughts, you already know what your action is going to be.
I don’t know that we need that level if we aren’t doing say specifically traumatic research, but it’s the idea of planning for that. I’m also not saying that we need to DO anything; I think well-intentioned but under-informed do-gooderism is potentially worse than doing nothing in certain situations.
The complexity here is you can’t come up with every possible thing that might come up. But you can come up with SOME. I am also intrigued by sort of a generational shift in how we see our role; from “we need to observe, listen, empathize, not judge” to “all those, but we must also help.”
Q: I suspect a lot of us always did at least some of our research remotely, but now with covid, we’re seeing way more remote/virtual research. What are a couple of your top best practices for doing remote research well and getting high-quality information from respondents? -Amy B.
A: I think it’s worth co-opting that thing I see tweeted all the time “you aren’t working from home, you are working from home amidst a global pandemic.” Same for research, right? All the parties are living through an emergency. So yes, there may be dogs and kids, and construction noise, and someone may be in their garage so they can get some privacy. And as we’ve adapted our tolerance for informality in terms of focus, energy, duration, attention in work, we can apply those to these interactions with strangers. A guy I spoke with yesterday put us on pause as his daughter asked for the car keys, she just got her license the day before. It was fine. I didn’t get ruffled like I might have in another time (no that’s crazy I’m nothing if not entirely cool and rolling with the changes). I don’t have a good answer for how fully remote research locks us out of getting to certain people. I just had a brainstorm with a colleague who was thinking about how to understand how people were or will be using transit, given that we can’t go on transit right now, and that the people who he’d want to learn about are possibly not sitting at home with a room with a laptop and a webcam and a good internet connection that is available all the time for them to just get on a call with us over Zoom. So who are we excluding even more so now (as society is excluding people in those circumstances even now) ? I know people are trying hard to deal with this, but I don’t know?
Q: Which musical group has had an interesting impact on your life and how? -Corey B.
A: I’m going to say The Tragically Hip. Being an expat Canadian, when the Hip would come to town it was always an interesting gathering of the community, at least a bunch of fellow Canucks. You’d go to a show and see hockey jerseys and University leather jackets, and just stuff you don’t EVER see in the US. And as time passed, we all got older, the fans got older, the band got older, and how we expressed ourselves and our identity shifted, gradually. I haven’t really moved through an era of my life as clearly in common with other people, not close friends, just strangers, but to feel it so tangibly through ANOTHER experience has impacted me. And of course the ultimate end of aging is death and the loss of Gord Downie still impacts me every day pretty much. I listen to the band and my many bootlegs and think about them and him, constantly. Perpetually.
Q: Do you have any tested tips/tricks on working with difficult clients? I recently had a challenge of convincing the client to use our approach when they wanted to do something else. Curious to hear what you do in such situations. -Kama K.
A: I don’t know enough about the context, and the power dynamic, as I think it often comes down to that. Two big directions, though: Empathy/Walk away. For the first, and I don’t mean to tell you stuff you already probably know and do in all your relationships, but there is that weird power to detoxify some broken interactions when you just listen, when you ask more, when you acknowledge, etc. Probably this has some buzzword for leadership people, I don’t know what that is. It sets you up to say authentically “Yes, And, and not No, But.”
For the second, if someone is a client, then you aren’t in a full-time job with them. Of course as someone who also provides services to clients, I want to do a good job, I want to be appreciated, I want to bring value, I want to be employed, and brought back in, etc. So I don’t like that framing that design people in agencies sometimes like to espouse which is making the client the enemy. But we can walk away. And even if we just hold in our head that we have the OPTION of walking away can making a less desired choice perhaps more tolerable. I’m CHOOSING to do this which I don’t agree with and which distresses me but I could and may at some point choose NOT to do it.
Q: What are your most counter-intuitive insights about research as it propagates through the product development process? -Scott W.
A: I don’t know that I can claim counter intuitive as a goal, if you agree with me then it’s probably not THAT counter intuitive? I think there’s this desire to create models and visuals that say if you are here do this, if you are here do that. Whether that’s the double diamond model or (VERY HELPFUL) recommendations for methods based on a stage in a process like Christian Rohrer’s.
I just am not that organized, I am just not able to constrain myself to a discrete stage, maybe I’m trees and that’s the forest and I just can’t do the forest well enough. That all being said, I think there’s something about how these processes are a continuum, a gradient, and not stages. I know Software Development Lifecycle Methodologies are all about gates, and stages, and review cycles, and (ugh) sprints, but I think in terms of where we are in terms of certainty, of belief, of ideas, it’s a much more creative process, I can’t control what thoughts I have in the shower in that way we have of considering and being inspired about what it means, what to do, what the opportunity is. Some of that is always happening for creative people – and research is ABSOLUTELY a creative process of sense making and understanding.
Q: Are there any topic(s) or technique(s) you hope more places of instruction cover for individuals entering into research? -Randolph D.
A: As you know, I love storytelling, and I think it’s such a powerful tool, but it’s just kind of considered to be something that is maybe part of your personality, your own personal toolbox. But obviously it can be taught, practiced, developed. Research is about gathering stories and creating new stories, and “story” is of course an ENORMOUSLY broad construct so one can take it however one likes.
I mentioned ethics in another question, I think as a field we haven’t reckoned with it sufficiently. I’d like people coming into the field to have a perspective on it. I know a researcher who wrote up their own research philosophy, not even as a document to publish but as a way of working out what they were trying to do. I was extremely impressed with that.
Research as a practice to me is a constant consideration of who we are in the world, as people, how we relate to other people, how we judge and don’t judge, and just how we move around and exist and perhaps make and help. So, being intentional about what you believe and what you want, damn. It’s a brilliant activity. I haven’t ever done that and hadn’t ever thought of doing it. So philosophy isn’t ethics literally but is adjacent?
I’d like something in training – and I don’t know that the places people are learning about research are the right environments to be considering this aspect – about what the researcher’s role is relative to the rest of the people they work with. I do not like the idea of research as “support” – you hear “oh I support three teams” – I know research is a helping profession like say librarians, and I don’t mean to squelch that strength, but I think we are partners and leaders, and if we don’t believe in the value we can bring in the role we can play, no one else will. I think it’s a hard field to break into and there are a lot of entry level people and so if they are told they have to be subservient, that can set a long running pattern for their career and for the practice.
Q: Someone interested in working with us recently asked how we recommend she improve her interview skills. I recommended your books, but are there any classes or seminars you might recommend as well? -Amy B.
A: I’m going to pitch my upcoming workshop. Also very very good is the cycle of “do, observe, reflect.” (which probably has a smarter name than I’m giving it). Listen to Terry Gross – listen to her technique. Reflect on her technique. Print out a transcript and mark it up. What choices did she make? What other choices could she make?
Listen to your own interviews. Print them out. Listen to a colleague’s interviews. Same same. Have someone ELSE listen to your interviews. Have someone else mark up Terry Gross (or anyone who does a lot of interviews).
I think training will get you further than you are, but practice, man practice is the way. Do a lot of interviews. A LOT. Reflect and analyze!
Q: What are some tips for building rapport in remote interviews? (with camera and without camera) -Erika
A: One avenue to explore is pointing to the medium, just acknowledging that you are doing what you are doing. And not pretending that you are as smooth as you are when you are in the same room. I did an interview yesterday where I had to share screen from Google Slides (not what I normally use for giving talks) and see speaker notes and it’s just a mess, and so I stopped and said what was going to happen, and then you heard the “unprofessional” sounds of me, saying, “Okay I’m going to hit share screen…yeah I think it’s shared now, okay, now I’m doing this, can you see this?” It just normalizes the interaction so you are both having a similar experience.
One thing I think needs to be explored is around shared sensory experiences. I saw Alice Waters talk recently and she described how she’d meet with people and she’d put a piece of fruit or something else down in between them and they’d just eat it beforehand and it created these interesting connections and well, rapport.
I don’t know how to operationalize this for remote research but I’m imagining having everyone pet their furry animal before starting and just sharing that moment that is about the senses, even though we are having our own experiences, we are having similar ones together. I think there’s probably some work to do to create that in a non-weird-sounding way.
Join us on Slack for an “Ask Me Anything” with Steve Portigal, author of Interviewing Users and Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries. He’ll be answering your questions live on Thursday, August 13 from 1-1:45pm EDT in our #rm-chat channel. Join our Slack here. Haven’t read his books yet? You can access a discount code once you join.
During our “Ask Me Anything” with Amy Bucher, author of Engaged: Designing for Behavior Change, we touched on subjects ranging from career advice to climate change, social justice, and the intersection of science and UX. Read on for a recap of the session, and please join our Slack here to stay informed about when our next #rm-chat author AMA will be!
Q: How have you applied your own behavior change design principles in your personal life? Give us an example! -DJ H.
A: Good question! Probably my most successful personal behavior change is becoming a runner. I didn’t run at all until I was almost 30, then one day I went on a jog on a whim and got really pissed by how bad I was at it. So I put together a training plan and somehow stuck with it, and now running is a major part of my life and identity. I would say writing Engaged is also an example. I used a lot of milestones, goal setting, and accountability tactics to get it written.
Q: Molly Stevens recently gave the closing keynote at the UXR conference and pointed to a series of next steps for the research community. One of them is “First, be seen as the scientists that we are. The work we do is grounded in years of study and scientific principles. We should emphasize and celebrate this, instead of diminishing or ignoring our foundation.” Molly is speaking about research specifically, but my question for you is more general, around the dynamic that you’ve found between science and UX—what have you seen? How have you navigated? What would you like to see? -Steve P.
A: This is a really thoughtful and thought-provoking question. I have found there is some tension between science and UX, but it’s inconsistent. I personally experienced the tension entering the design workforce with a PhD—when I first applied for roles I got quite a bit of pushback and remember being told in one interview that they knew I wasn’t seriously interested in the job (well, not after that response I wasn’t!). I’ve discovered I thrive working for companies that explicitly embrace science and value that part of my background. Where most of my work is in health, I think we still struggle to create products that are based on strong science and also have beautiful, elegant design. Health IT is typically a UX wasteland, and a lot of consumer health tech is not based on strong science. I try to think of this as an exciting opportunity and not a horrifying miss. I would like to see more collaboration and less ego. One person who I think is doing this effectively is Sherry Pagoto at UConn—she’s really into putting academic testing frameworks around consumer health tech so that it can gain the type of evidence base it needs to be accepted in healthcare settings.
Q: How is behavior change design (BHD) different from user experience design (UXD)? Are they both different labels for the same thing? -Nitya R.
A: I do think they are different. The main differences in my view are the use of established scientific frameworks in BCD, and the focus on behavior as the target of design. I see BCD as a subset of UXD.
Q: Let’s say someone falls in this BCD subset. A psych background and a significant amount of HCI knowledge and research experience, but not formally trained in the design-specific elements of UI/UX. How many companies make the distinction between these two roles in their organizations? (It seems nearly all jobs in behavior change tech require UI/UX design skills. But in doing this, companies are missing an opportunity: what the psych-heavy side has to offer.) -Mary M.
A: Great point, and I do not know the answer, but that reminds me of a fabulous resource! Ingrid Paulin of Rally Health made this great spreadsheet of companies around the world that hire people with behavior science expertise.
Q: Aside from your home turf of healthcare, what are the areas you’re seeing as having the most potential for designing for behavior change? Maybe better to ask: where are designers working now, and where might the be working in five years? -Lou R.
A: Climate change! There is SO MUCH opportunity there for behavior change work. So far the main obstacles I’ve seen to doing the work is that the money isn’t there, but the projects definitely are.
Q: Any other areas that stand out?
A: I attended an event at the World Wildlife Foundation about 2 years ago with the theme of behavior change and was blown away by some of the incredible work being done around the world on things like sustainable fishing practices and clean cooking fuels. Right now that’s all NGO-driven. As the economics around climate change shift I hope we’ll see more companies wanting to fund this type of work.
I also think politics is ripe for shaking up. There were a couple of behavior change type interventions around the 2016 election that I thought were interesting (Jane McGonigal worked on an app for example that encouraged people to get their friends to vote). The Environmental Voter Project is an organization using behavior change principles to get people to vote. There’s so much reform needed that I hope we see more focus there.
Q: Like you said above, with climate change, the projects are there but the funding isn’t. Is there a space where design for behavior change can move money toward these projects? -Katya H.
A: Easier said than done. I think the economics will shift around climate change as more organizations either realize the existing way of doing things is not sustainable, or they see that their consumers are interested in better alternatives. As I think about it, maybe the focus should be on helping to create buzz and desirability around more sustainable products or ways of doing things.
Q: There’s a revolutionary (and counter-revolutionary) spirit in the U.S. today, similar but different to what I saw in the 1960s. What role can government institutions and businesses play in encouraging behavior change when it comes to diversity and inclusion? And by this, I mean more than simply sending us daily emails about how much they care about BLM. -Bob T.
A: You hit on a great point here, which is that words without actions are (almost) meaningless, and people perceive words without actions as inauthentic at some point. One big role they can play is demonstrating through action what the change looks like. Organizations that actually have diverse leadership, for example, have a lot of credibility in talking about what it takes to hire a diverse work force and leverage the talents and perspectives of their people. What sucks right now is realizing how few companies are in a position to model anything. One thing I was very inspired by in writing my book was talking to Sheryl Cababa and hearing about the Tarot Cards of Tech she co-developed at Artefact. I think those kinds of design methods are a process-based way that orgs can start bringing more diverse perspectives into their work. I thought it was great this year seeing so many organizations acknowledge Juneteenth. We had to delay finishing a project because our client org made Juneteenth a paid day off on short notice—best reason ever to be late.
Q: When choosing a solution type, do you have a preference for a particular method/framework for prioritization of interventions to solve ability blockers? -Jeff G.
A: Yes! I tend to reach for motivation-based tools first because I truly believe that behavior change happens when the actions align with people’s motivation. That said, I work in a consultancy so my projects are for clients, and often I need to adjust my toolkit to fit the client’s parameters.
One example: I did a construction worker safety project, and we uncovered a lot of environmental adjustments that could be made at worksites to limit people taking unnecessary risks. But the client wanted to develop a training—so our output was a training. We presented on the environmental adjustments but I have no idea if anything became of that.
Q: Do you have any advice for those just jumping in the BCD pool? -Jode K.
A: I have been recommending recently that people start with a few more accessible activities that are part of the BCD toolkit. The three I’ve pulled out are doing a lit review of peer reviewed papers related to your project, creating an outcomes logic map that articulates the behaviors you’re trying to influence, and using a BC framework for a lensed brainstorm. The lensed brainstorm in particular is extremely accessible. I do versions of it with clients often.
Join us on Slack for an “Ask Me Anything” with Amy Bucher, the author of Engaged: Designing for Behavior Change
She’ll be answering your questions live on July 16 from 2-3pm EDT in our #rm-chat channel. Join our Slack here. Haven’t read the book yet? You can access a discount code once you join.