Tamara Hale leads the research practice at Workday. This story is adapted from Hale, T. 2018 People Are Not Users. Journal of Business Anthropology. 7(2):163-183. She will be telling a completely new story at the Advancing Research conference.
A ferry boat is a place of questionable comfort for conducting research. A ferry boat in a storm is an altogether different matter, as I found out several years ago, when I was researching the experience of travelers sailing across the English channel between Dover and Calais, on one of Europe’s biggest ferry companies.
My objective was to inform a complete redesign of the newest fleet of ships, based on an understanding of the needs of ferry travelers: from queuing, to parking and wayfinding to the deck, to using the facilities on board and deboarding, all viewed through the perspective of service design. I spent a week observing and interviewing couples, families, traveling groups, truckers and staff on the ship. With time I felt I had become part of its very inventory: adapting to the ebb and flow of passengers for their three hour crossing. At each port, the ferry emptied itself of people, cars, buses and trucks and grew quiet, as if the ship sighed in relief and then braced in anticipation for the next wave of passengers. While the staff cleaned up from the last crossing and prepared for the next sailing, I would organize my fieldnotes and change the batteries on my audio recorder (yes, we had those back then). With multiple crossings a day I eventually forgot which port we were at, and it was only by locating a flag on the docks outside that I would know whether we were in Dover or Calais at any given time.
In my second week of fieldwork, just as I became accustomed to the daily routine of life aboard the ferry boat, I found myself suddenly in the midst of a formidable storm. As the waters grew rougher, and the ship floor started responding to the undulation of the tempestuous waves, I gave up on asking passengers to show me around the ship because none of us could walk or stand confidently. Instead I wobbled over onto the luxury travel deck, hoping for some relief amidst the red velvet lounge sofas, oak bar, and unobstructed ocean views. There I attempted to interview a retired couple on their vacation, my audio recorder sliding back and forth on the table between us. But I was soon forced to abort the interview, trying my best not to throw up on the red velvet, or worse, my research participants. The ferry staff, seeing my distress, tried to assure me that this weather did not pose a threat to our lives, while simultaneously scooping up the wine and champagne glasses off the bar into the safety of lockable wooden cabinets. At the end of the night, I stumbled off the ship to my hotel, wondering if I could ever set foot on another boat.
After a few nights of rest, I returned to the ship to complete my research over a span of a few much calmer days, this time focusing on truck drivers who regularly made the crossing with different concerns than my holiday travelers. I attempted to regale my research participants with the story of my storm of Titanic proportions days earlier, an endeavor which sparked pity and laughter rather than admiration. I wrapped up fieldwork as I always do, with a sense of deep humility and an expanded sense of different lifeworlds. This time, however, that humility was less intellectual in nature than corporeal.
The storm had added a new layer of complexity to my role in the project and to my personal and bodily relationship with the site of my research, the ship. Through the storm I became acutely aware that, despite my best intentions, I had treated the ship primarily as a backdrop for my interviews instead of considering it as a space and material object that seemingly possessed its own agency. The affordances of the ship when activated by the storm had challenged my sense of safety, comfort, and routine and replaced it with fear, confusion and malaise. Through my own body I learned of the ship’s potential to make its passengers feel a range of emotions and physical sensations. This attuned me more fully to the ship’s design shortcomings, to travelers’ and staff needs, and ultimately enhanced my ability to shape the decisions in the design and funding of the new fleet. While I never did fully find my sea legs on that research trip, I had reached a turning point in my appreciation of the spaces and environments in which research takes place.
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.
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Without words, apps would be an unusable jumble of shapes and icons, while voice interfaces and chatbots wouldn’t even exist. Words make software human-centered, and require just as much thought as the branding and code. Writing Is Designing: Words and the User Experience by Michael J. Metts and Andy Welfle will show you how to give your users clarity, test your words, and collaborate with your team. You’ll see that writing is designing.
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“At last! A book that treats writing for products as a design practice that has tangible, lasting impact on the user experience. Andy and Michael don’t just help you write better—they help you design better products.”
— Jonathon Colman, Senior Design Manager, Intercom
Speaker decks, presentation videos, Natalie Hansen’s tripnotes, and MJ Broadbent’s sketchnotes are now available via the conference’s program page; enjoy! You can also see all the photos from the conference here.
We hope to see you again next year—or even sooner at Advancing Research 2020 (March 30-April 1 in New York City)
—Lou Rosenfeld and the DesignOps Summit team
Tickets are now available! Register now.
What makes the Advancing Research 2020 conference unique?
- A research-driven conference: Practicing what we preach, we’ve designed the conference and its program based on two robust phases of user research, involving nearly 1,000 responses and analysis from over a dozen highly-experienced researchers.
- A diverse, compelling speaker line-up: We’re carefully selecting speakers for their ideas and for the diverse perspectives and experiences they represent. 40% of our conference proposals come from members of under-represented groups; 17% come from new speakers.
- Presentations that set the standard for quality: Once we select our speakers, we work with them iteratively over months to prepare and rehearse their presentations.
- Our attendees shape and lead the industry: You’ll meet more research leaders, high-level research managers, and experienced research practitioners than you’ll find at perhaps any other conference.
Who should attend the Advancing Research 2020 conference?
- Experienced researchers: People who conduct research projects, select methods and develop methodologies, design studies, and evaluate products and services.
- Research team leaders and managers: People who select research tools and platforms, hire and onboard researchers, manage research operations, develop methodologies for their teams, and represent research in the C-suite.
- Senior leaders, innovators, and strategists: People who have invested heavily into building cutting-edge research organizations.
Thank you so much to everyone who submitted their proposal to speak at the very first Advancing Research conference!
In my book Why We Fail I included a case study of BMW’s iDrive in-car software (here’s a condensed version published by Fast Company). I’ve been following the progress of iDrive over the years. My working theory was that iDrive undoubtably hurt sales, but BMW’s cars are successful in so many other ways they still sell, and as long as they can gradually improve iDrive over time then the customer suffering will eventually subside.
How software made me loathe my luxury car by Mikkel Høgh is a sobering update that makes me think the software ecosystem for iDrive owners has only become worse. I sometimes travel for work and have the opportunity to rent and try in-car software from many manufacturers, and I’ve come to the same conclusion as Mikkel: CarPlay is wonderful. I plug in my phone and it just works. The car I own, a Mazda, is well-designed with fine if not great in-car software; CarPlay is the single thing I wish it had.
So perhaps iDrive’s gradual improvement has been too gradual, and CarPlay is poised to subsume the in-car software market?
In this episode of the Rosenfeld Review, Lou and Angelos Arnis, Producer of the Joint Futures Conference in Helsinki, Finland (September 2-5, 2019), discuss the evolving landscape of design professionals’ needs, and how the Joint Futures Conference has changed to suit them. Rosenfeld Media is pleased to partner with Joint Futures this year to offer four full-day workshops on September 5, 2019.
According to our user research, you want a conference program that offers practical information (tools, techniques, and take-aways that you can bring back to the office), and you’re motivated by these three themes:
- Proving Value, Measuring Outcomes
- Partnering Outside Design
- Change Management
The DesignOps Summit’s two-day main program (October 23-24) is designed with those needs in mind. And our six day-long workshops (October 25) delve even more deeply into the topics you’ll need to develop modern Design and Research Operations.
—Dave Malouf, Kristin Skinner, Abby Covert, & Lou Rosenfeld (program chairs)
Looking for an opportunity for deep design learning? We’re offering six transformational day-long workshops at the DesignOps Summit in New York City on October 25.
- Creating Career Ladders for DesignOps with Brennan Hartich and Amanda Weisfeld
- ResearchOps 101: How to Get ResearchOps Off the Ground with Kate Towsey
- Understand and Change Your Work Culture Through Meetings with Kevin M. Hoffman
- Operating Design Systems: Curating a Product, Serving Products with Nathan Curtis
- Design Your Design Organization with Peter Merholz and Kristin Skinner
- Design Operations and Program Management with Jacqui Frey