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The latest from Rosenfeld Media

The latest from Rosenfeld Media

  • From Moscow with Love: A User Research War Story by Joel Kashuba

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    Joel Kashuba has practiced design for nearly two decades, with a career spanning the practices of architecture, industrial design, branding, UX, and innovation consulting. He currently leads the Innovation & Design functions for Fifth Third Bank located in Cincinnati, Ohio. He told this story on stage at Midwest UX 2017.

    cover of Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries

    While working for a major CPG company I was placed with a cross-functional innovation team assigned to write and vet concepts that would take a well-known women’s shaving brand into several other personal care categories. The focus was on serving the needs of young women in several BRIC countries. The theme we had been asked to unlock was “A Day at the Spa” – a theme the company had uncovered in earlier research within the United States and projected as a fruitful area to mine for opportunities and frame our expansion.

    Before going out into the field – specifically, to Moscow – the project team undertook countless hours of concept writing sessions, often with heavily resourced vendor partners. We created roughly 25 concepts, each taking unique inspiration from the theme “A Day at the Spa”. Armed with our concepts we set off to Russia and began collaborating with consumers in the field to vet each concept.

    By the noon on the first day, none of our concepts were resonating and we recognized our first challenge. The translator we had been assigned by a local agency was an older Russian gentleman who sounded much like a James Bond villain. As he readied each of our painstakingly word-smithed concepts, they each ended up sounding like the dastardly ideas of a dour old man who may like to cross-dress. To fix this, we recruited a spritely young woman who worked as an assistant concierge at our hotel to read the concepts. She was great! Several of our consumers even mentioned that she had the perfect voice for commercials in this category.

    Despite this change, our concepts still weren’t hitting the mark we were aiming for and we couldn’t figure out why. These concepts had been exceptionally well received in our early test back in the States – what was going on here in Moscow that made them such tankers?

    Finally, near the morning of day three, one of our consumers asked us plainly, “Why are you trying to make me feel old?”

    “Old?” we asked her with sincere confusion, “Can you say more? Is there something in the concepts that makes you feel old?”

    “Yes,” she quickly retorted, “you keep talking to me about spending a day at the spa.”

    “And what does that mean to you?” we had our translator ask her.

    She looked surprised and a little pissed off. She explained, “It means the place we send our grandmothers when they are too old to take care of in their homes. It’s the place people go before they die.”

    It hit us like a ton of bricks. In Russian culture, a “spa” is what we’d call a retirement home. As we had been pulling out concept after concept trying to get these young women to fall in love with our theme, all they saw was of tone-deaf Americans shoving the idea of products for a retirement home down their throats.

    We were horrified. We called off the rest of the day’s consumers and stayed up all night re-writing the concepts. The young concierge we had hired to translate became an adjunct team member. Constrained by time, we changed our strategy and turned consumer research into consumer co-creation. We had consumers work in teams to read and re-write the concepts, which were passed along to other teams of consumers to be refined. By the time we finished we had three great concepts that all resonated well.

    Coming back to our home base, we reflected on the experience as a team. What we had set out to do was valid, but how we remained nimble in the field is what made the clear difference in how we would found success.


    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.

    Baptism by Fire: A User Research War Story by Nadav Zohar

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    Nadav Zohar is a UX researcher at AEP in Columbus, OH.

    cover of Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries

    My first ever user research project was for a healthcare app. Our users were nurses who work with poor and high-risk patients, often called “the under-served.” My supervisor and I had a reserved conference room at the client’s site, and our pre-scheduled users rotated in about one per hour. It was a grueling two days of nonstop interviews. For the first day I took notes while my supervisor moderated.

    On the second day, after he moderated the first couple of interviews, my supervisor turned to me and asked if I thought I was ready to take the lead on the next one. I said “Sure” so he handed me the discussion guide. In came our next user, a middle-aged nurse who was very sweet and eager to help us in any way she could. This was my very first user interview and I was ready for a clean, uneventful affair.

    As the questions on my discussion guide turned to the technological hurdles she encounters when helping her patients, her frustration mounted. At one point, while discussing how her technology failed to help her manage the stress of the enormous workload placed on her and her colleagues, she mentioned having lost a patient. I watched her relive that pain – she broke down and started sobbing. None of the other users we’d talked to had even come close to that kind of emotional response, even though some of them had lost patients too.

    Right then and there I learned there’s an awkward balance between not wanting to seem clinical and cold at that crucial moment, but still wanting to preserve an interviewee’s dignity: I figured weeping in front of strangers at work must be somewhat embarrassing. So I bowed my head and looked down at my notes, or my lap, or at nothing in particular, to give the crying nurse a bit of privacy. I waited a few sobs so it didn’t seem like I was trying to shut her up, and then I warmly and gracefully offered her a box of tissues. I let her know I empathized with her pain (although looking back on it I don’t see how I really could have…but my empathy felt genuine anyway) and she eventually calmed down and we finished out the interview. After that, back at the office I was jokingly known as the guy to call in to make people cry.

    I think I deal fairly well with very emotional user research situations and over my career I’ve learned they are not uncommon, but it was interesting to have one right off the bat.


    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.

    Getting To The Point: A User Research War Story by Emily Mayfield

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    Emily Mayfield (Twitter, LinkedIn) is a User Experience Researcher at The Kroger Co. in Cincinnati, OH.

    cover of Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries

    Before my current job, I spent six months in Bangalore, India, doing research for a lab that was part of a design school in the northern part of the city. I did not drive while I was in India – I took public transportation and little “autos,” which resemble a golf cart in terms of size and a lawnmower in terms of sound. At that time Uber was barred from India. The driving style in Bangalore struck me as very different from the States: sometimes the traffic lights/stop signs are ignored, sometimes drivers go well beyond oncoming traffic lanes, sometimes when a freeway exit is missed drivers throw their cars into reverse on the freeway. I saw enough daily to get my heart pumping.

    I was doing research to understand what the notion of “smart city” might mean in India? As part of the research, I made cold calls to different innovation centers and companies, setting up expert interviews that would inform the research. I learned a lot about how companies had explored the concept of “smartness” in cities. In retrospect, the interview part was easy. Finding the location of the interviews was the challenge.

    I had a smart phone. I had a camera. I took photos of the locations on Google maps on my computer or on my phone in case the connection on my phone was lost or hiccuping. One time, I got on the bus headed south and rode it two hours deep into the city to a neighborhood I was unfamiliar with. I hopped off when it seemed like I was close to where I needed to be. There was a queue of auto drivers at the bus stop. I showed my phone and camera screens, with their neat pin-point of my destination on the digital map, to the first driver in the queue. I showed him the address: a building number and street name. The driver waved me in. “No problem!” I thought to myself. I smiled and held on tight to my bag and the rail of the auto. We were off! Turning and bending through little streets and big ones, weaving in between cars and buses. We flew past people crossing the street, animals doing the same, and carts selling food and tea. We drove and drove and drove some more. Minutes led to double-digits. The driver was flying…in what felt like circles. Checking the time, I thought “Oh boy…”

    Eventually the driver pulled over to ask other auto drivers for help finding the location. Local folks came to help. A cop or some kind of military person joined in the effort. The mass of people tried to help, pointing around like the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz guessing all directions to try next. They discussed, pointed, checked and double-checked the address and the maps. At last I got a solid idea: I called my interviewee and he chatted with the driver. We met in a place that the driver could find and then I walked with the interviewee to the building together.

    Afterwards, a colleague let me know that the European conventions of maps as we know them don’t make sense to some people in India who have never seen a map in that form. Also, Bangalore is constantly changing, adding streets and changing names of streets. Later on I learned that landmarks are the way to go, as well as calling people sooner rather than later. Still, the worst case scenario was handing my phone to friendly-looking strangers to communicate with a driver when I’m really lost and it worked. A quick shout out to the kind and patient people of Bangalore: Thank you for your constant help getting me to and fro!

    Side note: It’s possible my geographical difficulty is just a me thing. More than once I’ve gone to conduct research at the wrong Kroger store on the same street here in Cincinnati!


    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.

    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.

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    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!