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.
This is a running post I’ll update when I spot something in Liftoff! that may not be totally clear, or could be at risk of being misinterpreted, or if something is wrong and I need to set the record straight.
Throughout the course of editing the first chapter, I removed language that clearly stated the timeline of events discussed in Helen Keighron’s contribution. As a result, a reader could mistakenly conclude that Ms. Keighron was sharing experiences referring to her present employer. In fact, she was discussing a previous job and how she is applying those lessons learned there in her current position now. I regret the error and am sorry for causing Ms. Keighron to appear to be referring to her current employer and workplace.Fill out my online form.
When I wrote the blog post Liftoff! Opening Credits: Contributors, Guests, and Reviewers, my goal was to highlight the many folks who shared their stories or reviewed our work throughout the course of writing the book.
This book was intentionally different from some leadership and management books in that we didn’t want to overly rely on anonymous case studies that were more parable than playbook. That means that almost all of the stories here are written by the contributors themselves.
One result is that we were able to find and amplify voices who may be less familiar to many of our readers. We could also share the stories of more women and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color than if we only asked for people to opt-in to nominate themselves to share their perspective.
That decision led to a few others I want to share.
We made the choice to research and write the diversity and inclusion chapter ourselves rather than ask someone who has lived the experience of being a BIPOC in a corporate environment to write it for us. We didn’t want to outsource the hardest chapter to write in the book, only to have Russ and I go back to writing the rest of the text. That didn’t feel right then, and I don’t regret it today. Instead, we asked people—both design peers and diversity and inclusion professionals–to review our point of view in the text and help us shape the chapter in a way that can help other teams where their leaders can learn from our mistakes, the research we’ve cited, and our approaches to improving toward a more just and equitable workplace.
But at the end of the day, while those new voices get published, the royalties still come to me. Not to the folks who volunteered their time to be a part of this book, either in the role of contributor or one-time-editor.
As such, I want to pay forward the financial success of the book that our volunteers made possible. This post is a pledge to donate 50% of the after-tax profits of my proceeds to Colin Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights Camp, with a minimum donation of $1,000 by the end of 2020.
If you’re unfamiliar with the organization, “the Know Your Rights Camp’s mission is to advance the liberation and well-being of Black and Brown communities through education, self-empowerment, mass-mobilization and the creation of new systems that elevate the next generation of change leaders”. I believe Kap was colluded against by a sports league that has benefited from systemic white supremacy since its founding, and has spent his prime athletic years organizing against and challenging those anti-Black institutions. I want to use my own privilege and good fortune to invest in his mission, because Black lives matter.
We titled our leadership book Liftoff! because we want design leaders to help elevate their teams to success, and with your support we can also help elevate the young people in Kap’s camps–including Chicago, New York, Atlanta, New Orleans, Oakland, and others–to new heights too.
Please note that this is a personal decision and mine alone, and my decisions should not be expected to also apply to others who may choose to protest, assemble, donate, or be a champion for change differently than my approach here.
The word innovation gets thrown around a lot, but rare is a company who sets an audacious goal, such as recovering a rocket by landing it back on earth, and then works through years of expensive failures to reach success. Innovation is not an exaggeration here, and so SpaceX is completely comfortable editing together all their failed attempts for us to see. What other “innovative” company would do this?
This list isn’t exhaustive and does not include everything we cited or reference throughout Liftoff! (and there’s a lot!). Instead, we wanted to share a number of the links that that may be helpful to folks on their leadership journey that were important to our book.
Design Leadership Communities and Events
- InVision Design Leadership Forum
- Leadership by Design conference
- Leading Design Slack community,conferences, meet-ups, and retreats
- Design Leadership Summit conference and Slack community
- DesignOps Summit
- Design Dept. Slack community, workshops and coaching
- Within.co retreats, community, and magazine
Recent Design and Product Development Leadership books
- Making of a Manager by Julie Zhou
- Resilient Management by Lara Hogan
- The Manager’s Path by Camille Fournier
Hiring: More Places to Diversify Your Candidate Pool
But there are still some more interesting places to either post design openings or browse through directories of diverse designers who may be interested in discussing your firm’s open positions. Let’s look at a few sites and how they describe themselves:
College and university career sites
If you’re looking for entry level to early career design positions and a degree is required, you can have a lot of success identifying undiscovered candidates here. Often, the posting is free, and you can also conduct individual candidate searches by major and year of graduation.
“Latinxs Who Design” is a living directory of thriving Latinxs in the design industry. Their mission is to provide a space to find outstanding people to follow, look for a mentor, make new friends, or discover talented individuals to join your team.
“Blacks Who Design” highlights all of the inspiring Black designers in the industry. The goal is to inspire new designers, encourage people to diversify their feeds, and discover amazing individuals to join your team.
“Women Who Design” is a Twitter directory of accomplished women in the design industry. It aims to help people find notable and relevant voices to follow on Twitter by parsing Twitter bios for popular keywords.
“Queer Design Club’s” mission is to promote and celebrate all the amazing work that happens at the intersection of queer identity and design worldwide—from LGBTQ+ designers’ contributions to the industry to design’s role in queer activism throughout history.
These directories provide an effective method of introducing you to people you may otherwise have never crossed paths with. But just blasting directories of people—whether from LinkedIn or one of the above community-focused services—won’t work if you’re not communicating the right message and tone to get people interested in learning more.
When Russ and I started writing Liftoff!, we knew right away that we wanted to amplify experiences & perspectives from a broad representation of design leaders. We also made sure we didn’t solely include all the usual suspects who frequently contribute to the greater user experience and design community.
We’re grateful that these folks wanted to help by sharing their voices, either directly as contributors, as a reviewer who read our chapters from start to finish (and sometimes multiple times over), or by telling us a story that we quoted in the book. It’s also worth mentioning that some folks shared amazing stories that unfortunately weren’t able to be included in the text after much hand-wringing with our editors. In addition to the complete list of resources we footnote in the book, we want to highlight a few of the secondary sources whose work has already been published elsewhere but is especially relevant to our message.
Surprise! You’re a Design Manager Now!
Designing Diversity and Inclusion in Your Design Team
Designing Your Hiring Process
Performance Profiles and Interview Guides
Interviewing Potential Team Members
The Home Stretch – From Offers to Onboarding
Unifying the Team Culture with Charters
Designing the One on Ones
Presenting Work and Everything Else
Developing People, Teams, and Careers
A comprehensive list of references and works cited will be provided in the text. In the meantime, a sampling of our secondary sources include:
- Chelsey Glasson
- Hannah McKelvey
- Jacqueline L. Frank
- Danielle Mastrangel Brown
- Camille Fournier
- Yesenia Perez-Cruz
- Nathan Curtis
- Jeneanne Rae
- Maria Guidice
- Lara Hogan
- Julie Zhou