“Scientists say juggling e-mail, phone calls and other incoming information can change how people think and behave. They say our ability to focus is being undermined by bursts of information.
These play to a primitive impulse to respond to immediate opportunities and threats. The stimulation provokes excitement — a dopamine squirt — that researchers say can be addictive. In its absence, people feel bored.
The resulting distractions can have deadly consequences, as when cellphone-wielding drivers and train engineers cause wrecks. And for millions of people [...], these urges can inflict nicks and cuts on creativity and deep thought, interrupting work and family life.”
So, you want to do user research: characteristics of great researchers
By Demetrius Madrigal and Bryan McClain (Metric Lab)
“One of the best things about user research is that anyone can do it. On the other hand, it takes real commitment and a lot of personal development to do user research well. People commonly assume that research is research—and doing any kind of research is better than doing none at all. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Not all user research is created equal. Flawed research can be a significant liability to the success of a product, as well as the company developing it, so it really is important to get it right.
To be effective, there are certain personal characteristics a user researcher should have. Whether you are a dedicated user researcher, a student who is considering a career path in user research, a UX designer or software engineer who sometimes gets called upon to do user research, or a stakeholder looking for research support, this column will help you to understand the personal characteristics that really make a difference to a user researcher’s success.”
Designing with behavioral economics
By Peter Hornsby
“Much of economics theory is based on the premise that people are rational decision-makers. In recent years, behavioral economics—also known as behavioral finance—has emerged as a discipline, bringing together economics and psychology to understand how social, cognitive, and emotional factors influence how people make decisions, both as individuals and at the market level. Many of the findings of behavioral economics have a direct influence on how users interact with a product. In a worst‑case scenario, a product’s design may encourage user behaviors that are detrimental to users’ best interests.”
by Anya Kamenetz
Chelsea Green, 2010
Anya Kamenetz’s new book, DIY U, explores whether the university should embrace digital technologies, or resist.
“In a world being radically altered by new media technologies, should the university embrace those technologies, or resist them? This is the question Anya Kamenetz explores in her new book DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education. Her answer — in this troubling, stylistically flat and haphazardly structured book — is an emphatic yes for a wholehearted embrace.”
“Much of the vast sea of data flowing around the world every day is left unexplored because the existing tools and charts can’t help us effectively navigate it. Data visualization, interactive infographics, and related visual representation techniques can play a key part in helping people find their way through the wide expanses of data now opening up. There’s a long history of depicting complex information in graphical forms, but the gusher of data now flowing from corporations, governments and scientific research requires more powerful and sophisticated visualization tools to manage it.
Just as a compass needle can give us direction in physical space, a chart line can direct our way through data. As effective as these simple lines may be, they can only take us so far. For many purposes, advanced data visualization methods may never replace Excel, but in our data-saturated world, they might well be the best tools for the job. UX designers can play a key role in creating these new tools and charts. In these treasure maps of data, perhaps UX marks the spot.”
Whitney’s article is the start of a series, that will look at how data visualisation can help many of us see more clearly and navigate whatever lies ahead.
Amid the silly videos and spam are the roots of a new reading and writing culture, says Clay Shirky.
“The case for digitally-driven stupidity assumes we’ll fail to integrate digital freedoms into society as well as we integrated literacy. This assumption in turn rests on three beliefs: that the recent past was a glorious and irreplaceable high-water mark of intellectual attainment; that the present is only characterized by the silly stuff and not by the noble experiments; and that this generation of young people will fail to invent cultural norms that do for the Internet’s abundance what the intellectuals of the 17th century did for print culture. There are likewise three reasons to think that the Internet will fuel the intellectual achievements of 21st-century society.”
The cognitive effects are measurable: We’re turning into shallow thinkers, says Nicholas Carr.
“A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that the Net, with its constant distractions and interruptions, is [...] turning us into scattered and superficial thinkers.
The picture emerging from the research is deeply troubling, at least to anyone who values the depth, rather than just the velocity, of human thought. People who read text studded with links, the studies show, comprehend less than those who read traditional linear text. People who watch busy multimedia presentations remember less than those who take in information in a more sedate and focused manner. People who are continually distracted by emails, alerts and other messages understand less than those who are able to concentrate. And people who juggle many tasks are less creative and less productive than those who do one thing at a time.”
Personally, I am much more convinced by Shirky’s argument. Also I find Shirky’s thinking more concrete and actionable than Nicholas Carr’s, whose gloomy and conservative analysis can only lead, it seems to me, to a completely impossible conclusion: to shut down the web and move back to books.
McCormack is a filmmaker who has spent much of the last five years documenting the successes and failures of business-oriented development projects in developing countries. Reports from various parts of the world can be seen on his website Flooded Cellar.
“Interestingly, the conundrum always starts the same way: those who budget a project’s time, materials, etc. believe that incorporating user research into the design process could potentially add to the project’s overall scope. These stakeholders, project managers, what have you are concerned with making things work for themselves or their superiors within a specific time frame.
For those uninitiated to anthropology, ethnography, sociology, or any kind of research-driven science that focuses on people, adding users’ opinions, processes, and practices to the mix before creating an initial design seems like a step in the wrong direction. Aren’t we, as the interaction designers, supposed to be providing the “magic” behind the interface?”
“PowerPoint has come to dominate organizational life in general and strategy making in particular. The technology is lauded by its proponents as a powerful tool for communication and excoriated by its critics as dangerously simplifying. This study takes a deeper look into how PowerPoint is mobilized in strategy making through an ethnographic study inside one organization. It treats PowerPoint as a technology embedded in the discursive practices of strategic knowledge production and suggests that these practices make up the epistemic or knowledge culture of the organization. Conceptualizing culture as composed of practices foregrounds the “machineries” of knowing. Results from a genre analysis of PowerPoint use suggest that it should not be characterized simply as effective or ineffective as current PowerPoint controversies do. Instead, I show how the affordances of PowerPoint enabled the difficult task of collaborating to negotiate meaning in an uncertain environment, creating spaces for discussion, making recombinations possible, allowing for adjustments as ideas evolved and providing access to a wide range of actors. These affordances also facilitated cartographic efforts to draw boundaries around the scope of a strategy by certifying certain ideas and allowing document owners to include or exclude certain slides or participants. These discursive practices – collaboration and cartography – are part of the “epistemic machinery” of strategy culture. This analysis demonstrates that strategy making is not only about analysis of industry structure, competitive positioning or resources as assumed in content-based strategy research but also about the production and use of PowerPoint documents that embody these ideas.”
“Our citizens may not always want to use the technology in all the ways that is possible. They will want to retain control over their lives and surroundings. This is why we should place a premium on a thorough and transparent debate. People should not feel that it sneaked up on them, forcing them to live with new and unexpected realities.
The sorts of questions we need to be asking are:
- What precautions do you want in place to make sure your medical information can be accessed electronically, but not by the wrong people?
- Would you accept your mobile phone being located and traced in exchange for, say, a weather map?
- Can your car be tagged to improve mobility and traffic safety?
These are not really technical questions. They are values questions. And we will need to use the answers to inform how the Internet of Things develops. We must ensure we have ways to integrate our values into the technical possibilities.”
Solving some of society’s biggest challenges today will require large scale behavior change. Tim will talk about putting design thinking into the hands of everyone to inspire change and tackle the world’s biggest problems.
Allan Chochinov | Core77 (conference bio)
First Person Plural: The value of getting it from the horse’s mouth (24:15)
In a maturing world of design research methodologies, the value of primary research cannot be overstated. This talk will move through a series of student-initiated projects, each triggered by a singular, profound insight or leveraged to an engagement with a community far beyond the designer’s anticipated reach. We will discuss specific techniques for soliciting input from target audiences, and ways to recognize the good stuff when you see it. It all starts with the first person.
Joyce Chou | Core77
The steampunk solution to disruptive technology (14:04)
Martha Cotton | gravitytank (conference bio)
Accidents and Plans: A few good tools for collaboration (25:47)
Once upon a time, marketers saw truth mostly in numbers. But there have been some key shifts in the last 10 or so years: Design Research has broken out of its niche status and quantitative research has been stripped of its compulsory status. Design research has moved to the mainstream; quantitative research has become but one of many tools for decision making.
“Truth” about consumers is now found in many ways: stories, photos, video, quotes, anecdotes, sketches, conceptual frameworks, and more. Accompanying this shift our community has developed, and will continue to develop, more useful and interesting ways to gather qualitative data.
This talk explores a variety of compelling ways we are now able to gather qualitative data. She also expands the context to explore ways other phases in the qualitative research lifecycle can be done in more rich and effective ways including participant recruiting, analysis, and accessing project data over time.
Why is gender important? Smart Design’s Femme Den explores the gap between assumptions and realities about women. As practicing designers and design researchers, we apply new ways to design for the elusive women’s market. To create products and experiences that women love, we must better understand their lives, as well as our clients’ objectives and designers’ perspectives. In this talk, we will be sharing our methodologies to meet the needs of and effectively communicate with these three interconnected groups.
Kim Erwin | IIT Institute of Design (conference bio)
Diane Fraley | D.S. Fraley Associates (conference bio)
Our world is flat, too: the paradigm shift of online research (30:08)
When Thomas Friedman declared the world flat, in his seminal book by the same name, he summarized the dramatic shift in commerce and competition across the globe brought about by the Internet. This technology, he notes, puts nearly everything within reach of nearly everyone, and our global economy is now essentially free of geographic restraints—it’s a level playing field. What’s to become of us of all, he asks?
We should be asking this, too. As with most professions, the Internet is reshaping the landscape of user research. This is happening on two levels: the business model of user research, and the practice model of user research.
On the business side, large online research houses are capturing a growing portion of research work, leveraging economies of scale and exclusive contracts designed to appeal to the finance people inside organizations.
On the practice side, research design has become a vastly more complex and interesting proposition. The Internet and digital media combine to form a powerful set of new data collection tools, while also giving us access to participants across geographies and time zones.
The new playing field dramatically expands what’s possible: Micro-blogging, asynchronous video, synchronous video, video diaries, remote activity monitoring—we can now do it all, all at once. As researchers, we can be everywhere at the same time. We can instantly review data collected remotely. We can have intimate contact with participants while miles apart.
All of this challenges our research processes and logic—“web work” now joins “field work” to reshape the paradigm for bringing producers closer to their consumers. How do we leverage this new paradigm to enrich research design and the resulting data? How might we use “web work” to deliver against objectives in an increasingly time-constrained development environment? How does our new reach inform user research for strategy development—one of the bigger frontiers of practice.
In this talk, Diane Fraley and Kim Erwin share a new approach that hybridizes “field work” and “web work.” Working with graduate students at the Institute of Design, Kim and Diane designed and executed the first phase of a multi-phase, exploratory project—integrating multiple online technologies to deliver a picture of how shopping behavior is rapidly shifting as early majorities adopt the Internet and smart phones to manage their homes.
Heather Fraser | Rotman DesignWorks (conference bio)
Design (Research) as a Shared Platform (video not yet available)
We live in a world where VUCA is the new acronym for ‘Holy cow, this is a tough nut to crack.” Faced with complex challenges, design, and most critically design research, is not only an important field for new methodologies and tools; it is also a shared platform for building a common campfire and a shared understanding of the purpose and actions for all organizations. Through our work at Rotman DesignWorks with students of all disciplines and executives across all functions, we have witnessed the power of shared discoveries and appreciation for design research as the foundation and fuel for creating new value and mobilizing organizations to rise to today’s challenges.
Usman Haque | Pachube (conference bio)
Notes on the design of participatory systems – for the city or for the planet (25:42)
Cooperation is difficult. Even when everybody agrees on an end goal, and even when everybody agrees on what is needed to achieve that end goal, it does not mean that everyone (or even anyone) will be able to take the first step, which is the most important step. The talk discusses the paradoxical structures of collaboration and ways that the paradoxes can be harnessed, illustrated occasionally with concrete examples from past work.
Conducting design research in an emerging market like China takes cultural understanding, patience, along with a level of empathy that is not normally gained overnight. In this presentation, Cathy Huang will take an inward look at China to bring forward key challenges that China Bridge International (CBi) is encountering while trying to gain insight through design research in China.
How does Social Conformity, Confucius, Utilitarianism and the belief that concealing ones economic status create obstacles for gaining insight in China? How does a research project navigate the many cultural, social, psychographic, and geographical differences when doing research in China?
These represent a few of the questions Cathy will discuss in her presentation. The background and foundation for her thoughts and perspectives are presented from the findings of many cases studies and experiences gained from her work at CBi — an insight-based innovation and design strategy firm.
Stokes Jones | Lodestar (conference bio)
Stokes Jones: Getting Embedded: In Search of Alt-innovation (video not yet available)
Whatever innovation process you favor, chances are it’s a relatively ‘top-down’ one. In this presentation, I will explore the roots of, and a working model for, an alternative type of innovation that is ‘bottom-up’ and anthropologically grounded. What we call “embedded innovation” is not something companies do to the world – after a staged series of research and workshop events – but a cultural process that people are continually unfolding in the world over time. In this approach, the key focus for design research and strategy becomes ‘attunement’ not invention – identifying the embedded innovation already taking place in a context or marketspace, then aligning to and enhancing it.
We look at cases of how this method has been applied cross-culturally by Lodestar; for researching with P&G the design of new over-the-counter medicines in South Africa; for social networking in Brazil, as well as by comparison to a familiar household product in the US. We will then consider the implications of complementing the usual ‘heroic’, company-led innovation with this more humble form. We believe research into embedded innovation leads to solutions that are truly human centered and empathic because it connects people to the value inherent in proposed products and services by designing offers from the inside out of their own ‘folk models’ and situated practices.
How can the Design Research practice uncover and understand cultural nuances of consumers in new markets better? Also, does this practice the way we conduct it in the West, really work in China and India? Do we need new tools or do we need to approach this practice differently? The talk will address the above questions with case studies from various projects.
Gerald Lombardi | Hall & Partners (conference bio)
The deskilling of ethnographic labor: an emerging predicament and a possible solution (11:10)
An oft-stated rule in the world of design has been, “Good, fast, cheap: pick two”. The success of ethnography as a support to design, branding and marketing has forced this rule into action with a vengeance. Companies now demand that more and more ethnographic knowledge be produced in ever-shorter timeframes and on ever-lower budgets. Our work output has become a mass production item, and the pressure is on. Ethnographers like me find that our Ph.D.s and cosmopolitan outlooks are scant protection as we undergo the same process experienced by many other highly trained workers over the past two centuries: job deskilling.
Job deskilling is a two-edged sword that brings opportunity and misery at the same time, though not always to the same people. Without taking a position on merits or demerits, in my talk I will first review the mechanisms of professional deskilling as the manufacture of ethnographic output has expanded. I will also give examples from my experience as someone who is on both sides of the issue, often finding my own work situation deskilled, and sometimes required by business objectives to submit others to that kind of regime.
The resulting picture is a bit grim. Are those of us who practice ethnography for industry condemned to the same fate as the skilled automobile craftsmen of Detroit circa 1908? (They were replaced by machines, and now there are 680 million motor vehicles on Earth.) And are the outputs of our creative research destined to be commoditized, to the sad detriment of the products we help bring into the world? Perhaps not. So much is made these days of the need for disruptive innovation — what if we apply that outlook to the conditions of our own labor? I have in mind a collusion between ethnographic laborers and their more enlightened employers, in the service of a better paradigm, a realignment of “Good, fast, cheap” so there’s a chance for more “Good” to peek through.
But that’s impossible, right? Business would never stand for it…. To the contrary, I assert that the material conditions of global production are soon going to require a disruptive change regardless of what the business world thinks. I explain what and why that is, and urge that we make our new professional motto this one: “Why pay less?”
What’s next? Perhaps we need to go beyond the discovery aspects of design research and now focus on ways to go beyond, to figure out ways of executing and delivering real business success. Instead of declaring that Design Research has won or that there’s widespread acceptance, we might want to pause a bit for some reflection on how to take the critical next steps toward implementation and execution. And here’s a hint–it isn’t easy.
What have been effective methods and tools from within a corporate environment? What are some of the challenges you might face within an engineering-centered organization? Where is the scarcity and what skill sets provide utility? Doug Look will reflect on insights gathered over the past five years in his journey from an academic setting at the Institute of Design to an engineered-centered corporate culture.
Bill Lucas | LUMA Institute, MAYA Design (conference bio)
Encouraging everyone (from K through CEO) to look with care (video not yet available)
As the field of design research matures, an exciting new activity is emerging. Seasoned practitioners are extending their knowledge and passion to non-specialists of various ages and backgrounds. In this talk, I will present stories from LUMA Institute, an educational venture dedicated to helping everyone from K through CEO learn and apply the practices of Human-Centered Design (including the critical activity of looking and listening with care). I’ll talk about the wonderful things that happen when experienced professionals facilitate workshops aimed at raising the awareness and competence of people from all walks of life.
Dominick J. Misino | NYPD (conference bio)
Building Rapport: Lessons from a Hostage Negotiator (30:42)
There is a great gulf between the research community and practice. Moreover, there is often a great gull between what designers do and what industry needs. We believe we know how to do design, but this belief is based more on faith than on data, and this belief reinforces the gulf between the research community and practice.
I find that the things we take most for granted are seldom examined or questioned. As a result, it is often our most fundamental beliefs that are apt to be wrong.
In this talk, deliberately intended to be controversial. I examine some of our most cherished beliefs. Examples: design research helps create breakthrough products; complexity is bad and simplicity good; there is a natural chain from research to product.
Sona Patadia-Rao | PDT (conference bio)
Lisa Yanz | PDT (conference bio)
A Case Study: The Collaborative Redesign of the Perkins Brailler (28:28)
“Good Design” means something different to everyone, especially to an audience that experiences the world through their fingertips. As designers we are accustomed to immersing ourselves into the lives of our targeted users and pulling out meaning, values and aspirations. However, when the targeted audience interprets the world in an unique way, the design team’s methodology need to be flexible, conclusions are never final and bringing the users into the fold of the process is essential.
Through this discussion attendees hear the development story of redesigning the fully mechanical Next Generation Perkins Braille Writer for the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown MA. This device is the “pen and paper” for the visually impaired community, making it an essential teaching tool worldwide. The original Perkins Brailler was designed in the 1940′s, has over 600 moving parts, and has remained the unchanged, extremely reliable workhorse for decades.
We look to tell the story honestly, addressing successes, stumbles, surprises and how we were changed both professional and personally by the experience. This is a case study in blurring the formalized lines between research, design and engineering to create a product that meets the needs of a very adaptable and impressive user group.
Ron Pierce | Stuart Karten Design (conference bio)
360-Degree Research (video not yet available)
The power of design research lies in its connection to the end user. But too often, the focus on the end user is watered down as a product passes through many hands on its way to production. Ron Pierce proposes an alternate model of 360-degree research— an ongoing process in which researchers engage with the client and the end user throughout product development, putting solutions through rigorous testing at multiple phases.
Sharing the story of Stuart Karten Design’s engagement with hearing aid manufacturer Starkey Laboratories, Inc., Ron will show how a 360-degree research process can provide better results for the end user and significant financial returns for the corporation.
During a three-year strategic partnership with Starkey, Ron and his team at SKD have collaborated to develop products that greatly improve a frustrating end user experience. By continually engaging with stakeholders, distribution channels and a wide range of hearing aid wearers during various stages of the product development process, from foundational research through evaluative testing of functional prototypes, Ron and his team have reinvented Starkey’s product line with a focus on the user.
He shared SKD’s 360-degree research process, which recently culminated with the introduction of Starkey’s S Series hearing aid, featuring a touch-activated control proven to solve one of users’ most poignant frustrations. The first-of-its-kind innovation has increased Starkey’s market share and cemented the company’s position as a global leader.
Heather Reavey | Continuum (conference bio)
Envisioning Breakthrough Ideas (video not yet available)
A deep understanding of people is one lens that inspires designers to envision new experiences. Moving from inspiration to impact is another matter. What is a breakthrough idea, and how can you deliver it in a way that makes your audience believe? This session is all about big ideas: where they come from, how you know when you might have a game-changer. And how you can use design and storytelling to communicate a new opportunity in an experiential, emotional, human way that motivates clients and organizations to become advocates of change.
Rick E. Robinson | Sideriver Ventures (conference bio)
Crankiness is Overrated: Good Work is Harder Than Grumbling (28:15)
When we take hold of a powerful tool and use it to shape the daily lives of real people, we are laid under an obligation, a responsibility, to understand not only how that shaping could affect those daily lives, but how it should do so. The “good” in “good design” has, in the last twenty years or so, migrated from the relatively simple appreciation of an end-product’s formal properties to include the ways in which a product becomes what it is: the process of designing. In the course of that migration, “users” and “experience” have become central to the way design works, to how the things which it produces are evaluated. Under any number of labels (“user-centered design research”, “ethnographics,” “anthrojournalism” and so on) the (largely) social sciences-derived research which informs the work of design has grown into a small industry of its own. Taken as a whole, design research has resulted in a collective paying of more attention to people rather than less. That’s a ‘good’ in pretty much anyone’s book. But it is also, in practice, a bit like supposing that because an M.D. is doing rounds, looking into patients’ rooms and signing the charts, good medical care is being practiced. If designers have been less than explicit about the values that inform the choices they make, it seems that design research as a whole has been even less so. The most widely accepted ‘point’ of design research is to inform the work of design. To provide a basis from which the work of design, development, and strategy can proceed. It is a bit circular: we do research to inform the process of design, which requires that we understand the users. Circular or not, it would be just fine if what was required to “inform” design were no more than a scan of current conditions. A pH strip dipped in the pool. A thumb licked and held up in the breeze. But the best design work doesn’t need the thumb in the air; good designers or teams or practices are usually plugged in and working at the ragged front end anyway. What we need from research is more than description, and especially, more than a list of “needs,” explicit or implicit, met or unmet. We need a way to explicitly articulate the values that inform those decisions, and a basis on which to do so.
Designing a product that will make life better for the poor isn’t easy. You can’t just design a cool product that works; you have to make sure it will get into the hands of those who need it most and that it will be used to good effect. As investors in tools and products to benefit the poor – and get them out of poverty – we’ve developed an approach to vetting product ideas that is based on the successes and failures we’ve seen over the years. We’ve found that using it in the design phase can help avoid the pitfalls that waste effort and money, and ensure that good ideas turn into real impact.
In 2008 Rob presented an overview of the latest in digital user research technology, including the FieldCREW tablet concept. This year he is back to discuss tools and techniques to capture physical behavior, which is essential for the design of gestural, interactive devices.
The presentation includes:
* An introduction to “observational ergonomics” so researchers can qualitatively identify design problems and opportunities
* Demonstrations and reviews of the latest tech tools for conducting user research, including tactile sensing and wireless information tagging
Eric Wilmot | Wolff Olins (conference bio)
How Fast? 21st Century Approach To Speed & Innovation (24:58)
Over the past decade design-thinking and user-insight practices have grown to become integral process within the worlds top organizations. This has lead to product, digital, and brand innovation consultancies to differentiate their services by framing new ways of doing things.
During the last decade we have witnessed a layering of methodologies and activities in an attempt to differentiate how we discover, define, design, and deliver new solutions. Ironically, over much of this same time, the process itself has remained an assumption for practitioners across the business community.
Overall, what challenges exist for the next generation of research methods when applied to a process model that was born before the Internet? Nimble clients are making it difficult for consultancies to keep up. Demand for faster launches is challenging the effectiveness of traditional processes. Technology is shifting control where offerings can be “pulled” into the market, reducing risk from the traditional “push” model.
The business environment is demanding change. This talk will highlight new client demands and market forces that are reframing the question from “How might design-thinking be better used within the current development process?” to “How might the process itself be changed to enable new and better uses for design-thinking and research?”