UX, Flow, and learning by osmosis

A few people have asked why I’m running FLOW a design, research & strategy conference in London.

They say (about New Zealanders) that isolation breeds innovation, but when it comes to inspiration, well, the isolation doesn’t serve us so well.

Flash back to the early 90s, when I was lucky enough to live, build boards and surf with two Australian champions, one who went on to become world champ. I was designing surfboards for a living, but off to the side I was learning.

In a matter of months I saw my standard of surfing go from pretty good, to a level I never believed I’d ride at. It felt like the years before I’d been wasting my time.

Mike 'Eppo', putting my boards to the test at Pipe, Hawaii in '93.

Mike ‘Eppo’, putting my boards to the test at Pipe, Hawaii in ’93.

It was one of the two times of my life I’ve knowingly been in a ‘learning by osmosis’ situation.

For the other, fast forward to London, a decade or so ago, when I closed the doors on my private design clients to work in ‘usability’.

There I was – board-builder turned design generalist – now part of the team at Flow Interactive*. If ever there was a time to get ‘impostor syndrome’, this was it.

I was in a petri dish of professional and creative diversity, working with academically trained psychologists, ergonomists and researchers. We were one of a handful of agencies in ‘noughties’ London shaping what soon became UX.

Once again I found myself in a sink-or-swim situation, surrounded by supportive, sharing people who helped me keep my grip on a steep learning curve. As it turns out we’d all caught one of the best waves of our careers.

Since moving back to NZ, where I can say I’m the only design researcher on my island (South Island) I’ve made an almost annual pilgrimage, to immerse myself back in that environment.

It’s a strong reminder how learning, growing is hugely boosted by being surrounded by my tribe. People who challenge me to level up, express or push myself, to ask a better question, to take a fresh viewpoint, to join dots I might not stop to consider.

Ken Robinson makes the vegetable growing analogy, saying the best way to cultivate learning is to create the environment for people to thrive in. So, quite selfishly (and going out on a bit of a limb) I hired a theatre in Covent Garden and invited my alumni and a few others to create that environment, just for a day with www.bowmast.com/flow

Thanks to all those who’ve signed up to be part of it.

*Flow was gobbled up in a series of Aqui-hires by the likes of Deloitte.



Deer pizzle ethnography (Part 2)

(For the back-story, read Pizzle Part 1)

As I stepped through the door with a “Ni hao”, I watched all my norms float out – the way I came in.

When I say norms, I mean the usual ingredients of a successful field visit.

In my world, in-home visits always start with (and rely on) a crucial few minutes of rapport building. And there are usually just two of us visiting the customer.

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Chinese medicine vendor catching some zzz

Deer pizzle ethnography (Part 1)

Yes, it’s a two-parter. Here’s the main course.

I’d heard of nose-to-tail eating, but apparently there are parts of certain animals which do more than provide nourishment…

Yep. I’m talking about Pizzle. (Deer dick – ick!)

One of the great benefits of operating from New Zealand comes in the shape of exposure to the diverse range of niche products we export.

So when a large-scale deer farmer and venison exporter came knocking, I jumped…

…but this time higher than usual.

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War stories. ‘Those’ user research projects…

There are user research projects where the exact objectives fade over time.

…but certain moments, and the people leave lingering bright spots, ripe to be shared.

I’m talking about those design research projects, where you meet people you could never have imagined, or entered into a person’s life so unfamiliar to you …

These experiences leave a dent – especially when people open up, sharing deep or private stories. Stories that stick, or are even hard-to-shake,

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Sharing design research findings is a bit like one of 'those' jokes

You had to be there. (Video)

Like one of ‘those’ jokes, design research has the most impact to those who were there in the moment.

In this video – from a presentation hosted at eBay Design in San Francisco – I explain how I try to help client teams discover their own punchline from user research, by designing experiences for them rather than delivering findings to them.

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Steve Portigal answering classic design research questions.

Patterns in design research. (Video)

As the business and design worlds adopt design research, I see patterns.

One of those patterns lies in the questions I’m asked by new clients.
Sometimes they are new to qualitative research, and increasingly they’ve done some lightweight interviewing as part of an innovation or design thinking exercise and want to know more.

My confidence in answering these questions builds over time, so to hear a design research veteran tackle the same questions … that’s gold.

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