Posted on | May 21, 2013
A while back I clocked up my 1000th interview. This got me thinking how much my approach has evolved over the years.
Interviews with customers / end users of products and services are often the foundation of my research.
In the earliest projects I’d work from a page or two of questions all lined up in advance, in the shape of a ‘script’, or discussion guide. These were questions I’d literally recite to each participant. Sometimes these had been contributed to, signed off by, or even provided by the client.
I’d been told I should ask the same questions to all participants to maintain consistency, but found it awkward to work to the script, and at times like I was only hearing half of the story from the subject.
Over time, I found the questions I asked in response to the answers revealed more than the questions on my script, so I developed a more conversational approach.
Sounds like a convenient way to take the effort and rigour out of the process, but it doesn’t make it any easier.
Whilst interviewing, you’re running a mental cache of what’s been said, where you need to take the conversation, how much time is left etc. …and all the while you’re trying to make the participant feel like the conversation is following natural twists and turns, rather than being steered by you, the interviewer.
There are plenty of techniques to learn in the craft of interviewing; building rapport, non-verbals, open ended questions, asking ‘the 5 whys’, repeating their words etc.
In fact, there’s a great book dedicated to interviewing customers by a cohort of mine, Steve Portigal. Totally recommended for design researchers / UX people.
These techniques, combined with your curiosity will get you so far. …But they are not enough.
When clients ask (and they still do) “So, what are the questions you’ll be asking them” …
When it comes to asking the right questions, there is no substitute for actually wanting to know the answer.
Instead of a script, I agree on a set of objectives with the team. This describes the ground we’d like to cover during the conversations and reads like a list of topics around which we’d like to learn.
Some of these might be framed as questions, but it’s far from being a ‘script’.
As an interviewer, you need to truly understand the context and objectives of your client / project sponsor:
It all starts with a set of questions to which I need the answer in my own head, before I begin planning the interviews…
- Where is the business and product at in the development process?
- Why is this the right time to conduct the study?
- Which aspects stakeholders agree / disagree on?
- What assumptions exist about the market, end user or value of the product to end users?
- How will the client measure market success for the product / service?
- How will the research be used, by whom?
- What design decisions do the team need to make based on the insights you uncover?
- Why are we including these types of participant in the study?
- Which areas does the team have enough insight about already?
This goes beyond the due diligence of taking the brief, scoping the study etc.
It’s a deep understanding of the business, product and design context and should be embedded in your curiosity.
The flow of the conversation and lines of questioning should all come naturally if you’ve built this level of empathy for your client’s position.
In the end it’s about user centred design – The user of the research is your client, so you need to understand your end users’ needs to be able to design the product (interview structure) to give them the best outcomes. In this case, rich and useful insights.
Posted on | May 6, 2013
It took some balls to design and launch a product for the hard-to-impress and razor-critical user experience market a year ago…
My first batch of 10 weren’t quite ‘minimum viable product’, but small production runs and a direct feedback loop from UX folk who buy and use the product has fuelled iterative evolution of a ‘live’ product. It’s a bit like every batch is a prototype.
Originating as a ‘number 8 wire’ solution, Mr. Tappy now helps UX designers in 23 countries to capture user behaviour as UX research participants interact with their designs on mobile devices.
Looking to improve things is an occupational hazard for people with a usability background, but this is a breed of customers who go out of their way to provide constructive feedback. I’m not sure the product would be where it is without the input from my customers.
It’s been possible to adopt changes, make tweaks to the product, packaging etc. from batch to batch. From an added tip in the user guide, to a different anodised coating to minimise reflection.
Shipping with the current version is an alternative to the velcro attachment. I simply build this into the production run and keep my ear to the ground for a verdict – hey presto! user research is baked in.
‘Perpetual beta’ is an aspiration in some digital projects, but doing this with a physical product has been a great antidote to working with some companies product development cycles. Oh the the luxury of tweaking as you go, as opposed to the big ramp up to launch. At least my clients employ design research to get as close to the target (and target customer) as possible before hitting the ramp!
I’ll keep ‘launching’ my prototype and, thanks to my customers… with every batch – another slightly evolved design.
How lucky I am to have customers who are as articulate as they are demanding.
Posted on | November 29, 2012
How do you share stories collected during dozens of interviews?
What if your ‘Customers’ are actually patients in a hospital?
…Rather than take notes and quotes, why not sketch it ?
Let me explain…
Collecting patient stories
I’ve been part of a team mapping the ‘patient experience’ through a hospital. The foundation for the project is collecting stories from patients in context.
This means interviewing patients at their bedside in emergency, on wards and later in their homes. The context can be sensitive and the content emotional.
The scale of the work means a raft of interviewers and large number of interviews, each with their own style. The stories have been so rich, diverse and engaging that working to a note-taking template went out the door…
So I began to experiment…
At one patient’s house I began sketching her story freestyle, in real time, as she told it.
My partner steered the conversation, while I scribbled furiously with a fat marker and a flipchart on my lap…
Below is a segment of about the first 15 minutes of an interview:
I’m glad I tried it
I’ve spoken before about the power of visualising research findings, and particularly sketched visuals over polished.
A sketch on the project room wall is very accessible, so gets a lot of eyeballs - great for sharing the story. As well as a standalone artefact, It can be a great prompt for discussion - As you talk others through it, somehow the context and tone of the conversation comes flooding back to you. It’s not quite video, but it does bring the story alive.
Try it yourself…
Here’s a ‘Top 10′ …Some starters from my experience:
- This works best if your job is only to listen and capture. Have someone else lead the interview.
- Go BIG – use a large format pad fat pen. This makes it essay to socialise later, and prevents you from getting all detailed.
- Try to maintain a few seconds ‘buffer’ between what you’re hearing, and what you’re drawing.
- Don’t analyse as you go – just scribble like mad, or your ‘buffer’ will max out and you’ll miss bits.
- Use visual metaphors, e.g. If the subject is looking for something, draw binoculars, magnifying glass, map, compass etc.
- Pepper the notes with verbatim quotes, I use speech or thought bubbles.
- Use a couple of sizes or styles of text to indicate strength of a comment, specific themes etc.
- Talk the subject through the sketch at the end of the interview. They’ll be pleased to see what the hell you’ve been drawing.
- Ask for comment. “What else would you add?” They might correct you in places or add further texture to the story which you can add on the spot.
- If you’re recording with video sit away from the microphone, felt-tip markers make quite a racket when you’re going full-tit.
Give it a try…
This is something I’ll definitely be doing again, trying not to be admitted to hospital myself from marker pen fume inhalation.
Posted on | October 9, 2012
“It’s not about going from left to right and some magic happens on the other side, it’s about understanding the intention”.
Intuit shared how design thinking changed the culture, and profit of the company (eventually).
Their story: How they tried and failed to install ‘design as a process’ into their teams, arriving at a more engaging and successful model of ‘principles’.
A couple of key points I took away:
Design thinking – to the rescue?
With a history of incremental usability improvements but no real innovation, Intuit took a big swig from the design thinking cup. Their aim was to integrate design thinking into the business, to be more user-focused – exceeding customer expectations, rather than just meeting them.
Things didn’t go as planned…
“We made a mistake in that we started with design thinking as a process, when we brought a process back to Intuit, they puked all over it. Because in a culture where; product development has an agile process, marketing have a go-to-market process and legal have a compliance process, they couldn’t reconcile the design thinking process on top of theirs, so they did nothing”.
So, the conventional design thinking process wasn’t flexible enough for the realities of their culture and practice, and it simply wasn’t engaging teams.
Principles, not process.
To replace the rigid ‘process’ approach, Intuit arrived at three principles to underline all development work- teams could use whatever methods they liked, so long as they adhered to those principles.
So, how did that go?
“A seminal moment in our journey was when we took the process of design thinking and made it into principles. It’s not about going from left to right and some magic happens on the other side, it’s about understanding the intention behind these principles, then you can make it your own”.
“We have watched teams come up with their own methods and tools at any time in the process and it totally works. Thats when we saw uptake in the culture, when we started to see behaviours change, when we gave them permission to make it their own”.
Here are their principles:
- Deep Customer Empathy (Know your customers better than they know themselves)
- Go Broad to go Narrow (Quantity of solutions, then focus)
- Rapid Experimentation with Customers (Prototype, test, iterate)
Sounds like a win to me, especially if this has taken hold in an organisation of thousands.
So, how do Intuit involve customers in their design process?
To deliver on their first principle, (apart from their dedicated UX team) Intuit has committed to getting their teams out of the office and into the context of their customers using their products. Unsurprisingly, this has proven to build empathy for the customer, and as a positive bi-product, engagement with the ongoing design process.
Two big wins.
“We went from listening and fixing problems, to watching to find what they really need but can’t tell us.
This changed the way the organisation makes decisions by watching people’s behaviours versus listening to what they say”.
If you’re wanting to institutionalise design thinking, there’s a video on the Adaptive Path website which tells this story from another Intuit insider’s viewpoint http://youtu.be/HrxD_BaZlcU
Posted on | September 20, 2012
A couple of years ago I visited the Eames’ ‘case study house’ and thought I had entered design nirvana.
…Well, it did have a great swing:
Next week I’m heading back to California, this time on a journey into the home of ‘design thinking’
Check out the highlights of the schedule…
I’m heading there with 25 CEOs of Kiwi export companies in the Government-backed Better By Design programme.
Along with a dozen others, I’m playing the role of ‘design integration coach’, helping promising NZ companies to integrate design into their business.
The principles behind the programme borrow a lot from the ‘design thinking’ school of thought popularised by IDEO, and more recently Stanford D.School. Both of which we’ll be visiting.
I’ve always been dubious of ‘design with a capital D’…
In fact, I tweeted not long ago:
“Is design thinking to design what cookbooks are to celebrity chefs?”
I’d love design thinking to be more than just a tarted-up version of taking a user-centred approach to design, beginning with end user insights.
This trip will either fully convert me, or leave me wondering whether it’s another wardrobe for the emperor.
I’ll let you know how it goes…
Posted on | August 31, 2012
When there’s no time, money or buy-in for a ‘full noise’ project I’ve been running a 2 day process where I put my clients in the research seat as they work together to make their own observations, draw their own conclusions and insights.
It felt risky and compromised at first, but it’s working out well so far.
(Once the objectives and scope are nailed down)
- I invite stakeholders to attend and observe interviews with customers.
- I set the stakeholders up to take notes.
- Then facilitate interviews with paid participants.
- Between sessions we gasp for breath and I draw out the top-of-mind observations from each stakeholder.
- After the last session, I guide them through a hands-on exercise where they match and group individual observations into themes.
- Together we agree on what these mean for the design/business and prioritise them into an action list.
This is a collaborative, intense and compressed way to work but has massive value to the client. … even if you are exhausted at the end of it.
Some things I’ve learned from working this way:
Critically, this requires time investment and commitment from the stakeholder team – be crystal clear from the start that this is totally a ‘get out what you put in’ scenario. Participation is required if the client is going to see value.
It’s best to have a mix of stakeholders involved, different parts of the business, levels of seniority, familiarity with the product, market etc.
I can’t imagine doing it justice with less than 3 stakeholders.
Try to make this an off-site activity to minimise distractions.
Make sure food for them and you is arranged in advance. The sessions will be almost back to back so there will be no skipping off to lunch.
Recruitment – You should consider all-day ‘standby’ participants in case of a ‘no-show’.
Stakeholders need a strong briefing around observation. Reinforce that it’s a team effort, several stakeholders observing the same behaviour can take different meaning away – It’s all valuable.
Keep note taking physical and portable (paper / sticky notes).
Don’t be precious about format, it’s most important that notes are actually taken, not how.
Suggest notes are written from the customer’s point of view. This helps the stakeholder to think through what they are writing, and these ‘quotes’ really come to life during the analysis.
For a usability type project, you could have a sheet of paper for each participant with columns; Where, What and How – Where was the customer at, What did they say/do, How does it impact their experience.
Pinning the objectives up on the wall can remind observers what they are looking for.
Start a ‘discuss’ list and encourage observers to add items as they come up rather than talk through the session.
You need 5-10 mins between each session to conclude what was learned, what was confirmed etc. Asking each stakeholder to write down them share their ‘Top 5′ observations works well.
AFTER THE FINAL SESSION:
Aim for a 2 hour analysis and wrap-up.
Collate all the notes and get them up on walls, grouped by customer, topic etc.
Have everyone spend time (10-15 mins) scanning the data and writing down what they feel are key observations. Go for quantity. 100 is a good start.
Go for some sort of ‘KJ’ collaborative analysis to group individual observations into themes. Name each theme and what it means for the product and customer.
Roll this into a prioritisation exercise by ranking / voting, plotting on a scale etc.
OUTCOMES FOR THE CLIENT:
Making decisions based on first hand observations is a powerful experience.
Getting answers in hours to questions which have been hovering for weeks is a liberating feeling for clients.
Clients arrive at conclusions and reach consensus and create the output together.
This approach can also show the client it’s something they can do themselves.
… and of course, questions emerge which they didn’t know they needed to answer.
Suddenly… where time, budget and buy in for customer research was lacking… it miraculously appears!
I was nudged over the fence into taking this approach by Dana Chisnell, so thanks Dana for the nudge!
I’d love to hear other people’s experience with this…
In another blog post I’ll tell you how it goes when you send the stakeholders out into the field to do their own research.
Posted on | May 8, 2012
Every band needs a manager and a ‘roadie’. The manager books the gigs – The roadies set the stage so the band can focus on playing the gig. Between them, they’ve usually got a big truck full of kit, and lots of gaffer tape.
With design research (contextual inquiry or ethnography, if you like), there’s an amount of planning and kit required too – I’ve been running in-home interviews, playing both manager and roadie roles, but isolating these activities as much as possible from my role as researcher.
Every minute spent with a customer is valuable, so I can’t afford to be distracted by practicalities like recording equipment and timings.
After a few years experimenting with these practicalities I’ve arrived at a ‘toolkit’ of things in my backpack, so when I pull up at the customer’s house the ‘roadie’ can take a back-seat and let me get on with capturing the insights.
Here’s what’s in my bag:
1. Discussion guide. I try to keep this to a one pager with topic areas rather than ‘script’ like questions. I have the research objectives embedded in my curiosity, so by the time the first interview kicks off, this serves as prompts only. I’ll be completely free-styling after the first few interviews.
2. Livescribe Pen & Paper. Records every word and lets you playback what was said when you took notes or sketched.
I tape spare ink refills to the book, as they run dry with no warning after about 50 pages. I use the display on the pen for timing – it’s less obvious and distracting to check the time on here than glancing at your phone. If a subject seems interested in the pen (or any technology you use) take the time to explain what it does and why you use it, this removes the distraction.
3. Video camera. With 120G hard drive – not as petite as some, but changing memory sticks is one too many things to remember. (Also has SD slot for when I need to courier the footage)
4. Extension cord. (5m) for video camera – and a double plug (Who’s got an empty socket these days?)
5. Tripod. Compact, basic / amateur, goes up to about 1.2m and has a quick release mount for the camera in case I need to film some action out of the frame or from a different angle.
6. Laptop. With travel mouse. I use this immediately after sessions to type up my reflections while they are still fresh. I always drive a bit down the road first …best they don’t see you frantically typing about them from behind their curtains.
7. Schedule. Who, When, Where and sometimes demographics; age, segment, occupation etc.
8. Map. Hard copy with all participants located, named, numbered and time-stamped. This comes into it’s own when there’s a change in the schedule and you need to know whether you can actually shoehorn in a replacement participant and make it from A-B in the timeframe.
9. Cables, chargers etc. Including 12V in-car USB for boosting phone and livescribe pen while driving.
10. GPS / Satnav. Annoying voice, but the best alternative to a navigator. My favourite feature is the ETA. Let’s me know whether to put pedal to metal or not.
11. Smartphone. I use Alarm clock for when I can’t afford to run over the allotted time, Voice recorder to brain-dump my thoughts while driving between sessions, Camera & Maps as backup, Messaging for contacting participants for timing / directions etc.
12. Stills camera. As unobtrusive as possible. Must be usable by ‘feel’ alone (real buttons) and with one hand. Good as a secondary video camera too.
13. Rental car. Small & discreet – depending on the context, I sometimes park round the corner or out of sight of the address and appear to arrive on foot. …unless I’m in a rural area.
14. Cash incentives. In marked envelopes – for the participant’s time and involvement. Folding cash speaks everyone’s language – I try to avoid vouchers or direct payments. I always pay the participant at the start of the session and ask them to count the money too.
15. Receipts / NDAs. To be signed by participant. This keeps accountant and lawyers happy. I always include permission to video record session and detail the rights of use.
16. Smart/casual clothes. I dress up or down a bit depending on the topic I’m working with and neighbourhood I’m visiting – Dress smart enough to be credible, but not authoritative or superior in any way.
And the most important tools of all…
…but I’m all ears if you’d like to add to my list, or suggest how I might adapt for different contexts?
Posted on | April 5, 2012
Often I’m approached by Kiwis wanting to make a sideways leap into UX and always try to help out.
The UX job market has become a lolly scramble, with dozens of mysterious job titles and areas to specialise in.
Who wants to be a designer?, when you could be a MULTI-CHANNEL CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE ARCHITECT …for heavens sake. (Job in London)
A while back, before UX became ‘the new black’, a brave usability company* in London hired me over candidates who must have looked waaaay better on paper. Following my instincts, I shut the doors on my design business to explore this new world.
It was sink-or-swim …at the deep end. I was the only person in the agency who didn’t have an MBA, masters or PHD in design, HCI, research or psychology.
The gamble paid off for both of us, and over the years I’ve always tried to mentor others. It feels good to help and usually takes a phone call to get a feeling for where the person is at – what they are excited by, so I can make my advice relevant to their situation.
Invariably people ask about studying, qualifications and their CV…
I’m clearly biased towards experience and ‘soft skills’ rather than qualifications and believe that people buy people, not a folio or CV – these should open the door for you, but it’s the story you tell once you’re in the room that matters.
You’ll need ‘case studies’ – examples of projects you can talk people through – explaining the process, the steps and logic behind it.
Try to cover these:
- What the challenge was?
- How you addressed it?
- What the outcome was and how it benefitted the business / customers?
And bonus points for these:
- What you learnt / would do differently next time?
- How you see yourself applying what you learnt to projects for their clients.
These project stories are a stage from which you sell the skills and experience you’ve gained…
…but the person you’re talking to will see past the methods and techniques to ask themselves this question:
“Am I comfortable to put this person in front of our most valuable client?”
And if you’re lucky, this one too:
“Which project could I put this person on tomorrow and know they’ll be a good fit?”
Where you are at? …Where you want to be?
UX skills and activities run a spectrum from Research & Exploration at one end, to Design & Evaluation at the other. Do you want to be a generalist or a specialist? or a T-shaped person? Push the skills and aspects of yourself which you’d like to build on, but express the areas you’d like to move into;
If you want to do interaction design, cranking out page layouts then your CV / Folio should show that you can do this.
If you’re more interested in researching customer behaviour, improving customer experience, understanding the flow of a customer through a system, then your CV / Folio should have some sort of example of the process – this might be a journey map or photos taken when you were in the depths of your process.
I sometimes point people to this excellent set of slides…
…Assembled by a guy who has recruited dozens of UX practitioners from across the spectrum into agency roles or as freelancers.
If you’re well into your career and have anything to add, know of any courses or study options, please add them to the comments below, or mail me and I’ll add them to this list.
Posted on | March 7, 2012
The dull thud of a phone book hitting the desk. …Probably not a sound you’ve heard since the 90′s, but the humble yellow book, and it’s smaller, newer, blue cousin can be useful to explain the value of customer insights, especially those gathered in context…
When the Thomson Directory went into battle with the ubiquitous Yellow Pages in the UK they wanted a point of difference – and to become the ‘most reached for’ directory over their competitor…
…By visiting people’s homes they saw only the Yellow Pages next to the phone, but in drawers, under stairs, propping up computer monitors etc. They noticed people stacked smaller books on top of larger books.
Thomson used this insight to their advantage, producing a smaller book so it would be on top, and the first directory people grabbed.
The purpose, function and content remained unchanged, but a practical human behaviour sparked this significant change in the design of their product.
I’m not sure there’s a digital equivalent to ‘stacking’ items like this… but can you think of other products or services which have been shaped so fundamentally by behavioural insights?
Thanks Simon in London for the photos
…and to Ofer Deshe who told me the story a few years back.
Posted on | January 25, 2012
Should a hacksaw or staple gun need a manual?
Mine have permanently moulded instructions to help get the most out of using them.
This sort of thing has become commonplace in the digital world too. Hover your cursor over any button or tool and you’ll see prompts, tips, guidance, explanation etc. as you explore and use websites, software and devices.
Whether you’re using software or a saw and need that extra ‘tool tip’ …you’re generally alone, doing your own thing … so what about when you’re around other people… Can we learn by watching others?, does the ‘how to’ of using things travel by osmosis in a social or group situation? or, in other words – do people become the tool tips?
In the physical world, it seems this is true, as I noticed on a Sydney train recently.
You could argue the train seats should have a ‘tool tip’ to show that they can be reversed, but there’s also something satisfying about discovering it for yourself, or through watching others.
…My latest UX research project is for a multi-user ‘touch table’ designed for an exhibition space. The content is navigated by individuals and groups with a similar emphasis on ‘discovering’ how to interact with the environment, rather than being signposted at every step.
Often things in the physical world help explain user behaviour in the digital world and I’m thinking this train seat scenario might be a good analogy… but despite how much more natural it feels to be facing forward when getting from A-B, few passengers actually do change the seating around…
So, I wonder…
- Would a visual cue take the satisfaction away for the few to improve travelling for the many?
- Do people suffer performance anxiety the first time they try to move the seat? (I waited until I had an empty carriage)
- Are those ‘in the know’ motivated to share what they’ve learned, or do they keep it to themselves?
- Are we more likely to make these ‘discoveries’ in the physical or digital world?
- Is it possible to move through a digital journey facing backwards?
- Is it more valuable to discover a feature by serendipity, or to learn by observation of others?
I’d like to hear of other scenarios where people learn how to interact with a product or service purely by watching others…
…Do you know of any?keep looking »