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.

Steve Portigal (@portigal) is one of the legends of design research. He wrote the book about interviewing users and talks regularly about how to uncover insights to UX and product development audiences. Audiences who ask the same questions.

Two, from Nine.

In one of those talks, the Q&A session at the end is a standout.
Two things are clear from the way he answers nine classic and super-relevant questions:

  1. He’s also been asked these many, many times before.
  2. Context is everything and it often simply ‘depends’.

I’ve listed them below in super brief format, but it’s all in the nuances so watch the Q&A to hear the way Steve wraps years of experience into answering each of these. (I’ve started the video at the Q&A).

Here are the questions, and (summarised) answers:

Q: One on one’s or Groups?
A = One on ones. (Don’t say the other F word).

Q: How do you know when you’ve done enough interviews?
A = Depends, but 30 is a big number.

Q: How do you avoid bias from the client or in the sample?
A = Accept and work with it.

Q: When should we do it ourselves vs have other people’s go out and do the
interviews for us?
A = Depends, and collaboration can work in many ways.

Q: How do you prioritize all the questions to be able to answer all of them right?
A = Work with the client to nail it down.

Q: What would be the right team size in the field?
A = Two

Q: Can you use something like Skype or Google Hangouts to
interview them?
A = Yes, but there are significant tradeoffs.

Q: How to deal with users who just keep on talking in an interview?
A = Be polite but firm. Cut your losses if necessary.

Q: How do you go about recruiting people / how do you convince strangers to do interviews?
A = Use a recruiter. Respect and honour people’s time.


Watching the whole talk you’ll get an appreciation for the complexity of navigating and balancing the business needs with effectively conducting ethnographic fieldwork.

There’s a lot to it and through the years Steve has collected enough stories to publish another book, this time about remarkable encounters in the field and what we can learn from them.
One of those encounters is written by yours truly, involving a research participant who breaks a few laws during a diary study. Yes, illegal insights.

Stay tuned for those.

2 thoughts on “Patterns in design research. (Video)

  1. Steve Portigal

    Thanks, Nick. It’s pretty great to see a synthesis of something I did. This is like working with a great editor, you put something out and they help it take a new, more accessible shape. Honoured by your effort, here. I’ve post this around so more people can draw value from it!

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