Author Archives: Nick

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Zoompathy. Coming to a research project near you?

One of the biggest points of value in conducting qualitative research – putting yourself in your customers’ context – has been wiped off the table, right when it’s most needed.

In a time where it’s never been more important to bring an understanding of people’s mindset, behaviour and expectation to bear on product development, while business and public organisations are rethinking service delivery for their market, I’m concerned.

I’m concerned those offering research as part of their service may default to the possible at the expense of the valuable. 

Context matters.

Those who’ve read my book will know how important I believe context, and ‘being there’ contributes to the quality and reliability of the work we do.

A couple of chapters in, I say this:

context1

And among many others, I give this example:

context2

… but right now, when researchers most need connection with people in their world, physically being there is a challenge.

Remote to the rescue?

Business continuity is important, and if there was ever a time for remote research, it’s now. Like many researchers working over the past few weeks, I recently had a project switch from in-person to remote – a dozen interviews via video – with valuable outcomes. I could see the tradeoffs, they were manageable, and I made sure the client understood these.

But I’ve started to see researchers and agencies announcing ‘we’re still open for business’ promoting remote-only research approaches, focusing on the benefits, but glazing over any of the tradeoffs.

Remote approaches have always been part of the research toolbox, though usually as a complement to in-person work or to add; reach, scale, frequency, specific types of participants or to include communities/individuals for whom this kind of connection works best.

However, just as speed and democratisation have influenced the shape of research opportunities – favouring a rapid over rich variety of empathy – I’m picking clients may get a taste for the convenience and economy of remote research without always realising what they’re sacrificing in terms of data quality and depth of experience which comes from being with the customer in the moment.

Yes, remote approaches will be a blessing to our collective practice for some time and it’s exciting to think of the creative approaches which will emerge from these constraints, but short-term reliance on research methods without explaining the tradeoffs may risk training our clients to accept what appears to be a more convenient option. As design-at-pace sometimes seems more user-scented than centered, we might see empathy be replaced by Zoompathy (I really hope this term doesn’t catch on).

So, now what?

I believe current constraints bring an opportunity to highlight the value of contextual fieldwork. But as we’re adopting and applying remote approaches where we otherwise might not have, perhaps we should:

  • Reflect on and amplify your experiences from the field. As anecdotes with colleagues, or in conversation with clients to maintain the status and value of face-to-face and contextual work. Steve Portigal’s growing collection of ‘War Stories’ offer plenty of fodder, but I’m picking you have your own.
  • Feel the edges of what works well, and what doesn’t. For different research questions, circumstances, communities and contexts,
  • Recognise the gap between being there and not. What’s missing, and what other ways might we fill it,
  • Acknowledge the limits as well as the benefits. Beyond the convenience of reduced budget and practicalities – into matters of access and inclusion, privacy, confidentiality, safety and scale.
  • Highlight inefficiencies or insensitivities we may have normalised though extensive international travel. Limiting unnecessary travel is a good thing for all our futures.
  • Discuss and document what you’ve learned. With your team and your client.
  • Share with the research community.  For example, Ex colleague Sarah Rink in Barcelona has shared a guide to remote research, written from a UX research perspective, talking through the challenges of capturing non-verbals and the inherent tech distractions.

Together, by remaining adaptable but sharing our learnings we can help remote become a more valuable part of the toolbox, while ensuring the undeniable value of in-person work continues to be used to best effect when this is once again possible, and for the situations it’s most appropriate.

Please add your experiences or any links to articles in the comments, we all stand to gain, especially our clients.

Remotely yours,

siggy

Userpalooza-Dairy

Kia ora Ōtautahi.

After 10 years living in towns with no traffic light, I’ve come full circle. Back to where it began.

My first NZ client was a hardware startup based in Christchurch. Their success with a niche product inspired me to launch my own product, Mr. Tappy, which I relied on Christchurch manufacturers and suppliers to prototype and launch, and to keep running today.

My patient experience work informed ward design for the new Christchurch hospital and inspired new ways of working I’ve enjoyed sharing with many clients and colleagues.

Meanwhile …over the years the bulk of my work pulled me further from the city, NZ and my family, while working increasingly internationally from Motueka.

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Flipping the lens, and becoming Neil. [Podcast]

Cicadas chirping, cabbage trees awakening to a summer breeze and with the rest of the house emerging to another day of an island escape UX retreat, I was interviewed for a podcast by Chris from We Create Futures.

This was flipping the lens, because interviewing people is the basis for so much of my work, but now for the first time I was the subject.

And becoming Neil? … well, it’s not the first time I’ve been confused with a musician … Most people know me as Bomo, not Bono. But in his introduction to the podcast, Chris likens me to a Neil (Not Young or a Diamond).

You’ll find out which Neil, by listening online.

Or you can download it as a file.

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Userpalooza car seat 760

USERPALOOZA! I wrote a book.

Yes, an actual book. Spine. Cover. Pages. Ok, it’s a draft in the photo, but …Somebody pinch me!

USERPALOOZA is a how-to for planning and conducting field research – to connect with customers in their context – to understand how they think and behave around your product, service or category.

…Because it’s easier to design for a customer you understand.

It started two years ago, when I wrote this sticky note and slapped it on my monitor:

This sticky note travelled with me during fieldwork. I couldn't escape it's call to arms. It won a two year battle of wills.

This sticky note travelled with me during fieldwork. I couldn’t escape it’s call to arms. It won a two year battle of wills.

The sticky note soon became a companion, a travelling and motivating call to action as I squeezed writing time into my working days.

Friends asked:

‘Isn’t that shooting yourself in the foot?’

‘Won’t people buy the book instead of hiring you?’

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Safety in numbers during design research

Safety-in-numbers-photo-750

On the edge of NYC in a sleeting-cold January storm, two colleagues and I arrived at a home visit with instructions to ‘go round back’.

Without going into detail, ‘round back’ did not look like a safe place to visit, and we made the joint call to bail out.

This was the first time I’ve abandoned a user research session, and I was so pleased not to be alone. In fact, had I been alone, I’m fairly sure I would have gone ahead out of duty to the client and the project, brushing off any safety concerns, despite what my instinct was telling me.

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Breaking the wall in design research

Breaking the wall in Design Research


Film directors use a term to describe zooming out from the scene to deliberately demystify the production process.

This reveals backstage activity usually out of the frame, like the edges of the studio set, sound crew, equipment etc..

They call this ‘breaking the wall’.

Thanks to an ambitious client, and a two minute edit from a mountain of footage, I feel like I can do something similar, at least trying to answer some design research FAQs I’m often asked. In particular the approaches and practicalities of fieldwork. Continue reading

Architectural design, meets pop-surrealism to communicate research insights

See what I mean? (Video)

A few weeks back at our very own UX Homegrown conference, I shared my story of how I combined visual communication styles from two former careers into a way to make research insights visual, and generate conversations that matter.

Here’s the video:

It was the first time I’ve spoken at an event in NZ for over three years, but it’s a story I love telling.

The story plays out over years as confidence grew, and clients encouraged me to put down the bullet points, and pick up a sharpie.

You’ll see what a slow learner I was, but I share my ‘how to’ techniques to help you get there quicker. And it seems to be working – since I first shared this story and these techniques, I’ve had some great emails from people who wouldn’t consider themselves a ‘visual person’ attaching their ‘first stabs’ – examples of visual artefacts, explaining the impact they noticed in how their team responded etc.

If you’re tired from the insights from your work gathering digital dust, and you’re feeling sketchy after the video, I go step by step through my approach in an article ‘Visualising Design Research‘ from a couple of years back.

Now go sharpen your pencil, and send me some shots!

double diamond image

Duped by the Double Diamond?

It’s a masterpiece of over-simplicity and an idealised vision of the human centred design process, but now there’s proof this blueprint for breakthroughs is a long way from reality… At least in New Zealand. (But we’re probably not alone)

Yes, I’m talking about the well-accepted Double Diamond model with its four stages of discover, define, develop and deliver.

It rolls off the tongue nicely, but what follows is a sobering view of how lop-sided it may be…

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