Category Archives: Design research

Safety in numbers during design research

We should have seen the signs it was a rough neighbourhood…

Illustration Mat Tait

Illustration Mat Tait

The taxi driver asked whether we were sure we had the right address, whether we actually knew the person we were visiting, 

“You know, you just don’t seem like the types to be visiting someone round here”

Ten minutes north of The Bronx, NYC in a sleeting-cold January storm, two colleagues and I had arrived at a home visit, and feeling very conspicuous now the cab had left. Uneasy, my heart began to race as the character of the neighbourhood sunk in. Any feelings of being ‘street-wise’ faded to mutual expressions of discomfort.  Continue reading

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…

Continue reading

My expert-ness, mapped over time

On being an expert…

There was a time I was comfortable being the expert.

That’s changed.

I was asked to do an ‘expert’ experience review recently. Ever since it’s been playing on my mind – surfacing internal conflicts and self-doubt around how comfortable I am taking the role of ‘expert’ in this field.

It’s a feeling that’s changed with time, so I mapped it.

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Ethnography-in-China

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.

Continue reading

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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Front-of-house

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,

Continue reading