Category Archives: Uncategorized

If money talks, what does it say to a research participant?

A handful of cash used as incentives in design research.

NZ $50 notes, participant-bound. The bird on each one is a native Kōkako. Voted bird of the year in 2016. Ridiculous.

No, I haven’t won the lottery, the $$$ in the clip are to pay research participants. That’s business as usual for field research, and I’ve distributed hundreds of thousands of dollars in my time. It’s either cash or a voucher equivalent, and it’s always appreciated. 

It’s routine to pay research participants, but I believe the When? and How? of doing this can influence their behaviour. This is why I always pay participants with folding cash within Continue reading

Customer interview around a dining table in Tokyo, Japan.

Design research using simultaneous translation

Three seconds later – it’s like firewood.

This is the answer to the question – How do you interview people in a different language?

… A question I’m asked often.

When working in markets where English isn’t commonly spoken I use simultaneous translation. My client and I listen in English to a conversation in the local language. Translation is a skill I have respect for, and it’s indispensable for in-market customer insight work.

While a well-briefed bilingual interviewer interviews people in their local language, the translator relays the conversation in English through a mic and earbuds, delivering aural goodness on about a three second delay. Continue reading

Zane Lowe. Learned to listen.

Listening. How hard can it be?

Ask Global Creative Director at Apple Music, who says they’ve ‘really only just learned to listen’.

Zane Lowe has been described as New Zealand’s most successful music export, one of the UK’s top radio broadcasters and is now the creative force behind Apple Music.

Fancy. But as a professional listener myself, it’s the thousands of insightful interviews he’s racked up with artists that interest me. And what helped him learn to listen. Continue reading


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:


And among many others, I give this example:


… 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,



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.

Continue reading


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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Blog pic

Nine nourishing nuggets

Over the NZ summer, I deliberately made time to nourish my professional self.

Inspiration came from 5 podcasts, 2 books and a 2 short but atmospheric films.

I’d squirrelled dozens of potentially inspiring articles, podcasts and videos over the year, waiting to filter them for quality, then absorb them… undistracted, to the sound of cicadas.

A few were memorable, including:

  • A peculiar ‘outsider view’ on UX research,
  • Podcasts on social research and why people do what they do,
  • Interviews with designers I admire about their work, and approaches to product development,
  • A couple of rather chilling ethno-books by people who gave their all to understand another people.
  • A couple of gorgeous videos spotlighting the beauty of heavy manufacturing – sheffield style,
  • A short surf adventure in Iceland, captured in inimitable ironic Kiwi narrative.
  • … and some envy-inducing lifestyle portraits of people who’ve made creativity into a lifestyle,

Here’s a snapshot of each, and why I found it worthy brain fodder for my work in design / research:

5 Podcasts

UX seduction at Etsy
Journalism meets UX research. This account of the interviewee’s perspective in a ‘usability test’ is a surreal experience given I’ve conducted hundreds of these sessions in my time.
The host of the podcast feels more like they’ve been part of an experiment than ‘helping improve a product’, and (tries to) delve into the ethics behind the way e-commerce sites steer our minds.
Hearing this makes me want to interview the interviewees from user research sessions to find out what level of cynicism and undercurrents of curiosity really does ship as standard with participants in these studies.

‘The big interview’ with Thomas Heatherwick & Monocle
I used to ride past his office in London when the models for his ‘rolling bridge’ were in the window, but the bridge hadn’t become a reality.

Now it’s in his back catalogue, and Terence Conran has declared Thomas Heatherwick ‘the Leonardo Da Vinci of our time. … a handle he’s clearly not comfortable with.
Though he gets a bit earnest at times, I was taken by his lack of ego. A humble designer untethered to a medium with a solid worship of idea over process.

He reminds me at times of the profile of Marc Newson, who in ‘Urban Spaceman’ share the same comments about being material and subject matter agnostic as a designer.

Thinking allowed
Fascinating sociology podcasts from the BBC. Laurie, the curious interviewer frames up myriad topics beautifully, then chats with people who’ve studied people in that context.

It’s good stuff. Highly conversational, so you don’t need to wade through the academic fluff as you find out about things like what motivates middle class kids who want for nothing but become drug dealers, or changing attitudes to how we navigate our careers, to children’s changing attitude to money.

Perfect podcasts for a walk around the block. If your block takes about 20 mins.

Paul Adams on Product
Never short on an opinion, and always worth listening to, Paul Adams is quite the influential voice on what it takes to make a great digital product.

We worked together at Flow, a company since absorbed into Europe’s largest UX consulting agency. Now – after serving a Silicon Valley sentence – He’s putting his learnings into play at Intercom, in Dublin, where he’s using what he refers to as the ’6-6-6’ roadmap for product development.

For those who (like me) suffer fatigue from the newfangled recipes for success, it’s summed up here as a 2min read, but the podcast is worth a listen to any product strategy or team leader.

Guerilla interviews in South Auckland 
This is guerrilla street interviewing at it’s best, by a master who really connects.
John Campbell’s authentic and probing dialogue makes you feel like you’re there with him. This is all laid down with brilliantly executed post production to stitch the story together.
There’s only a couple of these articles, but they are worth a listen, as he interviews people at the low end of the socio-economic spectrum, and very quickly gets down to brass tacks about their day to day struggle to live in our biggest city.

2 books:

On the run, with Alice Goffman

Reading this book is a little like a personal account of living in the series ‘the wire’…
…but instead of an HBO production crew, it’s seen through the lens of an ethnographer.

New York book review calls it an ‘ethnographic classic’, but it’s also been controversial.

Alice, a middle class academic moved in and spent six years living in a troubled Philadelphia neighborhood and saw first-hand how teenagers of African-American and Latino backgrounds are “funneled down the path to prison”.

This is journalism meets ethnography, and you’d expect rigour from the daughter of the “most important sociologist of the last 50 years” … So reading about her in-the field practices of note taking, logging of events etc. .. I shudder to imagine how much data she was wading through while examining these lives at such close range.

Academic sociologists felt she was too close to her subjects and took liberties in the way she wrote, while Journalists, (likely stunned at the depth and richness of her account) simply picked holes in the details, dismissing it’s value as a true account.

If you haven’t got the time to read the book… here’s a TED

Patched. when ethnography goes underground.
This book is the result of New Zealand’s largest ever study of gangs in NZ, with much of the story captured via a long and dangerous ethnography.

“I hung out with the gangs” says Jarrod Gilbert, and the stories he’s dredged up paint a rich and sometimes raw picture of this part of our social history.
He spent six years researching gangs, which meant drinking with them, listening to them, tuning motorbikes together and figuring out what to say and what not to say. He admits he was “on the wrong end of a couple of beatings” and his liver took a beating as well.

This all led to a prize-winning academic book, Patched, but like Alice and her book on life as a fugitive in Philadelphia, This author too has had their work controversially discredited by authority (in this case the Police) because he was too close to the subjects.

 2 Short films

For some eye candy I soaked up these two gems:

Barry Can’t arf Weld.
A totally gorgeous piece of atmosphilm – this short but powerful video essay rips into you with sound and motion.
Follow the journey of a few kilos of molten metal all the way to becoming a railway bogey. It’s so raw, noisy and dirty it makes you want to reach for the Swarfega.

…But then you kinda wish you could don a pair of steel caps and join in the fun in the dark and forbidding bowels of this Sheffield foundry.

‘Brass monkey’ surfing in Iceland.
A somehow timeless surfing ‘roadie’ flick. Filmed in in Iceland of all places by three Kiwi wax-heads mad enough to take this on.
Equal parts warming and super frosty, with the kind of dry, tongue-in-cheek-narration to bring you along on the romance of the trip.

Oh, did I say 9?

… come on, just one more …

As a some-time architect of my own lifestyle. I’m a hoover for inspiration … pondering other people’s existence. … and here at Freunden von Freunden (friends of friends) is where I found a stack:

These are styled portraits showcasing the lives of a privileged few creative people who have made a life from what they love and seek and create. Including a few Kiwis

Ok, and one more makes 11

I’ve also been piecing together a wee story about my own product development – of Mr. Tappy, a mobile UX research tool. I’m as proud as I am surprised with how it’s evolved.

Great to have found the time to indulge, and now share some brain fodder and use some of those muscles which -during the year- only get a 2 minute workout on short articles.

Thanks for reading and here’s to 2016!