Category Archives: Uncategorized

Dream design research projects from 2013, Part 2

The second half of the year was no less exciting with client work, but was boosted by the buzz of my own product hitting it’s stride in the market.

From July to December: Home brewing, TV, Mr. Tappy and Motorhomes.

Here goes…

5. Craft brewing insights

Location: Portland, Oregon. Micro brewery capital of the world.

Client: imake / (Part of the Better by Design programme).

Portland is the world’s capital of micro breweries and craft brewers. Visiting with imake’s team from NZ, Australia and USA, we stepped inside the garages, basements and minds of craft brewers, aiming to understand what makes them tick, and how they approach brewing.

My role as part of Better By Design is to help build design capacity within NZ export companies like imake. In many cases this starts with understanding customer needs, so getting out in the field like this was a perfect first step towards customer empathy.

In Oregon, I briefed the team on how to get the most from contextual interviews, supported them in the field, then coached them through collaborative analysis.

A deep dive into brewing culture, but my satisfaction came in that it was the client team who drew out the insights and identified opportunities for marketing and product development.

6. How do you view?

Client: SKY TV.

Location: Around NZ.

A classic contextual study in homes around NZ to understand how TV fits into people’s lives and how? / when? / where? / why? they get their fix.

Having run studies like this for BBC and SKY in the U.K. back in the late noughties it was super interesting to see shifts in consumer expectation and behaviour. Back then it was ‘time-shifting’, now it’s ‘omni-screening’. From devices to content sources, this felt like a ‘snapshot in time’ in the dynamic landscape of TV.

Insights from this project fed into new product development and an upcoming redesign of

7. Tapping into the mobile market

Client: My alter ego – Mr. Tappy.

Location: My kitchen table, and 30 countries.

Yes, from kitchen table to global tech giants in 2 years and just 700 easy steps.

My side-project, Mr. Tappy, (a product I’ve developed to help film people interacting with mobile devices) continued to surprise me with sales to the point where I can nearly hear myself blush when I see my list of customers.

Taking this product to market has been a humbling learning curve for me. Even when working alone I find myself being design, marketing, sales, distribution, customer service, etc., discovering how easy it is to work in silos and lose customer focus – Something nobody can afford to do, especially when your customers are expert product evaluators.

Having ‘skin in the game’ has resulted in greater respect for my design research clients‘. Running day to day operations, and shipping product is challenge enough let alone keeping an eye on customers. This first hand experience helps me understand my role as a design researcher with each client.

The entire product is made right here in NZ (some in my home workshop) and the next iteration will ship with a purpose designed HD camera.

8. Living the dream, via your own motorhome

Client: Tourism Holdings.

Location: Australia and NZ.

We’ve all been stuck behind one on a hill on the way to the beach, but what’s it like to buy a home, and a vehicle at the same time? We set out to find out.

I worked alongside Ed Burak, THL’s lead experience designer to provide research muscle on a project around motorhome sales. Motorhome buyers are a fairly relaxed bunch, usually at retirement age and with some time on their hands, but buying one of these rolling holiday homes is not always a holiday.

From a few dozen interviews with owners, buyers, salespeople and experts, we poured our insights into a customer journey map highlighting parts of the buyers’ journey where the experience could be improved.

… and as you’ll see, some of my illustrations  for the journey map were verging on the autobiographical. Yes, the waves were always like that in my memories.

…What’s next?

All the talk of holidays and time away was perfect timing for the end of 2013 and inspired me to use the caravan (which was once my office) a few times over the Christmas period. Good timing.

If you missed my previous post, here are the first four dream design research briefs from last year.

Outsourcing user research… to your customers.

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.

Life or death usability

Over the last couple of years I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in the R&D programme for a ground-breaking medical device to help diabetics manage their insulin treatment.

Part of the project was to reach a regulatory milestone, which has now been achieved.

To reach this milestone we tested the usability of the device to prove it was intuitive and the design prevented people from giving themselves a mis-dose or even fatal dose of insulin.

It was amazing to work in this ‘high-stakes’ context with so many facets to the user experience:

  • an ‘out of box’ experience with crucial set-up to match the device to the user’s insulin sensitivity
  • a physical product which is injected with insulin and attached to the body
  • a touch screen device presents a learning curve for diabetics in their 70’s
  • online monitoring and visualisation of blood glucose levels – data presented in new ways
  • …and the big one… people’s health and lifestyle literally in their hands and plugged into their bellies.

Aside from having my eyes opened to the world of diabetes and being humbled by the courage of the people I met during the research, …it’s been so satisfying to see design research deliver such a tangible impact.

I worked in conjunction with London User Research Centre and with Design Science in Philadelphia.

Customer Experience conference in NZ

Next week I’m presenting at this conference.

With the US and Europe groaning under the weight of web-focused User Experience conferences, it’s refreshing and encouraging to see this offered in New Zealand.

I’ll be sharing some experiences from a home-grown design research project.

From what I can gather I’ll be the only researcher presenting and I’m hoping to demonstrate the versatility as well as the value of design research.

Maybe I’ll see you there?

10 tips for usability studies with children


Children are some of the most demanding and discerning users of interactive products, making them difficult to design for and challenging to moderate in a usability or UX research situation.

Whilst they can’t always articulate their thoughts and you can’t rely on what they say, with a careful approach you can generate incredibly useful design feedback by watching them use a product.

Before kicking off a recent project with with 7-14 year olds, I spoke to teachers, parents and others who have worked with this age group. I’ve added to their collective advice:

1. Have a guardian introduce you

Kids will trust you if their parents do, so meet them first, then have the parent introduce you, they’ll also do a better job than you can.

2. Avoid letting the guardian sit in
Kids behave differently when they know their parent is watching.

3. Explain everything
Kids have an amazing bullshit detector. Be transparent about the purposes of the research and why they are  involved.
The usual upfront introduction to the purpose of the research cannot seem like a formality with kids, tell them why they are involved, let them ask questions at the beginning, or they may ‘sit’ on a question waiting for a time to ask it.
Explain any recording equipment. Kids will be distracted by their curiosity so get all the waving to camera etc. out of the way at the start.

4. Use pairs of friends
Pairs feel more comfortable with a stranger (safety in numbers) and are less likely to get stage fright.
Have them take turns interacting, leaving the other free to talk. This can be difficult to manage at times but creates a great dynamic generating rich feedback.

5. Start easy
Kids, (esp. boys) don’t like to be wrong. Make sure they feel confident and reassured by asking super easy icebreaker questions like; “what are your favourite …” etc.

6. Free range
Thinking aloud while using a product can be very distracting for kids and results in unnatural behaviour, so aim for free-range activities with absolute minimum instruction. Slip into the background as much as possible while they are interacting with the product.

7. Together, then one at a time
Start off directing questions at both kids together before addressing them individually, this saves you putting one of them on the spot and will also help you work out and manage the dynamic when one kid dominates.

8. Choose your words carefully
Try to match your language with the kids (particularly nouns). This might mean you refer or point to ‘things’ until they fill the gaps, then gradually adopt their descriptive terms.

9. Leave the room
Choose your timing and make an excuse to exit the room (assuming you have observation facility). This is the best possible way to observe natural behaviour. Don’t blow your cover though, if you say you’re going to get them a drink, bring one back.

10. Don’t load them up on e-numbers
Their concentration levels can quickly evaporate once sugary or coloured foods kick in leaving you short-changed of feedback. …and their parents will curse you on the ride home.

Anyone want to make it a top 11 or 12 ?

UPDATE: I stumbled across a more theoretical article about usability testing with children. It’s coming from a more academic and psychological angle.

Are we headed this way?

The direction of User Experience in New Zealand ?

With UX still taking shape in New Zealand I think we can learn a lot from what’s happening in other centres. Having just returned home to New Zealand from User Experience research contracts in London, I thought I’d share a few observations:

Everyone’s hiring, especially UX recruiters
There are now several recruitment companies who cover or are dedicated to filling UX roles. They seem to be overflowing with work, but there’s still a skills/experience shortage …anyone who’s good is booked.

Boom time for freelancers
UX Agencies are facing stiff competition from lone consultants, especially for Usability and UX research projects, where the short engagements really suit the freelance ‘gun for hire’. Clients are winning as they get all the insights without paying agency rates. My friend Harry elaborates.

Generalists are recognizing their strengths and doing what they do best. Most noticeable here is a split between designers and researchers, with ‘full service’ UX agencies having a pool of each, complementing each other on a typical project.

Some UX people or agencies specialise by content or industry (Social, Retail, Banking etc.) …some by environment (Mobile, Gaming, etc.) As an example, I met with a small team of consultants who run usability studies for IPTV and in-flight entertainment interfaces. … that’s getting really niche!

Financial sector is poaching top UX talent
Some of the strongest consultants have been pulled across into the world of finance and investment banking, specifically working on trading system interfaces where the smallest improvements in efficiency can result in big gains (or losses, depends which way you look at it).

Informed clients
Clients who are veterans of the User Centered approach now have a mature understanding of UX processes, when to use them, how to commission them, what to expect, and how much to pay.  The standard ‘5 user’ usability testing study has become relatively commoditised as a result.

UX stops at the screen
Multi-channel customer experience projects are (still) thin on the ground. I put this down to siloed teams client-side and that User Experience is still (arrogantly) ‘owned’ by digital, even within organisations. This has to change, and it might be the emerging Service Design agencies who pull it off.

Skype takes the hassle out of remote usability

Remote research brings cultural relevance to usability findings, providing the kinds of insights which can only be gained by being there…virtually at least.

I recently ran some remote website usability sessions for a Kiwi startup whose main customer is in the U.S.A. … sure, ‘isolation breeds innovation’ and all that, but when your customers are on the other side of the world, it’s vital that your product connects with them.

A fun project, but choosing which software to run during the sessions was a headache… There’s a boggling number of services to choose from (25 on this link) and there’s no clear winner.

After some experimenting, I went with Skype and it did the job nicely.
Here are some benefits over paid and more sophisticated software I’ve used previously:

  • It’s easy to recruit participants who already use Skype
  • Familiarity means no learning curve for you or participants
  • No install means no wasting valuable session time setting-up
  • Sending links and files is instant with built-in messaging
  • It’s possible to make contact with participants prior to the session
  • It’s free, so that’s hard to argue with

During the sessions, I was able to video chat with the participant for a while, then fire up Skype’s screen-sharing tool, so I could observe their movements on the website while  hearing their thoughts and reactions etc.

Skype’s screen-sharing only works between two computers so if you have clients observing, this will have to be through an external monitor (Make sure they are sitting out of view of your webcam and preferably out of earshot).

The project generated rich insights and shaped the design process moving forward.
I’d definitely use Skype for this again, but would love to hear from anyone who’s used anything else with success.

I also had Adobe Connect recommended …anyone tried that?

The tip of the User Experience iceberg

Some websites provide more of an experience than others, but the number of web agencies and even individuals who offer User Experience in their list of ‘services’ indicates there’s a chunk of lip-service being paid to what has become an almost industry-specific buzzword.

Although many techniques and approaches to UX have been honed and made popular during online projects, if New Zealand businesses associate User Experience only with making a well considered website, the power of taking a user-centred approach will be diluted and practitioners risk limited uptake from business in the design/research/strategy of their other channels and customer touch-points.

There’s so much more ground to cover and value to offer away from the web and I hope I’m not alone in my ideal that businesses and organisations should involve customers in the planning and design of all facets they interact with, on and offline, physical and virtual.

Tell me I’m not alone…