Something we are doing now, in a very considered way.
From a design perspective, tieing things to expected outcomes and behaviours that can (and will) be measured sure is a nice way of focusing decisions and building credibility.
The ‘ole “fulfil a client requirement listed in bullet-points” thing must die. No one, not even the client, is ever truly satisfied with that approach.
I’ve been reading Sam Ladner’s Practical Ethnography. It’s full of gems that I plan to summarise, but Chapter 9 is especially good. Especially this bit: “It is theory, not method, that differentiates good research from poor research”.
Sam Ladner writes that theory will help guide you through your mess of notes and photos and observations.
- Goffman’s theory of the presentation of the self
- Butler’s notion that gender is a performance
- Bourdieu’s idea of cultural capital.
So many new ideas to follow, and so much happiness that we can all come out of the closet and acknowledge that theory has practical applications when interpreting data.
A bit of Foucalt, anyone?
*An aside: Once I went and spoke to a designer research academic about perhaps moving back into academia.
“You keep talking about theory”, she said, at one point, in quite a sharp tone. “But it’s theories. There’s not just *one* theory“.
I think that was the moment I realised I could never return to academia because academia is fundamentally ridiculous.
I am working with an excel spreadsheet of about 132,000 rows.
Or, rather, I am not working with that excel spreadsheet because every time I try and manipulate the data excel crashes.
Manually splitting the spreadsheet into smaller, tinier spreadsheets was not something I was going to entertain.
Then I found this fantastic, super-awesome macro. How to split a file. Go get it! Thank me later.
At work, we’ve been trialling a way of working in a product team where we have a dedicated researcher (me) as well as a dedicated designer (my design buddy).
I think the question we’re really working out the answer to at the moment is “just who do these research people think they are” and also “why exactly do we need them?”.
We’re still in the process of nutting that out.
These are the things I’m thinking at the moment, as a result of this trial
1. The researcher and the designer need to work side-by-side.
2. Researchers bring a particular mindset to a problem. In Practical Ethnography Sam Ladner describes this as the “emic mindset” (or, the perspective of the person using the product).
3. When it’s just you trying to cover both the research and the design (fairly usual practice when you’re working in a less established design team) switching between the two mindsets is hard. Even if you’re good at both, it’s two very different ways of working.
4. Not everyone is good at everything. If you are working alongside someone with complementary skills, your product will benefit.
5. The researcher doesn’t really just do research. The designer doesn’t really just do design. At a talk recently Leisa Reicheldt estimated that, for user researchers, about 30% of time spent is on the core practice, 70% of the time is spent talking (talking to each other, in meetings, presentations, discussions with the product team, the broader community of practice, that guy in the hallway … )
6. Good research helps frame the design problem in a way that can be quantified by the business, as well as enacted on by the designer.
7. People are worried that the researchers will become “too academic” and “critical of the designer’s choices” and generally be a pain in the bum. I have many thoughts about that, but most of them boil down to “hire people who can play nicely. Don’t hire arseholes. Not sure about the academic thing.”
Interesting techniques for rolling the user research onto the product roadmap.
I found the approach to mapping the relevant insights quite useful.
As well as this set of principles further down in the article:
My advice is to select your projects in that order:
Last week my designer-buddy and I ran a design studio with our team.
Some things about our team.
1. They’re located in another country.
2. We have about 3 hours of working day overlap.
3. We talk a lot on Slack and via online video.
The two of us, the designers, are based in Melbourne, along with the product manager. But everyone else is in the other office.
In the past we’ve run design studios with the team. We’ve used very narrow scenarios, we’ve had all the answers lined up to all of the questions and the output has been very similar screen designs or user flows.
This time we took a design scenario to the team that we didn’t have all the answers to, we were still iterating on ourselves. When they asked us, we put it back to them. “We want to know what you think. It’s OK. We won’t implement your ideas straight away. But we want your designs to help us see what we haven’t thought through”.
There were 30 minutes of questions, which we couldn’t answer. You could hear, through the skype call, the session slowly derailling.
The designs the team came up with were great. The greatest stuff, and the most useful for us, that had ever been produced from a design studio. It felt, from my perspective at least, it was a proper design studio, and not just an exercise in how people would lay out different elements on the screen.
But, from the team’s perspective, it was not a good experience. There were too many unanswered questions. There was too much uncertainty. And the uncertainty has now bled into other parts of the work we’ve been working on. Too many “open questions”. “Did we do any user research?”
What makes that even tricker is, because we’re not co-located, you kind of get hints that things are going south, but you’re not 100% and then when things do end up in the South Pole it takes another day or two to get everyone in the same meeting to talk things through.
I guess it was a fail, overall, if the goal was to engage the team in the “design” process.
But it was a real success from our point of view. Their work actively contributed to the way we were thinking of the problem.
I’m still on the fence about what the next steps should be here. I’m leaning towards not running a design studio like that again. And that’s partly due to the distance. It’s too hard to explain things and guide them, after a session, so that you can help people reflect and learn from a session that wasn’t quite what they expected.
It’s a shame, because I thought it was a good step forward. But it’s been a step back really, for everyone. Perhaps it’s best if we go back to more narrow and tightly-defined design studios that are really an exercise in helping them see what we have already seen, rather than an exercise in helping us see the begins of something better than we could have come up with by ourselves.
I’ll post them after I reread this article.
I am saving this link for safe-keeping.