At the recent HOW Interactive Design Conference in Washington DC, I gave a presentation called "Know Thy User: The Role of Research in Great Interactive Design." This 30-minute high-level talk was intended to provide conference attendees with repeatable processes that will help them integrate user research into their interactive projects. Other presenters at the conference went more in-depth into some of the methods mentioned in this talk, but I felt that it was important for attendees to understand the role of specific methods and activities within the research process on any design project.
It’s a well known bromide of user research: customers don’t always know what they want - even when they think they do. Just because they can articulate it explicitly and provide detailed use cases, is no guarantee that once they get the thing they’ve asked for and desired, that they will in fact want it.
The following reflections and photographs I captured in the margins of a recent trip to Bangladesh for a client project.
The rules of the road? There are no rules. Riding in a fast-moving car, the freeway is a fat, pulsing vein, and we are but one blood cell swirling through the body called Dhaka.
It is tempting for an outside observer to conclude that people with extremely limited means are unable to plan ahead or to make sound financial decisions. When we first arrived in Cairo on a design research trip this year and talked to members of disenfranchised classes, we found ourselves precariously close to making such a mistake. We noticed puzzling behaviors that challenged our Western perspective and initially encouraged us to draw the wrong conclusion.
Design can exist without "the research." But if we don't study the world, we don't always know how or what to create.
Design, like the world as a whole, is unpredictable and messy. If you think it boils down to "research," you're mistaken.
A job interview can be a pretty dry affair, but a few years ago, I had one that I'll never forget. I was talking to an advertising executive about one of his clients, a major telecommunications company that had recently renamed itself. At the end of the interview, he asked if I had any questions for him. "What do you think about your client's decision to change names?" I asked. It seemed to me that discussing the pros and cons of a decision like this would be one of the more interesting aspects of a job in advertising. But his response didn't inspire much of a dialogue.
Blog frogs on the road
Social media amulets in Cairo
Aboard this Air Egypt flight from Cairo to Munich, I am grateful for five hours in limbo before being deposited back into Western life. After a week on the ground in Cairo with Jan Chipchase and other colleagues from frog design, I have a sharpened understanding of how little I know about this region. Anyone who has spent time talking to people on both sides of "the line" in Egypt is struck by the monumental gap between those found in the poor, illiterate corners of the city and the fountain-ringed office parks filled with the savvy Egyptian businessmen educated in the best schools the West has to offer. Our research traversed much of this continuum. While we were not in the poorest of poor areas (meaning, communities living in and mining garbage dumps), our interviewees ranged from the latte-sipping, shisha-smoking students wearing designer clothing to the tea peddlers in dusty, goat-filled alleys. When I asked, with the assistance of my translator, if they used Facebook, faces lit with a smile and a nod—even in the goat-inhabited corners.
Blog Future Perfect on design mind
In Cairo for a week of client research, workshops and keynotes. It's good to be back in this great country for my fourth visit here. I'm working out of a downtown hotel, with a team of six, plus three local guides, who we’ll sync with over breakfast, before hitting the streets. It’s good to have time to calibrate to the city – especially one that has gone through so much disruptive change. There’s freedom in the air and most people that I’ve spoken to recognise that the hard work in building what's next is yet to come. Tahrir Square is alive with the sounds of debate, face painted kids, and the detritus of protest.
A trip to Zambia reminds a designer that the best solutions don't come from good tools. They come from good teams.
Blog Future Perfect on design mind
In the summer of 2010, I conducted field research in Afghanistan with generous support from the Institute for Money, Technology, and Financial Inclusion at the University of California at Irvine. My research partner Panthea Lee and I led a nimble local team to investigate how people use cell phones to do their banking—known in the industry as mobile money. The findings from the field study are now available for download, along with a number of images captured on the trip.