Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Design Thinking with Barry Katz at Stanford: Class 4 and 5

In the fourth and fifth How to Think Like a Designer classes, Barry invited an excellent guest speaker, Gabriel Trionfi, User Researcher at Facebook. Previously, Gabriel was a Human Factors Community Leader at IDEO. He has a psychology and theater background, which he taps into when conducting interviews and facilitating research. He's a warm, open, insightful guy - definitely someone I'd enjoy working with.

Gabriel talked about the state of most experiences, which by default, aren’t designed. When experiences are designed, not all iterations are accounted for (EX: most chairs are optimized for sitting, not slouching). Experience takes place within an individual - it's a psychological phenomenon. You cannot point to the experience you designed, but the thing that facilitates the experience. Designers can constrain experiences, increase the probability of an experience happening, but there's no guarantees. Ideally as a designer, you’re looking forward seeing how you can change what is, iterating to get people to the better experience, the optimal state.

Gabriel said the #1 thing a User Researcher does is to provide authentic, grounded, meaningful inspiration to designers. Inspiration is required for innovation. As a User Researcher, you need to have genuine insights about people and the opportunity to share those insights with designers to help them find a reason for the design to be. User Research is a set of practices that help you discover valuable insights.
User Research has many names and overlaps with multiple disciplines: ergonomics, need finding, human factors, usability, HCI participatory design. Believing in Human Centered Design doesn’t make you a User Researcher, or at least doesn’t make you a good one. (Note: Don Norman wrote a fascinating article about the Dangers of Human Centered Design). Design research is not objective. It is subjective because we intend to design something from the start. If you don’t pursue inspiration you aren’t doing it right. It's about change, fluidity, being reactive, following insights to an end vs marketing research, which is generally about how many dollars are associated with different types of users.
User Research isn't just talking to people. It's about grounding your intuition. It's your job to interpret and understand if the insights you deliver are relevant and actionable. You need to take yourself out the picture – not in terms of your interpretation, but in terms of what users need and want (it might not be what you want). This is critical to being successful as a User Researcher. You already know what you think should happen. Everyone can be empathetic. Empathy is not a super power, it’s a practice, it’s a skill that can be honed.

Gabriel also shared some thoughts on working at Facebook. He said Facebook is an inventor's company - no company is pushing change as often as they are. At Facebook he represents users, synthesizes them, brings them into product conversations. He addressed students' questions about privacy and shared an interesting story. During the height of the privacy backlash this year, Facebook did not see a decline in users. While it's easy to attribute that to "people don't know, don't care", he talked about another possible reason he discovered while conducting research. During an interview, a Facebook user said that she read a news article on how to set Facebook privacy controls, and now she feels safe and empowered to use Facebook even more. An interesting lesson: with public exposure of issues also comes access to solutions that users may never have discovered otherwise.

When embarking on User Research, how do you determine what methodology to use? Have the question you want to answer lead you to the methodology. Here are some key methods that Gabriel described: 

1. Empathy
Often the easiest to dismiss. It’s about the reality of the person you’re designing for, the reality of the problem as it exists today, and the reality of what you’re striving to create. There are different types of empathy: physical, social, emotional, cultural, and simulation/role playing aspects of the experience.

Physical Empathy – Change your physical experience to understand someone else’s. Ex: a man wearing a pregnancy (birthing) belly. When done in a team, it creates a social learning moment.

Emotional Empathy – seeking experiences that take you through a range of emotions similar to the people you are designing for.

Social Empathy – immerse yourself in social situations related to the experience you are designing for. Ex: IDEO sent a team of clients into Sephora to see how uncomfortable they felt trying to find quality products they were not familiar with.

Cultural empathy – go local and embed yourself in the culture relevant to your design. Live in different places, compare differences and similarities. The challenge is knowing if a behavior is novel or common in that culture. Ex: Gabe observed someone cutting pizza with scissors in Italy. Turns out that's a common practice. When you're not sure, ask people in that culture to evaluate it.

Emapthy through Re-enacting – observe an experience or journey and try to re-inact it yourself. 

2. Observation:
Observation is a mindset. Sometimes throwing away the knowledge you have is the best thing to do when you’re observing. Then bring back your knowledge when you’re evaluating the findings. Narrow your focus to come up with more than casual observations. Be attentive to a certain problem. When do you start observing? Now. The best researchers and designers always have a camera and are always documenting. Train yourself to have it available and ready at all times.

What is the meaning behind when people say they like one thing, but they do another? Observe things that people are not articulating directly/well.

Body language - Wells Fargo was the first bank to put mirrors on their ATMs to make people feel more safe. This insight came from watching people look over their shoulders as they withdrew money.

Symbols of value and use – an elevator with worn buttons reveals where people are going most frequently.

Work-arounds – how have people designed their own solutions for challenges or unmet needs? Beausage – from use comes a beautiful patina.

What are people doing now – watching a current experience can help you understand what a future experience could be. What is the beginning, middle and end of an experience? Easy framework to use.

3. Interview:
People sharing their stories, history, attitudes, opinions and beliefs with you. Think about what questions you ask and how the questions are related to each other. Make it easy for people to tell a story.

How to interview:
- It's not about you.
- Be relaxed.
- Listen and don’t talk over others.
- Don’t end the pause. A pause means a person is thinking, and what they’re about to say will likely be unexpected to them…and you.
- Agreement biases exist. If you suggest an answer, you’ll get mediocre insights.
- Be as eye level as possible. Get on the floor with kids.
- Use body language to make people feel comfortable. Can be used to control the interview. It's not just talking to people, but a set of skills.
- Onstage/Backstage – think about what you’re going to say next in the back stage while still listening in the moment onstage.
- Record audio, time stamp with a marathon watch.

What to ask: 
- Go in with a prepared discussion guide.
- Ask why? Ask 5 times to dive down. Even if you think you know the answer, ask anyway.
- Tell me a story about a time…this unlocks tons of gold.
- Set up your questions…a to b: first question is not what I’m interested in, it sets up second question.
- "Tell me your philosophy on…". The nature of philosophy is personal and makes a good question to ask.
- Ask indirect questions – compare and contrast. Does your sister do that? Why or why not? Does that resonate with you? Great for kids and shy people. Get them to tell them about other people in their lives. How do you think someone else would answer that.
- Double barrel questions can be great if intentional. EX: Why you’re taking the class, how is it going so far? A question like that is looking for customer satisfaction.

We ended the fifth class with an exercise in conducting interviews. We broke up into teams of two and took turns asking each other about our work environments with the goal of finding innovative solutions to our partner's issues. In the case that our partner did not have any issues, the challenge became how to find a related problem that was worthy of solving.


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