(newsletter #21)

Figuring out what to explore in a problem-space study is difficult. For problem-space exploration, you ask participants about the larger intent or purpose; for user-research, you ask about your ideas or products. For example, in a problem-space study having to do with drive-through menu design at a fast food chain, we asked participants, “What went through your mind as you decided what to eat for a quick lunch over the past couple of weeks?” The purpose wasn’t to select from a menu, but to eat lunch.

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Most orgs imagine they understand the problem, but don’t take time to research it. They are content to use what they imagine as the basis for developing their solution. The problem space is where they’ll get their strongest insights and innovations, but you wouldn’t suspect this based on the amount of effort put toward exploring their solution and the people using it. Read More

what Is a research scope?

Scoping is figuring out what, exactly, to explore for a study. It’s a Goldilocks problem: you don’t want the scope too broad, or you will not see patterns appear in the data, but you don’t want it too narrow, or the participants will tell you everything they have to say about it in five minutes. You want to get the scope just right–somewhere in between these two extremes. Read More

This case study aims to encourage you to get some problem-facing research started, using practical empathy and mental model diagrams. Researching the problem (as opposed to the solution) is a lot easier than you might suspect. So here’s the example: I studied how dogs maximize their experiences of the last day or two. Read More

generalizations get you nowhere

Much of the time, people default to generalizations when describing how they approach things. It’s habit. Generalizations unfortunately tend to gloss over the details of thinking and reacting and instead focus on explanation. When developing empathy, you want to get beyond explanation to the details, so you will want to ask a person to describe specific instances of an event, and all that was passing through her mind during each specific instance. The best way to see the difference in how you can understand a person’s thinking is to show an example. Read More

python script update

Several people have developed scripts to render a mental model diagram in a browser, based on data formatted in a spreadsheet. However, none of these scripts has been released to the public; all of them are internal to different organizations. I’m working on freeing some of them up, because their authors are certainly interested in releasing the code. But the organizations, understandably, want to mitigate risk. Read More

marking a box as an “opposite” within a tower

Sometimes you have a summary that stands all by itself–there are no other voices like it, yet there are several voices saying the exact opposite. In this case, go ahead and group the solo voice with the others and label it “opposite.” It represents a summary that is the opposite of the intent of the tower. Read More

recruiting across behaviors

I received an enthusiastic, but bewildered cry for help from a UX designer in South Africa, Jeanne Marias. She wrote, “I am pioneering a service design project, part of which I’m wanting to do a Mental Model of ‘The New Member Journey.’ I’ve charged ahead and gotten the whole team excited about mental models, but after reading the section of your book about defining task-based audience segments, I’m feeling quite daunted and out of my depth! Especially when you speak about the Story, Craft and Companionship continuum.”

She wanted to know if there was an easier, friendlier way of creating an initial hypothesis about audience segments for recruiting, similar to the comic strip explaining mental models. (Don’t worry that we don’t know what industry this is for–“new members” appear in lots of difference scenarios, like insurance or teachers unions or book clubs. This explanation can work for any industry.) Read More

Several people have told me that they suspect OmniOutliner would be a great tool to comb, group, and create the mental model diagram. Well, their suspicions are correct! Not only is it a nice way to collect the data, organize it into labels, quotes, participant IDs, dates, team member, etc., but it’s also great for massaging all that data into hierarchical groups. Not only that, but now I’ve seen proof you can use the native diagramming feature to create the mental model itself. Read More

isn’t a mental model something else, not a diagram?

models people have of themselves, others, their environment, and things they interact with.

Don Norman’s definition of a mental model from Design of Everyday Things.

Frequently when people hear the phrase “mental model” they think of a narrow slice of Don Norman’s definition. In his book The Design of Everyday Things, right after discussing his example of the refrigerator/freezer controls, he writes this definition of mental models: Read More