audience segments as characters

I was recently helping a few people create audience segments for their projects. It’s so hard to get outside the normal way of thinking about people by title or role or demographic. As a way of getting past that, and additionally as a way of emphasizing that audience segments are merely a way to help you talk to a wider swath of people than you might get simply by selecting by role, I suggested thinking of each segment as a character. Like, you know, “Oh, Mike–he’s a character!” Someone who is larger than life will help you look around the edges of the role-defined world. (One of the people I was helping works in an industry where some of the workforce they are studying is referred to as “roughnecks,” which just begs for the creation of characters!) Furthermore, thinking of these segments as characters in a movie will help you slip away from generalizations and focus on a particular set of extraordinary fictional personalities. Read More

This panel discussion took place during the Interaction Design Conference 2010 in Savannah, Georgia, USA. (IxD10) It was not on the program, but filmed separately as a part of The UX series, sponsored by mad*pow. Design Research Discussion panelists include: Indi Young, Daniel Szuc, Eric Reiss, Steve Baty, and Chris Avore.

examples of tough combing labels

You wanted to test your combing/labeling skills … right? You wanted to hone your ability to grab the most descriptive verb possible, and pull out the implications of what the person is really trying to say? Here is a set of examples with a little discourse about why I suggest the label I suggest. The original labels have been suggested by people I am mentoring through the combing process.

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support intentions, not existing workflows

This week I was chatting with someone who works at an organization that does not yet recognize the value of generative research before defining products. She said to me, with exasperation in her voice, “The product managers here still go around collecting needs from our customers and giving us lists of features to implement.” She had some money left over from a budget (Leftover money?! That doesn’t happen often!) and wanted to spend it on a small research project that would get to the root of what people were trying to do–people who were not yet customers. Her dream is to be able to show the product managers and executives at her company results from the generative research illuminating several new, previously uncharted activities that her company can support. Read More

mental model of australian public radio/TV contributor

Jeremy Yuille has been working with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on a project to give viewers and listeners around the country a chance to upload their own content. Why would people upload their own content? The most cited reason for doing such a thing is, “it’s a place to display my work,” followed by “give my work a chance of being used by the ABC” and “get recognition from the ABC.” So Jeremy and his team (Chris Marmo, Reuben Stanton, Marius Foley) put the mental model together of various types of contributors, analyzed it in terms of how to support them, and created a site. Best of all, the team is sharing their work with the world.

mental model diagram with mental spaces shown as "platforms" supporting towers, which support boxes above them

Jeremy has generously shared the diagram with us here. (135Kb PDF).
Note how Jeremy, being a communications designer, reformatted the diagram to show mental spaces and towers as foundations to the boxes, rather than as headers. Jeremy blogged the details of this project here.

Team Twitter handles:
Jeremy Yuille @overlobe
Chris Marmo @kurisu
Reuben Stanton @absent

conversation instead of an interview

I’ve been guiding the fabulous folks at the University of Buffalo (and the team at their design partner mStoner) through the interviewing process this week. One of the university stakeholders for the project wanted to be interviewed as a participant–as someone who keeps track of what an organization is doing and crafts his decisions based on what he learns. As expected, the interview kept bouncing back to what this stakeholder does at the university, rather than branching out to similar habits he might have in other circumstances. When I tried to explore how he tracked information about other organizations than the university, he was surprised and said he wasn’t prepared to talk about other topics. It was disappointing because the other topic we glimpsed was unique to him, and I could sense that we would have been able to go deeper into what was motivating him. Read More

updated python script to generate the mental model diagram

The Python script used to generate mental model diagrams has been updated to allow for added flexibility in output. Originally, box labels greater than about 48 characters would render outside the margins of the box, requiring close monitoring of the label length and often caused the label to be rewritten awkwardly or with abbreviations. Read More

granularity & repetition of task labels

In the first five months of 2009, I’ve guided four teams through making their mental models. We have combed transcripts, labeled quotes, and grouped the labels from the bottom up to create the structure of the mental models. We have made 11 different models together. What has come up again and again is the difficulty of choosing what to include in the model and what to exclude. I see two recurring prominent mistakes. Avoiding these mistakes will greatly simplify the complexity of piecing together the data.

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go the more nutritious route

At nearly every presentation and workshop I give, someone comes up to me and asks, “Have you tried (insert tool name here) with your method? It’s really cool.” I shake my head no and politely ask them what they think the tool would do. Every explanation boils down to this: it would automate the analysis of all those interviews, make affinity groups, and do away with all that manual work. I ask them to email me the tool name, then I file it away untouched. I always thought this was just a personal quirk of mine–that I want to do the analysis myself. I don’t want to use a tool to comb through transcripts for me because I’m the one who is reading between the lines and guessing at implied meanings.

I finally realize this is not a personal quirk. Manually analyzing the transcripts is a requirement. Read More

write differently for different audiences

Stop producing one product for the masses and start producing three or five products for the conflicting personalities and goals of different groups. In this post from my Adaptive Path tenure, Message to the Masses, I encourage writers to think from multiple audience’s perspectives.

(This post was originally published at Adaptive Path. Since Adaptive Path became a part of another corporation in late 2014, the post is replicated below for posterity.)

Message to the Masses

This week, we bring you an Adaptive Path Founder Emeritus to our blog.

Indi Young is an accomplished author, speaker and friend of Adaptive Path. As a founder she helped set Adaptive Path on it’s course and continues to inspire designers with her books Mental Models: Aligning Design Strategy with Human Behavior, and Practical Empathy for Creativity and Collaboration in Your Work.

The other evening at the dinner table, I happened to look at the pamphlet my boyfriend was unfolding from the stack of mail. It was from the human resources group at his company. My boyfriend is a research scientist for Bayer, just so you get a tiny idea of where his mind is half the time. Me—you’re already familiar with my kinds of thoughts in user experience. So he and I were a little surprised to read:

You take the time to make sure your car gets the routine care it needs. Are you doing the same for yourself?

I had a sneaking suspicion that I was reading a message aimed at someone other than us. Why the reference to a car? Which groups make cars a significant emblem in their lives? To be completely honest, neither my boyfriend nor I take our vehicles to the car wash. I barely get my car in for an oil change on time once every eight months or so. If we were the types to polish our Mustang in the driveway, then maybe this analogy would work, but we’re not. As members of the 40-50 set, my boyfriend and I spend much more time looking after our health than looking after our cars. Likewise, we are pretty familiar with the details of our medical plans.

So why did Bayer waste the paper sending us this message? It read like a non sequitur mouthed by a distracted elderly relative. So we opened the pamphlet to see if a different message was inside that we might want to learn. We saw this:

Taking Charge of Your Health: Does it ever feel like things are out of your control? Many things are ... Here are some ideas for taking charge of your health: Start by using your preventative care benefits; Exercise; Eat right; Manage your stress

“Use your preventative care benefits.” Ah, here was the crux of the message. They wanted to remind us of this benefit.

The rest of the page I can only rant about. So skip this paragraph if you’re inclined. The “Exercise” message we ignored, since we both run, swim, cycle and compete in race events. “Cut out one can of regular soda,” well since neither of us drink soda at all, the message was pointless. And there was that vague “Manage” verb describing what to do about stress. Curious, I read the final paragraph and got annoyed. “Walk a little farther, drink more water, and snuff out that cigarette.” For gods’ sake, Bayer! Why pester us about stuff we don’t have problems with? I didn’t even actually read the little introductory paragraph until the day I wrote this. Check it out. What a pithy piece of wisdom, don’t you think? Who does the writer intend to lecture wish such banalities?

After reading the pamphlet, I felt completely offended by the Bayer human resources group and I threw the thing in the recycling. Was that the reaction they had intended when they spent the money to write and distribute this message? Obviously, no … They intended to urge people to spend a little on preventative checkups so they could perhaps net a few unhealthy folks and help get them on track, thereby reducing costs overall on health insurance for their employees. That’s a reasonable goal, sure.

I guarantee Bayer has a database of its employees and knows whether a person has ever checked an “I smoke” box on a form. I guarantee they can ask the various health insurance providers to look up the names of folks who haven’t been for a routine exam in five years. It would take less than 30 minutes for the lowliest IT intern to get that set of names to the human resources group. Is this illegal, to target messages at people who smoke who haven’t had a checkup recently? Is it illegal to ask for a record of employee visits to the doctor’s office in the past five years? Perhaps.

As for the soda-drinking, since that isn’t a sin that has made it to a checkbox on a form yet, the writer could have asked rather than accused. The way the piece is written, the writer assumes the reader drinks at least two cans of regular soda a day. And the walking is an accusation, too, that the reader just sits on the couch, and isn’t already training for a trail marathon or going mountain biking and rock climbing with her friends. Then there’s the title—don’t get me started about gerunds as the first word in a title, “Taking Control.”

But this isn’t an essay about how to write better messages. It’s a reminder to choose specifically defined groups of people to write to. It’s about focusing on the reader rather than department assignments like “get more folks to sign up for routine physicals” and “remind people that smoking and regular soda is bad.” Can you clearly see the person you are writing to? If not, then your message is too broad and will fail to connect with the majority of the readers. Worse, it will annoy those it isn’t intended for, or even offend them. Envisioning the reader is something we all learn in our writing classes, but forget as soon as the stern pressure of “the assignment” bears down on our shoulders.

With chagrin, I feel like a communist revolutionary chanting, “Power to the people!” But here, unlike communism, “the people” refers to different groups exhibiting different behaviors and motivations, examined within myriad scopes—the developer who reaches out to team mates at their organization for help solving a problem versus the developer who is self-reliant and does not discuss his way through solution-finding.

Behavior & Motivation Differences in Groups

Behavior & Motivation Differences in Groups:  new university students include "passionate about the topic," "look forward to the college experience," "means to an end," and "exploring paths." People dating are "get on the love train," "see what happens," "trying too hard," and "think it through."

I say my message over and over. Whatever you produce must be in explicit support of a particular group. Whatever you produce: pamphlets, web applications, toothbrushes, requirements documents … I expect the folks that do the actual work and make the approvals “get it” and change their ways. Stop producing one product for the masses and start producing three or five products for the conflicting personalities and goals of different groups. Spend more effort and money and time up front to connect with the hearts and minds of the people in these groups, rather than tramping unshod over their uniqueness. Each individual truly believes she or he is unique, yet they will also tell you of the special interests they have in common with others and feel happy to be grouped by those concerns. Let us undertake simply to support them. And, if necessary, let us undertake to change laws that were written with one intent in mind, but inadvertently prevent us from doing something good.