sun shining over wooded ridge

newsletter #30 | 21-Nov-2017

I often speak about using vocabulary that clarifies meaning. For example, I encourage people to say the word “user” when they mean someone who has a relationship to the organization or the product/service, and say the word “person” when engaged in understanding the problem space. I try to clarify the difference between the solution space, where the focus is on the thing you’re creating and the ideas you have for it, and the problem space, where the focus is on the person. In the problem space, I am interested in understanding all the things running through a person’s mind as they seek to achieve an intent or purpose. And I wonder if I should settle on one word or the other: “intent” or “purpose.”

At the World UX Day event at Daimler Trucks, organized by Kathy Toney, the theme was “inclusion through user experience.” The words “empathy” and “intent” came up a few times across all the speakers.

Jared Spool defines design as the rendering of intent -- for the organization The slide Jared Spool showed, with his definition of “design,” caught my attention. “Design: the rendering of intent.” Here “intent” represents the organization’s effort to create something that serves a purpose. A little later he uses the word again.

Jared Spool says intention in design runs in a continuum from imitation to innovation within organizations

His slide shows a continuum of approaches organizations take with regard to design–the rendering of intent. The continuum goes from “imitation” to “innovation.” Imitation is less expensive, less risky and, Jared proposes, reveals that design is viewed as a commodity at those organization, or not valued. Innovation is more expensive, more risky, and he proposes that at these organizations design is valued and viewed as the means to vigorously compete in the marketplace.

“Intent” is synonymous with “intention.” After seeing these slides, I figured I was not the only person who hasn’t quite settled on how to use what word. Grin!

But, back to my own conundrum: “intent” and “purpose” are also synonyms. Although, somehow they seem to imply different things when stated in the context of trying to set a framework/scope within which problem space research seeks to understand a person’s inner reasoning. An intent seems to be more closely related to a “goal” that a particular product or service supports. Like “file an accident claim” or “do the laundry.” A purpose seems to be a little higher level, like “recover from an accident” or “take care of my clothing.” I was going to stop using “intent” in my writing and talks, but with Jared’s slides (and the dictionary definitions), now I’m fascinated by that word. I’ll keep using “intent/purpose” for the time being.

Happily, I can be much more decisive and clear in my use of phrasing that references “the problem.” “Fall in love with the problem.” This phrase is more and more common among user experience folks, product owners, and developers.

build an enduring relationship with the problem (not just "fall in love")

In my talk, I point out that falling in love is fun (and often spontaneous), but building an enduring relationship takes a lot of work. This is the clarification that helps show what continuous, slowly aggregating, cognitive-empathy-based knowledge can provide for your organization. It helps teams understand what it means to support people in their intents/purposes. And it shows opportunities to move forward.

thought provoking

“Google, Facebook, and Twitter never wanted the responsibility of patrolling their platforms. They just wanted to sell your data.” Silicon Valley Has Turned Into the Place it Hates Most, by Linette Lopez. (posted by Chris Kantarjiev)

“Forum participants called on scientists to do more to center their efforts around “community needs, interests and values,” to focus more on “deep listening,” and to be prepared to acknowledge that sometimes their assumptions about a community may be wrong.” Science’s Next Frontier? It’s Civic Engagement, by Louise Lief.

“This will start with accommodation for those in wheelchairs first … Accomablehad amassed listings for 1,100 properties in 60 countries with details about step-free access, other accessibility adaptations and with photos to show it all to would-be visitors.” Airbnb buys ‘Airbnb for disabled people’ startup Accomable in accessibility upgrade, Ingrid Lunden. (tweeted by Frances West)

New episode w/@indiyoung!! Hear the origin story of UX think tank and consultancy @AdaptivePath and how to make a mental model diagram. Mixed Methods: Mental Models


It’s not always clear sailing when combing through listening session transcripts, or even informally summarizing the concepts a person talks about. Here’s a question Sonja Bobrowska asked in August 2016.

Q: What do you do with bits where people say “and then I noticed that I …” or “and that made me realise that I …?” It’s usually attached to some experience that made them change their mind or made something clear to them. How would you classify it? Would you use it at all in the mental model?

A1: “And then I noticed that …” This one is a bit tricky because it depends on context. Does what they notice cause a reaction? “Then I noticed that the huge dog was running directly for me.” If it’s attached to a reaction, then summarize it as a detail in the reaction: Feel scared the dog is going to jump on me and bite me when I notice it running directly for me. Or maybe it doesn’t cause a reaction. “I noticed that people were afraid to say anything in the workshop.” This kind of sentence is usually followed by a decision to action, “So, I decided to start asking specific participants easy-to-answer questions to encourage participation.” You would summarize that as: Encourage participation in the workshop by asking specific participants easy questions to get them past their fear of saying anything. There are more situations like this, which is why it’s tricky to figure it out. It’s all in the context, and usually “notice” is not a thing to specifically comb out.

A2: “And that made me realise …” So, realizing is a form of reasoning. It’s that little voice in your head going, “Oh! Well if that’s the case then …” That sentence could end in lots of ways, like “… I don’t need to hurry right now.” And there might be some detail like, “… because there is another ferry twenty minutes after the one I was aiming for.” All of this gets combed as one item: Realize I don’t have to hurry because I can catch the ferry that leaves 20 minutes after the one I was aiming for. (Yes, in the decade since I wrote the book, I use more empathy-enabling summaries.) However, there is might be a separate concept before this, which you’d comb out differently. “It occurred to me that maybe there’s another ferry I could catch, which would allow me to respond to this email now. So I brought up the ferry schedule to check. I saw …” This quote can be summarized as: Wonder if there’s a later ferry I could catch which would allow me to respond to email now.

workshops & presentations

empathy for engineers slide with a listener following the peaks and valleys of a conversation

I am teaming up with Andrea Goulet of Corgibytes to present (and teach) Empathy for Engineers. Our focus is on the folks working in the Agile process. See our initial webinar.

workshop attendees practicing a listening session in a room with long tables

The workshop I organized in San Francisco on 01-Nov was a good success. Adaptive Path hosted the event in a space they are about to renovate for new offices. I got some good feedback on the content and many thanks. We had space for 35 people, and there were more than that number who wanted to attend. So, I hope to organize another of these workshops in the near future. If your organization has space for a 35-person workshop and wants to host my next half-day workshop (in exchange for two free tickets), please let me know!

Indi presenting examples of how people employ problem space research, with giant screen showing slides in the background

Several organizations have also hired me for a private workshop, as well as presentations. If you think your organization is ready, contact me and I’ll help you figure out how to persuade people to make it happen.