Session Coordinator: Dan Willis, UX Consultant, Cranky Productions
A Story about Stories
Jana Sedivy (Principal, Authentic Insight)
Megan is a happy vivacious child. But she got a cold with a bad cough … and one day it got so bad she couldn’t breathe. Her mom drove her to the ER, but she had stopped breathing and was turning blue. Her mom thought she was going to die.
Don’t you want to know what happens next?
Our brains love stories, that’s why we have had them since people existed. When we work with complex enterprise technology, we tend to underestimate the power of those stories. When she first started presenting research findings, she felt at first that the data would speak for itself. She did good research, beautiful graphs, elegant statistical analysis. She though she was speaking the language of Product Management and Engineering. But … they would nod and ask insightful questions, and then do nothing. Her research had a negligible impact on product direction. And the sales guy would tell one story from the field – a compelling customer use case. And that same audience would make product decisions based on a single anecdote. And that pissed her off – her data was superior! Was it because she was female? Or young? Were her slides not pretty enough?
She was speaking to a friend who worked in the life insurance business. Her friend said that a single death is a tragedy, but a million deaths is a statistic. In retrospect, that sales guy knew exactly what he was doing – that is why he was so persuasive. Lumping her stories into statistics was not to her advantage.
Now she sends out summaries with lots of direct quotes – including audio and visual clips so customer voices are in their heads. She shares them with everyone – Product Management, Engineering, Marketing, Designers, and even the VP. Because it turns out that VPs love the stuff. Getting to a three minute highlight reel – that sounds like a LOT of work. But there is no question that it has profoundly magnified the power of her research. People reference her work seven years later – and they mention specific stories that were important to them. But no-one mentions the 73% of people who preferred Option A over Option B.
Back to Megan’s story. She has a rare form of chronic asthmas that needs to be monitored for the rest of her life. Jana told that story to the executive team, and there was not a dry eye in the room.
That is the power of stories.
Make My Day
Lada Gorlenko (Director of Research, Smartsheet)
One of her students asked, “what is your ultimate advice to young researchers?” The last 20 years flashed in front of her … evaluating which one is THE one. Today she will talk about that..
Your stakeholders are as important as your users. Engage them!
In the end, success is not measured by how well your research is done. It is not measured by how insights are delivered. It only matters how well the organization understands and act on them. Not the so what? but the now what? But how to achieve that?
She was running a large research project with very senior sponsors – at the Executive Director level. The team was excited and anxious, especially because “not invented here” was a cultural norm. How to ensure insights were adopted by other business units? One night on their third or fourth beer, and outrageous idea emerged. What if we involved executive stakeholders as research participants? What if we put them through the research protocol, and them compared our findings between then and the large audience? What if we treated them as people, not just titles? We believed it would never happen, because executives don’t have time to participate in research. Executives are not exactly human, right? Wrong.
It took one brave executive soul to do our experiment. He was Participant Zero, and his experience went viral. In the end, they all took part in the research. Apparently executives, like teenagers, suffer from peer pressure. This experiment had plenty of benefits, but the best outcome was establishing an emotional connection when we talk about our users.
The issue is, your product team is putting all of their energy into the product. So when you tell them “you are not my target user”, it is a glorified version of telling them that their opinion doesn’t matter. You push them away, but then you later expect them to listen to you.
She was wrapping up a session with their corporate VP when he said “thank you so much, Lada, you made my day”. She was flabbergasted. He said he appreciated that she considered him and his experience, and that it was an hour of fun on an otherwise tough day. And it enabled him to reflect on himself, as well. He said he knew the research would be fantastic, and asked to be invited to the discussions – and not because he is a stakeholder, but as the smart engineer he once was, that many people don’t know he was. He misses being known, and being challenged in that way.
Is there such a thing as intense, acute empathy?
She doesn’t worry whether stakeholders will adopt her insights, because they are not hers anymore, because the insights are theirs, as a team. The entire company participants in researcher as observers, note-takers, participants … so they can all feel that the insights and outcomes are shared.
Last Friday she was doing a study. They invited their own people – sales, marketing, analysts, financial managers to participate. Because they all do charts and graphs. The financial manager said – “I enjoyed this so much, you tapped into my creativity. If you need anything else, will you invite me back?”
So engage your product team, and make their day.
A horror story
Adam Polansky (XD Strategist, Bottle Rocket Studios)
He was sitting at his desk at the agency, in the dark, trying to figure out whether he could get all of his stuff to the car in one go. He had a rough few days, distilling information and creating presentation materials, and the assumption had been that he would work through the night to get it done.
The meeting was with senior executives from our largest, most profitable client, along with the founder of our company and executives. Near the end, someone added something to the agenda. We will call it Project X, and it was a sore subject. They hadn’t given him any information. He asked the client project manager, and they said they would speak to it.
A few minutes later, the client SVP says “so what about Project X?”. Silence. And then someone said “that is a strategy question,” and looked to him to reply. Zoom into his panicked face. He looked around, the client product manager would not make eye contact. He knew he was under the bus. And he said “In the absence of any of the information I’ve been requesting in the past three months, the app is going to look like a giant fucking phone.”
The voice in the back of his head said “No ….”. His medication had worn off the previous day. He hadn’t just crawled under the bus, he had thrown the client product manager under the bus and thrown a grenade.
After that he slinked back to his desk, and was sitting in the dark when the CEO walked by. He offered to apologize. The CEO response surprised him – “you have been awake for two days – are you ok?” He never said it would be ok, but they talked calmly about how things might have gone a little bit better.
The next day the client called saying they weren’t comfortable with him in front of their client executives. It was the first time he got fired from a client. here are the learnings he would share with us:
- What you did doesn’t matter. You have to own it, take responsibility. They acknowledged that he had been ambushed, but he owned it.
- And you have to pay your penance – three months to find a replacement, so he worked for three months with a client that didn’t want to work with him. And then move on.
- He realized that he had an attitude about the client – it was dysfunctional. He fixed things, but never asked them what they wanted fixed.
- Ultimately you need to move on – that means everybody. If they don’t let you live it down, you have to have a conversation.
Is that a good recipe? Will it work for you every time? No, you may wind up on the curb. But it will shape the rest of your career – it does that for you.
A Sympathy Card for a Front-End Developer
Carla Pileggi (UX Architect, Design System Lead, Pitney Bowes)
She was the first designer in an enterprise team. After some research, she redesigned their solution. The front-end developer took the changes very personally. It was like his scrapbook of memories. One day coming out of a meeting, she said “Jeez, it’s like somebody died around here.” And then she realized that he was suffering a loss. This talk is her sympathy care for his five stages of grief.
- Denial. “Sorry, I don’t even think that’s technically possible, I just can’t do it.” Note to the UXer: Just keep in mind that this is a temporary rationalization that moves him through that first stage of grief.
- Anger. As denial wore of and the changes loomed, he said “I just don’t like the new designs, I don’t know why. And I am not doing it.” Note to the UXer: Don’t feel bad, the developer can’t be blamed for tough words when under duress.
- Bargaining. In this stage, he tries bargaining to retain control. “Let’s take colors on existing interface, and leave everything alone.” He may go to a higher power – God or middle management … but it is just postponing the inevitable. Note to the UXer: Don’t change anything significant in your design approach.
- Depression. After hours of debating – infinite scrolling versus paging, task flows. The developer submits – “I ever really cared about the interface, anyways.” Note to the UXer: It is normal to feel guilty during this stage – he is not the loser, you the winner. The user is the winner, don’t lose sight of that.
- Acceptance. This may initial be marked by withdrawal and an eerie calm. We didn’t talk much. And then later “Do all of the design changes have to be done in this release?” The grief had ended. And, with time, he started improving the design with great suggestions. And finally, when new features were needed, we collaborated together.
Just remember there is no time limit to grief, no right or wrong way to do it. Even the person building the front end can contribute. But kind words, reassurance, and sometimes a big hug can help.
Thoughts on Vulnerability
Audrey Crane (Partner, DesignMap)
I was still nursing a new baby, and pumping breastmilk. For those of you that haven’t experienced it, bad things happen – it can get painful. If you wait too long, you leak. There is no way to avoid it, it is an involuntary response. She had a long day of client meetings ahead of her, so she pumped in the bathroom at the airport, and then she told them she needed a private conference room during lunch. This was 12 years ago – now she would know to ask for a mother’s room.
She was writing on the whiteboard, and was aware of her vulnerability in wearing a silk skirt. As the team went out for lunch, she goes to “make an important call” for which she had requested a conference room. But then she discovers that all four walls are floor to ceiling glass! So, she goes to the bathroom. But there are no outlets in the stalls, and she can’t stand up by the sinks to pump.
At that moment she realized she had to ask another woman for help, but she didn’t know any women at the client. What to do? She finally realizes the receptionist, Marjorie, will be able to help. She needs a room, and she will literally take a broom closet. Marjorie says – “We have no rooms like that. But Joe sits in a cubicle in the back, he is always gone for lunch.” It turns out Joe’s gone, so this is going to work out. Marjorie turns on the radio, to hide the noise of the pump is (which is very loud). So she starts to get set up. It is not great sitting with an office full of strangers, her shirt open and this equipment on her breasts. But she is thinking this is going to work. And she finds a crunch peanut granola bar, which is better than skipping lunch completely.
But then she hears Marjorie yelling “Joe!” – the desperation in her voice telling her that this is serious. Thank god Marjorie saved the day. She ever met Joe, in the end.
Humiliation had followed embarrassment – morning sickness during client meetings, breastfeeding in meetings with CEO. Her water broke in custom Eames chairs. So at first she felt like even mentioning that she had kids seemed too much. She didn’t even know who had kids. In hindsight, she doesn’t know why she thought humanity felt unprofessional.
For all intents and purposes she is a single mom. So she has to be vulnerable. But in a way, that is actually being bilingual. She can calmly finish a workshop after her water breaks – pretty bad ass, right?!
Being vulnerable can make people uncomfortable. Crying seems to show weakness, and the normal human reaction is often to try to get you to stop. It doesn’t need to be as dramatic going into labor – it could be as simple as admitting you don’t feel well, or expressing hope and fear. Now she sees that vulnerability shows confidence, courage. It shows honesty.
And it shows trust – I trust you with this.
I will even go first.
The Road to Being a Bridge Is Not at all Paved
Ramya Mahalingam (UX Architect, Cardinal Solutions)
“Where might you go to change the notifications from this store?” She was working on a project for a low-end discount type store, a sort of electronic coupons clipping app.
And the woman says “Notifications? I would do that with Settings on my phone. Because that is where I keep my bitches. I have so many bitches.” Our research team thought through a lot of scenarios, but this wasn’t one of them. What just happened? This was one of about about sixty conversations in which they were reviewing a prototype of app, and getting feedback.
At first, she felt it was all transactional – a gift card in exchange for feedback. But things changed by the time we got to step 5. People would forget about the gift card – they would try to walk away with the phone. Conversations went from being transaction to being emotional. This is almost inevitable for user research – to understand motivations we have to connect emotionally. It’s only appropriate to get a little bit in someone’s head. But I don’t need your entire life story, that can be incapacitating!
So there are boundaries – lanes with barriers on each side. Those work great, until you’re driving along inside your lane and you come to a screeching halt with the “bitches in the settings”. What in her life caused her to talk that way? How to interpret that? She was comfortable, outspoken. She knew exactly what she was doing/. She just didn’t fit into my lane. Barriers had to come down or she had to stop driving. I didn’t ask her what she meant.
Throughout the corse of the project, she had so many interactions like this/\. The more different I felt, the hard it was to keep it transactional. Trying to understand motivations is a mapping exercise – to achieve empathy. Easier to achieve with similar people. In this project, there as a huge gap between her and the 60 people she talked to. Socioeconomic, but it could be anything. It’s hard to work in a lane, inside barriers.
Two days ago, the app was made available in the App Store. I wonder if she found the Settings. “I was too scared to go on without barriers. I didn’t have the right tools. Next time, I hope I keep driving.”