On to the next

I have a pernicious habit of not celebrating wins with more than a simple statement of “Good, what’s next”.

I finished the PEI marathon one year unscathed, and unsatisfied ran it again the following weekend. I was unsatisfied with that effort as well, but my Achilles wouldn’t endure a third attempt. I launched a 5-6 year effort to change my direction in life – lost 40kg in the process, became a marathon runner, became fluent in Chinese, and landed a job as a usability “expert” and did the same, said “good”, and picked the next target (China).

That’s fine for me but I often forget that it’s not fine for others.

Tomorrow, my son graduates middle school with grades in the high 90’s, is an accomplished swimmer, loves CrossFit, and is smart and strong as hell.

Tomorrow, my daughter, who with her boundless creativity has influenced my life immeasurably, graduates high school, and is attending UPEI in the fall to study modern languages.

Both of these kids have seen more of the world and accomplished far more than I could have ever dreamed of at their age.

And I am proud.

This week I will take time to celebrate their wins and let them know that what they have done deserves far more joy than I commonly give myself.

A talk on data analysis

A photo from last Thursday’s workshop “Introduction to Interview Data Analysis” which shows I still have bad posture.

After a brief recap of the previous weeks talk on customer interviews, this week focused on how to extract that data into affinity notes and create an affinity wall. Being able to analyze deliberate or serendipitous research is an essential part two.

Creating affinity walls are a great bottoms-up and data-driven methodology which captures explicit customer requests, and tacit and latent needs. And if design studios walls are any indication, it is one of the most popular artifacts created by design researchers. When you are not directly involved in creating the part of the end product that you can see or operate, having walls full of research artifacts becomes a means of proving activity.

I have my doubts anyone will use these methods in the short-term, but I appreciate the opportunity to start introducing these concepts, and their terms, into the minds of these business owners. I know they work, and are being used elsewhere to great success, so perhaps if people hear the terms and concepts enough they will start investigating on their own.

A talk on interviewing

I gave a talk yesterday entitled Introduction to Customer Interviews, as part of Start Up Zone’s nascent accelerator program. It was the culmination of an all too lengthy self study into qualitative research in general and later some review on interview methods.

The possibilities being so broad, it’s difficult to talk about conducting interviews in a short period of time without a great deal of focus. The same could be said for most generalized design workshops, particularly design thinking, which I have complained about in the past. I had been floundering on previous attempts when meeting with people who reached out for some help and appreciated this opportunity to write some thoughts down on paper.

I made a critical mistake. Who was actually going to be attending the talk wasn’t decided until the last minute, and like so many of the companies in the StartUp Zone there was a wide range of interests and capabilities. Not knowing who was in the audience, the talk I designed was suited for my idealized group, who thus far I have yet to meet. I always have the wrong assumption that everyone finds design and design research as interesting as I do. To compensate, I decided at the last minute to improvise, and after the opening 15 minutes that I hoped would give some context, I opened the floor to questions. This was moderately successful in giving them control over their learning, but not so successful in imparting the knowledge I think we all need before starting a research activity.

An interesting fact, a fact that still confounds me, is how few people talk to customers/users before embarking on the long road to building a product or business. I’m not sure where this seeming fear of human contact comes from. It not a question of right or wrong (what do I know) but something completely different from my most recent experience.

After all this study, I’m not sure what I will use this fresher perspective for – I still question why I continue to read and take such an interest in design research at all. I see no application for these skills locally, and I have little interest at present in becoming some kind of full time “product coach.” Some say knowledge without action is useless, but for now I am content to continue reading about research for fun.

Next week is a workshop on Affinity Diagrams/Affinity Walls/Thematic analysis.

This Friday’s Coffee Chat

I’m hosting this Friday’s coffee chat at the StartUp Zone. Though they don’t often attract the same level of attention as other events in Charlottetown, I have found these coffee chats to be some of the most informative sessions I’ve had the pleasure to attend. This is in part due to their informality; there is no agenda, no “I’m going to show you how to be an Instagram influencer”, or other marketing nonsense. It’s just people sharing their story, being open to questions, and the resultant conversations. The last one I attended was hosted by Kaaren May, who would later spend 90 minutes of her time giving me a personal tour of UPEI’s School of Sustainable Design Engineering.

Still under the influence of Crafting {:} a Life, I had gotten permission to lead a different kind of talk, I was going to demo how to roast your own coffee, and use that as the jumping off point for conversations. Unfortunately, with the recent arrival of all the roasted beans from Taiwan, I forgot to place an order. It’s likely for the best, as it can be a smokey process and not everyone in the office might appreciate the smell of coffee.

I’m not sure what we will talk about, like many others before me I’ll rely primarily on whatever questions people might have, but it doesn’t have to be limited to design or design research (aka work). I love talking about all kinds of other things; running, language learning, education, Taiwan and China, and etc..

The coffee is free and I encourage you to drop in and go as you please.

More info on the event can be found here.

Crafting {:} a Life initial impressions

“There is no one way”. Outside the unconference.

This Friday and Saturday past I had the pleasure to attend Peter’s unconference, Crafting {:} a Life. It was both humbling and inspirational; humbling to meet so many who have done so much with their lives and for their communities, and inspiring to think that maybe I might follow their example. I’m still taking notes, processing all that I learned but I thought I might share some initial impressions before it fades.

Since returning to PEI I have been gorging myself in a veritable Chinese buffet of workshops, networking events, talks and conferences. I’ve also been forcing myself to escape my introverted ways long enough to try and have conversations with people; after almost every conversation I can come away with one point, that might inspire me to try some new direction or file an idea away for possible later use. But many (not all) of the workshops attended left me feeling empty, with little inspiration or actionable information, and tired of the same old routine of pitching and business card swapping. There was little opportunity for discussion and in some cases I got the impression that these good people were placed in a box where they were forced to be an expert in a topic, for which they had little expertise.

Crafting {:} a Life was a breathe of fresh air. The unconference dispensed with pretension, titles or faux expertise. Everyone had for the most part a chance to share their story, contribute, and talk. While some asked what I did for a living, it was only after all other avenues of discussion were explored. For the most part one-to-one conversations were much like what I had with Robert Patterson, (“What is Clark’s story” he asked) open ended, personal, and with the ability to discover new things about the other. The activities emphasized small groups and there was no “oh my God my PPT is out of order what will we talk about” that I myself have fallen victim to. There was music, laughter, food and tears. It was genuine, a great counterpoint to the Instagram-isation of everything.

I had one small disappointment. The first activity involved breaking off into small groups and sharing the thing you have created that you are most proud of. This is far superior to forcing a group full of introverts to stand up and one by one introduce themselves, whereby many would fall back on the oft spoken 2-3 liners spoken everywhere. After each person told their story we wrote down keywords on sticky notes that described what we heard. In the end a whole wall was filled with notes describing the attendees stories. What would have been interesting would have been to analyze that data and see what emerged. It often seems a shame to have a bucket of data and not do something with it. I say this in hindsight, as the thought didn’t occur to during the days of the event.

The conference structure itself and the conversations that resulted were the highlights, and I think how I hold talks in the future may forever be changed, but being taken by Leo Cheverie to the ‘Tent town’ was an opportunity I might not have otherwise enjoyed. While there I was fortunate to meet our Mayor and have a short talk. Luckily he is an amiable guy as I criticized the recent survey released by his council to help address the housing crisis. I told him it was the worst research attempt I had ever seen and I hoped no decisions would be made based on the bad data collected. He said he was displeased with the survey as well, but not due to bad research design, but because the comments section had no line break. I talked with members of the affordable house group(?), asking why they created such a biased survey, instead of perhaps using qualitative methods, their response was that they had to do something to counter the city’s own survey. Unfortunately 2 bad sets of data does not create more insight. I’m thinking that what Powerpoint has done to communication, Survey Monkey has done to research.

With intention, the simple act of spending time together talking about life for a while, Crafting {:} a Life has set a very high bar and is one the highlights of what is fast becoming our first year on the Island.

Crafting {:} a Life Unconference Day 1
Crafting {:} a Life Unconference Day 2
Crafting {:} a saga
Leaving PEI
Fantasy Cartography
Crafting {:} a life

Shift Mobile Art Competition

The aim of the competition is to discover fresh creators and support them, Shift provides a platform to show works using a mobilephone as a medium
The works will functioned as a mobile phone clock, and the submissions are available in 2 forms; analog and digital. Selected works will be broadly distributed within Japan. Deadline: December 20.
More Info.