dConstruct – Collaboration, Creativity & Consensus In User Experience Design Workshop

Workshop in Action

I ran a workshop on Collaboration, Creativity & Consensus for User Experience Design at dConstruct last week. I had lots of fun and learned a lot as well – I know, it makes me sound as though I was a participant, not running the show! Funny how that works! (Hopefully the people who came along also had fun and learned stuff, then we’re all happy! I think they did.)

Finding good ways to collaborate and to work with a multi-disciplinary team is something that is very important to me. It makes the work much more fun and gives so much more insight.

I was really interested in the short discussion we had in our workshop about the importance of fun in project work. There was more or less a consensus amongst us that fun was more than just, well, fun. It was also really important in motivating the team to stay engaged with the project and to do great work, and to be involved. And lots more reasons. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on if and if so why fun is important in project work.

We did three exercises throughout the course of the day including a brainstorming session with a difference (brainstorming that actually works and doesn’t deserve the bad reputation that bad brainstorming has given it!), a round of design consequences (which we’ve talked about here before), and a run through the KJ Method (whilst channeling Jared Spool).

Something that became clearer to me than ever is the importance of actually *doing* these exercises in order to learn them, and how incredibly hardwired our brains can be to doing things the way we’re used to.

This was never more evident than when we did the brainstorming exercise. I gave some pretty simple instructions to the groups before letting them loose on the brainstorming activity. Admittedly, they were probably fairly different instructions to what everyone was used to when it came to brainstorming, but what followed was pretty extraordinary.

Rather than following these simple instructions, three of the four groups did their own thing, which turned out to be more or less the same thing – rather than using the techniques we’d discussed which are designed to open out the idea generation process, they each proceeded to ‘lock down’ the process by creating a list of things that the device (oh, ok, it was an iPhone!) could do and not do. There was this driving need to ‘lock down’ the environment in which the ideas could be generated. This is not particularly conducive to productive brainstorming!

As it happened, what this meant was that I had to go around to each group and suggest to them that, just for fun, they gave the rules we’d discussed a go – and when they did, the creativity and ideas started flowing! It was a real insight not only into the power of brainstorming well, but also into our own natural desire to get a handle on things, to keep things tight, even when this is potentially detrimental to the activity we’re trying to undertake. I’m pretty sure with out actually seeing this in action, experiencing it for yourself, the lesson is nowhere near as powerful!

There were some really challenging questions raised during the workshop, some of which I’m sure I don’t know the answer to yet (if there is one!). A lot of these were related to how we can bring these kinds of collaborative and creative activities into a workplace that doesn’t naturally embrace them – or worse, where these kinds of activities are looked on as ‘not real work’, or where people pride themselves on working independently.

This can definitely be a tough situation, and I guess my first tip would be to try to make sure you work in a place where collaborative and creative work is embraced! This is going to work for everyone though, so some of the tips that I offer include:

  • Be brave. Those people who think that collaborative and fun activities are childs play and don’t contribute meaningfully to ‘proper work’ often have a talent for making you feel a little silly for suggesting these activities. Don’t let this put you off – press on regardless and have confidence in your techniques!
  • Be methodical. It is actually pretty easy to waste time on these kinds of activities… this is probably why lots of people are pretty cynical about them – they’ve had their time wasted before. Make sure you know WHY you are doing this activity, and WHAT you’re going to get out of it. If it has a clear purpose and outcome then it is more likely to be successful and people are more likely to give it a go.
  • Be prepared. These activities don’t run themselves and most of them require some time, effort and careful thinking to ensure that they are well prepared and run smoothly. Don’t expect to just ‘wing it’ in these sessions. Don’t risk wasting people’s time. Make sure you know what you’re going to do. If you haven’t done it before, consider running a pilot run through before the ‘live’ workshop. Have your shit together.
  • Let your work speak for itself. The absolute best thing you can do is to run a highly productive and fun workshop in your organisation and to let the work speak for itself. People enjoy themselves in these sessions – if they feel like they’re getting good results, then they’re even happier. Word will spread and resistance should gradually die down. If it doesn’t… change jobs! :)

Thanks to everyone who participated in the workshop! With any luck I’ll get a chance to do some more of these in the near future – they’re lots of fun and give you some really great tools for bringing your team and maybe even your organisation together around a project.

Did I mention I’m freelancing? (or, coping strategies from the dining room desk)

So, I don’t remember whether I specifically told you or not, but I’ve just gone out to work on my own.

A freelance what, I’m not exactly sure.. I’m hoping to continue to do what I’ve been doing for a while now – design/user research and user centred design (including information architecture and interaction design), but some other interesting opportunities are out there too… All good fun.

What this means is that I get to work from home quite a bit and am more or less entirely responsible for getting stuff done, or not. Both of these present great challenges for someone who is – I’ll admit it – a bit of a procrastinator.

Fortunately this is not my first stint as a freelancer, and I’ve developed some tactics over the years that have proved a godsend in getting work done and not letting it drag out forever.

My number one favourite technique is called ‘structured procrastination‘ and here’s how it works. You’ve got a to do list. It’s reasonably long. Make sure it’s got ALL the things you should be doing or should have done on it. Then, attempt to tackle the task you think you *should* be doing. You may have some success, but if you are like me, this is a task that you’re probably doing ahead of time and the lack of adrenaline makes it less compelling than it could be. Rather than just surfing the internet or doing something even less constructive – go to your list and pick something else on the list to do.

The strange thing is that, when you feel you *should* be doing something else (let’s call it your primary task) all of the other tasks on your list suddenly start looking sooooo much more appealing.

I find that whilst procrastinating about my primary task, I manage to plough through a pile of things that I didn’t think I’d get to for quite a while.

Sooner or later, my primary task re-engages me, or it moves from being the primary task to a secondary task which – you guessed it, makes it more appealing all of a sudden.

I know I’m not the only person who uses this technique, and it’s not one I made up myself. I’m not sure how universal it is – but if you’re getting desperate, give it a try and see how you go.

Do you have any foolproof procrastination busting techniques?

(Oh, and yes. I’m interested in hearing from you if you’ve got an interesting project – email me at leisa(dot)reichelt(at)gmail(dot)com)

Embracing the Un-Science of Qualitative Research Part Three – Improvising is Excellent

So, recently we’ve been talking about Qualitative Research and how it’s not so scientific, but that ain’t bad.

We identified three ways that you *might* make Qualitative Research more scientific and have been pulling those approaches apart. They are to:

  1. Use a relatively large sample size (which we destroyed here)
  2. Ensure that your test environment doesn’t change (which was shown to be foolish here)
  3. Ensure that your test approach doesn’t change (which we’ll take down now).

So, one of the first things you learn when you come to qualitative research, particularly usability testing, is to write a test script. A test script is good because you’ll be spending an hour or so with each person and you need to have something to prompt you to make sure you cover what you need to cover, and to help ensure you have a good structure to your session.

But this is how scripts are supposed to be used – as a guide. You shouldn’t literally use them as a script! And you should feel confident and comfortable deviating from the script at the right times.

When are the right times to deviate from the script? I think there are two key times.

If you already know what the answer to your question will be, there is very little reason to ask it. Sometimes it is helpful to have an array of people responding in the same way to the same task or question – particularly if your client is particularly attached to a bad idea for some reason. Repetition can help bring them around. Most of the time, though, you’re just wasting valuable research time covering old ground when you could be covering new.

Very often it’s not until the first one or two research sessions that some very obvious issues become very obvious. You wonder why you didn’t pick them up before, but that’s why we do this kind of testing/research. If you’re not updating your prototype (as recommended in Part Two), then you should update your script. Don’t cover old ground for no good reason, research time is too valuable for that.

The other main reason for deviating from the script is if the person you’re interviewing says or does something really interesting. Your script tries to anticipate what people’s reactions might be, to a point – but the point of doing this research is to learn things you didn’t know before, and sometimes what you thought you’d find and what you actually find are very distant from one another – and this is great! This means you’re doing good research. (It’s alarmingly easy to find out the answers you want to find out by researching poorly).

If you’re interviewing someone and they say something interesting and perhaps unexpected – follow it! This is potentially research gold. Don’t let sticking to a script stop you from following this gold. You may, in fact, want to alter your script for future interviews depending on what you discover here.

Of course, this means that when it comes time to do your report you won’t be able to say things like ‘80% of people said this’ or ‘only 10% of people did that’. People do like to say those kinds of things in their reports and, of course, clients tend to like to hear them. People like numbers. (Just think of how they latch on to stupid concepts like the ‘3 click rule’). But you shouldn’t really be using numbers like this in your reporting anyways. After all – as we talked about in part one – you’re not using statistically significant numbers anyway, you’re probably talking about eight, maybe twelve people. Your percentages, no matter how popular, are not particularly meaningful AND you are helping to fuel the perception that research is about numbers like this when, as we agreed earlier, it is really all about the depth of insight and qualitative research is what you do if you want to pull out fancy percentages.

So, write yourself a script and use it for inspiration and reminders and for structure but don’t be constrained by it and do let the content of your interview guide the questions you ask and what you report.

Which makes me think… perhaps we need to talk some about how to ask good questions whilst interviewing… soon, I think.

(Brief apologies for the delay between parts 2 and 3 – I had to do some holidaying in Italy. Briefly back in London before flying out to UX Week tomorrow morning. Are you having a ridiculously busy August too?!)