Why it’s better to manage Products than Projects

The different between project and product manager might sound semantic, but is actually quite significant. This post gives an overview of the differences, and explains why I think product management is the better approach.

Project management

At a high-level in the organisation, an end goal is decided. It’s also determined what work should be done to achieve this goal. Often this type of thinking and decision-making happens in an organisational or directorate strategy.

Project management is focused on delivering the specified output.

A project will usually be a discrete chunk of work, with some concrete deliverables, tied to a fixed pot of funding.

Product management

At a high-level in the organisation, leadership identifies a set of problems to solve, or goals to achieve.

In contrast to the project management approach, this is where senior direction stops. The product team – in particular the product manager – now has to figure out how to solve the problem or meet the goal. The task of figuring out how to reach the goal is devolved, and the product manager takes responsibility for maximising value within constraints. They vary the scope of what they build, and iterate their product over time, starting small and constantly testing hypotheses to test against risky assumptions, and to increase the value of what they’re delivering.

This approach places responsibility for the success or failure of the work on the product manager. Rather than following someone else’s idea, the product manager has to lead the process of working out how to accomplish the goal. They need to deeply understand the value they’re trying to bring, and act as the intersection point between users, analytics, technology and the organisation.

Funding is more usually ongoing.  This is because if you have a big problem it probably won’t get solved once-and-for all through a short burst of work. Or if you want to grow something valuable, you’ll get better returns if you invest over time.

Why product management is better

  • Understanding is emergent. People closest to a problem have the richest understanding of how best to solve it. We usually don’t know in advance which tactics will work and which won’t. This means that an approach that empowers the team on the ground – who will have far closer understanding of the problems than any senior manager – is better. The product manager, holds a strong understanding of the purpose of the work and of the different domains in their team, and can make very rapidly make holistic management decisions in response to new information.
  • Work involving human beings is risky. There are lots of unknowns when building things that interact with humans. Releasing working software regularly, testing assumptions, measuring impact against goals, and iterating to achieve better impact, is better than just delivering something that seemed like a good idea to a senior manager when they were writing a strategy.
  • It empowers and energises the team. You let the team own the problem and the solution. Organisational leaders are freed up to set overall vision and goals – a high-value task that better uses senior managers’ broad strategic view than micromanaging teams who have closer situational understanding than they ever will. It’s healthy to give staff interesting problems to solve, and demands more of them.
  • Ongoing investment is better than boom-and-bust creation and ending of projects. Once a project finishes, people spend less time thinking about it. Knowledge and context is lost, and money and people are devoted to other things. This makes it more costly to improve this area in the future. It’s more efficient and effective to invest seriously in a problem or an area where value can be added, and build a product that gets better over time, along with a persistent organisational understanding that gets more robust over time, as iteration after iteration builds knowledge.

So if you’re a leader, give people problems not projects. If a problem is worth solving, or you want to create new value in an area of your work, make that an ongoing investment. Make the overall purpose clear and give your product manager the space to work with their team to work out how to deliver the results you need.

Sources of insight and inspiration used by GOV.UK Product Managers

A list that came out of a GOV.UK Product Manager community hour I facilitated recently.

Blogs

Putting people first

Inside Intercom

Nielsen Norman

Mountain Goat software

John Cutler

Melissa Perri

DEV

Mind the Product

Product Hunt (also, the Product Hunt browser extension)

GoSquared

Silicon Valley Product Group

Pivot Product Hits

Books

About Face – the principles of interaction design

The Little Black Book

Step Up Club

The Design of Everyday Things

Podcasts

Aurelius Lab

This is Product Management

99 Percent Invisible

Intercom

Video

Product School video AMAs

Reading lists

Simon Cross’s PM essential reading list

Attack with Numbers

Ross Ferguson’s PM reading list

Exhibitions

Design Museum’s Designs of the Year

Royal College of Arts, Show of the Year

Events

Product Tank Events

Lectures, e.g. psychology

Formal guidance on the PM role and product lifecycle

DDaT skills they need – different levels of PM

GDS Service Standard

Service manual

Braun – 10 principles of good design

People to speak to

Other Product Managers

Other teams through internal show and tells

Other Product Managers on a shared task, e.g. working through 52 weeks of UX together.

Other organisations’ open roadmaps

Trello

Monzo

Newsletters

Exponential View

What is Service Design?

A service is a thing to help users to achieve a goal. It’s a series of touchpoints to achieve an outcome. e.g. ‘start a business’, ‘learn to drive a car’.

A service starts with a need and an idea of the outcome, but no clear idea of how this will be achieved.

Service design is the process of designing this set of touchpoints to meet the given goal.


(Image credit: Lou Downe. See Lou’s great post on sevice design)

https://twitter.com/Martin_Jordan/status/954321821796618240

Currently there’s a disconnect between a user’s experience of a service and the government’s stated policy intent.

Often senior management will make a pronouncement like “We need a portal so that applicants can upload bank statements”

But your responsibility is to challenge this proscriptive approach, and instead understand the problem and goals before even thinking about building anything.

So ask questions like:

  • Who are the users?
  • What are they trying to do?
  • Why now?
  • What is our motivation?
  • What outcomes do we want?
  • How does it relate to a wider service?
  • What are the key metrics?
  • How will it help users?

To frame your problem statement, focus on the organisation’s desired outcome, and on what the users are trying to do.

That keeps you focused on what you’re trying to achieve, leaving you free to explore how best to achieve those ends.

As you start building, it’s useful to cycle between optimising the big picture of the service (and, as the policy process becomes more amenable, the policy behind it) and the closer detail of a given task. Oscillate between the meta and the matter.

In the future, services will shape government, not the other way round.

One vehicle for achieving this transition is a service community.
Government is made up of disconnected units, but the user shouldn’t need to know how to navigate this complexity. A service community is a group of people whose touchpoints form part of a wider service. Newly-formed service communities include “Start a business”, “Employ someone” and “Import/Export”. They start by mapping out the current service, and then identify opportunities for improvement.

When designing a service, be mindful of:
The end-to-end service (from the user’s first step towards meet their goal, through to a successful outcome)
The front-to-back service (so make sure to include all back-office and technical functions)
Different channels (not just digital!)

The two most important things to do when designing a service:
Understand user needs
Prototype and iterate

Check out IDEO’s Design Kit for service design techniques you can use. (And read about the design project I worked on if you’re intersted.)

To improve an existing service, this flow of activities is useful:

  • Service walkthrough
  • User journey map + service blueprint
  • How might we’ questions
  • Prototype and iterate

https://twitter.com/mariecheungsays/status/954422063669837825

https://twitter.com/Martin_Jordan/status/954697550581387264

What are the next frontiers in interaction design?

Voice assistants – such as Siri and Alexa – are becoming viable because the accuracy of speech recognition has increased significantly through machine learning.

I’m concerned about the political ramifications of the technical underpinnings of voice interfaces. Voice recognition has advanced through access to lots of data, and machine learning. This means that for people to use this interaction medium, they need to be using tools provided by big providers like Apple, Amazon and Google. How easily will people be able to create their own voice interfaces without relying on a corporate provider? How easily will you be able to identify the thing that you’re interacting with, the logic it’s driven by, and who ultimately owns and controls the means of interaction? What is the product, and what generates value and to/for who?

Voice as a interaction medium has limitations. Voice requires (quiet) private space, and for you to be able to speak in an understood language. And so far voice interactions have focused on information or commerce transactions.

It’s worth reflecting on what problems we’re trying to solve when we pioneer a new interaction paradigm. What value are we trying to realise? Are transactions the big challenge we need to solve? (Would interaction approaches based around critically managing and engaging with information flows, or social connectedness, be different?)

The dominant method of interacting with computers so far has been mechanical, with feedback and state communicated visually by the computer.  Thinking more broadly, the interaction channels we use to interact with computers could be mechanical or oral, and each of our senses could be a channel for the computer to feed back information. And we could design for more than one type of input and feedback at one time. This Smashing Magazine piece on multi-modal interfaces outlines interfaces that take visual and audio elements:

“When​ we’re ​designing​ an ​interface,​ ​if​ ​we​ ​know​ ​the​ ​context​, ​we​ ​can​ ​remove​ ​friction.​ Will​ ​the​ ​product be used​ ​in​ ​the​ ​kitchen​ ​when​ ​the​ ​user’s​ ​hands​ ​are​ ​full?​ ​Use​ ​voice​ ​control;​ ​it’s​ ​easier​ ​than​ ​a touch​​screen.​ ​Will ​they​ ​use​ ​it​ ​on​ ​a​ ​crowded​ train?​ Then ​touch​​ing a screen​ would ​feel ​far​ ​less awkward​ ​than​ ​talking​ ​to​ ​a​ ​voice​ ​assistant​.​ ​Will ​they​ ​need​ ​a​ ​simple​ ​answer to​ ​a​ ​simple​ ​question?​ ​Use​ a ​conversational​ ​interface.​ Will​ ​they​ ​have​ ​to​ ​see​ ​images​ ​or understand​ ​complex​ ​data?​ ​Put​ ​it​ ​on​ ​a​ ​screen”

So rather than just focusing on voice input, it might make sense to think about how to structure our data to be agnostically accessible. Agnostic interaction channels don’t privilege one way of perceiving or interacting with the world.  Now that more of the population is computer-literate, we might be able to relax skeuomorphic baggage. Skeuomorphic design’s visual language helped communicate but also constrained the behaviours and interactions we could design, because they had to be intelligible as physical metaphor. Old metaphors or expectations, like “saving” files by clicking on a floppy disk icon, could be seen as blockers to thinking more broadly about interaction.

Perhaps the next paradigm of interaction design is to transcend interaction – to read and service our intent directly. This feels a way off, but here’s an early proof of concept

If we remove friction and translation from our interactions, what are we left with? Our own unmediated desires. Friction in transmitting intent can be a good thing – a chance to reflect and exercise deliberate control, rather than being driven just by desires. The task of cultivating deliberate intention, and making conscious decisions, rather than acting on impulse, is a design problem and a spiritual one.

 

Public Service Design – Cross Government Design Meetup 22

Today I attended a Cross Government Design Meetup at the Design Museum in London. Here are some of the highlights I took away.

Introduction – Lou Downe

“Bad service design is one of the biggest costs to government”

In the future, “Services will shape government, not the other way round.” “Transformation will never be done” so focus on helping change to happen sustainably.

Dan Hill, Associate Director, Arup – Design and the public

The contrasting experience of two social housing projects shows the need for service design:

Wohnpark Alt-Erlaa, Viennna; image by Thomas Ledl – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
Alterlaa Kunstwerk.jpg
By Thomas Ledl – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

 

The Robin Hood Estate; image by stevecadman – Flickrtik hartua, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

 

Hill argues that the key difference between the success of the former, and the demolition of the latter is the ongoing maintenance, service and engagement.

Design needs a service blueprint. You aren’t just designing a one-off object – you’re building for life and for ongoing use. You need to design a service.
This is what was missing in the Robin Hood Estate.

There’s been a steep decline in the percentage of architects employed in the public sector. In 1970, 50% of architects were employed in the public sector; today only 0.7% of architects are.

Hill presents this as an opportunity. Digital has an opportunity to build design intelligence back into government. And we can build in this view of service design, making things better than before.

Prepare for the future by preparing to transition smoothly

It’s hard to know what the future will be like. So “The best focus for people is to make the transitions as effective and painless as possible as opposed to worrying about what the end point is.” – Michael Spence

The public sector needs to set out a vision for the future, otherwise the private sector will do it, leeching value out of a city and sending it to California.

Jean-Louis Missika, deputy mayor of Paris:
“We should announce, before 2020, that in Paris, no private owned AV will be allowed it will be only mobility as as service; not mobility as ownership”

Research in Zurich, Singapore and New York suggests that 80% of car use could be replaced by shared autonomous shuttle fleets.

DVLA – John Hewson

90% of DVLA interactions are now digital, up from about 9% in 2007. But that’s still 23 million paper applications per year, 5 million pieces of casework.

DVLA have made big changes to the user experience, but they haven’t yet made improvements to their internal systems.
Redesigning internal systems is another challenge, requiring slightly different expertise to building user-facing websites. These users often value efficiency over user-friendliness. One key piece of software is from 1990 and doesn’t even support a mouse, so this is a quite a challenge.

But the core discipline of prototyping, using best practices from the Service Manual, and testing iteratively will always work.

Panel discussion

https://twitter.com/Martin_Jordan/status/909797152427270144

The discussion reinforced the importance of applying service design to business models and procurement process – not just external user journeys. Take a service design approach to problem solving right through organisations.

Similarly, design for failure. Don’t just design for the perfect digital frontend – plan the whole service, and for all aspects of that service.

Design for the gaps between different nodes in someone’s experiences – e.g. a journey through healthcare. Each node can have its own effective risk register, but things can get lost in the cracks because there’s not always a holistic view.

How might we broaden political discourse and understanding in people age 25-35 in the UK? – Design project from the Design Kit course

This is a writeup of the design project I carried out with Tamsyn Hyatt as part of Ideo and +Acumen’s Design Kit: The Course for Human-Centered Design. Check out the prototype we produced.

Inspiration

Interviews

  • We spoke to people with a range of political views, and carried out participant observation of their news-consumption activity.
  • We learnt from experts: Framing and messaging from a third sector expert; Rules of social media and political discourse from a digital communications director.
  • Key quotes

    “I don’t need stirring up. I want information and to make rational decisions. It doesn’t need to be heated.”

    “It sometimes worries me that I only read news from a source that shares my views. Yet clearly there’s a whole other perspective, because the majority of people voted for Brexit. I don’t understand that, and I never will if I only ever consume news written by people like me. It would be helpful to see other perspectives, even if I don’t agree with them.”

    “If I can understand what their argument is, I’m better placed to counter it. But that would need to be from a reliable source, even if I don’t agree with it.”

    “Reading contrasting opinion pieces is helpful in forming ideas, and in developing new ways of thinking.”

Ideation

Key themes

  • Desire for reasoned argument from both sides
  • Time and efficiency
  • Payment and paywalls
Insight Design Question
People are willing to consider alternative viewpoints but have limited time to do so. They’re struggling with business as usual, let alone anything new. How might we deliver diverse views that are quick to consume, but not sensational or click bait?
Users are concerned that they don’t know what a credible mainstream ‘opposing’ source looks like. How might we find the best content to represent diverse views?
People may not accept views wildly different to their own as untenable, and so not engage with them. How might we find content which will be acceptable/viable to people of different viewpoints?
People generally have a notion of reliability that transcends the political spectrum. i.e. they concede that publications that they may not agree with ideologically are capable of reporting something useful, despite ideological differences. How might we stretch and push people enough to challenge them but not repel them?
Most people didn’t pay for news. How might we make a product that is either zero direct cost to the consumer, or which is seen as sufficiently valuable to warrant purchase?

Ideas from Brainstorming

  1. A twitter account – or accounts – sharing ideologically diverse content. Users can subscribe to high-quality content outside of their ideological viewpoint.
  2. A news site where diverse content is submitted by users, grouped by theme and ranked for quality. This means that the most high-quality articles to represent a given ideological position on a given topic bubble to the top.

Storyboard overview

The person
Name: Brian Simmonds
Age: 29
Profession: Administrator for a small healthcare company

Step What is happening? What is the most important question to answer? How might we answer it?
Reads the day’s news following his normal routine Brian rushes to work. He squeezes on to the train and checks his regular news sites on his phone. [already explored in Inspiration stage] [already explored in Inspiration stage]
Becomes aware of the tool He receives a message from his friend suggesting that he check out a new news tool What channel of communication is likely to encourage someone to look at a new news source? Who would the message need to come from? Test with real content in people’s facebook feeds, versus whatsapp recommendations and personalised emails
Looks at the day’s news on the new tool Brian reviews the content on the news site and is prompted to read content from different ideological viewpoints to his own. They are high quality, so he finds them challenging but interesting and informative. Will people actually choose to read an article that they disagrees with ideologically? Build a basic wireframe prototype and carry out participant observation user testing
Rates an article that he read Brian gives a thumbs up or a thumbs down to each article he read, helping other users see which ones are best, from each ideological point of view. Do perceptions of quality actually cross ideological boundaries as our research suggested they could? Will people positively rate an article that they ideologically disagree with? Build a basic wireframe prototype and carry out participant observation user testing
Shares an article that he enjoyed in his own reading Brian notices that one good article he has read today isn’t listed. So he submits this article to the site Will he take the time to share content if? (Particularly as there isn’t currently any social reward to him for doing so) Trial submit form on test service. This could be achieved using a Google Doc. This would then be manually added to the site, if the article passed a basic quality check
Shares the tool with others Brian finds the tool useful so he shares it with others in his network. Will the service be able to spread to others without paid advertising? Test on a functional prototype, and invite users to share. Build in basic social sharing features to prompt and facilitate this. E.g. facebook and twitter.

Prototyping

What did you prototype? What question(s) were you trying to answer?

We ​tested a clickable digital prototype​ made using the Balsamiq mockup tool.

The most important question to research was:

  • “Will people actually choose to read an article of an ideological perspective that they disagree with?”

The most important secondary questions were:

  • Will people understand our way of representing ideologically diverse content? What interface design approaches might be best?
  • Do perceptions of quality actually cross ideological boundaries as our research suggested they could? In practical terms, will people positively rate an article that they ideologically disagree with?

What did you learn from testing your prototype?

  • People looked at ideologically diverse content But this may have been ‘under duress’ as they knew they were being observed. To have confidence in this result, we would need to test in a more anonymous fashion, and in a more real-life context.
  • Users were unclear what the ‘thumbs up’ and ‘thumbs down’ meant. Does a thumbs up signify endorsement, or liking, or was it a dispassionate quality measure saying that an article makes valid points and makes you think, even you don’t actually agree with it?
  • Some users found the left-right split a bit binary. Could this be improved, to better show nuances of different positions? Is it actually useful to divide content up into different ideological sections of the page?

What might you consider for future iterations?

  • Change the ‘thumbs up’ and ‘thumbs down’ to something more emotionally neutral. It will need to signify that this piece is well-constructed and reasoned, but must not imply liking.
  • Explore whether community submissions are the best model for discovering new content.
  • Explore pulling in content automatically from high-quality sources with different editorial perspectives.
  • Explore visual and layout approaches to presenting diverse content relating to a given topic that will scale well to mobile devices. (The approach tested was desktop only, as it required more horizontal space than is available in a smartphone or tablet)
  • Explore how to categorize content beyond a left-right binary. Consider in relation to the above point about visual design and layout.
  • Allow people to add tweets, and embed these directly on the page.

Doing the hard work to make it simple – Tom Loosemore

Below is a video and summary of a talk by Tom Loosemore at the Camp Digital conference, 2016.

Design is inherently political, and we must not ignore this

Ask yourself: who is the “we” that gets to build the future?

If you don’t understand how something works, you are a consumer, not a citizen. Don’t be fooled by ‘magic’.

Richard Pope – “Software is politics, now” – it shapes power dynamics.

GDS came up with the design principles so that people would have a new language to use to change reality.

The advantages of working in the open

Child benefit tax calculator. They made a mistake, so someone suggested a fix on github which has now been incorporated.

Ministry of Justice – problems with a form used by divorcing couples. Proprietary software. Took months to fix.
The change on github took 3 days. Massive difference.

What is digital, and what is our job in a digital world?

Definition of digital: “Applying the culture, practices, processes & technologies of the Internet-era to respond to people’s raised expectations.”

It’s not about technology – it’s about taking advantage of technology to redesign services and organisations to meet changed expectations.

Focus on delivery

Martha Lane Fox’s 4-page report gave just enough cover to start delivering. No need for a big strategy.

“The strategy is delivery” – key phrase at GDS.

Internal metric: write 100x more lines of code than lines of business cases justifying code.

Guy Moorhouse designed icons for GDS. But then he tested and found out that they didn’t help people, so he removed them and blogged about why.

Building the political case for change

GDS alpha was done openly. This was to create buzz outside the system to convince ministers that it was a good idea. This helped overcome reluctance from senior civil servants.

Do something valuable -> build political capital through an early win -> get rid of the ‘no’ people (spending all of the political capital)

Old approaches to service delivery are flawed

When Tom Loosemore started at the DWP in 2013, he asked ‘so, what have you been doing with all this time and money?’ For 3 years of work, they showed a 600 page policy design manual.

The DWP senior leadership thought of Universal Credit as a policy. But they hadn’t designed anything – they’d written a document. It had thousands of untested assumptions about people’s behavior.
“a document full of false certainty”

When Tom arrived, the DWP processes were as follows (with each step done by a different team):

  1. Invent policy
  2. Guess requirements
  3. Procure IT system
  4. Inflict on users
  5. Operate (aka ‘stasis’)

This is the wrong way to deliver services.

You must observe real user behaviour

People don’t know what they need. You have to observe real people in the real world
“observer their actual behavior. Surveys are useless. Actually focus groups are useless.”

“Watch what they do, don’t listen to what they say”

“False certainty if our mortal foe”

“Start humble, stay humble”

Start small, build a shared vision and empower the team

Start really small. Iterate based on how people actually use the service.

Craft a vision that everyone can use to steer every decision. Use simple language.

Empower people to make decisions based on this vision without having to run it up the hierarchy.
And because you have governance check-ins every 2 weeks through a show-and-tell (demo), things won’t go out of control.

Build an empowered multi-disciplinary team

The multidisciplinary team worked together in a room.

To enter the room, you had to be fully empowered by your bit of DWP or HMRC or LA to make decisions in the room. No one senior. It was surprising how easy it was for the organisation to identify who needed to be in the room.

Video of user testing convinced IDS to make a change to the benefits policy immediately.

Start multi-disciplinary; stay multidisciplinary.
Don’t just remove these people once you’ve ‘launched’

Obtain a mix of mindsets: Pioneers, Settlers, Town Planners.

“User research is a team sport”

Continually assess your knowledge and your readiness

Each sprint, they asked themselves: What have we proved? Do we understand user needs better? Have we designed the service to scale massively? Do we know how to operate?

“If you can’t release software every day in an emergency you’ll never be secure, because a new threat will emerge and if you can’t respond like that *clicks fingers*, your organisation is inherently insecure”

Governance

“Governance was very simple: Ministers come to the show and tell, we’ll show you what we’ve made, we’ll show you what we’ve learnt, and what we’re going to do next, and we’ll talk about risks and issues if you want. But the real governance is seeing the thing being made and seeing the evidence and user research that it’s likely to have the intent that the minister wanted. Every week. And give credit to ministers, they turned up.”

“If your senior management doesn’t show up to show and tells, look them in the eye and tell them that they are failing at governance. Use that word.”

“Show the thing” – a thing you can use, not a thing you can see.
If you’re sending screengrabs, you aren’t showing the thing, you’re showing pictures of the thing.

Behavioural psychology approaches to service design – Alisan Atvur

Below is a video and summary of a talk by Alisan Atvur at the Camp Digital conference.

Psychology knows that behaviour is seldom rational. So we need to study behaviour.

Create a common design language with “nonviolent communication”

Marshall Rosenberg argued that there were 3 categories of non-violent communication:

  1. 88 human needs
  2. 91 positive feelings we wish to experience
  3. 153 negative feelings we want to avoid

To be non-judgmental, clear and constructive in our use of language, use a “Rosenberg deck” of feelings cards as a conversation prompt.

Map behaviours with “rational emotive behaviourism”.

Albert Ellis, the founder of CBT, argued that Activators trigger Behaviours, which lead to Consequences.

Map out a user journey. Use an Ellis Matrix. Identify the causes of user behaviours. Propose what new Consequences could be, and what new activators and behaviours could be.

Map motivations with “guiding self ideals”

A lot of we do is a result of feelings of inferiority. (See the work of Alfred Adler.)
We seek a “fictional final goal” – if I do [BLANK] I’ll be finished and happy.

So ask ourselves: what would happen to us as an organisation if we never tried to solve this problem?
What would happen to the user if we never tried to solve this problem?

Then ask: What is an aspirational place for us to be? What if we did do this?
Can you clearly indicate what the result would be? – for us and for users

You need to map this out to get an overview of a potential new area of work.

Good leaders and designers empower the team

Lao Tzu quote on leadership, from Tao Te Ching:
“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, not so good when people obey and acclaim him and worse when they despise him. But of a good leader, when his work is done, his aim is fulfilled, they will all say we did it ourselves.”

Cultivating Shared Understanding from Collaborative User Research – summary

I’ve pulled out some of the key points in a discussion about user research, between Jared Spool and Erika Hall on the UI20 podcast. A transcript is available on that page.

What makes for good user research?

Years ago, the approach to reporting on user testing was different. Jared Spool: “You’d come back and you’d assemble the notes into a giant report. You would write the report in passive voice, and then distribute it. Of course, the thicker you made the report, the more of a thump up it made when you dropped it on the table, which was, of course, the most impressive way to do reporting, and then nobody read it. Then you wondered why it was there.”

Of course, the purpose of user research is to inform high-quality decisions. So research must be read and acted upon. This is why user researchers now produce short, easy-to-digest reports.

Erika Hall: “The value in research is not the answer… It’s creating that culture where you’re constantly asking the same question, and you’re in a position to keep asking the question, finding what today’s answer is, and finding a way to respond to that in your work.”

What is the aim and output of research in a team?

The documentation becomes secondary. Erika Hall: “The goal is not to produce a report. The goal is to create this shared understanding so that everybody in the team knows here’s what our goal is, and we’re very clear about our goal. Here’s what our constraints and requirements are. To really think about the assumptions together and develop the shared vocabulary about here’s what we’re betting on, and here’s our evidence that those are good bets.”

Selling research

Erika Hall: ‘[One thing that] sociologists are studying right now is the fact that data doesn’t change minds… People’s minds are very good at shutting out data that they don’t want to hear…That’s a sales moment for research, when you bring a stakeholder in and you’re like, “Watch this, and see the power, and feel the change in your own mind when you see all of your assumptions blown away.” Those are really, really powerful moments.’

Erika Hall: “Research is challenging given ideas, so it’s naturally anti-authoritarian. If you’re in an authoritarian business culture, you have to work very carefully to change that.”

Asking people what they want leads to unhelpful speculation

Erika Hall: “one of the criticisms of research is that you’re asking people what they want. People will speculate, and this is something you have to be really careful of when you do research about people and their actual behaviors and habits. If you ask the question the wrong way, what you’ll hear is what people are speculating about, which might have no connection to how they actually behave.”

If you talk to people about, “Would you use this feature? What do you like? What do you want?” they’ll imagine these scenarios that may have very little relationship to what they actually do, and what they actually need, and the choices that they make if they’re using something in a real-world scenario.

When building digital products, you should test them early to make sure that what you’re building will work

Jared Spool: ‘if we developed bridges the way we develop online products, the way people seem to want to do it, we would build the bridge and then we would send a car across it. We would watch the car inevitably plummet into the depths below, and then we’d go, “Huh. Maybe there’s something wrong with the bridge.’

Erika Hall: ‘you need to know what your overall goal is, that the research is supposed to be helping you with. you say, “OK, what are our major assumptions that we’re betting on, that carry a lot of risk?”…Then you say, “OK, what questions do we need to ask? What are we trying to find out before we get down to work, or as we continuously work, to help us validate our assumptions?”‘

When you work with data, be wary of projecting assumptions and biases onto the data

Jared Spool:
In a study, a panel was interviewing for the position of police chief. There were two flavours of resume: academic-oriented, and street-oriented.
The male name was attached the to academic resume, the female one the street experience resume.
They picked the male candidate. They said “This position requires a real academic approach, so that’s why we chose the male candidate over the female. It wasn’t because they were male. It was because it was academic.”
But then the names were switched, so that the female name was on the academic resume, and the male name on the street resume.
Then the evaluators would say “This job requires someone with real-street smarts, so we chose…but we’re not biased.”‘

But it’s possible to take measures against bias: “they found that if they had the folks rate up front which is more important, street-smarts or academics, and they were to write that down before they looked at the resumes, then they were more likely to choose the person based on the actual criteria they had decided, not based on gender bias.”

How to change the world – Mike Monteiro

Below is a video and summary of a recent talk by Mike Monteiro. A transcript is available. N.B. NSFW language.

The world is bad because we made it this way. “The world is designed to work this way.”

When people talk about changing the world, ask: “How? For who?”
For all the excitement about Uber and AirBnB, the service economy is nothing new. “There’s nothing disruptive about rich people getting richer.”

How to change the world

  1. Get ignorant.
  2. Realise that the world as designed works in our favour. What if that wasn’t the case?
    The Veil of Ignorance is “The single most important political and ethical concept in a designer’s toolbox.”

  3. Look like the world.
  4. “Our diversity is our strength, and we’re idiots for not leveraging it.”
    If people have narrow life experience, you just get “white boys solving problems for white boys”.
    “They’ve never been harrassed, so it doesn’t even occur to them that that’s a problem you have to solve for.”
    Similarly with cabs refusing to stop, or being assaulted,

    “Empathy is not enough – we need inclusion.”
    The point isn’t that any particular experience or classification makes you a better designer. People are just better informed about themselves than they are about others.
    Our teams need to reflect the diversity of who we design for. It’s not just about race or gender, but experiences, needs, thinking, solutions.

  5. Design the right thing
  6. The AK47 is easy to use, easy to manufacture. But design is about more than this.
    “Nothing who’s primary purpose is to kill can be said to be designed well.”
    “Attempting to separate an object from its function, in order to appreciate it for purely aesthetic reasons, or to be impressed by its minimal elegance is a coward’s way of justifying the death they have brought into the world and the money with which they’re lining their pockets.”

    “Design is a trade done for money, but we have a choice about how we make that money.”
    “Your role as a designer is to leave the world in a better state than you found it.”
    “You are responsible for what you make.”

There are big design problems for us to solve

  • Global warming
  • The migrant crisis
  • Guns in the US

We’re lucky people – so we’re responsible for helping others who weren’t as lucky.
Change how we design and who designs.
Use your time on this world in the interest of making others free.