building a community of interest and practice in service design
Steve Portigal founder of Portigal Consulting located in California. Is a columnist in interactions magazine and core77, he has a blog entitled All This ChittaChatta and is a regular guest speaker around the world. He recently visited Australia to speak at UX Australia’s 2012 conference in Brisbane and was kind enough to visit Melbourne and speak to his presentation entitled Skill Building for Design Innovators.
The core theme underpinning Steve’s presentation is the notion that as designers we have a core set of skills referred to as muscles in the presentation. Steve outlines seven fundamental muscles and hints at the possibility of more. Steve explains that muscles are not the same as the methods that we use, such as the proper way to wireframe an interface, how to do card sorting and how to effectively moderate and perform usability testing.
An excerpt form Steve’s presentation states that these muscles ‘drive how we understand users, collaborate with each other and create design solutions’.
Here is a summary of the seven core muscles:
Occurs when something grabs your attention and in the context of users it focuses on things that they are either doing or things that are occurring to them. Steve points out that once you notice something for the first time, it tends to grab your attention every time you come into contact with it and this continued engagement begins to develop into a story about the users experience.
Muscle building - To develop the noticing muscle Steve suggests having a camera, notepad or any other documenting tool that will let you capture those moments when they occur and to try to remove yourself from your regular comfort zone to force yourself to use this muscle.
Listening as a muscle is not about just developing a good rapport with a user but rather as a designer and researcher, it is focused on understanding the context of what you are hearing so that you can form follow up questions that offer you a deeper understanding of what a users perspective is, on any given problem you are trying to find a solution to.
Muscle building - To develop listening muscles Steve suggest that we either engage or look out for social cues in our day to day engagements, that allow us to practice this style of listening and follow up questioning.
3. Understanding Cultural Context
Understanding cultural context begins with an understanding of what defines culture, there are a few dimensions to culture including experiences, beliefs, knowledge, values and attitudes but chief among them is what is known as cultural norms. Steve states norms as being ‘a set of background rules that define much of what people choose to accept or ignore’, these cultural norms are easier to recognise when we are exposed to new cultures, but we tend to overlook them when we have grown up with them.
As designers a lot of the design decisions that we are tasked with making, are influenced by our level of understanding of culture context, therefor a critical success measure for our solutions are centred around how well our designs are catered to our target audience and the culture that they live in.
Muscle building - One of the easiest ways to build this muscle is to collect stories about the cultural experiences that we, or others are having and documenting them using tools such as blogs or any other tool that lets us tell the stories that we uncover.
Synthesis is the act of ‘turning field data into insights’, but Steve outlines that good quality synthesis that creates valuable insights, requires a constant and iterative refinement of the data and findings, that enables designers and researchers to move beyond simply the ‘points needs’ or obvious insights that tends to occur if you simply followed and synthesis process from start to finish. This skill of synthesis includes being able to look for patterns and tell stories that makes sense of the raw data but also enables you to iteratively move backwards and forwards through your synthesis process to uncover more meaningful insights, that lead to a more diverse range of possible solutions.
Muscle building - Steve didn’t really go into how to build this muscle but he did give the group a link to a very good presentation he did on CHI Conversations where he goes into a lot detail about synthesis, the process he goes through and how to move from synthesis to ideation. I would suggest to any one reading this to head on over to the link below as it is a really good resource. Note to view the presentation click the View Slideshow button: http://chi.conversationsnetwork.org/shows/detail4166.html
This muscle focuses on developing the skills to clearly articulate a sentence or description with out falling into the trap of writing in a prose manner, which is to write in manner that reflects ordinary speak, such as a columnist in a newspaper or magazine. The emphasis is on being succinct in your descriptions and explanations without embellishing text with unnecessary drivel. In the context of user research Steve gives a simple example of the difference between the word automatic and smart and the connotations that both of these words have to the user and the resultant business impact that moving from using the word automatic to describe a product to describing it as smart.
Muscle building - A practical example of how Steve practices his wordsmithing is to employ wordsmithing skills when using twitter to force yourself to think about what you are writing.
Steve makes the case that it doesn’t matter if you can or can’t draw, the importance of this muscle is that it gives you ‘more ways to work out ideas’ and that it engages your brain differently to writing.
Muscle building - The first step is to get over the initial fear of having to sketch, Steve cites Kate Rutter in saying, think about drawing as ‘making marks on a page’, and to build this muscle, use it during facilitation sessions to not only build your own muscles, but to also allow other to develop their drawing muscles. Facilitation is but one example and we should try to also look for other opportunities to sketch.
Kate Rutter did a presentation for CHI conversations called See, Sort, Sketch: Pen & Paper Design, I’ve attached a link to her presentation below, again click the View Slideshow button to view. It’s another very good resources: http://chi.conversationsnetwork.org/shows/detail4165.html
Some other references from Steve’s presentation include:
7. Embracing Pop Culture
This muscle differs to understanding culture as it focuses primarily on pop culture and what is occurring within pop culture rather then culture in its general sense. The focus for design innovators is that we don’t necessarily have to be consumers of pop culture but we do have to be cognisant of what is going on. For instance we don’t have to love Justine Beiber but we should at least be aware of him even if you, like me, can’t stand him.
Muscle building - Steve’s suggestion for this muscle is pretty straight forward, ‘Read and watch broadly but shallowly’. To look outside of areas that you would traditionally be engaged in and look to consume the ‘meat’ or the mainstream pop culture channels and also to consume the ‘meta’ or the channels that make comments about pop culture.
Other references about Steve Portigal
Reflection and discussion
Yoko asked me to also comment about Steve’s presentation in the context of my professional practice in interaction design and service design.
I think the fundamental outtake for me from the presentation, is that it continues the ongoing natural conversation that we have been exposed to for so many years about the intrinsic nature of what design is and what it means to be a designer.
There is plenty of very valuable and insightful conversations about the methods and tools that each design practice uses and they are littered all over the internet, in books and magazine, but the real value I took out of this, was the understanding that actually, as designers in general, we do have a common set of core muscles that underpin our professional practice and that we share them with designers in other fields.
For me its a another valuable input into developing a common framework understanding of what our core skills are and how the various methods and approaches for each professional practice of design fits in around this muscles.
I think that for professionals it helps to frame what muscles we should all be working on and also looking out for new muscles and I think that possibly from an academics perspective, it may open up new opportunities for research into how do we actually develop a better framework description of what these typical character traits are between designers and how do the various design practices sit on top of those muscles to allow us to do what we do and most importantly why all of this is of any value in the world that we currently live in and the world that we are all aspiring for future generations.
If any one else has comments or thoughts that they would like to add please share them freely. =D
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