Category Archives: User Research

Introducing Sift

I’m delighted to announce that I am formally changing the name of my consulting firm from BaileySorts to SiftUX effective today with the launch of my new website: SiftUX.

While I will continue to provide solo consulting, the new name reflects a shift in focus toward more partnership and team-based work efforts that will enable my colleagues and I to take on larger and more complex projects. I’m excited about moving forward with a new name and an enlarged vision.

Not new, but worth remembering

I guess this is the blogging equivalent of an OH (overheard) tag on Twitter, but I’m compelled to capture this.

This is a lesson I’ve heard in digital experience research, but I’ve found it useful in all aspects of life: “Instead of assuming that people are dumb, ignorant, and making mistakes, assume they are smart, doing their best, and that you lack context.”

“the conscious mind is simply not running the show”

“How these research studies are done is at sharp odds with what science now knows. The elephant in the room is that the vast majority of our decisions are made unconsciously. What is a no-brainer for any cognitive scientist remains mind-boggling to marketers. The conscious mind is simply not running the show, but we’ve created an entire industry pretending that it does.” The article from Fast Company

Douglas Van Praet’s recent article in Fast Company captured my attention in the way that any article that looks like it might have a user-research component does (and also because Karl despises the word “consumer” (although he is really against the tendency in the U.S. for the dialogue to be about consumers as opposed to citizens)).

This article is pretty much exclusively aimed at marketers who are making heavy use of focus groups and I think that most UX professionals would agree that focus groups are among the least useful user research techniques when it comes to learning what you need to know to create meaningful information architectures and user interfaces. (And it was very heartening to see several comments from UX professionals in response to the article.)

(And of course folks like Dan Ariely have made powerful arguments that the exact same criticism can be said of the entire field of Economics.)

Julie Dirksen, an instructional designer (and friend) has long been interested in the cognitive underpinnings of motivation, decision making, etc. This topic frequently comes up on her blog Usable Learning.

I’ve been so time starved the past several years that my professional reading has been exclusively limited to “must read” as opposed to “should read.” To that end, I have a couple relevant books on my shelf that I’ve skimmed but not truly *read*–another thing for the to-do list:

contextual inquiry project "war room"

Contextual Inquiry as an agent of organizational change

I met with a prospective client today and I went in with the idea that the issue at hand was conducting user research to better understand the needs of several under-served user populations so that future-state planning could be done to draw these audiences in. As we talked one of the things that came to the fore was internal resistance to making changes to the status quo. Initially these seemed like two very different/unrelated challenges but then I remembered a project that I supervised while I was at Wachovia (which I think I can discuss with impunity, since there no longer is a Wachovia–which is a truly sad thing). I suddenly had a revelation (cue super hero “da-da-da-da”) “This is a job for Contextual Inquiry!”

When we launched the newly redesigned Wachovia.com site following the First Union and Wachovia merger we got a lot of things right–but our usability testing revealed serious flaws in the Investing Center. Subsequently we began working on a redesign of that section even before the new site had launched. In our postmortem review of the project we concluded that one of the reasons we didn’t get the design right (and in this context design refers primarily to IA) was that our team didn’t have a great working relationship with the content owners–in this case, Brokerage.  The UX team felt there had been a lot of resistance to our user-centered design process on the part of the Brokerage team; the Brokerage folks didn’t think the UX team understood the topic/business and were wary about letting us get too close to the customers (a whole other story).

I don’t actually remember how we came to the conclusion to us CI for the investing center redesign (it may have been a case of a solution looking for a problem–I know I had been very eager to try the methodology out for several years at that point and hadn’t had the opportunity).

The CI process had a pretty profound impact; we learned a great deal that directly influenced our redesign, but we also transformed our team’s relationship with the brokerage team–a lot of resistance and mistrust was broken down/overcome in the course of the project. CI is not for the faint of heart; it’s a complex methodology that takes some real commitment to follow–and yet when you can use it to learn what you need to do a successful redesign *and* evolve team relationships I suspect it’s cheap at the price.

See also: InContext Design (the folks who wrote the book on this subject)