Steve Portigal: Disciplinarity and Rigour?


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The opening keynote to the Design Research Society 2008 conference in Sheffield, UK. For audio as well, go to

Steve describes his career path and his key concerns as a practitioner and consultant.

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Steve Portigal: Disciplinarity and Rigour?

  1. 1. Disciplinarity & Rigour DRS2008 July 16, 2008
  2. 2. Disciplinarity & Rigour? DRS2008 July 16, 2008
  3. 3. I’ll be your mirror How have your experiences, values and environments informed your approach to design, culture, users?
  4. 4. My Life Story [email_address] 415-385-4171
  5. 5. My Life Story [email_address] 415-385-4171 (this one is me)
  6. 6. Early Research [email_address] 415-385-4171
  7. 7. Early Research [email_address] 415-385-4171
  8. 8. Early Research [email_address] 415-385-4171
  9. 9. Early Research [email_address] 415-385-4171
  10. 10. Data [email_address] 415-385-4171
  11. 11. Data [email_address] 415-385-4171
  12. 12. Conclusion
  13. 13. Then Came The Personal Computer
  14. 14. Science vs. Humanities
  15. 15. Undergrad: Physics?
  16. 18. Undergrad: Computer Science!
  17. 25. The clouds parted…
  18. 28. HCI
  19. 31. Photo of Steve in 1990 Working For A Living
  20. 32. Photo of Steve in 1990
  21. 33. Photo of customer application center Photo Credit: Flickr user experttorontogirl
  22. 34. CHI ’91: New Orleans
  23. 35. “Design?”
  24. 37. Human-Computer Interaction?
  25. 38. Anthropologists and others help the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (New Mexico) design Passive Institutional Controls: markers and methods designed to warn and inform future generations and civilizations
  26. 39. Isn’t this an interface? Isn’t this what we’re doing?
  27. 40. Silicon Valley Summer
  28. 41. <ul><li>But what could I do ? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>No design portfolio </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>No real usability tests </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>No interfaces I had created </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>No design (or other) process </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>No sense of how software was produced in industry </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Some papers; a thesis </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>A point of view, not yet fleshed out </li></ul></ul>
  29. 42. +----------------------------------------------------------------------------+ | Steve Portigal ** User-Interface Dude ** looking for work, too!!! | | View my M.Sc. thesis online at: (World Wide Web) | | He's big, he's purple, he's your best friend................. | +----------------------------------------------------------------------------+ User-Interface Dude
  30. 43. | steve portigal G V O | user interface dude | culturally aware interface design Back to Silicon Valley
  31. 44. They wouldn’t see the forest for the trees
  32. 45. Apprentice to Journeyman to Master
  33. 46. Launched My Own Practice (2001)
  34. 47. Portigal Consulting (2008) <ul><li>New name </li></ul><ul><li>Updated website </li></ul><ul><li>Office space </li></ul><ul><li>Team of 2 </li></ul><ul><li>Blogging, teaching, training, lecturing </li></ul><ul><li>Column in interactions magazine </li></ul><ul><li>Clients include Logitech, Plantronics, Belkin, Sony, Nestle, eBay, Nortel, HP, SAP </li></ul><ul><li>Keynote address at DRS2008! </li></ul>
  35. 48. About Portigal Consulting <ul><li>We help companies discover and act on new </li></ul><ul><li>insights about their customers and themselves </li></ul>
  36. 49. Typical Development Lifecycle What to make or do? Refine ideas and prototype Launch Iterate and improve
  37. 50. Where We Engage with Clients We take a fresh look at people’s behaviors, beliefs, and needs What to make or do? Launch Refine ideas and prototype Iterate and improve
  38. 51. Where We Engage with Clients What to make or do? Launch Refine ideas and prototype Iterate and improve Ideas are hypotheses that we use as a lens to clarify direction
  39. 52. Where We Engage with Clients What to make or do? Launch Refine ideas and prototype Iterate and improve History provides context for us to further explore opportunities
  40. 53. Current concerns?
  41. 54. <ul><li>I don’t use a CV </li></ul><ul><ul><li> lists speaking engagements, articles by me, articles quoting me, and beyond </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Goal is to establish thought leadership and attract clients </li></ul><ul><li>Recently begun interviewing potential PR consultants to help me do better </li></ul>Publish or Perish
  42. 55. <ul><li>I don’t use a CV </li></ul><ul><ul><li> lists speaking engagements, articles by me, articles quoting me, and beyond </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Goal is to establish thought leadership and attract clients </li></ul><ul><li>Recently begun interviewing potential PR consultants to help me do better </li></ul>Publish or Perish
  43. 56. <ul><li>Experienced but unschooled in the marketing of a professional services firm </li></ul><ul><li>Keeping my eyes open: an observation or experience can be a blog entry that can become a keynote speech for a conference that can become an article that can be used as a way to get an introduction to a decision maker at a client organization </li></ul><ul><li>Attend local talks and presentations </li></ul><ul><li>Give presentations at conferences </li></ul><ul><li>Leverage all my travel for insights, stories, introductions, connections </li></ul>Marketing: Making it up as I go along 5000 images and climbing at
  44. 57. <ul><li>Develop and maintain detailed internal database </li></ul><ul><li>Email articles to stay in touch and remain top of mind </li></ul><ul><li>Groundhog Day card </li></ul>Marketing: Making it up as I go along
  45. 58. <ul><li>What is theory? It’s hard to get an answer to that question </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Hegelian, Malinowskian, beyond? </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Minimal success of online Theory Study Group </li></ul><ul><li>Two examples: </li></ul>Theory
  46. 59. Front and Back Stage (Goffman) <ul><li>People implicitly divide their homes into “front stage” and “back stage” </li></ul><ul><li>Front stage is the more public area (i.e., kitchen, living room, front yard) where families display their aspirations to the rest of the world </li></ul><ul><li>Back stage is the private areas (i.e., bedrooms, office, computer room) where people will act as their private selves </li></ul>
  47. 60. Social Norms and Normalization <ul><li>New technologies (especially those that enable new, visible behaviors) are often met with distrust </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Society “sanctions” people who violate these norms </li></ul></ul><ul><li>People assert their own normalcy by verbally distancing themselves from the end-points of the normal curve </li></ul><ul><ul><li>We heard these stories over and over </li></ul></ul>Thinking someone is weird or a jerk is a manifestation of the norms of one’s society. What is weird in one age may eventually become normal over time. People who are reckless with their valuable iPod (slobs) People who are too fastidious or precious about their iPod (snobs) Me
  48. 61. <ul><li>I’m interested in the skills of storytelling and asking questions </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Developing my own skills and teaching others how to do better </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Although I grew up in a design firm, where we recommend solutions for our client to take action with, I find that is giving way to facilitation – being a consultant who brings value by helping others design their own solutions </li></ul><ul><li>I am designing an entire experience that best targets the needs of my clients </li></ul><ul><ul><li>That includes a “voice” – i.e., making ongoing choices between photojournals and have people take pictures of their lives </li></ul></ul>Practice
  49. 62. <ul><li>Choose, mash-up, or create methodology based on the problem </li></ul><ul><li>Integrate with other methods already in process (triangulation) </li></ul><ul><li>If the client calls this approach ethnography (or other), then so be it </li></ul><ul><ul><li>It’s often unhelpful to “re-educate” them </li></ul></ul>Methods
  50. 63. <ul><li>Sales process </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Qualifying </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Meet with different “buyers” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Understand hidden needs, biases, existing vendors and relationships and history </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Write a proposal to get results within their timeframe and budget </li></ul></ul><ul><li>There is obviously a business model that would let one explore possible approaches and methods and still stay within a structured budget </li></ul><ul><ul><li>But I don’t know what it is </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Hence our work is planned during the sales process and we have do our best with that approach </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>How do you package a “pilot” to show that it brings value to the client who is paying for it? </li></ul></ul>Planning a project
  51. 64. <ul><li>If I even know what that word means, I’m not sure I care! </li></ul><ul><li>Ethnographic Praxis (?) in Industry Conference, 2005 </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Q: Are you an anthropologist or a designer? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>I thought this was a community that knew about open-ended questions! </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Who here is a designer? Who here is a social scientist? Who here is…a cognitive linguist? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>No one asked “who here is a consultant?” “who here helps clients solve problems?” – it came down to what you got your degree in </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>I’m not a Computer Scientist </li></ul></ul>Disciplinarity
  52. 65. <ul><li>I’ve met marketers, anthropologists, designers, engineers etc. who were good or bad at listening; doing fieldwork; finding themes or patterns in data; understanding the implications to their business; changing their framework; understanding how to use design research to help drive decisions </li></ul><ul><li>I’ve got a ferociously snobby attitude about the purveyors of crap fieldwork, insights, designs, consulting </li></ul><ul><ul><li>It hurts the field; it hurts my ability to sell what I do </li></ul></ul><ul><li>But I’m totally disinterested in rigour for its own sake; as a way to keep others out </li></ul><ul><li>I would demand a philosophy – that companies acknowledge and respect the people they do research with and design for </li></ul><ul><li>See interactions columns or our blog for more of this </li></ul>Rigour
  53. 66. Thank you! Portigal Consulting [email_address] +1-415-385-4171