Episode 50 highlights – Jon Kolko podcast about Design Thinking & UX Research Sense-Making:
- Design thinking, sense-making and user research synthesis
- How to find hidden insights in the research data you collect
- Avoiding product backlog rot by simply reacting to things you hear about from customers
- Steps to take for a better UX research process
- Doing UX, research and sense-making better with product management
- Should UX researchers be doing design too?
- How to get into (or better at) UX, research and design
Links from this episode:
- Jon Kolko on twitter: https://twitter.com/jkolko
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(this transcript was automatically created using our very own transcription feature in Aurelius and has been minimally edited, please excuse any typos or weirdness 😀 )
This is the Aurelius podcast episode 50 with Jon Kolko. I’m Zack Naylor co-founder at Aurelius and your host for the Aurelius podcast where we discuss all things ux research and product in this episode. We have Jon kolko. He’s a partner at modernist Studio former director and founder of the Austin Center for design and author of exposing the magic of design and thoughts on interaction design suffice it to say Jon has a ton of experience in thinks deeply. Lie about the world of ux research and Building Products, Jon. And I talked about a range of topics within ux specifically, doing research making sense of data to come to real insights and how to share those in a way that can truly guide you in designing and building the right products or features his experience in research data analysis and synthesis is pivotal in my opinion. And something I continuously learn from when I revisit his writings and thoughts. I’m very sure that Jon’s experience and opinions on how we do this work. We all ux and design research is going to give you something to think about and Elevate the work you do as well. The Aurelius podcast is brought to you by Aurelius the powerful research repository and insights platform. Aurelius is an all-in-one space for researchers to organize notes, capture insights analyze data, and share outcomes with your team. We recently announced two of our biggest features yet. Aurelius now offers transcriptions and our automatic report Builder, you can add any audio or video recording and have notes created for you. Quickly, then Aurelius creates a report with every key insight and recommendation from your project which you can then edit design and share with anyone from Aurelius. Check us out at Aureliuslab.com. All right, let’s get to it.
Hey, Jon, you’re good. Hello. How’s it going? I’m doing fine. Appreciate you jumping on and joining us. For an episode of our podcast. I’ve been following your work for quite some time big fan. So this is also selfishly personally exciting to be able to have you on an interview you chat about the work you’ve done. I appreciate it. Thank you for inviting me. I’m looking forward to our conversation awesome. So as we do before at the beginning of every episode kind of ask the guests introduce yourself, if you would talk about some of the work you’ve done the things that you’re passionate about and our field and otherwise just in case, you know, folks listening don’t actually know who you are that familiar with you. Awesome.
Well, I’ll just share a little About myself. So I run a studio here with two other partners called modernist studio and we focus on design strategy. So we help our clients, see the future, then we help them build it. And a lot of what we do here is grounded in some of the things I’ve been thinking about the past few years, some of the books, I’ve written and some of the ideas that I’ve just put a sort of been kicking around, but when we think a little bit about what we do here, we conduct qualitative research, we spend some time with people really get to know them, get to understand them, get to empathize with them. We synthesize that into Meaningful insights. And then we draw often we draw by hand, but we also draw on the computer, we make High Fidelity visuals movies, interactivity to show. Here’s what a future may look like. And I know one of the things that sort of in the middle there is that idea of synthesis or making sense of data. Was one of the things that exact perhaps we could, we could speak a little bit about the might be useful to some of your audience. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, so, you know, most of the folks who are listening to us are definitely in the ux field either as designers or researcher. But people on the periphery of that to write, so product managers marketers and things like that, all folks who are doing exactly that work, just trying to understand people really well to help inform and make some decisions about serving their needs, right? So you are definitely well-versed in that and I would definitely like to kind of dig into that topic a little bit more.
So, you know, talk about synthesis analysis sense-making, whatever term somebody might want to use for that curious, if even to cue that up. If you can kind of give you a definition of what that is for folks. Yeah, I can try to define a little bit about what sense-making or synthesis is, and I think maybe it’s best served by way of an example that. So, you know, imagine that you’re out there in the field and you’re doing research and I’ll give you a real example, we recently conducted some research in the context of finance. And so we spent some time with folks, trying to understand things around dead and the way they manage their money and different things around how they think about and how they feel about money. And so, if you stop there, you’ve done some research, you’ve learned some things, but that research alone doesn’t really tell you. What to go make it’s very informative. It’s useful. It’s fun.
I think a lot of people enjoy the design research part because it’s it’s very human. I mean, you’re spending some quality time with people in an intimate setting but at the end of the day if you’re actually intending to make something to make something that will help those folks improve the quality of life to add value to the company to make a lot of money. We have to translate that in some way. And so that synthesis part or sense-making part is how we start to find hidden connections between what we’ve learned and start to find me. Meaningful insights or provocations about what we could do to change in somebody’s existing state in order to make it a better State and that could be something like introducing a new product or service introducing a new policy in some cases which is not financially lucrative. It could mean getting rid of a new product or a system where a service but but one of the things you do learn through the research process and then that synthesis process is that the folks that you’re designing for or designing with are very very different than you and That’s that’s almost entirely true. Even if you’re the one, even if you share ideas with the folks in, you’re the one that’s in there their shoes and to go back to my finance example, you know, I’m not their porn or extraordinarily affluent. I’m sort of in the upper middle class. But we spent some times with folks who are on those extremes who are, you know, the owners of massive yachts and folks, living paycheck to paycheck and the research alone I can say, well, you know, wow, I can sympathize with folks and say, wow, that would suck to be paycheck to paycheck where I can. I don’t know what I want to call it want after the folks with the yacht I suppose but then to actually design something.
For either of those folks means looking hard at the data. We’ve learned connecting it to something, I do know, connecting it to patterns, I see in the world around me and then creating a provocation. So I suppose the long-winded way around the simple way of saying that it’s about for me. Anyway, finding hidden connections and data finding patterns and I’m using that to provoke new ideas. That’s awesome. Yeah, in a, you know, I don’t think You would make any claim to draw a line in the sand and say this is the definition but that is it’s a pretty damn good one and a couple things that I want to pull out of what you said to. I mean first of all just a reaction to that because you know at a radius we actually it is a user research platform. It’s a research platform for the most part. Now I am aux written research person. I can relate to that so much as to where, you know, you assume we’re building this for people who were just like us so problem. But then you go and you do research with your customers who are the very same people, you are Are in the very same industry doing the very same job and you realize just how much you don’t know. I mean, even when it’s like quite literally in your backyard, right? So I think that that’s just is one of those things. I feel like we keep saying over and over throughout time in our industry, but it’s important to keep in mind that no matter how close to this. You are, the research will always uncover something you didn’t think about and sort of with that, you know, the other thing I wanted to I guess, comment honor or react to is, as you were saying this emphasis on synthesis or sense-making would see.
To suggest that you’d simply doing, the research isn’t quite enough to help get you to that place to make some of the best decisions. And I really like how you talk about uncovering, the sort of a hidden Gems or the hidden insights in that because there’s one thing in people just tell you stuff in research and you react to it. It’s entirely another to sort of take a next step or next steps to really figure out what that means. And like you say connect it to something, you know, can you talk about that? I mean, is it? If there are product managers, if there are people who aren’t actively doing research every day, but they’re just trying to learn from customers and do their job better and make great stuff. Is it enough to just simply go out and do research? Is that harmful or should we always be really mindful of like, being a taking these next steps?
Well, Zach, I like to respond actually two two points of X. I think they’re super important. The first one that you made sort of early on is the idea that we don’t know and it’s useful to go out in the field and remind ourselves of how little we know and I think that’s true. But it’s also I think it’s limiting because it sort of abdicates responsibility on our part to actually Any knowledge and I think one of the things that happens during a rich synthesis or sense-making process, is you discover that what you know is actually super valuable, it’s not just not a complete picture of the story. And so you know, every every experience I’ve had with Ambani counts, it actually does shape the lens that I have been on how I interpret the stuff that I gather in the field man. And that way, you would interpreted very differently than I would because you’ve had a very different experience with money. I don’t even need to know anything about it to know that because everybody’s had a different experience with money. That’s your lived experience of in the world. And so when I conduct synthesis with my teams and and when they conducted based on the research, they’ve done, we don’t try to say like like with humility were nothing. Instead we try to separate the fact that we heard some stuff and the folks we heard it from our experts in their lived experience. But I know some stuff and I’m an expert in my lived experience and the connectivity between those things is where the magic happens. Because frankly we’re experts in design. If we’re not, I would probably shouldn’t be doing this. And so when I can combine my expertise and Design, And my my participants expertise in in what they’ve lived that’s where real magic comes from. And so then I sort of fast forward to my second idea here a point, which is that when you conduct research, it’s not enough because it’s just a point of data and to echo on my sort of experience or example of research and finances. We spent some time with a fellow who’s you know paycheck to paycheck living with I think he had like two kids a wife not a great house, you know, really trying you can sort of jump your own conclusions about Why someone is paycheck to paycheck but in this particular case very very committed to getting out of the situation. He’s in and he showed us how he manages his money and I’ve told the story over and over because I find it so fascinating he has an Android phone on each and he showed it to us.
He pulled it out and he showed us a calculator app and it said something like two hundred and $45. And so we saw I started talking to her we started talking about it and said this is the amount of money. I have left to spend this month and I said, okay so you you know paraphrasing you manage your money on your calculator app on Android. Yeah, because it doesn’t clear the balance and so when I turn my phone off or you know, close the apps or whatever, and come back, it still says the balance number into every time I spend something I can just deduct it. And so if I stop there and we sort of like reflect on that objectively speaking, one could say well that’s a really bad way to manage your money. If you lose your phone, you’re screwed. It’s kind of crazy to just manage the balance. You have no prediction ability, you know? Really look historically but for him, that’s how he does it, and he’s an expert in it. He’s an Spurt in managing his finances that way. So if we don’t ever do any sense, making your synthesis on that, we get a very interesting story and I would not trivialize the story because those are the stories that make Executives of banks go like, holy shit. That’s what our customers do. But knowing that about this guy doesn’t actually help me go make a product to help him. It doesn’t, you know, the, the obvious result of that would be like, well, let’s make a better calculator and that is probably not a great idea, all right. But if we can look at the intent behind it and then I can use my expertise as a designer to translate what I’m hearing into an innovation or into an idea or a sketch or something like that. That’s where the power from comes from. And so your final Point around, you know should product managers or folks be doing this stuff absolutely go do the research, but I would caution everybody not to fall into the Trap of saying I heard this and therefore I should go do it. I heard that they need calculator apps. I heard they manage their money on the calculator. So we need to build calculator apps and I’ve seen product managers and and designers do Ooh that a lot where they say, you know, I talked to five people. I learned five things and that’s going to be the backlog and that really does say well wait a second. You’re an expert in your job or you better be and so your opinion counts, too. Yeah.
The really really well said absolutely well said which is the don’t just take what customers say or look at what they do and try to mimic that in some sort of in our case a lot of times digital medium, right? And then that makes a ton of sense my question then is and I would think of his listening to this are going to say well then how do you do that? Greatness, so let me let me let me let me be a little more specific on that question to I guess the way I would ask is how do we make sure we’re sort of on one side of the line as opposed to the other way. Like how can we recognize if we’re in this space where we are just reacting to what people do or reacting to what we saw or heard in research and perhaps know if we’re on the other side of the line of like actually making sense of that and connecting it to something more meaningful that will actually be helpful in the lives of our customers. Yeah, so, you know when we think Think about how we do this I can get I suppose I can get super specific on it. And I wouldn’t say It’s A playbook for us, you know, every project we do is very different and we customize the work we do for our clients, but I would say that there are some steps we take that are very consistent and so like super pragmatically we take we record the sessions we do with them with our participants that we audio record them. And then we transcribe them increasingly. We’ve used an external transcription service and I sort of blush at that because I’ve always been an advocate of typing it yourself, but that’s a conversation for another time. We have our transcripts and then we externalize. Every single thing. Somebody says on a little piece of paper, and this is not like, let’s have Post-it notes and move them around wearing are tinted glasses on frosted glass and take pictures of ourselves. This is like, it’s literally every utterance from the field. And so now imagine a wall that’s 30 feet long, by whatever wall is 14 feet high, just covered in these quotes and then on another wall we have photos of all people. We talked to and we have little bios of them and sort of an overview You know, like oh Frank’s the guy with a calculator. Okay, that triggers. My my memory of Frank doesn’t trivialize them to just a calculator and said, it’s a way of thinking about it and then in the context of the studio myself and my team, start to move notes around, find patterns and talk through what it is we’re doing. And so they’re sort of a silent phase of this. Everybody’s kind of moving around. And then a conversational phase of this collaborative phase where we say, you know what, when he was using that calculator, really made me think of this other woman who had a piece of paper where she could see historically. But she was essentially doing the same thing of debit debit debit debit start again the next month. But she saved her pieces of paper, right?
So this dialogue that I’m having with you right now is the dialogue that’s happening in the studio over and over and over. And we try to build in about two weeks for this, in our statement of work, sometimes more, sometimes less and like everything else. It’s dependent on cost and and resourcing things like that. But what we’re finding that our patterns and we write them down and we write them down and complete sentences. This isn’t words like Tech or culture or Beauty or happiness, right? Which are things that I’ve seen happen a lot during synthesis processes. Instead, these are like full complete thoughts and we first do a pass for observations and so we try to capture the patterns as simple statements of this is what we’re seeing and so one simple observation might be participants that don’t necessarily have a strong grasp on finances. Keep track of their finances and simple plus and minus manners. Okay, so like that’s not a very insightful statement but it’s a true observation and We kind of go. Well why we ask the question, why do they do that? And when I asked the question why and start to answer it. I’m at a point now where I don’t know I can make guesses in my in my guesses will be informed based on how much I sort of listened and felt what those folks felt and how many notes I took and how many participants we talked to but this is where I’m starting to make a leap. Now. I’m starting to get into assumptions. There’s infinite answers to the question. I might say something like well they do that because they want to make sure they don’t run on the money or they do that because that’s all they’ve ever learned where they do that because their parents taught them how to do it that way or they do that because they saw it on TV, right so I can come up with all sorts of reasons that they started that but then I say, well it’s underlying the behavior and for for the fellow I spoke about I think what’s underlying that behavior is a sense of anxiety because we felt it from him. He never said I am anxious but we felt it from him and we watched how important it was that that number didn’t go away. And so there’s a sense of anxiety for him as the number of approaches 0 and he’s Tracking toward the last day of the month of the zero on the calculator. And so now I’ve articulated sense of anxiety and word that applies complete sentence and now I have these statements and this is the point where I think product really really should start to drive things along with design. So design starts to draw some stuff but this is the point where product manager starts to should start to say.
Wow. There’s something there that corresponds with what I’ve heard from the market that corresponds with the way people are already using our products. Or that is in direct conflict with those things because now we can start to have conversations that Loop in their expertise and their lived experience is somebody who can hopefully is an expert in building and shipping products that big money and that resonate with people. So the longer the short of that is we have this craft and rigor to a process, but if I wanted to make it super simple and really sort of trivialize the activity all we do is think really hard about what we heard and find patterns in when I say all we do. In all we do for like two weeks and I think that’s the I think that’s the key. It’s not a fly-by-night one. Our activity. It’s really really thoughtful? Yeah, absolutely. We talked a lot about this on our show so it’s no surprise that it will come up again. But it just taking enough time for analysis synthesis, you do to me, I actually defined as a slightly different, but it doesn’t matter whatever you call it, right? This dedicated time towards, as you would say, in the most simple way of describing it thinking really hard about what it is. You heard I think is probably the most important thing we do in design. That’s that’s my opinion because otherwise like you say we are actually reacting to things and we might make a very beautiful thing in a very interesting thing, that’s simply a reaction. What we heard and actually doesn’t serve anybody’s needs. And then that, at least by my definition, is actually a failed design, right? Because we didn’t do anything to notably improve. In this case, the person you mentioned, say Frank’s life. All we did was like, The same thing he’s doing today. We’re not actually solving that problem.
We’re not actually addressing the anxiety for him. Like when I actually helping manage giving them tools to manage the money better, right? Well, you know, there’s a there’s a caveat to that which is that it may just be fine to make his calculator app easier to use and I think we get hung up myself included around the word Innovation. At least I have in my in my career. I think I’m on a different train right now, but that what we make has to be new and has to be, you know, a step change. It has to be something that nobody’s ever seen or that other companies are doing but But there is value for Frank and just saying well, you know, if you clear the the balance by mistake, you can bring it back and like that’s a feature that would be a different feature in a calculator app and that would go in a backlog in a roadmap, but we wouldn’t have come up with that feature. If we hadn’t seen them used the calculator that really is an apples-to-apples Lark sort of like I saw this so we’re going to do that and when you think about what makes product work valuable but hard it’s that it is a slog of little itty-bitty features. Support of a big fat vision. And so, I think what you mentioned, that one of the most important things for designers is, I’m paraphrasing. But to think really hard about this stuff and spend time and be contemplatively. I do think that a big part of what we do has to be the craft of showing and because we need to show that Vision, we need to show the North Star. We need to draw it. We need to create wireframes or videos comps or whatever it is. Your medium du jour is. And then map, all of the little incremental bullshit that really isn’t bullshit. It in order to get there. And so I would I would sort of say well there’s a caveat to don’t just do what you saw in the field which I recognize is what I just said about 15 minutes ago which is there is value in saying, you know what? This little incremental thing can actually help Frank a great deal and it’s on the way toward making it. So he’s not using a dumb calculator app. You has a more rich and robust solution to his his Layton is. Yeah, totally that point is really interesting for me because well a couple things I guess. You know one is I think you got to be really honest of like the maturity of your product your company.
So right so if you’re working at a start-up brand new company and you’re trying to figure out what your product is and how it really does fit into the lives of the people you’re building it for and the market and things like that. I think that perhaps your focus is less on making it better calculator just so to speak in more finding those big rocks or those step change the kind of things that you would that you would maybe have referred to but then on the other hand of that if you have a pretty mature product and you’re already delivering value, Due to a lot of people but maybe they don’t recognize that or they’re already getting value out of it. And there’s a way you can just enhance it then that’s absolutely appropriate right in the reason. I say it’s interesting is because you mention a working relationship with product manager. That’s absolutely where I would expect to collaborate with somebody like that work with them and say, you know, where are we with this like what kind of change are we looking to make if and that should have happened by the way before we ever did any research write like this shouldn’t be a thing where we did research and found some needs and then all of a sudden determined. We’re actually building a brand new product or We’re actually just making some simple usability or interaction changes. I don’t know. I’ve never thought about it as s sort of concisely or precisely as you just described it. If you’re, if you’re in a start-up land, you probably want to look bigger rocks. If you’re in existing product backlog land, you probably want to look at the small details and that I’m not just for some reason, I have sort of a negative reaction to it as simple as that. And I don’t just want to be contrarian for the sake of being a contrarian. But I wonder if when you’re trying to find quote-unquote product Market fit, You get too wrapped up in what you make needing to be different and I’ve done a couple startups, one one and a half-ish, which was successful in. I don’t know three-and-a-half issue, which failed? I’d like the math on this way. Here we can talk about the half-fish. I suppose it’s some other but they didn’t succeed or fail based on product Market fit in any of the examples. I don’t think which is like, it’s all you hear out of the valley is probably Market fit, you know, iterate, quick iteration and They all succeeded or failed based on other things like the quality of the product the quality the marketing the quality of the Charisma of the leadership team luck Serendipity timing. And so those things I mean, it seems really sort of like discounting our profession, but those things have nothing to do with us. Yeah. Absolutely. I mean in all as I’m talking this through in almost all the cases, it really is sort of like luck of the draw like I’m here’s an arrogant statement. I’m really smart and I’m really At my job and so are the people I surround myself with and we have three and a half failed startups scan it and it wasn’t for lack of product Market fit or trying it was just like whatever happened didn’t happen correctly. And I mean that’s that’s kind of defeatist. I don’t know. I’ve never really articulated in that way. I suppose it’s like, oh, where’s the Free Will and autonomy and you know the ability to be autotelic. I believe it. I believe at all that stuff like like you wouldn’t believe and at the same time it was like man, that was a really good idea. There was product Market fit other people did it at the exact same It succeeded yet. We didn’t get it.
Yeah, absolutely. No, sir. I don’t actually see that as like defeatist. I see that it is a realist and then that’s actually something I wish more people. I wish I saw more like broadly accepted in our industry is I do think that we have this idea that will like design can save anything and design can change anything and and just in the example you gave right there. It’s like well, that’s just not true. Unfortunately. It’s not to say that it’s not insanely important because obviously we you and I don’t think we’d be here having a conversation if it wasn’t. Went for the work that that we did and the importance of it right? But yeah, I just think I think understanding it in the larger context of all those things is important. And the reason I kind of zoned in on that is because that’s actually what I meant with that statement is it’s like a matter of prioritization, right? So maybe we go and we do all this great research that uncover some some really interesting new needs that we didn’t know about that. We absolutely should solve but the priority is actually just making the product more marketable and understandable to people. Yeah, I think there’s something to that I absolutely think there’s something to That and another one of the things you said designers think they can solve everything and e but recently wrote about the and he said he’s a designer. I like very much we’re friends and I follow that he was responding to the to the ship that was blocking this Suez Canal and he said, you know, here’s a here’s a way designers can solve it will go do research into ships for three months and then we’ll like do a paper prototype. It was like, yeah, that’s exactly right and we would still have a ship stuck in the Middle look now. So so, you know, like designers do have this sort of here is quality and I suppose early in my career. Here I did this. Well, you know, I’m thinking now about why our clients hire a synod in many respects of the folks that hire us and the upper upper c-suite know their customers. I mean, you don’t get to be in charge of a company of the scale of the clients that we work with by, you know, having by somehow like not knowing anything about your Market is yeah and it seems like it’s so silly to even think that but what they’re missing is often the story. I think one of the value not I think and that one of the value we provide I’d is being able to tell a story of an optimistic future that is tied directly to the insights that come out of their customer base. And, and that’s very much more focused on the craft of making things than it is on the craft of spending time with people. If I had to, you know, sort of separate those things. But the difference is, I need the stories and they have to be real. I can’t, I can go. I mean, actually, I can I go make up a story about the fellow with the calculator, but I never would because I’m just not that creative or writer. But now that I have that story, he’s real, I have audio of him, I have video and then I have our process, which is so rigorous and translating that to an opportunity. And then I have this drop-dead sexy, persuasive charismatic, charismatic vision of the future. That is what my c-suite Executives can’t do and they can articulate and they can’t do it as crisply and as, as persuasively as I can. And so that is I think I can get at least for us because We’re in a very specific sort of world view at modernist.
That is the value of the research and synthesis process that makes a ton of sense and it’s actually a perfect segue into something. I wanted to ask you about. Right? So just to kind of zoom out as part of my job in the conversation is like constantly stepping back rephrasing things. But hoping to rephrase them and concise ways is just as we go through but the one a big things I’m hearing from you really is just yes. The research is fine since this is making sense of it is the most important part 2 build that story right? But then now we know where you were going with this is that’s also really not good enough. It’s the magic comes in connecting that with something you can show to people and sort of answer the question. So what right because it’s one thing to say we went we have all these rich insights about the people that you serve and that’s great. But you have to then say well, here’s what you should do about that. And so one of the things that I wanted to ask you is like, how do you do that? Well, right because there’s a couple things that I feel like everybody not everybody lots of people in our industry still to this day struggle. You know one is a convincing people that that work leading up to that is important. All right, and that’s like call it getting buy-in call it convincing stakeholders. Whatever you want. That’s one side of the fence.
The other is then getting them to accept and want to listen to your ideas or recommendations. I would love to hear how you go about that. How a how you go about connecting it, but then actually getting that buy-in for people to say, yeah, we should we should do that we should act on that. It’s so funny both both things. I’ve heard so many times. From people that it has to be real yet. I’ve never experienced it and maybe it’s because I’m an asshole and like a bull in a china shop when it comes to the sun. Like like there’s just broken glass all around when I when I try to approach either one and it and it seems to work but you know on the first side of like how do you get by and money basically and time and support to go do this stuff? I mean one of the best techniques I’ve ever seen when I was working in a house, which is different than a consultancy but worrying house. Has been to just go do it. I mean very small scale and succeed. Clearly you have to do a great job and then just Roadshow the shit out of it. Let Executives attach their name to it have no ownership over it, you know, like let people steal the slides. It’s not something great that you did but then suddenly they want to be around if they want to do more. So then go to a small area a little bit bigger one and continue that process and it’s a long so long haul but like instead of asking. Hey, can I have some butcher to go to research well work 60 hours a week. A week for just four weeks.
It’s not like it’s the end of the world and just do it and then come in and and show how fucking awesome it was on the other side. How do you get people to listen to you? I don’t know Ben. This is where me having broken glass all around me is not the right approach and I don’t actually think it’s relevant. Only the other I think it’s about having the artifact speak for you. And this really comes down to one of the things that myself and other designers who are someone trained in design have been pissed off about as we watch our field and murdered evolved over. Fifteen twenty years has been that the separation of research and design and by Design. I mean like making things it has evolved on purpose because their specialization in the field of because we need depth in both areas, but I don’t know how you can be the person that does the research and the synthesis and then be a different person who does the making I just don’t see that ever ever working. And so that means that there has to be a hybrid skill set there and you have to be able to make shit that looks It feels and acts awesome. This isn’t you know bullshit hangman style sketches on a whiteboard. It has to evolve into something polished level of Polish we can talk about but it just has to be it has to be high in craft and I’ve seen a lot of folks on the sun research side who have ended up in design research because they can’t do or feel they can’t do the other part and I think that’s somewhat of a practical travesty which is that I certainly believe they can I believe Anybody can do that shit can do the making part of The Craft part, but they haven’t taken the opportunity to try and a lot of that just comes out of confidence. I’ll take I retract my word just a lot of that comes down to confidence, which is the big part of school is learning to build that confidence learning build a craft as well.
And if you never went to a traditional four-year Institution for a variety of reasons all of which are good ones mostly because they’re fucking expensive way too expensive. You never really got drop to that three or four-year immersive. Try try try fail. I’ll fail support support support mentorship. Now. I’m building the confidence to go make stuff. So I think when we go by in on my ideas, it’s finding a vehicle and a mechanism that is so well done in craft that people can’t help but want to see those ideas succeed. Yeah, awesome. Really really awesome. I’m just kind of sitting here processing everything you said and I’m trying to figure out like again how I want to summarize that for everybody. Inning, but then also the things I want to ask you next because there’s so much that I want to dig into their but you know really at the height of it is in terms of convincing people. We should do this work just go and do it and actually, you know, this is probably some of my bias, but I really strongly agree with you because I have given the same advice like zagat’s a shitty advice and I acknowledge it when I give it to it. So, I mean, it’s like it’s like just go do it and I know yeah, it’s not really helpful. Right?
No, it sucks and I can’t imagine being on the receiving end of it yet. I don’t I mean I have lots of other ways to caveat it and I work with students on it, but it’s like I don’t want to hear somebody say, you know, how do you become I recently took up the sitar about three years ago. Well, how do you become a better sitar player? Oh, we’ll just do it. I mean, that’s the it’s the right answer and it’s like well, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Well, that’s just it I mean the thing is is I think that we want to we live in an interestingly an Ever more complicated world and I choose the word complicated very specifically not more complex. Don’t believe our world is any more complex than it was two thousand years ago, right? I think we choose to make it more complex. It’s not anymore. It’s just more complicated in the thing is is like this is always been true like to get better at that thing you do that thing, right? And I know there’s not awesome advice. I’ve absolutely given it where the reaction is like polite smiles and continuing to nod and going like, okay. This guy’s not going to be any fucking help to me. Yeah. Yeah, but the thing is the thing is I still think it’s right. No, I do think that we know we could be better at like well, can you jump start that if you’re maybe if you don’t have experience in it, or you just started at this organization and nobody seems to Value it or whatever with there’s absolutely more that can go into that. Right? But the fact the matter is you stood still do it and then show it I think the right because that’s the ultimate outcome of this to really get people on board of wanting to give a shit about design research. Now then on the other end of that we know kind of what I hear you saying, which is really interesting and I don’t know how much of this Has to do with sort of when we quote unquote grew up in the field, right? Because at back then there were no specific researchers in specific designers. I had never worked at any place that had like a separation of concerns, right? We just all did all of it or you were just designer and you didn’t actually do research in some cases, right? I think that you’re right to say just because you specialize in one or the other doesn’t mean you can’t do have be multidisciplinary.
So let’s say you’re really awesome. Minor, you could still totally do research and then on the flip side of that if you’re a really great researcher and you just like on a terrible design that’s will still you’re able to tell a story and you can choose a medium to tell that story and it sounds like even you know, you and your folks at your studio do that and all sorts of different because it’s not always wireframes or an interface right and and that in and of itself can help people really get on board to say. Well I was to take action on this right am I summarizing this pretty fairly? Yeah. I’m not sure can be summarized right? Like it’s more of a talk around it kind of thing and You know that when you’re looking for Life advice, I suppose if somebody can make it succinct, maybe it’s not great advice because because it’s like, right in, it’s a mess. But I did, I mean, a couple of thoughts one is like, when I started my my work about 20, some years ago there was, there were companies like elab an interval research and Science and violent that were doing qualitative, research, and only qualitative research. As far as I can remember, but they were, but the people doing it, we’re trying to design and again, as far and not everybody, but the ones that I know we’re trained. Informal craft based communication or industrial design programs. And so they still had that backbone and tendency of making things. So I’m reflecting a little bit more on my we’ll just go do it. And so now let’s add some may be less pedantic obnoxious qualifiers to that. So here’s, here’s some things I have seen work one is just go do it with a friend, find somebody who’s just as shy and self-deprecating about doing it and To doing it together and it’s very much. Like let’s lose weight together. Let’s go running together and like held each other accountable to it. Another is find a mentor. This is a harder. It’s very much like oh just go find your mentor and that’s hard but I think you could find folks who have been doing this longer and say things like will you be willing to spend one or two hours with me for a week? We’re sorry every week for a long time and it’s folks will say no people ask me a lot and I say no but then some folks ask and I say yes, I think that’s helpful in another is I mentioned this idea of learning play the sitar. And and one of the things that finally got me to do it cause I want to do this since I was 15 is I imagined myself in ten years being good at it. And I said, all right, I’m fully aware that I’m going to suck at it now but in 10 years, I don’t want it then be going man in 10 years. I’d be really good at it. So that was like that for me that recast what it would take and why I was doing it it gave me leeway. It said I have 10 years to get good at this thing. But it also gave me a vision of myself looking back that I didn’t. Like and that was enough to kick me into high gear to go find it, you know, just like I just said find a mentor and beg borrow and pay him to help me.
So I think what I think when I’m looking at it more strong advice to give those are the ones and then the last piece of advice I have in this is somewhat economically not fair is go to a long expensive school program. I’ll put expensive and air quotes. It doesn’t have to be millions of dollars hundreds of thousands of dollars, but it probably is more expensive. Civ than these ten week boot camps or these a week boot camps and it probably is longer than those because the duration the expense justifies the duration and the duration just forces this amount of cycles and the more Cycles you take drawing drawing drawing critiquing showing what you said getting in front of other people the more that muscle memory and ability who will build up and you’ll get better period like. You will get that. Yeah. Yeah hundred percent. I think that that’s a very Fair articulation deeper articulation of just go and do it. Right you’ve given some examples to say. Well here are the next steps. And here’s what that means. And here’s why that matters, you know and couple things that just made me think of like one of the things I wanted to say that I really do when you say bull in a china shop Glass Broken everywhere. I was I think I was absolutely that earlier in my career absolutely like I can relate to that so much. I’ve been literally called like a bulldog by peers, you know in the past kind of thing lovingly. I would I would hope he I would hope it endearing way. I don’t think I’ve I had never taken offense to it. So maybe that’s either my my lack of like social understanding or it because it was actually endearing who knows, you know, maybe in 20 more years will find out but I could relate to that and I think sure it takes a certain personality to be that and just be like whatever force in the room.
That’s not for everybody and I recognize that so I think the important thing is like here’s the advice I give to people one when to do and they’re like, yeah, but what if what if it sucks or I would if I would have some do is want me to do it or they’re upset that I I usually tell people like just play out that scenario, right? What’s the worst that could happen if you went and literally did Above and Beyond in your job, like what’s the worst that’s going to happen. I want you to actually play that scenario out. Are you gonna get yelled at are you going to get fired? We’ll probably not right? Like why would somebody ever fire you for doing more work? That’s kind of outrageous. So long as you’re getting the job that you want to get done and you’re doing that at high quality. If you’re just trying to add more value. I’ve never heard of anybody getting Ting in trouble for that not in any meaningful trouble, right? So it’s like then if you sort of find the edge of the cliff all of a sudden you can take a few steps back and go huh? I bet you this will be okay and and then it’s like well what if it sucks and what if it’s no good and they’re like what I want to listen to it. I’m like so then what what happens it would what do you do if that happens? It’s a well I guess nothing and look great. But did you waste your time know you practiced in and if it sucks good for you because you learned what socks and what doesn’t know right? I mean the what is the worst that can happen if you extend that out is you do get fired. And then okay play that out. Well, it’s not like that’s the end. That was the last job I could ever get and now I’m destitute. It’s like know that then you’ll be pissed off and then you’ll be sad and then I’ll have to go through the garbage now working to get another job and then you will have another job and you will have learned a lot. So it’s like yeah, I mean, I like the play out the worst that happens game and really play it out when folks look at at least now LinkedIn or if you know any job board indeed, you’re like, holy shit.
There are so many jobs. There are so many friggin design jobs that It like yeah, you get fired fine. Go go find another job. Your job is not your life. Oh my God. Yeah you will you will be fine. Yeah, absolutely. And I think that that’s just that’s one of the things that I really give people advice on regardless of what they’re doing. But especially, you know, because I am in this field as well and I tend to talk with a lot of those folks so it’s like yeah just play that out. Like what’s the worst that happened by the way, let’s say I’ve never ever heard of this happening but let’s say somebody does fire you because I like we got you’re Good of a job you’re trying to provide more value to our group if they fired you for that. That’s a story you get to tell to your potential next employer. That’s right. It’s like what? Why did you get fired from that job was like well, I was trying to do extra work for them which is like such bullshit to hear but but total no, but totally you get a story for every right and honestly the humility of the story cells extraordinarily. Well, I don’t mean to imply that getting a job is a sham, but you are selling yourself and that sells really really well because it’s like, you know what I’ve Gone through the ringer like I get it I get What It Takes now to do X Y and Z and when I interview that Savannah College of Art and Design me on this is like 18 years ago. I interviewed to teach who am I to teach one 21 years old or whatever it was but I had interviewed for like an Electronic Arts faculty position and I bombed the interview like absolutely terrible and I had then driven over to the industrial design building to get a tour and I was commiserating with a professor there and I had nothing to lose and I Let it out. Like I just fucked that up. It was so bad. I’m so freaking awful. You know, I had no business being over there. My expertise is in design and interaction design, and he was like, well, you know what? Like, I like your attitude. I like your demeanor. That was very real. We’re hiring. Wouldn’t you like to come interview here? And I was like, okay.
So you know what attracted him to me in the first place. And his name is Bob fee. And he’s a good friend, and he’s a great guy. What attracted him to me, was not my portfolio and I see because he never saw it. It was the humility that he heard. Heard of having just gotten Trashed by by an experienced and I, you know, I think there’s value to that to it was very clear that I was about to learn that from that. He was like wow that’s that is the kind of I don’t know. Human I want around me now. Let’s look at the table. Stakes of can you actually do this job? Yeah, absolutely. You know, that’s, I still want to interview anybody to actually hire them and I’ve shared this advice, and by the way, it’s not even mine. I stole it from an old CTO. I used to work with years ago, he literally told me this in my Which was really cool a very like cool and weird meta moment. You’re also being interviewed this guy by the way was like head of cloud computing at Yahoo! Before like cloud computing was a big thing.
You just like an actual rocket engineer. I mean just genius kind of guy, right and he’s telling me this as he interviews me he goes when I interview people, I’m looking for three things. Number one or your culture fit number two. Can you do the job number three? Do you want the job? He’s like that’s it. Everything else doesn’t matter if he’s like telling me this as he’s asking questions. I’m like what? One is it? Which one is it right now? Which one is hurt? My busy figuring? I’m a culture fit is he figured if I can do the job if you break it down, right? It’s kind of exactly what you said like two out of those three have nothing to do with your actual qualifications. It has everything to do with like passion and attitude and it has everything to do with what kind of person you are. And can you be some positive to the group if we were to add you to that at least I hope that’s what culture fit means maybe I’m being a little too gracious. We have a lot of work on doing, you know in fixing what culture fit means I think in are in the tech world. It’s a whole other podcast but you know, if you think about that, it’s all about really who you are and then let’s take a step back. You have some basic qualifications like have you done design and/or research before? Do you at least, get how to do it in practice, you know what I mean? Yeah, I mean, I would agree with a lot of that, and I’m now reflecting on my very first internship, was, with a company called Trilogy here in Austin, and they were, are were, I don’t know, well, known for culture, fit being a thing. And back in the late 90s that absolutely met White upper-class. Whatever you want to call it, but it also meant I’m sort of a metaphorical middle finger to normal. It’s a normal job, expectations. And I just remember, I got the internship because I’m a woman who’s an alumni was visiting and I mean, this is such a dumb reason, get an internship but you know I was a arrogant 17 year old or whatever you are in college. And I was sitting on a table talking about how everything was all fucked up at the school and everybody suck and she was like, wow, you have very strong opinions. Would you like to interview and so like what Or was it was strong opinions? And then it was like on by the way we need to see your portfolio and there’s an expectation that it’s good but the expectation that it was good was sort of like a oh and by the way, it was an oh and by the way, right, it really was table Stakes. What s our first was are you a culture fit? And in that particular company a culture fit was being sort of like very strongly loudly opinionated. Yeah. Yeah. I mean that makes total sense. It’s one of those things to were like, I’ve told people I couldn’t anybody have ever hired I couldn’t tell you where they went to. School, I couldn’t tell you like the places they’ve worked at before in a sincere that’s not stuff that I paid attention to was all about. I’ll talk to you about who you are talk to you about how you think about this work and through that, you know, I would like you to demonstrate in some way that you can do it and then let’s figure out if we should work together. Yeah, I think that’s right. I mean you don’t apply to be pick your job at an insurance agent if you can’t be an insurance agent, but then people will come to you for assert.
That’s a really shitty example because nobody likes insurance agents, but what if you get the point you gotta be able you gotta be able to The job and then everything else like okay. I mean another way of thinking about that is there are thousands of people now who have studied whatever you want to call a ux design blah blah blah blah blah. So the expectation that you can do the job is like like the starting point because if not, there’s thousands of people who can write now how am I going to differentiate between those thousands of people? Well do I want to actually work with you ever for all of the time? I mean that really dick does come down to who are the like the people I like to surround myself and my team with absolutely well, so look Jon we covered a lot of ground here and even went pretty deep and some of the synthesis stuff which is really cool and something I think that our industry needs to sort of refocus on and really pay attention to do more of in spite of doing design and product faster more efficiently. So that was awesome.
This was a really good chat and I need to be respectful of your time because I realize we’re kind of coming up to the end of the hour here. We had a chance to chat but you know, one of the things I wanted to ask you is and I do this with it at the end of every episode is like if Just got hit by a bus and nobody knew what we talked about. They came up to you and said well, what was the podcast was it was that all about? What did you guys talk about? How would you sum that up for people? I would say tune in and hear some thoughts by some old guys who have had some experiences and maybe you can learn effective about about how to improve a little bit of your job and how to improve a little bit about your perspective on design fair enough. I appreciate that I earned my degree here is that I have do it. Are you gonna tell everybody that? It’s my birthday and your birthday. Yeah, we should definitely we should bring that up. That’s really where they wild. So at the time of recording this this is going to come out after the fact but at the time of recording this it happens to be both Jon’s birthday and my birthday. So today I found out we share a birthday and while they’re going to be say I am 36 today. I will be 43. I am 43 today is the big day. That’s it. So there you go all downhill. A lot to look forward to but that suit I mean super cool just to kind of find that out and so once again happy birthday to you. Yeah, so this is really awesome. I appreciate you jumping on is there anything that you want to share with folks that we didn’t actually cover today already know just one thing if they’re interested in hearing more about my perspective on things. I write an awful lot on my company’s website, which is modernist studio.com. And I tweet as J. KO L KO and You can hear some of the more contemporary of stuff and also some more of the broken glass voicing opinions that may or may not be useful to anyone. It’s going to be such a change on Twitter. Someone throwing around strong opinions. Oh, yeah. It’s right on her. Jon this is really awesome. Again, I appreciate your time big fan of your work and following your stuff for years and really great to have a chat with you quote unquote live at least over audio appreciate it. And yeah, hope everybody gets more out of this a couple old guys talked about some stuff take their take away different perspective. We are both full of opinions. So if you if you want to follow up on that, I’m sure you could reach out to Jon or myself, and we’re happy to expand on either one of those though. All right, man. I really appreciate it. Thanks for joining us. Thank you for having me back. I appreciate it. It all right. Everybody will see you next time. This podcast is brought to you by Aurelius the research and insights tool that helps you analyze search and share all your research in one place. So you can go from data to insights to action faster and easier check out Aurelius for yourself with a 30-day trial by going to Aureliuslab.com.
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