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Contemplations & Consumptions: Vol 2

Contemplations

Collaborations

As a user researcher, I’m in the insights business. My job is to detect the signal in the cloud of noise; make sense of the signal and communicate that signal to others to take action. 

But we are all built to seek insights in our daily lives. Our brains are wired to connect dots and pattern recognise. We see patterns in situations where no patterns exist because this is the way we process ambiguity. 

Anybody can connect the dots if we remove the non-dots. It’s the ability to discern the dots from the non-dots that allows ‘true’ connections to be made. It is so easy to see what we want to see because we see things not as they are but as we are. 

I always have to remind myself that my assumptions and frames of reference are subjective lenses of reality. It’s biased and filters every piece of information I consume. That’s the reason I enjoy collaborating with individuals of diverse backgrounds. They provide subjective points of view in contrast with mine so they spot what I miss and vice versa.

Consumptions

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Foundation season 2 –  I got into Foundation late – a year after the first season came out but once I got into it; I was hooked. It is an intellectual sci-fi show based on a series of books by Isaac Asimov. The story was considered unfilmable given its hundreds of years time span but the show’s creators have done a marvellous job. I am consuming season 2 weekly so I have something to look forward to every Friday. I will recommend you watch this clip and hopefully your curiosity will be piqued to give the show a try.

Underrated – This Steph Curry documentary is good but not great. It does well fleshing out Curry’s pre-NBA backstory. The NBA years were tacked on at the end of the documentary as an afterthought. This is where the documentary lets itself down. Curry’s four NBA championship victories needed fleshing out. This documentary should have been a TV series and not a movie. This would have given the creators the room to let the story breathe. Hopefully, that will happen someday and I look forward to that.

Destination NBA: A G League Odyssey – I loved this basketball documentary which showcased the stories of a few G League players’ dreams to get into the NBA. I wasn’t aware of the G League until this documentary. These are basketball players betting on themselves when the odds of most of them getting into the NBA are very slim

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Contemplations & Consumptions: Vol 1

Contemplations

Redundancy

I recently got made redundant. The last time I was made redundant; I pivoted from academia to UX. The lean academic job market at the time was the reason for this decision. I am not looking to pivot again but exploring the possibility of doing freelance UX gigs.

Redundancy is a gut punch and having experienced one before doesn’t make the second one any less painful. But like Weston said to Charon in John Wick 4: “Such is life.”

Consumptions

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  • The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist – I try to mix up my reading diet with the inclusion of graphic novels. This was an enjoyable read by Adrian Tomine. A collection of short graphic vignettes of Tomine’s life from 1982 to 2018. They cover a range of themes such as obscurity, recognition, perseverance, parenthood and insecurities. Tomine manages to illustrate the comedy in certain situations of his life.
  • How to do great work – This is a long essay by Paul Graham but it is worth your time. I generated so many Readwise highlights from this essay.

Develop a habit of working on your own projects. Don’t let “work” mean something other people tell you to do. If you do manage to do great work one day, it will probably be on a project of your own. It may be within some bigger project, but you’ll be driving your part of it.

Paul Graham

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Quarterback – I am a big fan of sports documentaries particularly American Football so it was a joy to binge this limited series. The show focuses on three quarterbacks {Patrick Mahomes, Kirk Cousins and Marcus Mariota} during the 2022 football season. It charts their ups and downs as they try to lead their teams to the playoffs and Super Bowl glory.

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Takeaways from the Black Design Guild Retreat

I was one of 10 Black professionals selected to participate in the pilot Black Design Guild {BDG} retreat at the beautiful Elmley Nature Reserve this month. The aim of the retreat was to enable junior and mid-level designers and researchers to recharge, reflect, and remerge with a fresh enthusiasm for the future.

I had a wonderful experience and hope the organisers are able to secure the required funding to run the scheme for 5 more years. Their attention to detail in terms of location choice, activities, participants, and fire chat speakers was top-notch. I will recommend checking out the BDG Medium site for blog posts and photos.

Reflections & Takeaways

  • We had a magical storytelling session led by Usifu Jalloh {the cowfoot prince} which featured music and dance. He emphasised the importance of discovering who you truly are. He said his career only took off when he discovered who he was as a storyteller. We all have several strengths and passions and but we need to know which ones constitute the point of the arrow {primary strengths} and which ones are the supporting strengths {shaft, fletching, and nock of the arrow}.
  • I was able to reflect at the retreat on past projects and passions to identify key personal themes and came up with a good-enough succinct response to the question of Who am I?

I am a multimedia storyteller who researches and curates mainly Black historical stories for a multicultural audience. I am a believer in the FUBU {For Us By Us} storytelling philosophy.

  • The goal for the rest of the year is to use the statement above as a prism to select the types of stories and passion projects I pursue. I did a number of passion projects a few years ago which I enjoyed. The Black Design Guild retreat is responsible for rekindling the motivation to start doing new side projects. I kickstarted a new Black History Month project the day after the retreat ended. I am having fruitful conversations and will be providing status updates in the coming weeks and months. Watch this space.

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The Power of Delightful Features

I recently listened to an episode of Lenny’s Podcast where he interviewed Scott Belsky {Adobe product leader}. There was a bit of the conversation that resonated with me because I was conducting research on the Kano product model for a project at the time.

“And the other thing that perplexes me is that product leaders expect people to talk about a product being great. And people don’t talk about a product doing exactly what they expected it to do. They talk about a product doing what they didn’t expect. And you look at a product like Tesla. People are not going and talking about how they had a great drive today, but they’re talking about the cool new feature they discovered on the dashboard ….Why aren’t we optimising for those things that people wouldn’t expect the product to do as a way to get that surprise and delight to talk about it, to develop a relationship with our products?” {Scott Belsky}

Belsky’s observation aligns with the theory of the Kano product model which is generally used for feature prioritisation. This framework was developed by Dr Noriaki Kano, a professor of quality management from Tokyo University in the 1980s.  He came up with five different types of feature categorisation to help product teams prioritise which features they build. 

1. Must-have features

2. Performance features

3. Delight features

4. Indifferent features

5. Reverse features

Kano’s delight features exemplify the type of features described by Belsky in the quote mentioned earlier. These features pleasantly surprise users by exceeding their expectations, leading to a sense of delight. Delight features often generate word-of-mouth recommendations and positive user feedback.

Must-have features and Performance features are important and should rightly be prioritised but such features don’t excite users enough to spread the word about your product. Users expect them to be available in your product as a given for them to continue to use. 

It’s the unexpected features that delight and surprise them that will nudge them to evangelise your product. Surprise and delight are powerful emotional drivers for word-of-mouth recommendation. 

Product teams should avoid building surprising or delightful features for the sake of it. They need to build delightful features that solve user problems in functional and purposeful ways. 

Apple’s iPhone was the first mainstream smartphone to launch without a physical keyboard. The most popular phone at the time was the Blackberry which had half of its phone’s surface occupied by a keyboard. Apple wanted to maximise the entire phone screen for users and knew they had to get rid of the physical keyboard to do this. They introduced the touch screen feature to accomplish this goal.  Most smartphones today come with touchscreen functionalities. But in 2007 when Apple released the iPhone; this feature was a big talking point because nothing like it existed.

What unexpected delightful features/products have you encountered that compelled you to recommend them to others? Please share below in the comment section.

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Always Be Shipping!

DALL·E artwork

ABC – “Always Be Closing”. This is a famous line in a movie called Glengarry Glen Ross {1992}. Alec Baldwin plays the role of an aggressive salesman sent from head office to motivate a group of struggling real estate agents. He kept repeating this line as an inspirational mantra: ABC – “Always Be Closing”

Always Be Closing Alec Baldwin GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

A better mantra however for creatives is ABS“Always Be Shipping”.

You put in the work to produce a creative output you deem satisfactory and then ship it by sharing it with the world. It’s up to the world to decide how it responds to your work. 

Your job is to do the work and ship it but the audience’s reaction is out of your control. So seek to manage the only controllable thing – the creation and shipping of your work. Do that and move on to the next piece of creative work.

As Susan Kare, designer of the original Mac interface, said, “You can’t really decide to paint a masterpiece. You just have to think hard, work hard, and try to make a painting that you care about. Then, if you’re lucky, your work will find an audience for whom it’s meaningful.” {via The Practice by Seth Godin}

I like the end of Kare’s quote. “if you’re lucky, your work will find an audience for whom it’s meaningful” However, even without luck, you will still have the opportunity to develop your creative muscles through continuous shipping.

Finishing and shipping your work is a good habit to develop. Produce enough good content over time, and eventually, something will resonate with your audience.

What might be hindering you from completing and shipping your creative work? What are you doing to overcome such obstacles?

 Please provide your responses in the comments box below. 

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Navigating the Impact of Generative AI

Generative AI has dominated the 2023 news cycle. The pace of new AI products hitting the market has been nothing short of staggering. While there’s a lot of excitement around how these tools can boost productivity, there are also concerns that these tools may destroy certain white-collar jobs and exploit artists by training on their content available on the internet.

One of the most prominent AI models in this space is OpenAI’s ChatGPT, which I’ve used frequently for work. It’s been a game-changer for generating complex Google Sheets formulas and SQL queries. Before I started using ChatGPT for these tasks, I often had to turn to skilled colleagues and/or trawl through Stack Overflow forums, which was time-consuming and frustrating. I’m still experimenting with ChatGPT to see what other relevant use cases I can uncover.

While some recent tech hypes like crypto and the metaverse have come and crashed, I believe that AI is here to stay and will have a long-lasting impact on society. Most people who use AI tools regularly can find ways to make them useful for their current needs or immediate future plans. By contrast, crypto and the metaverse were too abstract for many people to grasp hence the reason for a lack of mainstream interest.

However, there’s also reason to be wary of the risks associated with the AI revolution. If AI developers are reckless with how they release these tools into the world, powerful AI models trained on biased data sets could have negative consequences and influence decision-making in harmful ways.

As someone who’s both optimistic and cautious about the impact of AI, I believe that we still have two advantages over current AI tools that will remain relevant in the foreseeable future: creativity and curiosity.

While generative AI tools can produce impressive outputs, they still need to be prompted and can only create based on what they’ve been trained on. They’re good at remixing and creating variations, but they can also be convincingly wrong or even deceptive, which the AI community refers to as hallucinations. Similarly, while AI tools excel at analysis, synthesis, and answering questions, they lack the curiosity that’s so essential to human inquiry and discovery.

Ultimately, I believe that human creativity and curiosity will continue to give us a temporary advantage over AI tools. However, as these AI models become increasingly powerful, they’ll inevitably begin to chip away at those advantages. Rather than resisting this change, I think it’s best to embrace it and explore ways to use these tools to augment our skills and abilities.

I am curious to hear how you are currently using AI or how you see us best using these tools to augment our skills. Please share in the comments below.

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Validating Risky Assumptions

Assumptions are beliefs or ideas that we take for granted without sufficient evidence. They can be conscious or unconscious and are usually based on personal biases, past experiences, or incomplete information. Assumptions have a tendency to masquerade as facts and can significantly impact user experience. When product teams make assumptions about their users, they risk creating a product that doesn’t meet their users’ needs. Unverified risky assumptions can lead to poor product decisions, missed opportunities, and wasted resources.

I watched the movie Under Siege 2 in 1996, a forgettable 90s action flick starring Steven Seagal. The only highlight of this movie was a quote repeatedly uttered by the villain: “Assumption is the mother of all fuck-ups.” A revised version of this quote applies to product teams: “The unvalidated risky assumption is the mother of all fuck-ups.”

Product teams can’t test or may not have the time in a fast product build cycle to test all their assumptions. This is why it’s important to capture, identify, prioritize, and test the riskiest assumptions. There are several techniques for identifying assumptions, such as assumption mapping and hypothesis development.

(1) Assumption mapping is a process of visually representing assumptions and assessing their level of risk.

(2) Hypothesis development involves creating testable statements that can be used to validate or disprove assumptions.

While most assumptions are harmless, some can sabotage product development if left unverified.

Product teams should always ask themselves these two questions:

  • What untested/unverified assumptions are we making?
  • Are they justified?

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Maximizing Creativity and Productivity with the 4Cs Process

I use a four-step interrelated process for my creativity and productivity called the 4Cs. Although I am strong in the first two components of Consumption and Curation using certain digital tools, I still need to improve on the latter two to consistently deliver creative outputs.

Consumption involves the intake of multimedia content, including reading books and articles, watching videos, and listening to podcasts. I use several iOS apps for digital consumption, such as Podcast, Kindle, Libby, Reader and YouTube.

Curation is where I strategically select and identify what resonated with me from the diverse information consumed. These are the highlights from books and articles, as well as quotes and stories from podcasts and videos. The tool that I use to make this process easier, especially for digital text consumption is Readwise.

Contemplation involves reflecting on the curated ideas more deeply to understand why they resonated initially and how they connect to other diverse topics of interest. This is where I reverse engineer and remix the curated ideas to figure out their significance. Unfortunately, this is my weakest stage, as it’s much easier to consume than to contemplate. But without adequate contemplation, the quality and quantity of creative outputs are diminished.

Make a habit of reflection cos without reflection we do not learn, we are just busy. It is how we become aware of our patterns, interactions and habits.

David Klob

Creation involves transforming the curated insights and highlights into new ideas and sharing them with others. My primary outlet for creative output is this website and my 2023 blogging goal is two posts per month.

In conclusion, it’s easy for contemplation and creation to feel like an afterthought. That’s why I’m making a conscious effort this year to be more deliberate about contemplating and establishing a routine for publishing and sharing my creative output.

I’d love to hear about the tools you use for one or more of these stages in the comments.

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Talking to Users: Key Takeaways from Gustaf Alströmer

Gustaf Alströmer, a group partner at Y Combinator, created a YouTube video entitled “How To Talk To Users,” which provides insights into conversing with users from an entrepreneur’s perspective. However, his interview tips and questions {see above} are still applicable to user researchers. As a user researcher, talking to users is a vital part of the job, and it’s essential to have an in-depth understanding of their motivations and frustrations. Alströmer’s video is 17 minutes and 30 seconds long, and it’s worth watching.

During a user interview, it’s essential to ask open-ended follow-up questions such as “What do you mean by that?” “Can you tell me more about that?,” and “Why is that important to you?” Additionally, note-taking is crucial, even if you are recording the conversation. It’s beneficial to observe users in their natural context when using your product or your competitors’ products to gain insights into their frustrations and delights. Lastly, encourage users to provide specific and concrete examples and focus on their problems rather than pitching solutions.

In conclusion, Alströmer’s interview tips are valuable to user researchers. Regularly talking to users, asking open-ended questions, observing users in their natural context, encouraging specific examples, and focusing on user problems are crucial when conducting interviews.

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User Pain Points versus User Problems

User pain points and user problems are two terms that are often used interchangeably in UX, but there is actually a distinction between them. Knowing the difference will help us build better products for our users. To better understand the difference, consider a medical analogy.

Imagine a patient who complains of migraines to her doctor. The doctor prescribes painkillers, which provide temporary relief. However, the patient’s underlying condition is short-sightedness, so the painkillers only address the symptoms and not the root cause. In this case, prescription glasses are the long-term solution, but only a proper understanding of the patient’s history and context can reveal the actual problem and solution.

In this analogy, the user’s pain point can be thought of as a symptom, while the user’s problem is the underlying condition. A pain point is just a symptom of a problem, not the problem itself. Product teams often mistake addressing the pain point for addressing the problem. This can lead to short-term relief for users, but it won’t solve the underlying problem. As a result, users become dissatisfied over time, and product teams waste time and effort building the wrong solution due to a misunderstanding of the user problem.

Product teams can apply user research methods to ask diagnostic questions and test hypotheses. This will help to differentiate between user pain points and user problems. It’s a time-consuming process, but it’s important to dig beyond the pain point to get to the actual problem. Product teams need to balance this with the demands of users who want instant relief and businesses that want quick solutions.

I would love your thoughts on this differentiation. Do you feel it applies to your industry or context? Please use the comment box below and let’s have a conversation.

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