Daily Stuff

I’ve been rather silent on the internet lately, and it’s time to blow the dust off this site and do some updating. In about February (which is when I last updates), I won a series of enjoyable but fairly intense projects that had to be completed back-to-back.

There was a lot to do, and I realised quite quickly that I couldn’t maintain the normal levels of social media engagement and stay sane. It was a little bit sad – I like Twitter, and I like writing – but in the interests of long-term sanity, something had to give.

What I’ve been doing

In February/March, I ran another round of communication training for young Ph.D scientists at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, just outside Cambridge. I’ve run this with the Public Engagement team for the past few years. The sessions are always fascinating, meeting gifted young scientists who are at the start of their careers, and challenging them to explain their science clearly to non-experts.

In April/May, I conducted a large-ish heuristic review for BBC Academy (who produce online courses for staff training). A heuristic review is basically an expert review of content. However, to develop an informative review, you have to pull together all the right measures for the environment and the content. I like to make these reviews as evidence-based as possible, which means time spent trawling papers and books to establish which guidelines will actually stand up in practice.

On top of these, I’ve also been doing lots of standard usability testing and user experience research, interviewing website customers in basement studios across London. It is brilliant to be be able to talk to customers. Studio-based usability testing is hard work – you are interviewing members of the public, while your corporate colleagues take notes on the other side of the glass – but it is always such a pleasure to meet real people.

I did an eyetracking project too, using a nifty piece of kit which lets you track exactly where people are looking on a computer screen. It’s extremely insightful for the right kind of project – when the project team can actually watch someone’s eye movements in real time, it does tend to shut down certain arguments – but the real benefit is the amount of engagement it creates within the client team. Everyone’s attention was riveted to the unfolding eyetracking path shown on the studio monitor, as the customer in the interview room next door glanced down the web page.

What’s coming up

Right now, it’s more usability testing in the run-up to Christmas.

I’ve been invited to give a workshop at UX Cambridge, which I’m very excited about. I went to the first UX Cambridge last year, and it is a perfectly formed small conference of talks and workshops mostly given by people working in and around the Cambridge high-tech cluster. I’m talking about heuristic reviews and how I approach them.

This is a rather retro topic, I feel, a bit like all those 1970s owl-patterned cushions I see everywhere; but personally, I love doing reviews and I think they can be extremely beneficial for UX teams. You do have to put a bit of work in, though. (And there is a hideous, dreary bit which I might not talk about).

They are also running an event called the Great UX Bake-Off, which I may have signed up for. *cough*

That’s it for now. I’m also working on another blogging project, which may eventually see the light of day, and I need to develop a way of engaging lightly and yet sustainably with the Twitterverse. Working on it.


Kiss of death

February 11, 2011

Picnic basket in grassI used to do loads of new product development research, lugging prototypes and mock-ups around Britain in my little tin-can Citroen.  I was a qualitative researcher, where we prided ourselves in really getting under the surface through discussion and maybe some creative games.  Getting to the truth of the matter.

We were absolutely not the sort of researchers who dumbly reported people’s literal response.

Sometimes the short cuts were useful though.   I came out of one group furrowing my brow about the future for this particular product.   Possibly it was the cake bar aimed at teenagers, I don’t remember.

I was there with my boss.  We loaded stuff into her black BMW, and chatted about the session.

‘Well, that’s completely dead in the water,’ she said.

‘But they said they liked it!’

She stopped.  ‘And what were their exact words?’

‘That lady in the corner said, ‘I suppose it would be good for picnics.’

‘Exactly. Dead in the water.  Think about it.   ‘I suppose’ means she doesn’t think so, she’s just being polite, and as for picnics! Don’t get me started on picnics! How many picnics do you go on, in England? Twice a year?! Dead, I tell you. Stone dead.’

Anyway.  It became a kind of in-joke for all the lukewarm responses to dreadful ideas.

I’m still tempted to offer it as an answer when someone asks my opinion.

Are there any death-knell phrases in your line of work?