User Research Cheat Sheet

In the UX toolbox there are variety of implements. Some aid a project, some delay it. It's up to the UX designer to determine which to use and when to pull in additional stakeholders to aid in the facilitation of brainstorming, workshops, and usability labs. 

While working through my reading list, I hit page 43 of Mental Models by Indi Young. If you don't know what mental models are, I highly suggest picking up a copy of her book. Page 43 shows a great chart for determining when to use different user research techniques and starts by categorizing them into three high level buckets: Preference, Evaluative and Generative. Take a look below:

The social network of the permanent

We commonly view social networks as transient. They’re temporary in the overall scope of our lives. The recent history of the Web is littered with a multitude of sites that have failed and vanished. Friendster and Myspace, among many others, have all met a similar fate. Facebook is the latest heavyweight, though popular media consistently forecasts a cacophonous doom. News websites ask, “Is this the next Facebook killer?”. Google+, Diaspora and Unthink are all new entrants to the social network race – a race that might be run multiple times.

Instead of asking when Facebook will be dethroned as king social network, we need to start asking, as a society, what will happen if it persists indefinitely? It’s possible that Facebook is the pinnacle social network of our time, fulfilling all of the requirements that we, as humans, have deemed necessary for online social interaction. Maybe it’s all that we need. Imagine that twenty years from now Facebook is still alive and kicking. How will it’s presence in our lives change or affect the relationships that we form? More importantly, how will it change the impression that children born today will have of their parents in the future? As a product of the millennial generation, many of my close friends are forming families. We all know our parents through photographs, distant and faded. However, our children will know us through our thoughts and feelings, as we broadcast them into public view and into the time-capsule of Facebook.

To me, my father is a hero. He’s a decorated Vietnam veteran. He has a law degree and has worked hard to build his own business. My view of him, as a person, is shaped by my interpretation of the stories that he and my mother have shared over the course of my life. I see him through photographs and the caption to those photographs I write myself, in my mind. Over the years, I have built him up as a giant and I work hard to inevitably become a taller giant than he is. But in reality, I have no idea whether the stories he has told me are true, or untrue. Are they embellishments? Are they outright fabrications? I’ll never know and I rather like it that way. The way I view my father has allowed me to set a mental image of the man that I hope to become in the future. Without that image, I’m not sure I would have set the bar as nearly unreachable as it seems.

In twenty years, when Facebook still exists, my children will be able to see my life, interests, and thoughts captured in the moment that they first hit the digital canvas. They’re not edited, glamorized or filtered through the lens of what I, as a future parent, will want my children to know of me. They’re just the truth, captured in a medium that allows for full honest interpretation by the viewer. My children will have access to me in a way that no other generation has had of their parents. And so, when the social network of the present, becomes the social network of the permanent, when technology begins to affect us over time, measured by generations, what happens then?

Check the YES Box.

Many, many books have been written on the topic of building a startup. People world-wide, from vast and varied backgrounds, have all had ideas for new and exciting products, many digital, some brick and mortar. 

As my professional expertise is in the development of web and mobile applications, I hear ideas from basically anyone on a regular basis. It usually starts with, "Wouldn't it be cool if x did y?". And of course, I say, "Yes!", because in reality, it really WOULD be cool if x did y. So why don't you go out and create x? Why doesn't anyone actually DO what's required in order to build and ship a product?

The answer is: you

You are the problem. You are also the solution. Allow me to explain. 

When you get an idea for a fantastic digital product, you're filled with glee. You see the world as sunny-side-up, you're instantly excited about building this thing and getting rich and changing your life. Granted, those things do happen to some people, albeit a very, very seldom few. 

But also significantly fewer are the number of people who actually launch the product that's burning a whole in their mind. Why? Because they are afraid. Yes, it's a lot of work launching a startup. But more often than not the creator of said startup talks themselves out of it. They get scared. Are people going to hate my idea? Are they going to laugh at me? Am I going to waste all of my time and in the end, no one will use it? It's highly likely. But you'll never know unless you try.

The solution?

As simple as it may sound, once you have the product idea set, the design set, and you're ready to develop and push forward, the solution is: DO NOT LISTEN TO YOURSELF. Turn your brain off and just execute. Do not stop the train once it has left the station. 

Check that f@#&king box.

Check that f@#&king box.

At some point during the early stages, sit and write two boxes on a piece of paper. YES and NO. Sit there for 10 minutes and really think about whether you want to launch your startup. Check the YES box if you really, really want to do it. Check the NO box if you're not certain.

But if you check the YES box. You're committed until you launch it. The only other alternative is death.

XO, Stephen. 



I always asked myself why NFC hadn't entered into mainstream tech. It seemed such an obvious win for both retailers and consumers - add a chip to basically anything, for instance, a subway advertisement, I want more information on the advertisement so I whip out my cellphone and boom, there it is. 

With the advent of wearable tech and smart everything, location-based information will be a big trend in 2014. 

I stumbled upon today and instantly realized the possibilities. Estimote is great because they support the hardware layer and API, so as a developer all you need to do is implement into your app and WHAM. 

Most of the examples I see for implementation seem to revolve around retailing. You walk into store, get a coupon upsell, you walk out, you get a survey, etc. Though I think the more interesting sectors for beacon use are home and education. For instance, if you have children, you can set tasks for them to complete when they return home from school (homework, chores). Or, if you're a teacher, when your students first walk in you can prompt them to open their books to page 303 and begin reading.

The possibilities are endless. 

Digital Gratification.

With user experience, your inevitable goal is to inhabit the mind of your potential customer. You want to be her, or him; you want to get inside their mind and figure out how they're going to feel the moment they first open your app. 

The movie Being John Malkovich comes to mind. That's your goal. 

Lately, I've been thinking a lot of about user gratification and common habits. The easiest way to identify consistent patterns in a potential user's behavior is to take a look at your own. In doing this over a short period of time, you will very easily see the types of actions you take on a regular basis. 

For me, I'll take a photo, doctor it up with filters and post it to FB. After it posts, I look back at FB every 10 minutes or so to see if anyone has liked it, or commented. This action is a very, very strong psychological pull. It's a sort of digital gratification that everyone wants and it's tantamount to your parents telling you that you did a good job. In fact, that's where we originally learn it. It makes us feel fantastic as kids, right? Does that go away when you're an adult? No. 

Digital gratification is as powerful as in-person gratification. It's the same thing. The digital world is the in-person world. There is no separation anymore.

I love it when someone likes my photo and it gets me taking more photos so that I get to feel that sense of satisfaction again. 


Expert certification for online learning.

The current revitalization of the education industry, particularly with regard to the development of online courses and continuous, post-degree learning, has created an arena that is ripe for innovation.

With companies such as Skillshare, Codecademy, and Khan Academy, the Internet has made it possible for anyone to develop a subsistent, marketable skill. However, the question that remains is how to demonstrate new skills on a resume to where it merits further investigation by a hiring manager. A new form of accreditation must be developed that can be applied to the knowledge attained from a Skillshare or Codecademy.

The business model derived is one in which students pay for experts to certify their knowledge. This can be done in part by formal written or oral testing, as well as with projects to be carried out by the student. In fact, many companies now require applicants to complete a project and to present findings, so that their skills can be properly evaluated.

The development of an expert panel to certify a student’s skill could be very easily applied to many different industries. The advancement in online learning is happening within diverse categories, such as web development, arts & crafts, and financial analysis, among others.


Keep hitting that refresh button.

The digital world has a plethora of ways to reach into our analog, offline lives to tell us if something's up. My phone will vibrate, bing, ding, and slam around in my pocket when it wants me to react to something. Yet, regardless of these digital pings, I still reach into my pocket to check the status of the Internet, whether it's email, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, my blog stats, or the like. I don't NEED to check it, I know it will check me when need be, but I still hit the refresh button. I see this happening throughout society as I'm out and about - we all need to feel connected and it's not enough to have our phones tell us when we need to enter back into the digital world. Is it a trust issue? Is it an addiction? 

The Internet, in it's ever-changing state, is a method of interruption. It breaks up our otherwise routine cycles by allowing us to venture outside the world we live in and into a digital world that can be whatever we make of it. I shop for furniture and cars I can't afford, I look at multi-million dollar houses. It's an escape. It's digital voyeurism.

So how can companies take advantage of this digital/analog relationship? By creating a pipeline for consumers to "need" whatever it is you sell. Temporary, anxiety-inducing, short-shelf-life content, features, news, writing, updates, photos, or whatever, that trace life in an interesting way, make people believe that they are "missing out on something" and need to plug back in to get their quick fix. 

Sell temporary. Sell evaporation. Get them hitting the refresh button.  

I want to see the world.

With the onrush of video and photo sharing applications, most notably Instagram and Facebook on the photo front, and Vine, Viddy, Klip, Burst on the video front, why is it still impossible to see the world? 

I want an app to show me what it looks like when the Eiffel Tower first comes into view, after a long walk through a maze of Parisian streets. What does it look like en route to Machu Picchu? Whom do you encounter along the way? 

Instagram is a fantastic application. There's no denying it. But, when you fire it up, this is what you see:

Now while this is fun content, it does not help me to see the outside world, e.g. Tokyo streets, or Victoria falls in Africa. With 1.5b smartphones in the world, surely someone is going to Tokyo for a well-deserved vacation and wants to share it with me. 

I'm going to sketch this application out further, but for now, let's call "sight". Here's a splash:



We are all developing a serious case of ADD

When you start to think about mobile technology, what's popular, what consumers are gravitating towards, it becomes abundantly clear that as a society, we are all developing a serious case of ADD. The most popular and emerging apps: Vine, Snapchat, Instagram, among many others, succeed because they simplify human interaction to a level that takes nearly no brain power. Vine gives you a 6 second glimpse into someone's pseudo-animated world. Snapchat instills a sense of anxiety in the user, knowing that the image will only be around for a brief moment in time. And Instagram is dead simple. Take a picture, color it up, publish to the world. 

The temporary nature of society, especially the quick interactions that take place in a flash on a regular basis, have decidedly taken shape in the digital realm. 

So what's next? Perhaps this will trickle down to how we engage with each other on a moment by moment basis as strangers? Here are some gestures that happen between strangers on a regular basis. What are the digital equivalents?

Wink, Wave, Smile, Handshake, Fist "Pound", High-five, Salute, Point, Peace sign, Eyebrow "Wink"

Coming to an end.

I have spent over three years in business school, some of the most challenging, rewarding, gut-wrenching, stress-inducing years of my life. I’ve spent three years shuttling myself between Weight Watchers, Fordham, and home – what little time I spent there. Three years have past but I wear closer to six on my face, the stress catches up with you in the end, there’s really no way to quell it.

Life as I’ve known it is coming to an end. The future is upon me. Some ask, what will come next? What will I do? Who knows? In the short term, I’m heading to China, a place very far away with many, many people hustling about, living their lives. There’s a big wall there, yes, but there’s also a strange comfort of the unknown. The past years I’ve gotten used to routine and consistency, the rinse, wash, and repeat of traditional education. China will be a decompression chamber. It’s where I’ll hopefully reopen my eyes to this world I’ve missed, to everything that has whizzed by my face swiftly, while I blinked, sipped another cup of coffee and got down to the business of learning business.

I am proud of myself for the work that went into Fordham. I challenged myself in ways that I never thought I could. I’ve met people who think fast, come from vastly different life experiences than mine, and also manage to be simply too nice for words.

So what’s next? Who knows? But, I’m looking forward to figuring it out. A big thanks to friends new and old – those who accepted my prolonged absence from social activities –  I’m looking forward to giving ya’ll big bear hugs, one by one.