Glowing neon question mark
Glowing neon question mark
pic by Emily Morter: https://unsplash.com/@emilymorter

Product companies can sometimes be wary of investing in research, and sometimes product or technical teams are often skeptical of the value that research can provide. One big frustration for all involved — including researchers — is when a research effort ends up not having a meaningful impact.

It’s the type of situation that gives research a bad name — time and money are spent, data and learnings are generated, but ultimately, nothing changes. Six months after the study completes, the report is just another .pdf buried in the company email system. Ugh.

Over the years, I’ve developed a research…


I achieved my resolution and read more books than I had in 2018, though only 3 more — 69 vs. 66. Once I passed my 2018 mark in late November, I slowed my pace by picking up the second half of Gene Wolfe’s Book of the Long Sun, a book that is both lengthy and slow, and also by trying to finish grabbing all the Power Moons in Super Mario Odyssey — I’ll be lucky to be done with either task before the end of January, if ever.

This was a definite metric effect — once I passed my mark…


I’ve always been a reader, but last year, for the first time, I decided to track all the books I read, inspired by a friend’s New Year’s Resolution.

I read 66 books in 2018 (roughly 1 book every 5.5 days). Since I was tracking everything in a spreadsheet anyway, I ran some stats on author demographics and book type.

Heavy on Americans and lacking Hispanic authors… I don’t see myself fixing the first, but I’ll work on the second this year

I also rated every book on a scale from 1–5: 1 = hated 2 = would rather have read something else 3 = glad I read it 4 = strongly recommend to anyone interested in the genre 5 = can’t stop…


The #1 way to ensure a smooth-running workshop

Use this

I’ve facilitated workshops for many years now, and while I’m always tweaking activities, structure, materials etc., it’s rare that I come across something that completely shakes up my practice.

But since I’ve started doing this **ONE SIMPLE TRICK** I’ve noticed huge returns on investment. Our workshops run smoother, we achieve our goals more reliably, and best of all, there’s no longer any unexpected surprises on workshop day.

It’s real simple, everyone can do it, here it is:

Call people and talk to them prior to the workshop.

That’s it. Get folks on the phone for a conversation ahead of time and you can eliminate 90% of the problems that knock…


In our workshops, we tend to start with an activity centered around two questions — 1) What problem are we trying to solve?; and 2) How do we measure success?

The first question is for context. We work in a variety of industries, from pharma to math education to leadership coaching to trucking logistics, and asking about problems is the best shortcut to understanding the true needs of the business.

The second question is for focus. A lot of the problem-solving talk revolves around pain points, issues with current workflows, market needs, etc., …


For the first time I can recall, I actually made a New Year’s resolution this year. Don’t give me too much credit — I stole it.

At an NYE party, a friend asked what people’s resolutions were for the upcoming year. “If you only make resolutions once per year, you’ve got to cut down your cycle time,” I scoffed.

My experience is that a “one year” timeframe is hopelessly ineffective for any type of behavior change. Daily or weekly is the way to go for most of the common resolutions people make. …


Ever find yourself saying “We did the research, but nothing changed”?

Ever had this happen? You conduct a research study or usability test, only to find that no one can agree on how to interpret the results. Or the team agrees on the interpretation, but can’t decide how to move forward. People get frustrated. Loud arguments break out. Should you conduct another study? Or will that just waste more resources? How can we make sure our research has the right impact?

^ Don’t worry, you won’t need to actually use this equation

As a former math guy, I take any opportunity to spread the word about “simple powerful” quantitative ideas — math theorems or facts that may be complicated or technical in…


Get out of a creative rut with this simple technique.

With any creative work, it’s important to shake up your process now and then. When we initially start work on a project, we do a lot of white-boarding, sketching, etc. as generative exercises. But as time goes by and the work becomes more defined, we often find ourselves doing more pixel-pushing alone in front of a screen. To get out of our own heads and stay innovative, as well as to attack more specific design problems, we’ve adopted a 4-step process we call “Design Teardowns.”

When to use this

After the early definition work, once initial concepts have been created and you are trying…


I’m planning my first talk at a design conference and am doing what every “first time” speaker does — desperately hoping I don’t screw it up.

Picture this, except with me at the podium covered in flop-sweat

Fortunately, I’ve had a lot of practice: As a classroom teacher, I was essentially giving 5 talks a day, 180 days a year, for 8 years, which comes out to around 7,200 talks, or around 6,000 hours of practice in front of a sometimes-hostile audience. So I spent a lot of time thinking about how to present effectively, how to engage an audience, how to motivate people to participate in collaborative tasks, etc.

As…


Facilitating without a whiteboard

“Uh, yes, I agree with whatever nonsense you all just said.”

Everyone who works in tech has been stuck at one time or another in the dreaded Remote Meeting Death Spiral. That’s when the people in your meeting disengage and start answering email, doing other work, getting on social media, writing snarky Medium articles, etc. instead of focusing on what’s being said. Whether or not they SHOULD be disengaging doesn’t matter at this point, because once enough people have disengaged, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy — your meeting has become useless and you’re wasting everyone’s time.

The Death Spiral has two main causes:

Cause 1: The meeting didn’t need to happen

This happens when you are addressing something that doesn’t…

Erik Johnson

Co-founder @ Purpose UX

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