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There is something we get really wrong about how we empathize with others.

Alright y‘all, I was hired by a pretty large tech company to help design a new “thing” for people working remotely. The project was running late, and the deadlines immutable, so I had to squeeze the assigned twenty five interviews into the shortest time possible. I had just enough time to do about two a day, so I could do it over two weeks.

The result was that by the second week I was miserable and angry, nearly all of the time. Unfortunately, my friends and family were taking the brunt of it. …


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From 90’s Bronx fashion, to corn in the 30’s, to the modern interview guide. This is about the power in deviating from the manual.

There is something very wrong with how we approach user research. If normal user research is a wild goose chase then we are about to go on a hunt, and we’ll have to go to some unlikely places.

In 1995 DeeDee Gordon created the L Report. It was one of the most ambitious, trendiest, reports on cool you could find.

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This is a colorized depiction of the L Report among other industry reports at the time.

On a given day, DeeDee would be in a shoe store in the Bronx asking a young kid wearing a North Face jacket, a Kiss T shirt, and black jeans, why they were into the DMX RXT shoe with the ice sole (which at the time was a girls shoe). What that kid likes then goes in as an entry into the L Report. The report has thousands of entries, spanning hundreds of pages. …


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the sarcastic audience member at your big performance. You knew it would be there. It sits in the front row, quietly, but you can see it sneer when you stumble and roll it’s eyes when you make a mistake. You have been practicing for this moment for such a long time. Failure grips it’s seat in anticipation as you get closer and closer to the one really difficult measure. It knows when you are about to start the hard part, and it is eager. When you are done it is silent. It doesn’t clap but stands up to play the song better. …


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Protestors adding on “Defund the Police” to the city-sponsored “Black Lives Matter” mural in Washington D.C.

Direct action is better than cultural appropriation. Scroll to the bottom for resources.

There is a podcast called “The Three Questions” hosted by Andy Richter. In it, he asks celebrities and funny humans 3 simple questions:

  1. Where did you come from?
  2. What did you learn?
  3. Where are you going?

These are really good questions. The first two are usually easier to answer. The last one is the hardest. Trying to answer the last one now, with the protests that are happening as a backdrop, highlights another inherent problem in our system.

George Floyd, a black man, was murdered by Derek Chauvin, a white police officer. …


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We are at the crux of “disruptive technology” and “the new normal.” How do we make sure that people are ready?

This story isn’t really about 5G nor is it about a real company. It is about math.

It is also about something human.

I was sitting in a meeting with Corp. We were discussing 5G. Corp is not actually named Corp, and we were not actually talking about 5G. It was all online, so naturally I had on a nice shirt and hoping that people would then extrapolate that to mean I had on nice pants too. I was in sweatpants and barefoot. Corp is headquartered in Silicon Valley so the nice shirt was probably not necessary. …


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This literary term pops up often in the design world but is rarely understood and often overlooked. That said it might just be the best tool for good design.

The first striking thing about “denouement” is that it has three vowels in a row. That is a clue to its French origins. Which means that it is pronounced: deh-noo-mon.

Back in the 18th century French country side the word meant to unknot. Duchesses and Marquises would attend masked balls in artful galleries of well-to-do palaces. Baroque music would be twinkling in the background. At the end of the evening, the extravagantly dressed French elite would dénouer (unknot) their masks and reveal themselves to the rest of the court.

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Masked Ball in the Hall of Mirrors — Nicholas Cochin, 1745

It was at the very end of the evening. Yet it was the most important. Who had Louis “The Beloved” XV been dancing with? Had he chosen wisely, or poorly? It was the moment of truth. …


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Image Credit: National Institute on Drug Abuse

What can we learn from the Iraq War about fighting COVID-19? One thing is that we are bad at learning.

A lot of what I am about to say is not going to come as a shock. We are a few weeks into quarantining from COVID-19. In the US, Dr. Anthony Fauci the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has appeared on T.V. more than a few times to spell out his message:

“Practice social distancing.”

“Wash your hands.”

“There must be a partnership between the states and the federal government.”

According to the television and the internet this is news. Yet this is not news. Dr. Anthony Fauci’s message has appeared many times over before. But I think we have a problem with learning it. …


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We all have our Jackie-Chan-screaming-“Whoooo aaaaaaaam IIIIIIIIII?”-from-the-top-of-a-mountain moments. [Image credit: Who Am I? — 1998]

Let’s be real for a second. We all put post-it’s on the wall, push pixels to make them perfect, have a photography section in the portfolio, or reference some ambitious side project (come on, everyone has at least considered it). The way we explain our work, and ourselves is primarily through buzzwords and labels. Our stories, about us, tend to start with “I’m a UX designer focused on user’s needs.” Sadly, sometimes that is also where these stories end. Now let’s go a step past that and figure out who it is we are. I truly believe that everyone has a unique perspective, and therefore has a story that only they can tell, which is what makes you interesting and noteworthy. Sometimes it’s tricky to put what that perspective is into words. …


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A majestic Jimi Hendrix (left) and an unflappable Dick Cavett (right) circa 1969

Never ask probing questions. Don’t even think about becoming genuinely curious about the people around you on a deep, anthropological level. Don’t pretend you want to. But let’s pretend that you do want to (for some reason), what would happen?

Well first of all you’d hear stories.

Second of all you’d begin to care about them.

And that’s it. Unless you work in the design industry, then you could also creatively inject a unique perspective into your work. Alright, so in conclusion you may want to sometimes ask strangers deep questions but only if you want those things. Actually, I’d say it’s super critical if you want to experience anything truly genuine, authentic, and full of personality. Only ask probing questions. …


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Here is the picture: A little while ago, a bank in one of the smaller African countries wanted to upgrade. They serve a lot of the villages in the country, but they aren’t the biggest bank. They don’t really do business outside of the country, but they would like to. All of the business is done by phone or in-person, where people would travel many hours just to cash a check. In one case a person had to walk 3 hours from their village to deposit a $10.00 check and then trek back. What to do?

I had a chance to help them out. …

About

Yuri Zaitsev

Is an ethnographer and designer who studies how people hold onto a quickly spinning world.

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