- Paperback: 248 pages
- Publisher: Rosenfeld Media (December 6, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1933820349
- ISBN-13: 978-1933820347
- Product Dimensions: 9 x 5.9 x 0.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #282,186 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries: User Research War Stories Paperback – December 6, 2016
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Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries is a fascinating, sometimes hilarious, and very revealing peek behind the curtain of user research. Read this book to understand the lengths to which researchers go to get the critical insights that today's businesses desperately need. --Denise Lee Yohn, author of What Great Brands Do
These behind-the-scene stories of researchers at work will enlighten and inspire you. --Scott Berkun, author of The Myths of Innovation
The stories Steve Portigal knits together here have an extraordinary and immediate intimacy, like listening in on 66 researchers' bedtime prayers. Anne Lamott says there are essentially three kinds of prayers: help, thanks, and wow! Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries covers the whole range, with humor and wisdom. --Dan Klyn, information architect, co-founder of The Understanding Group (TUG)
About the Author
Steve is the founder of Portigal Consulting. In the past 15 years he's interviewed families eating breakfast, rock musicians, home-automation enthusiasts, credit-default swap traders, and radiologists. His work has informed the development of music gear, wine packaging, medical information systems, corporate intranets, videoconferencing systems, and iPod accessories. He's an accomplished presenter who speaks about culture, innovation, and design at companies such as eBay, Adobe, Nokia, Hewlett-Packard, and Dolby Laboratories. Steve has lectured at Stanford University, Institute of Design, California College of Art, and UC Berkeley, and writes regularly on topics from interaction design to pop culture for Interactions, Core77, Ambidextrous, and Johnny Holland. He has a graduate degree in human-computer interaction from the University of Guelph and is an avid photographer who has a Museum of Foreign Groceries in his home.
Top Customer Reviews
There is so much pressure to be “right” as a consultant or in the corporate world but the world is messy and the best ideas and insights don’t always come from “being right” or “perfection” - this book is so human because it is a wonderful collection of stories of things that didn’t go as planned! The contributing authors of the war stories are putting themselves out there - putting aside their pride to share for the benefit of the collective. It is so refreshing. When conducting research for product development many things can go wrong - humans and travel are both unpredictable things. Sometimes you end up better off than anticipated, sometimes you have a setback, but no matter what you end up with a great story. Portigal has not only collected a wonderful set of war stories, but his insights and takeaways which tie the stories together are so thoughtful, poignant, and creative.
I recommend this book to anyone who is a (or works with) user researcher(s) in product development, and I especially recommend this book to those who are in product development but haven’t had the opportunity to work with user research. By reading this book you’ll get as close to first hand knowledge as possible about the discipline of user research, its many subtleties, and it is great importance in product development.
One of my favorite chapters has to be Chapter Four "Cracking the Code" because it is all about appreciating cultures even in their most subtle ways. One of my favorite byproducts of fieldwork is getting to learn about subcultures you never knew existed before those interviews.
First, focusing on the complications of doing ethnographic work provides a cathartic element for those who do it – we are not alone and indeed have a great deal to share with each other and the world. These are the stories we typically share over a glass of scotch at conferences and in boardrooms once they’ve emptied out. While those experiences should never be downplayed, they are limited and as such, a sense of isolation can occasionally set in. There is a release, a sense of shared dark humor and lessons learned in this book that are part of the collective ethnographic experience – seeing them presented in such a way provides a sense of community that can be lost in the day to day realities of trying to make a buck. These stories also provide a backdrop for the people who hire us, demonstrating that fieldwork is unpredictable, fluid, and sometime unsafe. And those are the things that make it so damn powerful. Insight is often generated at the moment when we cross into the unknown and War Stories captures this truth beautifully.
Second, this is more than a list of “watch outs”. Structurally, the book is beautifully organized, with each thematic section spelling out why it’s important and what you’ll find. It isn’t a jumble of collective cautionary tales, it categorizes them by type, which is important for a number of reasons. First, the sociopolitical realities of the field setting, which can produce challenges that are often overlooked in focus groups, surveys, etc. By organizing it in the context of the setting, the business challenge, etc., Mr. Portigal keeps the reader focused on the fact this these are more than tales of the field, they are learning moments. Second, the structure allows us to think beyond the individual ethnographer and contextualize the nature of the client relationship. It paints a fair picture of how what we do can at times be at odds with client perceptions. Third, the structure of the narrative lays bare the truth that the type of research being done has a huge impact on how we acquire and share knowledge – some settings and topics are simply harder to deal with than others. The challenges we encounter can be difficult, if not flat out dangerous. War Stories captures that reality and lays out simple but meaningful ways to cope with various situations. Simply put, each section and each chapter is summarized neatly, spelling out the take-aways, with a clear lesson to be learned.
Finally, the books is remarkably entertaining. While it may seem counterintuitive ethnography, as it is presented in the corporate setting, can often be dry. And yet the nature of the work (and the literary genre) is rich, moving, and compelling. Our stories often get lost in the drive to make something concise and palatable for our clients, and so the stories emerging from the work become something we share verbally only in the moment of the presentation or when we are alone with our fellow researchers. This is particularly true for ethnographers working in the private sector, who rarely see the totality of their work expressed in any kind of more richly descriptive prose. Because we’re hired to solve problems for people who are frequently disinclined to dig into the complexity of the fieldwork itself for reasons of time, interest, etc., the stories are often lost in favor of bullet points. These stories capture the drama, the emotional impact, and the intellectual challenges of the craft. Each one pulls you in and brings the experience, warts and all, to life.
Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries is well worth the read. Whether a practitioner, a consumer of ethnographic services, or someone simply interested in the discipline, Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries will keep you interested from cover to cover.