The rhythms of research with MindCanvas

Since launching MindCanvas, just over six months ago, my life has kind of been overtaken by that (typical with startups I am told). You learn to live from crisis to crisis (sometimes the server crashes, sometimes a customer wants a major change in the system right now! You move heaven and earth within your little organization to do it, and present it nonchalantly the next day.) Personally, I have also started thinking of myself as an entrepreneur as much as a researcher and designer. Its been an exciting ride, and inspired by a posting by the founder of Riya describing the last few months at his startup, I am going to start writing more about the last 180 days with MindCanvas.

MindCanvas TreeSort Interface

To begin, apart from the excitement of life in a startup, what I am enjoying the most is having a ringside view of how research happens in the real world. Let me confess, I am a research methods junkie. What fascinates me are ways to understand people. Doing good design is partly about getting the right picture of users. What are good ways of doing that? What methods are used at what time in the design cycle. With MindCanvas, I have learnt a lot about the rhythms of research – what type of research people do, at what stage of design.

The first thing you notice is what methods are popular during what part of the design cycle. Currently, MindCanvas offers four main methods: OpenSort, TreeSort, Divide-the-dollar, and FreeListing (with three more methods almost ready to be introduced). My observations are based on that, though I do have a sense of what other methods are being used at that stage).

6 months ago, I had made a guess as to what methods we most expected to be popular. This is what I had predicted: OpenSort, followed by Divide-the-dollar.

Of course, I was completely wrong…

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Yahoo Answers looking for lead designer

I don’t generally post job positions on my blog, but this seems to be at the intersection of two themes of this blog (Social Software and Design) and so of possible interest to readers. I have spent some time looking at Yahoo Answers recently, and I must say I am intrigued. In a sense, it seems like a larger (which I am addicted to), except with a larger, more diverse community and pockets of groups, rather than one large group. Unlike many of the other cool Yahoo social sites (, & upcoming), its actually built in house, and rebuts the notion that Yahoo is just buying the cool social software startups.

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Of gender differences in text messaging

text message length Last night’s BayCHI had three fascinating talks on mobile phone usage. Here are my notes from the first talk which was an entertaining discussion of findings from a research project on mobile phones and culture (I hope to post notes from the other talks shortly). SImeon Yates from the Sheffield Hallam University (I reveal my geographic ignorance by mentioning that I had to look up the UK map to find out where that is) described a study on gender differences in text messaging.

The most interesting finding was the length and content of messages based on gender of sender and recipient. This graph (showing number of characters in text messages) about sums it up (graph and example messages are shamelessly borrowed from Simeon’s talk).

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