User Research Friday in San Francisco on 27th October

Some of us are putting together an informal half-day conference focused on what’s new and innovative with user research methods. The idea is to find out what cool ideas and methods others have been trying out, and share what we have been upto ourselves. Its a free half-day conference. We chose a Friday afternoon to make it easy for you to come by. The location is Bolt & Peters office in downtown San Francisco. The setting will be informal (there will be food and drinks!). And this will be followed by a cocktail hour at 5.30 PM.

Talks are 20 minutes long and will cover a wide range of topics related to trends in User Research. Speakers include Wendy Castleman from Intuit, Ravit Lichtenberg from HP, Lane Becker from Adaptive Path and more. Go to the User Research Wiki if you want to learn more or want to sign up.

It should be a fun afternoon. Look forward to seeing you there!

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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.

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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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Is MindCanvas a service or a tool?

mindcanvas logoThis question has cropped up a few times. The simple answer is: MindCanvas is a service that depends on a number of tools. Some we built, and then there are other tools we use to run the service. Its what market research companies call full service research – we understand your design question, we collaboratively create the study (using our templates etc.), we have contacts with panel companies if you need a specific type of sample… Once data gathering is complete, you get visualizations and all the data within a 1-2 days.

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Game never-ending with MindCanvas

mindcanvas logo One reason that its exciting to be finally out with MindCanvas is because of the feedback you receive. For a while now, MindCanvas was something we talked about with friends, but not a public forum (I think that its good to release early, but not so early that your design vision is not communicated yet).

One of the first few feedback /queries we have received is about MindCanvas as a never-ending game linked to from someone’s website or software. This is a model we have talked about on and off (and it’s interesting to see it come up so early in discussions).

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Game-like elicitation methods: A new approach to user research (or MindCanvas is live!)

For the past year, if someone asked me what I am upto – I told them consulting, which is the truth, but only half the truth. The other half, which has kept me up at night (both literally and figuratively) is MindCanvas. No, don’t click the url yet – first hear the story.

We started working on it a year ago, but I have been dreaming of it for a long time. It probably started with seeing the boredom in the eyes of my research subjects (sorry participants) in graduate school. And continued with consulting, with every computer-based study I ever did. We do qualitative research as well, but truth be told – everyone resorts to surveys, at some time or other. The idea of basing product decisions on bored respondents robotically checking HTML boxes and choosing dropdowns really bothers me.

So, what is the solution? A better survey application with some AJAX peppered in? No, we wanted to go far beyond that. Our goal was to reimagine what online research can be. MindCanvas was the answer (a side-note about the name: it satisfies my geeky desire for it to be something about the mind. The words “brain” & “neuro” were summarily rejected by the rest of the team!)

mindcanvas logo MindCanvas is a research service to help companies gather insights about customers’ thoughts & feelings. We use Game-like Elicitation Methods (GEMs) to let online users participate in answering the complex questions that you face in designing a product or service.

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