It’s a rare book that makes me nearly miss my subway stop. I often read technical material on my commute from the Staten Island Ferry to my office on 39th Street, and I usually find myself yawning as I plod through another tiresome report. Not with this book, though! More than once, I looked up just in time to jump through the closing doors at 42nd Street. I find the book compelling because it’s international, based on experience, business oriented, and practical, and it has videos.
The videos aren’t in the book itself, of course, but you can use QR codes to access them on your smartphone or, if that doesn’t work for you, by using the companion Web site (http://itsourresear.ch/).
The book is definitely international, with mini-essays by usability practitioners from all over the world (the videos are international as well). This produces a wide variety of contexts and highlights some interesting parallels. For example, Takashi Sasaki from Japan talks about creating an elegant book of research findings (p. 168), while Filip Healey and Roland Stahel in the UK talk about hiring a professional illustrator to communicate designs and user requirements throughout the design process (p. 182). Visual approaches like these are uncommon in the US, but it’s easy to see how they might be helpful here as people become more visually oriented (from TV, games, and so on).
The information is based on bitter experience. Tomer Sharon has worked in Israel and the US--most recently at Google in New York City--and it seems that he has taken a lesson from every project in which he was involved. For example, in a section titled “Present to Your Biggest Critic” (pp. 176-177), Sharon explains how he stopped getting blindsided by a particularly critical team member during team meetings:
Being insulted is a choice, I believe. [...] I tried to think of a way to change things for the better ... and I found it. When the results of my next study were ready and I was about to present them, I asked that developer if he was willing to be the first person to see the presentation and make it better. He was happy to do it.
The result? Better presentations and the critic eventually bought into what Sharon was trying to do.
The author understands the world of business. The most interesting part of chapter 1 is “The Lean Startup Movement” section. This features the principle of the minimum viable product (MVP), or the minimum thing that has to be developed to find out if a product development plan is correct. For example, if you want to find out if a software product has legs, create a one-page mockup with a big download button and see if anyone clicks it. If not, start again with a different idea. “The lean startup approach calls for changing what companies do from making stuff,” says Sharon, to learning how to create a sustainable business. A lean entrepreneur tests prototypes with customers, learning from them what works well and changing to meet their needs. This is exactly what usability and user-experience practitioners already try to do, so it’s good to see the ideas broadened to product development overall.
Sharon also provides many practical suggestions. For example, on page 50, he lists five questions to ask all stakeholders before the first team meeting. On pages 90-92, he describes 12 types of research methodologies you can use in your own meetings with stakeholders. On page 117, he talks about taking groups of software engineers on “Field Fridays,” periodic 90-minute visits to the offices of selected customers. On pages 130-137, he describes the KJ technique, in which a group of experts analyzes a set of data and compiles reports. The experts then read each other’s reports and rewrite their own. The rewritten reports are far more comprehensive and accurate than the originals. On page 146, he offers one of my most favorite hints: credit and thank people--not just one-to-one, but in reports and presentations and when talking about the research with other people.
Sharon also provides report structures (pp. 154-157); suggestions for executive summaries (for example, include three positives, not just areas needing improvement) (p. 161); ideas on how to run a research expo (pp. 192-195); and a discussion of Tullis and Albert’s lostness metric (pp. 196-197), which uses a scale between zero and one to measure how lost users get when trying to complete a task.
With all these valuable nuggets of information studding every chapter, it’s no wonder I lost track of where I was on the subway. So consider yourself forewarned: you may lose track of both time and space with this book!