Week 44, Year 2018 —In Athens

In Athens for Athens Biennale

I visited Athens for five days with friends to attend the opening week of Athens Biennale. It was a beautiful experience and a fantastic time that I’m still processing and won’t get into here (or else this post will stay in the draft queue… hopefully, building the #weeknotes muscle means one day that I’ll be able to think/write/publish in one arc. Wishful thinking? Note to self to review in six months.)

Just one thing: walking into a panel discussion that was taking place in an old hotel on the first night hit me with a big wave of nostalgia. Between 2010–2012, I‘d been heavily involved in building out the digital presence for two of Japan’s biggest contemporary art events, Setouchi Triennale and Echigo Tsumari Art Triennale. Whether it be in rural Japan or the tumultuous capital of Greece — and for better or for worse — contemporary art shares a look and feel that’s instantly recognizable.

Read an interview with the curators: Stefanie Hessler, Kostis Stafylakis and Poka-Yio in Conversation

Stepping into an Arts School

I also had the good fortune to be in town for Poka-Yio‘s inaugural class at the Athens School of Fine Arts — the birth of his studio that will nurture generations of ASFA artists to come. Thanks for letting me take part, and put a few design thinking concepts on the table!

Week 42, Year 2018 — The ‘Phone a Friend’ Option

Week 42, Year 2018 — The ‘Phone a Friend’ Option

Spurred by this informative article about different approaches to documenting your week — thank you Sam Villis! — I’ve decided to give it a go here on Medium. A week seems like a reasonable cadence to reflect and write about ideas, conversations and encounters of interest.

Alright yes, week 42 was three weeks ago… but it was a really good week so I’m unceremoniously batch-posting three weeknotes in a row to kick things off 😅

Weeknote styles

Steve Messer recently posed a question to the weeknotes community: “Is there a list of formats, #weeknotes crew? Let me know!” So that got me thinking…. We all have a slightly different way of going about this thing that we are doing, and it might be a useful exercise to document some of the formats used, so if you’re thinking of starting to write you can find something here that might work for you.

The ‘Phone a Friend’ option

I had two occasions to reach out to friends for professional advice. It’s not my natural instinct to pick up the phone like that, and I was amazed at the boost it brought 🚀 — from the timely and relevant information, of course, but also from the exchange of energy with people that I don’t get to spend enough time with.

  • Asked for a crash course in an unfamiliar domain to help sharpen my point of view for a client assignment. I had a few hypotheses but didn’t have the context to have confidence in them or the time to research a whole new field, so it was great to get a sense check from someone who plays at the top level of that domain.
  • Asked for advice on how to position myself in an unsettling dynamic with a new collaborator. Honestly, just asking for time from someone whose instincts I trust calmed me down. Our conversation started with my ‘problem’ and quickly expanded to future-forward topics.

Both calls were so easy to organize — I just had to ask — and because they were ‘business’ conversations, we hung up after 60 minutes. Why don’t I do this more often? And you, reader, are very welcome to ask for calls, too 👍

The sprawling global networks of Communities of Practice

It was a particularly social week thanks to increased activity with a couple of CoPs, some recent, some not.

  • A call with Emma Boulton about teaming up to conduct the next batch of analysis as part of ResearchOps community initiatives. Having conducted two studies on the operational mechanisms of increasing the impact of UX research, the community has already produced several useful models, made available in the Medium publication. There’s still a lot of interesting data left on the table that I’m excited to dig into. More on that soon!
  • Dinner with a few members from the OuiShare community, from a daisy chain of I-want-you-to-meet-someone’s. These opportunities are so much fun — very light on small talk, even though you’re sitting in a restaurant with strangers. But they’re not really strangers, are they?
  • Follow-up conversations with people I met in San Francisco last week at Google’s Design Sprint conference. The atmosphere of the event and the high concentration of like-minded practitioners gathered there made each in-person exchange a rich one, which translates into a lot of post-conference activity. There’s a lot to learn from in how these connections unfold.

Communicating design approaches

Debating how design consulting services could be better provided is an ongoing thing in my day to day, and it’s sure to be a frequent topic in future weeknotes. Here are two particularly meaty questions that I chewed on with colleagues this week:

  • How might we (as a design studio) give confidence to a client who’s not familiar with design processes? Is there a simulated way to familiarize them on the journey?
  • How might we assess the needs of a new client who frames their challenge through the lens of customer experience, so that we can quickly establish an approach? Are there safe ways to avoid the “wait, this isn’t a service design (or whichever ‘type’ of design) problem” realization a few weeks into the project?

Week 43, Year 2018 — Preempting Getting Sick

Photo: Chasing the sunrise before a workshop. It was a pseudo-run, with quite a few pauses to take photos and checking the map to figure out how to get out of dead-ends.

Preempting getting sick

Between field research, workshop facilitation and conferences, I get to travel for work often. I love it but it’s incredibly easy to get sick and worse, for that sickness to drag on.

In the past few years I’ve been trying to be more consistent about my efforts to avoid catching anything, as well as chasing away any hint of oncoming sickness. This week I was in four different cities and am pretty happy with how I managed that self-care part. Proven tricks:

  • Pack running shoes and use Strava to find safe routes to explore the neighborhood. I don’t actually like running but I know that if I can manage at least one run during a trip, I’ll feel much better.
  • Insist on eating well and at the right time. No skipping breakfast, no midnight kebabs, no candy bars from the machine etc.
  • Carry snacks and a thermos. A bag of trail mix saved me when traveling with people who have lower metabolism than me. The thermos is for hot drinks. Hot drinks have magical powers.
  • Take a soak in the bath whenever there’s a bath tub. This is like a hot drink except it works outside-in. A long soak the night before a 6am flight made my 3hrs sleep feel like 7.5hrs… 🙄

Starting to plan community events for the winter

I’ll be in Tokyo and Singapore for five weeks around New Years for my usual mix of holiday and work. There are a couple of events that I’d like to organize, and it was time for the planning to start!

Johnny Linnert and I will run 1–2 events for our new researcher community in Tokyo — to be announced soon — and I’m dreaming of a public speaking workshop for the Ride The Lightning community that I’d also aim to run in Singapore if I can find a host organization.

Tomomi Sasaki on Twitter

We had a fantastic #WhatisResearchOps workshop in Tokyo, exploring #ResearchOps as one way to scale the impact of #userresearch. Thanks so much to partner in crime @JohnnyLinnert, and to everyone who came out. Loooved all the exchange. Wow💃

The researcher community idea was inspired by the success of the ResearchOps workshop that we ran this summer.

Improving tooling for AQ

Thoughtfully chosen tools, introduced with the right level of processes, are critical to maintaining a well-oiled team. It’s been awhile since there was a new one important enough to add to our company toolkit but this week I worked on:

  • Did a walk-through of a recent research project that used Dovetail, which I’m aiming to establish as our tool of choice for collaborative note-taking and analysis.
  • Organized our scattered paid and expired trial accounts for a proper team account on Mural, which is a really versatile tool that I think we can get more use out of.
  • Introduced a way to create blueprint posters with printed out stickies.