User tests as a proxy for seeing through the eyes of a designer

Only pic I had.... that's Will, not Eiko.
Only pic I had…. that’s Will, not Eiko.

Last week, I had an exciting experience with a user test. It was a paper prototype test of a new online service with Eiko, AQ’s graphic designer. She was the most experienced testee out of half a dozen sessions. Come to think of it, this might have been the first user test that I conducted where the testee knew what a user test was. (Are there special protocols for that!?)

We did a scenario-based test where more screens were revealed to the user as time passed. Having been on the other side of the table before, Eiko knew exactly how to verbalize her stream of consciousness in a way that gave the most insight. She would share her immediate emotion and reaction, and then answer “why did I think that?” without being prompted. She basically did the user test on herself!

The way that Eiko was able to reverse engineer her reactions was eye-opening to me. With a designer’s ability to articulate the cause and effect of the visual design and copy, those 20 minutes of her talking out loud gave me a look into how a designer processes information.

Later on, I experimented with a silent user test on myself, with the first experience for an online service that I’d been meaning to try. I mentally recorded my stream of consciousness, and then backtracked to identify what it was that induced that thought or action. I found myself picking out interface details that I would have glossed over otherwise. More interestingly, some of those small discoveries connected in my mind as applicable design solutions for an unrelated service that I’d been thinking about lately.

Asking yourself “why did I think that?”, is a simple way to dig one level deeper. That in itself isn’t a novel idea, but somehow it clicked, in the shape of a user test.

Tokyo Art Beat is going to MuseumNext 2012

It all started last January, when we found out that Jim Richardson was a guest speaker at the Digital Creative Conference, a two day conference at Academy Hills organized by the British Council. SumoJim was coming to Tokyo! The conference was great (we hope the BC does another one soon), especially the spirited discussions of the panel sessions. Actually, Paul and I were so inspired that we sneaked out to Starbucks to start sketching some new web service ideas. And then kind of talked our way into the after party.

As exciting as it would have been, flying to Dublin – where MN was held in 2011 – for a conference would have been a bit much. Paul started saying that we should present if we’re going to attend… and so, that’s why in December of the same year, we answered the call for papers.

Fast forward a few more weeks, and we received the happy news. MuPon will have a 15 minute slot for a presentation at the MuseumNext 2012 in Barcelona!

There’s some literature on MuPon on the Tokyo Art Beat blog and other media, but it’s 90% in Japanese – a situation that we will remedy in the upcoming months.

I’m posting the proposal here on my blog, for starters.

MuseumNext 2012
MuseumNext 2012

Title MuPon: a paid service to foster repeat visitors and an art-going lifestyle

Authors Paul Baron and Tomomi Sasaki (GADAGO NPO)

Summary MuPon is an iPhone application that distributes admission discounts from the best museums in Tokyo, Japan. Launched in Dec 2010 by the non-profit organization GADAGO, MuPon has served information and discounts for more than 200 exhibitions to a growing user base of 10,000 art fans.

Discount as a dirty word: Our internal philosophical struggle with the dissonance between discounts and cultural experiences led to a more developed concept of MuPon being a friendly nudge to visit museums on a more regular basis. Being digital enables ongoing content delivery and deeper integration with a chatty online community, as opposed to the sporadic, standalone experiences of traditional paper discount tickets.

From online to offline: Building an online community around a mobile tool while collaborating with museums to work out the real world operations of the ticket counter has led to new ideas that complement peripheral activities in the museum.

It’s a product: While most marketing initiatives are budgeted projects, MuPon was designed to be a sustainable business. We applied product management tools from the tech startup world such as AARRR!!! (acquisition, activation, retention, referral, revenue) to the cultural domain.

MuPon acts as a conduit for increased engagement before, during and after an exhibition, in order to bring museums and art goers closer. As a 3rd party platform, it’s also a low-risk testing ground for cultural institutions to experiment with yet unproven digital marketing initiatives. By sharing our experiences, we hope to inspire the audience to look around for low-risk opportunities with partner services, new ways that digital tools can induce ongoing participation, and digital opportunities that support the act of museum-going while balancing the practicalities of operational implications at your museum.

Related links

Strolling Down My Tokyo Art Beat Memory Lane

Tokyo Art Beat just had its 7th anniversary and we threw a big party to celebrate. I’m blown away. The seventh anniversary! I joined the TAB family within a year of launch, so that’s around six years for me. It’s basically most of my adult life. Feeling incredibly thankful and a little nostalgic, I wanted to jot down how I got here.

Here, is sharing office space with the industrious TAB staff, singing birthday songs and quibbling over furniture. Here, is at AQ, bringing planning and marketing power to TAB services. Here, is on the board of its mothership, the Gadago NPO, scheming and dreaming the next leg of our journey. And here, is with a fabulous group of friends who come together to make things happen, and have a blast doing so.

Note: These gorgeous photos were taken by Tomoyuki Ishida, our Art Map photographer extraordinaire. More will be available on our Facebook page and TABlog report soon. Very soon.

Tokyo Art Beat 7th Anniversary Party
Tokyo Art Beat 7th Anniversary Party
Tokyo Art Beat 7th Anniversary Party
Tokyo Art Beat 7th Anniversary Party
Tokyo Art Beat 7th Anniversary party
Tokyo Art Beat 7th Anniversary party

My first contact with the TAB team was way back in 2005. I was looking to join something fun online that would take me out of my isolated university campus up in the mountains in Kanagawa.

I started as a data entry volunteer before quickly switching to Japanese-to-English translation, and became an Editor in April 2006 when TAB registered as a non-profit organization. TAB set up shop in a shared office for creatives, and you can’t imagine what an eye-opening experience it was to be surrounded by highly independent people who were extremely passionate about what they were doing. I’d probably be stuck in a cubicle now somewhere if it hadn’t been for those encounters.

The gazillion TAB event pages that I entered and translated were actually my very first foray into publishing content on the world wide web. Imagine that!

Fast forward a few years, while I graduated college and started working as an engineer. Disappeared into a black hole for a while. In August 2009, I joined AQ and naturally got more involved with TAB projects, just through physical proximity (and nosiness). Add seniority to the mix, and I joined the board in the summer of 2011.

A post on what’s happening there will come in a few weeks 🙂

Every time I meet a new TAB intern who’s a college student, I can’t help but think “OMG I was your age when I first started”. Actually, I say it. And feel really, really old. (Yes, I should probably stop saying it.)

Tokyo Art Beat 7th Anniversary Party
Tokyo Art Beat 7th Anniversary Party
Tokyo Art Beat 7th Anniversary Party
Tokyo Art Beat 7th Anniversary Party
Tokyo Art Beat 7th Anniversary Party
Tokyo Art Beat 7th Anniversary Party

Back to the party. A few hundred people that have loved and supported Tokyo Art Beat over the years in so many different ways, coming out on an autumn evening to see old friends and make new ones… truly, what could be better?

I feel a bit embarrassed to lay it all out like this. Thanks for reading my totally gratuitous stroll down memory lane!

If you haven’t already, why don’t you…

Tokyo Art Beat 7th Anniversary Party
Tokyo Art Beat 7th Anniversary Party
Tokyo Art Beat 7th Anniversary Party
Tokyo Art Beat 7th Anniversary Party
Tokyo Art Beat 7th Anniversary Party
Tokyo Art Beat 7th Anniversary Party

Event notes: Study group “Lean UX Redux”

I went to Mixi’s office to attend “Lean UX Redux” [ja], organized by ShibuyaUX.

Inspired by Lean and Agile development theories, Lean UX is the practice of bringing the true nature of our work to light faster, with less emphasis on deliverables and greater focus on the actual experience being designed. Learn more.

ShibuyaUX is a study group consisting of UX people from the big domestic web service providers – Mixi, Rakuten, Gree, GMO etc. The group manages to cross the hurdle of being competitors by being a study group focusing on improving practitioner skills. They’re pretty active and have some kind of event every month or so, which is really great, since there’s no centralized hangout for digital agencies in Tokyo, online or offline.

After the after party
After the after party

In the first hour, four people presented their impressions and findings from Janice Fraser’s Lean UX workshop at ONLab a few months ago.

Presentation material here (all Japanese):

We split up into groups in the second hour and discussed how we could use Lean UX in our work, and then wrapped up with a quick presentation from each team. Long answer short, no one is quite sure!

How do you apply Lean UX in large organizations?

The main focus of our discussions turned out to be how everyone’s company is basically too big, too political or non-agile for Lean UX. And/or, our understanding of it is too shallow to be able to apply the approach in an effective way.

Is Lean UX possible within a waterfall dev culture? Okay, this wasn’t the way the question was asked, but it sums up the situation that many of the participants are in. Or maybe the question was really, what do you do when the UX team is struggling to attain influence within the organization?

“User centered design? We do CEO centered design!” It’s funny, but just for a second. Well, not even.

How to share the success stories of Lean UX with your boss, who has no UX experience This is related to the first topic and obviously not just a matter if Lean UX.

How to align existing user needs with long-term business strategy Someone asked, if management has ideas on business strategy that don’t align with spending a certain amount of resources on fixing the obviously-broken existing product, what’s a UX person to do?

We talked about how to show results and whatnot. I didn’t think my career management advice would be appreciated, so I bit my tongue. (Get on a team that’s working on a product that management gives a sh*t about :P)

How to apply Lean UX when there is already a backlog of development This one is quite interesting, since the question came from a small startup team that’s in the best position to try Lean UX, organization-wise. Not quite sure what the answer should be.

Lean UX Redux
Lean UX Redux

At the event, I got caught up in the whirlwind of organizational issues (because I certainly understand the bothersome constraints!) and then went home grumbling to Chris that it was the exact same conversation we had about agile development a few years ago.

Now that I’ve written up a lot of the discussion points, I think a majority of these concerns can be addressed fairly easily, by agreeing on KPIs with management. KPIs are the common language of the entire company – that’s the whole point! How you reach those KPIs is up to the UX team and then you sell, sell, sell internally.

Let’s put aside Lean UX for a moment, since whether there’s anything new here is up for debate… UX people should be focusing on KPIs more, period.

Update: Here’s a good reference! In Lean UX is not just for lean startups, Jeff Gothelf explains how large companies and agencies can benefit from the lean approach.

All in all

This was my first real foray into the “local” discussions about user experience and I’m very curious to see what else is out there.

I think the scene could really use more hands-on events! Talking is good and all, but I’d be down for rolling up my sleeves and tacking real/fake problems with people from different companies to swap tricks and share best practices. Something to think about for AQ

New Context Conference 2011 Fall
New Context Conference 2011 Fall

Speaking of AQ, our very own Chris Palmieri will be speaking at the next New Context Conference, which has been titled “Lean Startup Camp Tokyo”. It’s on November 3rd and he’s joining a panel with Joi Ito (MIT Media Lab), Brian Flanagan (HyperTiny), and CJ Kihlborn (Elab).

I’ll probably be conked out at home since I’m returning from Berlin that day, but please do say hi to the AQ team if you’re going to be there!

Event notes: Fundraising for cultural organizations

Some quick notes from Miho Ito‘s talk on fundraising for cultural organizations, the 7th study group organized by the Museum Career Development Network [ja]. We heard some fascinating war stories from Ms Ito’s time as a campaign manager at the LA Philharmonic. They operate at a level that’s just unthinkable for a scrappy team like the Gadago NPO. Learning about fundraising from the POV of an established profession was really interesting, and obviously, there are many takeaways for an organization that’s more “f*ck, we’re running out of money”.

Additionally, the landscape is constantly changing and one needs to keep up on things such as law revisions on the loosened requirements for becoming eligible for NPO tax deduction status, and how that’s affecting NPOs in reality. (Ms Ito is a board member for the Japan Fundraising Association.)

Fundraising talk event with Ito Miho
Fundraising talk event with Ito Miho
  • Fundraising is dialing the intensity dial of your organization’s fans (This sentence works better in Japanese because “fund” and “fan degree” are homonyms.)
  • Four steps to fundraising: plan, plan, plan, ASK! There’s even a phrase called “The Ask”. I got the feeling that this was the fundraising equivalent of the Elevator Pitch.
  • Always talk about how your activities are changing society, not just about the activities themselves. Because we do great work, Because we run so-and-so program are NOT the ways you want to answer the question, “Why should I donate to your organization?”.
  • Strategize with the donor management cycle Moves Management [pdf].
  • Read more about cultivating individual donors in the Fundraising handbook for cultural organizations [ja, pdf], a research project funded by Toyota
  • Never forget to thank people for contributing something, and from multiple staffers if appropriate. A weekly administrative batch process is fine for paperwork but sending out thank you’s need to be done within 24-48hrs of the action.
  • Categorize your potential donors according to financial capability, distance with the organization, and interest. Keep an eye on celebrities, corporations, executives that might be interested in your cause.
  • Develop tiered programs for your donors, so anyone can participate in a way that’s comfortable to bo their financial capability and interests.
  • Privileges in donor programs such as newsletters, parties, face time with directors etc. are ways to communicate future activities, find out more about donor interets and in turn, can be the first step in asking for the next donation.
  • The best timing to ask for donations is when you are at least 80% that they will say yes. Not before.

All in all, it’s familiar theories applied in a slightly different context.

You and I would recognize most of the philosphy as

“normal” business development, sales, and CRM

methodologies and techniques.

Sure, it’s an over simplification but since we’re not going to get a professional fundraiser anytime soon – as with most small to mid sized NPOs in Japan, I would guess – it’s a bit reassuring for that fact to be highlighted, and perhaps the push I need to be more business-like about these things.

Note: I’d say that staff recruitment, workplace culture and community management have characteristics that are more unique to non-profits, but those topics didn’t come up in the talk.

I asked about volunteering and fundraising, and how it’s a bit difficult to ask for money from someone who already contributes time, especially if they’re students. Her answer was that everyone should get into the habit of asking (or rather, get people into the habit of donating), period. Here’s why:

  • Volunteers are already on board with your mission and are most likely to make a financial contribution.
  • Your organization should be creating on-ramps for different levels of financial contribution anyway.
  • People won’t be students forever! Financial capability usually goes up as time passes, so best start asking now, than have people expect things for free.
  • Consider developing programs where volunteer power can be channeled into fundraising efforts.

One last thing. Most of the audience was Hosei University students – I don’t know what their majors were but it was disappointing to see many of them nodding off and even leaving early. On the way out, I overheard several remarks that the talk was “really difficult”. Was it? Not quite sure, but then I don’t remember anymore…

What NOT to do on your tourism-related website

Into the mist
Into the mist

Keep old transportation schedules

Old bus schedules, old train schedules…. these are really confusing. Get rid of them.

How many times have we been fooled by an old PDF upload of a bus schedule? Trains are better because there are third party services that aren’t dependent on the original source.

Have multiple campaigns for the same discount

The early bird rate, the couples rate, the Internet reservation rate… Hotels, please stop promoting multiple campaigns for the same room.

Yes, we can tell by the automated vacancy count.

Announce events as they’re decided

Don’t get me excited about an event, only to discover that it’s happening one day before we arrive. Or worse, that the article was for the last year.

The blog format for announcing events doesn’t work. We’re only going to be there for a few days, give us an event calendar.

Assume that everybody can drive

As a non-driver, this is a pet peeve of mine. Sometimes, it requires lots of digging to find out if there is public transportation available. I’ve combed through dozens of old blog posts, trying to find evidence of people who reached the entrance of a particular hiking trail by bus.

Inconvenience can be overcome by certainty. If I can confirm that there’s a twice-a-day bus (plus a 25 minute walk, most likely!), I’ll head over.

Ignore other online presences

Does the local tourism board have a good introduction to your area? Don’t be shy, link to it! Is your facility easily influenced by the weather? Nudge the user to check a weather site. Does the major attraction in town have a regularly updated blog? Read it, because your visitors are probably reading it, too.

Just Blue
Just Blue