Tag Archives: tips

What’s Culture Got to Do With It?

In short, everything.

Does your work culture make it challenging for your team or organization to do great work? Well this could be the year you make it better. Have a look at this talk I gave at Fluxible 2013 about the role and impact of culture on organizations…and tips for improving yours.

Make Culture, Not War: The Secret to Great Teams & Organizations

If this talk inspires you, perhaps you and a few folks from your team/organization might want to check out our newly launched 1-day Designing Culture Master Class at Cooper. This training aims to help people intentionally approach their team or organizational culture – through a cultural assessment, visioning and goal-setting exercises, and development of a tactical plan to improve their culture (some of the topics I hits on in my talk below). I’ll be facilitating this workshop along with Susan Dybbs, Managing Director of Interaction Design at Cooper, in our San Francisco offices on Friday, January 31st.

We are also offering Designing Culture in-house training for organizations that would benefit from having a larger group (management, teams, etc) go through this process together. Contact us at cooperu@cooper.com for details.

What I’ve learned so far: A Sri Lanka brain dump

{A blog series about our 2 month honeymoon adventure through Sri Lanka & India. To read more, just type “honeymoon” in the search field to the right}


Crazy, but time just did that speeding up thing, and our journey in Sri Lanka is at a close. Zak and I now head to India. Here’s a quick rundown of things that stood out to me about Sri Lankan culture and getting around, for those of  you contemplating a trip:

People will give you a big smile – if you smile first. If they initiate, it’s because either they are curious about the foreigner (you) or because they want to sell you something you don’t want. Over time, you get better at figuring out which is which.

Many people speak basic English. If you speak English, you’ll be fine. You’ll also probably find yourself speaking broken, simple English when you return home for a few days, out of habit. Like, “What time bus?” or “Where toilet?”

Everyone loves President Obama (this includes all the traveling Europeans and Australians we met). When they find out you are American, they will ask if you love him, too. If you do, you’ll get smiles and responses like, “He good man.” You might even get a joyous fist in the air, like we did.

The island has a whopping EIGHT Unesco World Heritage sites. Sigiriya will blow your mind. I think it just might be the most compelling archeological site I’ve been to. Photos don’t really do it justice.

You’ll see a lot of monkeys, and that’s pretty cool. You’ll also see a lot of mangy, stray dogs, and that’s not as cool. For wild elephants (and a whole lot more), definitely go to the national parks.

The local buses are a really great way to get around. Surprisingly easy. Most times, you’ll get a seat. If you ask the bus driver to tell you where to get off, they usually will, which helps if you can’t read the road signs (though many are in English and Singhalese). Once in a while you’ll get a bus with exhaust that will make you gag the entire trip. But, usually, you’ll be just fine. You might even get to watch a movie on a flat screen while you ride. It happens.

The train between Ella and Kandy is an amazing way to see the mountain countryside and beautiful tea plantations. Don’t miss out on standing in the open doorways and leaning out to see all the other passengers who are doing the same.

Toilet on a train = a toilet with a hole that goes right out onto the tracks. If you’re on a train for six hours like we were, you’ll use it.

Sadly, there generally aren’t public trash cans. Most trash is burned or tossed on the ground.

However, they do have a great energy conservation practice: all power outlets have on/off switches, which they use. Why? (1) Electricity is expensive, and (2) during monsoons there are electrical storms. Apparently many people have been hit by lightening or had lightening literally come through their open windows. Most Sri Lankans turn off all their power outlets and lights during these storms. Some are nervous enough to turn off even their cell phones.

There is zilch, zero, zip graffiti, anywhere except the awesome murals by our new friend Alain Parizeau (Graphic Design professor at the Academy of Design in Colombo, Sri Lanka).

People make their own food here, so there isn’t much of a “restaurant scene” in small towns. If you do go to a restaurant and want an authentic Sri Lankan meal, you have to tell them in advance (i.e.: earlier in the day) because they make it just for you. This takes a minute to get used to because it requires planning, on your part. Also, try the curd and treacle (Made of buffalo milk and something that tastes like honey, but isn’t. Apparently there are two kinds, made of either coconut or kithul). They don’t refrigerate the curd before use, but we haven’t gotten sick from it. They store it in these clay pots (this batch was transported on our bus):

The guest houses cater to Western food tastes. Unfortunate. Personally, if I wanted spaghetti or sandwiches, I’d just stay home. But, I guess there must be a lot of travelers who do want spaghetti because, I swear, every guest house we went to had the same menu – dominantly Western. Sigh.

The tuk-tuks (a three wheeled scooter with a back seat, a roof, and open sides) are everywhere, a great form of transport, and are individualized with funny sayings like “Still water runs deep” or “Don’t waste time”. It’s entertaining to watch for and collect these phrases. You need to negotiate with these guys, and if you’re in Colombo, insist on a metered ride (likely quite a few will refuse you, just keep looking till you find a willing someone).

Hinduism and Buddhism seem to intermix and mingle. You’ll see imagery from both in temples and buses.

No shoes in temples. Even ancient crumbling down temple ruins that are no longer in use.

Don’t stand with your back to a Buddha sculpture and pose for a photo. Big no-no. In fact, it’s such a big no-no, it applies to tiny sculptures of people, too. I know this because I tried to take the photo below with our honeymoon mascot facing the camera. A guard reprimanded me, explained “no backs to Buddha”, and made me delete the photos. Then, an old man scowled at me and said, “Photo no good.” When I tried again, the appropriate way, the guard made me show him my new photos (he didn’t believe I listened to him). It all worked out, but I felt like an ass, because I actually know better. It just didn’t occur to me that the same rules applied to our little mascot. Now I know.

Explaining User Experience Design to High Schoolers (and Other New Audiences)

How do user experience designers tell their story in a relevant, meaningful way, to audiences who have no exposure to user experience design (UX)? UX practitioners are keenly aware that everything we use in our lives was designed by someone. But, outside of our industry (and related ones), most people aren’t aware of the many decisions that were made (or not made) on their behalf when a product or service was designed.

I starting exploring this issue about communicating the value of UX a little over a year ago in my podcast, Tea with Teresa. One of the highlights from my show was a conversation with Jesse James Garrett called “What the Heck Is User Experience Design??!! (And Why Should I Care?)“. That podcast laid a great foundation for explaining UX to new audiences. But, I decided I wanted to push the challenge of communication even further and see if I could explain user experience design to a particularly difficult audience: high schoolers. I figured if I could make UX meaningful and relevant to these kids, I could probably explain it to anyone.

So, I approached my friend Ben Chun about doing a presentation to his Introduction to Programming class at Galileo High School in San Francisco, CA. He thought this would be a great start to a project they’d embark upon this year: designing an educational computer game for 5th graders. My goal was to prepare them for that project by communicating two key things:

1. Make things for people.
2. Those people aren’t you.

Before the class, Ben warned me about the attention span of his students, and boy was he right. The thing about high school kids is they won’t pretend to be interested if you’ve lost them. Adults at a conference will gaze forward in your general direction, but high school kids will just put their head on the table and go to sleep. If you ever want to get a real gauge of how interesting a speaker you are (or how well you’re really communicating), I highly recommend it, humbling as it is.

Not everything I tried worked (I got some heads on the table a few times), but a few tactics and explanations seemed to strike a chord with them, and I thought I’d share them here with you:

1. Funny examples of design failing out in the world (from FailBlog.com)

2. Interacting with a product or service should feel like a good conversation.
Who wants to deal with a person or thing that acts like this when you interact with it:

(Ignores you)

(Is self-absorbed)

For an adult audience I would have used a date as an example — an idea I got from Jesse James Garrett – but since high school kids don’t really go on formal dates (or so their teacher told me!), I changed it to a conversation.

3. Before you make something, learn about the people who will use it.
Otherwise, it’ll feel and turn out like:

Trying to buy a present for someone you don’t know (like your uncle’s boss).

Making dinner for someone you don’t know (What if they are vegetarian but you made steak?).

4. People like and need different things.
So it’s important to find out what those wants and needs are. For example, during Rachel Hinman’s project “90 Mobiles in 90 Days”, her niece designed a mobile phone with the features she really wanted, like:

1. Snail button that turns into Barbie when pushed
2. Screen with swimming pool inside
3. Snow White always attached by golden string
4. A red button that when pushed, makes the phone turn into anything
5. Snow White store and candy store attached

Key point: Not everyone wants a snail button that turns into Barbie!

5. The user is not you, so don’t design for yourself.
Activity to show how different we are:
1. Three people are asked to leave the room and are not told why.
2. One at a time they are invited back in, asked to sit and close their eyes, then asked to describe the room in detail.
3. The rest of the class takes note of how each person values/pays attention to very different things.

6. Finding out what the user really wants or needs (user research)
Sticky note activity:
1. Everyone gets a sticky note pad and has 5 minutes to write as many questions as they can for the potential users of a pretend product they are making.
2. Post all questions on a wall together, cluster questions that are about the same topic, discuss, and agree upon a key set of 10 questions.

Turns out the kids loved the race to write as many questions as they could in a time limit. Ben said you almost never have a room of focused, quiet teenagers like we had during that activity. He also wrote about this exercise on his blog, And It Moves: Adventures In Teaching and Technology.

Those are some of the highlights from my attempt to make the complex simple for an audience that had never heard of user experience before. I learned a lot about which of my explanations really make sense to others. And as I continue in this exploration of communicating UX, I’d love to expand my tool kit by hearing about exercises, analogies, and other approaches any of you have had success with! Please share here!

Couch Surfing

Getting to Know the World through a Stranger

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Download podcast here

An interview with Dan Hoffer, founder of CouchSurfing.com and Brenda Burnside, couch surfing host
Show Length: 16 minutes

When I made my way to Costa Rica for the first time, I wanted to get under its skin to get a sense of what life is really like there. So, I tapped into an international network of people who open their homes to travelers called Couch Surfing. I figured if I stayed with a local who really knew the culture, I’d have a far more rich experience than a tour book could bring. In this podcast, I share that first couch surfing experience with you through conversations with Dan Hoffer, one of the founders of CouchSurfing.com and Brenda Burnside, my couch surfing host. Along the way, you’ll see how this experience profoundly altered my perspective about how to explore new places…

Wanderlust and Lipstick: The Essential Guide for Women Traveling Solo by Beth Whitman