• Big Design Conference – Select a session you’d be interested in seeing, and explain to us why…
  • Refresh Dallas – Refresh is a community of designers and developers working to refresh the creative, technical and professional aspects of new media endeavors in the Dallas area
  • Dallas MakerSpace 501(c)(3) – We use community and donated resources to collaborate on individual and community projects in order to promote science, technology and art; while working and experimenting on innovative ideas to encourage learning within our community.

In-Class Exercise

Part 1: Finding good/bad type selections

Break up into groups of two. You must partner with someone you haven’t met yet, or don’t know well.

  1. Using either websites, or Google Images, select one example of typographic design that you think is “good” and one that you think is “bad.”
  2. Post your link to the Lab Time channel in Slack, and be prepared to verbally present and critique these pieces for the class.

Try to stay away from phrases that use “I like.” Rather, be specific and use phrases such as: “This is good typography because the type style effectively communicates the subject,” or “This is an effective use of negative space to balance the typography, thus providing a visual rest or pause in the layout.”

Recommended Reading – Typography

4-1: Problem Hypothesis (User-Centered Design: Guerilla Discovery )

Design Cycle

Whenever you are constrained on budget, data, and input, you need to be flexible and crafty in how you conduct discovery research. But you can’t skimp on rigor and thoroughness.

If the idea you exit the discovery phase with isn’t any good, your big launch could turn out to be a business-ending flop.

Tonight I’ll take you through a discovery research cycle, but apply it towards a (fictitious) startup idea, not unlike the websites you are working on.

I’ll introduce strategies for conducting discovery research with no budget, existing user data, or resources to speak of. And I’ll show how the research shapes the business going forward.

The Problem Hypothesis

How do you know when you have a problem worth solving? Sometimes it can be more like hiking through the woods and searching for the next blaze mark on the trail. Your ideas are likely based on personal experiences and gut instincts.

When your ideas are based on personal experiences, assumptions, and instincts, it’s important to realize they need a higher-than-average level of tire-kicking. You need to evaluate the question “Do I have a problem worth solving?” with a higher level of rigor than you would at a company with budget to spare and a wealth of existing data. You need to take all of your ideas and assumptions and examine them thoroughly. And the best way to examine your ideas and categorize your assumptions is with a hypothesis.

We do discovery research when we may have an idea that there is a problem worth solving, but we don’t yet know the scope or critical details. Articulating our instincts, ideas, and assumptions as a problem hypothesis lays a foundation for the research moving forward.

Here is a general formula you can use to write a problem hypothesis:

Because [your assumptions and gut instincts about the problem], users are [in some undesirable state]. They need [your solution idea].


Because their business model relies on advertising, social media tools like Facebook are deliberately designed to “hook” users and make them addicted to the service. Users are unhappy with this and would rather have a healthier relationship with social media tools. They would be willing to pay for a social media service that was designed with mental health in mind.

You can see in this example that my assumptions are:

  • Users feel that social media sites like Facebook are addictive.
  • Users don’t like to be addicted to social media.
  • Users would be willing to pay for a non-addictive Facebook replacement.

These are the assumptions I’d be researching and testing throughout the discovery process. If I find through my research that I cannot readily affirm these assumptions, it means I might not be ready to take on Mr. Zuckerberg just yet.

The benefit of articulating our assumptions in the form of a hypothesis is that it provides something concrete to talk about, refer to, and test. Once we’ve completed the research and analyzed the results, we can edit the hypothesis to reflect our new understanding of our users and the problems we want to solve.

Submit for credit: Using the above format, write your problem statement for your website, and how it fulfills the needs of your users.

Now that we’ve articulated a problem hypothesis, it is time to figure out our research plan. In the following two sections, I’ll cover the research method I recommend the most for projects like this, as well as strategies for recruiting participants on a budget.

A method that is useful in all phases of design: interviews

In my career as a user researcher, I have used all sorts of methods. I’ve done A/B testing, eye tracking, Wizard of Oz testing, think-alouds, contextual inquiries, and guerilla testing. But the one research method I utilize the most, and that I believe provides the most “bang for the buck,” is user interviews.

Your objective is to gain an understanding of all aspects of the problem your potential customers face—the bad and the good. One common mistake is to spend too much time investigating what’s wrong with the current state of affairs. Naturally, you want your product to fix all the problems your customers face. However, you also need to preserve what currently works well, what is satisfying, or what is otherwise good about how users accomplish their goals currently. So it is important to ask about both in user interviews.

Interviews provide a wealth of information and can be used in every phase of research and design. Interviews are especially useful in discovery, because it is a method that is adaptable. As you learn more about the problem you are trying to solve, you can adapt your interview protocol to match.

To be clear, your interviewees will not tell you:

  • what to build
  • how to build it

But they absolutely can tell you:

  • what problem they have
  • how they feel about it
  • and what the value of a solution would mean to them

And if you know the problem, how users feels about it, and the value of a solution, you are well on your way to designing the right product.

Questions To Ask

Tip 1: always ask the following two questions:

  1. “What do you like about ________?”
  2. “What do you dislike about ________?”

Fill  ________ with whatever your future product will improve.

For example, in my interviews when I was working on a social media site, I always asked, “What do you like about using Facebook?” And it wasn’t until my interview participant told me everything they enjoyed about Facebook that I would ask, “What do you dislike about using Facebook?”

Tip 2: after (nearly) every response, ask them to say more.

The goal of conducting interviews is to gain an exhaustive set of data to review and consider moving forward. That means you don’t want your participants to discuss one thing they like and dislike, you want them to tell you all the things they like and dislike.

Here is an example of how this played out in one of the interviews I conducted:

  • Interviewer (Me): What do you like about using Facebook?
  • Interviewee: I like seeing people on there that I wouldn’t otherwise get a chance to see and catch up with in real life. I have moved a couple times so I have a lot of friends that I don’t see regularly. I also like seeing the people I know do well, even though I haven’t seen them since, maybe, high school. But I like seeing how their life has gone. I like seeing their kids. I like seeing their accomplishments. It’s also a little creepy because it’s a window into their life and we haven’t actually talked in forever. But I like staying connected.
  • Interviewer (Me): What else do you like about it?
  • Interviewee: Um, well it’s also sort of a convenient way of keeping contacts. There have been a few times when I was able to message people and get in touch with people even when I don’t have their address or email in my phone. I could message them through Facebook.
  • Interviewer (Me): Great. Is there anything else you like about it?
  • Interviewee: Let me think … well I also find cool stuff to do on the weekends there sometimes. They have an events feature. And businesses, or local places, will post events and there have been a couple times where I’ve gone to something cool. Like I found a cool movie festival once that way.
  • Interviewer (Me): That seems cool. What else do you like about using Facebook?
  • Interviewee: Uh … that’s all I think I really use it for. I can’t really think of anything else. Mainly I use it just to keep in touch with people that I’ve met over the years.

From this example you can see the first feature that popped into the interviewee’s mind was their ability to keep up with friends that they otherwise wouldn’t have much opportunity to connect with anymore. That is a feature that any Facebook replacement would have to replicate. However, if I hadn’t pushed the interviewee to think of even more features they like, I might have never uncovered an important secondary feature: convenient in-app messaging.

In fact, six out of the eleven people interviewed for this project said they liked Facebook Messenger. But not a single one of them mentioned that feature first. It only came up in conversation after I probed for more.

As I continued to repeat my question, the interviewee thought of one more feature they liked: local event listings. (5/11 people interviewed mentioned this feature.) But after that, the interviewee couldn’t think of any more features to discuss. You know you can move on to the next question in the interview when your participant starts to repeat themselves or bluntly tells you they have nothing else to say.

Submit For Credit:

4-3: Overcoming Recruitment Bias (User-Centered Design: Guerilla Discovery)

Excerpted from A Book Apart, Just Enough Research by Erika Hall

There are all sorts of ways to recruit participants for research. Since we are working with a shoestring budget we have roughly $0 to spend on recruitment. We will have to be creative.

A common recruiting script:

Hey there! I have a little project I am working on for a class this semester. To help me figure out whether I have an idea worth working on, I’d like to interview some people about their use of ________. Would any of you be willing to do an interview with me? It would take about 15 min and we would talk via [Skype or Google Hangouts, other] – your choice.

For some projects, I decide to rely on the kindness of friends and strangers I could reach through Facebook. I post a request for participants on my personal Facebook page, and another on the local pages. This type of participant recruitment method is called convenience sampling, because I was recruiting participants that were conveniently accessible to me.

Since my project involved talking to people about social media sites like Facebook, it was appropriate for my first attempt at recruiting to start on Facebook. I could be sure that everyone who saw my request uses Facebook in some form or fashion. However, like all convenience sampling, my recruitment method was biased. (I’ll explain how in just a bit.)

Bias is something that we should try—whenever possible—to avoid. If we have access to more sophisticated recruitment methods, we should use them. However, when you have a tight budget, avoiding recruitment bias is virtually impossible.

In this scenario, our goals should be to:

  • mitigate bias as best we can
  • document all the biases we see.

For my project, I could mitigate some of the biases by using a few more recruitment methods.

  • I could go to various neighborhoods and try to recruit participants off the street.
  • If I had a little bit of money to spend, I could hang out in various coffee shops and offer folks free coffee in exchange for ten-minute interviews.

These recruitment methods also fall under the umbrella of convenience sampling, but by using a variety of methods I can mitigate some of the bias I would have from using just one of them.

Also, it is always important to reflect on and document how your sampling method is biased. E.G.:

  1. All of the people I interviewed were connected to me in some way on Facebook.
  2. Many of them I know well enough to be “friends” with.
  3. All of them were around my age
  4. Many (but not all) worked in tech in some form or fashion
  5. All of them but one lived in the US.

Documenting bias ensures that we won’t forget about the bias when it comes time to analyze and discuss the results.

Submit for Credit: 

  1. 3 potential ways you could recruit participants for your usability study (not including in-this-class)
  2. 3 biases for each of these audience pools (9 biases total)

Guerrilla usability testing is very much about adapting to the situation.

That said, here are some helpful hints that I find consistently work in different international contexts:

  1. Beware confirmation bias. The confirmation bias, also known as the myside bias, is the tendency to search for and favor information that confirms existing beliefs.
  2. Explain what’s going on. Designers should be honest about who we are, why we’re interviewing, and what sort of feedback we’re looking to receive.
  3. Make it casual. Lighten up tests by speaking casually and not making them feel like they’re taking a test.
  4. Be participatory. Break down barriers by getting people involved: ask them to draw – on a napkin or piece of notebook paper, for example, just a rough concept of what’s in their head. You never know what you’ll learn by fostering imagination.
  5. Don’t lead participants. When you sense confusion, ask people what’s going through their head. Open them up by prodding, saying “I don’t know. What do you think?”. People in interview situations often can feel as though they are being tested (as opposed to the product itself), and therefore can start to apologize or shut down.
  6. Keep your eyes peeled. It’s important to encapsulate passing thoughts for later analysis. Don’t get too hung up about formalized notes though, most of the time your scribbles will work just fine. It’s about triggering memories, not showing it off at an academic conference.
  7. Capture the feedback. A key part of any testing process is capturing what we’ve learned. While the way in which we do this is definitely a personal choice, you should use tools that fit your future sharing needs.
  8. Be a timecop. Remember, this isn’t a usability lab with paid users. Be mindful of how much time you spend with test subjects and always remind them that they can leave at any point during the test. The last thing you’d want is a grumpy user skewing your feedback.
  9. Sharing the feedback. Conducting the interviews is only half the battle, of course. To deliver compelling and relevant results from guerrilla usability tests, designers need to strategically decide how we’ll share our findings with our colleagues.


Please use your best judgment and don’t phone this one in – every interview should give you some new insights! As you’re interviewing, begin modifying your questions to include insights from previous interviews.

Steps to discovery interviews:

  1. Recruit
  2. Interview and take notes – make eye contact, make it less like a quiz, and more like an interview.
  3. Finish interview and thank participant.
  4. IMMEDIATELY review your notes, clear up any confusion, underline/highlight things that are important to you that you may want to follow up on in future interviews, and clean up messy handwriting
  5. Next interview!

Submit for credit:

  1. You are now to recruit 5-6 individuals for discovery sessions on your topic, and interview them. Up to three of your discovery sessions can be classmates in this class (but not friends!).
  2. Write a summary of the findings from your research, including but not limited to:
    • Biases in your sample
    • Discoveries/surprises
    • Any modifications of your plan/initial idea
    • Changes to the types of content you expect to create for your semester project
  • Be prepared to give a short summary of this in-class, highlighting surprises, new ideas, or new directions gained from this research.


Networking is critical to the modern market – and we do so much in-class group work because there’s never a solo-flier at a company with more than 2 employees. This credit will replace one of your minor assignments/HW tasks or quizzes:

Choose 1 (Questioning, Connecting, Networking) :


  • Find a professional “practitioner” like the one linked to in the Class I tasks
  • Contact them via any modality you see fit (e-mail, Twitter, etc.)
  • Ask a specific, intelligent question about their work, the industry, etc. that you couldn’t have found yourself on Google.
  • Document that connection and send me your “proof”.
  • If they respond, please include that as well.
  • DO NOT BE THESE PEOPLE. If you don’t know what I mean, feel free to ask 🙂


  • Research a meetup group in the area with an event you can attend in the next month or so that is related to this course.
  • Take a selfie at said event and post in Slack with the tag #dointhething
  • Introduce yourself to at least one person and ask them a question about the topic at the event.
  • Send me the question/answer via DM in Slack.


  • Attend the BigDesign Conference this weekend.
  • Find me and say hi! 😛
  • Take a selfie and post in Slack with the tag #dointhething
  • Introduce yourself to at least one person and ask them a question about the topic at the event.
  • Send me the question/answer via DM in Slack.