Ep. 228 – Steve Portigal – Trends in User Experience & Market Research, and How They are Driving Success

My guest today is Steve Portigal, Founder of Portigal Consulting. Established in 2001, Portigal Consulting helps organizations bring insights about their users into their design and development processes. Additionally, he has also authored two books: “Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries: User Research War Stories,” and “Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights.” And, Steve hosts Dollars to Donuts which has 24 episodes with remarkable guests including head of User Experience Research at Pinterest, Airbnb, Mailchimp, Goldman Sachs, and IBM.

Find Steve Online:

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Website: portigal.com

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Website: happymr.com

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This episode is brought to you by HubUx. HubUx reduces project management costs by 90%. Think of HubUx as your personal AI project manager, taking care of all your recruitment and interview coordination needs in the background. The platform connects you with the right providers and sample based on your research and project needs. For more information, please visit HubUx.com.


[00:00]

On Episode 228, I’m interviewing Steve Portigal, founder of Portigal Consulting, but first a word from our sponsor. 

[00:11]

This episode is brought to you by HubUx.  HubUx is a productivity tool for qualitative research.  It creates a seamless workflow across your tools and team.  Originally, came up with the idea as I was listening to research professionals in both the quant and qual space complain about and articulate the pain, I guess more succinctly, around managing qualitative research.  The one big problem with qualitative is it’s synchronous in nature, and it requires 100% of the attention of the respondent. This creates a big barrier, and, I believe, a tremendous opportunity inside of the marketplace.  So what we do is we take the tools that you use; we integrate them into a work flow so that, ultimately, you enter in your project details, that is, who it is that you want to talk to, when you want to talk to them, whether it’s a focus group, in-person, or virtual or IDI’s or ethnos; and we connect you to those right people in the times that you want to have those conversations or connections – Push-Button Qualitative Insights, HubUx.  If you have any questions, reach out to me directly. I would appreciate it. Jamin@HubUx.com   

[01:36]

Hi, I’m Jamin, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. My guest today is Steve Portigal, founder of Portigal Consulting.  Established in 2001, Portigal Consulting helps organizations bring insights about their users into their design and development processes. Additionally, he has authored two books: Doorbells, Danger and Dead Batteries, User Research War Stories. I actually am ordering that one as soon as we are off this call. It’s on my list of things to do today, by the way, and then I’ve already ordered the Interviewing Users – How to Uncover Compelling Insights. Holy Moly, that is going to be super interesting.  And Steve hosts what is now my number one listened to podcast for the last two weeks. In fact, I’ve got a six-hour or eight-hour road trip coming up this Wednesday. All the episodes are downloading. I believe I’m going to be caught up at the end of that road trip. He’s got 24 episodes with remarkable guests, including head of user-experience research at Pinterest, Airbnb, MailChimp, Goldman Sachs, IBM, and the list goes on. Steve, it is an honor to have you on the Happy Market Research Podcast today. Thank you. 

[02:47]

I’m happy to be here. 

[02:48]

I’d like to start out with a quick kind of assessment of, from your point of view…  You grew up in a different area than the Bay Area. Tell us a little bit about your parents, your upbringing, and how that informed who you are today and what you’re doing. 

[03:03]

Yeah, I was raised by a single parent. My mom raised me and my sister in southern Ontario. It’s a suburb of Toronto. And, when we grew up…  This is sort of development in any big city. We grew up—it’s probably about 45 minutes from Toronto—but it was a small town. There were like orchards and things that you don’t see as much in…  Well, I guess there’s development everywhere, but I remember when we got our first McDonald’s like that kind of thing. It was pretty isolated. I grew up in the 70s. It felt pretty isolated and pretty small town, and now it’s just part of Toronto. It falls under the same kind of administrative area. So it’s definitely a different community than the one that I grew up in. But it was, I guess, a smallish town kind of upbringing. My mom worked for the Canadian federal government. She worked as kind of an administrator or a clerk for a benefits office. And, so growing up in a single parent household, like your mom was working  (I don’t know if we had the phrase “latch key kids” then), but we were the kids with like a string around our neck with a house key that we were the ones that were able to let ourselves into our house, which wasn’t, again, maybe not a common thing for many of my peers. So, you grew up in that environment. It’s a little bit of independence and autonomy and responsibility at maybe an earlier age. My mom’s workplace was… She’s serving the public a lot. It’s a lot of either manning the phones or being on the front desk, and you’re dealing with people in need that are contacting about benefits. And so, she would come home with stories every day, first of all about just the kind of work environment, which was pretty bureaucratic and maybe not about empowering people or creating rules that were safe and effective for the staff and the people they were trying to serve; but also just the stories of people that she would meet and  upsetting or funny or… She just had a lot of stories that had a lot of detail and a lot of complexity to them about just what it was like in that kind of environment. So yeah, when I was a kid there were no—this is such an old man thing to say—even just so before cable channels, before most people had VCRs in their homes, let alone before the Internet and in a very kind of monoculture, small town. Like we were one of only a few Jewish families. So we didn’t … You just didn’t get exposed to things through the course of your life, who you were in school with, what you had kind of access to. We had books, of course, a great library, but not the amount of culture and diversity that you’re exposed to and you know in the culture we live in now. So I think in some way her stories were just that sort of the biggest stream of what real life could be like outside the home of a child. It really opened things up and kind of a funny and challenging way I guess they were lots of different kinds of stories.

[06:22]

Are you an only child? 

[06:25]

No, I have a younger sister. She’s six years younger than me. 

[06:27]

And what does she do? 

[06:28]

She is a genetic counselor.

[06:30]

Okay. That’s heavy. 

[06:32]

It sounds very interesting. Yes, you are also dealing with people in…  I don’t know that it’s exclusively in times of health crisis. I think it’s sometimes also coaching them through or supporting them through where there’s questions or where there’s uncertainty. She also works with the public in a pretty intimate kind of way. 

[06:57]

It sounds like stories are a big part of your upbringing and, obviously, your career now as a user-experience researcher, right? How did you wind up in user experience?

[07:08]

How did I wind up in user experience? It feels like a series of opportunistic accidents or happenstance. Again, you have to anchor this in time. When I came out of graduate school, there was no (I guess the web technically existed) but there was no web industry. There was no web design. I didn’t know about software design. I barely had been exposed to industrial design, sort of the maybe the more historical source of creating innovative products was kind of coming out of that field. So I really had very little exposure or awareness that this work existed. I mean the work didn’t really exist.  So, this technology was starting to change how brands were talking to the world, how companies were making products. That created a lot of change that maybe I drafted along with. 

So, I ended up studying in graduate school human-computer interaction, sort of the academic, maybe precursor to user experience. But I was not trained to be a designer. It was an academic program. You learn to critique or analyze or create frameworks or explore things. It was not a practitioner degree. And again, I didn’t know that there were people who were designers working in this field. It was all sort of creating best practices for making software. And these kinds of large telecommunication companies was what we were exposed to. These kinds of academic papers that were coming out of the industry was what was feeding me. So that seemed like what I might want to go into. But again, I wasn’t trained to do that work. There wasn’t really training to do that work. I was very fortunate. I think this is part of the happenstance through a series of “Oh, you should talk to so and so.” I met somebody at a conference, and they gave me some names, and then you were maybe emailing or maybe phoning or leaving voicemails.  Months later I ended up with a job at—and this is what brought me out to the Bay Area where I am now—a job at this industrial design consultancy. So nominally I was (I wasn’t a designer) but I was working on human-interface design, and there was also this emergent practice in user research that was happening there. And I kind of apprenticed into that. It’s cool way to apprentice when it’s not like anyone really knows what they’re doing as opposed to it being handed down to you and here’s how we do it. We didn’t know how to do it. We didn’t know how to write a proposal, how to quote for it and how to describe it at an advocate for it, how to scope it. These things were all kind of…  

[09:56]

What year is this?

[09:57]

This would have been like 95 or 96. 

[10:01]

Okay. Super early. 

[10:03]

Yeah, and so over the next few years, we got good at, I think, the business part of it as well as the practice part of it. And we started teaching classes at the local schools about it. It became a thing where if you apprentice, eventually you become the journeyman and then you become the master and you can help other people apprentice. And so, we hired people with less professional experience and brought them in as well. So it started to become a thing that we knew how to do. So that was early times for sure, entry to this field.

[10:40] 

So, let’s talk a little bit; just set some context for the listeners. The majority of the of my audience is our market research professionals and predictive analytics companies or people in that field. Give us a little bit of a framework for user-experience research. It feels to me, as an outsider, that there’s a lot of overlapping methodologies, but the applications and even the vernacular in some cases is different, right?  So, where your user-experience research sits inside of the organization is not inside of market research. It’s a different part of the org structure usually. And then on top of it, just tuning into your podcast, listening to about people, your guests and yourself, the nomenclature is just different than market research. Talk to us a little bit about the evolution of user-experience research and, and then maybe get us up to date today in context of like a modern company.  So, I like using Lyft as an example. They have 5 market researchers and over 50 user-experience researchers. So, in a lot of ways you’ve seen user experience move this more kind of like niche don’t really know squishy and now it’s just it feels like it’s become a very dominant. There’s a lot of headcount that’s associated with it in the corporations. 

[12:04]

I would guess there are contrasting firms.  I heard a story about this yesterday where analytics and could we just call it traditional market research? (the more established, historical kind of practice) has more headcount, it has more impact and the user research is smaller.  I think you’ll see organizations where the balance is different or the headcount is different. Yeah, I’m hesitant that (You can hear the hesitancy in my voice.) I’m hesitant to try to define or make any kind of definitive declarations about any of this because it is sort of shifting and there are many perspectives on this and I don’t want to say something where, well, that’s completely wrong. So it’s just possible that I may be.

[12:53]

Everything I say I’m pretty sure is wrong half the time.  So, anyway, for what it’s worth, when you think about like Intuit is a good example of a company that leverages user-experience research heavily. They were my very first client at Decipher, and I’ve been working with them since 1996.  So super early days. They have in-house usability labs. Predominantly, originally, it was staffed by the market research team and then user experience—Just kind of taking them as a case study—sort of filtered into the broader organization. And so, one of the things that (maybe the question here is more “yes” or “no,” which is a terrible question to ask) but one of the things that I think I’m seeing is this democratization of access to the consumer so that you don’t have to be a PhD. 

It’s great if you are, but you’re seeing research being done in various levels across your organization.  And user experience, again, not categorically or like here’s the box that it fits in ‘cause that doesn’t exist, but user experience is basically just is part of like product, right? So, as companies are seeing more and more of their full customer experience be considered product, you’re seeing an adoption of things. Like Apple’s a good example. You look at their receipt and you understand it, right? I mean it’s beautiful like somebody’s actually taken a receipt and turned it into language, which if you look at almost any other receipt, it’s nonsensical. I’m not suggesting they have a head of product for receipts but, broadly speaking, the way that they’re doing this. And so anyway, it’s the long-winded way of me asking this question of really trying to see or understand:  Do you see user experience as a job function and then also maybe, more broadly, as just an adopted discipline across organizations increasing? 

[15:05]

The question is sort of about the language we use to describe this work. I would just be a little picky on the terms and I would separate user experience from user-experience research.

[15:17]

Okay, perfect.

[15:18]

We’re sort of talking about market research and how do we think about that relative to user-experience research. But then I think this is where it gets slippery because then we sometimes, and I hear this all the time, substitute user experience for user-experience research. 

[15:34]

I would love clarity on this point, by the way, because I am uneducated as it relates with this. 

[15:39]

Definitions of functions and so on are things that like design Twitter loves to argue about. So again, I’ll just blunder ahead here. To me, user experience is like a short for…  User experience is the thing that you are as an organization are creating. So, what does it like to buy a product from Apple? How do you find it? Where do you look to get it? How do you transact? What’s your out of the box experience? What’s the receipt look like? Right? And so that whole experience is designed. So UX, so user experience is sometimes called UX design. When you start talking about it in those terms, like the example of Apple, I think about service design, another sort of buzz word. But these things are more alike than they’re similar. But I think these words provide hooks to how to kind of even think about it. So what’s the whole service from the… ‘cause part of dealing with Apple if you go into the store is dealing with a person who has a way of troubleshooting with you, and a way of placing you in a queue, and a way of upselling you or not.  There’s so many aspects to what that person is doing, and they’re part of the whole experience that you as a customer or user have. So to me, user-experience research is a certain kind of research activity that’s meant to inform the decisions that are made around the user experience that gets created. And I think you kind of talked about product, right? I mean just look at the labels that we have for these things sort of shows where they come from. 

So market research is about understanding this kind of thing to make these decisions. User-experience research is historically about understanding these things to make these decisions. And I think there’s lots of gray area and lots of overlap and some of it may have to do with where’s their head counts, who do those people report to, what is that person’s portfolio, what’s their comfort zone, what are they advocating for? And then. I think you also hit on a really important thing:  this phrase that I keep hearing about, “democratization of research.” And you tied it to making increasing access or availability. And this is a hot topic in like the people that are on my podcast, the clients that I work with because the demand for—let’s just call it research and not even say what kind of research—the demand for research, fortunately, has grown, and now there are more questions than (This is like a be careful what you wish for, right?) there are more questions that need to be asked than there are resources, whatever we label these resources, to answer them. So, Lyft has however many people you said; they still (I’m hazarding a guess here) they can’t meet the demand that there is internally. So, I’ll throw another term out there. There’s a sort of a movement or a practice that’s emerged in the last couple of years called “research ops.” It’s the operations of a research. There’s a very active slack community. There’s more and more conference content around this. There’s a lot out there. And it is about within an organization at least, how do we create the circumstances whereby research can take place without every single person that wants to do research having to figure out “What is research?”, “How do I learn how to ask questions?”, “What data do we already have?”, “What do we have access to?”, “What data storage, privacy management requirements do I have to comply with?” So putting practices in place such that people who are quote “researchers,” that’s their title and people who are product people and people who are anybody or some subset of anybody can get access to this information in a way that is of high quality and that helps them drive towards these kinds of decisions. So, I think that the infrastructure and that access is happening. The other thing that seems to be happening, and I don’t have as much of a buzz word for this, but I think it falls under the democratization bit, is as more people in the organization understand the potential of understanding who people are and what they’re going through and where we might play differently to address their needs. 

That’s being turned into opportunities to improve so many parts of what an organization does. So marketing teams are working with (I’ll just air quote) “user-experience researchers” because they realize, “Oh, we can do something with this.” The last consulting engagement I’ve just wrapped up was with a human resources team that’s looking at what the recruiting process is. So we’re looking at the user experience of being a hiring manager, being a recruiter, being a candidate, and what are the processes that are put in place to support that, to get to the outcomes the organization has as a goal, what are the tools that are, that are designed, you know, technology and other to make that happen. So that’s not about the product of the company. It’s not about the market of the company, but it is about this company functioning better to achieve its goals. So that to me seems very exciting that that they’re starting to be broader acceptance than maybe some of these, these walls are coming down and that the potential for all the work that we’re doing to have impact across other parts of the organization is growing seems very exciting to me. 

[21:07]

Yeah, I mean anytime you ingest the consumer into a business decision, then as long as it’s not like you’re not mixing qual and quant or whatever, you know, dangerous traps you might fall into, you know, you can’t take a micro insight and extrapolate it to a market, for example. But you know, as long as that doesn’t happen, presumably, and you’re asking questions in the right way, you as an organization are going to be consumer-led and therefore, have a better outcome. The other term that I’ve heard a lot, especially since the Qualtrics acquisition by SAP is customer experience. I pay a lot of attention to Google trends and customer experience is actually like crazy how it’s ramping right now. Do you see that interchangeable with user experience? 

[21:56]

Right? There are, I think plenty of Medium articles out there that say, “What’s the difference between CX?” Cause if we want to be really cool, we have to abbreviate it. “What are the differences between CX and UX?” My eyes glaze over a little bit when I hear that. I don’t know. And maybe that’s just the privilege of being a consultant. You sort of get dropped into a lot of different parts of the organization, but you’re not responsible for the overall map or maybe just intellectual laziness on my part. I don’t know. I would never be the person to…  You can hear how I struggle with definitions of what this is and what that is. 

[22:32]

Yeah, and again, I’m not trying to paint you in a corner here. I’m just trying to kind of level set in the context of these trends that we’re seeing and try to understand. We used to have NPS, for example, as being the god of the state of your business, right? And if you got a 60% NPS and you’re just doing fantastic.  And now you’ve got a new, I forget the name of the scale, but a new product market fit scale that is starting to usurp the NPS. So, it’s a three-point scale and instead of it being framed in a positive, it’s now a negative. How upset would you be if your product was not available to you next week? And if you’re on a three-point scale, if you’re very upset, then that’s a win. So now we have this double negative. I’m like, “How can we make this more complex?” I don’t know. Triple negative maybe will be the way we end in five years from now, right?  But that’s fine. So, it might just be the case that we just see the same thing but called a different name because we have a generation that’s coming up that doesn’t necessarily have that point of reference, right? I don’t know. For me, and I’ve read a lot of content. In fact, I’m speaking at Michigan State and for like two hours on this particular topic. Thank God there’s more, but this is like part of the thesis is that you’re seeing this rise of these other disciplines, but really they’re all trying to do the same thing. It’s just more the lens of that or the culture of that organization and how they’re adopting it, whether it’s CX or UX. I do think that market research fits outside of that to a limited degree. But there is clearly that on that Venn Diagram, which again is something I would love to see if you’ve seen that Medium article, kind of the overlap of type of work done. That would be super interesting.

[24:20]

Right. I think it needs to be built. I mean probably someone’s taken a wag at it. But I’m excited for this conversation ‘cause even as we’re going back and forth on terms and how we kind of create alignment around terms, I think that the language becomes a boundary object.  It keeps us apart from talking about similar goals, maybe identical goals, maybe adjacent goals, the super set of our toolkits, our complementary ways of thinking about things. And you know I think introducing a new tool, introducing a new terminology, it can be done in a way that invites other people in other, other functions in, or it can be done in a way that we use to hold onto our potentially dwindling territory. Again, I don’t care about a lot of these terms, but I pay attention to the culture that kind of grows up around them, like how we talk about them and how we use them to educate and inform our clients, our internal clients, our consulting clients as well as our peers in this practice. Obviously, my hope is that we can take everything that we have access to. And not everybody is interested in everything or good at everything and the diversity of kinds of brains that are brought into the work to solve problems or create insight in different ways is where I see a lot of potential or I see a lot of excitement and what personally I’m looking for. I’m super smart, I think, but I am looking down a tunnel, that’s just how everybody is. So the more I can get access to other how other people unpack problems or create questions or pull insights out of things in a way that levels up what I am doing and adds value to it, then all the better.

[26:22]

So, as a fellow podcast host, there’s this space between…  So, we do a podcast, right, and it’s however long it is, but then there’s this bit that happens at the beginning of the podcast that isn’t ever published. And then there’s this kind of bit that happens at the end of the podcast that again is never published. Probably some of the more interesting things, conversations that I’ve had have been on those ends, right? They aren’t really necessarily part of the organic conversation that happens in the structured, the published, that sort of thing, right? So, you’re nodding your head. So, I’m assuming that you’ve had similar experiences. 

[26:59]

This is the phenomenon in user research, for sure. And it comes from medicine; it’s  the “doorknob phenomenon.” So, in medicine, people will go to see a clinician of some kind and go through the whole meeting, appointment and never really say what’s going on. And then, as they’re standing up and walking towards the door and putting their hand on the doorknob to turn it and leave, they’ll sort of turn over their shoulder and say, “Oh, I did want to ask you this one thing.” And it’s like the…  So, this happens in user research, right, that the tactical pieces don’t turn off your recording device ‘cause there’s something about, “Well, this is great; this is very helpful. Thanks for the time. “We learned a lot from you.” Sometimes, not always, but sometimes that… And if you’re giving someone an incentive, you might like hand it to them right away or put it right in their hand and hand them their forms, whatever sort of paperwork, kind of wrapping up, sometimes that can trigger this. “Oh, you know, I have the story about when I was a kid.”  I don’t say always like, always the good stuff is there, but just you want to allow space for that to happen and not in a sneaky way. Sometimes, I just won’t touch my recorder. It’s there on the table and they can see it and the red light is on and I’ll just keep going ‘cause they’re going to keep talking.

[28:30]

So, in those kind of edge, kind of the stuff that’s outside of the show, what are you picking up on in terms of major trends inside of user experience? I’m really interested in that ‘cause you have such a …  You have the highest caliber guests on your show, right? I mean they’re just amazing. What are the trends that you’re hearing from them and you’re seeing in your own consulting practice that are emerging and where we should be paying attention to for the next few years if you can project out that far? 

[29:03]

There’s some distribution. If I was a smart stats person, like people watching this, they would say, “Oh, yeah, that’s the whatever distribution.” But you know the people that go on a podcast who are…  There’s such a sampling bias, I guess. I find people who are in-house in a leadership role around user-experience research. Well, there’s lots of organizations that don’t have leadership. They haven’t sort of invested enough that, “Hey, we need a leadership role dedicated to this alone.” So you’re seeing these kinds of organizations. What you don’t see from my podcast is the phrase is “the user-experience team of one.” There’s even a book with that title by Leah Buley. It’s about…, and I think it’s a passionately embraced book ‘cause there are all these people out there who (We talked about head count at the beginning) who are in organizations where they are in a mid-level role. They may be tasked with something else. They may be a designer who’s trying to create wireframes for the evolution of an app.  That’s kind of their main task. And they’re the ones saying, “We have to talk to customers. I need this information. We have to understand the problem and we need to evaluate our design decisions to see if this is going to resonate or work for people.” And then they’re taking that work on in their ample free time. So, these people I think are amazing, and they are struggling, I think, for resources and for some sense of, “Am I doing this right? Am I having the impact? What’s the magic thing that I should be doing differently?” Whereas it’s not really about them, it’s about their context. So, in terms of trends, I think we see more from a certain category of organization where there’s investments, but I also just see job ads on like slack channels or whatever groups you circulate in. 

Back in the day it was companies that we know:  the Googles, the Facebooks. It was the Yahoo; it was a big leader in a lot of usability and so on. I mean, you talked about Intuit. These are like companies that have invested, are big, that are high profile, that have invested heavily and we all know of them. If you work in tech or if you use tech, you know these companies. But some of my colleagues, some of the people who have been on the podcast, for example, leave those organizations and then I see what their next job is.  Or the job that I see posted are for companies I have never heard of who are small. There’s more things in like fintech, financial technology companies, that are not big banks but are little companies here and there that are trying to disrupt something established; logistics companies; just people making things that we don’t even know as a thing that gets made and they are starting to hire and then even hire leadership roles and really invest in this as part of how they are going to build things that are going to create the kind of change that they want as opposed to this being something that gets added in years later when they go public or try to go big or want to be acquired. It’s happening earlier. I think about this for myself, just my own practice, “Who should I be waving my hand at and saying like, ‘Hey, I exist. I can help you,’ “ when I don’t even know these companies are out there that are starting to get excited about this and, again, invest in it. For the work that we’re all doing, this is I think tremendous, right.  I think it’s happening earlier in a company’s growth, and it’s happening in a dedicated specific way. 

There’s a job req that has research in the title that is written by someone that—let’s just say they probably know somewhat about what they’re doing. I don’t have a critique of how recruiting is happening.  You can see that it’s happening in all these kinds of nooks and crannies of products and services and brands and technology. Yeah, that’s to your point, that’s in the kind of the corners between what’s coming out on the podcast and it’s just things that I am coming across in my kind of journey through the field. 

[33:23]

Interesting. So you’re seeing as it being…  I mean, obviously, it’s growing in the big company way, but you’re seeing it as something that companies are adopting a lot earlier in their life cycle. And it’s funny you say that cause I’m going through right now this startup phase with my new company. And as part of it, I thought it’d be a good idea to enroll in startup school, which is a free access to free resources. So, in this particular cohort 2019, I believe, it’s 23,000 startup companies, which is amazing. It would be interesting to see a word cloud or something more sophisticated done on like the natural language processing of the presentations we’ve heard. But I bet you “talk to your consumers or customers or users” would be the number one thing that would be flagged or in the top like that and “get to revenue” probably would be the top two things they talk about, right? And so, like there’s a big cultural shift moving away from the “build it; they will come” framework. 

[34:33]

Yeah. I’ve been spending a little more time with my clients and at conferences with the product management professionals, who are super excited about talking to customers. And it’s a thing that they’re doing. They maybe don’t know how overall, but they’re are hungry and they…  It’s not a thing that needs to be persuaded. It’s a thing that’s already understood. And so, the question is how and when. And that also is very exciting. In talking about cultural shifts, it’s just more default now. And I think this is interesting, and it raises challenges that collectively I don’t think we’re ready for. And it goes back to the democratization thing and I think one of your questions was about like, “Is this a role or a process?”  I can’t remember how you phrased it, but is user-experience research or market research or just whatever we want to call it, talking to people to gain insight? Is that a thing that a person with that job title does? Or is that a task or is it a department? How would we ideally want to structure it in eight years to take advantage of this? And I think the corollary there, or the caution also is I fear commoditization of the work and that, obviously, is because I’m a provider of the work. So I’m very biased in that.  The commoditization could be good. I think it’s our job as professionals with these labels to hold onto quality. And so, how to do that in a way that is inclusive that’s inviting people in; it’s not we have to control it. But anyone that does market research, user research hates crappy research that gets misused and propositions get made. 

That is not the thing we want to have happen.  And it is a skill. So as much as we are creating content and writing books and creating all sorts of stuff that empowers people to do it, it also is easy to do poorly and hard to do well. And I don’t have an answer for that. I’d rather be encouraging than sort of fear-mongering, and I want people to do it in practice and get better at it. But I also want there to be…  Not everything needs to win a gold medal, but I think sort of understanding the trade offs that you make. 

[36:56]

Yeah, based on the level of professionalism. I think that’s a solid point. I think, when I first started my career, when I started my career in market research, the way that we priced projects was 3x. So it was like, what’s my costs? Like my recruiting costs, my whatever. Right? And then I just multiply that by three and then I had my project price. I’m not saying that was universal, that was just how we did it in the 90s, how I did it for the company I worked for and was trained to do. So the value there is, obviously, connected to the difficulty of the logistics as opposed to the size and implication of the insight that is being gathered from that particular project. It’s easy also for consumer of research to pay for a large project ‘cause they recognize this really difficult logistically. 

There’s this sidestep that makes it easier for an expensive project for you to pay a lot for it on the analytics side.  So, now to your point, it’s becoming easier and easier to talk to the consumer, which I think gets to a really important issue, which is how do we ultimately price this? Right? Because you can’t just have it as a direct relationship between time value. You know, we’re not lawyers, right? The learning how to have a productive conversation with the consumer that’s going to change, going to have $100 million impact on a business, that’s not a $500 interview, presumably. So, yeah, I don’t know. that to me has my eyes wide open right now on how the terms of trade are going to evolve over the next three to five years, especially as different web services create the perception that I can just upload my data and get a magic answer. 

[38:49]

And then the other factor is that, if you go back to the eras that you and I keep hearkening back to, this work was only done outside corporations, right? They didn’t have…  I mean Intuit wasn’t an innovator in the 90s but for the most part if you wanted this work, you went to a consultant, an agency. And now, that’s the reason I can have this podcast where I talk to people who are in leadership roles in-house is because the investments and the growth is all happening inside organizations and that infrastructure, that operational infrastructure, serves them. It doesn’t serve vendors or consultants as well. And those of us on the outside that are trying to provide that external perspective, external expertise, we are in dwindling numbers. I think that creates concerns that…  We were talking about the podcast a little bit in what that reveals. It’s so interesting to me to talk to people inside of an organization about research and hear them talk appropriately like corporate people. And it’s not a knock on corporate people, but you spend all your time inside a culture. You have a lot of language and a lot of shorthand and there’s just a way of talking about things. And back in my day, as a researcher that was a consultant, your job was to bring that outside in as to mirror the language of the world, not the language of the producer of the tool for the world. And when the person who sort of bringing the outside in is part of the in, they’re going to do that very, very differently. 

So again, I think in a dramatic way I would say they’ve been co-opted. I don’t think that’s true. But the practice has evolved and so, I’m the external voice, but research is being owned by people who are internal voices and they have a stake in the outcome. They are the product success. They have maybe a financial incentive or a job security incentive.  And I think market research, user research, it’s kind of a truth-to-power job. And that’s just very interestingly different when the context changes and the people who work in-house can do so many things that I can’t do because they have that internal map. They have those relationships; they have the history; they have the language; they can speak the language. I can’t speak the language. So the best for me is to have a partnership with that person where we can kind of leverage each other’s strengths and deficits. But, obviously, most research is being handled entirely in-house by in-house, people who are part of that culture. And I don’t know that we have a…  We may need to wait a few more years to sort of see what does that mean, what does that look like and what’s gained and what’s lost and what do we want to do to address that? 

[41:47]

What is your personal motto?  

[41:50]

My personal motto is, “Just keep going.”  I don’t know if I can unpack that a little bit. Some people will have a real plan for everything, and they aim for something and go towards it.  I maybe have a little more of a “informed stagger” towards things. 

[42:08]

I love that. 

[42:11]

You know, and I like surprises and challenge. I like leading a life that’s filled with surprises and challenges.  I don’t know that I like having surprises and challenges. It’d be nice if everything was simple, but I’m doing this for a long time. I’ve been running my own practice for a long time. I still feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m paying attention and thinking about how things are changing. I don’t know what, of all the things we talked about, nowhere in my head is like, “And, therefore, in my own business to be successful, I will do this thing differently.” I don’t know. But like I did Improv for a few years and I’ve talked about improv for a long time as kind of a creative problem-solving mindset. And part of that is you just keep going, you just take things as they come and you add to them and you add to them and you don’t overplan. And things come out of that that you could never have made happen if you had intended to make them happen. And so, it’s a bit of a philosophy. I don’t know. I can’t say I live up to that perfectly all the time, but I think that’s what “Just keep going” models, and it goes back to one of your first questions about what I learned from my family and I think that is also what I saw growing up and probably how we all have learned to succeed as best we can, I think, in a world that you can’t control. 

[43:34]

My guest today has been Steve Portigal, founder of Portigal Consulting. Did I totally screw up the name?

[43:43]

I sympathize with you as a fellow podcast host to say somebody else’s name comfortably is hard even when you’ve asked them before the recording went on was like I said it and you said it back. Yeah. And it’s right.  Saying something out loud that somebody else’s name is hard to do authentically. 

[44:02]

And it’s so important. Thanks for that. If you have any questions at all about user experience, user-experience research and customer-experience research—I’m going to throw that in there too—I hope that you’ll reach out to Steve. His contact information will be linked in the show notes along with the link to his website and Linkedin profile. He’s also very active on Google user group for user experience in the Bay Area, which is how he and I originally got connected. I haven’t found a ton of value on everything he posts. I’m very appreciative, Steve, of you joining me today on the podcast. Thank you so much sir. 

[44:44]

Thank you so much. Really great conversation. 

[44:46]

All the rest of you, if you found value in this episode as much as I have or even just that 10th as much as I have, please take the 50 seconds it will take you to screenshot this, share it on Twitter, tag Happy Market Research. We’ll repost it. As always, our five-star reviews mean the world to us and help everybody else that’s like you find this content. I hope you have a wonderful rest of your day. Oh, and by the way, I would encourage you to check out Steve’s podcast Dollars to Donuts. Again, I’ve found it very interesting and enlightening relative to, as a market research professional, being able to be relatable to user experience or user-experience research or customer experience. Right. I don’t even know what now, but anyway, something like that. Some nomenclature, very beneficial. Enjoy. Have a great rest of your day.

[45:35]

This episode is brought to you by HubUx.  HubUx is a productivity tool for qualitative research.  It creates a seamless workflow across your tools and team.  Originally, came up with the idea as I was listening to research professionals in both the quant and qual space complain about and articulate the pain, I guess more succinctly, around managing qualitative research.  The one big problem with qualitative is it’s synchronous in nature, and it requires 100% of the attention of the respondent. This creates a big barrier, and, I believe, a tremendous opportunity inside of the marketplace.  So what we do is we take the tools that you use; we integrate them into a work flow so that, ultimately, you enter in your project details, that is, who it is that you want to talk to, when you want to talk to them, whether it’s a focus group, in-person, or virtual or IDI’s or ethnos; and we connect you to those right people in the times that you want to have those conversations or connections – Push-Button Qualitative Insights, HubUx.  If you have any questions, reach out to me directly. I would appreciate it. Jamin@HubUx.com