Posted in Anecdotes

Is the Concept of “Culture” Politically Incorrect?

I have always been fascinated by the concept of culture, in the practical sense at least. Although early in my life my only exposure to other cultures was through TV and videotapes. Luckily, such things existed! But that had a great influence on my passion to learn about other realities. As an adult, I’ve travel to and lived in different countries. The more I traveled the more my thirst for cultural knowledge grew exponentially. I developed an inquisitive mindset to ask and discuss cultural norms comfortably with people to learn more about culture and understand how people see different cultures, sometimes differently from how I would see them.

One night I was at a big party here in England and got to meet many new people, most of them were expats and international students coming from all over the world. That was my kind of party.

Continue reading “Is the Concept of “Culture” Politically Incorrect?”
Posted in Anecdotes

Quarantine – Time for a Journey Within

Our busy lives in this day and age force us to just go with the motion. Rarely do we stop, breath and intentionally think of what we are doing and why we are doing it. Our diaries get filled up by others’ requests, our weekends get booked for others’ parties and our vacations get planned for family trips or family gatherings.

During the quarantine however, you have much time to pay attention to the one person who has always craved your attention but you have deprived them from it, that person is you. While many of us may seek distraction form the “self” by binge watching movies, scrolling through social media, calling friends one after the other or even over working from home; all these may not contribute to our self awareness, and hence impede our growth and development.

I personally experienced being home bound for two months last year after a foot injury. It was almost the same experience like this quarantine, I could not leave the house, I had to order everything to be delivered and could not do much hopping around on one foot. In a way I find the quarantine now easier than that experience. I can still work out now, do more housework and leave the house if needed. What I did last year during those two months was mostly lying down on the sofa with my foot elevated. Such a position did not even allow me to work much on my laptop, I could not find a comfortable position no matter how much I tried. So I interrupted my studies and forced myself not to work.

Instead I allowed myself to just explore and learn about different areas beyond my work, and my comfort zone. I watched comedy TV shows which is something I usually do not do and realised the value in them. I had my laptop placed on a table front of me and watched youtube videos on different topics. One video led to another and I ended up watching videos about self development and spirituality. Shortly this became my addiction all day long binge watching videos of Tony Robin, Bob Proctor, Brian Tracy, Mel Robinson and many others. The more I learnt the more I made tiny changes in my perceptions, habits or schedule. Gradually and by the end of the two months I felt like I was a new person. I went back to work and my productivity massively increased. Perhaps part of it because I missed work. But the real reason is that I learnt how to manage my time and energy and planned my schedule accordingly. I learnt how to motivate myself every day and love the process of grinding and growing. On a personal level, my eating and workout habits have always developed dramatically. I learnt a lot about nutrition and add this in my daily to do list to keep track of what I am eating and how much I am working out.

Perhaps the biggest change was something I learnt from spirituality which is managing our emotions and our interpretation of reality. This is something you hear about much in the works of the ‘Law of Attraction’ with the popular maxim “Likes attract likes”. Our perception of reality thus brings us a reflection of that perception in our physical world. If you perceive others as haters, guess what, you will get more haters. If you perceive yourself as capable of accomplishing a big project, it is more likely you will. All in all, the amount of inner work we should be doing is an endless process of self awareness and self growth. If we never stop and reflect on ourselves, our emotions and our perceptions we will never manage to make steps forward. To start learning about the self I suggest starting by exploring the concept of ego, especially in the amazing book by Ryan Holiday “Ego is the Enemy”. However to start the actual inner work I suggest practicing gratitude meditation. Gratitude is one of the most neglected type of emotion that we barely feel yet is the strongest in the positive emotions spectrum and thus can elevate our energy levels and positive outlook. It is in my eyes step one in the “spiritual awakening”.

I believe this quarantine time will perhaps be what the spirituality folk call “the grand awakening”.

Stay safe, and happy quarantine!

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Posted in Blog

How to Get Difficult Users to Talk?

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A critical task of our job as UX researchers/designers is talking and listening to real users to understand their needs, motivations and experiences. However, the challenge we face here is how do we facilitate that process. This especially difficult when dealing with difficult users

Who are the difficult users?

Several traits could fall into this category of users, which includes:

  • Shy users
  • Passive users
  • Conformist users
  • Privacy-concerned users
  • Users coming from cultures where talking about personal views and values is uncommon practice
  • Users who are unfamiliar with what it means to participate in a research
  • Users who constantly go off topic
  • Users asked to talk about sensitive topics
  • and others [please add in the comments (: ]

 

How to deal with them?

It is the researcher/interviewer responsibility to identify which group of these a difficult user falls into and how to deal with them. From my personal experience, I found 3 main strategies proofed useful with many users:

(1) Raport, Raport, Raport

It is vital to establish raport in any interview in general, but it is more crucial with difficult users. The ice breaking activities up front should be specifically tailored to the users to establish a mutual understanding of the topic to be discussed. This is especially relevant when dealing with shy users, passive users, privacy-concerned users and users asked to talk about sensitive topics.

(2) Depersonalize the discussion

This helps users unconciousely revealing their values without necassily talking about themselves directly. This is especially relevant when dealing with shy users, conformist users, privacy-concerned users and users asked to talk about sensitive topics. The depersonalization process could take different forms from talking about a third person, to talking about imaginary cases or engaging in creative work such as stories or sketching.

(3) Co-guid the discussion

To eliminate the power sruggle, it is important to creat a balance in directing the discussion and allowing users to take the lead. This is common in participatory research and design and it could take many different forms such as working with incomplete stories or objects, and restructuring or reordering them. This is especially relevant when dealing with passive users, users coming from cultures where talking about personal views and values is uncommon practice, users who are unfamiliar with what it means to participate in a research, and users who constantly go off topic.

 

Posted in Blog

Why Should You Be Actively Looking for Problems?

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what is a problem

A problem, put simple, is the gap between what is and what ought to be. This means that: (a) there is an unsatisfaction with ‘what is’, (b) there is a desire to achieve ‘ what ought to be’ and there is an obstacle (or difficulty) to make that move from (a) to (b). Thus, a solution is needed to overcome that obstacle.

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 How do we identify problems?

Based on the definition above, we can say that a problem is identified when there is a realization that our current reality does not match our desired one. The bigger the difference between the two, the bigger the problem is. Meaning, the significance of the problem increases as the unsatisfaction of the current situiation and the desire for a different situation increase.

Identifying problems is a subjective reality

To some extent, it is our decision and our judgement to accept or reject the current reality, to decide whether it is satisfactory or not. It is in our dreams that we build desired reality, which is something also we have some control over.

Subjectivity creates a utopian world

Now that we realized our perception of problems is subjective, what would happen if we decided to control that perception and just accept our world and reality as is, no desire whatsoever to have an alternative world. That means when the concept of problems does not exist, we will live in a utopian world. But do we need a utopian world.

Do we need a utopian world?

The answer to this question is, again, subjective. It depends on whther or not we agree that we all have a desire to grow ourselves and others, a desire to change and experience the word from different angle, each is enhanced and built on the other. So to answer this question, I would say yes we need a utopian world as an end goal that drives us grow, but we do not really need to achieve it. That is because the more we grow, the more our perception of what is a utopian world will change and grow simultaneously. Much like chasing our own shadow ahead of us.  Therefore, a perfect happy utopian world, will never exist. Then, what is the point of acknowledging problems and tackling them in the first place?

why should we look for problems?

When you are actively look for problems -with a mindset to solve them- you are adopting the approach basedon which all the developments in our today’s world happened. That is, development and grow are concepts that can not exist if the concept if problem doesn’t. In that sense, the more you identify problems, in your own life or in the world, the more you are participating in the development process even before providing a solution. This is because in many cases solutions are provided to the wrong framing of problems.

How do we frame and  conceptualize problems?

I have referred elsewhere in the blog to a crucial habit and technique to learn about the world and to define a problem before thinking of all the possible ways of how to solve it. It is the use of the questioning technique which stems from deep curiosity and desire to understand something from different angles.

What other techniques can you think of?

If you have any techniques in mind please share by commenting below.

Posted in Blog

Keeping your Passion for Design on Fire!

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Losing passion is easy:

Losing your passion for something you truly love is not uncommon. Sometimes the more you work on things you are passionate about the more likely you will lose passion at some points during your journey. 

As a PhD student, this has been the case for me ever since I started my PhD. They usually say, if there is one thing that can keep you persistent in long journeys, such as a PhD, it would passion. I learnt this first hand yet realized passion can go up and down during your journey and thus you have to learn how to keep it on throughout the road. 

Another concern I have is that my PhD is in the field of Human Computer Interaction (HCI). It is a very exciting and a fast growing field. Which means no matter how much courses and experience you have in the field, you need to keep learning and updating your knowledge constantly. 

Thus, to work on both my knowledge and my passion, while doing my actual PhD work seemed like a double burden in the begining and it was rather scary. I had to work long hours, and read many scientific papers every day to improve quickly but I found myself burnt out. 

Life long learning is the key

At some point while looking for literature online, I came across Interaction Design Foundation (IDF). IDF has a rich database for articles in HCI many of which are written/ contributed by top experts in the field such as Don Norman, Clayton Christensen and Alan Dix. It has “the biggest and most authoritative library of open-source UX Design resources”. What I found fascinating about this library was the fact these article are meant to be educational unlike scientific paper that are meant to present specific projects and discuss their progress. This led me to believe that I need to assign part of my time to educational resources beyond scientific journals. Luckily, I found that this is exactly the mission of IDF, which is to provide rich and interactive resources for design education. This is manifested in the UX Courses IDF provides.

As such,  for the past two years now, I have allocated around one hour everyday to keep learning through these courses. This did not only help me widen my knowledge but it worked also as a reminder everyday of my passion for design which I realised the more I learn the more it grows. It has been a life changing step that I will always be grateful to. 

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How can IDF courses help you as a designer?

1- Widening your knowledge base

IDF provides a wide range of courses covering different topics in design such as User Research, Usability, Gestalt Psychology, Visualisation, Design thinking, User Experience, Interaction Design and many more. As such this helps you learn in width, as opposed to what we commonly do in academia, learning in depth in particular topics. However, the courses are divided into three categories: beginner, intermediate and advanced level. This categorisation will help you also learn in depth starting from the beginner courses ending with the advanced ones. 

2- Active Learning

IDF courses use a mix of text, videos, photos, infographics, quizzes and writing-based tests. This variety makes learners engaged in an active process as opposed to passive reading or some other learning methods.

3- Acknowledged work

Since IDF is well known as a reliable educational resource, this can enhance your career opportunity when receiving certifcates of the courses you complete successfully. Here is an example of one of my certificates (: 

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Finally, I would like to share three tips for how to stay focused while learning online

1- Associate learning with fun. For example if you work long hours on something, take a break by leaning something online. I found that this strategy made me feel excited every time  I log in to IDF as it has been associated in my brain with breaks, fun, rest and excitement.
2- Allocate time for online learning in your calendar. Don’t just keep it in your ‘may-be’ to do list. This will help your brain associate learning with important tasks to be checked every day.
3- Share your learning with others. Whether it is the network within the platform (such as IDF community) or your colleagues, friends, or your students if you happen to be a teacher, or even your followers on your blog or social media . I found that this strategy is very effective to provide a solid motivation to learn actively in order to be able to pass the knowledge to others.
For any questions about my personal experience and reflection on IDF or the field of HCI please do not hesitate to contact me. Happy learning!
Posted in Blog

The Research/Design Process

UX designers go iteratively through four main phases: Assess, design, build, and evaluate. For each phase, there are a handful of methods and techniques (design activities) to be undertaken, they can be generally categorized as drawing, sound, movement, writing, discussion and game-based activities. They can focus on different themes including identity, spaces and places, society and politics. Below I break down these phases and list some of the methods and techniques used in each phase.

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Posted in Blog

Don’t look for answers. Ask questions!

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A question is defined as a problem, a matter of debate or discussion, a subject or doubt, or a matter to be inquired into. At early stages of our lives, we instinctively learn to explore the world by asking questions. No wonder that, according to studies, a 4-years old kid might ask their mother 390 questions a day. As we grow up, this curiosity seems to decrease and we start exploring the world by looking for ready-made answers. 

Moreover, at schools, students are rewarded for memorizing answers whereas asking questions is not unrewarded, but even mostly it is not taught. Waren Berger associates this to political agendas:

 … and why schools don’t teach or encourage questioning—is that questions challenge authority and disrupt established structures, processes, and systems, forcing people to have to at least think about doing something differently…

Continue reading “Don’t look for answers. Ask questions!”

Posted in Blog

Methodology vs. methods, Philosophy vs. Paradigm, Tradition vs. approach

 

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Methodology and Methods

They might be used interchangeably, however, they each refer to different concepts. Although some PhD student might be immersed in the literature review in the beginning of their PhD to the point that they might postpone looking at methodology and methods to a later stage, however, it is crucial to define what methodology and methods to adopt in the research project as it could guide what literature to look at.

Continue reading “Methodology vs. methods, Philosophy vs. Paradigm, Tradition vs. approach”

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Logic, Criticality, Criticism and Critique

 

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As a part of being a researcher, I quite often come across the term ‘critical thinking’ and how crucial it is in many or even all sections of the research. Sometimes, this term is confused with other terms; namely logical thinking, criticism and critiques. Therefore in this post, I will attempt to find the difference between them Continue reading “Logic, Criticality, Criticism and Critique”