Insights in Malmö

Our week in Malmö, Sweden for The Conference was filled with warmth, inspiration, and connection. I was honored to be part of the speaking lineup and look forward to returning. (Tickets sell out quickly every year, so I suggest signing up early for the next one.)

For the design research nerds, my talk, “From stories to action: Insights at scale” was about techniques for bringing together qualitative and quantitative research in order to make strategic product and business choices.

Research Snapshot

Sao Paulo street art

Today I am in São Paulo. It’s raining but the drought still looms.

Today we are launching a survey to Brazilian news readers. We are also interviewing a magazine editor at his office and two news readers in their homes, and then talking to five more news readers in a group research session. We’ll have lots of pão de queijo. We’ll be caffeinating.

International field work is exhausting in the moment but rewarding in hindsight. Sometimes it takes several days for the lessons to settle in. In a week we’ll look back on this day and know what we learned, but for now we are shaking off raindrops, eating cheesy bread, and just listening.

2014 in Review

Sunset over Central Park Reservoir

Before we get too far into 2015, I’m taking a moment to reflect back on 2014. A year that was cleanly bifurcated by west and east, it was a time of transition, as I moved from SF to my new home in NYC. I packed up my things and unpacked them again. I cleared out old art supplies and bought new ones. I scrutinized my book collection but ended up keeping almost all of them.

I taught and connected; with Whitney Hess and Irene Au I spoke on emotional intelligence and innovation. With Maria Molfino I built two workshops on procrastination and barriers to creative work. For SF Design Week I spoke about building habits for innovation. At Strata in Barcelona I spoke on data and design. As a change of pace, at Pinterest I taught two workshops on building lightbulb terrariums.

I said goodbye to IDEO and hello to the New York Times, where I’m helping to build an in-house incubator for new digital products. My first area of focus is on understanding and growing our global audience, and in four days I’m getting on a plane to lead fieldwork in Mexico City to explore the journalism landscape there. After five years as a consultant, it feels great to work in-house again and be embedded, in a way that’s rarely possible as an external collaborator. For a long time I’ve been interested in how organizations adapt and change, and my time at the NYT is an experiment in how design research can play a part in those transitions.

In 2014 I traveled and I ate, from deep dish pizza in Chicago to Arkansas breakfast sausage to Navajo Reservation fry bread to Hawaiian shave ice to the local beer on a breezy rooftop in Belize to lobster tacos by the ocean in San Diego. I ate Blue Bell ice cream every afternoon in a small town in Florida, interspersed with reading novels and learning how to play Canasta with dear friends. I snacked on tiny fried sardines in Barcelona and soupe à l’oignon every rainy day in Paris.

This year of exploration and movement was a good one, and I’m looking forward to the adventures that await in 2015.

Liminal Spaces

(Note: I wrote this back on July 19)

I’m typing in a yurt nestled in the San Luis valley in Colorado, hearing tiny drops of rain tap the canvas roof. I’m facing the Sangre de Cristo mountains, with my back to the San Juan mountains. At 8,000 feet of elevation, this high, flat valley seems like a place from another world.

We are driving a very long distance. We set out from California on July 10 and are planning on rolling into NYC on July 29, with many meanders along the way. Right now, I don’t live anywhere; I have no address, no job, no stuff other than a suitcase. In a few weeks, I’ll have a new home, a new job, and the boxes carrying my material life will show up in a large truck. For now, though, life is very simple; where are we driving today? Do we have enough ice in the cooler? Where should we stop for lunch? These small, simple decisions fill the days.

I woke up today with the word “liminal” echoing in my brain. I think it was triggered by this echoing valley, this in-between space. But I’m also in a liminal moment myself, as a new life opens ahead of me — soon, but not quite yet.

A month ago I said goodbye to my amazing friends at IDEO. It was not a simple decision to make. I’d been there for four years, and felt deeply connected to the work and the people. But I was feeling called, both by NYC, and also by the sense that after four years, it was time to graduate.

Over these transition weeks I’ve thought a lot about what it means to graduate. Last month I gave a talk as part of SF Design Week on habits for innovation — ways of seeing the world that allow you to see opportunities for creating new and useful products. But it was really about sharing the best advice that I’ve gotten over the past years, and the most profound shifts in thinking that I’ve experienced, mostly through my experience with IDEO. Essentially, it was the commencement speech for my own graduation.

Today I’m going to jump in the hot springs pool across the meadow, drink a little more tea, clamber up the Great Sand dunes, eat dinner in Santa Fe. Tomorrow we’re hopefully making it to Oklahoma. We’ll decide where to eat lunch, where to eat dinner, what little town to stop in for the night. Little choices, big choices.