The Designer Is Present

3-hour workshop with Steve Portigal • Saturday 2:15 pm

The title of this workshop is a reference to The Artist Is Present, a performance art piece by Marina Abramovic. Marina spent months at MOMA sitting silently across from a nearly endless series of museum visitors, some of whom broke into tears.

The notion of presence is a critical idea for those of us in user experience. At the risk of sounding like Yoda, presence is tied to self-knowing. During ten years of writing, lecturing and coaching on “interviewing users”, many of the questions that Steve Portigal receives are about controlling or influencing another person’s behavior. Yet these interactions with others are really about ourselves, what’s inside us, who we are.

Therapists, as part of their education, must go through therapy themselves. They are expected to achieve a certain level of insight about themselves — their biases, their discomforts, and so on. While we are not therapists, we go out and study people without that level of self-insight!

A lack of self-insight sometimes manifests itself as passion, commitment, or being driven by a mission. While those have their place, it’s easy to become blinded by what we can’t let ourselves see. Sometimes this shows up as discomfort at the micro level, when we react to something a user might tell us about themselves; sometimes it’s a macro issue, when we’re uncomfortable with people who hold different values, preferences, or beliefs than ourselves. And it crescendos as know-it-all douchebaggery, when we think our job is to tell other people what’s best for them — when phrases like “frictionless sharing” fall from our lips as naturally as “what time is dinner?”

In this workshop, you’ll tap into a new level of personal authenticity to unlock a powerful boon. Together, we’ll explore this point of view and participate in a range of exercises to learn more about these ideas — and about ourselves.

More about Steve Portigal

Steve Portigal is the founder of Portigal Consulting, a bite-sized San Francisco firm that helps clients to discover and act on new insights about themselves and their customers. That means that he’s important enough to have a company named after him, but not important enough to have an invincible army of minions… yet. Oh, and he talks to lots of people to figure out how they can have better businesses and happier customers.

In the past 15 years, Steve has interviewed hundreds of people, including families eating breakfast, hotel maintenance staff, architects, rock musicians, home-automation enthusiasts, credit-default swap traders, and radiologists. Steve knows how to throw a rockin’, if weird, soiree. His work has informed the development of mobile devices, medical information systems, music gear, wine packaging, financial services, corporate intranets, videoconferencing systems, and iPod accessories. That means he has the best stories and anecdotes if you run into him at one of those soirees. And a secret cave full of really cool, if eclectic, gadgets.

Steve is in demand as a conference speaker and contributor to publications like interactions, Core77 and Johnny Holland. He’s also author of Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights, a Rosenfeld Media book. This means that in addition to those great stories, he’s pretty smart and can write as well as he talks.