Prepare to Design the Future
March 19–20, 2017: Training
March 20–22, 2017: Tutorials & Conference
San Francisco, CA

User research war stories

Steve Portigal (Portigal Consulting)
11:20am–12:00pm Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Beyond the screen
Location: Tower Salon A
Level: Intermediate
Average rating: ***..
(3.56, 9 ratings)

Who is this presentation for?

  • Anyone who talks to their users in order to understand their needs and design for them

Prerequisite knowledge

  • Experience interviewing users (useful but not required)

What you'll learn

  • Learn the kinds of things that can go wrong when experienced researchers go out into the world and talk with users
  • Understand how a community of practice can benefit from sharing stories and how failure stories are an especially valuable tool in building a practice


Stories make the world go round. As people who do user research, we love stories. At its simplest, our job is to gather stories and to retell them. War stories about contextual user research and the inevitable mishaps that ensue are in turn bizarre, comic, tragic, and generally astonishing.

Drawing from years spent gathering war stories and his book Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries, Steve Portigal shares some of the best stories he’s collected, examining the patterns and lessons they reveal.

Steve’s collection of stories fills a longstanding need for the design and research community: sharing what can go wrong in the real world. For a practice that is not always well understood or trusted, there‚Äôs pressure to only speak to the successes, but examining the human messiness of this work can help develop our skills and our community.

Photo of Steve Portigal

Steve Portigal

Portigal Consulting

Steve Portigal is the founder and principal of Portigal Consulting, a boutique firm that brings together user research, design and business strategy, where he helps companies to think and act strategically when innovating with user insights. Steve is the author of Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights and Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries: User Research War Stories. He’s also the host of the Dollars to Donuts podcast. Steve makes his home in the San Francisco Bay Area, where there’s always a new ramen restaurant to check out.