Category Archives: writing

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.

How to set up remote user testing with a Mac

I’ve started venturing into the world of doing remote user testing. This means that instead of recruiting people to come in to the office to do user tests, I use screen sharing technology to see how they use the web site I’m testing on their own computer.

This has lots of benefits, most notably:

  • I’m able to talk to people all over the world, not just in San Francisco.
  • I can see how the participants use the site on their own machines and browsers.
  • Recruiting is typically the most difficult and annoying part of doing user testing. Remote testing is easier to recruit for, since it doesn’t require the participant to go anywhere.

The technical side to this isn’t super easy, but it shouldn’t dissuade you from trying remote testing. I learned the basics of how to set up remote testing thanks to help from my awesome friend Nate Bolt. (Be sure to read his book on remote research when it comes out later this year!)

Here’s the skinny — UserVue is a great tool that is specifically built for remote testing. However, it only works on PCs. If you’re on a Mac, you have to assemble more of a Rube Goldberg-ian app suite. I did lots of tinkering with settings and applications to make this work; when I was done, I realized that these notes could be helpful for others.


You will need:

  • Mac (either laptop or desktop)
  • Acrobat Connect for screensharing. You do not need to buy the “Pro” version, Acrobat Connect Pro. Note that the Adobe site hides the cheap, non-Pro version. Cost: $39.95 a month.

    There is a free version that is basically the same but has shinier icons. It’s also slightly less annoying. In this version, you need to click on the participant name and request that they share their screen — no need to “autopromote participants to presenters.”
  • Soundflower to enable audio recording. Be sure to also install Soundflowerbed during the installation process. Free
  • iShowU HD for recording screensharing and audio. You do not need to buy the “Pro” version, iShowU HD Pro. $29.95
  • Skype for audio. Free to use but you will need to pay to call phones from Skype. Pay in increments of ‚Ǩ10.
  • Headset for using Skype. You will need a headset that has a built in microphone. I’m using the Plantronics GameCom Pro 1 for no other reason than I found one in our office. It works well.

(Note that if you’re on a PC, UserVue does what Soundflower + Connect + Skype + iShowU does.)


Sound on the computer:

Under System Preferences on the Mac, select Sound, then:

  • Output: Soundflower (2ch)
  • Input: headset


Under Soundflower (2CH), change from None (OFF) to headset


Select “Audio Setup…” then Audio Devices

  • Input: headset
  • Default Output: headset
  • System Output: headset
  • Soundflower - Audio MIDI Setup


    Under Preferences, select Audio

    • Audio Output > Soundflower (2ch)
    • Audio Input > headset

    Skype preferences

    iShowU HD:

    In the menu bar, make sure:

    • Microphone capture enabled
    • Application capture enabled

    Go to Advanced Options and click on the megaphone to adjust sound preferences.

    • Select: Record audio from applications
    • Select: Record sound from input device
    • DO NOT Select: Monitor input device
    • Select name of headset from dropdown

    Choose the area of your screen to record. Click “Choose” to select your capture area and toggle over to your Adobe Connect window and trace around the meeting space.

    iShowU HD settings

    Adobe Connect:

    Under “Meeting,” select “Auto-Promote Participants to Presenters

    Acrobat Connect preferences


    • Moderator calls participant using Skype. Audio quality will be better if you call them on a mobile or landline number rather than on Skype.
    • Make sure that they are at the Connect URL:
    • Instruct the participant to Select “Enter as Guest” and type their name. Tell them that you will approve them to enter the meeting. Approve them to enter the meeting once they have done this.
    • Ask the participant to click “Share Your Screen.”
    • Tell the participant that they will be prompted to install the Adobe Acrobat Connect Add-In if they don’t already have it.
    • Connect will then open for them in a new window. Ask them to click “Share Your Screen” again.
    • Tell the participant that where you see “Start Screen Sharing” select “Applications” then the name of the window where the website is open that you’ll be discussing.
    • At the end of the session remind the participant to select “Stop Sharing” at the bottom of the Connect window.

    – – – – – – –

    I’m interested in hearing about your experiences doing remote testing. Do you have gripes? Inspiring stories? Tips for other people doing user research? Good luck and have fun!