Past Apprenticeships

Tacos & Beer Workshop: How UX Strategy + AI Could Solve Bartering

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“There may be many people wanting, and many possessing those things wanted; but to allow of an act of barter, there must be a double coincidence, which will rarely happen.”
William Stanley Jevons, Money & the Mechanism of Exchange (1875)

Do you know what it means to enable the double coincidence of wants? This idea, attributed to the rather intense Victorian gent pictured above, is the central challenge of bartering – the difficulty of finding a match between what two sides want to gain and trade away. Barter enthusiasts look to the Web to provide more double coincidence opportunities, with most thinking primarily in terms of matching supply and demand. But this perspective is simplistic and misses the greater opportunity – that bartering is made up of a colorful multitude of human experiences and drives and isn’t just about satisfying purely economic wants and needs. The working hypothesis that the TradeYa team is testing is that their unique UX+AI approach will open the doors to capturing the rich variety of social, psychological and cultural motivations that attract people to barter – that the future of bartering will feel a whole lot more like online dating than an Internet marketplace.

Applying this UX+AI approach to the double coincidence challenge is the overarching goal of TradeYa’s crack team of apprentices. The teammates were in an eager and focused mood when they met for the first time together for an intensive workshop on January 2nd, 2013. During a whirlwind 3-hour presentation (check out the packed whiteboard agenda above), the 8 apprentices were onboarded by Jaime Levy and TradeYa CEO Jared Krause. They dove into the history and philosophy of TradeYa but also several methodologies and tools that will be vital for the apprentices to learn as they work to refine and perfect a freshly launched Minimal Viable Product in just 30 days.

This workshop also involved a LOT of discussion about funnels e.g. funnel design for customer acquisition, UX funnel design, and an especially nifty red funnel Jaime uses for adding oil to her car (actually a demonstration of the central metaphor of channeling customers through UX+AI guidance). This was all tied together by the Funnel Matrix dashboard that the apprentices will access through a central cloud-based hub for tracking and connecting customer discoveries to truthful analytics. (See the screenshot of the Funnel Matrix below.) The team also learned about their Guerilla User Research techniques, in which pairs of apprentices with laptops will interview participants in cafes while also updating their findings to a shared project spreadsheet.

Tacos and beer followed the workshop, and the dinner conversation proved just as important to the Lean UX thought process. I enjoyed watching the apprentices spontaneously lead a wide-ranging and spirited debate with Jaime, Jared, and each other over practical and philosophical questions about the different possibilities of online barter: What do Jaime and Jared have against alternative currencies? Why don’t they experiment with displaying monetary values of barter items on their site? Should TradeYa drop its time limits on users’ postings? The dialogue also gave Jared a chance to share his extensive research into the psychological and cultural dynamics of barter, how that research affected TradeYa’s past customer acquisition schemes, and the lessons the apprentices can draw from their results.

This workshop and dinner was a conversational opportunity – a double coincidence, if you will – to be challenged by diverse ideas and fresh viewpoints. It is also what makes Lean UX Strategy an education for startup leaders, like Jaime and Jared, as well as for the apprentices. I look forward to covering more fun debates in the weeks to come.

Zhan Li, USC PhD Student, Researcher and Project Blogger.

TradeYa 2013 MVP Lean UX Apprentice Program Kick-off

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We did not begin with barter, discover money, and then eventually develop credit systems. It happened precisely the other way around.” – David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years (2011) What the famed anthropologist and Occupy intellectual David Graeber is arguing in the quote above is not that barter never existed before the invention of money and then credit, but that communities and societies based around barter system economies didn’t emerge before money. Barter systems, he says, were something pre-money peoples used in dealing with strangers – outsiders to their community – who they couldn’t trust very well and were often likely never to see again. Turning a key founding myth of modern economics on its head, Graeber helps us envision community-centered barter systems as a progressive evolution beyond our current crisis-ridden

currency-and-credit-based economy. TradeYa believes that their platform will be the first platform to efficiently and effectively harness the power of Web 2.0 networks, online communities and algorithmic agents to support community-based barter as a smooth, streamlined, user-friendly process – one which will be available and practical for a wide range of audiences interested in exchanging all kinds of goods and services. At the heart of making this happen is Lean UX design and Customer Discovery experimentation. Starting this holiday season and for the month of January 2013, Jaime Levy and Jared Krause (both co-founders of TradeYa) will be running a crack team of apprentices – mostly junior-level UX and Lean Startup bandits – through an intensive, hands-on testing of TradeYa’s Beta MVP, using Jaime’s transposing of the Lean Startup principles onto User Experience Strategy methodology. Within 72 hours of JLR Interactive’s “Help Wanted: Lean UX Apprentices” post blasting through the Twitterverse and LinkedIn, all 8 spots were filled with qualified individuals hand-picked for this challenge (plus one project blogger). This intrepid group comes from all over Los Angeles and includes professionals with advanced skills, degrees from MIT, Cornell, NYU, University of California, etc. PLUS decades of experience in architecture, marketing, film, psychology, and more. While some of the apprentices already have an understanding of UX design and the Lean Startup approach, we expect that it’ll really be the cross-pollinating catalyst effect of their diverse expertise and backgrounds from outside of UX – thrown into the deep end of MVP hands-on testing – that will generate the most valuable insights here.

The apprentices’ tasks will draw on a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods. These will include test-driving the TradeYa experience by engaging in real

barters, Guerilla User Research interviews across LA, wireframe development for immediate deployment, learning to use the Funnel Matrix method to measure TradeYa user conversions, and brainstorming unconventional Customer Acquisition strategies. This first week all the apprentices will be rapidly on-boarded as they get to grips with the project’s Google cloud-based collaboration process and the TradeYa bartering mindset. They’ll also be reading required materials such as the free sample chapter from Jeff Gothelf’s “Lean UX” book (due out February 2013) and a draft sample chapter from a book called “User Experience Strategy” that Jaime hopes to get published. I’ll be helping out by documenting this pioneering Lean UX experiment and its thrills and spills through this 4-part series of blog posts. I’m excited about this first-hand opportunity for me to observe and hope that you will join me.

Zhan Li, USC PhD Student, Researcher and Project Blogger.

Guerrilla User Research at a Bohemian Café

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Painting of Juana Galán (1787-1812), famed Spanish heroine guerrilla fighter against Napoleon’s forces in the Penisular Wars (La Galana, guerrillera de La Mancha, by Carlos Isidro Muñoz de la Espada, circa 1990s; source: Wikicommons/public domain)

Famously, Napoleon Bonaparte’s formidable Grande Armée, consisting of hundreds of thousands of well-drilled and disciplined professional soldiers, were thwarted by an unconventional strategy used in the 19th century Peninsular Wars in Spain. In one example, the fierce Juana Galán and her supporters helped force the French invaders to abandon the province of La Mancha by leading Spanish villagers through highly improvisational tactics, such as pouring boiling oil on roads and scalding water out of windows. Today, that strategy is known today as “guerilla” warfare, and Jaime Levy’s guerrilla approach to conducting qualitative user research embodies this same kind of unconventional spirit. What TradeYa’s leaders aim to do with their apprentices is to chart an alternative way for UX thinking and practice, one which moves away from unwieldy, well-drilled orthodoxy to user research far more ready to take inventive risks, turn on a dime, and respond resiliently to sudden hiccups. I had the pleasure of observing this fieldwork in action at a bohemian Santa Monica café on a recent rainy afternoon.

The fieldwork revolved around interviews of a potential customer segment as they were being introduced to the TradeYa platform for the first time. Tactical preparation was crucial, and interview questions and participant recruitment scripts were refined multiple times beforehand. TradeYa apprentices agonized over whether participants should be asked to bring items or snapshots of items they might barter. They consulted their Funnel Matrix (see previous post) and pondered deeply over the best way to screen candidates for demographics and know-how, if at all. In the end, the apprentices posted want ads to the most relevant sections of Craigslist (including the barter section), and the screened respondents (some double-booked) ALL showed up.

In contrast to expensive and retrospective focus-group research practices, the guerilla approach depended on teams of just 2 or 3 novice researchers to interview users. Each interview took place in an informal public setting and lasted less than 45 minutes. One of the most intriguing aspects of the guerilla style I observed was how Jaime and her team smoothed over any logistical problems in their fieldwork environment, such as using generous cash tips to stay in the good graces of the café staff or quickly reorganizing teams when more interviewees arrived than expected.

But good guerrilla UX practice isn’t just about agile management of the interviews’ informal, public environment but also about the innovative use of technology and careful team coordination. As I saw demonstrated, audio and video recordings weren’t necessary because of Internet access. Nor was the arduous task of having to listen to and distill hours of recordings after the “attack”.  Instead the WiFi allowed the researchers to collaboratively update one Google cloud-based spreadsheet with user responses while interviews were live. While one apprentice talked with the participants and prompted them with both qualitative questions and usability tasks, the other teammates sat discreetly nearby to capture positive and negative feedback to particular features. The collaborative format also allowed for parallel multi-tasking—enabling apprentices to flag critical responses using a color coding system as the sessions progressed.

Guerilla User Research Template

Unlike conventional, standardized approaches to UX research, guerilla-style UX research is inherently fast-moving and in-the-moment. The instruments and techniques are, by design, continuously subject to immediate critique and adjustments. Still, when all the fieldwork was done (total cost less than $500 for six in-depth interviews), the team gathered over a table to carefully debrief, discuss, and reflect on big picture clues that emerged from the interview data. Jaime and the apprentices drew new conclusions about target demographics along with a prioritized list of UI design tweaks for immediate deployment to the TradeYa MVP. In discussion later with a colleague, I wondered how much more time and effort grander and more conventional UX research efforts would have used to gain the same level of insights. And she pointed out that my thinking could probably parallel what Napoleon and his Grand Armée didn’t consider when they marched into Spain 200 years ago.

– Zhan Li, USC PhD Student, Researcher and Project Blogger.

Help Wanted: Part-time Lean User Experience Research Apprentices!

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JLR Interactive/TradeYa is hiring part-time aspiring or jr-level User Experience researchers and designers for a month-long paid apprenticeship program. This is an opportunity to get your hands dirty conducting Guerrilla User Research and Lean UX experiments on a totally killer MVP this January 2013!

 • Start date is as soon as December 24th, 2012 or by January 1, 2013. The project will last through the entire month of January 2013.
• Pay rate is $8.00 an hour with a commitment of 14 hrs per week. You must be available during the business day at least 10 of those hours.
• Work is a mixture of on-site at a variety of cafes and co-working spaces in the Los Angeles area and off-site from your homes if you are fully Skype enabled and decent with InDesign and/or Photoshop. There will be a mandatory training session held on Jan 2nd in South Pasadena that runs 2pm-6pm including dinner!

Your responsibilities will include:

(1) Helping us connect analytical tools to our live MVP so we can measure conversion
(2) Tracking the metrics we need to capture into our Funnel Matrix tool
(3) Brainstorming totally insane customer acquisition experiments
(4) Planning and conducting Guerilla User Research interviews and tests in the field.

This one-off apprenticeship program will be a hands-on, intense learning and testing phase for TradeYa’s just launched beta MVP. It will also be 100% guided under the personal mentorship of Jaime Levy.

Those with Lean Startup acumen and/or former “A” students of Jaime’s UCLA Extension UX Design classes are highly desired.

Please contact us ASAP if you are interested. Include your weekly availability from December 24th – January 31st. Also include your months/years of professional Internet-related work (i.e. 10 Years as a Graphic Designer), studying User Experience Design and/or conducting any type of user research studies.