Episode 128 of The Informed Life podcast includes a conversation with UX research consultant Steve Portigal. Steve is the author of Interviewing Users, which is now on its second edition, and Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries. He was previously on the show last year, talking about research skills.
But our latest conversation is a bit different. Both of us have written new books, and we thought it’d be fun to compare notes about the process. We decided to split our conversation into two parts. Episode 128 focuses on the motivations for writing, and episode 129 will focus on processes.
We started by discussing several factors we share. We’re contemporaries and have been about as long in the UX industry. We’re both independent consultants. We both share the same publisher. So lots of commonalities.
This led the conversation to our motivations for writing books. As independent consultants, it’s important to stake out a position of thought leadership. Even in our fragmented media environment books still carry weight. So even though both of us were writing blogs, we were drawn to books. In Steve’s case, he was also nudged by several people and he recognized a gap in the market for a book on UX research.
We also discussed the importance of iterating on how we explained the material prior to writing books through blogging, teaching, and workshops. As Steve put it,
I was writing blog posts, articles, columns, teaching, and doing workshops… I had a lot of material that was in all these forms that I’d been doing for years and years. So, when there was an opportunity to change the form of it, it was like the right place, right time.
There are also benefits to teaching the material. The narrative form that makes sense for you may not resonate with others. It’s important to get feedback on what works for people. (In this regard, I brought up a book that helped me and which I recommend to budding nonfiction writers: Rob Fitzpatrick’s Write Useful Books.)
We also discussed the value of books that have stood the test of time. We’ve both worked on new editions of existing books: in Steve’s case, the second edition of Interviewing Users, and in my case, the fourth Polar Bear book. The fact that a book has a second (or subsequent) edition is a strong signal that the market has deemed this set of ideas, told in this particular way, to be valuable somehow.
I always enjoy talking with Steve, and this conversation was especially enjoyable, since we got to connect on so many things we share. We’ve already recorded the second part, which covers more specific ground. I hope you get value from both.