Mediabarn

The purpose of our blog is to provide our readers with a variety of posts that they are interested in. From our studio, research, and staffing agency, all branches of Mediabarn contribute to creating insightful and fun reads. We hope to educate, inform, and entertain with topics ranging from what's going on in our office to current industry trends worldwide.

GMU Takes a Tour of the ‘Barn

Last evening, we had the privilege of hosting the GMU Human Factors Students for some refreshments, a tour of our facility, and an engaging discussion about all things User Experience. It was a true pleasure for us to talk to the students about topics ranging from the usefulness of Google Glass, to sharing stories of our awkward college moments! Somehow we even found time to discuss user research methodologies, using discretion in social media when looking for a job, and the overall direction the UX field is taking. The clients we had in the office for a focus group surprised us and joined in on the conversation, even allowing us to pick their brains on the research they were conducting.

We all got to share new nerdy research and UX acronyms. Overall, it was a great time mixing in some fun with some learning. Our hope is that they left with having gained useful insights and knowledge!

We’d like to thank Melissa Smith and Ivonne Figueroa for organizing the event. We’d also like to send a very special thank-you and congratulations to Rob Youmans. Rob shares our vision of merging academia and the professional world to better prepare graduating students, and has been instrumental in forming the relationship between us and the students of GMU. We regrettably congratulate him on accepting a position with Google. He will be leaving Mason this summer, and he will be sorely missed. We look forward to working with the incoming advisor to continue strengthening our relationship.

Thanks again to everyone who came out, we’re looking forward to the next tour!

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Keep Focused on the Right Hire

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It’s rare that bad hires are accidental. Typically, you can look back and see where you went wrong or find the reasons behind why the candidate wasn’t the right one for the job. In order to avoid such issues, it’s important to maintain a strict hiring methodology that you stick to throughout the process.

We stress this importance because we recognize that certain candidates can sometimes cause you to stretch and/or mold your process based on a number of factors. This is why it’s extremely vital to try and dodge such situations and adhere to your process as much as possible.

In doing so, this can help prevent three of the most common pitfalls in hiring:
1. The “siren” effect: Don’t fall for their song and dance. Make sure your judgements aren’t influenced solely on the fact that you’ve become so captivated by a particular aspect of the candidate, such as their looks, credentials, or interests.
2. The “doppelganger” effect: Try to keep away from the desire to hire someone with skills and attributes that mirror the previous employee or if they remind you of a top performer you once had – you may be blindsided and fail to notice that they don’t quality for the job.
3. The “buddy-buddy” effect: You’re not trying to find your next BFF. Just because the candidate watches the same TV shows as you or roots for the same team, doesn’t mean they’re going to be a good fit for the job.

In order to help overcome these bumps, we implement a three prong hiring process that allows us to uncover the perfect candidate for the job:
Can do, Will do, Will fit. — (Read More Here)

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10 years of Ideas, Talent, & Insight

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Preface
This year, Mediabarn turned 10 years old. Our official incorporation date was January 1, 2004.  Some days it seems like that was 2 years ago, while some days it seems like it was 20. Being in business for 10 years has forced us into a tough task: self examination. We have been taking a look at ourselves in order to figure out what went right and what went wrong to allow us to stay viable for far longer than most small businesses. Our obvious goal for this introspection is to repeat the positives and correct the negatives in order for us to continue growing.
This will be the first installment in a series of observations that we have made over the past 10 years. They will be guided by our experiences along with various topics that we have found to be helpful over a number of branches in business.

Maintaining Your Ethics
One of the main principles we try to maintain at Mediabarn is a high ethical standard. As we all know, at times our ethics are under varying degrees of assault. Sometimes making an ethical choice can seem at odds with making a practical one, especially when money is involved. We believe making ethical decisions is actually right in line with also being practical. It’s important for us to maintain our ethical standards for two main reasons: 1. Doing the right thing makes us happy and 2. As a business, it’s smart.

A while back, I read a great book: There’s No Such Thing As “Business” Ethics by John C. Maxwell. The moral of the story is, whether you’re conducting business or acting in your personal life, the same ethical standards apply. Maxwell uses The Golden Rule as the core value that should be applied in your business life as it is in your personal one. He describes ways in which The Rule can be exceeded, and how specifically doing so benefits your business. It’s a quick, easy read and I’d recommend it to anyone. It’s still one of the most influential books I’ve read when it comes to maintaining a high ethical standard.

So, how do we define a high standard? That will be different for everyone, and rightfully so. The real answer for us comes in the form of our daily decision making. If we believe something is “right,” we do it. That answer may sound over-simplified, and on some levels it is. However, the more consistently we apply this way of thinking, the easier the decisions become.

Ok, then, how do we define “right?”  The main answer is by our gut, and by talking through the issue. I believe when it comes to making decisions that contain an ethical component, we have two powerful tools: other people and empathy (recall: The Golden Rule). The key here is putting yourself into someone else’s shoes and working through how they would feel with the different possible outcomes. This works even better when you involve other people, considering empathy gets a lot easier with other people contributing to the conversation.

The practical part of the equation is the easy part. We’ve seen that maintaining a high ethical standard allows for such positive impacts on our business as:

1) Clients trust us.
- We have several clients that have been with us for over 9 years!
- Nearly all of the client work we have done is a result of personal network connections, client referrals, and client repeat business.

2) Committed Talent.
- 8 employees that have been with us for over 5 years; 4 of which have been with us for all 10!
- We also have a number of consultants/freelancers that have been with us for over 6 years.

Thriving in business depends on a lot of things. There is no question, however, that we depend completely on the people we both work with and for. In return for us trying to do right by them, they have done right by us. As a business, if you can achieve loyal customers and surround yourself with dedicated talent, you will position yourself for success.

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Meetings Made Simple (& Productive!)

How many times a day do you find yourself dreading an upcoming meeting or conference call? We have all seen the many videos and cartoons that parody meetings, client relationships, conference calls, [insert latest video viral topic here], etc. Although some of what I’ve seen and read is funny, and a lot usually rings true, what I do know is that productive meetings certainly don’t have to be extremely long or unpleasant!

Mediabarn’s projects typically start as documented business requirements or simply a collection of back and forth emails and a few sketches. Some may begin as an existing product that needs a complete overhaul. Regardless, what helps make any project take shape is a successful partnership between you (as the UX expert), your team and your client. Keeping in mind that everyone has a different viewpoint, all information at the start of a project should be considered important enough to review. Roles are set and meetings are scheduled in hopes to create the next best site/app/product in your industry. Since communication and collaboration is such a vital part of the project process, it’s essential to look at how you could become better at “meeting.” Here are some tips that could help you make the most out of your meetings, especially in the brainstorming and planning stages.

  1. Do your homework. Make sure to come to any work session prepared. Although this is applicable for ANY work related meeting, it’s especially important during client brainstorming sessions when both sides should be discussing their thoughts and ideas. It can be frustrating for all parties involved to answer endless amounts of questions that could have been avoided if the person had just read the email or brief provided. There is a difference between clarifying questions versus an “I have no clue why I am here” question.
  2. You aren’t always right. I am, but you’re not. Kidding. While you may have more experience and insight, all attendees should be able to express ideas and concepts without being shot down.   Use your best judgment when offering ideas. Think of your audience (at and away from the table) and the goals of the project and make suggestions that are valuable – not just because you want to hear the sound of your own voice. When others make comments or offer feedback that you disagree with, always take the high road in your responses.
  3. Be friendly and conversational. This seems simple but you would be surprised… We’re all human. A pleasant tone and chit-chat never hurt any meeting; the absence of it though, could leave the room stale.
  4. Focus. Whether you’re there to watch a presentation or participate in one, pay attention and show that you’re present. This could include taking notes, nodding your head, and eye contact. Staring out the window or texting on your phone can wait until you’re back at your desk. ;-)
  5. Be available. Last minute meetings can happen. Although nobody expects you to drop everything and run out the door, try to be as flexible as you can, especially when you know that 10 other attendees have already cleared their schedule.
  6. Dress appropriately. If you know that you’re meeting with a casual client group, jeans won’t be an issue. Somewhere a little more “stuffy”? Dress the part. You can still be stylish, cool and “hip” in pants without holes and a shirt without a hood. Use your best judgment!

While I’m not saying that by following these guidelines every meeting will become a party (don’t we wish!), it may help in making some of the hours spent in meetings a little more rewarding and less painful.

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How many times have you formed an opinion of a business based on how you were treated? Whether it was at a grocery store, a doctor’s office or even a market research facility, we’ve all had both good and bad customer service experiences and memorable stories to tell.

Because we believe it’s the way we’re treated as consumers which can make or break a business, it makes sense that there’s significant value to understanding how your business falls qualitatively – especially if there’s room to make improvements. And, let’s face it, even the best have off days!

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Image Credit: http://goo.gl/21GHZ6

So, the question is, how do you learn more about what your customers experience first hand, and how do you discern a one-off experience from a consistent problem that needs addressing? Sure, you can read the comments and suggestions from your own website or even from social websites such as Yelp. But, these spaces typically become cluttered and inundated with negative one-off experiences. Unless you have a lot of customers that are willing to take time out of their day to actually write about you, it’s difficult to effectively measure these experiences and pin-point specific downfalls in which to improve.

A great method for collecting this type of qualitative data is mystery shopping. This term may evoke thoughts of sending women incognito into big box shops with cash in their handbags, but it’s actually much less exclusive to “shopping.” This method of research could involve making a series of phone calls to customer services centers, doctor’s offices, or whatever the target location may be for the study, and comparing the results over a span of time. Using this methodology, the research has the same first hand experiences that the consumer would and is able to collect and record a series of pertinent data for the client’s executive team to review. The collected data is then used by the client to improve internal processes which in turn better the consumers experience. Do you want to know how your employees interact with your customers? A Mediabarn mystery shopping experience may be what you need!

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Getting Hired – Chapter II: Online Portfolios

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Consider this: Researchers from NYU found that we make major decisions about one another in the first seven seconds of meeting.* Aside from your resume, your online portfolio could play just as an important role in those initial seconds. Branding, let alone branding yourself, is vital element in today’s UX market. Whether you’re on the job hunt, selling your services, trying to gain a better name for yourself, or simply networking, building an online portfolio proves to be a great way for others to get to know you and for you to get hired.

Here’s a quick list of points we think you should consider while developing/editing your virtual portfolio:

1. Simplicity. Have you realized this is a common theme in UX? Nobody likes something that’s overdone, and although some people could go on for days (or pages) talking about themselves, keep your expressions simple and minimal. Highlight your best work in order to grab someone’s attention and keep them coming back to you. Remember that often times, less is more. But…if you decide to paint outside the lines, make sure there’s a method to your madness!

2. Creativity. If you decide to paint outside the lines, make sure there’s a method to your madness! While we think that simplicity is important, we realize that everybody has different means of expressing themselves. Choose something that will strongly reflect your personality…no matter what it is.

3. Compatibility. Expectations are high these days. As a UX designer, you want to guarantee that not only is your site user-friendly, but that it’s compatible across various platforms and browsers. This includes things such as keeping up with web technology, layout, typography, and bells and whistles like swipes and hover states, etc. You don’t want to give your visitors a bad impression when they’re trying to view your site and all they get is *Error 415*.

4. Practice what you preach. Pretend to be your own client. Often times we hear that people get stuck and it’s mostly because they lose focus and in turn, motivation. You have to adhere to the same methodologies you preach to your clients! If you maintain high standards when it comes to requirements, schedule, ui, design and dev processes you’ll position yourself for the same spectacular results your clients come to expect from you.

These points can serve as a backbone to constructing or improving your personal portfolio, which in turn will help you achieve your ideal objectives and goals and maybe even get you a new job. Why not get started now and add a new twist to your portfolio!? We feel that it’s the littlest touches that make all the difference in standing out.

P.S.: Don’t forget your contact info ;)
(Did you know that a P.S. is 10x more likely to be read than any other text?…but of course, you read this whole post)

 

*Cited: http://www.forbes.com/sites/carolkinseygoman/2011/02/13/seven-seconds-to-make-a-first-impression/

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Making Content Matter

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Read this and you’ll become 10% smarter.
Ok, that’s probably not true – but at least I have your attention.

We hear over and over again in our industry that “people don’t read online anymore, they scan.” I don’t fully believe that. People read when they’re interested and the content is relevant to them. Think about a mother researching what’s causing her child’s cough, a family looking into different universities for their high school student, a person searching for a new car and wanting to learn as much as possible. Your users are online reading, but they are reading the sites that give them the most information in an easy, digestible way and ignoring the ones that don’t. Capture your user’s attention and they’ll take the time to read, absorb and potentially read more.

People visiting your site could be there for a variety of reasons depending on what you provide. Maybe it’s to make a purchase, register for a service, get information they need or simply are looking to be inspired or entertained. Regardless, they have chosen to come to YOUR site, so how are you going to give them the very best experience?

I am not a professional writer, but I am in the user experience industry so it’s my business to understand people and the way they experience all things digital. Coming up with fresh, engaging content is complex for any organization or company trying to capture an audience on their website. So how do you succeed?

One of the first questions you should ask yourself when creating content is how do you want your audience to feel when they read it? What is the takeaway you want to provide? Is it empowerment, knowledge, humor? The list goes on and it’s up to you to decide your intention based on your brand and business goals. This is a relevant part of the content development process that needs to be thought out.

Another item to note when shaping your content is that your users don’t necessarily care about your internal organization or politics. Just because something is important to your coworkers inside the walls of your office doesn’t necessarily mean it’s relevant to your users and content presented as such could appear distracting or confusing. Shape your content to engage your audience, not your executives. It will make a difference. Your users have a finite amount of time to search/browse/read and it’s your job to make the most of that brief time.

The content you present needs to create some sort of emotional response to get them coming back or moving toward the actions you intended. Making your content as useful, current and compelling as possible could do just that. It’s a balancing act of business goals versus user needs that when met, offers great reward with user satisfaction.

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“How much do you suggest for participant honorarium in your market?” 

“We’re on a tight budget for this project and need to make cuts somewhere. What is the minimum we can do for incentives?”

“How do you decide how much to pay people to come to these things?”

“Why am I being offered less money to come to a focus group than my mother was last year when she did a study at her house?” 

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♡ 2010 by Mimi and Eunice

We often receive questions from clients regarding the appropriate honorarium amount for research studies in our market, and it isn’t unusual to hear questions from our participants about honorarium as well. We thought it might be helpful to breakdown the different types of research studies we see most commonly, and give a basic guideline to the different studies and how we assess honorarium in Arlington!

Remote: Because participants don’t need to leave their homes for a remote study, they are usually offered a smaller gift for their participation. More often than not, we send their compensation of $25-$75 in the form of an Amazon gift card. Why Amazon? Because it makes it easy to track through e-mail. We also try to avoid mailing checks (unless it’s through certified mail) because if they get lost, there’s a $50 fee to stop payment on a check of $75. The risk is simply too high.

Intercepts: This is a quick way to get your target participants who are in a specific location. We stop people in stores and ask them to partake in a brief survey. Depending on the length of the survey, people may participate without being compensated. They just want to give an opinion! Seeing that most people expect something for their time though, it’s harder to get people to talk to you as a “favor”, especially if the survey has some length to it! We once did an intercept in a series of grocery stores for a specific pet product, where we handed those willing to participate and complete the survey a $10 gift card to that grocery store. This was fun for the participants and worked really well! People really loved the idea and were willing to spend 20 minutes talking with us about their pets to earn a $10 card.

In person: When recruiting participants for a study we’re conducting “in-house,” it’s important to consider that they’re going to need enough motivation to leave their house and drive/metro in. If someone is going to take 2 hours out of their time to come in, chances are $25 won’t make the cut. Typically, we start at $75 cash. You need to appeal to their curiosity and usefulness as well as the cash incentive. If you want good quality participants who are engaged and happy to be there, then you need to make it worth their while and appeal through incentive (“money talks”).

Amounts vary greatly depending not only on length of study, but also topic, audience and incidence rate. A 2-hour study on a popular topic (like food or music) among the general population may offer the minimum amount of $75 because there is a high incidence rate and there will be plenty of folks who will come out for that allowing for a large pool of likely qualified candidates. On the other hand, a 1-hour session among males ages 25-35 on sensitive health related topics would want to offer a higher incentive. Not only will they be talking about uncomfortable/embarrassing topics, but you also have a much lower pool to pull from, as well as a lower incidence rate! You don’t want to lose participants because you aren’t paying enough.

Ethno: For a study where you tell the participants that you want to send someone into their home with a video camera, it may come off as creepy at first. This type of study is the hardest and requires the most money for two reasons: (1) people typically respond to $200 or more, and (2) it lets them know that this is serious research. Although ethnos are more challenging, we’ve done many and have found that people are willing to commit for the right amount of money. If you are requiring it to include a shop along, you should consider bumping up the incentive a little more, too!

Studies done with Elites, Leaders, Physicians, Officials, etc., tend to pay much higher incentives because we’re asking people with very busy schedules to fit us in. They don’t need the money, but they usually participate just because they think their opinions are valuable and they want to contribute in that way. Offering someone in these professions $75 for an hour of their time can come across as an insult and could give the impression that it’s a study not worth their time. We typically start around $175-$200 as a minimum honorarium for this audience.

Lastly, incentive and recruiting fees go hand in hand. The more incentive you offer, the more interest you are able to generate and in turn the recruiting can be easier and less expensive. If you skimp on the incentive, it will typically make it harder to appeal to the right demographic, and makes recruiting harder and drives the recruiting fees up.

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Building Effective Resumes

small2Welcome to career fair and internship season! This marks a great time to discuss something I try to instill when visiting schools that applies not only to students, but to everyone as well: tailor your resumes to each client. On average, hiring managers only spend seconds looking over your resume – and those seconds will either make you or break you.

There are numerous things you can do to ensure that your resume will make it past the “screening” stage. When scouring the numerous boards and websites for your next “dream job,” it can be difficult to keep your focus on the key responsibilities and/or requirements that a client is looking for with their particular role. Here’s how you can start to peel away some of the fluff and get to the core of the client’s needs in order for you to position yourself for success.

It’s important to focus on each job individually. Try not to use your same old resume and/or portfolio and blindly apply to every UX job you come across. It really makes a difference if you take your time and dissect the description, starting with carefully reading over the summary. Get a good understanding of the type of person they’re looking for and ask yourself questions along the lines of:
Would you fit into this role? If so, how? What experience, goals or ambitions do you have that would make you a good fit? Did you hold an internship or previous positions in a similar industry, client base, or corporate structure? If so, start things off right by adding these points to your Summary or Objective section.

Next, let’s move on to the bullets. Companies will typically list out their requirements, which are usually in order of importance. If the first bullet is asking for “X” number of years in a specific role or type of experience, be sure to mention this clearly on your resume. You may even consider making it your own bullet or listing it as the first line in your roles and responsibilities.

Last – but certainly not least – are the hands on skills. Depending on your role or the type of position you’re going after, I recommend only adding the essential skills to your resume. It could be valuable to mention that you’re proficient with Photoshop, but it’s not necessary to add the number of years you’ve been using it or even the different versions. Unless it’s specifically mentioned that it’s required for the position, avoid listing every app you’ve ever used, including outdated apps, and wherever possible, list the suite (ex: MS Office). Simply said: if it’s not relevant, keep it off!

If you’re having a hard time customizing your resume because you’re finding that you just don’t possess the hard skills a company is looking for, but are still very interested, your best bet is to write a cover letter. Be honest and tell them why you want to work there or why you think you’d be a great fit. And most importantly, be sure to direct it to the correct company. Too often people forget to change the company name and I can assure you that there’s no quicker way to get your resume tossed.

Good luck and look for more installments of “Blueprints to Getting Hired” coming soon!

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Meet Sally Kelley: Mediabarn’s Newest Member

Sallykelley3467The ‘Barn is growing and would like to introduce the newest addition to our gang, Sally Kelley. Sally joins us as the Director of Client Services and Recruiting for Mediabarn Research with over 12 years of experience in project management and client services, and five years participant recruitment. Having worked at Martin Focus Group Services, as well as founding her own independent market research company, Focosity, LLC, Sally is marching in with an army of recruiters that hold over 24 years of individual experience in the market research industry. With her combined strength and knowledge of research and customer service, as well as passion for art, music and photography, Sally is sure to fit right in. Welcome to the squad!