Week notes May 24th 2019

This week, I’ve been mostly eating bourbon biscuits.

It was the final official week of user research on the current project I’m on. I had a number of calls with people about things lining up for July time, a few interesting opportunities but I gave up talking in too much detail about speculative work a long time ago so you’ll have to hold your horses.

I’ve been getting ready for next Wednesday (California Superbike School) and the next episode of The UX Coach podcast which will be ready for your ears on Tuesday when you wake up. This episode is with the founder of Progression App which is a platform for design managers to support developing their teams careers. It was a great episode, really interesting tale so go subscribe because the season is nearly over.

I caught up with Tim, my collaborator in All My Friends Are Going Deaf, to discuss life, and whether we should do something this year with the band – or if we even have time.

Hugely enjoyed the Anniversary updates in Overwatch, particularly the Yeti chase, and just stunned that everyone I know seems to have clocked up a crazy number of hours and I’m way behind.

Been reflecting a lot on what does and doesn’t work in government digital services. I feel there’s still a lot that doesn’t work and that poxy design / dev glorified waterfall disguised as agile is really buggering it up for everyone. If there’s one thing that’s for sure, if you show someone a process that is linear a) it is not embracing the lean startup culture that government actually wants and b) you will fail to do the right thing in favour of passing exams (oh the irony).

Got to catch up with a few of the people I’ve been mentoring over the last few years which has been really nice to see how they’ve evolved and that for the most part, they’re happier where they are now compared to when I first met them.

Next week is a short one with a bank holiday in the UK and I’ll be racing on another one so it’s paperwork, paperwork, a ‘mock assessment’ (I mean seriously, how daft is that) and then more paperwork.

Week notes 3rd May 2019

#ResearchOps all the thingzzz. Having to cancel the Brighton Research Ops breakfast meetup this week due to an attendance of 2 – and we had lunch together the previous week, I’ve also notified TeamReOps+ that I wont be hosting/facilitating a skills framework workshop on the South coast of England. Again because frankly there’s no businesses here, everyone works in London now because the Brighton economy has tanked so .. meh.

I’ve been running user research sessions, having managed to get the budget way, way down by canning all travelling and doing things remote and guess what – it also means people are in fact more available too. Plus I’ve just saved a load of wasted hours in transport maximising the day FTW.

Recruitment panel spun up for the project I am on, which then tied into another lovely catchup albeit far too brief with Sophie Boyd, Head of User Research at Department for Education, and a few other research teams. Finally feels like strands are being tied together.

Rehearsal (the one and only rehearsal) for the Deftones cover band gig which is… tonight in Tunbridge Wells. It’ll be fun! The vocalist landed from the USA two days ago and so he’ll be pleasantly surprised that we are in fact a well oiled machine…

Ongoing Twitter debate with an engineer head at Starling as to why trying to appease people’s way of thinking based on the paradigm they’re trying to break is both daft and exhausting.

Did something strange to my leg at the gym and am hobbling. Annoyed me because a) I thought I was hitting some PBs with weight and reps, and because I wanted to go climbing again this week.

Bought tickets to see Sleep in October.

Ate lots of chicken based dishes.

Week notes 27th April 2019

This week, I became part of the Hoxby Collective, tore a hefty blister climbing at VauxWest, started some lead generation for user research ops, broke a recruitment company with law and logic, met some wonderful people, went to a short film festival and am now off for a days rehearsal in a Deftones covers band. #weeknotes

What is a mid-weight designer?

It’s your first ever job and your purpose is to soak everything up.

Just like a foundation course at college, being a junior designer is all about understanding the foundations of your craft, picking a specialism to hone into and becoming a T-shaped person; or in the case of UX design comb-shaped.

The average duration of a junior role is around 3 years. Beyond this point you will often start to see adverts for positions described as a mid-weight designer. You may even be in a place where this is how you are described today.

The question I have been posing to myself and have opened up through The UX Coach podcast is, what does that really mean?

Is it time to drop the 10,000 goal?

For most people moving into a creative career, our goal in life is to become a master craftsperson, an expert practitioner.

Through repeating design efforts we become efficient in our discipline  and During this period of your career you are becoming highly skilled in a specific area, or if you’re a UX designer maybe a few areas of deep knowledge.

For a long time we’ve talked about this as developing your 10,000 hours; the length of time Anders Ericsson in his paper The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance back in 1993 claimed it took to become an expert at anything.

You could argue that the concept of being a mid-weight designer is the act of becoming a master. Using this derogatory labelling of mid-weight can lead to people feeling they are not good enough.

The truth is we are simply designers.

By allowing ourselves to be bought into the concept of the 10,000 hour theory is that it is virtually impossible to gain this in a linear fashion.

Unlike a concert violinist for example, who will only ever play violin and even a specific style, a UX designer is likely to learn a multitude of instruments, some with a basic grasp and others with strong proficiency.

Being classified as a mid-weight designer can make you feel lesser, and is emphasised in the workplace by the fact that in many cases, whilst carrying this label you will be unable to access other areas of design or the business that you may in fact excel in, or be truly passionate about.

How do we overcome the mid-weight rut and get access to strategic senior roles?

Beyond being a designer is the notion of a senior designer.

Asking a variety of people throughout the industry what this means, gets mixed opinions. A conversation with Mark Branigan for The UX Coach podcast, gave me the best framing I’ve heard so far.

Seniority should be driven from your experiences – not time. One person can have the same experience over a decade as another has within just a few months.

Context is everything when it comes to seniority. Unfortunately for most of us being senior comes with pros and cons.

In most organisations being senior shoulders you with responsibilities you are unlikely to be experienced or equipped to handle because you’ve spent your career perfecting your practitioner craft.

  • Being responsible for people
    Leading a team of individuals of varying capability and experiences
  • Managing a department, or team
    Involves finances, money in, money out. Costing out projects, budgets, you may even be responsible for generative the income streams for the business
  • Strategic thinking
    Being senior usually entitles you access to work that is of a more strategic nature, or considered to be complex

From this list, the responsibility for people; their work and their wellbeing, and the ability to work on strategic work are where I have decided to focus my research of late.

It seems crazy to me that we are missing the opportunity to have incredible talent supporting others in management capacities, and working on strategy because they haven’t earned their stripes.

The Designer Career Path doesn’t involve people

The learning and career paths for digital design disciplines is infantile. Much of our practice has existed for less than 10 years, and an international education system that is failing new designers with outdated course materials, even more outdated modules and a distinct lack of understanding as to what is expected of today’s workforce.

What is troubling me of late is that whilst we have hundreds of pop-up businesses providing training for career switchers, side-movers and graduates to develop the foundations of digital design it is only increasing the knowledge gap.

We now have far more people who want to be practitioners than we do people that want to support and enable others to do great work.

Staying for longer in a company should mean you become a Manager of people

Purely by staying in one spot for long enough people are elevated to positions of Manager, Senior X or Lead but rarely have experience in what it means to be responsible for other people. It’s not often I find there are any tangible training and learning opportunities for these people to gain those skills either.

Equally as common is finding out these people never wanted this responsibility. It isn’t their passion or desire to be developing and supporting other people to do great work – They are confident and impassioned by doing that work themselves.

These roles manifest or are taken on by practitioners because it bumps their salary and because it is considered to be an acknowledgement of their experience.

When this happens it can be a big problem for everyone in their team as they may not get the support and development they need. It’s just as important to consider the stress and strain that can take on the individual suddenly responsible for them.

This is when I find I am being contacted the most.

The disconnect between practice and enablement

There are no clear opportunities for people to explore within the earlier stages of their career roles that relate to management. It means there is no career path that is intended for leaders or managers – people who want to enable others.

Gia Puha Lihua laid this out well in her post Mapping your UX career trajectory.

Career progressions in the Practitioner and Managerial route by Gia Puha Lihua

The diagram shows that these are laid out in two distinct camps but highlights that there are no obvious joining paths from column A to column B.

I believe we can change this story.

How the ‘Ops movements might save us all

Last year, along with hundreds of people across the world I became part of the ResearchOps (https://twitter.com/TeamReOps) community. A group that has become increasingly aware of the need for operational support for people working in user research.

I took part in the first international workshop in London before co-hosting another. Workshop were carried out all over the world with 100s of attendees.

Almost all the participants were research practitioners.
Results to the workshop questions resulted in the same things emerging when it came to our point of global synthesis – practitioners wanted support in various ways in order to get on with their jobs – the craft.

As a result, one question kept coming into my mind.Do you want to help others do great work?

At some point in time you should reflect on what you enjoy and what energises you.

Do you find that the thing that gets you truly amped is knowing that today you’re going to go in and be helping a colleague learn something new, or overcome a challenge they’re facing?

Then I would say you are destined for a successful career in some kind of managerial design role and we certainly need more of you to step forward.

What can we do next?

Be clear and honest with yourself about what gives you passion.

If the idea that more of your time is going to be spent ensuring others can be successful and very little is going to be carrying out studies or designing interfaces, then think twice about accepting that lead design or head of design role – and don’t be ashamed to admit it.

You can explore this at any point in your career because there will always be something you have to offer others. Become a mentor, volunteer your time to work with someone in your company, or outside of it.

Setup a mastermind group within this community here, or register yourself at the UXPA and offer your knowledge back to others.

There’s some work to do for company founders and leadership teams too. Let’s not get them off the hook too easy.

I believe that:

  • Senior shouldn’t mean responsible for people
  • Shouldn’t mean able to now work on complex projects, systems design, strategy etc
  • Management and leadership roles should be considered earlier in career development
  • Title does not dictate behaviour (Thank you Kevin Smith)
  • Age does not equal wisdom

I want to keep this conversation going and ideally to help with the eradication of the derogatory label of mid-weight anything.

To do this, I put these thoughts and a few questions out to the design community and got an overwhelming response.

This has resulted in the creation of The UX Coach, a podcast series to hear how others feel about this, what their career paths have looked like, what the future holds and advice on making those difficult decisions on roles and responsibilities.

You can subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher and pretty much anywhere else. And if it isn’t where you download your podcast feed from, let me know and I’ll make it happen.

Further reading

The Role of a manager has to change in 5 key ways

The Brutal truth about becoming a design manager

How to become an expert at anything (Anders Ericsson)

Mapping your UX career trajectory Pt1

Xmas wishlist 2018

Ho Ho Ho!

Welcome to the latest instalment of all the things that would be nice to receive at Christmas.

In no specific order:

Kindle e-reader

6″ Kindle e-reader

I was a bit bummed to find that my Kindle had shorted out. It’s now in various parts in a box. Turns out it is cheaper to replace than repair.

Wesc Olavi Plaid Shirt

Can I get that in a medium?

Left handed Steak Knife / Butter Knife

I can’t give you a link, I’ve not really found a smart place on my travels. You may never understand, but the challenges of seemingly simple tasks such as carving something or spreading something with your run of the mill knife is an awkward, mess for me.

If you can find a left handed knife, you may dramatically change my life.

Yamaha YZF-R1

Actually going up in price this year, the latest upgrades include now unified ABS system, and a rather delightful deep blue colour way. For an extra £70 you can also get a side stand that will not make it fall down if someone sneezes!

Instax Square film

Buy the time I am receiving this I’ll be in the ownership of something very special and it runs on these little, expensive square blighters. Please donate.

The Wall Street Journal Guide to Information Graphics: The Dos and Don’ts of Presenting Data, Facts, and Figures

This has now been on my list for a few years…

Level 1 Superbike School

This is something I’ve been wanting to do for a few years. I’m not going to think about it this time. If it isn’t gifted I’ll be booking the first Brands Hatch session on Xmas day.

Spaceteam (Card game)

Unfortunately this now seems to be hard to get as it has been turned into an mobile game.

Getting certified

I’ve written a lot over the last few years about the education sector and my interest in being more involved in the future of digital design, particularly what happens on the web.

With that thought, I enrolled in summer school, spending the hot days here in England studying to become a certified teacher and trainer and I am happy to say that today I got my certification!

I now have a Level 3 Award in Teaching & Training certification. This used to be called PTLLS and certifies me to teach in Further Education, or any teaching and training environment with adults and young adults studying topics at a non-degree level.

This provides a lot of great room to move in my career as well as the skills I have been servicing through my consultancy (We Are AFK) as well as making it more viable to take me on as a part time, or even full time lecturer in further education.

If you would like to talk with me about teaching/training in web design, user experience design, service design or anything in general I would love to hear from you.

I have added a copy of my certificate to my LinkedIn profile.

Exploring natural and multimodal applications

In the second module of the MIT CSAIL HCI degree, we’re discussion natural and multimodal interactions and their applications.

The discussion element for this module asked us to:

Think about the natural and nontraditional interfaces that you encountered in the enrichment activity in this unit. What potential opportunities do they represent? What part of multimodal or multi-sensory interfaces would you be most excited to be able to use?
Bethany LaPenta, MEng at Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Continue reading “Exploring natural and multimodal applications”

Garbage, a reflection of albums at the right time

I hear the opening guitar line and close my eyes and I can see myself cycling to and from the newly opened Tonbridge swimming pool, day in day out, having to stop to flip over the tape before carrying on my journey. This is the story of a perfect album released at the perfect moment.

As the summer holiday of high-school was nearing an end in 1995 Garbage released their eponymous titled debut album to international acclaim. A year after the death of Kurt Cobain and the rock world was lost. Enter Shirley Manson, a bold and confident personification of rock and roll and even better in female form. Every magazine cover was emblazoned by the vision of this fiery haired rock goddess, even though as she would later come to admit she was nervous about everything, and until walking into the recording studio never written a lyric in her life.

I bought the album on cassette at Our Price the morning it came out having seen videos at friends houses of Garbage performing Only Happy When It Rains and was mesmerised, not from her beauty, but from the sheer strength she expressed in performances.

The tape didn’t leave my walkman until about 2 months later, day in day out listening to it. I’d not really heard anything like it before, the blend of edgy rock guitars, dark lyrics electronic drums and synths. Garbage opened a door for me to what else was happening with the cross over between rock and electronica. Without them I don’t think I would have revisited Pop Will Eat Itself, Nine Inch Nails, Skinny Puppy or Front 242 even though none of them really reflected the same sound.

For some reason Stupid Girl came into my head this morning and took me back to that summer, a blistering sunshine and getting caught in a freak lightening storm out of nowhere one afternoon cycling back from the swimming pool.

I got home feeling somehow wetter than when I was in the pool, the sky was black and the outside was officially off-limits. What else to do but put my headphones back on and push play.

What is a symbol and what is an icon?

An icon is a way of providing information without the use of written text.

It shouldn’t be confused with a symbol which is a pictorial that doesn’t have to depict the object, or action that it is displayed for. An icon is intended to represent the object that is present.

For example, a speed camera sign on UK roads is a symbol. In the sign it uses a box browning camera, a device that is not the one in use at the side of the road, even though the early gatso camera’s did look a little like a giant yellow box camera. There is also no film in the camera. What adds further confusion is that the device in question is obsolete, very few drivers will understand what the pictorial is of.

A symbol has to be learnt, an icon however should be recognisable and familiar and representative of the thing. It’s also why I hate the funnel icon so much you often see being used to denote a filter. You do not use a funnel to filter a liquid, you use a funnel to transfer a large volume of liquid to a vessel of equal, or greater size with a shallow opening, or to ensure it is added in a controlled way.

A good example of an icon is the house often used on web applications and websites because it is denoting that you will be returned to the home-page. Although understanding the structure of a website and that every site has a home is a learned behaviour, it requires little cognition.

If you are looking at something and trying to determine whether it is a symbol or an icon – we can determine its purpose from what is drawn.

The Christmas list of 2017

Ho Ho Ho! Merry gift giving season!

This year has been a rollercoaster of emotions, actions and a distinct lack of quality time off.

To celebrate I decided to procrastinate by making a wish list, instead of writing the proposal for work I was meant to be doing. It’s been broken into budget-lead sections, but for your enjoyment, I think you should start at the top and work your way down.

See you on the 25th!

Yamaha YZF-R1 (2015-2017)

I know what you’re thinking, but he already has one of those doesn’t he, and you’d be correct. But did you know that the 2009 model I own was the first of its kind? That It’s be nearly tricked out as far as it can go and even though it is a whole lotta fun, it’s getting old in the tooth.


Fender Precision Bass

You might not be aware right now, but I am in a new band. We have no name, sorry, but we have lots of songs and I’ve gone back to playing bass. Boy I’ve missed this overweight lump and the chronic shoulder pain! Right now I have a loaner, it’s great but you need your own stuff.



Bass gig bag

That bass is nice, but it’s not going to get far without transport. This simple, yet nifty bag ensures that it’s good-to-gig.



Hel Performance Brake Line Front Racing – Yamaha YZF-R1

Pure vanity, my fluid never gets hotter than the standard specification. Naturally I’m looking for red sleeves and red banjos to match.


and best not forget there’s a rear break too..


Exploding Kittens

Exploding Kittens is a card game for people who are into kittens and explosions and laser beams and sometimes goats.


LUPO: The Space Adventure

A Card Game In Which Your Imagination is Humanity’s Only Hope!


Johnny the Homicidal Maniac: Directors Cut

One of my favourites, certainly one of the greatest ever made. Sadly I lost my copy to an evil gargoyle who wanted all my magic bees. This most recent edition would look great in my hands.


The Wall Street Journal Guide to Information Graphics: The Dos and Don’ts of Presenting Data, Facts, and Figures

Yeah that sounds as dry as it gets right? It think it could be interesting though.


Dark Matter

By blake crouch, i’ve been waiting for this to go paperback.


Sleeping Giants: Themis Files Book 1

Another I was waiting for paperback is now available.


Invader Zim Volume Three



I Lost It At the Video Store

Didn’t we all?


How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built

I have no idea how you find this book, it is from 1994 but I have a feeling may still hold some truths for today.

Hitman: The complete first season



7×50 magnitude is the only specification I know I’d like, but it is high time that some proper sea watching from the beach happened with our new offshore wind farm, plus we’ll be on safari in February and it’s got to be worth having something to look at nothing through in that heat.


Living with Aspergers

I’ve just watched the BBC  show Chris Packham: Aspergers and me. For those of a certain age, like me will have grown up with the seemingly odd Chris on The Really Wild Show, and of course a whole plethora of nature programs in the past 30 years. Unfortunately, I am sure many people will have missed this show and won’t get to see it because of BBCs dated licensing rules, here is a link just in case http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/proginfo/2017/42/chris-packham-aspergers-and-me.

Continue reading “Living with Aspergers”

Why you shouldn’t fund concepts – Elbow Tape Player

I recently had my attention drawn to the Elbow tape player, a future-retro piece of equipment for playing cassettes. With the recent insurgent of cassette releases by young bands, it’s understandable that there becomes a demand of players. A quick look on ebay will show that unlike 5 years ago, a Sony Walkman is currently worth the same, if not more than what you may have paid for it in 1996.

However, take heed music lovers, because here is where funding and showing interest in something based on a very snazzy looking mock-up image and render of product proves you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. below I have copied out my post on their Facebook page, due to a lack of anywhere public to communicate with them and the people they had garnered interest from.

Continue reading “Why you shouldn’t fund concepts – Elbow Tape Player”

UK Government stepping closer to locking down the internet

It’s another blow for net neutrality with Theresa May’s gang setting up the Great British Firewall

All year the government have been working hard to ensure that the internet becomes a controlled governed and restricted place for citizens. They can now access all your data without the need of a court order, or warrant, or even a reason at all. They have forced all ISPs to keep logs of all your web traffic for a minimum of 5 years, every page you visited, every address you typed, service you connected to all kept, all freely accessible to the government and its various agencies.

Today the final announcement for the wholesale blocking of pornographic content on the internet that doesn’t enforce age verification is announced to be mandatory and enforceable from April 2018.

Put the subject matter to one side if you can and think about what this actually means. the UK government – not Turkey, not China, not Greece or Egypt – THE UNITED KINGDOM, are now dictating what you can and cannot see online – based on localised laws. Please remember that www stands for WORLD WIDE WEB, not the UK intranet.

I really want other peoples thoughts and opinions on this.

What does this mean to you?


Amazon Music Dark Patterns for Cancellation

After discovering that children and Alexa don’t mix (unless you enjoy high card bills every month) I needed to find a way of cancelling Amazon Music subscription.

I discovered a rather dirty dark pattern in the form of switching action states. Every Amazon user will be familiar with their button sequences, yellow buttons = positive / primary action with grey buttons action as cancel / secondary actions.

Throughout the entire Amazon Music subscription cancellation process they’ve switched the button logic around. Here’s the flow in it’s gory detail.


Notice how this first question is in fact a feedback survey – and you can skip it using the standard link below the action buttons – but you can’t select submit and confirm cancellation until you have selected an option.Amazon Music then tries a final attempt to keep you based on your response, in this example, I’m not using it enough it shows me all the things I’ve probably not utilised yet and that there’s really a lot on offer et et et et.You’ll see that even up to the point of confirmation the buttons are reversed. Also notice that the progress indicator implies you’re finished. i wonder how many people close the window at this point never actually cancelling their subscription?

UXBristol 2017 Workshop trip

This year I hosted a very different type of workshop activity for teams to become more empathic with their colleagues.

Here’s my journey to Bristol motovlog style.

for more info and deets head over to weareafk.co.uk

Returning to Vegetarianism

In my late teens I became vegetarian, not entirely through choice but necessity.

At 17 I began to suffer a chronic stomach problem. I simply woke up one day and couldn’t keep food down. I went from what was probably already an unhealthy wait to just under 7 stone in the space of a month. Every day I was vomiting multiple times, as soon as I ate something, it would come straight back up. Continue reading “Returning to Vegetarianism”

The Problem With Digital Transformation

excerpt from Homeland by Cory Doctorow

This post is in response to the writings of Simon Norris on The Problem with Digital Transformation on the Nomensa blog.

In his post he writes with a heavy focus on his opinion that businesses are failing with digital transformation projects because they don’t have ‘design’ in their board rooms, or that the business isn’t building things with a customer-centric focus.

I have to confess that I am not sure I’ve fully understood some of the things Simon has written. I’m not sure who his intended audience for it was, but I don’t think it was me and that’s OK. Regardless, I have some thoughts on this myself and you should of course read Simon’s post too.

Please, accept that design is not the answer to everything – thinking about what you’re doing, is.

Many digital transformation project failures can be attributed to the partners they engage with – digital agencies and platform resellers primarily. In my experience the majority of these suppliers believe digital transformation is another description for selling in systems and site redesigns using the ‘customer experience stick’ to drive their point home.

This is an element of the process, yes. We want to ensure that our services from a digital perspective are meeting the expectations of the people we want to use it and there, in that statement, is my problem with Simon’s post. Continue reading “The Problem With Digital Transformation”

Residency for 2017 at Digital Catapult

As we begin the 2nd week of 2017 We Are AFK begins a new chapter as resident UX advisors at The Digital Catapult, Brighton.

I met the team last summer that lives in FuseBox at New England House; my home for many years whilst I was at Pure360 and is still home to many talented small businesses and smart thinkers. It’s just a shame it is so ugly, the toilets are gross and the entire place is either too hot or freezing cold.

I had an idea born from my experiences with the startup economy service Vestd where I had explored the idea of acting as a central coach to all the businesses on the platform.

What would happen if there was a person, or persons embedding in the incubator that was available like a meeting room for residents to bounce ideas about their products with, or to give them advice and teach them how to do things for themselves, or to help explore the problem space.

Would there be any interest?
Would it work?

Fortunately, for me the answers were yes, yes and OMG yes. And with that, I’m very happy to say that We Are AFK is available to the diverse group at the Digital Catapult to provide whatever they need to get their businesses moving forward and what a busy first week it has been!

I can’t go into great detail on what we’re working on just yet, but I can say that being in a space that has a current program of developing in virtual and augmented reality has already introduced some quite fascinating challenges which I’m really looking forward to getting lost in even further over the next few months.

Craft CMS and Vagrant

I have spent the last few weeks trying to get Craft CMS working on a Vagrant Box having been without a working local dev environment since August and the MacOS Sierra update.

I’m not going to document how to get Vagrant running, or virtualbox (my preferred Virtual Machine service) because you can follow the hashicorp guide on vagrantup.com instead I’m going to tell you how to get a Vagrant box working ready for installing Craft CMS and get making!

Step 1 – https://box.scotch.io/
Step 2 – Follow instructions
Step 3 – Add Craft CMS
tep 4 – Follow config instructions

The End.

After all that faffing, trying to get Homestead by Laraval (so that I cold run a single virtual machine for all projects) all it took was one git clone command and I was running.

Valuable lesson learnt.

A reminder on why you need to own your content

On 4th Jan 2017 Ev Williams, CEO of Medium announced that there would be 50 redundancies at Medium followed by a significant business model change.

Reading this article on about the story on Engadget highlights the deals they had made with a number of large publishers last year to act as the backbone/framework for their publishing platforms and having to introduce an advertising model to support this huge effort.

It hasn’t really paid off, with a lot of people finding the advertising to be going against the invested concept of a platform that is all about writing and reading and nothing more.

Medium is now in Siege mode, with two of their offices shutting down, The most alarming statement is:

Williams is pushing Medium to devote what time and resources it has left to finding a way to get people to pay for “good” content.

‘What time and resources it has left.’

That to me sounds like Medium is going to be starting the looking for a buyer exercise knowing that they have millions of dollars of debt from their hefty VC funding.

Back in April of 2016 I wrote on this blog about why I was making a strong stand against the endorsing of setting up blogs solely on Medium that was being advocated by the Happy Startup School (you can read more on the below link).

A motivator behind that was raising the awareness not just of the ownership/licensing rights you have with Medium, but that they will sell or go bust and then everything you have done needs a new home. You’ll lose all that SEO juice as the marketers like to call it and then what will become of you?

Why you shouldn’t move your blog to Medium

Updated: What you need to know about using VPN in the UK

At the end of November 2016 the UK government stealthily put into play the Investigatory Powers Act, commonly referred to in the media and public as The Snoopers Charter. Since then online journalism has gone into overdrive talking about using VPNs. I’ve been using VPNs infrequently for a number of years, whilst travelling, or using public wifi spots. I’ve now reach a point of an always on VPN mentality. Here’s what I’ve learnt this Christmas in what I’m dubbing the advent calendar of privacy. Continue reading “Updated: What you need to know about using VPN in the UK”


You can now watch back the full Webinar on how to run a User Experience Mapping Workshop that was live on 10 Aug 2016 with UI Breakfast.

The slides for this are below along with notes

[slideshare id=64872791&doc=webinardeck-160810140321]

Want to learn how to run this workshop?

Perhaps you need an experienced workshop facilitator to run this exercise with your team?

Email andy@byandyparker.com or call +44(0)7534405473.

Webinar: Running a UX Workshop

I’ll be hosting a webinar this coming Wednesday 10 Aug 2016 on how to run a workshop for User Experience Journey Mapping. This is in association with UIBreakfast and will be run via Crowdcast.

If you miss it on the day, don’t worry it will be recorded and published somewhere on Youtube.

Reserve your seat at https://www.crowdcast.io/e/uxmapping

Solving UX Problems Through Games & Workshops

Andy Parker speaking at Talk UX Conference 2015

Last week I was interviewed by UIBreakfast podcast to talk about We Are AFK, UX coaching, workshop training, design games and how they can help us solve them.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been on a podcast, but it is the first time it has had nothing to do with heavy metal or local band scenes.

I’d appreciate any feedback, questions or comments in general on the interview.

You can download, or listen to the podcast directly from here:

#BDFKarting Championship 2016

I’ve been waiting for the Digital Festival team get their act together on the site for months now and can’t wait any longer. It’s happening, it’s real On September 7 2016 at Teamsport Brighton, there will once again be a night of Go Karting and it is open to anyone in the Brighton area to take part.

The format is simple, teams of 4 take part in a 90 minute endurance race to be crowned #BDFKarting Champions 2016 and it’s once again at the unbeatable price of £99.00+VAT per team of 4. You cannot get this offer any other time of the year with each driver usually costing £35.

If you would like to know more about the event here’s the official event page – http://bit.ly/BDFKarting.

Employability and expectations in the workplace

In April this year I was interviewed as part of a study by now graduate, and soon to be secondary school teacher Larna Pantrey-Mayer as part of her final study on the current state of the design industry as an employer and what to expect as a new member of the workforce so to speak.

Larna interviewed a number of business owners in Brighton, from well established companies in the area and having seen a recent talk of mine contacted me for an alternative perspective. Continue reading “Employability and expectations in the workplace”

All change! New bike purchase Yamaha R1

It was time. I’ve been contemplating the move to a new set of wheels for  most of the year and held back because I wanted to take a few things out. It started off with Suzuki day back at the start of May where I took out the 2015/16 Suzuki GSXR1000 for a test ride. I don’t know if it was the bike itself or the circumstance in riding in a group but it felt lifeless, somewhat dull and more than a disappointment.

Shortly after that I took out a 2008 Yamaha R1 and was taken back by how comfortable I found it. The riding position was nowhere as extreme as many make out it to be, bars are quite wide and the seat more than enough room for me and to move around on.

Shortly after that can a trip to Snowdonia, travelling with a group of Adventure riders, I held my own on some very questionable terrain and narrow mountain passes. The experience still wasn’t enough to make me want to say yes to the world of upright bikes and cumbersome all terrain monsters like the Triumph Explorer or the recently revived Honda Africa Twin.

That was all until an ad for Yamaha’s Darkside tour going to Boxhill for a day of test riding the all new Yamaha MT-10. It had to be worth a go right? Instead of wasting an entire day at a cafe, I hooked up with P&H Motorcycles in Crawley, to take one for a spin. The experience of a crossplane crankshaft really is like no other and by the end of the ride I was left in a predicament. The MT-10, not only is one beast of a machine, it’s immensely affordable. Retailing at £10,000, with a £1,000 deposit you can be walking away with one for just £119.00 a month on finance with the insurance being near enough the same for the year fully comprehensive.

But then ebay turned up a suprise. Fastlane in Tonbridge have been around longer than I have; having grown up in the street behind the workshop. I’ve been looking for a 2009 R1 in good condition for a few months and every time one local appeared that was worth looking at they were gone before I made the phone call. I wasn’t taking that chance again and so I headed over and traded up. Didn’t even fire it up, I just knew it was time, and the right one. Turns out I got more than I bargained for..

I’ll do a full rundown video in the coming weeks, but let’s just say I don’t think the guys at Fastlane knew exactly what was under the hood.

You can find all my Motovlogs, including the various bike tests on my Youtube channel.

Here There Be Monsters Reunion

February 2013 was the last time my EC1000 rang a tirade of white noise, and gutteral sputs from 4×12 speaker cones, perfected through years of engineering. I remember I was recovering from flu. Both my ears were completely blocked, my eyes swelled, and I felt like I was hulking out of my clothes.

That same night, our tour pals Lands had a spectacular performance involving 30 seconds of sound, and then an hour of silence as the vocalist, seemingly walked off the stage, fell, and broke his leg. I’d like to say it was the only Here There Be Monsters show where bones were broken, but it wasn’t.

Last night, nervously, we got back together for the first time in over three years to begin rehearsals for a one-off event: Mammothfest. We’re headlining the RIKSTOCK stage at The Prince Albert, named after a dear friend who lost his life just months before our final show. It’s a genuine honour to have been asked to do this and it didn’t take much thinking time for us to say yes – it’s time.

Being all together at the same time is rare these days. Since our departure from band-life, some of us have moved to other countries, got married, had children, bought houses, all those seemingly grown up things that you realise, don’t make you any different, but they’re certainly life altering experiences. Back in Monster Studios again, our home for so, so many years and it was great to slide back into the familiar, the gear is still in perfect condition, it’s clean, and sounds epic.

gang back together at Monster Studios
gang back together at Monster Studios

Meanwhile, I’m currently on tour, once again, taking my place as Tour Monkey, with Anthony’s latest endeavour, Seek Nothing. A Hardcore band from Berlin with members from Sweden, France, Germany and England they are really something else. If you have a spare 20 minutes this weekend and you’re in the region of Bournemouth, Exeter or Bristol, you should come watch.


Engadget’s dreadful mobile experience

Most days, I read Engadget waiting for a train, or otherwise in a position where using my phone to read is more ergonomic. I for some bizarre reason still visit Engadget, and again, almost on a daily basis.

Problem is I am forever hounded by this crap.
A massive cookie disclaimer (that is NOT required – when are people going to bother reading up on that law?) and then this content blocking navbar which I really do not need, nobody does, other than when the page loads.

What really pisses me off is that this would have come up before dev even started, every front-ender knows fixed elements are problematic still on mobile browsers, but how could this have made it past the first round of testing let alone to live?

It is such a cheap fix, and so utterly shitty when it comes to the experience of using their site. And don’t get me started on the page jump whilst patiently enduring several MB of ad downloads into incorrectly sized placeholders.

Chrome’s full screen safety seems a bit odd

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 21.11.14

If you’ve ever clicked on a video embed in a page to go full screen you will most likely have encountered this (see above). An irritating alert bar informing you this site wants to go full screen – is this ok? But isn’t this closing the gate after the horse has bolted? Why doesn’t this notification appear prior to the video going full screen and block the action.

Advice on Learning UX for Junior Designers

Whilst looking through the status updates on LinkedIn I began responding to a question from a Junior UX Designer in London, but for some reason, as I pressed comment her post had been removed.

I am currently mentoring two fantastic individuals at very different stages in their careers. The subject of learning and training in UX Design comes up often, not just with them, with many people I speak to. That’s why I wanted learning UX Design skills to be an integral part of the service from We Are AFK.

The original question was, could anyone recommend conferences or courses to do?

Option A: The Pantomime

There was a time that I thought conferences were the best resource for learning; after all, these are the greatest minds in our industry. Aren’t they?

If you want to learn how to do something, a conference may not be for you. Many people go to conferences today to be able to walk away feeling confident that what they feel, think or are already doing is right. this can come from not having anyone around them they can validate those feelings with. There’s nothing wrong with this, we all need some reassurance from time to time, but for someone starting out it can be overwhelming, with so many talks on ideas, theories and observations leaving the individual with a head full of stuff and no way of actioning any of it. That, can lead to work-life frustration.

A lot of the time, speakers have written lengthy articles on the subject they’re talking about, or in some cases entire books, which you can retain in your head for longer so look out for those when you’re reviewing that speaker list.

Option B: Get Your Hands Dirty

In terms of actually learning something that you can do tomorrow, look for anything that is workshop based training. In 2015 I ran a workshop at UXBristol. It’s a fantastic day which I hope to return to this year. The group is relatively small with 3 workshops running simultaneously, but there’s never any over subscription. You can easily have a conversation with your fellow classmates and have access to the tutor to ask more. Most important, is that I believe every workshop gave me something practical that I could use the following day if I wanted to.

I’m happy to see this year that there are more of these hands-on workshop based events happening. It is still worth keeping an eye out on Lanyrd for new User Experience Design Workshops. You should check your local meet-up groups too, many of them now run workshops as one-off events and you’ll also have an opportunity to meet people who are working at companies in your area that you can talk to and share with and see if others are feeling the same.

Option C: Alternative Education

If you want to learn how to code, or using specific applications like Photoshop. For the past decade many online courses have emerged giving you practical hands-on lessons. Sites like Lynda, Treehouse, Khan Academy, Code School, and more recently Udemy and Udacity.

I’d always wondered whether it was possible to teach User Experience Design skills in the same way, as it doesn’t have such a defined ruleset, there’s no language to speak of or an application you do it in. Then in 2014 an email went out from IDEO, to gauge interest in an online University focussing on Experience Design and its many facets. IDEO-U was launched in 2015 with their debut course Insights For Innovation.

I took part in this first course and highly recommend it. It was a perfect blend of theory and the practical application of it. There are a number of courses now being run throughout the year with real course leaders (members of the IDEO team) who are on-call as your tutor, and they regularly run webinars and hangouts during the course to see how everyone is getting on and have opening discussions.

If you’d like to learn more about UX Design, or talk to someone about the sort of areas you want to gain more experience and knowledge in, contact me at hello@werafk.com.

This was originally posted on the We Are AFK Blog.

Agile In Design With Jon Aizlewood

My good friend Jon Aizlewood recently wrote about his approach to keeping ontop of design patterns that emerge during an agile, or sprint based design process for a project on his blog http://jonaizlewood.com/articles/visual-inventories-for-agile-design.

In the years that I was at Clearleft, I got to work with Jon the most. As with any collaboration, after a few projects we really found a rhythm, and shared with one another our approaches and methods. Jon’s technique in Sketch at first seemed like insanity with this giant canvas and loads of things sprawled across it, however as he mentions in his post if you scroll out you get this incredible 30,000ft view of the design construct, very much like looking at a teardown photo or unboxing that have become so popular in recent years.

Disassembly photo of a bicycle by gizmodo
Disassembly of a bicycle Source: Gizmodo

As the part of the duo that focussed mainly on the content aspect; and order of the structure, I was really there to provide Jon with real content that he needed to stress test his design language. This ability to zoom in and out of the page types and having this scratch pad of emerging patterns and where they currently appear meant much faster development of new page & content types as we progressed because I had this option to zoom out, and search for whether we have tackled a similar problem in a previous sprint and whether it can be either re-used, or extended.

Find a base and extend it’s use

This idea of extension becomes much easier to sketch out in rough once you have an understanding of what the base component can be. There’s nothing in my portfolio I can use to illustrate this, however if you were to look at penguinrandomhouse.co.uk You’ll see that Jon and I developed this idea of a card based system for housing certain types of information. This evolved over a number of sprints by being able to look at the content pattern and then add to it new data, this is how you go from a person card, to a building card, to a book card. The core design principle for housing this data is ultimately the same, but we’re extending it to include a new data attribute.

Without the ability to look at all the patterns that are emerging within each sprint and viewing each page type this not only could have taken longer, but we may have exhausted time developing design patterns which we thought were unique when they were in fact just an extension of an existing one.

Casio Brings the Dude factor to Wearables

Even Casio can’t resist a promo video with a load of 3D renders of a product that is still being developed and a video with some guy blindly tapping on something that gets filled in with After Effects in post.


And whilst we’re on the subject, sure, the design may be considered rugged, oversized perhaps, but why is it only men that has been targeted with both this product and campaign? According to Casio, the many women I know who love Walking, Trekking, Cycling and yes, even Fishing are not likely to be interested in their products.

Begs belief.

The Right Way To Present A Proof Of Concept

This cropped up on Reddit Video and I had to have a listen. The original poster was making the point that despite not being able to play a single instrument, Michael Jackson was always credited as being a song-writer in full on his records, with session musicians being brought in to perform the arrangements – even though he also could not write a note of music. Continue reading “The Right Way To Present A Proof Of Concept”

Interaction16 – Announcement

Due to unforeseen circumstances (such a strange phrase), I will no longer be hosting the workshop Mapping The Journey with Empathy and Experiences at Interaction16 to be held in Helsinki in March 2016. I would like to offer my sincerest apologies to those of you who had already purchased tickets. I am working with event organisers over the holiday break to find a suitable replacement trainer and hope to have an update for you all at the start of January.

This wasn’t an easy decision to make, but due to a recent change in my career, I cannot afford to run the workshop. More news on this to come the first week of January where I’ll be sharing some exciting announcements about 2016.

More information: http://interaction16.ixda.org/

A/B Testing – Mistake?

This post is my response to the article: 11 Worst A/B Testing Mistakes According to Experts published by Usability Tools via Medium.

The benefits or purpose of A/B testing I’ve always found to be questionable. Even when you have been able to provide the right kind of hypothesis for running it, you’re failing to consider so many other variables. The same person could have different opinions on that thing based on what they ate for breakfast [that day] let alone connection speeds or any of the other many factors that may be within your control to create that engaging converting experience. Continue reading “A/B Testing – Mistake?”

There’s a shortage of skills for advertising online

In this article by head of Hogwarth Worldwide, a global ad agency, Chris Ball expresses his concerns that we have a skills shortage in the advertising industry because now all the ad networks have ceased using flash, preferring HTML5. What grates me the most is that Creative Bloq are so content in having paid content that they didn’t at any point care to correct Chris in his entire statement that it is HTML5 that he is talking about when of course, he is not. Continue reading “There’s a shortage of skills for advertising online”

HUF’s “Stoops USA Tour”

This is such an incredible video, I don’t know why I’ve enjoyed it so much, with so many top-end releases this year such as Propeller by Vans this has gone something truly nice about the flow.

Vehicle tax renewal – the greatest online experience?

I’ve just renewed the tax for another six months of glorious motorcycle lifestyle; although the number of weekends I’ve been out are outweighed by the number I have.

Now we no longer require a visible tax disc in the UK, the ability to pay online has become even easier, so much so that the only thing the form requires is the payment card details! It was truly amazing experience and was over in less than 5 minutes. It asked me if I wanted to provide my email address and my phone number, both of which were optional, and only if I wanted to receive a copy of the payment receipt; which you can print at the end of the transaction if you wish to.

Kickstarting the dream

Every Friday is the same I go to the fridge, pull out the latest crisp and chilled craft beer, my hand reaches into my pocket, my keys dangle from the lanyrd. I draw the keys up through my hands and they gravitate towards that crowned bottle cap… only wait. Something is wrong… I…. I can’t get in… I’m being denied this refreshing reward for yet another weeks hard work, what’s happened? Oh that’s right, I kickstarted a Pico Bottle Opener and it still isn’t opening my drinks :'(

Did someone say Facial Pudding?

Every few months, I check back in on Thrash Hits. Today I found a final farewell post, it’s over, nobody has the time so long, farewell. http://www.thrashhits.com/2015/05/goodbye/. Raz, and shortly after Hugh made things happen for me, and gave me opportunities that I didn’t always capitalise on. It’s safe to say, if I had, I’d be living in London right now and scraping a living as a photographer for whatever music rag would take my work, or for someone much bigger, but that’s another story entirely.

I had good times with Thrash Hits, made some good friends, and I admit, I’ve not kept in touch with any of them, much to my own lazyness, but also feeling more and more disconnected from the world we were part of and tried to help shape. I wrote and took photos for Thrash Hits for a number of years. I rebuilt the site on more than one occasion after virus attacks and some bad times being delisted by Google. We shot festivals, shows, and some great editorials, like the come-back of Eearthtone9. It was as independent as anything could ever be. We got into some fights with a few bands, Raz became a Meme on Tumblr, had t-shirts made of it, and a whole series of quite bizarre video interviews at Download, Sonisphere and anywhere else we could get into.

In a more than strange way, if it weren’t for Raz, I’d not meet the wonderful woman I share my life with now.

I found myself a few years ago struggling to write anything about an album that wasn’t expressing how shit I felt it was, failing to hone what I have gained later on in producing reviews of things without personal bias. Thanks to Hugh, I have become a far greater writer and it has made a huge impact on my day-job and made me an far better UX Designer.

http://33.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m71paai7di1r93zizo1_500.gifBlack Veil Brides

What Thrash Hits did provide for me, wasn’t just opportunities to document artists, whether they lived long or burnt out and faded away but it showed me things I never knew existed, I was able to experience the entire #ukswell before it imploded on itself, see early shows of bands that are now striving forward into the mainstream, and experience some momentous occasions like the return of Earthtone9 at Sonisphere, this little band called Turbowolf playing to Hugh, Raz, myself and maybe 10 other people in a tent at Offset, meeting shit loads of people I never thought I would spend 5 minutes with like Jerry Cantrell, Kurt Ballou, and so, so many others.

I can’t recall the last time I saw either of them, Hugh maybe a few years back at Soundgarden in Hyde Park? and Raz I have recollection of being at Islington Academy so that must have been for Will Haven reforming… fuck that was so long ago. Being by the sea whilst everyone else was in London really hit home to me at the point where I ‘handed in my pass’, I was struggling to stay in it when London pretty much runs the media in the UK, doesn’t matter how much I think Brighton has had a scene at the time, it wasn’t sustainable compared to the power and accessibility of London and I just couldn’t move up there. Sometimes I wish I had.

So, Raz has done all kinds of things with major magazines, so has Hugh and now I think Raz lives in LA, the only way I know this is somehow I got email marketed by the company he now works for and I recall having an email convo with Hugh about hosting or some other techy diarrhea maybe this time last year. I know, like me, they’re still out, still hitting shows, and most likely still writing something for someone somewhere. I hope it continues.

Raz & Hugh – Fuck you guys. Enjoy the sunshine, I hope we see each other soon.

Raz and Hugh Thrash Hits

Driving Blind

Another May Bank Holiday. Another game finished. Another missed opportunity for a ride out because of hangovers. Another trip to London for a show. Another birthday party. Another drive home late in the dark. Another speeding ticket.

Same old Blood: Wolfenstein

After picking it up a few weeks ago I finished off Wolfenstein: The Old Blood on Xbox One. Prior to selling my Xbox the first time around I had played through Wolfenstein: The New Order and found it just OK. The story was novel, reminded me a little of Resistance on PS3 for some reason, but it was again suffered the FPS grind of non-stop shooting… stuff. Wolfenstein has become synonymous with violent graphical content during its cut scenes, which New Order certainly didn’t fall short of and Old Blood doesn’t step out of this trend with torture, dismemberment and other unpleasantries.

I’m sure it isn’t a case of getting older – I found the entire Dead Space franchise dull as a result of its 80s ultra-violence chique, Wolfenstein The Old Blood was kinda lame. The only reason it took me more than a day to finish this edition was because I couldn’t be patient in the more stealthy sections failing to see the value in not killing everyone, I mean, why would your character, a sole-surviving American Soldier want to spare the lives of a few Nazi troops, or not dismantle the numerous killing machines littered throughout the map?

So far 2015 has had a piss poor release schedule for Xbox One, Ori And The Blind Forest being the only game to have come out this year that has stunned me with how challenging and great I found it, and with Project Cars feeling like a long time to produce something inaccessible to most with it’s twitchy handling, excessive menus and load times and claim to be ‘for the simulation enthusiasts’, I’m starting to once again feel like console gaming has hit a rough patch. We’re now into the second year of the current generation consoles and sales are continuing to grow in their millions, but what is there to offer? The service my Xbox One still provides me more than anything else is access to Youtube with a great autoplay feature on my subscriptions, Netflix, and other television apps.

I’d say we’re swinging back towards the original intention of the Xbox One team of it being the single black box in your living room and if there was a way to receive Virgin media cable TV straight into it without the need for the receiver box it would quite possibly serve that purpose in my household.

The Engine Business Analogy

In a MotoGP race season, you get a maximum of 5 engines as a manufacturer team, you are expected to be able to manage your bikes efficiently in order for these engines to last the 18 races in a year. You drive to the limit all the time, changing up a gear when you hit the red on the rev limiter until you max out. Spending too much time at a high RPM causes the engine to fail. If you blow up an engine in the first quarter of the season that engine will never be used again. You can’t repair them. You can’t add bits on and hope it will do one last race and you can’t stick two broken engines together and make one slightly less shit one. It is scrap. Ready for the heap. If you’re lucky you can sell it to an artist, to be turned into a coffee table base to be plonked in some rich guy’s apartment in Monte Carlo, only to be seen for 1 week of every year when the race comes to town.

Abstracting javascript needs from CSS

It all started when I discovered jQuery. It was just the thing I was after, a fast way to learn javascript with the ability to write less and do more. The way you can manipulate the elements on the page by using a class instead of an ID made creating zebra striped tables with ease, dropdown submenus in seconds, it made me a better coder, or so I thought.

I never really followed through on learning javascript as a result and worse still failed to keep up with what was going on with the one thing that was important HTML. Since my departure from the official world of being a front-end developer almost 6 years ago now, quite a lot has become standardised or common practice. The biggest win for me recently has been understanding the data attribute better; because I still dabble for prototyping things and pet projects.

It makes everything beautiful. Now I’m using the data attribute as a hook for javascript, my CSS class names are more focussed on the style they’re applying to the element, although I haven’t reevaluated whether there is an argument for removing classes that describe the function of the element rather than the appearance we are giving it. When you think about it what is the style of (shopping-cart shopping-cart--empty), is it reflective of the colour, or shape, or is it describing the contents contained within that markup?

Right now I am working on a prototype with a focus on interaction design. I’ve been considering all the right things, what can I do without javascript? CSS animation can cover quite a lot now and is well supported, but it does have some horrible illogical markup. If I can’t use css-only for something, this is when I turn to javascript. Following a conversation with Graham, I’ve created two default data attributes (data-enabler, data-enhancer). Enablers are things like a link that triggers a modal (I’m now only using the default dialog element, that’s a whole other story), with enhancers being an element which can be made more interesting with some javascript – but will still work without it. So this might be for example a nested menu, or an element that expands, or maybe dynamically loaded in.

The success of code that lasts beyond the current lick of paint, or future functional development I believe lies in this move towards further separation of HTML for outputting content, CSS for presenting that content in style and javascript for interaction design.

Investing in yourself

It’s now April. This is the first post I have written in 2015, although not the first thing I have written in general. This site, is more for me than anything else and this year, I chose to not make it a priority which is why you can’t find it on a link, it’s more an easter egg behind my one page than it is a functioning place for sharing knowledge or thoughts. Continue reading “Investing in yourself”

Talk UX 2015

Back in March I spoke at a new conference based on Manchester, Talk UX. I was part of a curated 300 seconds talk session again, alongside people who have either never spoken in public before or are only just starting to get out there.

Finding Meaningfulness

In the past few weeks it was announced that Nixon Mcinnes were closing down, well, not entirely. The business has drastically changed direction since its inception, in a direction which made sense to me, from educating and providing a service for organisations to understand how to use social media, to becoming more focussed on business coaching and helping businesses become more meaningful with their work. This in turn spurned the idea of Meaning. Continue reading “Finding Meaningfulness”

Back to The Forum for Devil Sold His Soul

I am ashamed to say, until last night I had not been to The Forum in Tunbridge Wells, since Here There Be Monsters played August Bank Holiday 2 years ago (video of show on Youtube). Worse still, is that in all this time I’ve never taken Cami there. Over the past 3 years we’ve driven past countless times, off to visit my parents, soon to be relocated to the west country meaning there will be fewer reasons to drive past come next year. Except there wont be.

I’ve never hesitated in expressing my disliking of Tonbridge where I grew up and the adjoining Tunbridge Wells, however there is one aspect of it that I will never shun and that is The Forum, most importantly the people that make The Forum. It has never just been a building on the common, although most who walk past it would think so, it is more than that. Founders Jason and Mark created something far bigger than perhaps they would have ever realised but for many teenagers in the area it is a rite of passage. At 13 I was going to shows there with an accompanying adult (in the form of my neighbour), and watching bands that now you will have never heard of. Symposium blew my mind, Manson, Elastica, Sleeper, Bluetones I entered the venue experience at an interesting time of  british music and every weekend something was happening Friday and Saturday night and I wanted to consume it all.

I digress. We arrived in town parked up, and walked down to the Pantiles, being Cami’s first jaunt it only seemed right to give her the brief guided tour. I was also on the hunt for the faces of The Forum, with the old crew now responsible for much of the public establishments in the Pantiles area. My final stop; as is always the case, was the Sussex Arms where I found Jason and Pat hanging lights across the courtyard.

Jason and Patrick putting up Christmas Lights in the courtyard at the Pantiles in Tunbridge Wells

We stayed around as Jason asked me to do the honours of turning on the remainder of the lights once Pat had finished trying to stay on top of the ladder. Now, this in itself is what makes The Forum something unique. You see Pat is an airline pilot. This is something he was doing because he was in town, and wanted to chip in helping out making Tunbridge Wells somewhere people want to be. Later on that night he would do the lighting for Devil Sold His Soul at the club, and then help clean up. And that’s what this place, this community is about. Something that I understood, but never appreciated when I was part of it. Foolish.

Cami's first trip to the Sussex Arms in Tunbridge Wells

All the bands were great, including a slightly nervous Dead, Southampton’s answer to the question what do we do without My Chemical Romance? They are well worth a watch, very energetic performance and although it was a bit too Black Parade and not enough Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge for me there is some true brilliance there.

A trip to the gents garnered another surprise as I looked up to find a photograph I shot on a poster I think I may have printed for a show by Everyone To The Anderson.

Everyone To The Anderson gig poster at The Forum in Tunbridge Wells

This was my first chance to witness Devil Sold His Soul V3 with new vocalist Paul Green. He is, and they still are, one of the best live bands in and from the UK. Kicking off with opener from A Fragile Hope – In The Absence of Light straight away it was clear that Paul has slotted into the team perfectly. He’s able to give the harsh and the smooth in equal measure without falter, something I found Ed Gibb often struggled with. The rest of the set was made of new material form the recent EP’s, it was clear that although this is a band who have now been hitting the road for a decade, this is a line in the sand and a new beginning. The songs are still the same but there is something new in the delivery and it was amazing to witness.

A Week With Skillshare

I saw a tweet from Dan Rubin, web luvvie, Instagram mogul and a fantastic photography. It was directing me to his free course on taking better mobile photos via the site Skillshare. I’d not heard of it before, and having missed an opportunity to do a workshop with Dan this year on mobile photography at some conference somewhere, I thought I’d take a look.

At the same time, I clicked on a handful of other courses, well if you’re going to be forced to create an account you may as well fill it up with shit right? And fill it up with shit I did. OK, you may feel that my use of the word shit is overly aggressive or inflammatory. I signed up to 10 different skillshare courses, all were based on photography of some form or another. I thought, hey here’s a nice way to pick up a few new ideas and techniques I didn’t know before and maybe inspire me to get off my ass and go shoot something again.

Pretty, pretty damn empty

I spent an afternoon going through a stack of photography courses, to come to the conclusion that Skillshare has a very solid format. A series of videos that are incredibly well shot, perfectly curated and tell you bugger all. What I came away feeling was that I had stumbled upon the newest way in which to advertise yourself, your business, or your partners int he guise of education and it’s left me a little sour in the mouth.

Back to School

Back in October, Ben White, Viviana Doctorovich and I were given a unique opportunity to teach a one-day introduction to User Experience Design at Ravensbourne College in London, an institution that specialises in design, art and media.

The workshop was run for students in year 2 & 3 to coincide with the kickoff of their end of year project which would be focussed on digital product design. The day had a full attendance and by the end of it we had introduced the students to some core exercises and skills from the UX arsenal. We set them a brief for the day with a loose brief of designing an app for students to use during their first week as new students at Ravensbourne College.

Into the Den

Last week, I was invited back, along with faculty and another industry figure to act as a review panel for the end of year projects for year 2. It was surprising to see so many of the students who had attended the workshop had incorporated some of the design thinking exercises and skills we had taught during our workshop into their projects, notably some well thought out user journeys using both storyboards and flow diagrams.

During a back-to-back day, we were presented 14 product ideas and asked to provide feedback to the students. I was there to provide feedback on the product design, whilst my industry colleague provided business advice ranging from presenting skills to whether an idea is sellable. This is where at times our opinions differ and it was a shame that part of their project brief had been to find ways to monetise their apps and that there was a note of adding ‘social integration’, both of these requirements academically meant that many of the projects suffered as they looked for ways to tick boxes and crowbar requirements in (how familiar is that?).

There were some truly outstanding products and not a single group had created the same thing, they weren’t even in the same ballpark. Most groups had thought about genuine problems that concerned them and then thought about how to solve the problem. Almost all of the groups concluded that this was a solution only a ‘native’ app could solve; I highlighted that it wasn’t necessary to many as they had made website prototypes that worked better.

Students Want Insight

One project in particular struck a chord. One group had been looking into ways in which they could bring students, soon to be graduates and recent graduates, closer to people within the industry explaining that, as a young designer finding their way there are so many websites, so many design companies that it is impossible to know where to find the right information, inspiration and discover people’s work which may sway you to seeking employment with them.

The concept had some solid ideas, but a little lost in the ‘I want to make an app’ ideology, and I think is viable, to the point that I requested they get in touch to see whether we can make it happen.

It became the theme for the day. Why I was there was because the lecturers had acknowledge that there is a separation between academic study and application in the business world and we all need to work towards bridging that gap. Much of the feedback reflected on the research undertaken, the methods they could have used for more accurate results and how we would approach this research in a commercial environment. There are things which we do by instinct in our business lives which students are not being taught. Research methods like user interviews, or competitor analysis are not modules in schools and colleges, or at least not encompassing the exercises we carry out, and the way in which we choose to present and use this data.

This year we chose to not run any internships. 2015 sees us opening that door again which I am excited for, it was sad to not share our style, and work with a new generation of designers and to see what ideas are emerging from these new bloods. If you are interested in exploring what we do and spending a few months with us in Brighton, please send us your details to info@clearleft.com.

Students want industry insight

Back in October, Ben White, Viviana Doctorovich and I were given a unique opportunity to teach a one-day introduction to User Experience Design at Ravensbourne College in London, an institution that specialises in design, art and media.

The workshop was run for students in year 2 & 3 to coincide with the kickoff of their end of year project which would be focussed on digital product design. The workshop day had a full attendance and by the end of the day we had introduced the students to some core exercises and skills from the UX arsenal. We set them a brief for the day with a loose brief of designing an app for students to use during their first week as new students at Ravensbourne College.

Into the Den

Last week, I was invited back, along with faculty and another industry figure to act as a review panel for the end of year projects for year 2. It was surprising to see so many of the students who had attended the workshop had incorporated some of the design thinking exercises and skills we had taught during our workshop into their projects, notably some well thought out user journeys using both storyboards and flow diagrams.

During a back to back day, we were presented 14 product ideas and asked to provide feedback to the students. I was there to provide feedback on the product design, whilst my industry colleague provided business advice ranging from presenting skills to whether an idea is sellable. This is where at times our opinions differ and it was a shame that part of their project brief had been to find ways to monetise their apps and that there was a note of adding ‘social integration’, both of these requirements academically meant that many of the projects suffered as they looked for ways to tick boxes and crowbar requirements in (how familiar is that?).

There were some truly outstanding products and not a single group had created the same thing, they weren’t even in the same ballpark. Most groups had thought about genuine problems that concerned them and then thought about how to solve the problem. Almost all of the groups concluded that this was a solution only a ‘native’ app could solve; I highlighted that it wasn’t necessary to many as they had made website prototypes that worked better.

Students Want Insight

One project in particular struck a chord with me. One group had been looking into ways in which they could bring students, soon to be graduates and recent graduates closer to people within the industry explaining that as a young designer finding their way there are so many websites, so many design companies that it is impossible to know where to find the right information, inspiration and discover people’s work which may sway you to seeking employment with them.

The concept had some solid ideas, but a little lost in the ‘I want to make an app’ ideology, and I think is viable, to the point that I requested they get in touch to see whether we can make it happen.

It became the theme for the day. Why I was there was because the lecturers had acknowledge that there is a separation between academic study and application in the business world and we all need to work towards bridging that gap. Much of the feedback reflected on the research undertaken, the methods they could have used for more accurate results and how we would approach this research in a commercial environment. There are things which we do by instinct in our business lives which students are not being taught. Research methods like user interviews, or competitor analysis are not modules in schools and colleges, or at least not encompassing the exercises we carry out, and the way in which we choose to present and use this data.

This year at Clearleft we chose to not run any internships. 2015 sees us opening that door again which I am excited for, it was sad to not share our style, and work with a new generation of designers and to see what ideas are emerging from these new bloods. If you are interested in exploring what we do and spending a few months with us in Brighton, please send us your details to info@clearleft.com.


Responsible Web Components

Following up on Jeremy’s thoughts on Responsible Web Components I asked this question when the picture element was released, in as much as I thought if you strip it back it is pretty much the principles of <object> , which barely gets used now, but couldn’t we just extend what that does to fit the need of the problem?Wasn’t there something a few years ago about creating your own html elements? Did I dream this? I’m sure there was a debate about that the processor doesn’t really know what a <div> is except that it is a block element so you could have a <monkey> element? I mean, this is no different to the so called shim for html5 elements in IE versions by having a reset sheet that lists out all of those new block elements and adding the attribute – display: block;


Slides from content marketing show 2014

Yesterday I spoke at Content Marketing Show in Brighton, UK. An event spun out the back of Brighton SEO, a longstanding event for them marketing types. I have a lot to write about the day in general; not until I have composed my thoughts, but for now here are static slides (there is a lot of video content in this presentation, which I was unable to show). I’ve included the presenter notes I had created and I will eventually make this into a post which makes more sense.

Static slides

Agencies Feeling the Squeeze

Adaptive Path, Sapient, Razorfish, etc., achieved high billing rates because they had something new and valuable that large companies could not easily replicate and incorporate into internal processes. The larger companies leap-frogged their competition by hiring leading edge agencies. However, we drank our own koolaid and are today thinking that companies will still pay premium rates for something that long ago became common knowledge via UXmatters, UX Magazine, UIE, Cooper, UXPA, wandering UX minstrels, etc.

This is a comment from Paul Bryan on a post by peterme titled San Francisco Design Agencies Feeling the Squeeze. I have to agree. From the aspect of User Experience Design much of the objective should be to educate the client so they make better decisions in the future. The imparting of wisdom is at the forefront of creating something great. That doesn’t mean that the output would be the same if they attempted it themselves, it would be different individuals with different views but also they would be engrained with the office politics, and history of the organisation and this can still lead to being crippled by yourselves. Continue reading “Agencies Feeling the Squeeze”

Doing something because you should

I was sat in a conference hall when my phone informed me that a show I was going to had been cancelled and would not be rescheduled. Another email followed with a notice of refund. I don’t know why, what it was at that moment that drove me but I headed to twitter.

Jonah shortly replied.

I’m blessed to work in an incredibly diverse space, with a very open group. I checked the diary and we had nothing booked in and decided I could fix this. I know what it is like first hand being on tour and a promoter pulling out, it can completely mess your schedule and you also have to consider the people who were going to attend, I can only imagine how worse it is if you’ve travelled 7,000 miles for the pleasure.

Using Twitter, Jonah and I arranged a time, he put together an RSVP list on his site, and at around 20:30, I sat down with 12 other people, friends, and fans for a very intimate, fun and special performance in 68 Middle St, and wow, the sound is just astounding.

If you can – do

We are all guilty of having something we can share with people and keeping it to ourselves, something which Jonah himself commented on, talking about how his love for playing and sharing music with people was what drove him and how he spends time with his daughter and explaining that daddy doesn’t have to go away for work – daddy wants to go away for work, it’s what makes him, him.

I believe that sharing whatever that gift you have, or even a commodity that you may have forgotten is what makes us good people, and I was thankful for being able to share this space with a few people, even if just for one night.

I want to thank everyone who came, from my old flat mate who I had not seen for 5 years, the lady who is soon to introduce the future into this world with the birth of her child, the guy who retold the story of being in 68 Middle Street for an illegal rave a few years ago and everyone who commented on how wonderful the space is and how fortunate we are to have a creative and open space like it in Brighton. I also want to thank Jonah Matranga for making that happen. I may have opened the doors and turned the lights off at the end but ultimately, it was his joyful persona and his music which brought this little group of people together. I hope to see you all again soon.

Speaking at Content Marketing Show Nov 5th 2014

I’ve decided it’s time to get back on the horse. I’ve taken the year out from doing any public talks after a wonky day at UXCambridge last year where I foolishly attempted to present a thought provoking talk on the use of photography to tell stories to a room of academics whilst in full blown fever with Flu (the real stuff not man sniffles), which I have to say was quite the disaster.

I will be speaking at Content Marketing Show, Brighton on November 5th. The event is run by Brighton SEO, and I wanted to provide the side of the story from a designer. My talk; currently titled Starting Projects Content First will be a 20 minute primer on what as a designer we need before starting a project to keep your costs to what was agreed and delivered on time.

Having worked on design projects in-house and agency side, I have always been surprised when there is an assumption that designers are able to create a generic system for others to dump content into once they’ve worked out what it is. This is never the case. I hope that this talk will help a few people with understand how I’ve started to structure the kickoff of projects at Clearleft, with the use of content exemplars and simple content hierarchy templates. I just hope I can deliver the whole thing without using words like HTML, or semantics.

Ageism in the web industry

There’s been quite a stir this weekend from an incredibly well written post by Brighton developer Benjamin Holloway. I’ve written about Ben quite a few times, both here and on the Clearleft blog, Ben is an incredibly smart and emerging front-end developer. What will surprise many is that he has only recently turned 16.

He has written how his age is often causing a problem with progressing his new career choice as a front-end developer and has focussed on recent experiences at conferences, in particular last Friday at Generate where he was refused entry to the after party (the bit with all the free beer and talking bollocks to strangers in the hopes of getting work whilst simultaneously paying lip service) because he was not old enough to enter the nightclub where Future Publishing was hosting the shindig.

I moved to Brighton at the turn of the century, I was young, but I had been bashing servers and desktops together for years, I could blast together a basic web site in a weekend and was constantly in Photoshop and Dreamweaver learning the ropes. But there was a problem. Experience.

What I found, in the first 5 years of my career as a young guy with a bit of a shitty attitude was that nobody took me seriously because I looked younger than I was and spoke like I was 20 years older. By 22, I had been on tours countless times with bands, been a photographer for two of the UK’s largest festivals, been the lead booker and second engineer at a music venue, Managed two off-licenses, acted as area manager for a chain of high-street stores across the south and been deputy manager for the bar at a large venue in Brighton.

Apparently, this worldly experience was not enough to respect me as a person who had lived and what I think was all solid experience.

Like Ben, I couldn’t afford to go to conferences as they began to emerge. It took me a year and a half to save up enough for a ticket for all three days to Flash on the Beach, and I tried to get to as many community meetups as possible to show my face and learn more. Ben told me that he had won his ticket for Generate otherwise he’d never have been able to go. That’s shit.

This year, I have felt uncomfortable with the sexism debate within the web design industry. On one hand I understand it, I think I may even have an opinion on it, but I’m scared of the backlash that could be caused from sharing it. With this however I have a very strong opinion.

Right now, Ben is working as an intern at Built By Buffalo, a new name in the Brighton scene. I spoke to Danny, the founder a few weeks ago, remarking how great I thought it was that he had Ben joining them. Danny, is quite young himself; although his epic beard would lead you to believe otherwise. He told me how he believed that it was great to have these young people in, even if it is for a short while because you get to share your knowledge, and they will always teach you something new that you didn’t expect.

As a staff member for a company that runs a number of respected conferences, I feel I have to tread carefully here on what I am going to say, but we all know that’s not me. Industry conferences are still failing on the whole to support our future. There are virtually no student discounts; something I get asked about routinely through our conference season, and there should be. sometimes I wonder whether it is in order to maximise profit for organisers, but I also believe certain speakers, frankly, are taking the piss on their fees and we’re all paying for that.

It isn’t just our access to education we need to fix from the inside. Apprenticeship schemes, not internships that last a few months at their longest, need to start happening and be accessible to anyone at 16+.

We need to be sharing our values, principles, beliefs and experiences with those who will be doing this long after we are gone and we need to be doing it now.

I don’t believe in the education system, I never have. It is generalist and fails to take a person and explore their true talent until it is way too late. Look at sport. If you are seen to have an instinct for Football, you’re in an academy before you’re 10, given dedicated focus to what you excel in. All sport is the same and yet we rarely see this in the arts or creative areas. There are of course still specialist schools, like Michael Hall Steiner Waldorf School, but is there a specialism for the gifted coder? The digital maker?

As an industry, this is our legacy. Right now, we have the choice to take the likes of Benjamin Holloway, or any of the other 15 year old creatives I met last year with Ben at Young Rewired State, and we can teach them about our philosophy of the web, allow them to discover their own views and to challenge ours. We have the choice whether we want the next 5 generations to be coming into jobs with this outdated view of how to create on the web, or we can share with them ideas behind the one web, that layout is optional and why you don’t need rounded corners.

I certainly want to be part of the solution.

Dice – the app for buying gig tickets

I read on engadget today about Dice, an app just released for buying gig tickets which claims to ensure you pay whatever is listed on-screen and no more. This on the face sounds great right? This week I have purchased shit loads of gig tickets for the next few months. What I have also faced is a mixture of additional fees on top of the entry cost. The one which still confuses me is when purchasing direct to the venue and there not being a ticket stub to be sent just a code still being charged up to £3.00. That £3.00 is pure profit. Many will argue that it is to cover transaction charges from the card merchant, or cost of printing tickets, but I’m sorry that is bullshit. Having spent a great deal of time working at a venue I know the ethical ticket purchase model is to absorb that cost into the face value along with printing etc.

So Dice comes across as a great idea, but then I read into what was being described a little more and it sounded more like this is just another ticket reseller who aren’t going to show the ticket breakdown. I hope I am wrong, but the following makes me think otherwise.

…it allows anyone who has bought a ticket and suddenly realised they’re not able to make the gig, to sell their ticket back to Dice, which in turn can then sell it to the first person in the waiting line.

This says to me that Dice will have agreement with certain promoters, or venues to act as a seller for X number of tickets for each event. The fact they claim to make themselves cheaper than any other outlet by up to 30% because there are no hidden fees makes me wonder how they will be making money. This could be a completely new commission model where they get paid a percentage by the promoter/venue for each foot through the door that they brought in (which is exactly how street teams used to work in the 90s, and is still prevalent for flyer crews in the party islands such as Ibiza), or it could be that there is an immediate intention to sell the data collated from the app (most likely case).

And later, in the article was this this statement on how this is an app for fans because it can do this:

..This includes a new reservation feature that will let a user put aside a number of tickets for friends.

To be able to do something like that you need to have an allocation of tickets which you can hold, otherwise the distributor is losing the option to sell the tickets elsewhere.

As stated in the comments on the article from Engadget, this is still a positive move towards killing LiveNation, Seatwave; who I have written about with great disgust in the past, and Ticketmaster.I just hope it doesn’t become another shitty promoter app like Bandsintown or Songkick.

Returning to XboxOne

Last November I had made the decision to pre-order XboxOne for launch. I had been sold on the idea of an entertainment system over a games console, with various features outselling it for me against the PS4.

By the end of January I was swaying back towards the PS4, frustrated at the lack of content, slow progress on launch features that were still on their way and the buggy nature of Kinect. When Microsoft announced that Kinect was going to be removed from the mandatory list for developers my faith in the big black box was all but gone. So much so that after spending a week with the Kinect in a box, I headed to Game and traded in for a PS4.

Two days ago, I reversed the process, returning to Game and trading in again for XboxOne.

The PS4 is certainly a superior games console. I didn’t buy many games having done the majority of major titles on the XboxOne, but made my way through Strider, Resogun and exclusives Killzone and Infamous Second Son. Like the XboxOne, the PS4 has its own unique features that have died at birth. The touchpad and share button do virtually nothing. During Infamous Second Son, the touchpad has minimal usage for triggering QTEs, and the motion control within the new controller is used for spraying tags on walls throughout the city; the only use of it in Killzone was a single free-fall level where it was used to steer yourself through obstacles.

The share button seemed to there just for me to accidentally tap once in a while and be booted out to a config screen. There are some other issues I found with the PS4 controller when it came to buttons. The push states of the two analog sticks felt awkward under my thumbs, and the option button became hard to target in the same way as the start button of old, or the menu button of the new XboxOne controller. Although the controller looks sleeker than its predecessor, it’s small design presumably intended for the Asian market first, as with Nintendo’s devices, became fiddly and I routinely paused by my thumb dropping to the option button.

But interfaces aside I found a far more rooted issue with the PS4. It has no personality.

With the use of Kinect, XboxOne instantly has a persona, most of the time that of a petulant child, you tell it to do one thing, it will do something else, but even so, this behaviour is somewhat endearing. I find the idea that this little guy is desperate to try and take me where I want to go and occasionally gets it wrong. The interface is instantly brimming with content, whether it is in part adverts or not doesn’t bother me so much as it is on the whole content that I genuinely may be interested in.

The extended features such as auto-playing games that you are downloading after a percentage has been obtained is fantastic, something I was frustrated with on the PS4. I have a Yamaha YSP-600 Sound bar which all my devices run through. The XboxOne is able to detect this and pass remote commands to it meaning one less remote control to use, and fewer actions to be up and running. Xbox On pretty much activates my living room. I watch a lot of TV, but new mediums, Youtube and Netflix being the heaviest and the Youtube app for XboxOne is spellbinding. PS4 has none.

There is of course still a distinct lack of really great games on either console. But this is now in the process of change. with my re-purchase, I picked up Titanfall, now around £25, and it came with Destiny at the cost of an extra £10, both of which I played in Beta and felt underwhelmed, however when you having nothing else to go by, I am sure that the very casual pick up and play demeanour of Titanfall could see me sinking a lot of hours in as my get home from work mainstay to remove the fugg of web life.

This is my last switch, I wont be going back to PS4, not for a very long time to come at least, until that day, you can come play with me on XboxOne – AvangelistXMB.

A year at Clearleft, come and play

The end of summer, Monday meeting at Clearleft

At the end of August 2013 I got invited into a little room in the Clearleft office at Kensington Street, Brighton joined by Andy and Richard. I’d been freelancing with them since February, working on projects with Rich and welcomed into the Clearleft family. Even as a freelancer, I was invited on companies days out to the Design Awards in London, a trip to the new offices for a hackday to design the interior and many, many lunches. In that short time I was sad to see the departures of both Harry Brignull, who had been my lead when I had first started there and then Josh Emerson, a formidable young man with a very bright outlook that managed to cut any negativity that may be in the day with his presence.pa

My contract has reached its end and I walked in presuming I would be asked to stay on for a few more weeks to help cover the end of the project I’d been working on. I was more than excited when instead, I was offered a permanent role. A year has passed and Clearleft has grown considerably since I first stepped through the door on a Friday afternoon back in February.

Andy Dennis, headphones and a squint, standard

For those first few months, there was still this almost ad-hoc startup vibe. Andy Dennis, another contractor at the time and I spent most days working from a Sofa or Beanbag hidden behind the chairs and tables of Jeremy, James Bates and Mikey. I barely saw Andy, or Boxman for the first 2 months with their schedules a mixture of intensive on-site working and conference speaking around the world.

James Box, Nordic to the core

Being my first job back in Brighton, those first few months gave me the opportunity to rediscover all the things I loved about this town/city that I had lost working in the wilderness of Sussex and Kent. I was introduced by Batesy to the perils of the Chorizo and Cheese Sub at Hells Kitchen, routine trips to Pompoko and the endless discussions about where we were going to eat. And they are endless. Clearleft has an eating problem, one that you must fully embrace and allow yourself to get swept up in. Lunch is a big deal here, and whenever it is possible everyone sits and eats together, whether it is in the office, the park, the pub, or this year a lot of time on the beach. It’s the first place I have ever worked in where seeing somebody have lunch at their desk is scarce.

There are conversations of all kinds, every day, whether it is industry opinion and sharing our beliefs and ideas of how we can make the web better, weather we should listen to 90s shoegaze or 00s house, what film we should all go to watch at the cinema, or whether to have our own movie night instead, get some beers in, some pizzas and veg out. Together.

In the past year, we’ve moved home to 68middle.st, Sophie became a permanent member of the team after project managing the new build, Viv started in the height of the summer bringing her Argentinian flare, Tessa joined as we began moving home allowing Kate to focus more on our series of events. Graham upped sticks and moved from ‘the north’ to the sea; A man with many names, Gary, Philip, A certain Princess. I was incredibly sad to see Paul move on to great things at The Guardian just before Hackfarm, Ant started on the first day of Hackfarm, where I was fortunate to have an intensive induction into his wonderfully colourful character along with our 3 interns Victor, Zassa and Killian who have certainly left a mark and perhaps a little hole in our nest.

The Interns

In the last 9 months the family has grown again with the Granola and Legume munching Ben White, and Andy Thornton. We are now a company of 3 Andy’s, 2 James’s and 2 Ben’s. Barking at one another across the office space has become a gamble, never sure which person you’ll reach, but we get by.

It’s a diverse group. As long as you can accept that you will never beat Mark at anything, seeing as he now holds several world records for a few races that are a mere 100 miles in length, or that Jon will, know every single Canadian you meet, that you may have to queue for the coffee machine, and don’t mind the ongoing saga of Brighton’s best burger, then you quickly see that this is a place for friends, not just colleagues.

I’ve worked on projects with almost everyone now and have to say, I have never felt surround by so many intelligent, humours and loving people before. If somebody is down, we pick them up, if you need help, you just have to ask, it doesn’t matter whether it’s in or out of the office, work or something at home – there is not a person that wouldn’t give you the time and listen if you ever needed it. This is what makes Clearleft such an incredibly place to be. I’ve learnt a great deal from everyone at Clearleft, hell, I may have finally found a way to curb some of the teenage angst I’ve been so reluctant to let go of, although only through Mikey and I making a bet which I really don’t know whether I can keep up my end of all the way to Christmas and I am sure that Jess, will be trying her hardest to to push my buttons and make me crack, ever the mischievous one.

Jess wasn't a fan of Gastronamy at Hackfarm

We believe in working on projects that interest us, and give us the opportunity to work with new ideas, ideals and grow our own skills and knowledge. This is not a group of individuals who’ve taken their years in the field and are now coasting. Everyone is given a considerable training budget with no limitations on what you use it for, learning is the most important thing. We regularly have internal sessions to share things we have seen or learnt – just today Andy B, did a talk about why he loves Burning Man, having returned from another successful year and I am totally sold on this temporary city full of creative minds and exploration.

3 guys a cup and a sofa

And now, we’re looking to welcome another member. As our output has increased we’ve expanded teams, people have taken on additional roles on projects and we’d like to have another project manager. If you would like to join me, if what you’ve read today gives you even the slightest inkling as to the sort of place Clearleft is, please get in touch or check out the position on our site.

Drift Ghost-S has a 20 minute recording bug (still)

In the first part of this year Innovation released a firmware update for their newest (and my chosen action cam) Drift Ghost-S. One of the listed bug fixes was to resolve an issue with recording stopping after 20 minutes.

Last week I lent the camera to a friend to record his laps at Big Dog, a mountain bike race held in Brighton. he said there was confusion due to the camera routinely beeping around the 45 minute course – he thought it had stopped recording.

I’ve noticed this once or twice but when I’ve got home found I have all the footage but it is a number of files. I had thought this was because my glove may have been bumping the remote wristwatch stopping and starting it but on further investigation I have found this is not the case.

There is still a bug in the Drift Ghost-S, and possibly throughout the range which relates to the formatting of the memory card as Fat32. The file system can only create a file with a maximum size of 4GB. This was one of the main reasons for Microsoft developing NTFS which gave more control.

It would seem this is not a problem which can ever be resolved by the team at Drift Innovation, I’m currently waiting for some response from their technical team regarding the problem. However, part of the fix is to ensure that sufficient buffering is done so that when the file reaches the limit point recorded stops/starts and yes this means another file, but you should not lose any recorded events.

Week notes – August 18-22nd 2014

I started this week at 5am on Monday, once again blurry eyed staggering towards the train station heading for Gatwick for another two days work in Copenhagen. For the last fortnight I’ve been working with @iambenwhite on a design sprint which has been on the chaotic and haphazard side. At least this time we got to spend a bit of time in the city after choosing to find accommodation in an area that was more central, plus I not only got a room rather than a sofa but a proper shower. We’ve noticed there is an aspect of Airbnb that involves embellishing on the truth of your apartment far worse than any estate agent could conjure.

I finally got out on the bike in the dry for the first time this month and tried out my new RST 1piece suit. It’s going to take a few runs out to really break them in but it’s already started to loosen up and get comfortable. This week I’ve had two separate deliveries for wet weather gear for my trip to Europe in September (leathers are not waterproof) which have been a total failure. The first courtesy of Helmet City who delivered me a jacket instead of a suit and then Sportsbikeshop where I ordered a medium RST 1piece rain suit and my goodness are they small. That’ll be going back next week and instead I’ll be heading to Blacks or something of the like to get a new larger pair of waterproof trousers – hopefully without holes this time – and a rain jacket because the HRC one I bought is in fact far from waterproof (Thanks Honda, that’s why now I have a Suzuki).

I’m a fair way into Infamous Second Son and conclude it’s the same game as the last 2 only with even more irritating control bugs. When will there be a racer on the PS4? I’m actually missing my XboxOne a little. I’ve noticed that the PS4 is quite cold, both in its design and interface, the XboxOne had a brutish exterior without a doubt but the Microsoft UI design felt inviting somehow, something lost in the dead blue expanse of the Sony UI. Even though it frustrated me with the quality of games Forza 5 was pretty spectacular and allowed for casual pick up and play as well as some heavy sessions.

With the start of the week involving Cami’s bike being stolen from outside our flat my intention to buy a mountain bike are now well and truly on the back burner as there is absolutely nowhere to secure it or store it.

I’m looking forward to the Eurotrip in September, although this is now surrounded by frequent travel to Denmark which it seems is going to be a constant factor in my life for the next 4 months at least.

Death of the Avangelist

It was a name given to me, like most names it was not one that I chose but it was a reflection of my-self. It has carried itself with me for a very long time and today I made a significant decision although one in fact made a long time ago. The first domain I purchased was avangelistdesign.com. I wanted to have a website to show off my design portfolio; grunge mashups that were the hype of the time, sites made for bands and album artwork for too many artists to remember. Later I bought avangelistphotography.com, not really understanding the concept of sub-domains and here was where my photographs and stories lived.

Last year I began to migrate my web-based services out of Bluehost to other places, finally finding a home with A Small Orange. Today avangelistdesign.com expired, along with the hosting it was on and it will be dead in 30 days. I want my data to die and with the DO NOT RENEW button clicked, I’ve now turned off the life support, she will fade into the ether quietly, peacefully and I hope what she finds on the other side will be better than what she’s suffered over the last 5 years.

I don’t evangelise anything anymore, I’m lost, staggering around blindly in a world where everything is too close to the middle to know what is just and true.

May you rest in peace.

Brighton Digital Karting 2014

At the start of the year I had two social events I wanted to put together as an opportunity to get to know more people within the Brighton digital community.

Events like UX Brighton or AsyncJS (which now has a permanent home at 68 Middle Street) are great ways of expanding your skillset, sharing your work and learning new things. But I wanted to do something that was more about bringing together people to do something completely different to their day jobs.

Clearleft has in its ranks a number of petrolheads, and a group of us occasionally go racing or attend race meets both on 4 wheels and 2. For the team that was assembled for a project with Dennis Publishing to look at the future of [Evo Magazine](http://clearleft.com/made/evo-magazine) in digital form it was a match made in heaven.

With the [Digital Festival](http://www.brightondigitalfestival.co.uk/) coming up in just over a month, what better way to get together some of Brighton’s talent than putting them on a race track and let them battle out at Teamsport Go-Karting in Lancing?

And with that I give you Brighton Digital Karting on Thursday, 18th September 2014. A night of endurance racing open to anyone as part of the Brighton Digital Festival. You can get some more information and register your interest at https://ti.to/clearleft/bdkarting, I’ll be opening registration for teams during the week with 10 team slots available (4 drivers per team).

If you want to be like Honda, there’s no reason not to have a Factory Team and a Satellite Team entry, just remember you only get 1 engine per race and there’s only one choice of tyre compound – whatever is on the kart when you turn up.

I look forward to meeting some new people, and getting to know a few familiars better.

See you on the grid.

The cloud is more than air and water

What is ‘The Cloud’ and how is it affecting our lives? CMTAW is a project investigating the acoustic ecology and impact of cloud computing on the lives of those who use it, the places it is physically located in and the people who work to maintain it.

The project my brother has been working on for the last year is going to be on display in Birmingham between August 21st and 22nd. The location is secret, as has been much of the machinations behind this project which has gone somewhat viral in recent months with Matt’s work being featured on many blogs and landed him on BBC Radio and a few stations in the USA. His Tumblr alone has been fascinating with its documentation of environmental effects of cloud computing that you may not have thought about. You can see preview for CMTAW Installation V1.0 on his Tumblr and if you would like to find out how to access the installation contact the project via mail@earthkeptwarm.com.

Building Prototypes is not enough – people need to use them

There had been rumours for a while that something big was about to come out of Harley Davidson, the American motorcycle manufacturer known the world over as the vehicle of choice for leather vest wearing hairy bikers that don’t go very fast and make the most noise.

The motor industry was shocked to say the least when towards the end of June Harley D’ launched Project LiveWire. A prototype electric motorcycle, inherently silent, economic, and to be honest, it actually looks quite cool too.

Why is this so significant? If the fact that the fuel guzzling giant is investing in electronic vehicles isn’t enough for you their approach to how this will come to market should ring a few bells, or at least make you think differently about how you approach business.

As you can see in this episode from Motorcycle.com the team are focussed on using this prototype to gather feedback from riders, to further refine their offering and then they will put it on general sale. They’ve taken their expertise in design and manufacture and are now taking the prototype on tour to almost every Harley dealership across the United States and booking in riders to take it out for an hour and give them honest blunt feedback.

President Matt Levatich notes that they want customer feedback first and foremost, roll that into the next prototype and do it again and then wait for the technology to advance – hoping that in doing this and getting real people to try their product the technology will improve exponentially.

In the space of just a few weeks, Harley Davidson has become one of the most talked about brands on the planet, all from trying something new; something out of their comfort zone, but crucially because they’ve been completely honest, upfront and set expectations – this is not a machine we will see on sale in a few months time, it may be a few years.

There is a great deal we can learn from this. Being more aware of the impact we have on the world we live in and working towards reducing it. Accepting that being an expert doesn’t make you God, that your only an expert if you’re providing knowledge that makes a difference to another person. Seeing the value in really talking to the people you are wanting to help, listening, and considering what you can do next to reach their goals over your own, because ultimately, they’re will both be achieved if you get the first bit right.

This year I have worked on a few projects where I have developed prototypes. When some people talk about prototypes, they only think of a facade, intended to get a general idea of whether something works. But I’ve taken it further, in the same way that Harley Davidson have with Project LiveWire I have built services that can be used by people in order to gather more information before updating and repeating. As a result it has helped speed up development, by reducing the number of dead-end roads we could go down, determine whether our design style fit with the expectations of people that would potentially sit in front of it for hours a day, and in a surprising outcome, gave us an opportunity to rethink a key aspect of the service.

We have so many of these so called prototyping tools, applications designed to quickly simulate a thing. For sake of argument let’s call it a website. Well, that’s great. You can quickly make something that looks like a website, behaves closely to a website, but why not just build a website? Why not do it with the technologies you are likely to do it with? Prototype holds many insights, one of which is research, not just researching whether your idea works, but researching how you can achieve it. What use is there in creating an application in something like Axure, only to find you can’t make it a reality? It’s wasted effort and why I believe Harley have gone down this route unlike others who are now moving into the market space.

Remember that prototyping isn’t just about speed, it’s about learning something new. Use the opportunity to teach yourself a new skill, and listen to what people tell you in return.

What happened to game demos?

With the latest generation of consoles comes a new paradigm to encouraging software sales for the Xbox One and PS4 and it involves hoping owners will purchase all games based on the limited library to-date.

I don’t really remember what PSN Store looked like back when I managed to get a PS3 in exchange for a mobile phone contract. The console had been out a while by that point, and I went straight out and bought Uncharted which had only just been released. But what I do remember is that almost every game that was available on the high-street had a demo available through the store.

Since trading my Xbox One in and trading up (or down, yet to be confirmed) I have noticed that there are virtually no demos or trial versions available for new releases. This is a format that even app developers for IOS have worked out – you’re more likely to convert a customer if they can at least see if they like your game.

So how come Sony’s new console is still only showing demo’s for launch title games released last November?

The other thing I have noticed about the PS4’s PSN Store is that it is using a subtle trick of showing ‘content’ in the catalogue by displaying titles available to PS3 and PS Vita. This makes bugger all sense. Yes, there has been a way to transfer games to Vita via he PS3, but the best way has always been to download direct to the device, and as for PS3 titles, well they can’t be played or viewed in any way on PS4 so why are you showing me this?

Staying in Bruge, a long weekend in Belgium

500 Miles, 3 countries, 3 nights, 4 days, 2 filet mignon, 2 waffles mikado, 3 pancakes with chocolate and some kind of fruit, 1 croque monsieur, 1 croissant aux jambon.

2 penalty shoot-outs, 3 Mexicans singing national anthem full-tilt in a bar in Ostend, 1 food and drink festival, 2 trips to the beach in not particularly ideal conditions. 5 pages of a new book read, 8 episodes of The Good Wife season five.


8 cans of Leffe Blonde at 6.9%, 1 bottle of acidic white wine mixed with 1 can of Sprite after 1 glass mixed with Coca Cola (we still haven’t worked out a name for it), 1 chicken salad on paper plates in motel room, 2 packs of mentos, 2 packs of crisps – 1 paprika, 1 ready salted.

A thunder storm, a mild shower, several outbursts of extreme heat followed by light winds. Sunburn in De Haan, rain in Dunkirk, blue skies over Calais, 3 bottles of water and 2 hands of shit head in a car park. 30 minute delay from Calais courtesy of Eurotunnel, drive car into motorcycle lane with a new Fireblade TT special and 2009 Triumph 675 in front and a group of Harley Davidson’s behind – still get on train first. A bizarre shower on the M20, 2.4 miles of 40mph on the M23, a full tank of petrol consumed.

Netflix shouldn’t cease and desist ISP errors

It’s a shame that Netflix have chosen to step down their recent customer experience experiment of displaying an error when video began lagging, or timing out that cited the viewers ISP were at fault, because for most of the time – they are.

For the last month my Virgin Media cable connection has been off more than it’s been on. You can see it starting to chug or being throttled down, regardless of whether the ISP claims they are not shaping traffic.

Although Netflix claim it doesn’t relate to Verizon’s cease and desist letter, they’ve certainly taken head of the legal threats from the major providers in the US. Meanwhile, in the UK, 99% of the internet infrastructure is owned by BT and whilst they have worked solidly for the past 20 years to improve the backbone of the UK, the final mile is still a huge problem.

I think Netflix are right to call out service providers. We pay extortionate amounts to of money every month to companies who on the whole provide us with mediocre services. Your cell phone that only gets reception in a small 100 meter radius of your entire town, the internet provider that doesn’t give you a consistent uptime or bandwidth, relying on their claims of *speeds up to XX. We need more apps that bash the infrastructure that is holding them back. It’s like 2014’s rounded corners.

Teamsport Go-Karts, Lancing

A few weeka ago, Cami and I joined a few friends for a night at Team Sport‘s Brighton (Lancing actually) indoor track for  two rounds of intense enduro. We were all new to the circuit and facilities situated on the Lancing Industrial estate just a few miles from Shoreham Airport, and were all impressed with how well they have kept the place.

The track itself is reasonably well maintained, although the wood panelling on the bridge could do with levelling out, and the karts themselves felt adequate for the short track.

It was the first time I had been for a few years, and longer still since running at an indoor circuit and within seconds I had remembered how physically semanding it is.

Over the course of the first session I got faster and fadter through the bacl section to the point of using the back straight sidewall as a bumper – probably not the best tactic, and finishing 4/7 with Cami behind by a few seconds in 5th.

The second round things got a bit hairier with everyone really pushing themselves and the kart capabilities. I span on the exit of the bridge trying to brake too heavy into the corner. Then a few more spinners cropped up behind going from yellow to red flags, before quite a spectacular up and over from Cami in the back s’s which lost us several minutes towards the end of the session.

Positions remained unchanged but all the times were marginally up. I just can’t figure out how to gain more time. So it’s a good job that after your first visit you’re offered a return for half price. We’ve got our vouchers and will be hwading back before Cami’s big wheel experience at thr end of the summer doing a Mustang GT track day at Brands Hatch

Broken in ready to be opened up

Saturday morning I creeped towards 500 miles on route back to Laguna Maidstone for the first service. Leaving early in the morning I took the extremely scenic route through Lewis, Chailey, Edenbridge and then across to Maidstone finishing up in the carpark at 497 miles. Not bad at all.

Once again I can’t fault the guys at Laguna at all, really nice people throughout. I dropped off my keys and was offered a cup of tea. The parts guys were great, I wanted to get replacement hooks for my Oxford rear paddock stand to replace the cups I got with it that were fine for the swing arm on the CBR600FABS but not very useful for the gixxer. They found the right bits and were cheaper than online! That never happens. Mark, who I did my purchase with spotted me across the showroom and came over for a chat and ask how I was getting on and I sat in a comfy chair, reading my book (finally finished Snuff by Terry Pratchett) until I was texted to say it was all ready.

With the sun out, I was able to dry off a little bit. My secondary objective for the day was to find a new helmet. I’ve had mine for a bit over three years and I’ve been really happy with it only I’ve now come to realise it’s actually too big.

Now the daft thing is, I should have worked out this fact from the sadly missed Simonchelli. When I first started riding I had longer, and in turn bigger hair. It was by no means comparible to the insane lions mane of Simonchelli, but it had some weight. Last year I decided it was time to do something different with my mop and started getting it cut quite a lot shorter than it used to be. I started to find that if I didn’t have a snood or balaclava on, my helmet had a bit more play with it. In the last few months I’ve also noticed that my ear plugs are playing up, only nothing with them has changed. It’s actually been because there is more play in the helmet and so the stalks are getting tapped on by the sidewalls.

So, I had two options, one being a schlep to Helmet City. Being in Maidstone I decided to head over to J&S who now live in the former home of Hein Gerrick. A young chap spotted me putting on a few lids and came over to help. What I am really looking for is an AGV Corsa to try, I’d already been in 4 shops and not seen one the shelf. Turns out, nobody really stocks them because they’re “high end”. I tried on an RPHA-10+ and it is a really nice fit. I think I’m sold on it. A small is 56 (my size) which seems crazy but it is proper snug and also quite light.

They had one with old Ben Spies livery down to £299. that’s pretty damn cheap, looking online haven’t seen it much cheaper. May be another trip to Maidstone in order.

Opened up

After a stop off at Parker HQ to see the folks, I heading back to Brighton with an engine run in and daring me to give it a poke. Turns out, and after seeing the fastest laps from the Tyco team these week at the Isle of Man TT it rips away without any trouble. As with the CBRrr, and no doubt the Ninja 636, these in-line four 600s are designed to be ridden at the high end of the rev range and once you do that, they feel amazing. Problem is, it isn’t particular fuel efficient and by the end of Sunday I’d caned a full tank on a trip to Wessons, a great little biker cafe, then over to Battle and back.

The gixxer is agony in town. 3rd gear wallows and you can feel the chain starting to tug at 30mph. It’s made worse in a town like Brighton where the council have now reduced in-town speed to 20mph, it’s 2nd gear for most town riding which of course is then guzzling petrol. Get out on the nationals however and it is sharp. Acceleration is immediate and I still haven’t pinned the throttle all the way open. In the right gear it’s easy to change direction in the corners and it sounds magical.

Getting my knee down

Still in the process of running in the new Suzuki GSX-R600, and with the sun beaming this weekend I arranged for a long trip to get some miles down with Parker Snr. It ended with me getting my knee down.

Not so shiny anymore, first scuffs on the RST Tractect Evo Pants knee slider this year.

Only trouble was it wasn’t the knee down experience I was expecting. We were maybe 40 minutes out of Brighton, and had been held up by a handful of back markers on our way to Loomies, a popular bike and car enthusiast stop point in the back roads of Hampshire and just about to get into a good session when things took a different turn.

Taking a casual sweeping left somewhere between Horsham and Cornwall I heard a strange sound. It was like a mallard with its neck trapped inside a six-pack plastic ring. Checking the mirrors I briefly admired my elbows (darn those Alpine elbow pads look good), before pinching my body in to make the Gixxer rear viewing devices remotely usable to see clear road trailing behind me.

OK, maybe I missed the turn, but I am sure I didn’t see an indicator on my last rear check. Didn’t I?

Parker Snr's Triumph XE makes an impromptu front-end blowout.

Turns out my observations were spot on! Sadly, the inner tube on the front wheel of Mr P Snr’s Triumph Explorer was not as it blew out at I reckon about 40mph.

The great thing about travelling around with a touring rider is that they’re laden up with all kinds of gadgets, gizmos and spares. Ironically, a front inner tube was not one of those, just one for the rear. He masterfully was able to bring it to a half at a junction just a few yards before the bend I’d lost sight of him on and this is where we stayed… for some time.

But all was not lost. We had tools, we had a puncture repair kit and cans of compressed air. It was time for some roadside repairs.

With the front wheel out we begun hunting for nails, thorns, broken glass shards, something to have caused the puncture. Nothing.

And here’s where the knee sliders saw the tarmac. Knelt on the roadside, with tyre irons in hand and some strange blue grippy thingys, we got the tyre out the way to find that the inner tube just didn’t look right. Half was sitting on the wheel rim, the other was lost up in the echelons of the tyre wall.As we pulled it out we discovered it was twisted.

The only explanation to this is that it had been fitted incorrectly by the last person to do anything on the tyre. It was basically a ticking time bomb, it would have happened at some point in time and we’re just lucky it happened at a relatively low speed with no traffic around. Front end blow-outs are the hardest thing to recover from, all your control is completely gone, no idea how he did it but the guy is as skilled as any experienced distance rider.

Come on, let's get all the tools out. Tyre irons at the ready.

Where the twist was in the inner tube the seam had split. As anyone with a push bike will know, these can be a real bugger to fix. We glued it up and slapped a patch on it and left it to dry gassing about nothing in the mid-day sun. With some brute force and creative thinking we got the inner tube back in the wheel and popped the tyre back into the rim. I had the idea of using the wheel seal can to give us a bit of double protection. That way if there was any stress with the split, we could cover and seal it from the opposite side of the puncture band aid. Something didn’t look right as we pumped foam into the tyre but it didn’t inflate at the same time. The idea of these cans is that they give you enough LB’s of pressure to be able to ride to the nearest garage at low speed and get some air in.

With the can completely expelled, Parker Snr, connected up one of his canisters of compressed air. These little bullets are so handy I may have to investigate them myself. Only it wasn’t our friend today and with one push on the nozzle the valve in the inner tube went bang with quite a racket.

It was game over.

Almost 3 hours before a recovery truck could get to us, I’m just glad that it wasn’t shitty weather otherwise it would have been a totally different story. Instead, I learnt how to get a front wheel out, how to fix a flat front – although I don’t have tubes, all my bikes to date have been tubeless which makes life far easier, and we got to have a good old natter about sweet FA in sunshine with plenty of bikes blasting past, and a couple were good enough to swing back around and check we were OK.

A trip to Loomies will have to wait a few weeks, next weekend is going to be very interesting indeed. Watch this space.

The Xbox One without Kinect from an owner

In a whirlwind of madness, last year I pre-ordered an Xbox One, something I wrote a lot about at the time.  The whole furor over the always on idea of the Kinect last summer forced Microsoft to do a complete 180 on their entire product, whether they admit to it or not, the backlash they received meant the entire business model changed seemingly overnight.

When the team entered the stage to announce the machine its mission was to make the Xbox One the sole device under the TV, replacing your PVR, and all other multimedia devices and become the singular entertainment centre in your home. Within 48hrs always on technology was dropped and Microsoft realised they had failed their core audience – gamers. Continue reading “The Xbox One without Kinect from an owner”

I want to endorse bands – on my bike

The all new 2014 Suzuki GSX-R600
The all new 2014 Suzuki GSX-R600

In the motorcycle world there’s a big trend in race replicas. This isn’t something you see so much of with cars, which seems strange, but hey, who am I to judge?

But I’ve got a big problem with race replicas – you pay extra to ride around on the bike of your choice providing free advertising fro multimillion dollar corporations who frankly, don’t need it. There are people who do need it, and that’s my #1 lovers – bands. Continue reading “I want to endorse bands – on my bike”

Designing the URL

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the design of URLs which has been spawned from the crazy idea from browser vendors to start hiding the url for the page you are looking at and only display the domain. I’m not sitting on either side of this. I think that we are in a territory now that means you should be navigating websites through the user interface that has been designed and crafted within the browser portal – not the address bar. But I do also have an appreciation for good, sensible URL design.

As part of my ongoing bashing of the BTSport services, this subject popped into my head as i typed something that made sense to me.


Now why would I do that? Well because the core service of BTSport is – dun dun duuunnnnnnn! to watch sports! Is there a view there? Is there fuck. Instead, this is the URL if you want to see what’s on and watch live sport:


There are no words to describe how utterly shite that URL is. In some respects I can understand the domain redirect and it is good that they acknowledge that btsport.com is actually what people will search or type in. That’s OK – but they really should have considered whether it was OK for them to create an entirely different domain for this service rather than creating a sub-domain of the parent. A similarly gigantic site is BBC. Frankly, they do amazing URLs. You want news? /news, weather? /weather. They have designed their URLs and sub-sites to work on URLs people will instinctively enter. The value of a good domain URL is the difference between people getting to it regularly or not. In the last few years I have all but stopped using bookmarks. In fact, I think it will be a dead feature within the next 5 years on all browser. The devices we use today and the power of auto-complete from Google search, and its incorporation in the Chrome toolbar mean that having the ‘bookmarks’ page is just not that helpful anymore. I also believe that the majority of users use bookmarking as a compulsion and the majority of sites bookmarked will never be revisited.

They didn’t sell a lot of records, but everyone who heard them started a band

In the space of 20 minutes on Pitchfork tonight I have read about and then watched the trailer for the long awaited documentary on the shoegazer scene – Beautiful Noise, and then an interview with members of Slint, debunking some of the mythology around them and their album Spiderland.

The connection between the two comes in the strap line of Beautiful Noise.

They didn’t sell a lot of records, but everyone who heard them started a band.

Never a truer statement have I read. I have no shame in confessing that I tried to discover music on my own at school but got swept up in Nirvana mania, Soundgarden and Helmet. I read RAW, Melody Maker and Kerrang religiously and found my footing from there. It wasn’t until College that the flood gates of amazement opened up my earholes.

It was in this first year of college that I was introduced to My Bloody Valentine properly, re-ignited with Curve, Pop Will Eat Itself, Hood, Do Make Say Think, Fugazi and the aforementioned Slint.

Working at the local music venue, we must have gone through at least 4 copies of Spiderland on CD. Everyone had a vinyl copy which was getting spun to death at home whilst we took it in turn to replace the beer stained, chipped cracked copies of Spiderland. We’d play it doing the hoovering. We’d play it repairing the cabs and subs, whilst the doors opened, whilst the doors closed and on the ride home.

Everyone played in one band or another. Once in a while we’d sit around knocking out some noises, but there was an unspoken rule – you don’t play Slint songs. None of us ever did it. By the time we had played Spiderland to death they were long gone. We had discovered them through the conduit of older brothers, sisters, work colleagues, who had found them through mysterious circles and channels which just don’t exist today in this connected world. We knew the secret. We’d found the purest of music, something so far from the mainstream that you could mention it in conversation as a test to see whether you wanted to carry on talking to this person or not. Snobbish? Absolutely. But how else were we seemingly few going to know who was going to show us more of this world?

When I moved to Brighton I worked with a guy, great guy who played in a band. I asked him their name and he replied Good Morning Captain. I choked on my beer, trying to understand what it made me feel like. Was this homage cool? How did this ‘foreigner’ know of my little secret place? But what I did know was that I’d like them if they were true to their name. They were, and I did enjoy watching their live shows and the wooden boxed singles I still have of theirs on the shelf in the hallway next to my Jesus Lizard 12s, and obscure screamo 7″s.

We’ll never have that feeling again

This weekend is The Great Escape festival in Brighton. 3 days of ‘unsigned’ bands. The organisers tout themselves as being the largest event of it’s kind in Europe. But if you look through the 150+ artist roster on the site, almost every page has a very glossy bio, at the very least a Soundcloud player with half a dozen tracks on and maybe a video.

In the last 5 years a number of bands, spoken of in the back of clubs, cited as pioneers, or revolutionaries have reformed. From Sunny Day Real Estate to Refused, these were some of the bands that through my teenage years and early twenties I held as the inspiration for playing an instrument. Bands like Refused, Botch, Slint, My Bloody Valentine, Chapterhouse, Floor (who’s debut has recently been re-released), these bands have become so influential and largely cited because they were genuinely ground breaking bands. What they were doing, the shifts they made in the scenes they existed in were monumental. They burned bright and burned hard because there was no oxygen around them to breathe, that’s why they didn’t make it into your homes, it’s also because, at the time they were extreme.

Listen to Botch’s American Nervoso today and you will hear a raw perfected version of every metal’core’ band around. But in 1998, it was fucking insane. When I was first finding out about Slint they’d been disbanded for 7 years already. Spiderland was created in the late 80s. Late 80s! Have you heard it!? And when My Bloody Valentine were creating white noise on Loomer, Guns and Roses were selling out the biggest arenas. Today nobody except the likes of Katy Perry and Beyonce, with the exception of Frank Fucking Turner, can sell out arenas and white noise has become the staple “we’re edgy” statement for any piss-stain excuse for an alternative indie band to the point that every digital effects pedal can do it on cue.

The internet has killed discovery

It’s not its fault either. It’s ours. Just ten years ago, message boards existed that supported a genre, full of people wanting to share what was happening in their local scene. When another person introduces you to another band it sounds so much better. It puts that artists into a context for you that you wouldn’t have got from picking it up in the local store, or being ‘recommended it’ by a marketing pushed system like Spotify (I fucking hate Spotify). Those days, well they’re gone.

This week, I was talking to a colleague about Fugazi. I’d walked to work with a riff in my head, trying to remember where it was from. As I sat at my desk it came to me. It was Nice New Outfit by Fugazi so I put on Steady Diet of Nothing. It started a conversation, we talked about the fact we thought we might have been at the same show, how we both think The Argument is verging on Post-Hardcore perfection and then he asked me if I had heard the new Evens album. I knew who they were – but I’d never listened to them.

A few years ago, my colleague would have said something like “oh it’s really good, I’ll bring it in for you tomorrow.” But instead he said, “I’m sure it’s on Spotify you should put it on.” OK. Cool, I’ll have a listen. Only I didn’t listen. Because it felt cheapened to me. I ran a search, pressed play and began to ignore an artists for 20 mins. It was out of the context it should have been. The excitement of being given something, somebody sharing with me their passion, the new thing they’ve discovered that they want to share and that. That is the feeling I don’t think we’ll ever get back.

Looking at photojournalism on the web

Last year I spoke at UXCambridge about how photography is treated on the web, my frustrations as a photographer and looked at a number of powerful photo-stories that have not conveyed as well on the sites they have been published to.

I’ve begun to rewrite my talk with the hopes of presenting it to a few crowds this year. In doing so I have rethought what it is that frustrates me with how photography is presented online, and my view is shared by many photographers from all sides of the craft whether it is photojournalism, fashion, portraiture or landscape. Continue reading “Looking at photojournalism on the web”

Suzuki GSX-R600 2014 Review

The 2014 Suzuki GSXR600 courtesy of Laguna Motorcycles

Today was another dream day. Back in the late 90s Suzuki released a ground breaking machine. The GSX-R600 had a revolutionary look. The bike which was given the nickname the SRAD (from its innovative Suzuki Ram Air Direct system) was a huge success with it’s radical styling and aggressive nature.It was my dream machine.

Thanks to Mark and the team at Laguna Motorcylces in Maidstone, Kent I got to test ride the latest 2014 model.

I’ve been on the look for my next ride for a few months now. Last month I took a day out to give the latest incarnation of the Triumph Daytona 675 a run and left the saddle somewhat bemused. The Daytona is an interesting bike. It’s got a jet engine inside it, plenty of torque but it’s just not for me. It’s really stiff all over, the rear-sets are severely high and the ergonomics are curious. The Triumph Daytona 675 has been designed for the track pure and simple. The fact they’ve created the R version just to upgrade the shock sets is completely pointless.

In contrast, the Suzuki GSX-R600 is a bike that has been designed and redesigned over and over to the point of what I am going to risk saying, perfection. Suzuki have acknowledged that people buy bikes for the road. The ratio of road to race circuits throughout the world is heavily swayed in the favour of roads – that’s what a bike needs to be good on.

Where I found the seating position on the Daytona to be a battle, the GSX-R600 instantly felt comfortable. Riding position meant that it felt as if the usual pressure you expect from a superbike – on the wrists – was instead being channelled through my hips, I don’t know how it just was and that meant flexible elbows, and no pressure being put through the bars.

After a casual run from Maidstone to Tonbridge I made the wise decision to go meet up with my old man and get him to put me, and the GSX-R600 through its paces on some more technical and, knowing my dad, goat-tracks.

Unfortunately, I completely forgot to put a microphone into my backpack as such the video doesn’t include a good commentary or engine notes, but it’s still worth a look to see how smooth the ride is.

What Suzuki have done with the latest incarnation of the GSX-R600 is re-imagine that stylish superbike of the 90s. The back that everyone loved has long been forgotten and yes, perhaps that rounded dolphin nose was looking a little untidy but that can all be forgiven.

The Gixxer ass looks killer with the indicators now brought up into a single rear unit under the seat like a flared cobra. Even with the European law on rear hangers it doesn’t look bent out of shape, in-fact I probably wouldn’t bother with a tail tidy.

The front also has some smartening up with the indicators built into the mirrors and a subtle amendment to the nose cone that continues to move it further away from the mantis face of the YZF-R6.

The ride was very comfortable. After an hour of mixed country lane and street riding with a smidgen of dual carriageway I didn’t feel tired, uncomfortable or like my wrists were about to be torn off.

Nothing on the ride got out of hand, power is readily available everywhere and stopping power appeared responsive – despite the fact that the GSXR still doesn’t have ABS on any model.

Brighton storymaking workshop April 2014 with Christian Payne

Christian Payne

On Thursday I attended Christian Payne’s Storymaking workshop at Lighthouse in Brighton. The workshop was part of the free series of events being run by the Open University throughout the UK. I was the first to arrive, which meant not only did I get to nab all the good biscuits (bourbons) but was able to chat a bit more to Christian, and co-organiser Jane Matthews about the idea I have of communicating my work by telling stories and also wanting to make better presentations by understanding structure a bit better. The first half of the workshop consisted of a look into Christian’s history of photojournalism and essentially how he has been able to stay ahead of mainstream media by realising quickly that telling stories and getting information out to the world is not about how many megapixels you’re pushing or what software you use to cut your movies.

He took us through his digital toolkit from backup battery chargers to apps and his primary workflow before setting us the assignment of heading out into the streets and creating a story with just the  phone in your pocket. tagging everything with #ou_msw.


With everyone back and their content pushed up to various networks using the hashtag, we were then shown how to use Storify to pull content in from everywhere and move it around to create a pleasing story. Here’s the result of the group curated Storify. I really enjoyed the seminar, that’s a closer description I wouldn’t call it a workshop, although I would say that it lacked a focus. I took away from it a number of things, all of which I would like to think I am going to be able to apply to my digital output generally.

Quality doesn’t mean polish

The latest iPhone, new Android handsets and of course the Nokia Lumia series are producing better and better quality cameras. We’re at a point now where phones really are better than the average point and shoot camera. It seems like only the likes of David Bailey and Greg Du Toit need the latest Nikon or Canon DSLR. Even warzones are starting to become more reliant on the agility and discreteness of camera phones.

Being lean means quicker storytelling

This has to be the primary lesson from this workshop. What Christian has shown is that the landscape of journalism and storytelling is rapidly changing and bloggers will continue to surpass mass media because of their ability to not be bogged down with cumbersome workflows and a misguided necessity of producing broadcast quality material (whatever that means now). I really hope that the Open University can continue to provide free access to education of all types with events such as this. I’d like to work with someone at OU to do a similar workshop for user experience, and specific areas of web design, so if you know anyone who can make that happen, send them my way.

Another bloody blog

This is something I have been wanting to do for two years now and I am finally going to resolve my issues. It is time to start a new blog that makes the most sense possible to me. And that, unfortunately, or fortunately, is going back to WordPress.

I can’t escape it. It’s still the fastest thing to get up and running with on your own server (this and my other sites are all still hosted with the good folk at Bluehost) and I know that even though the code is open-source, it shouldn’t ever disappear, and if it does – I know what the database looks like, I can get inside it and nothing – nothing – is lost.

Welcome. This is the new Blog By Andy Parker, I promise to look after this one, I’ve managed to water a Bonsai every two days for several years so I feel like I’m ready to take the next step. Let’s do this.

More lessons with the Drift Ghost-S

Today I went out on a bloody amazing ride with the Kent Advanced Motorcycle Group (KAMG). It’s the first time I’ve been out with them since i was doing my advanced rider training with them back in 2012.

I went out today with some updated settings on the Drift Ghost S. I wanted to sort out two things. Firstly, shooting at 24fps to see whether it made it smoother viewing but still at 1080p for best quality. The second thing I changed was the FOV, or field of view setting to 90 degrees.

This as it turns out is a huge huge mistake. Continue reading “More lessons with the Drift Ghost-S”

Emotional Slow Tea

Another experiment with the Drift Ghost S, this time I have shot at 720p at 120fps. A new project was created in Final Cut Pro X (which I am starting to like even though the controls look and feel like they lac control) at 30fps. I’ve then slowed the clip down to 25% and done a bit of colour grading.

Exported out and then transcoded with Media Encoder using the Youtube 720p 25fps default setting.

Music by Talk Less Say More.

Drift Ghost-S and Final Cut Pro X

Sunburnt. This is an image capture from the Drift Ghost-S
Sunburnt. This is an image capture from the Drift Ghost-S

The second video from our trip to Avoriaz and learning about shooting with the Drift Ghost S and editing with NLE’s.

The main thing that has become apparent from this latter footage is rolling shutter and exposure issues. I think I’ve figured out how to combat this in these situations, it is just a shame that we didn’t have a computer to playback footage whilst we were away to learn from what we shot each day and know what makes good footage and what settings to use. Continue reading “Drift Ghost-S and Final Cut Pro X”

Adobe Premiere Pro + Macbook Pro Retina = NO

I’ve discovered that the Mercury Engine used in Adobe Premiere Pro is not compatible with any graphics cards other than those created by Nvidia and ‘some’ ATI cards. Check out this post here: http://forums.adobe.com/message/6143510

This means that there is nothing you can do to resolve issues with rendering files in Premiere Pro on any Macbook Pro made after Mid 2013 with a retina display because they all have the Intel Iris 1024mb graphics card built into them.

Now I’m going to download a trial of Final Cut Pro X to see whether they have really worked over Final Cut and it is compatible with my graphics card so that I can preview edits.

Stay tuned.

Drift Ghost-S and Adobe Premiere Pro CS6

It's a bit flat around the village of Avoriaz
It’s a bit flat around the village of Avoriaz

This weekend I spent some time learning how to produce video with Adobe Premiere Pro CS6. In particular, developing a good workflow, basic structure of a film project and how to work with footage taken off the Drift Ghost S which I but just a few days prior to a trip snowboarding in Avoriaz last month. Here’s what I’ve learnt. Continue reading “Drift Ghost-S and Adobe Premiere Pro CS6”

The landmine that is CXO

Yesterday a title I had not heard of started being banded around at the From Business To Buttons conference which has filled me with dread.

Chief Experience Officer, or CXO. My problem with this is that I can help feel it’s a rebranding exercise. Isn’t the idea of someone who is responsible for the service or product already with us under the monicker of Product Manager, or Service Manager? Why is there still this misguided need from the UX Community to create little Generals?

Throughout the talks of the day there was references to the creation of UX Teams, but I think this is wrong, I always have. User Experience is not a specialised skill. It doesn’t require someone with the magical powers of a creating great experiences, like some kind of conjurer, it is a value for whatever you create and it needs to radiate from every single member of the organisation, not just a team of 6 unicorns trying to battle against the rest of the company.

The idea of requiring a Chief Experience Officer to me sounds like the creation of a role to let everyone else off the hook of doing a shitty job and not thinking about how and why they are delivering and creating customer services. It would be the same as hiring for a Happiness In The Workplace Directory, responsible for making sure that everyone is happy, that cakes are bought on birthdays and that everybody walks away with a spring in their step at the end of the day. It just isn’t possible (although I know a Brighton company who actually tried this. It failed.)

Values can’t be enforced either. Yes, you can explain and share values with another person and in turn they can form their own ideas about them and perhaps then they will share your values, but fundamentally you either agree or disagree with a particular value. This is why I don’t believe in company values either because once you reach a particular size it is impossible to only hire the people you need based on shared values, there will eventually be a point where not everyone agrees on what is being done in the organisation and with your service.

As long as the founders retain the integrity that we hope they had at the start and that their values are strong and just, your service or product, or whatever it is you do will thrive, evolve and grow.

We don’t need new titles, we need to stop thinking about User Experience as the responsibility of a few people who are just good at listening.

Dear SeatWave, legal touting is killing live music (still) and it’s your fault

So today, I tried to do something nice. Sure I am a week behind the times but I wanted to get two general admission tickets for my parents to see Kate Bush. They saw her perform way waaaaaay back and it would be quite special to them.

However, once again I’ve been struck with the disgusting activity that is legal ticket touting. This is something that I touched on quote some time ago now. Back in 2009 I wrote this in relation to a report on paperless ticketing and also referenced attempts from Nine Inch Nails to combat touting with ID based ticketing. Continue reading “Dear SeatWave, legal touting is killing live music (still) and it’s your fault”

Kotaku UK! Horay! Run by Future Publishing.. wtf?

It’s recently been announced that Kotaku UK will be launching soon, part of the Gawker network’s ever growing reach setting up branches of sites in specific locations in order to target content towards territories. Not unusual so far sure, you can get IGN in the UK flavour too for example. But there were a few odd things in the press briefing. Continue reading “Kotaku UK! Horay! Run by Future Publishing.. wtf?”

Lo-fi camera pole with Gorillapod

Second test video with the Drift Ghost-S. I wanted to experiment with a few things after giving the helmet mount a bash.

I wanted to see how it handles auto ISO when you’re in hard sunlight and today is certainly the day for it. It’s pretty good in fairness. You’ll see there is obvious shadowing in the foreground when the sun is directly behind me and in line of sight of the lens. When I move the pole up, the overall exposure of the shot is more balanced.

The second is experimenting with using a Gorilla Pod as a pole. This was just an idea I had after seeing the XSories Big Deluxe Tripod which is essentially a padded Gorilla Pod.

My Gorilla Pod is just short of 200mm, just 80 shy of the Xsories, but it’s clear for ergonomics (i.e. not having to have your arm up too high) that 80mm makes a difference, but it doesn’t detract from the fact that the Gorilla Pod will serve as a very good makeshift camera pole. We’ll see how it fairs on the snow next week.

First video with the Drift Ghost-S

Here we go. In preparation for a week out in Avoriaz, I picked up a new Ghost Drift S by innovation. I’ve spent so long debating the do I don’t I, that I decided to screw the go pro route and go Drift.

Here’s the first test, wrong bike maybe but I filmed my ride to work this morning using the helmet mount which I’ve attached to my Snowboard helmet.

Video shot at 1080p 60fps. Continue reading “First video with the Drift Ghost-S”

Basecamp 2014: Add a colon in before a subtitle

I was recently contacted on Twitter by @AMcDermott asking what I now used instead of Basecamp. I was at first a tad confused as I had not said anything about Basecamp on Twitter for some time. He then pointed me to a post I wrote a few years ago on my old blog –
Welcome to the new basecamp, now with less features.

I said I would write a follow up and here it is. First of all, I still have to use basecamp, or at least I work on a number of projects where we still use it, but now it gets used for one purpose and one purpose only – communication.

As I said back in 2012 it is no longer possible for you to realistically run a project from Basecamp it just lacks too many things you need. What it does still do incredibly well is ensure that there are no conversations going on in some emails somewhere meaning nobody can see what’s happening. If we run a meeting for example will create a new discussion where we’ll put down the feedback points, or anything of note that we want to make sure everyone can see and remember.

We’ll upload files for a project when we want them to be reviewed by an external team, and I do tag them, although the tags are completely useless.

What we don’t use it for

Quite simply, anything else.

I haven’t looked at the Calendar in Basecamp since 2012. I’ve tried to use the to-do’s a couple of times but without alerts and warnings on them what’s the point? Nobody is going to see them.

Time Management for me is done in Toggl, a great time keeper with a lot of deep features. It’s quick to punch in and out or block add and the desktop app is now working wonderfully on Mac.

I use Trello a lot for setting up the tasks on a project and the team working on the task will use the comments on the card to discuss it. Trello is still the best new app (bar Slack) for project management at a task level.

Speaking of Slack, if I can get the right client and project to try this out with I may well put forward the idea of ditching Basecamp entirely in favour of Slack for communication. It is an excellent workflow and its integration with various other services means that you really can have a central place for all information on a project. We’re currently using it on a project internally at Clearleft and have everything hooked up. When a member has pushed something into git, you get an alert so you can go grab it, when a card is updated or moved in Trello, Slack tells you. It is meaning that we don’t have to have a dozen windows/tabs open and I’m really enjoying that.

I don’t know what major changes we’ll see this year now that 37Signals have chosen to rebrand as Basecamp focussing solely on their now eponymous app, but it could see a shift back to being a dominant feature in project workflows. Until then, I’m continuing to phase it out.

I will not be a Netflix subscriber by the end of the summer and neither will you

For the last 24 months I have been paying the minimal fee for Netflix to be available on just about every device I own.

In that time I have discovered some good shows that I have missed from not being a TV watcher like Modern Family, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, and of course the grand finale of Breaking Bad.

I’ve been able to revisit The West Wing, give Dexter another try, re-watched Sliders, Battlestar Galactica and with millions of others worldwide became a slave to Netflix exclusive House of Cards for all of 5 days.

Combining this with my occasional dabble into truly bad films, the likes of which you would have found in a VHS bin at a gas station, Netflix has been quite the winning formula (providing you have the savvy to use a US proxy, the UK licensing is somewhat lacking still). But this formula is now becoming diluted to the point where I can’t work out if it is orange squash or tropical punch.

As has been discussed at length by a number of respectable industry types, Netflix is moving to become the future of TV over the desire to be the future of VoD (video on demand). The audacity of Netflix with their future strategy is nothing short of ground breaking. Within a few years of their streaming existence they have aided in getting the major league players into rethink their licensing, and begin to accept that OTA (over the air) broadcasting is going the way of the Dodo, with this evolutionary shift escalated by our change in viewing behaviour – we want to watch when we want to watch.

It hasn’t been the huge success that Netflix wanted at the start. Instead, we have continued and if anything extended the fragmentation of TV entertainment with every network wanting their own Netflix. We had a similar issue in the UK when the BBC released the over-hyped iPlayer. Great for BBC who have the monopoly and therefore an application which spans a gamut of TV and Radio services, but for ITV to have their own? Only so much 60 Minute Makeover any one person can watch surely?

Unfortunately, where there might have been an opportunity for Netflix to guide the networks towards the light of the future, instead they have become a rival channel with the likes of Fox and HBO setting up shop themselves whilst others like ABC have seen the opportunity to increase distribution by trickling titles out on the platform. But for us, the consumers, we now have a hybrid that we didn’t originally want. Instead of a service for getting all our viewing needs in one place, without needing to be in at 9pm on a Thursday, we have just another channel and it’s still not showing the stuff we didn’t want to pay extra for but may want to have watched. The only thing missing is a schedule and a channel number… or at least it was until November 2013 when Netflix became available as a channel through Virgin Media in the UK along with NBCUniversal’s Picture Box, an interesting on demand service which plays on scarcity, titles are only available for a set time in the same way as most on-demand services operate.

The problem for me is that on the whole, I hate Television. The lyrics from Nobody Home by Pink Floyd spring to mind. “..I got thirteen channels of shit on the TV to choose from”, Only now we have one channel with 35,000 titles of shit to choose from. For every House of Cards there are 1,000s of “reality” shows. Kitchen Nightmares, Undercover Boss, Sons of Guns, Gold Rush, Myth Busters, American Chopper, all titles which are on constant rotation on broadcast networks designed to pad airtime around advertisement slots. The only difference is the type of bandwidth, replacing airwaves with data cables and I wouldn’t be worried to place a bet on autoplay becoming a feature for Netflix within the next 12 months either. It’ll just become another ambient stream which doesn’t require your interaction in order to fill your house with white noise.

Whilst Netflix has begun investing in its own programming; the disastrous reboot of the sleeper hit Arrested Development, the ludicrous and somewhat dismal Lillehammer and the award winning House of Cards, due to start its second season this week, it is loosing hundreds of licences every month. You could be mistaken for thinking this is down to some savvy thinking, cutting out the cruft that nobody watches based on intelligent design or based on viewing figures but you’d be wrong.

At £4.99 in the month (based on price in UK), Netflix simply cannot afford premium licences. The Avengers (the third highest grossing moving of all time) virtually blew their spending to get it onboard and it wont be staying there very long either. In January 2014 it was disclosed that there were over 300 titles not being renewed, although what they were, we probably wont get an accurate idea of.

As for basing anything on viewing figures, the recommendation engine Netflix started with has long been replaced with a well controlled influence engine meaning you are no longer being served up content that you might want to see. In fact, if you still use the Silverlight crippled browser version and rate titles – those ratings are doing nothing to what you get served up one iota. No, Instead you’re being prescribed what you should be watching – just like broadcast television already does to you, exactly what you were trying to get away from.

Furthermore, the user interface is designed to showcase certain ‘premium’ titles whilst others live behind some curtain somewhere on dusty shelves in the back intended not to be found. Search by genre and you will not see every title available within that genre. You may be able to stumble across a few more not listed on the panel by looking at the related titles in the preview panel of a title, and as for the genre tagging system, well that was gamed from the start to ensure there was an appearance of volume in the library. Every user will have seen at least one title which somehow has fit into every category available.

As Netflix has begun to transition in the last 6 months you may have noticed more and more TV shows being bulk uploaded each week. Axed titles like Life and Doll House, cinematic flops like John Carter and Jack Reacher and self-funded propaganda documentaries like Hank, and Mitt. Netflix, just like all television broadcast networks is going for quantity over quality, and whilst that has it’s place, even for £4.99 a month, it wont have a place in my living room, bedroom, bathroom or office for much longer.

Why I deleted Readability app

Since buying my iPad back in 2012 it’s main use has been to either watch something or read something.

iBooks has given me the opportunity to fall in love with fiction again as well as quenching my thirst for learning whilst Netflix has enabled me to see American TV shows so mediocre that they’ve never been optioned in the UK.

Readability was one of the first apps I downloaded. The idea of now being able to take the laundry list of bookmarked articles I had in my browser, remove the crap from the page and be able to read at my leisure excited me.

But now I’ve deleted Readability. I no longer add articles to my list, I don’t even bother to bookmark things anymore in the off chance I’ll read them later and the reason? TL;DR. Continue reading “Why I deleted Readability app”

What happens to my data when I die?

“Hey dude, are you sitting down”?
“I’m always sitting down”
“We lost someone, there’s no other way to say it…”

This was not the conversation I expected to have sat in the middle of an open plan office with no escape late one morning early December 2013.

Many people in the web community have raised the discussion about what happens to your data when you die. Some have talked about putting passwords for services into their will, or the issues faced with services that may be here one day or gone the next, or that when the bill comes up for your domain name and hosting and it isn’t renewed that’s it. Gone, lost from the world.

Having experienced the death of a friend, I wonder how many have considered the ghosts in the machine.

Losing a close friend in my 30’s wasn’t something I was anticipating. For 15 years we had spent Friday nights and weekends together in pubs or at gigs. We shared music, cassettes and CD’s. took photos, made videos, and played video games. We took the same photography course at colleague, and grew up in an age of tape-to-tape hi-speed dubbing and processing your own prints in the dark room.

We were the last generation of phone cards, local independent record stores, renting videos from Blockbuster and going to festivals for the music.

When it came to the funeral arrangements, everyone contributed. On New Year’s Day, I sat with another friend and hundreds of photographs. Prints. We’d even scraped Facebook, and printed out a further 50 or more photographs. Another friend had spent the week converting mini-dv tape to avi, and scraping youtube, Facebook and people’s phones to produce a tribute video.

We stole from the digital world and returned it to the reality of analog. We made something binary into something real. Something which you can put in your hands, or insert into a video player, or dvd player, and experience, touch, feel the texture of the paper, the weight of the book, you can smell the glues, plastics and cards, listen to the whir of cogs spinning into place gripping a playhead or engage a laser to the plastic sheen of a compact disc.

We brought the dead, cold world of glass back to life.

During the funeral ceremony, we heard the saying, which I’ve heard too many times in recent years. As long as there are those with memories of us we live on.

In a strange twist of fate, I have been watching Black Mirror over the last few days. Many of the themes, in what I think may be the greatest science fiction series of all time, focus on the preservation of memories.

Two episodes which hit a very raw nerve featured the breakdown of a family through constant instant replay of past events and a bot service that allows you to talk to the dead. Both episodes play out to show the dangers in holding on to the fragments of people and moments. It makes you think of the risks born from looking at those that have passed with rose tinted glasses, allowing ourselves to manifest them into something that becomes so removed from reality that they fail to uphold the facade of the real deal.

Charlie Brooker has created a future not far enough removed from today to make it improbable but so well observed and crafted that I thought it was impossible.

But I was wrong. My friend, haunts me everywhere I go.

Slowly finding their way to the bottom of my call list are exchanges in conversation. In my messages lies a thread detailing 4 separate arrangements, for 4 separate meet ups at 4 separate gigs. My emails have a number of mails, the subjects simply stated :RE:RE: OI OI!

There is now a follower on my instagram who will never unfollow me, a person who I follow that will never take another photo, or like one of mine, or comment with something pithy about me living in Brighton and being a wannabe scenester.

On Youtube there are hours and hours of video. Gigs performed, attended and appeared in. Youtube may well outlive us all, and as of yet has never removed an account for inactivity.

The most unexpected apparition revealed itself when I turned on my Xbox to see my dear friend, sleeping whilst standing up wearing an oversized pair of denim jeans, t-shirt, baseball cap, that cocky look on his face asking me “Hows that taste”? He’lI never wake up, quietly resting in the friends space on the Xbox servers.

I know that XboxLive is going to exist for at least another 5 years, and after that it may well become something else, but the data on my drive, the one in my hands, in my house, that can survive as long as I wish it to.

Then there’s Facebook. In the last month, without prompting people changed their profile pictures and header images to the fun times we’ve all shared. A face on every post even though it isn’t their words being typed out. It turns out, Facebook is human, and allows you to notify them of someones death and request their page be locked and turned into a memorial. We’ve made the enquiries and will be done shortly.

These digital services, have a lifespan which we all accept, but there’s an impression that these lifespan’s are insufficient.

For now, the moment which I exist in, where oxygen is still passing through my lips, where I can touch things around me and know whether they’re hot, cold, soft or hard. An existence where I can take a strip of film and with chemicals turn it into an image, or press a button and print out a photo which I can look at, enjoy, get lost in for hours just by looking ahead of me. For as long as I can do this without needing to interface with 1 of 99 devices, smashing their dulled keys, or rubbing against their senseless screens before having to open window a,b or c, entering credentials to validate my right to visit my own space, and explore my own things, made with my own hands.

As long as that still exists, these services have a lifespan that is just about right.

Paperless gig technology is still practical

In a report on BBC Newsbeat this week, Amelia Butterly claims that “Paperless tickets could help combat touts but many venues still do not have the capabilities to support them, say independent music promoters.”

The argument from Anton Lockwood, Director of DHP Group which owns a number of UK venues including Rock City, and Rescue Rooms in Nottingham states that “It only works where the cost of introducing the system can be spread over high ticket prices.”

in the last year I have been to plenty of shows at larger venues the majority of which are using barcode scanning terminals for checking tickets on the door. I can imagine that these custom built handheld ticket readers are indeed expensive to implement  but that’s because these handhelds are being produced and manufactured by the large ticket companies namely, SEE, and Ticket Master. So who is to blame for this high cost to entry for paperless tickets, well to no surprise the companies who make money from printing physical tickets because they charge the client more for printing which has to be factored into the overheads for the promoter and thus ticket prices are higher. This is why I get so annoyed by these same companies because they have the balls to charge you extra for postage (it is not averaging £2.50 per ticket to be posted), and if you do pay for e-tickets when they’re available they find another means of increasing the cost of the ticket when of course in theory the overhead has reduced.

Well let’s just take a small (very small) step back here and think about that last claim. Is there a reduction in cost just because it is online? No not really, there still needs to be a system to produce your e-ticket, it still needs to be maintained, supported and tested. But Surely, a reliable system ensures a reduced risk of error and still should be considerably smaller. One of the positives for paperless billing and paperless tickets has been the fact that the cost of printing is passed onto the client.

There are several payment services and banks right now developing and testing alternative payment techonologies to reduce the cost of entry for small business to accept card payments and to do away with the card terminal. This is being met with huge success rates. How is it being done? By building web apps that are capable of running on any mobile device with a connection to the internet. What does that mean? It means whatever you have in your hand if you’re working on the door could be checking, those tickets and getting people into the venues, infront of the bands and having a great time.

In another section of the article a nameless Spokesperson from Ticketmaster said that paperless tickets are an artist led and it’s up to the musician and then cites Robbie Williams show at the O2. This is a great example of ignorance in the industry. If this clown from Ticketmaster honestly believes Robbie Williams himself has ever said to his manager ‘oh are we doing paper tickets this tour’ then Mr Ticketmaster Employee has no idea how the business works.

Yes there are exceptions. The holier than thou’s of the industry, the Radiohead’s and Trent Reznor’s who are trying to take control of what happens to fans at shows, but anyone who has read any of the reports from either camp will know the problems they faced in doing so, mainly by cutting out the Ticket Operator they were faced with disgruntled venues and also had to buy the tickets back and resell them, all to avoid touts. Trent Reznor on NIN Summer Tour 2009

But it is a double edged sword for venues and promoters. I know first hand how hard it is to sell out a show when you’re reliant on telephone bookings, and physical tickets being available in independent retail shops in your local area. The Forum in Tunbridge Wells celebrates 20 years of live music in 2013. From 1999-2002 I worked as a booker at the venue, we had good shows and bad shows like any other and were very much reliant then on a message board on the website to generate interest and ticket sales from the shops. We printed our own tickets, had 3 shops that you could buy from and would over subscribe our telephone reservations list (we couldn’t take payment by phone) because we would have an average drop off of 60% people not turning up. Every Friday and Saturday night was a gamble. We could never afford to use a service like SEE, Ticketmaster, or Wayahead back then because their rates would mean our average ticket price of £4/5 would have to double and we knew people wouldn’t pay that.

Now, the Forum uses MusicGlue, a service which has been created to do away with the big players in ticketing. These smaller services are what will change the face of paperless ticketing. As soon as they start to think about mobile application development seriously, venues around the country could be beeping you at the door.

Where have all the hardcore bands gone?

There was a reblog from Deathwish recently titled just say the safe word and I’ll stop which struck a chord with me.

It’s an article discussing the merits of Self Defence Family (current, past, former et et) and their relevance as a band that could leave you walking from a show uncomfortably blown away.

The original poster – safeasmalk talks about GG Allin and Jesus Lizard then referred to These Arms Are Snakes as his generation (and mine’s) equivalent. I was fortunate enough to see TAAS around 5 or 6 times during their career. Being in the UK we take things as they come and appreciate every body-aching moment. I remember maybe the first show, watching Steve Snere deep throat the microphone resulting with him vomiting on the stage. The last time, Ryan Frederiksen toured the entire venue using two bar stools as stilt, at one point using me as a resting post whilst his guitar lead ran nooses around members of the crowd whilst he convulsed atop of his plinths.

It was a truly terrifying experience and yet the most engaged I’ve ever felt at a show. They’re not the only ones I can think of but I can certainly reflect with the original article.

I grew up in the sleepy dull town in the shadow of its parent; Tunbridge Wells. We had an incredible music scene (it still does) and the best independent venue in the country (it still does). At the heart of the scene even to this day has been Joeyfat. A post-punk band with a revolving door on it’s lineup but with one main-stay, it’s front-man Matt Cole.

Over the course of the last 10 years I’ve seen M.Cole on all fours of a table, barking like a dog at a couple who were having a conversion throughout the entire set, rip the clothes off his body during 20 minutes of anguish, and on countless occasions he’s let us join him through warped take on the world.

It’s not about pantomime antics, I know that isn’t what safeasmilk was talking about – neither am I, and I can see why he is discounting Trash Talk who are indeed a powerful force onstage. But once you have seen them 3 or 4 times the illusion is broken. When you realise it is set-pieces rehearsed, in a loose sense, of whatever worked last time. Yes they’ll be in the crowd, yes someone will climb a PA stack, yes we’ll have a circle pit. The same went for the latter Gallows tours, you were guaranteed Frank Carter walking across the crowd and standing on the shoulders of his followers below. It becomes prescribed and unreal, it becomes – a show.

But it’s not just about the intensity in the delivery, it’s the content as well. Have we run out of things to rebel against? Are the wrong people making music now? What’s happened to the disguised anger of Fugazi or brazen assault that was Bikini Kill?

I get the point and I agree, where have all those bands gone?

There’s a recent star in the clouded sky of hardcore that I still pine for today. It burnt hard and burnt fast and that was Blackhole.

I took this photo during one of their last shows and that look, what you see when you look into those eyes – that is what is missing from bands right now.

We are regressing web design with Zoetropes

Once in a while I’ll go on a handful of naff list sites like Creative Bloq and trawl through their ‘10 sites that have great blah’ posts and now and then I’ll find something that makes me think. Today it’s this http://www.eone-time.com/.

This mixture of scrolling + css animate = animation, isn’t anything new really but it is become more and more common place and I really wish it wasn’t. Continue reading “We are regressing web design with Zoetropes”

the problem with XboxOne HDMI passthrough

I love the idea of the XboxOne integration with Television services. The options for creating a more interesting television viewing experience by having my cable box (not available yet in the UK) running through the Xbox. Fast switching between gaming and TV, showing TV broadcasts in the snap view so i can continue playing whilst my special lady waits for Home and Away to start all ticks boxes for me, or at least it would if it weren’t for one fatal flaw. Continue reading “the problem with XboxOne HDMI passthrough”

Forza 5 first impressions

Before I write anything about the XboxOne itself, I wanted to give a quick summary of my initial thoughts on Forza 5.

A few years back I played an early code of Forza 5 which left me feeling a little empty. I spoke to a guy on the stand and said that it suffered from the same issues as its predecessors – the visuals are stunning but the sound design is bloody terrible. Unbeknown to me at the time the guy I was slating the game to was one of the sound engineers. Ah Well, that was a few years ago. Continue reading “Forza 5 first impressions”

Meaning Conference 2013

I received a survey request from Nixon McInnes asking for feedback on Meaning Conference 2013, held at the Corn Exchange in Brighton last Friday.

I wanted to share my thoughts on the event and since the survey is so well structured I’m publishing my responses here.

What did we do well?

Just about everything I would say.

I admit that I find the school dinners concept something quite a painful experience. I had a similar scenario talking at UX Cambridge this year.

It can all too easily result in you sat with the people you work with and staying within your boundaries, which is good for some people but then it hinders those who want to actively talk to those they don’t know particularly well, if at all.

What could we have done better?

The balloons for talking points during the open lunch session just didn’t work. There needed to be facilitators attached to them. If you had provided workshop specialists to take the persons primary idea and build the discussion it would have been quite successful.

What are your greatest takeaways from Meaning 2013?


Honestly it is. I absolutely loved the event, all the talks were of an excellent standard and I think the curation of the whole thing was marvellous. But get anyone to stand in front of a group of people and tell a story there will be parts missing.

Rick Falkvinge cannot be denied the merit of starting the pirate party movement and proving that determination can achieve something. But it’s very easy to miss the real points why he got so far – a single driven focus on a subject that appealed to his audience and that, that audience was already captivated by his voice. “1 message in a chatroom”. Yes but what chatroom? Look further and it’s easy to let cynicism seep in.

The other was the story of Mondragon. Mikel Lezamiz did an incredible job of explaining how a giant cooperative works using words which may have terrified some people. What he didn’t really highlight, understandably, as it’s not interesting to the story is that the reason why Mondragon has been successful for so long is that it was founded in a region which has a culture so rich that its people have fought for independence from the landmass it is within. This culture is what has made the cooperative successful – the desire for self sufficiency.

Now try and do that anywhere that has not got that drive or desperate need for independence and it will be harder to form.

What should a ticket to Meaning 2014 cost and why?

I believe in education being accessible to everyone. The greatest failure for all conferences is pricing because ultimately they outcast anyone who doesn’t have a supportive company behind them.

We’ve all worked for companies who are reluctant to pay for their members to attend conference events of any type regardless of how close or seemingly removed they may be from day-to-day job roles. But those are the very people, the ones eager to learn, who will either be capable of changing those negative cultures from the bottom up, or leave a toxic environment in search of something better, something, good.

When I was a freelancer I couldn’t afford anything, when I was employed I could just about afford going to a single conference a year, paying with a credit card and worrying about paying it back later. This meant I was always picking the ones which I felt would give me direct practical instruction at the end which can be immediately applied to whatever I was working on at the time.

But those skills do not enable you to grow.

The current £60 marker for pre-orders makes this accessible to anyone I feel. Double that and you’ve just knocked out anyone who has to pay for themselves, double it again and you’re further limiting.

I sat in several different places during the day and I have to tell you, there were a lot of jerks in that audience who were only interested in how to better sell their company and make money

We want Meaning to have real impact – how do you think it could do that? What more would you like from it?

Put on a rock concert.

By that I mean consider something like Live Aid. Everyone focusses on the music part and forgets the work that it is trying to do. Both Bob Geldof and Midge Ure have said in recent years the reality of it was a failure for the cause. But it penetrated millions across the world and maybe just for that brief moment, everyone was focussed on a single issue with the potential to eradicate it.

Now I am not saying Meaning is the business equivalent to Live Aid. But why not? Isn’t that the point? To do something with meaning?

This year, the speakers were powerful in their presence, I don’t think there was anyone who didn’t take total command of the stage and the subject was primarily around doing something and being successful in business, I get that. But there was only one person who really hit home how much they have tried to do something which makes others lives better; Dr Sue Black.

Dr Black took us through her thoughts and journey of wanting to improve the support for the future generations to be skilled with technology and that a realisation that their home environments could affect this, turned her hand to helping improve the skills and awareness of mums – our real teachers in life. In a wonderful turn, she has not only helped children get support at home, but improved the skills and lives of mums and I hope by proxy begun the process for bringing the UK to the forefront of technological advances of the future. These peoples lives have been enriched by the good work of another, not for personal gain, but from the desire to help.

So why not take this conference as being a termination point to a campaign for change?

Why not make meaning more than just a conference and more a positive movement towards empowering and inspiring people to do wonderful things?

I sat in several different places during the day and I have to tell you, there were a lot of jerks in that audience who were only interested in how to better sell their company and make money. I accept they need to exist (these people) but I’d argue you didn’t change their mindset, just gave them ammunition to manipulate and abuse good intent for their own gain.

Don’t let the idea fizzle out after 24hrs keep the fire burning for a long time to come.

If you don’t read it there and then don’t save it

For the last 2 years I have been using readability to bookmark things I want to read but not at that moment and for a while it worked well.

In the last few months however I have noticed a shift in my reading habits. I’ve moved away from the routine of clipping a few things in the morning then going back at lunchtime or after work to forgetting what I have snipped and then when I open Readability on my iPad I’m bombarded with a stream of new articles.

As a sat last night I felt that I was wading through. These articles weren’t keeping my attention, I was drifting, thinking of other things and other places and eventually I made a decision. I painstakingly deleted everything in my list – the whole 36 saved articles. Continue reading “If you don’t read it there and then don’t save it”

UXBrighton 2013

Friday 1st November saw the 4th UX Brighton conference. I’ve enjoyed every year and the progression and skill in orchestrating such an event has raised the bar each time.

This year was focussed on psychology, a subject which all of us in the industry should be taking an interest in; if you don’t already. I enjoy reading books that are perhaps the pop culture equivalents of heavy texts. Things like Sway, Predictably Irrational, Freakanomics, or the Paradox of Choice are some of my most loved books and where I regularly draw inspiration from.

This year for me was a huge success. Every speaker bar-one was of an extremely high caliber, with subject matter seemingly broad but all related and thankfully, virtually zero reference to web design. Continue reading “UXBrighton 2013”

What is a Landing Page?

Work with any marketer on a website and they will talk to you about landing pages, the money spent on optimising and designing landing pages and why they want them. So, what are they?

The term ‘landing page’ comes from web analytics. The ‘landing page’ is the page which a visitor first comes to when visiting your site. You can put money into banner ads, adwords and other campaigns to generate traffic to this page and tailor it’s content to reflect the terms that a user searched for before clicking through. Continue reading “What is a Landing Page?”

The final straw for Newsstand

I have never been a fan of the Newsstand, for many of the reasons that Marko has published here, it purposefully hides content, the same as iBooks does, but the difference between the services is that the concept of a book is relatively static (I’ve yet to have a digital book magically update with a 2nd edition).

Publications within Newsstand are intended to have a frequency of content updates, whether that is daily, weekly, fortnightly, monthly, quarterly… it really doesn’t matter. One way or another the concept is a frequent publishing schedule that is tied to the world it’s skeuomorphic design was trying to protect. Continue reading “The final straw for Newsstand”

The Wolf Among Us – A game from the world of Fables

I got turned on to Fables by a friend last year who leant me the first three books. Fables is the story of the characters from the Grimm Fairytales living in the real world. Sound familiar? It should do because ABC’s Once Upon A Time ripped the idea, watered it down and is now into it’s third season. It is nowhere near as well written and developed as the original Vertigo Comics.

I found the trailer today for The Wolf Among Us by Telltale games, the makers of the successful Walking Dead point and click adventures. I have to confess I have started and not dug into the first Walking Dead title a dozen times now. There’s just something about it I am not engaged with. Perhaps it is Zombie overload, I don’t know. Continue reading “The Wolf Among Us – A game from the world of Fables”

The End of August

May be the busiest and fuelled weekends in recent years. Friday saw the official opening of the new building which will be home to Clearleft as of 1st of October.

Throughout September we’re hosting digital art exhibitions as part of Brighton Digital Festival before packing our bags here at Lighthouse and getting settled in ourselves.

The auditorium has an exposed rear brick wall which makes the space pop. I hope that people get to take a look around during the next month and start planning to put their events on in the new space. Continue reading “The End of August”

UXCambridge – Telling Stories with Photography

Next Thursday I’ll be talking at UX Cambridge. Looking at the day’s events I would say there is a good mix of workshops and talks going on.

I’m hoping to make it there in time for Neil Turner from TUI Travel UK talking about how TUI have transitioned their entire business focus to become more user centred. For such a huge organisation I know this has been a big ask, but they’re now starting to reap the benefits.

At the same time as me Matthew Ovington is talking about what he learnt from creating UX Guidelines at Paddy Power, whilst Bonny Colville-Hyde is running a workshop on content and responsive design.

If you see me, do come and have a chat.

Moto Sport Roundup July 2013

The final race week of July 2013 and it has to have been the most insane for years.

We saw Marquez take a shortcut to MotoGP Champion as he went high and wide over Rossi in the G-bending Corkscrew at Laguna Seca, Shane Byrne fell out of contention and across the track at Brands Hatch only to rouse a win in race two.

There was Tom Sykes’ exploding bike at Moscow with Milandri taking only a single a win for the day due to the terrible incident which sadly resulted in Andrea Antonelli crashing after turn 14 and later losing his life from fatal injuries once again showing that further changes need to be made to the rules when it comes to wet racing i,e, just don’t.

Solved: trouble installing Ruby and Gems on OSX Lion

I’ve not used Ruby a great deal, in fact I installed it many years ago with the intention of learning Ruby on Rails (oh so on trend) and then decided I couldn’t be bothered.

I wanted to try using Forward, a service getting your local domain out on a public DNS to find it is a gem you have to install and it wouldn’t install on OSX Lion. Continue reading “Solved: trouble installing Ruby and Gems on OSX Lion”

Both Microsoft and Sony games developers are now producing titles using agile releases – so why aren’t you?

In a post on IGN yesterday Ryan McCaffrey interviewed Studio Head Dan Greenawalt who was talking about Forza 5 requiring updates on the day of launch.

This isn’t DLC; although the download will comprise of game content such as cars and tracks. It is in fact a scheduled release. Continue reading “Both Microsoft and Sony games developers are now producing titles using agile releases – so why aren’t you?”

Barriers to entry – Email marketing foul ups

A pattern I am seeing become more and more common is excessive data requirements to sign up to newsletters. There should only ever be one mandatory field to enable someone to sign up to your newsletter and that is an email address where they can read it.

Looking at a number of charity and non for profit sites today I am seeing a varying range of mandatory fields from needing your full name all the way to your postal address, date of birth and telephone number, all to sign up for an email newsletter. Continue reading “Barriers to entry – Email marketing foul ups”

I can’t understand how Myspace have gone so far past the mark

I accidentally clicked a link and it took my to a band myspace page. I don’t even know how it happened I thought the domain had expired by now.

More terrifying was the grey abomination that presented me when the page loaded up. The sideways scrolling twaddle that constituted content was illegible on my laptop. I then took a look at the NiN page which consists of a tome of a biography split into text columns across several side swipes (down scrolls on the mouse for me). Continue reading “I can’t understand how Myspace have gone so far past the mark”

What I learnt about UX from Fast ‘N’ Loud

Over the years we’ve had some addictive bad telly brought to UK shores by Channel5. But something has changed and in the last 12 months Discovery, a channel traditionally respected as the younger, perhaps late teen sibling of National Geographic has become the home of what @jvbates has referred to as Red Neck TV.

Lately, my favourite has been Fast ‘N’ Loud, a show where the boys at the Gas Monkey Garage buy old cars, put a bit of work into them and flip them by the end of the episode. Watching how Rich and Aaron, the founders of the business operate, I’ve become inspired by what they do and how they put it all together, but more importantly what they consider a good job well done.

Defining the User Experience

Ultimately, car restoration is a true user experience. If you’re a mechanic, the sound of an original 68’ Coupe DeVille is like sweet music, the craft put into the blend of design and power of the American classic could be equated to the love some of us in the web have for Swiss Type, or the nuances of a well defined stylesheet. To the consumer there is the dream of owning something they could never have from new, or because they weren’t born when the ‘77 Bandit Trans Am hit the dealership. For some it will be the opportunity to relive their youth, the glory days of an era gone by.

Then you have the collectors & petrolheads, fanatical about the finess of a well laid out dashboard, the blends of steel, carbon, plastics, wood and the smell of leather and gasoline.

All of these personas must be considered when they set out to find something in the auctions or local ads for a ride to buy and bump After all, it is no good putting your resourcing into a car that will never be bought, never be driven, never be cared for.

Roles and responsibilities

The GMG workshop is a small team. Richard and Aaron run the business, they pick the cars that get brought in and between them work out what they need to do in order to get it into the state they need to turn a profit.

Sounding familiar? It should. We are doing this every day, except where many of us fail is where the Gas Monkey boys succeed. They don’t try to create the perfect example.

It’s got to be-e-e-e-e-e perfect

I have written in the past about my disliking for working with anyone who has the notion of pixel perfect design, a print-bred notion that you can’t control on the web. Well here we have a group who are taking the anti-pixel perfect approach to physical products.

Quite often the cars brought into the garage are pretty beat up. On the outside there could be tragic rust spots, clapped out interiors, but the engine block may be OK. Most certainly it needs a service and it may even need a major component completely replacing.

Still sounding familiar?

Aaron sets about the strategy for getting the car to the point they need it. They have a fixed budget usually set in man days in which to turn the project around plus an idea of expenses before they buy the car. You can tell that this is a pretty accurate estimate based on experience.

Meanwhile, Rich is off getting in the next project, he wants a car in the parking lot ready to be wheeled into the garage once the last one is finished.

Teaming Up

During the procurement phase of a project Rich will often consult with friend Dennis Collins, a car collector on whether it’s a good project to go into. Occasionally Dennis will also invest in the project to get it off the ground.

With the overal concept for what they want to do mapped out, Aaron assembles the team, this may include one or all the mechanics in the workshop, a paint sprayer and when required he’ll call in specialists like detailers, surface experts or upholsterers.

With a team put together they get cracking. There’s just the one primary job going through the garage at the time and having the whole team work on it at the same time means that things come in on-time.

Incomplete to you – completed to me

Crucially what has inspired me is that their projects are not complete. They work on how do we get this shitpile rat run and turn it into something that does what it needs to do. It isn’t always about delivering the wrap around bow, that may well be the fun part that the next owner wants to get their fingers on – so let them!

In doing so, more often than not the guys turn a profit on the project and things still look good but crucially every car they restore gets driven away – not towed.

In one of my favourite episodes the crew needed to get an engine block cleaned up and sent it away to be resprayed. When it came back it had been completely restored in a striking cherry red to match the engine bay. Unfortunately, they’d purposefully left the patina of the chassis giving this hot rod a rather nice Mad Max vibe. What did they do? They dripped paint stripper and brake fluids all over the block and bay to allow the paint to corrode back to match the outside.

Don’t over design one area only for it to get let down by its surroundings (there are few examples of this I have seen lately).


  • Assess the damage
  • Come up with a tangible delivery
  • Get your team together and bring in help when you need it, don’t be limited by your own capabilities
  • Don’t over do it, it’s a car all it needs to be able to do is drive on the road legally
  • Not everything needs go faster stripes


Since the start of May I have taken a new approach to using certain communication tools. This has mainly involved how I use my phone. Firstly, I removed all email accounts from it, realising that they were only really there for killing time, endlessly checking for what shit needed to be deleted from my inboxes; this does open the question is it worth having an email address at all? Continue reading “Connectedness”

We die young

I was shocked last night to be told the news that Ashley Maile, Photographer best known for his work with AP and Kerrang and Brighton resident, passed away this week.

I haven’t been able to get in touch with anyone to find out what happened but he was young. Too young to be exiting stage left in 2013. When he moved to Brighton he became a frequent face at the front when I was still shooting gigs and I spent many an evening chatting about everything and nothing with him, captivated by his pleasant company,trans Atlantic twang and ability to wear sunglasses as a headband and combat shorts regardless of the time of year.

In true skill swap style I traded web skills with shutter skills and we would regularly meet up for a drink and talk about what I was doing and how I could improve my work.

Ashley was a guy who was always happy to talk to you and he gave me a few jobs lighting studio shots for his work and helped me get a few gigs with some magazines which I am eternally thankful for. He taught me etiquette, grace under fire and that big leather wristbands will never go out of style in rock and roll.

You can always tell one of Ashley’s shots when you’re flicking through a mag. Some of my favourites have to be the Jeep shoot with Funeral For A Friend, his Metallica black and whites for TG and his shots of Telegraphs at Helingly Hospital.

One of a kind.

What is a web app?

My colleague @adactio wrote today about his frustration around the question – what is a web app, along with thoughts following on from a conversation we had yesterday about our mutual frustration of people showcasing HTML5 when they actually mean javascript/browser API et al.

Indeed we all have our thoughts on this web app-ness. So, with a quick glance over my shoulder (my living room is troll free) here goes…

My view of a web app Vs a web site stems from my experiences working at a software company. We had two applications. One written with Visual Basic and it’s successor written in C#. At the time, Microsoft were emerging a new platform called .NET. It was dubbed as being the bridge that would allow desktop applications such as ours to be able to talk to other applications over the interwebs.

This could provide us with an entirely new audience and give us the chance to forge new partnerships with other software companies who wanted to create this app to app chattiness. We liked the idea, we wanted to know more.

After some experiments, we began to wonder whether we should in fact build the next version of our application so that it used a web browser as it’s window, instead of the one that gets launched from the .exe. This would solve our two biggest problems.

We wanted to remove all the tabs we had bloated our GUI (Graphical User interface) with as it had grown and evolved. We also wanted to alleviate one of the biggest gripes from our sales guy when returning from pitches which was that people said it seemed “very small” because physically, it was; compared to their monitor. Could this be a way to provide a more concentrated and focused experience for our users who were busy buying Windows XP machines and 17” (holy shit!!!), 1024×768 resolution (double holy shit) monitors without losing the large number of customers still working on Windows 2000 PCs with monitors that had a maximum range of 800×600?

We had already harmed part of our business by releasing our C# version of the application with an application frame of 1024×768, could this help us bring some of our less technologically capable users along with us on our product journey?

We figured by using .NET; a platform that was sold as being for building applications on the web, we could port our current application(s) into this new online format. After all, our flagship was in VB and that was what ASP.NET used (and very soon after C#). It also meant we would dramatically reduce our development and support costs. No more desktop support (pff), no more runs of update CDs and postage costs, no more deadlines for ‘you must upgrade by xxx’. It seemed a win win.

From this experience, my opinion became that web sites, was a destination with a URL that had read-only content (excluding right click, save as) that was informing you of something and consisted of (at the time) static html pages. A web app was a desktop application; a tool for achieving a certain goal, which ran in a web browser and didn’t require you to install anything locally.

Listening to Jeremy talk about this occasionally, and reading how often the debate comes up, semantically, you could argue that yes, today the two are in fact the same, but our perspective has changed. All destinations online, actually are tools for us to complete a given task. The majority of which is find information on subject X.


If I ask my mum to give me the 5 websites she uses the most she would reply:


If I ask her to give me the 5 web apps she uses the most she would reply:

Intranet at work
HSBC business banking online

In Contrast if I asked my younger brother (Late 20s) the same questions I would get:

The Quietus
The Stool Pigeon
bbc news


BBC iPlayer
Google Maps

Taking that comparison, you could say there is an informed understanding or impression of an web app(lication) and a web site based not far from my own opinions. Both are in some way differentiating informational, or observational content with entering commands into a GUI.

Do I still hold this opinion? What should we take away from this?

Simply put – whoever is using whatever, whenever doesn’t care what you classify your online product/service as, providing it does what they want it to and what you said it would. If they don’t give two flying fucks care why do you?

The next site I design will not be for ‘desktop’

The average evening in my house involves eating, maybe a glass of wine and watching whatever we can find on Netflix whilst trying to decompress from a day at the coalface.

Both my Girlfriend and I work on the web meaning at least 8 hours of the day is spent in front of a laptop screen or a computer monitor.

Since becoming a freelancer last year I have made more of an effort to not use my trusted, albeit tatty Macbook Pro after 17:30. The lid gets shut and it stays in the office, or my bag if I am working on-site with a client. My girlfriend does the same, although for her this has never been as big a problem, rarely using her laptop whilst at home.

This hasn’t stopped us trawling the internet however. Instead, like many of the population, we are looking up things from our true personal computers; our mobile phones. Continue reading “The next site I design will not be for ‘desktop’”

A month with TextMate

For April I used TextMate exclusively for creating html, css, javascript and php files. I did this with an out of the box install, no playing around with packages or bundles or extensions, just as it comes.

In all, I found it quite a struggle. I know this is where life is made easier by installing a bundle, but I like to take things as they come.

It took about a week to get used to some of the frequently used shortcuts which were for quite standard actions in an IDE, for example, having to type cmd+alt+. to close a tag was an exhaustive process which made me realise that Adobe has spoilt me for some time with auto closing tags.

The find and replace works quite well, but again seemed to require a deal of effort.

The interface itself is faultless, completely clear of any junky UI, it is clear that in developing Brackets Adobe have done more than a casual nod to TextMate.

Which brings me onto my next trial. For the month of May I am going to work in Brackets exclusively. Currently on Sprint 24, I shied away a few months back due to the frustration of having to grab a DMG every few days with updates.

The current version seems quite stable and some of the new features that were shown off during yesterdays’ AdobeMax Keynote have caught my eye, for example, the live view is a novel idea as is the visual colour palette picker from your stylesheet along with those oh so familiar shortcuts and features.


This week has been a balancing act.
Monday was written off by a cold that I lost the whole weekend to. It did give me the time to find out what has happened with my tax return paper work; culminating in a 45 minute on-hold call with a very short loop musak.

Transpires back in November last year they processed the wrong forms and I was never enabled for submitting online. Now I have to wait for another 2 weeks to get the pin code to log in to then waste a morning filing a tax return for half a year.

This week @clearleft has been full on. I’m balancing updates and evolution of a prototype that we decided would be best served going straight into HTML whilst getting a new promo site off the ground.

I met up with Adnan and Emma from Hatch to see what they’re working on at the moment as the new site comes ever closer to launch, John Loch will be most pleased with what seems to be evolving behind the bulk head.

Friday saw the second food market and the Brighthelm Garden so we all took a stroll up to see what the score was. It’s a great idea and I think bringing some independence back into b’town which frankly is starting to lose its sparkle as more and more chain stores flood the town centre.

Managing unhappiness

I have always felt one of my strengths has been managing disappointment and unhappiness. An example of this occurred this evening.

I live in a top floor flat in a two flat mid-terrace. Our neighbours downstairs are a perfectly nice couple but on a few occasions we have had some problems. I’m always eager to resolve issues and when they’re things that are out of our control I want to ensure that everyone understands why and come to a middle ground. Continue reading “Managing unhappiness”

Facebook Home will not have success

I’ve been an Android user for quite some time; my first handset was the HTC Hero (G2 for you non-brits). As each handset reaches its end of life (or basically when the vendor realises they’re around 10 releases behind and can’t be bothered to fork it to add their logo – ORANGE!) I root it, head over to XDA Forum and see what the latest Cyanogen Mod looks like, or another home skin for Android.

HTC Sense, to date I have to say is my favourite. It has some rather tacky and old fashioned UI elements sure, but there are also some nice touches, which until having a phone running a vanilla ROM I didn’t know was part of Sense. For example, if you connect all your social networks using Sense’s address book it pulls in avatars for everyone that has a connected account. It also improves your connectivity with any individual by creating the associations with said accounts meaning you can call, text, mail, tweet, chat your friends using whichever coms channel you like. Wicked.

This week Facebook in conjunction with HTC the release of a new handset; the oddly titled One, the first ‘facebook’ phone.

What it actually is, is another version of Sense with a custom home screen and a few other bobbins paid for by Facebook. The marketing fluff on facebookhome.com shows incredibly professional, posed and composed images throughout and here is where the entire thing will become a massive fail.

Take yourself down to to the section on the home screen where you are presented with a design comp showing the handset beaming the lock screen. A Slideshow let’s us Matt Shaemus’s pic of Meghan Concra from behind in a canoe, perfectly lit, perfectly posed, amazingly fitting the screen size – they’re having a great time. Nicholas Arrol has finally paid off his student loan and some dude is getting licked by his dog.

Apart from the fact that this opens a wider debate about the fact that this private statement to their friend is now being broadcast to anyone in visible range of his phone there is a far greater reality being ignore – most of my friends take endless photos of their dogs, their dinner or their friends, drunk and not looking their best. The truth of the home screen is, you’ll turn it off because how is that going to look when I pull my phone out of my pocket in a business meeting only for everyone to see joe wearing his girlfriends dress throwing up in a bush? More to the point, I don’t want to see it!

There is also the fact that adverts will appear on your phone UI. Now, before someone jumps down my throat, no, there was no mention of adverts during the press launch, but you bet your bottom dollar there will be ads getting in there somehow.

What frustrates me more is that Facebook have done something on Android which bedroom coders have been doing since the beginning. Most of the ROMS available today have some aspect of contact interactions being surfaced higher in the UI, even Sense itself does it by default so really what’s the point? There is also the fact that the ROM/Widget(s) aren’t going to be available on all android devices, which sort of defies the point of doing something on android in the first place.

Why I take issue with the build_off

Every few months I buy .Net. for the few hours I spend flipping through reading what’s relevant to me and skipping over what’s not there has always been one section which can make my blood boil over, temperature soar, and fists clench – the ‘build_off’.

I have never understood this section. Across on average 4 pages we’re presented a picture of a home page for a fictional site all nicely sized to somehow conveniently fit into the width of a magazine page with some nice callouts a brief intro and explanations of what each of these areas might be like if it were real.

I don’t know how long it takes for contributors to put together these quaint ideas, or how they are selected in the first place but I can’t help but feel this is and has always been completely against what we as an industry are so determined to move away from – showing shitty comps to shitty clients.

There are other sections which I take issue with, top lists for CMS which never shows or describes anything they’ve done with the CMS, CSS and Javascript that never show or explain what is significant, all get on my nerves, but these are not anywhere near as frustrating as the build_off.

The fact that the contributors are given a sufficiently loose brief ensuring that they produce wildly different page designs (because that’s all it is – it’s not a site) means that it is also impossible to compare them on any kind of contrast. For example, this month Kat Thompson, Rob Barwell & Natash McDiarmid were given the brief to “mock up a website design promoting an imaginary museum. Consider how to broadcast its brand values, integrate social media and get the most out of different devices.”

It’s impossible to meet this brief in reality. We don’t know what the brand values are so how can they promote them? We don’t know what social channels they currently use, how effective they are, whether they’re focussing on the right communication tools and they can’t produce something best suited for different devices because they’re only going to show a one-shot for a home page.

Taking part in the .Net build_off is like trying to win a project on a site like 99 designs, or people per hour; wooly loose brief with no context, no ability to talk to an actual person in order to get the data you need to make expert decisions and a backwards team that are going to waste time putting together a design in photoshop (or fireworks or something else – I really don’t care what you use) which you then have to encourage someone to imagine having “parralax scrolling image appears as endless as the real night sky”.

To add insult, there has been a recent introduction (it could have actually been there for years) of urls to see the pages in full which link to jpegs, the same jpeg you’ve looked at on the page only bigger. Well big whoop!

I’d like to suggest that people stop taking part until the concept changes so that you have to make a full site.

Is Google+ introducing dark patterns?

I discovered over the weekend that by disabling and removing my Google+ ‘account’ the other month I in turn disabled my Youtube account, which I do use regularly.

I hadn’t realised this until I went to post a link to a video I shot a while back onto this blog only to be greeted by a note saying, “welcome to Youtube!”. Shortly after my girlfriend quizzed me saying she had just received a notification that I had ‘joined’ G+ and asked me how come as I had said I had deleted it ages ago. Continue reading “Is Google+ introducing dark patterns?”

Working from content diagrams

This week I have been working with Rich and Paul at Clearleft on a quite different project to what I would normally be involved with – designing an intranet.

With Rich leading the project we met with the client to talk about the main objectives for the project and were pleasantly surprised with the amount of background, research and thought they have already put into what is going to be the primary resource for everyone within the organisation.

The biggest thing that has been highlighted is that they want to avoid one common pitfalls of many intranets, becoming a dumping ground for documents which quickly become out or date or have infrequent use. Instead, the intranet will centre around the people within the organisation and the work that they do. It is intended to facilitate collaboration and communication between individuals. By making people the heart of the service they hope to get more mingling going on between groups and new ideas coming out of that mingling.

We kicked off by writing a list of all the things we want to see on each of the page types and spent about a day checking that we hadn’t missed anything as well as throwing in some ideas which were a little different to what you would normally see.

By the end of it we had a pretty comprehensive list. We’d merged items which were too similar, refined some that were too broad and had a complete map of the system using nothing more than some pen and paper and an itemised list.

The next step was for me to take this list and put each item on it into a hierarchy. As I had been doing this as we were going along already, this afforded us some extra time which I used to take each of the page content diagrams and throw them into html pages. At first, I just put everything from the list in as h1 tags; basically showing where each section would start. By going about it this way you’ve suddenly got the beginnings of a simplified mobile-first page layout.

Over the last few days I have extended these page diagrams by sourcing similar or exact content to populate these diagrams, again keeping away from marking it up with anything that could be considered layout related, it is still purely text content and a few images semantically ordered.

I wanted to get the markup to be as rich as possible and provide the ability to interact with other systems if it needs to in the future. I’ve done this by applying microformats to certain patterns within the system. For example, being centred around people, it is was more than obvious to add vcard/hcard formatting to the people pages. But I’ve gone a step further than that, events are covered, as are references to peoples publications whether print or online using bibliography microformatting.

Hopefully in a few weeks I will be able to write more insight into approach on taking a UX project quickly through discovery and into a prototype state without the need for faffing with wireframes and design mockups – something which I am very much enjoying on this project. That’s not to say there is no place for these tools and methods, of course there are, but with the nature of this project and the way we’re working through it, these would only be relevant for a few hours if not minutes.

Infamous 2

I’ve just finished Infamous 2 on PS3 courtesy of the PSN Plus instant game collection.

As with the first game in the series, the comic book stylings and plot appealed to me but it was marred with shoddy controls.

Same as with the Assassins Creed series, the free to running aspects just don’t work without serious amounts of frustration being passed onto the controller. Regularly our hero Cole jumps and floats around ladders, overshoots a tram line or falls 100 stories instead of grabbing the next ledge down.

In spite of this, I have still enjoyed it, but I would have put more time and exploration into it if I it weren’t for the controls. All the way through both games I couldn’t work out whether projectiles or hand to hand combat was meant to be the optimum attack mechanism. Until you’ve dented a fair bit of side missioning (how you unlock upgrades) your projectiles are pretty weak but with everyone shooting bullets at you getting in close enough for some rough and tumble proves equally as hard.

The second instalment was certainly a vast improvement on the first (Which I have to say I gave up on 2/3rds in) and the art direction was considerably better.

Another feature which I completely ignored was that of playing a mission created by other players. A trend that has been around a long time now I just don’t get it. If I wanted to play half baked ideas from the guy in the flat next door I’d ask him what he’s released on XBLA and buy his junk. It’s a theme in games of late that I would like to see go because it dilutes the quality of the content for me.

The revolution will not be televised, you’ll make it in the garden shed

This week saw the launch of defcad.com. Dubbed as the Pirate Bay for 3D printing, they’ve hit major news headlines for their desire to publish blueprints for firearms. Now, I cannot agree with this notion and find the way in which founder Cody Wilson is going about raising money for the project. I don’t agree with access to firearms for the general public and especially in that there is no justifiable reason for a member of the public to own an AR-15; you shouldn’t bare arms full stop. However, my instant thought was to revert back to James Burke speaking last year at dConstruct. In his closing he presented a view of the near future and nano factories in every home.

Pushing further down the page and reading the manifesto for Defcad, you may be forgiven into thinking that this is in fact somebody attempting to move closer towards this potential utopia of self sustainability with his statements relating to law change, regulation and patent owners kicking up about the ability to print your own Ford GT for example. You would be wrong. There is no agenda from Wilson other than to stir up some shit and rebel against a government he doesn’t like. He is in the truest form a fuckhead.

Sadly, I believe that we need these fuckhead’s to be able to reach an existence where there is no currency, there is no need to work, anything you could want you can have. The future whereby everyone has their own nano factory slowly creating just the things they need and enjoying the world in which we inhabit.

James Burke audio from dConstruct

Originally posted on avangelistdesign.com

response to images – responsive day out

During Owen Gregory’s talk at Responsive Day Out he touched on the theory of the Golden Ratio in design and how you can still use traditional design theory in a fluid world without compromising on form.

Many others throughout the day had discussed the current issues we face when approaching the use of images in design and content in designing for a fluid web. There were discussions on file sizes, how to serve up images, what kind of image files we should use and when to use them, the types of images, are they for context or decoration?

Bruce Lawson went through the ideas of serving up entirely different versions of an image to align with a particular layout. In His example he showed an image where a dog sat centrally in a photograph. Using breakpoints, he presented different crops of the same image citing that these were better contextually based on the viewport size. I disagree with this, but that’s another story.

What nobody questioned however is whether images themselves are actually the plague on good design when it comes to the web? Are they the devil we know that can never be changed?

Last year I was working with Paul Swain on a project which we knew was going to be heavily lead by imagery. During the wireframing stage Paul was placing image placeholders in that used a 16:9 aspect ratio. I asked him why he kept putting them in the layout? His response was that 16:9 gives more data in an image. For example in a sports scene it allows for the subject to be the focus with his surroundings given extra space to breathe. He also noted that when designing a fluid site we should consider that the screen sizes are all moving towards widescreen, columns are going to become wider than they are long.

I couldn’t let this go. As a photographer, I have never owned a camera that shoots images at 16:9; I have a FlipHD handheld video camera that shoots in 16:9 but none of my Nikon SLRs do. All I could think of was somebody having to spend more time shooting with a taped off back screen (see below) and more time editing before getting a story out on a news site for example. I brought this scenario to the table and we removed the placeholders exchanging them for 4:3 placeholders, if the image was in a widescreen format, they had a bounding box they could fit it into.

It did get me thinking as to whether the likes of Nikon will completely lose their minds and do away with the 4:3 ratio we are all used to? Of course, there are other image sizes that are still commonplace today notably instagram with it’s square images in a homage to the Polaroid and the hipsters do love their Lomos.

Owen Gregory questioned why we have these ratios in our devices that do not meet with the golden ratio? Modern displays, flat screen televisions and monitors use a16:9 ratio whilst older displays were set at 4:3 as are most cell phones, the iPad and many other tablet devices such as the Kindle and Galaxy Tab. In 2012 Apple The iPhone5 is 16:9 and along with the Samsung S3 and Nexus 4 are evolving handheld devices into the widescreen HD era.

How did these ratios come to be and can we ever have visual perfection?

Well, it isn’t but that is where it all starts, with William Dickinson and Thomas Eddison creating a concept of a roll of film and a loader for a camera.

Edison and Dickinson wanted to create images which gave the same level of detail as when looking straight ahead; minus the periphery. The human eye has a field of view which is 155oH x 120oV (4:3).

Their film wrapped around a spindle with sprockets gripping it in place. The frame needed to meet the 4:3 ratio and finally they concluded the ideal size was 35mm wide and 3 perforations high (the distance between the sprockets).

Does it have legs?

Naturally, when artists started considering moving pictures the starting point was to use 35mm film and lots of it. There were experiments with other formats as the movie makers started to look at how to make a more immersive experience. As with all good art, the marketing people had other ideas, how do you get more people in front of a film and make more money per show? The natural solution? make it wider. Wider screen = more seats.

The most notable movement came from France where the Paris film scene was booming. In 1897 Raoul Grimoin Sanson patented Cineorama, a widescreen film format, it never took off.

Other concepts emerged during the early 19th century including cinemascope which was costly to produce requiring two camera operators and further time editing. With the Depression came cut backs in Hollywood and the anamorphic format given with most widescreen solutions was dropped, returning to the cheaper 35mm 4:3 systems.

Alfred Hitchcock refused to shoot in cinemascope citing that it created an unnatural and displeasing image, instead favouring VistaVision which could be adjusted to suit a number of aspect ratios.

The Golden Age turns to Pyrite

As televisions found their way into more and more households in America Hollywood started to feel the pinch. Here is where we see history repeating itself (see 3D in 1915, 3D in the 1950s, 3D in the 1980s, HD and 3D again in the 2000s). Film studios began experimenting with dimensions again purposefully shooting in wider ratios that needed new projectors in the cinemas affiliated with the film studios and providing a cinematic experience which clearly set it apart from television.

It caused chaos. Letterboxes became a visual cue to what kind of film you were watching and ensured that every cinema could syndicate the movies into their theatres without needing to upgrade their equipment.

Many of us will remember (I’ve actually seen it in France in the last month) the frustrations of watching a film bought by a television network where the titles are chopped off left and right and you can’t help but wonder whether you’re losing important plot points to the outer limits of the shiny pastic surround encasing the liquid crystal display.

Thankfully, Dr Kerns Powers rallied for some kind of standardisation to be formed. Eventually 16:9 was agreed upon, not because it is the most pleasing ratio to experience moving pictures, but because it is the middle ground in a muddy film landscape. This is why even now with your HD (or even UHD/4K) screen you will see letterboxes when watching certain movies.

How do ratios fit into responsive design?

I have on quite a few occasions attempted to mimic another film format to the one I am shooting with. Back in 2009 (the golden age of Flickr?) I was inspired by Dustin Diaz’s 365 project where the majority of his shots were 16:9 and letterboxed. I spoke to him at the time about how he was doing this and tried it myself.

Perhaps we can start thinking about this in our web design. Can we use margins and padding in the same way as to create faux widescreen experiences, or even bring widescreen back down to 4:3 after all, isn’t this what we’re doing every time we set body to margin: 0 auto?

Originally posted on avangelistdesign.com