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

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.

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.

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?”

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”

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”

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”

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.

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

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’”

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.

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.