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

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”

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.

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”

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

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”


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:

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”

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”

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.

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.

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.

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”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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’”

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.

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.

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.

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