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 What adds further confusion is that the device in question is obsolete, very few drivers will understand what the pictorial is of.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.

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.

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”

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.

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.

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

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

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

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

James Burke audio from dConstruct

Originally posted on avangelistdesign.com