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Design for navigational momentum and unity

When trying to persuade people not to overload their navigation menus, I have often drawn an analogy with road signs. These must be a model of brevity, because drivers need to be able to digest them quickly.

Web users may not be travelling at 60mph, but they still want to get their stuff done quickly.

I enjoyed this Gerry McGovern article that draws a similar analogy:

The core purpose of navigation is to help you move forward. Designing digital navigation is not that different from designing navigation for a road. You always want to be able to help people maintain their momentum and get to their destination as quickly as possible. The essence of momentum is to help people move forward, and this is the essential purpose of navigation—to help people move forward.

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Why the web will win

A reminder of the web’s resilience.

The web is designed to be open-source, and therefore it is designed to last.

Tim Berners-Lee’s 1989 proposal for the World Wide Web wasn’t the most technically sophisticated vision of the early internet, nor was it the most popular at the time. However, in 1993, Berners-Lee and CERN open-sourced all of the technology associated with the World Wide Web. The open nature of the World Wide Web meant it could be implemented by anyone, anywhere, on any computer.

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Centrism isn’t dead – we just need a new word

I find it strange that so much attention is being put on centrism at the moment. I definitely do not identify with either the left or the right. But I have rarely used the word centrist to describe myself. Partly because I find it quite meaningless, and perhaps also because it assumes I am seeking a middle ground (which is sometimes true, but not always).

In an increasingly polarised political landscape, the idea of centrism is actually beginning to appeal to me more — even as it is becoming exceptionally unfashionably in certain quarters.

This article makes the argument for the need of “a rational approach to politics”, not a centrism that is simply “stuck in the middle”.

I simply want a term that adequately describes the need to shout “leave me out of this insane squabbling” or “I want no part of this imbecilic narrative”. What we are perhaps crying out for is a new term for politics that isn’t defined by the end points but by the process; defined not by the beliefs but the rational steps the lead us to those beliefs.

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A year after United’s public-relations disaster

What happened after United violently removed a passenger against his will from an overbooked flight? What do you think…?

Flyers may have said in that survey that they’d avoid United, but they really kept choosing whichever airline offered the best price and itinerary. And often that was United. In the month that followed the Dao incident, United flew more passengers than a year earlier, posted its biggest gains in months in passenger-miles flown, and had its fewest cancellations in its history (and fewer than any of its main competitors). A month after the incident, United’s share price hit an all-time high.

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Rock On — Tortoise

Tortoise’s most recent original music may not be as good as their material from the 1990s. But they have developed a knack for producing some excellent cover versions. This cover of Rock On is the highlight of their most recent album, The Catastrophist.

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Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica problems are nothing compared to what’s coming for all of online publishing

More on the hypocrisy of media organisation going after Facebook (which I recently wrote about).

What will happen when the Times, the New Yorker and other pubs own up to the simple fact that they are just as guilty as Facebook of leaking its readers’ data to other parties, for—in many if not most cases—God knows what purposes besides “interest-based” advertising?

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Crying over spilt milk: An empathy map example

Example empathy map

I have recently been involved in a project with the University of Edinburgh UX Service to conduct user research for the API Service.

In one of the workshops we ran, we wanted participants to work with empathy maps to give us an insight into their experiences.

This post on the University Website Programme blog outlines how I introduced workshop participants to the concept of empathy maps, with an example around my own experience of buying milk.

Buying milk is a simple task that most of us carry out on a regular basis. But this example showed how using an empathy map can reveal a surprising amount of detail about the behaviours and feelings someone goes through when completing a task.

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Publishers haven’t realised just how big a deal GDPR is

With the media still consumed with scrutinising Facebook, Thomas Baekdal once again points out that it is the media who appear to be less prepared to deal with privacy trends and comply with new regulations like GDPR.

It’s interesting that Thomas Baekdal has emphasised that this is not only important for compliance. But because it is becoming a fundamental expectation.

He notes the clear changes that Google and Facebook have made in reaction to GDPR. In contrast to publishers.

I have yet to see any publisher who is actually changing what they are doing. Every single media site that I visit is still loading tons of 3rd party trackers. They are still not asking people for consent, in fact most seem to think they already have people’s consent…

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But could Remain win a second referendum?

Some home truths for remainers from Jonathan Calder.

In the Remain camp we constantly remind ourselves how good we are and how evil and ridiculous Leavers are. (Leavers do the precise opposite of course.)

If insulting Leavers were the key to victory we would have won the first referendum. But we didn’t and there is no reason to believe that calling people “gammons” will help us more than calling them “fruitcakes” did.

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Facebook and the end of the world

When the world goes up in flames, the handful of people left in the burning ruins of civilization will shrug, look at their feet, and—from inside a deep black hole of unending ennui—mumble pathetically how ironic and silly it is that the thing that ultimately took us all down was Facebook.

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Why do we forget most of what we read and watch?

Not just what we read and watch. But also what we have written. And, if you were Johnny Carson, who you had just interviewed.

It’s an oddity peculiar to the live performer’s divided brain that needs exploring. It has to do with the fact that you — and the “you” that performs — are not identical.

I get the same thing all the time, whenever anyone asks me on a Monday morning what I did in the weekend.

Perhaps me and the “me” that was in the weekend are not identical. Certainly, my brain is in a totally different place — one that has difficulty piecing together an eventful yesterday.

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The death of clothing

Clothing sales are on the decline. Guess what? Millennials are to blame.

In seriousness though, it is interesting to consider the declining role of clothing in how people express themselves.

As clothing sales have declined, technology purchases have climbed — as have experiences.

So, pay for a good smartphone. Go on an experience. Brag about it on social media. A new pair of jeans would seem weak in comparison.

Who needs fashion these days when you can express yourself through social media? Why buy that pricey new dress when you could fund a weekend getaway instead?

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Collecting things

Giles Turnbull argues that you should, “Collect things that future-you will find useful.”

Part of me recoils at this idea. I am naturally a bit of a hoarder. But as such, I make it part of my routine to occasionally tidy things away into the bin.

But it will undoubtedly be important to keep some of this stuff.

All this is a long-winded way of saying: be an archivist. Capture the things your people are thinking about and talking about, as well as the things they’re doing and delivering. The two are intertwined. They shape one another.

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The ordinary greatness of Roger Bannister

Roger Bannister’s great achievement was not to attain the impossible, but to make the unattainable realistic.

The claim that typically accompanies a feat of athletic genius—that it may never be equalled—was never said of Bannister’s four-minute mile. The point of his race was exactly the opposite. The four-minute barrier had daunted runners for generations, but Bannister intended to break through it so that others might follow. And they did.

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Authenticity and character

An interesting comparison between modern-day radio presenting and that of previous generations: “That smiling deep disc jockey voice, broadcasting seemingly from a parallel mid-Atlantic world.”

Rarely has radio been quite so authentic.

In previous generations, it was enough to have a ‘voice on a stick’ as one of my colleagues used to call it…

Now – you tune in and you hear real life.

Listening to clips of old radio programmes, it is extraordinary how much times have changed. The Radio 1 Vintage broadcasts last year as part of Radio 1’s 50th birthday celebrations highlighted this starkly. Tony Blackburn’s live recreation of the first Radio 1 breakfast show even skipped over some of the content, tacitly acknowledging that it some of it was too cheesy (or perhaps offensive?) to be broadcast today.

There is an argument to say that people sometimes want to hear a bit of showbiz, and don’t necessarily always want to hear a voice that could be their neighbour’s.

But in the era of Spotify, a “voice on a stick” won’t do. Good content is essential for the long-term survival of radio.

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The Dunning-Kruger effect in innovation

The Dunning-Kruger effect describes the phenomenon whereby people with relatively little experience feel a high degree of confidence. This point is known as Mt Stupid.

Following this is the valley of despair, where the person loses their confidence, before slowly climbing the slope of enlightenment. The shape of this curve is strikingly similar to the Gartner hype cycle.

It is always tempting to think that I myself was atop Mt Stupid a couple of years ago, thereby making me on my way up the slope of enlightenment. However, I think this every time I see it.

This article makes the wise point that you can be on the slope of enlightenment for some issues, and still climbing your way to Mt Stupid on others.

However, given that the human condition makes it difficult for each of us to realise the limitations of our own knowledge, we’ll have to live with temporary outbursts of hubris. There is no reason to be self-complacent. Everybody is a wise expert in only a few things, while still climbing Mt Stupid in many, many others.

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Every Recording of Gymnopedie 1 — Hey Exit

Today is Piano Day. I am in favour of this. The piano is the best instrument. 🎹

The clip above is of every recording of Erik Satie’s Gymnopédie № 1, put together by an artist called Hey Exit. Each recording is timestretched to the length of the longest one, and they are placed on top of each other. It’s a brilliant idea, with a truly ethereal sound.

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Strengthening the foundations under the Overton Window without moving it

Should you refuse to argue with someone who is very wrong, in case it accidentally lends their argument some legitimacy? Katja Grace argues that this could be damaging.

In short: we don’t want to give the new generation the best sincere arguments against V [a terrible view], because that would be admitting that a reasonable person might believe V. Which seems to get in the way of the claim that V is very, very bad. Which is not only a true claim, but an important thing to claim, because it discourages people from believing V.

But we actually know that a reasonable person might believe V, if they don’t have access to society’s best collective thoughts on it. Because we have a whole history of this happening almost all of the time.

Thought-provoking, especially in the context of my recent posts about not feeding the trolls.

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Presenting findings of our user research for the API Service

User experience research for the University of Edinburgh’s API Service

I have been leading some user research for a project at the University of Edinburgh to develop API Service. This post on the University Website Programme blog outlines the steps we went through in the first phase of the research. This included interviewing developers, running workshops, and developing personas and journey maps.

This has been a successful and rewarding project. It has been particularly interesting for me to do some UX work that wasn’t necessarily to do with a website. There will be a couple more blog posts about it to come.

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"Did you know that in Edinburgh, there are more statues of dogs than there are of women?"

“Did you know that in Edinburgh, there are more statues of dogs than there are of women?”

From Message from the Skies, the virtual walking tour run in Edinburgh during January.

The story for the walking tour was written by Val McDermid, and celebrated the work of Edinburgh’s literary women, many of whom are unsung compared to the men.

Message from the Skies at Greyfriars Kirkyard

The walking tour ended in Greyfriars Kirkyard, where these spectacular neon signs ensured that women writers had their name in lights.

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An ode to writing with a human voice

More on the apparent decline of blogs from the Government Digital Service (GDS).

This article makes the excellent counterpoint to a recent GDS post apparently attempting to address the debate around the quality of their recent blogging efforts.

The measures of success cited include levels of ‘engagement’, aligning posts with campaigns, and instances of very senior officials publishing posts. This, to me, fundamentally misunderstands the value of blogging compared with more ‘formal’ communications. Aligning blogs more closely with PR activity doesn’t strengthen blogs— it nullifies their distinct value.

Of course, it is not just GDS who have suffered.

In the early days, blogging and social media was so vital precisely because it wasn’t traditional communications. When the communications people caught wind of the popularity of social media, they took control (which, for some reason, comms people are obsessed with). The comms crowd and the marketing mob turned social media into yet another stifled channel, designed to control the message, thereby destroying actual valuable communication.

See also:

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Dundee’s new dawn: From invisible town to Scotland’s coolest city

In September, Scotland’s first dedicated design museum arrives in the shape of the V&A Dundee. For the city’s inhabitants, there’s a cautious optimism in the air.

A good, balanced piece about Dundee. Cautious optimism is a great way to describe the atmosphere of Dundee.

When I moved to Dundee in 2010, people told me it was up and coming. The waterfront area has been in a constant state of flux, as 40-year-old buildings make way for a new masterplan. The roadworks and upheaval are dealt with through gritted teeth, in recognition that this is all for the greater good in the long term.

Dundee is still up and coming in 2018. The question is: when will it actually come up?

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Small b blogging

I love this idea of small b blogging — pursuing meaningful connections over mass pageviews. You might call it anti-clickbait.

Much of the content that is crammed down our throats through giant platforms like Facebook is designed to grab eyeballs, pageviews and clicks. This sort of content brings transient pleasure, but little real value.

This is similar to my reasons for starting blogging again. While I’m sure I won’t ever again get the same amount of pageviews I used to get in 2006–2007, there is something about regularly reaching a smaller number of people to share something worth writing home about.

It’s a virtuous cycle of making interesting connections while also being a way to clarify and strengthen my own ideas. I’m not reaching a big audience by any measure but the direct impact and benefit is material.

Small b blogging is learning to write and think with the network. Small b blogging is writing content designed for small deliberate audiences and showing it to them. Small b blogging is deliberately chasing interesting ideas over pageviews and scale. An attempt at genuine connection vs the gloss and polish and mass market of most “content marketing”.

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What makes the perfect office?

Lessons for architects, designers and managers. What research has shown about office design and productivity.

It turns out that the most productive spaces aren’t the ones that are tasteful, “look professional” or have been designed by a starchitect. They are spaces that empowered people to make the space their own.

… [T George] Harris scoured the academic literature for any evidence that good design helped people to get things done, or to be happier in the office. He couldn’t find it. “People suddenly put into “good design” did not seem to wake up and love it,” he wrote. What people love, instead, is the ability to control the space in which they work – even if they end up filling the space with kitsch, or dog photos, or even – shudder – garden gnomes.

Trained designers tend to have a strong idea of what good taste is. But that often flies in the face of what most people actually want.

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Relax! You’ll be more productive

A rare beast: an article about productivity that doesn’t just contain the same old stuff you’ve heard before. This mainly focuses on why often it’s better to do less to get more productive.

But I was most intrigued by the revelation that sleep cycles actually continue when you are awake:

The difference is that during the day we move from a state of alertness progressively into physiological fatigue approximately every 90 minutes. Our bodies regularly tell us to take a break, but we often override these signals and instead stoke ourselves up with caffeine, sugar and our own emergency reserves — the stress hormones adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol.

Working in 90-minute intervals turns out to be a prescription for maximizing productivity.

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Strategic thinking with blog posts and stickers

There has been a lot of chat recently about the apparent decline in quality of Government Digital Service (GDS) blogs. That debate isn’t explicitly mentioned here by former GDS employee Giles Turnbull. But perhaps this is the blogging equivalent of a subtweet (a subblog?).

The idea is basically this: you think out loud, on your blog, over a long period of time. At least months. Probably years. Each new post is about one thing, and tells a single story of its own, but also adds to the longer narrative. Each new post helps you tell that longer, deeper story, and becomes another linkable part of the timeline.

This also feeds into the wider commentary surrounding the apparent (or perhaps merely hoped-for) resurgence in blogging this year.

I certainly find this a useful contribution in explaining the value of blogging. It must not be run through the traditional communcations department wringer. The whole point of blogging is that is by real people (not comms people), talking about their real experiences and even their mistakes.

If you only talk blandly about your successes, you’re not really talking.

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Twitter gets message order wrong

Philip Hunt on how bad Twitter’s user interface has become.

When Twitter started out, it was such a simple concept. Just straightforward status updates; no real interaction. (When I joined Twitter, @ replies didn’t even exist yet.)

Over time it has added more and more features — replies, retweets, quote retweets, threads. Seemingly it has not been thought through properly.

If you spend a lot of time on Twitter, you catch onto these user interface quirks pretty quickly. But new users must find it so intimidating. So it is little wonder Twitter struggles to attract and retain new users.

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The secret cost of research

A belter of an article on why it is difficult to persuade people to undertake user research:

Research is simply asking questions about how the world works. And asking questions about how the world works threatens established authority.

I especially love the section “Bad research is good theatre”:

Focus groups look like how people imagine research looks. In a special room, controlled. But just because you have a 2-way mirror doesn’t make it anything more than a tea party. Actual ethnographic research happens where the people you’re studying do the thing you want to learn about. It’s often unsatisfyingly messy and low tech.

Fake research makes people money, and it makes people in charge feel good, but it’s useless and potentially dangerous to a design project.

So how do you get decision-makers to see the light? Understand them as people, like a good UXer should!

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Unsexy fundamentals focus: User experiences that print money

An extraordinary example of someone trying to give a publisher a lot of money — and the publisher making that experience as difficult as possible.

I’ve said before that I don’t have much sympathy for most publishers who are struggling. This is one example of exactly why many of their struggles are largely their own fault.

It beggars belief that a publisher should make it so hard to buy their product online. Many of them have a long hill to climb.

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Underscores, optimisation and arms races

The story of how one character — the underscore (_) — provided an early glimpse of the problems we now face with dominant tech firms exerting their power over the web.

We found ourselves resistant to what felt like a coercive effect of Google’s rising domination, especially since Google’s own Blogger platform was a competitor of ours. Our expression of that frustration was expressed by a debate over a single character: We were using _ because we thought it looked nicer, so why should we change to – just because Google liked it better? Weren’t they supposed to adapt to what we published on the web?

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It’s great to see this clip of Henry Hope-Frost on You Bet.

He may have thought then that his obscure knowledge would be of absolutely no use. But it certainly came in handy when he later became one of the top motorsport journalists.

There aren’t nearly enough clips of You Bet on YouTube. I remember one contestant who was able to tell a piece of music that was being played backwards just by seeing a candle flickering in front of the speaker.

It’s extraordinary to think that this kind of geeky talent passed for Saturday night ITV entertainment in the 1990s.

Henry Hope-Frost’s untimely death traveling home from the job he loved earlier this month was tragic. This clip is a demonstration of pure fever.

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