Subverted design

As designers have gradually become more senior (or perhaps more experienced), their role in organisations has evolved. But it’s not necessarily a good thing.

Products will always be made through compromise. But in a world where Designers are focused on balancing business needs against user needs, while other stakeholders are focused exclusively on business needs, these compromises will almost always favor the business.


How many dimensions are there, and what do they do to reality?

Reading this article is the closest I have ever come to understanding what is meant by having more than four dimensions.

Imagine… you are an ant living on a long, very thin length of hose. You could run along the hose backward and forward without ever being aware of the tiny circle-dimension under your feet. Only your ant-physicists with their powerful ant-microscopes can see this tiny dimension.


It’s the (democracy-poisoning) golden age of free speech

You may think you’ve read it all from people complaining that the likes of Facebook are threatening free speech. But this is a genuinely smart, thought-provoking article on the wide-ranging ways society need to rethink its approach towards freedom of speech.

We are particularly susceptible to glimmers of novelty, messages of affirmation and belonging, and messages of outrage toward perceived enemies. These kinds of messages are to human community what salt, sugar, and fat are to the human appetite. And Facebook gorges us on them.

I have thought before that we need to start thinking about ‘eating your digital greens’. Which means being wary of processed content (processed through an algorithm, that is), and ensuring you seek out a balanced diet of content from different sources and perspectives.


What is design ethnography?

A useful overview of how you can apply principles from ethnography when designing. You are unlikely to be able to use a fully ethnographic approach. But that doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate elements of it.

Our view is that, if we liken traditional ethnography to a prize heavyweight boxer, then design ethnography is more akin to a street fighter. It doesn’t follow all of the rules but it gets the job done.


Ed Yong: I spent two years trying to fix the gender imbalance in my stories

…I looked back at the pieces that I had published in 2016 thus far. Across all 23 of them, 24 percent of the quoted sources were women. And of those stories, 35 percent featured no female voices at all. That surprised me. I knew it wasn’t going to be 50 percent, but I didn’t think it would be that low, either. I knew that I care about equality, so I deluded myself into thinking that I wasn’t part of the problem. I assumed that my passive concern would be enough. Passive concern never is.


Count It Up — Field Music

Count It Up — Field Music

When a band you like releases a new album and it’s really good then count it up.


Cheating Fanboost rivals a catastrophe for Formula E — Abt

Audi Formula E driver Daniel Abt has accused rivals of cheating the series’ Fanboost voting system and says drivers unfairly winning it is a “catastrophe”.

So apparently voting patterns in Formula E’s fanboost vote are suspicious. It was surely inevitable that would be happening. But it sounds like Formula E don’t know what to do about it.

Last weekend’s race was the first time this year that Daniel Abt didn’t receive the fanboost himself though. And his team mate (in the team with his family’s name in it) Lucas di Grassi did receive it. So it does make me wonder what makes him such an expert on what’s going on. 🤔

Here’s a radical idea though. How about not having the ridiculous fanboost in the first place, and leave the drivers to get on and race on an equal footing rather than turning what’s supposed to be a sport into a popularity contest?

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Podcast listeners really are the holy grail advertisers hoped they’d be

On average, according to Midroll’s data, podcast listeners are making it through about 90 percent of a given episode, and relatively few are skipping through ads.

This is interesting, and in the detail is some cheering news for podcast listeners.

But I wonder how long it will last? I’ve been listening to podcasts for well over ten years, but I am becoming increasingly tired of the ads that are taking up more and more time during my day.

As ever, it’s a balancing act. News publishers messed this up big time by bombarding their website users with horrific ad experiences. Podcasters have to be careful not to go the same way.


Google memory loss

This is interesting. It appears as though Google is losing older documents (such as 10-year-old blog posts) from its index.

I’m in two minds about this.

On the one hand, Google has long been something other than a mere web search engine, and rightly so. They want to get you relevant answers to your query. And old blog posts will rarely be the answers to many people’s queries.

But on the other hand, someone ought to be indexing the web. And if Google can’t (or don’t want to), who can?

My men­tal mod­el of the Web is as a per­ma­nen­t, long-lived store of humanity’s in­tel­lec­tu­al her­itage. For this to be use­ful, it needs to be in­dexed, just like a li­brary. Google ap­par­ent­ly doesn’t share that view.


​Mosaic’s birthday: 25 years of the modern web

It feels like the world wide web has had more 25th birthdays than I’ve had hot dinners.

This article marks the 25th anniversary of the Mosaic web browser. You may not have heard for it, and I certainly never used it — it was before my time.

But Mosaic was one of the first graphical browsers, and one of the first to enable people to view images within pages. The makers of Mosaic went on to create Netscape Navigator, which in turn became the basis for Firefox.


‘Fame proved toxic for the relationship’: when comedy double acts go sour

David Baddiel, Andy Zaltzman, Richard Herring and other comics on fame, failure and friendship.

What happens to the members of a comedy double act who have gone through a ‘divorce’? This article focuses mainly on the comedians whose partner has gone on to have greater success.

A fascinating topic, also often regularly mentioned on Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast.

And is it just me, or are most of these less successful comedians actually funnier than their more-famous counterparts?


Harsh Reality — Claro Intelecto

Harsh Reality — Claro Intelecto

A delicious slice of minimal techno. Perfect for a chilly night time walk through the city.


Why you should check email less often, and how to do it

Why do we check our email on average 18 times a hour, when most of us don’t receive anything like that many emails? Tim Harford suggests ways we can decrease our addiction to checking our email, and explains how checking it frequently makes our habit worse.

The psychologist BF Skinner once found himself running out of food pellets for one of his projects, which like many of his experiments involved rats pushing levers to receive rewards. To eke out his supply of pellets, Skinner restricted their release: rats would get no more than one pellet a minute, no matter how often they tapped the lever. Rather than discouraging the rats, this intermittent reinforcement soon had them hooked. These days, we’re the rats, the computer is our Skinner Box, and email is our intermittently released food pellet.


How Sony’s blunder revived Vib-Ribbon, a long-lost classic

This is a few years old. But I was reminded of the brilliantly quirky PlayStation game Vib-Ribbon this week, and came across this amusing article.

It tells the story of a new CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment America who knew his PlayStation games, but forgot that Vib-Ribbon had never been released in North America.

Shawn Layden just wanted to make a good first impression…


Web trend map 2018

iA reflects on the spirit of the web that has been lost.

There seems to be a weak undercurrent of old and young bloggers like us that feel sentimental or curious and want to bring back blogging. Blogging won’t save the world. But, hell, after two weeks now, we can confirm: it feels great to be back on the blogging line.

If you are one of those old or young bloggers, please join in. Drop Facebook, drop Twitter and drop Medium for original thought. Own your traffic.


Virgin Media have sent an email suggesting ‘safe’ passwords for people to use.

"As an example, ‘Password’ is weak and easy to break. But ‘v!rGiNM3d1A1’ or ‘Z89_!3b2aa43’ are much harder for hackers to crack."

…They’re not much harder any more. 🤦‍♂️


Cars found trapped in Edinburgh’s ‘robot car park’ 15 years on

This news story has blown my mind in so many ways.

Firstly, that in 2001 we had the technology to use robots to store cars in a car park.

Secondly, that someone thought to give it a try in Edinburgh.

Thirdly, that this building has existed in a very central location in my city for 15 years and I had no idea about it.

Fourthly, that this prominent location has remained unused for 13 years.

The ‘abandoned’ cars are just the icing on the cake. This is Wall-E territory (although it turns out they were in fact owned by the car park and used as test cars).


Fears of the IndieWeb

I am toying with the idea of embracing the IndieWeb community and adding some IndieWeb features to this website.

This article from Michael Singletary pinpoints one of potential flaws of the IndieWeb, and a reason I have been reluctant to join it.

…I’m worried about the long-term survivability of this as a whole. With Known, specifically, I noticed that many of the plugins required for syndication and backfeeding are either maintained by extremely small groups of people that do not update them frequently (the Twitter plugin, for example), or others that require non-monetary motivation to keep up their service (like, for example). While it is great to see community-driven projects and services like these, I worry about waking up one morning to find that my content no longer syndicates or talks to other services.


AI don’t kill people, people do

Reflections on whether technological advances will ‘take our jobs’.

…[I]n Western societies, technical advancement has allowed many of us to extricate ourselves from physical, dangerous and demeaning forms of work, and to create careers that are fulfilling beyond renumeration: creatively, intellectually, socially… “job satisfaction”.

Historically, technological advances haven’t meant humans losing jobs. But it has meant we have taken on increasingly complex and interesting jobs. Perhaps the future will bring us further job satisfaction.

That’s not a bad place to be at all. A reminder that we should be grateful for the luxury we have in being able to pursue a good career in the first place, rather than slaving away to make ends meet.

See also: Why you shouldn’t follow your passion


Sense — The Lightning Seeds

Sense — The Lightning Seeds

The Lightning Seeds were one of the first bands I really liked. They don’t seem to have as much indie-cred as I think they deserve. Maybe that’s what happens when your biggest hit is a football anthem.

Sense is a little bit before my time, but I still think it’s one of their finest songs.


People and tooling

On the increasingly complex nature of design and development.

The way we build for the web right now feels problematic in so many ways. Instead of welcoming everyone from our teams with their various skills, we create layers of complexity that shut many out.

I sense this is deliberate, albeit in a subtly unconscious way. There is a culture among some in technology that seeks to belittle and exclude those who find complicated things intimidating. So development has grown in complexity over time, probably needlessly so.


If you’re still shying away from using technology to improve customer experience – you’re doomed

Some observations from Paul Taylor on digital experience in Myanmar, where internet usage has skyrocketed recently.

For three weeks I’ve not dealt with any paper, any spreadsheets, and very few emails. I’ve negotiated seven hotels, seven flights, taxi’s and boat trips through a mix of apps, increasingly powered by automation and artificial intelligence.

In some respects coming home seems like arriving in the third world, rather than coming from it.

It reminds me of stories about smartphone usage in China, which is totally different to the west.

Westerners try to use their phones like tiny PCs. But because many people in developing countries didn’t have widespread access to PC, they don’t have those mental models. As such, they take fuller advantage of the capabilities of modern mobile devices.


Crash: how computers are setting us up for disaster

The headline is slightly over-the-top. But this is nevertheless a fascinating long read on the paradox of automation — how our reliance on computers leaves us incompetent to act when we are needed the most.

First, automatic systems accommodate incompetence by being easy to operate and by automatically correcting mistakes. Because of this, an inexpert operator can function for a long time before his lack of skill becomes apparent – his incompetence is a hidden weakness that can persist almost indefinitely. Second, even if operators are expert, automatic systems erode their skills by removing the need for practice. Third, automatic systems tend to fail either in unusual situations or in ways that produce unusual situations, requiring a particularly skilful response.

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Kickstarted: iA Writer for Windows – iA

I am a fan of iA Writer, a writing application designed to help you focus. The only problem is that it is not available for Windows.

I have the Android version installed on my phone. But I don’t know about you — I don’t tend do my writing on my phone. Meanwhile, those fancy Mac users have had a desktop application for a while.

On my Windows machines I have had to make do with using Sublime Text with some Markdown packages installed. Which kind of does the trick, but is not as slick

Finally, a Windows version of iA Writer is coming, and you can back it on Kickstarter. I am looking forward to it and the promised web version.


There is so much positivity in the digital world of media

As ever, Thomas Baekdal is brilliant and insightful on where traditional media companies are getting it so wrong. He compares the consistently negative focus of news outlets to successful YouTubers, all of whom are filled with “excitement and positivity”.

[I]t makes traditional journalists appear reactive, while digital natives appear proactive…

You can’t just be negative. You also have to give your readers hope and invite them to join you on a journey into a better future.


Then and now: The Bauhaus and 21st century design

Don Norman assesses the Bauhaus movement, and its relevance to design today. He notes that despite its widespread cultural influence, it failed to produce a single object that significantly improved people’s lives.

Consider the “Curriculum Wheel”… developed by Walter Gropius in 1922… It contains three years of study, starting with form and materials, moving to advanced topics in materials, composition, and construction. Never a mention of people. Never a mention of usage. It was all about form.

Elements of this remind me of contemporary debates around flat design and other superficial user interface decisions. This form or that form isn’t right or wrong, unless you know you are meeting people’s needs.


Everywhen — Massive Attack

Everywhen — Massive Attack

A lot of bands I liked wilted somewhat after Radiohead released Kid A. Not Massive Attack. 100th Window may not be their most admired album. But I thought it was one of the few that successfully met the Kid A challenge.

Gone were the trademark trip-hop beats that made them so successful in the 90s. In came a more clinical, experimental electronica sound. It switched some people off, but I think elements of this album are superb. It was an impressive reinvention, but it was also still unmistakably Massive Attack.


Language in web teams

Content designer Sarah Richards shares an amusing story of a technique she has used to help people from different disciplines and backgrounds who have been talking at cross-purposes.

We are meant to be content and communication experts. But we often see people putting little effort into how they communicate internally, or even within their own teams.


diamond geezer on why companies are installing badly designed phoneboxes

I can’t say I’ve noticed new phoneboxes popping up, but maybe things are different in Edinburgh. Nevertheless, I found this blog post by diamond geezer fascinating.

BT’s new InLink sounds especially awful:

All the action takes place on the thin side farthest from the road, where no separate receiver is apparent. Instead there’s a socket for a headphone jack, provided by the user to cut costs, and a loudspeaker at waist height which’ll broadcast across the pavement…

Most striking is the big red button which if pressed immediately dials 999, an innovation surely far too tempting for passing fingers, which must have emergency switchboards cursing.

So why in this day and age would new phoneboxes be emerging? The answer is depressingly familiar.


Legends of the ancient web

Maciej Cegłowski considers the parallels between the early decades of radio, and the web. He notes how radio became a crucial propaganda tool for the fascists of the 1930s.

In less than four decades, radio had completed the journey from fledgeling technology, to nerdy hobby, to big business, to potent political weapon.

It’s a great history lesson. Read on to find the silver lining in his talk.