The University of Edinburgh Website and Communications team has recently been heavily involved in a pilot project to improve the journey of prospective online learning students, from investigation to offer. Read about our user research approach and how we ensured project outputs met the needs of users.
How architecture is used to place poorer people in harsher environments.
Texture is a class thing. The more money you have, the more texture you get. The reverse is true of lighting and sound: the more money you have, the less of both of those you get.
These are not universal rules, but a return from a month spent in Europe to the United States, which is always much harsher in its economic realities than the countries over there, made it evident to me how prevalent the reality of texture discrimination is. Let’s call it walmartism: the transformation of the spaces used by those with the least means into boxes devoid of texture.
A more extreme example of a similar phenomenon is where a tower block such as Grenfell is re-clad to make it more pleasant for the rich people outside the building to look at, but more dangerous for the poor people living inside it.
This is an 11 year old article that has just recently come to my attention, but it resonates today. It describes how graphic designers have protested about being seen as the ones that make it pretty; how they have sought to be given more respect, as if being tickled in the tummy.
I found myself at a design conference listening to still another demand that clients give us designers that coveted place at that legendary table where all the big decisions are made. Sitting next to me was one of my favorite clients, someone I treasure for her levelheadedness and good humor. “I’ve spent hours at that table,” she whispered to me. “It’s not that great, you know.”
We found out that tunking (pronounced “toonking”) is a word this team uses for blunt critique, made with the intentions of the people on the receiving end uppermost in mind. It’s honest feedback.
The people doing the tunking don’t hold back. They say what they really think. They do this because they want the people being tunked to succeed.
I really like this. And it’s important to appreciate that giving honest feedback can be just as difficult as receiving it, if not more so.
Like many things that are supposed to be good about Glasgow, I never understood the appeal of Sauchiehall Street.
Chris How’s tips on doing better interviews. This is essentially a text version of his session at UX Scotland, which I wrote about on the University of Edinburgh Website Programme blog.
Some more follow-up to the UX Scotland conference, which I have published over on the University of Edinburgh Website Programme blog.
I set myself the challenge of writing a summary of each session I attended at UX Scotland, as a way of forming my own thoughts on each topic, and to make sure to follow up on everything I wanted to.
This resulting blog post is long. But I am sharing this on the basis that others might find it useful and seek to learn more about these topics, as I did.
Sometimes we have had to use metaphors from the physical world that help explain what's going on in digital. But take things too far and it becomes counter-productive.
Fascinating examples of how an ambulance service has experimented with their communications to save lives. A great example of how to use small experiments and tests to monitor improvements.
Asking “tell me what’s happened” instead of “tell me what happened” saves a staggering nine seconds, on average, per emergency call.
Studies have shown the first phrase prompts an immediate focus on the relevant detail, while the second prompts panicked callers on the line to tell meandering stories, full of unnecessary detail.
Saying “We’re going to do CPR,” instead of asking “Do you want to do CPR?” means a sharp rise in the number of bystanders agreeing to perform first aid while waiting for an ambulance.
My colleagues and I have gathered together our thoughts on our highlights of the UX Scotland conference.
I am also in the process of writing up some further thoughts on most of the other sessions, which I will publish to the University Website Programme blog soon.
But in the meantime, find out about my top three sessions, and the things I intend to put into practice as a result of attending the conference.
Interesting on the similarities and differences between user experience and service design.
Service Designers generally approach digital as one of a number of interconnected touch points. They will usually figure out how all these touch-points work together as a cohesive ecosystem, before handing the design of the specific touch points over to experts.
UX Designers usually approach the problem from the other direction. They start with the core digital experience before exploring the connective tissue that joins their touch-points together. Service Designers tend to have a broader but shallower focus, while UX designers go narrower but deeper.
A great piece of the little experiments TfL is carrying out in an attempt to improve the efficiency of the London Underground.
But it’s striking that the consensus of most of the experts in this piece seems to be that real improvements wouldn’t be possible without fundamental transformations in the infrastructure.
Short of building new stations and drilling tunnels for larger trains, we’re stuck, says Simeon Koole, lecturer at the University of Bristol. “I would be reluctant to argue there is anything specific about behaviour that makes it difficult to change, and focus more on particular material restrictions of the tube: the confined space limits the possibilities for redesigning tube cars and platforms and therefore for managing passenger flow and conduct.”
But as cities grow, perhaps any little thing we can do will be worth investigating.
According to this article, these buildings have just failed tests that have been in place since the aftermath of the Ronan Point collapse in 1968.
…but the problems at Broadwater Farm were only uncovered in the last 12 months.
If I’m reading this article correctly, that means that these buildings have been unsafe for 40 years — but that has only just been discovered.
“It’s disgusting and it is very stressful,” said one woman who has lived in the same flat in Tangmere for 38 years. “Ain’t it funny this has just come out after Grenfell?”
The University of Edinburgh is currently recruiting for four UX-related roles. I'm passing on the message because it's an exciting time to be pushing forward with UX work at the university.
Excellent piece by Wojtek Kutyla on why UX needs to get out of its comfort zone, and an excessive focus on technology — and the temptation to make binary declarations.
We are all reasonable creatures and we know how to seek rationale when we’re dealing with daily tasks. If we’re hungry, we’ll ask ourselves: “What do I want to eat? Eggs? Avocado? Or a burger?”. If we’re planning to buy a new car, we’ll consider it carefully, basing our ultimate choice on how functional the vehicle is and whether we can afford it.
Yet, when faced with a design problem in a professional setting we’d often go for a solution that does nothing else but fulfils a set of requirements based on assumed values communicated by stakeholders. All too seldom we’re doubting their choices and ask “what’s the rationale — where did this come from?”. Perhaps we should start doing that?
Design thinking is about being a problem finder, not just a problem solver.
This line has reminded me of a project or two from the past year. Some of my biggest eureka moments have been around understanding what the problem actually was, and not what I had been told it was.
Nearly every femme-identifying person I know, myself included, has wrestled with tall bar stools, director’s chairs, and the dreaded microphone dance.
A great piece with many lessons.
Most men would probably never think of this, even though most women are all too aware of it — a classic case of design bias.
It would be easy to blame clothes instead. But why should you? Especially if certain clothes make speakers feel and perform better, which is what the conference organiser would want.
When you’re going to a panel, you want to be able to wear what makes you feel your best, which isn’t easy when you’re sitting with clenched thighs, wondering every few seconds if you’re showing too much leg.
And finally, the simple solution:
Don’t like the chair? Ask the organiser to change it.
People often say things like “change is hard” or “people don’t like change”. That is a dangerous delusion.
This is sad news. St Peter’s Seminary is probably Scotland’s most important brutalist building. I have wanted to visit it for years, and I was gutted to miss out on the Hinterland event in 2016.
I wonder what the future holds in store for St Peter’s Seminary, but the outlook doesn’t seem promising at the moment.
How Japan uses behavioural science (nudge theory) to keep its railways flowing efficiently.
Tokyo is home to the world’s busiest train stations, with the capital’s rail operators handling a combined 13 billion passenger trips annually. Ridership of that volume requires a deft blend of engineering, planning, and psychology. Beneath the bustle, unobtrusive features are designed to unconsciously manipulate passenger behavior, via light, sound, and other means. Japan’s boundless creativity in this realm reflects the deep consideration given to public transportation in the country.
Most customer relationships don’t stumble because something went wrong. Your best customers know that mistakes happen.
It’s what happens next that can cripple the relationship.
I would be tempted to agree with Seth Godin here. But it actually reminded me of the recent incident with Ghostery.
Ghostery is a browser plugin that is supposed to protect your privacy online. But on Friday, when attempting to email its users about GDPR, they accidentally leaked the email addresses of hundreds of their users by CCing them into the email — the most basic and facepalm-worthy data breach of all.
I once briefly used Ghostery. But I uninstalled it after I found it kept on crashing my browser.
My response in this case was to find it deeply ironic that Ghostery should fail at the one thing they were meant to do. It’s true “you had one job” stuff, this. So I deleted my Ghostery account entirely.
Perhaps if my prior experience with Ghostery had been more positive, I would have been more lenient.
Enterprise software is notoriously bad — and that’s bad for business.
A poor user interface sends a message to employees that their time and commitment have little value, and that — just as my engineer colleague believed — the problem is their own fault. Then leaders wonder why their people don’t innovate or embrace change…
There’s a lot of good stuff here, so I had some trouble picking just one thing to highlight. Read on to see why actually watching people try to use your design is vital.
On the V&A’s section of Robin Hood Gardens, to be exhibited at the Venice Biennale.
The condition of the structure has made it even harder for the demolition team, who are used to turning up with the wrecking ball and mechanical munching jaws, but were suddenly charged with dismantling part of the building piece by precious piece, with some components over three metres long and weighing more than two tonnes.
“The demolition crew started to see the design in a whole new light,” says V&A curator Olivia Horsfall Turner. “Having thought this was just another concrete monstrosity they were tearing down, their outlook was really transformed.”
During this Google Design podcast interview with Cameron Koczon, I was particularly struck by the section on making design truly meaningful.
You thought that, that was a cool photo to show. You wanted to share the photo, but you didn’t really want to share the photo. You wanted to collect little hearts. That says something about the tool. It’s not a photo sharing tool, it’s a heart collecting tool, which is a little casino that you put in your pocket and you carry it around. It’s no good.
When I stopped posting directly social media last year, I had to stop using Instagram altogether because there is no way to post to it without using Instagram. I thought this would be a problem. Because I liked collecting those little hearts. And I did miss it at first. But now I don’t miss it at all, and I recognise that Instagram was ultimately unfulfilling.
A New York Times piece on how New York could take inspiration for European cities to make its streets safer. But these aren’t just lessons for New York. There are lessons for everyone.
Some old-school traffic engineers in America will tell you that many of the Dutch ideas are unsafe. What they mean is that they make streets unsafe for fast driving. In 2016, the Netherlands had 33 traffic deaths for every million people. America had 118 traffic deaths per million.
As cities become ever-more crowded, and with an autonomous revolution about to kick off, now is the time to radically rethink how our streets are designed. The days of cars taking priority have to end, and to encourage active travel — cycling and walking. It will make us all feel better and be safer.
When the architect responsible for an open plan office that made women feel watched compared it to being on a nudist beach, he undermined himself.
“I think it’s like going to a nudist beach. You know, first you’re a little bit worried that everyone’s looking at you, but then you think, hang on, everybody else is naked, no one’s looking at each other,” he told the researchers. “I think that’s what’ll happen, they’ll get on with it.”
The only problem is that sociological research of nudist beaches has shown that people do continue to watch each other–“men in particular, often in groups, look obsessively at women,” the researchers write. This kind of all-glass, no-privacy environment leads to a subtle kind of sexism, where women are always being watched and thus judged on their appearances, causing anxiety for many employees.
See also: What makes the perfect office?
Why ethical design starts with you.
How is ethics in design (or tech) even debatable? Can you imagine any other industry debating whether they needed to consider ethics? Can you imagine doctors debating whether ethics are important? Actually, they do. They debate ethics every day. But they’re far beyond debating whether they’re important, and on to deliberating the more interesting fine points. Where, honestly, is where we need to be if we’re writing software for self-driving cars and smart vibrators.
There is nothing worse than a vague, meaningless link. Well, there is. It’s a link that promises much more than it can deliver. I call that sort of link a dirty magnet.
Left out of Gerry McGovern’s list of dirty magnets is my personal favourite — Further information.
Think about it. Everything on a website is further information (at least, it should be). There is nothing more useless or uninformative than a page called Further information.
I love pretty much everything about this.
Bill Grundy is notorious now for goading the Sex Pistols into swearing on prime time ITV. But before that, he found himself in Aylesbury for unclear reasons. He was none too impressed with its recent brutalist redevelopment, and his curmudgeonly commentary is highly entertaining.
His villain is Fred Pooley, Aylesbury’s planner, the man who invented the imaginary Buckinghamshire monorail town in the sixties, which actually became the motorway town of Milton Keynes in the 70s. Pooley was brilliantly talented. Grundy dismisses him as ‘smug’ – not that we ever get to find out, as he makes no effort to interview him. And so, rather it’s Bill Grundy who comes across as smug instead, drinking beer from a tankard and opining about fibreglass ducks and the ills of modern life, while undoubtedly being a major beneficiary of the improved communications and technology of the day in his work as a TV presenter.
This is the final blog post in my short series about the user research I led on for the API Service at the University of Edinburgh.
This post covers the second half of the research, where we brought focus to the detailed picture developed in the first phase, and began to prioritise the issues to help the API Service team direct their ongoing work.
A call to stop the madness and focus on making the web a better platform for people, and not the technologist’s playground it’s becoming. It’s lengthy, but well worth it.
Instead of HTML being generated on, and delivered from, the server, a JS bundle is sent to the client, which is then decompressed and initialised and then requests data, which is then sent from the server (or another server, as now everything is a service) as JSON, where it is then converted on the fly into HTML.
Permit an old lady to rant here…
Because to me, this is rather akin to building a Boeing 747 to commute to work.
Most people can’t recognise the looptail g, even though we see it several times a day. Some people don’t even realise there are two types of g.
We know that poor usability can lead to disastrous consequences. Think to the recent case of the accidental missile alert in Hawaii.
This is a more rigorous, academic investigation into the negative consequences of poor usability in electronic health records. The study even suggests that bad usability may have caused deaths.
Some 557 (0.03 percent) reports had “language explicitly suggesting EHR usability contributed to possible patient harm,” and among those, 80 caused temporary harm, seven may have caused permanent harm and two may have been fatal.
This article is a bit of a sales pitch, but I enjoyed this research into how intuitive the Dewey Decimal Classification is.
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.
An exploration of the risks surrounding undertaking user-centred design. For me, the lesson is to put the same sort of effort into designing your research and your interactions with your users as you would into the product your research is for.
The view from our Airbnb in Barcelona at 2am. Not bad. 👍
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
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.