Archive:
Design

Annoying online ads cost business

Results from a study of users of Pandora has quantified the effect of shoving adverts in users’ faces. As part of the experiment, a section of users were served fewer ads than normal, and another section were served more ads than normal.

…after 1.5 years of being exposed to the experimental conditions, people did use the service more, the fewer ads they were served. At the end of the experiment:

  • The low-ad group listened for 1.7% more hours weekly than the control group.
  • The high-ad group listened for 2.8% fewer hours weekly than the control group.
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What is this thing called design?

I got out of bed and, in roughly an hour, hammered out a kind of primer on UX/UI design, which I’m publishing below. It’s a very unformed, rambly screed that I won’t pretend is at all definitive or even fully accurate. In fact it’s still basically a first draft; I literally typed it out in bullet point form, as shown below, a trick I used in order to absolve myself of the responsibility of writing a fully articulated essay.

Despite Khoi Vinh’s self-deprecation here, I think this is an excellent attempt at explaining what design is. For those who are frustrated about having to explain that design isn’t (just) about making things pretty, this blog post provides an excellent introduction to why — as well as helpfully explaining why this perception exists in the first place. Not bad for an hour’s work.

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Do British cities have grid systems? We used science to find out

A neat way of visualising how closely a city layout relates to a grid.

Includes the revelation that Milton Keynes isn’t actually as grid-like as you might think.

The designers decided that the grid concept should apply but should be a lazy grid following the flow of land, its valleys, its ebbs and flows. That would be nicer to look at, more economical and efficient to build, and would sit more beautifully as a landscape intervention.

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Four modes of seeking information and how to design for them

This is an old article, but some good brain food for those information architects out there. A good primer on some different ways people try to find content.

In my work on intranets and complex websites, I noticed a range of situations where people didn’t necessarily know what they needed to know. Additionally, when I opened my browser history to look for examples from recently-visited sites, I noticed that the majority of my own time was spent trying to find things that I had already discovered. These two modes didn’t fit into the concepts of known-item and exploratory information seeking. I call these “don’t know what you need to know” and re-finding.

I spent a while letting this rattle around my head, talking with IAs and designers, and realized that most only thought in terms of known-item searching. When discussing the other types of tasks, they’d ask with a horrified look, “So how do you design for that?”

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Thermostats, locks and lights: digital tools of domestic abuse

How smart devices are being used by perpetrators of domestic abuse.

We are becoming increasingly aware of some of the darker side of technology. Perhaps this is a challenge to designers and technologists — to ensure that their products can’t be used in this sort of way.

The people who called into the help hotlines and domestic violence shelters said they felt as if they were going crazy.

One woman had turned on her air-conditioner, but said it then switched off without her touching it. Another said the code numbers of the digital lock at her front door changed every day and she could not figure out why. Still another told an abuse help line that she kept hearing the doorbell ring, but no one was there.

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Could architecture and design do anything to alleviate walmartism?

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.

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You’re so intelligent

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.”

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The generous act of tunking

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.

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UX Scotland 2018 — my day-by-day notes

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.

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Every breath you take, every move they make counts for WA paramedics

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.

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How context is bridging the gap between UX and service design

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.

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The psychological tricks TfL uses to make London’s tube feel faster

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.

See also: The amazing psychology of Japanese train stations

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Two Tottenham tower blocks at risk of catastrophic collapse

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?”

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The problem of zero and one

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?

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Hacking your innovation mindset

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.

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Dear conference organisers: You’re doing chairs wrong

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.

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The amazing psychology of Japanese train stations

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.

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After the hiccup

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.

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Your employees’ user experience should be a strategic priority

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.

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Will this three-storey slice of British brutalism be the hit of the Venice Biennale?

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.”

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Design Notes podcast, episode 9

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.

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There are better ways to get around town

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.

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The subtle sexism of your open plan office

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?

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Ethics can’t be a side hustle

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.

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Design navigation for clarity and fidelity

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.

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Bill Grundy Looks at Aylesbury (1972)

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.

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Dear developer, the web isn’t about you

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.

There is so much good stuff here, but I particularly enjoyed this section on the obsession with JavaScript.

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.

🙌

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Design flaws in electronic health records can harm patients, study finds

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.

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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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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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